Helen Barry – “A Typist at Sixteen”

September 29th, 2020

Read Helen's story from when she started as a typist in 1959 and worked at the CSIRO Division of Forest Products and continued her career through CSIRO.

Helen Barry commenced duty on 8 December 1959 as typist, with a shorthand allowance, at the CSIRO Division of Forest Products. Mr Frank A Priest was the Technical Secretary who employed her. Her interview was the previous day. She had to place her hand on the Bible and swear allegiance to the Queen and Crown on her employment. You had to complete 9 months’ service before you were eligible to pay Superannuation.

Helen was located on the first floor overlooking Yarra Bank Road, South Melbourne and the Yarra River. She sat in a room with Kaye Wale (same age as Helen) who started in the October and Barbara Ashbolt. Barbara was the typist in charge and their supervisor.

Helen had completed a shorthand course in her training at Royal Melbourne Technical College to 100 words per minute. At that time typists who could do shorthand received a shorthand allowance. It was a higher allowance for 120 words per minute and Helen went back to night school to achieve the 120 wpm.

The scientists were located in the main building and as well in many of the out houses at the back of the building. When a scientist needed to dictate a letter he would ring the typing pool and Helen and Kaye would take it in turns to find the officer and have the letter dictated to them. The officer would call Miss Ashbolt first to request their assistance. Helen and Kaye would choose whose turn it was to take a letter or whether they liked that particular officer, and would trek the officer down, knock on the door and take the letter. When the letter had been transcribed, Helen or Kaye would ring the officer and he would either come and collect it or they would take it to the person. It seems a protracted process in this day and age, but it was a very proper regime that was adhered to.

After two years both Kay and Helen were offered secretarial roles in the Division. Kaye became Secretary to Mr Priest and Helen to Mr Ray Turnbull and his group called the Utilization Section. Helen replaced Miss Isobel Salter who retired at age 69. Helen saw “retire today” written in shorthand on Miss Salter’s desk calendar when she started with the group. Remembering this still evokes a feeling of sympathy for her. (Although after Miss Salter retired she bought a car and got her licence.)

Kaye departed overseas when she turned 21 and Helen stayed with her group – who gave her a wonderful surprise barbecue for her 21st at the home of Dr Bill McKenzie (Utilization Section) and his wife Merna. Helen was asked to assist as secretary in the Chief’s office one day when Miss Mary Browning became ill. Miss Browning decided not to return to work and Helen remained as assistant to the Chief. Initially she was refused a higher salary commensurate with her duties, as Head Office said she had to prove herself for 12 months before she could get this!

(At lunch time some of the staff would walk over the road and sit at the water’s edge. Rats would run up and down the pylons as they ate the staff ate their lunch in the sun. Who would believe that 79 Yarra Bank Road now houses Crown Casino and that so much research and intellect was on that very site.)?

In 1972 after 12 years at Yarra Bank Road, part of the Division was amalgamated with Building Research located in Highett and partly with Chemical Technology located at ‘The Bend’, (Fisherman’s Bend). Helen relocated to Highett as secretary to the chief, Dr Roy Muncey and the Admin.Officer, Mr Jack Pattison.

In 1976 Helen applied for a position as secretary to a member of the Executive in Canberra, Dr Keith Boardman. She remained in Canberra for two and a half years, also working with Dr Burgmann, the Chairman, and Dr Alan Pierce,

Institute Director, bringing a Divisional approach to the Head office environment. In 1979 she returned to Melbourne as Secretary to Dr W G Crewther, Chief, Division of Protein Chemistry at 343 Royal Parade, Parkville and the Divisional

Secretary, Richard Cullen. She remained on this site for 22 years, working for as many as 11 Chiefs as the Division was renamed and restructured numerous times.

In January 2001 she relocated to the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research. She now works for Dr Peter Colman, Head, Structural Biology Division, who was formerly Chief of CSIRO Division of Biomolecular Engineering, 343 Royal Parade, Parkville, and hasn’t made any plans to retire as yet. She still has to catch up to Miss Salter!

Helen Barry

August 2004