Life as a night telephone operator
When I transferred to Woy Woy post office in 1966, I was trained as a night telephone operator at the Woy Woy Telephone Exchange, located at Blackwall Rd, Woy Woy, and next door to the old post office.
There were 40 or so telephonists during the day and two male telephonists on the midnight to dawn shift.
A warning call came from Sydney every hour to ensure you were awake, if you failed to answer the call, it would then trigger off an alarm.
One night the inevitable happened, I fell asleep and the very-loud alarm went off.
It was like a fire-alarm bell.
The police constable appeared in a matter of minutes, wanting to know what was wrong.
I explained that I had fallen asleep and this set off the alarm.
"Where's the key?" he asked.
"The postmaster has it," I said.
So he smashed the glass and turned the alarm off.
The postmaster, Mr Bill Collins, was not impressed.
"You'll have to pay for that," he said.
The police, the night-watchman and the security men often called in through the night to have a cup of coffee and to swap stories.
Henry Wong, an owner of a restaurant in Umina, would call in after closing.
He wore a black apron around his waist, which carried his night's takings and also a little pistol for which he had a licence.
It was very tiny, like the ones you used to see carried in ladies purses in the Hollywood thrillers.
Well, Henry was telling a story about his experiences in China during the Japanese occupation.
The police and the security men all dived under the table, while I was too frozen with fear to move.
A voice from under the table said, "Put the pistol down Henry."
Henry looked around, mystified, and reluctantly put the pistol back in his apron.
Another night, a gentlemen rang up the exchange saying he had murdered his wife.
The police went to the man's address and the security man went off on his own to investigate.
He went to the wife's place and there she was, large as life, watching the late-late movie on television.
Would you believe the film was, Murder My Sweet, starring Dick Powell and Claire Trevor?
Whether the man had a nightmare or too much of the demon rum, who can tell, these two incidents were the most exciting things to happen during my stay as a night telephone operator.
Very soon the automatic telephone exchange was built in MacMasters Rd, Woy Woy, and eventually the old manual exchange was demolished.
Email, 9 Jan 2017
Keith Whitfield, Woy Woy