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Helen Adams

It has been a brilliant journey 

– NMIT administrative staff member, Helen Adams, witnessed the tumultuous changes that took place at Collingwood College of TAFE throughout the 1980s, including the amalgamation with Preston College of TAFE. Here, she looks back on 33 years at NMIT…

I started work at Collingwood Technical School in January 1977, as a typist in the typing pool in the Johnston St building. We typed documents and teachers’ notes and I relieved on the old plug and cord switchboard. The principal at that time was Ian Scott.

Principal Ian Scott ran a tight ship.

Ian Scott ran a very tight ship. The floors were polished. The lockers were intact. There was no graffiti; there were no marks on the walls. He expected you to do your work and do it well.

We become TAFE and change our image

When Collingwood Technical School became Collingwood Technical College Ian Scott ordered beautiful buff-coloured paper with a brown logo and print, so we had to replace all our black or blue typewriter ribbons with brown to match the new colours of the new College. Soon after, CTC became Collingwood College of TAFE, but initially we didn’t notice much change in the admin area. TAFE had been a separate office at the corner of Budd St and Johnston St, which operated out of a small two storey shop front. Then all of a sudden, we became TAFE, and we had to become familiar with new premises, new courses and new terminology. 

Amalgamation a daunting prospect

When it was decided that Collingwood College of TAFE would amalgamate with Preston College of TAFE in 1988, the prospect for staff was very daunting. Many staff viewed the amalgamation with a great deal of suspicion.

Brian MacDonald, immediately after the amalgamation, addressed all the Collingwood staff in the drama theatre in the Johnston St complex. Most admin staff did not have to apply for their positions, and there were a few additional clerical positions created, but there were major changes in the trade areas.

The new institute was called Northern Melbourne College of TAFE (NMCOT) immediately after amalgamation, and several years later became NMIT.

New technology changes our work completely

Over the years, with new technology, my work as an admin assistant has changed completely. Now there is no resemblance at all to the work we used to do. When I started work we used old typewriters before we graduated to the luxurious Olivetti typewriters. We used carbon between sheets to make copies, and directed phone calls on plug and cord switchboards. There were no computers, so of course no email and no photocopy machines. The old Roneo copying machines were terrible, with the ink spilling while we were filling the barrel of the machine, the typed sheets sticking to the barrel, the centre of some letters falling out of the paper leaving a blob, and the roneo sheets crinkling down the middle of the barrel. The fumes from the ink were so strong that the copiers were located in small rooms ‘out of the way’. Sometimes we could almost be overcome by the fumes.

Memos by snail mail and typing, typing, typing 

We typed memos to be sent by snail mail, which would take a couple of days to get from one campus to another. By the time the memos had been read, and responses typed, several more days had passed.  

The computer age arrives

I was introduced to computers in 1980, when we moved into the building in Collingwood. We had no tuition at all, except for the new software, Lotus 1-2-3. The teachers at the time were only one step ahead of us learning the new software.

Women have come a long way since the 1970s

In the early 1970s there was no superannuation for women, no maternity leave, (you resigned or lost your job when you became pregnant), no single parent allowance, very few crèches, (and these were not government regulated), and very few women in management. In private enterprise men smoked in their offices. In Collingwood Tech School men smoked in the staffroom, but women who smoked were frowned upon, and had to go to a small back room where they couldn’t be seen. I noticed changes to benefits for women after the introduction of the Equal Opportunity Act in 1984.

From shabby typing pool in Collingwood to heritage-listed beauty

I could never have imagined, when I began work at Collingwood Technical School in January 1977, that one day I would be working for an Institute with the breadth and depth of NMIT today. And I could never have visualised a career that began in a shabby old office in Collingwood leading to an office in a heritage-listed building in Fairfield, with peacocks roaming in beautiful gardens.

I’ve been employed at NMIT for a total of 33 years, and as an employer, NMIT has been wonderful. I have worked with Associate Directors and Heads of Department at Collingwood, Preston, Greensborough, Fairfield and Epping campuses, enjoying good experiences with people in management and my peer groups.

Some of the admin assistants have been here well over 20 years, even 25-30 years, and that tells it all. People don’t stay unless they enjoy their work, have equality of work and they’re valued. I am no exception. It’s been a brilliant journey and that’s why I stayed, and that’s why I came back. I retired in 1984-86, came back, retired in 2008 and then came back, again.

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Last Modified: May 8, 2013