Before continuing to the opening of Baxter Street and the new world that was ahead of us all in the Queensland branch of the Kolotex Group of Companies, I’ll trace back over the few months leading up to the commencement of that wonderfully inspiring, energetic time.
In Panama, “R” jumped aboard a German cargo ship headed for Australia, working his way back home. He’d left New York where he’d been employed for some time with the New Zealand Mission to the United Nations and then later by the British Embassy to travel to Mexico. Making his way through the Panama Canal, en route south to Australia, he scrubbed rust off the deck of the ship to earn his passage “Down Under”. After my marriage break-up “R” and I restored our contact. Through the years, I had remained friendly with his parents. His mother and I, in particular, were very good friends and had been from our first meeting. It didn't mean I wasn't good friends with his father, but "R's" father at that stage traveled a lot within the position he held in Queensland Railways and was often away from home. He was manager of the dining rooms and dining cars throughout Queensland, ending his career years later as General Manager.
After I moved to my New Farm flat, I decided I wanted to earn extra money. I gained part-time evening employment in a small restaurant called “The Pelican Tavern”, owned by a Russian gentleman, Kryiol Wypow. Never having worked in a restaurant or similar before, it was quite a challenge for me, but one I was keen to tackle. I waited tables on Friday and Saturday nights. From there my hours grew, sometimes working a couple of nights during the week, as well. The Tavern opened my eyes to and began my interest in the food industry. I spent a lot of time with Mr. Wypow, watching him prepare meals for his diners. He was a self-taught cook and enjoyed my keen interest in what was going on around me. The Tavern was my first introduction into the restaurant industry. I was immediately addicted!
Socially, my life was pretty full, as well. By that time, I had a fairly wide circle of friends. When “R” arrived back home in Brisbane we picked up where we'd left off before he'd begun his US sojourn. His spirit remained restless however. “R’s” urge to travel hadn’t diminished. His odyssey was incomplete. After about four months back home, he returned to New York, the city he loved, but I had a dream of my own to help me through the upset of his second departure from my life. I placed “R” back into the deep, hidden recess in my heart, a place I had reserved for him. The emerging plans of our Queensland office and the joint marketing enterprise were coming into fruition. Fortunately, I had little time to wallow in my own self-pity, hurt and pain. As before, I kept my emotions and feelings private, deciding to put all my energies fervently into the gigantic task ahead of me. After all, during the preceding years, John and I had spent many hours discussing our dream of joint marketing. Now it was within our reach. Much had to be achieved to get if off the ground, up and running successfully. It was not only that we had put our dream on the line, a lot was at stake. We now had an extra fourteen people who were our responsibility. They had joined us in our dream. It was imperative that it be successful. “Mr. Trimmer” was now “John” to me as I’d become good friends with he and Shirley, and of course, their two boys, Gavin and Andrew. I became another member of their family, in a way. Once again, I bade farewell to “R” as he boarded his return flight to the States. Turning swiftly on my heels, I strode determinedly towards my new world, leaving the past behind me. Gathering together our eager, new bunch of “troops”, we were ready to “open our doors” by the time the New Year had come and gone. All decoration, fittings and fixtures were completed. The warehouse was stocked to its limit and more. Paddy, the head store-man, was diligently instructing his “boys”, with me busy interviewing, hiring and training the clerical staff. The Glo International showroom beamed proudly. Its glistening glass shelves and brass fittings adorned with showpieces. Men and women’s wear, displayed prominently and decoratively in the Rogtex showroom, were ready for the first buyers to step through its doors. The concertina doors were closed between the Rogtex and Kolotex showroom enabling the hosiery showroom to stand alone, displaying its wares. The building, its interior and the warehouse were ready. John, me and the rest of the staff were crouched at the starting line, waiting for the starter’s pistol. We heeded its sound. We were off! A commanding lot of competitors we were! The excitement was contagious throughout the staff, but quickly came the time to knuckle down. Our dream was now a reality. The heady days of “Clings, The Girl With the Poodle On the Pack”, Kolotex’s first major entrance as high-rollers in the hosiery trade, were in the past, but definitely not forgotten. “Clings” stockings had placed Kolotex Hosiery on the map. We had now expanded that map a thousand-fold with a vigorous resolve to keep the Kolotex name foremost in the minds of the retailers and their customers. Paul Kornmehl visited from Sydney Head Office, (he didn’t get to meet his telephone buddy), as did Eric Baruch, the head of the handbag division, so did some of the other “heavies” from Sydney. Each and everyone were rightly impressed at what we had put together in Brisbane. A few month’s into our first year of the joint marketing, Sasha and I left the New Farm flat to live in a brand-new apartment in a building of eight apartments, which had been completed within days before I took up occupancy. I was the first tenant to move into the new apartment block, other than the young owner/landlord and his mate who occupied the townhouse at the rear of the block. Sasha took one look at his new residence, nodded his head in agreement and then immediately found his cosy spot on my bed. I became “married” to my job. My life revolved around my work and the Kolotex Group. I didn’t take holidays. Holidays were of no interest to me as there was so much happening within the company and my part in it all was major. Plus I was far more interested what was unfolding around me than going on a holiday. I’d miss out on all the fun! Sick days were not part of my vocabulary. New lines were being produced regularly, in all three branches of the company, meaning promotional evenings had to be planned to present them to the retailers. For the first year, Queensland Caterers were hired to handle the catering side for such evenings, but soon my interest in food again came to the fore. I presented a plan to John, who agreed with my idea, forwarding it on to the Sydney office for their “official” approval, but it was a done deal without their final nod.
Our young receptionist, Dale, soon blotted her copybook. Eventually I had no option other than to sack her. Not a month went by without her taking two, three or more days off work “sick”. I had no evidence to prove her deception, being forced to wait until she slipped up. Her attitude became brazen and cocky, tossing her nose in the air at instruction, then one day she tripped over her own deceitful attitude and careless ways. Westfield built a new shopping centre and the televised grand opening was on a Wednesday. Dale’s mother telephoned me advising that her daughter was sick and unable to come into work. On the television news that evening on the television screen as large as life almost, was Dale, arms laden with shopping bags filled with the day’s grand opening specials! Full of confidence and obvious good health, she bounced into work the following morning. I promptly summonsed her to my office, wherein she proceeded to continue with her lies until I made it clear to her that the television camera told no lies. I fired her on the spot, telling her to pack up her things and head back home as she seemed to prefer it to her workplace. A little while later, her mother telephoned abusing me on behalf of her daughter. I listened to her rant for a short while. Before hanging up the phone, I said, “Your daughter is not entirely to blame for her behaviour. You’re the one mostly at fault here as you are aiding and abetting your child in her lies. What chance does she have when she has a mother who lies for her and urges her to do similar?” That was the end of the telephone conversation.
Dale's replacement was Julie.
For the Queensland office’s future promotional evenings my idea was I would take over the catering from the “professionals”. I would plan, order, purchase and prepare the food for our future promotional evenings. Excited that my idea was agreeable to all concerned, I could hardly wait for our next event. I believed I could offer our clients better food than commercially-prepared fare, plus I would get paid for my services. The latter was a motivating incentive for me! The company was invoiced and payment was received by me accordingly. Everyone benefited from our "expansion" into the catering business because the young staff were trained in the art of food service...and washing up! The nights were good learning experiences for my staff because they gave them opportunities to meet personally with our retail clients on a different playing field. Such evenings gave them a further insight into business enabling them to understand their important roles in it. To explain the ‘promotional evenings’, during my years with the Kolotex Group of Companies we held many such evenings and all were hugely successful. We had a few crazy, fun ideas such as a London black cab and London double-decker bus. We almost lost the top deck of the bus, transferring retail buyers up to Mount Coot-tha one evening for a promotion at the Channel Nine television studios. I exaggerate a little, but the bus did almost get stuck under the overhead railway bridge at Toowong, much to the delight of our champagne-swilling guests. The London cab was purchased by the company around the same time, but I can’t really remember the reason why. I know I used to revel in feelings of importance and hysterics the mornings John would stop by my apartment in Toowong to drive me to work in the black cab. Purposely, I’d sit in the rear seat. We raised many bemused, interested looks as we drove to the office building. John wore a small cap, similar to those worn by vintage car owners, so he suited the part. I pretended to be aloof as I practiced the “royal” wave!
Not only did I handle all the catering and everything involved with the catering side of our promotional evenings, but I also worked closely beside John in the choreography and themes to be used by the models during those evenings. We worked intuitively with the modeling agencies. We had our favourite models who we used regularly and we knew what we were looking for. Actually, the first ever panti-hose commercial produced in Australia, was produced by John at the Channel Nine studies, in Brisbane. Annette Allison, well-known television newsreader and presenter was our model. Annette started her career in television when she was only eighteen. Some of my Aussie readers may know of Annette. She now lives in Melbourne and has done so for many years. Annette Allison was one of our favourite people to use as she was a “television girl” with a beautifully modulated speaking voice. Annette was a huge fan of Kolotex. She and I remained mates for many years. The last time I saw her was when we ran into each other accidentally in Melbourne one afternoon during my Hinchinbrook Island days. Preplanned, I was meeting a friend for drinks on the Friday afternoon. Arriving at the designated place and time, who should also be one of his guests, no one other than Annette! It was such a fun coincidence, but that’s another story! One massive promotion the company sunk their teeth into was when Kolotex flew a photographer, his crew and three models to Easter Island and Machu Picchu in Peru for a hosiery shoot. The launch of a new range of panti-hose was in the wings, with the new exciting product being centred on Erich von Däniken’s “Chariots of the Gods”. Invitations were extended to the Peruvian Consul and his wife, as well as to the Chilean Consul in Brisbane. On the day of the first evening (we always ran two consecutive evenings, one for the Myer Group and the other major stores and boutiques. The second night was solely for the David Jones stores…David Jones people were a little more conservative than the others! It was best that we held separate events!) a grey-haired gentleman, bearing a black Gladstone bag under his arm, arrived at the reception area asking for me. Opening the bag, he produced some bottles of Chilean wine, telling me they were “with compliments from the Chilean Consul”, Dr. Robert Wright. I asked the dapper gentleman in front of me if he was Dr. Wright but he said, “No, I run his messages for him.” With a twinkle in his eye and a smile, he went on his way. Shortly after his visit, a courier arrived from the Peruvian Consul, bearing bottles “Ica Pisco”. Pisco is a brandy distilled from whole white Muscat grapes. Both Chile and Peru claim it to be their national drink, causing a little consternation between the two countries. Peru was the first to produce Pisco back in the 1530s.
As our guests began arriving, amongst them was the “grey-haired gentleman” who, in fact, was Dr. Robert Wright. Though a “true blue Aussie”, Dr. Wright was the Chilean Consul and had been for many, many years. Robert Wright was a Doctor of Dentistry. He was Queensland’s first Doctor of Dentistry. Robert served in the Second World War and still carried a bullet from when he was injured when serving in Guadalcanal. Born, raised and educated in Brisbane, the home he lived in at Kangaroo Point, “Sunnyside” had been constructed in the 1890s and had been in his family since 1920 when his father purchased the property from the son of the original owner. The Peruvian Consul, whose name I’ve forgotten, and his wife attended. He was very quiet and conservative, a vast contrast to the more gregarious Dr. Wright. Throughout the country Kolotex ran a competition, offering trips to Easter Island and Machu Picchu to the winner from each state. A woman from Townsville, who worked at James Cook University in that city, won the Queensland section of the competition. She attended our office to receive her flight tickets and accommodation details before leaving Australia for her prize destinations. We never heard from her again, perhaps she’s still over there somewhere chasing llamas! After each of these promotional evenings John and I, particularly, would be exhausted. A lot of careful organization and planning went into the evenings. Beforehand, John would stress about giving his “sales pitch”, having to stand “bare faced” in front of a showroom filled with our business guests. He was a “man of words”, very intelligent, well-read and well-traveled, having at one time been the overseas’ buyer for a major South Australian retailer. He had been based in London for easy access to Europe. When the Cold War broke out John returned to Australia. John’s deep, dulcet tones commanded one’s attention, but he still fell victim to his nerves at such times and suffered “stage fright” the few minutes before facing the madding crowd of buyers etc. Knowing him well, I would make him empty out his trouser pockets of all loose coins and car keys, as he’d gained a habit of jingling whatever was in his pockets when he was nervous. I would coach him to calm down, telling him just to relax and then I’d hand him a stiff Scotch! It became the normal thing for me to place myself in the centre of the room amongst the keenly interested buyers, department heads and store-managers within John’s eye line. We had concocted between us secret signals. A nod or shake of my head, unnoticeable to others; a blink of an eye or a raised eyebrow each had its own meaning or warning. We certainly became an excellent double act! In handling the catering side of the evenings, I made notes and notes during the weeks beforehand, planning the style of food for the evenings, listing ideas and ingredients, desirous that the menu I chose fitted the “theme” of the particular promotion. Raiding the supermarkets, butchers and delicatessens, soon the kitchen in my apartment was overflowing with groceries, which spilled over to the staff room at Baxter Street. The staff room had been fitted out full-sized refrigerator, a portable “Roden” oven and cook-top, benches, cupboards, sink, small table and chairs during the original preparation of the building for our occupancy. For the duration of the functions, I’d hire an upright holding/warming oven or two from a catering equipment supplier. These ovens were about six feet high by two and a half feet wide. Somehow, I’d squeeze them into the rather confined room that had originally been designed to cater for in-house staff only, not fifty or so hungry visitors. The day before the planned event, I’d spend at home preparing the majority of the menu in my own kitchen, leaving the final preparation to be done in the staff room on the day of the function. Transferring the ingredients, pots, trays and containers of food into the premises at Baxter Street became a major “meals-on-wheels” manoeuvre of expertly timed precision. For one such occasion I prepared twelve traditional English trifles as part of the desserts. I made egg custards and coconut macaroons for the trifles from scratch using the little Roden oven and cook-top. I must have been insane or stupid…perhaps both! Glassware and cutlery were hired to cover the requirements. A bar was set up at one end of the showroom in question. The staff had a quick lesson in the art of bar-tending as well. It was a "win-win" situation for all concerned!
So there I was chief caterer for our promotional evenings as well as secretary, office manager and whatever else I was. Titles have never meant anything to me. I was John Trimmer's secretary and under that umbrella I expanded my horizons. He allowed me to fly free, never clipping my wings.Kolotex soon became the “talk of the town” because of our wildly successful promotional evenings. No one else could match them. Carla Zampatti, the acclaimed Australian fashion designer, at that stage a few years into her career, was contracted to design a signatory range of women’s wear by the Rogtex Clothing division. I was the first person to cater for Carla in Queensland. Her virgin trip to Queensland was as our “special guest” at the launch of “Rebecca by Zampatti”, the line of women’s clothing bearing her signature. She was and still is a stunning-looking woman, tall with golden skin, evidence of her Italian heritage. Carla Zampatti was born in Italy. With her family, she settled in Australia in 1950. Her personality and grace matched her good looks.
The beautiful, effervescent, unstoppable Maggie Tabberer, former model, owner of designer label “Maggie T” and well-known personality was also contracted at one stage, putting her name to a new panti-hose line being produced. Maggie turned seventy years young 0n 13th December 2006. It was once said about her that she “was too beautiful to be a model”. She certainly has been a bright light in Australia’s fashion industry for many, many yearsCoincidentally I was to meet up with her again a few years later, in my store at Noosa.
Our company became the major runner in the hosiery field and in the metal-mesh world of handbags and accessories. The Rogtex division was really a minor player in the fashion industry but it still played its small, though important part well. Its customer base was slowly but surely increasing throughout the retail outlets in Queensland and Northern New South Wales.
To be continued.....(pictures of Maggie Tabberer when she was younger and one taken about four or five years ago)