Almanac Music: Welcome to the Working Week

I had nothing to do on this hot afternoon … oh wait, that was Rod Stewart.




It is a mere forty years since I started in the workforce.


It must have been early December 1977 when the envelope with the Piping Shrike lobbed in our Frances Avenue, Para Hills letterbox.


In November, I’d completed the SA Public Service Exam, then sat Matriculation, so there was no shortage of independent assessments of my comparative potential value to society.


With around $60 in my personal bank account (most of this coming from my winnings on 5AD’s High-Low competition), I was Dulcify-at-his-first-start odds to be going to Uni, regardless of my results.


I must have ticked most of the right boxes at the PS exam. I remember the officious functionary astride the lectern at the front of the exam room in the EWS Building in Victoria Square letting us know not to worry if we didn’t complete all of the questions (“no-one ever does”). I enjoyed a challenge. In hindsight, there was probably scant attention paid to matters of personality or diligence hidden in those Eysenck interrogations, but according to the letter that may have been signed by Don Dunstan himself, I was to report to the Highways Department, 7th Floor, 33 Warwick St Walkerville, at 9am on Monday 2nd January 1978.


It was a walk and two bus trip, catching the 504 from Bridge Road, Para Hills and changing at Collinswood for the 7G down to Walkerville Terrace.


I must have looked a sight with my abundant bouffant, anaemic blue short sleeved body shirt, brown paisley tie, pin-striped brown flares and blue leather shoes. I thought it best to dress down.


In honour of these four decades of drudgery, I’ve compiled this work-themed playlist. I didn’t consult with either C)ry [email protected]! or any of the artists here, but I’d be pleased to hear from my loyal band of shirkers readers regarding my selections and omissions.



Unemployed – Supernaut


The middle 70s saw the failure of this follow up to Supernaut’s glam rock masterpiece I Like It Both Ways. Taking a cue to the pogoings on emanating from the UK, the harder edge of this song didn’t lead to any sucCESs.



Career Opportunities – The Clash


When I saw Stuey Davis, mild mannered Bank of The Wales teller carrying a copy of The Clash under his arm while waiting for the bus home in 1977, I knew that I was onto a winner with my new found love of punk.



Found A Job – Talking Heads


But of course I was about as punk as Humphrey Bear, but at least the more cerebral mobs such as this lot, Magazine and Television were still alternative enough for me to feel rebellious, even if it was from the comfort of my bedroom. (But what if anyone found out about my recent penchant for the Alan Parsons Project, King Crimson, Yes, ELP or Budgie? Would my fraudulence ever be discovered?)



Welcome to the Working Week – Elvis Costello


My first pay came in the form of fresh banknotes (how sweet they smelled) stapled into a yellowish envelope in such a way as you could count the notes without opening the envelope, in case Kilvo or one of his mates from Payroll stuffed up.


This song was the first track on side one of My Aim Is True, one of the first albums I purchased as a working stiff. Magnificent.



Working In A Coal Mine – Devo


I’ve still got my 7″ copy of Devo’s Satisfaction/Mongoloid, with the extra big US sized hole in the centre. They continued the joke well into the 80s with this cover of a song written by future Elvis Costello collaborator Allen Toussaint. But it would be a stretch to compare my working conditions in the public service with this song’s subject.



Right to Work – Chelsea


I ended up jagging being the rightful recipient of a public service cadetship not long after starting at Highways, entering the political hotbed of Adelaide University’s Economics and Commerce faculty in early March 1978. I was exposed to a broad range of political views, taking up the cudgels of the oppressed in my On Dit letters to the editor, when I took on the big social issues of the day, ie Punk v Disco.



Live Work and Play – The Sports


I finished my degree, but the Assistant Commissioner Admin and Finance, JD Fergusson didn’t allow me to undertake Honours so my half-baked interest in Welfare Economics was replaced by preparing the Highways Monthly Cash Budget report. This was a manually intensive exercise which nonetheless allowed me to go back to the comptometrists’ room and drag out the invoices from their batches even after a long Friday lunch down at the Sussex.


Of course, it’s unlikely that I would have met Mrs Swish if I didn’t return to Highways (long story). This song was inspired by Delfin’s slogan for the West Lakes lifestyle. We had to settle for an ex-Hickinbotham display home at Para Hills, but I was “saving my pay”.



Finest Worksong – REM


I was pretty good with the new fangled accounting systems stuff, landing a spot on the Management Accountants’ Development Scheme at the Public Service Board.



Senses Working Overtime – XTC


Overtime? What’s that?



Employee Of The Month – Spongebob


I took my unique flair for finance systems across to ETSA. You know that Crimson Permanent Insurance sketch before the Meaning of Life. That was shot at ETSA, using ETSA staff. I was promoted regularly, before taking those skills to Bridgestone and Oracle.



Birth, School, Work, Death – The Godfathers


I can’t really work this song into any narrative, except for remembering that it seemed to get a pretty good run on the Channel Ten Night Shift program, which was an inferior but still satisfactory version of Rock Arena. We had MTV too, and Sounds was still around, but Countdown was in its death throes, Louie The Fly style.



New Career In A New Town – David Bowie


We, along with half of Adelaide’s pool of talent, fled our birth state for further opportunities. Our new town was Melbourne, we didn’t return.



The Job That Ate My Brain – The Ramones


Hard to believe that the Brudders were still going into the 90s. Not one of their finest moments, but a portent of how I’d be feeling after fifteen years or so of project related work in the Garden Education Gang Crime state.



Dirty Work – Steely Dan


I should’ve added Steely Dan to my list of hope-no-one-knows-I-like-thems above. “I don’t wanna do your dirty work, no more”



Draining The Pool For You – Go-Betweens


“I got tired”



There’s a Guy Works Down The Chip Shop – Kirsty MacColl


I kept my sanity and sense of humour. I owed that much to my beloved family.



Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Know – The Smiths


As I near my career’s final siren, perhaps donning the virtual red vest, I look back with the knowledge that this song sums up my working life. Looking for jobs, finding jobs, miserable, repeat.



Burning Bridges – Mike Curb Congregation


As does this.


About Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt

Saw my first SANFL game in 1967 - Dogs v Peckers. Have only ever seen the Dogs win 1 final in the flesh (1972 1st Semi) Mediocre forward pocket for the AUFC Blacks (1982-89) Life member - Ormond Netball Club -That's me on the right


  1. Grand stuff Swish. Had my “performance” (should that be attendance?) review this week. Told the young lady that this was my 45th year in the workforce, and last year’s “pull the pin” was no longer a hollow threat. She seemed relieved.
    I recall those yellow envelopes full of stapled notes. I thought that was to hold them together until you got to the Angle Park dogs?
    Our musical tastes seem to merge sometime in the late 80’s. I was always more ELO than ELP. XTC, Steely Dan, Go Betweens and the glorious Kirsty McColl (vale Grant and Kirsty). Camille OSullivan does a wonderful version of one of her best (YouTube better than Spotify).

  2. Kirsty in a “sporting” mood. One for Dr Cruel and Dennis G. Lyrics by the first Mrs B.

  3. Hey Swish, your wardrode selection for the first day of work sounds like disco attire!

    I have only ever seen the Highways and ETSA buildings from the outside. Can you tell be if the only way between floors was the external staircases — designed for acrophobics, or perhaps afrophobics is more appropriate in this case!

    The songs bring back memories. Hey I was in Melbourne 1990, 1991, 1992. Was I part of the brain drain? It was when Rabs was in Fitersroy! No social media or blogosphere in those days.

  4. Luke Reynolds says

    Love your first day of work attire, pity you didn’t include a photo of that.
    Some great songs in that mix. Not enough blue denim in your veins? Or did Barnsey request to be removed from your playlist?

  5. Neil Anderson says

    Such a familiar start in the work-force for me too Swish, just with a different soundtrack.
    After the Public Service exam I was told to report to 400 Flinders Street Melbourne, Department of Customs and Excise. I think it’s called Border Patrol or something now.
    December 10th 1963 and there was only one group that us teenagers were talking about. The Beatles. They seemed to burst on the scene just as I started work. No film or videos then kids, but lots of pictures in magazines showing new hair-styles and beatle-boots. Chisel-toed instead of the rockers’ winkle-pickers.
    By June the following year we were able to see the Beatles at Festival Hall. We were fully indoctrinated by then especially after seeing them perform briefly on Movietone News at the Rivoli Theatre in Camberwell. One year later I switched allegiance to another new group. The Stones.

  6. Earl O'Neill says

    The Kinks’ ‘Soap Opera’ album is a beaut “making decisions that affect no-one” and this song sums it up nicely, take it away Fountains Of Wayne!

  7. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    *** Addendum

    The Highways building was imaginatively constructed in the shape of a capital “H”. Grey lino floors supported grey metal desks, ornamented occasionally with square black stoppers, the type that left indelible black marks on the possibly asbestos riven flooring.

    My introduction to the Highways was provided by a ripping bloke with a wicked sense of humour, Bob. As it turned out, Bob went to Elizabeth High, finishing a dozen or so years before me. I found out that his dad was the Manager at the Savings Bank at Elizabeth South, and Bob had therefore lived for a while at the manager’s house on Goodman Road.

    Bob patiently explained to me the structure; Finance, Budget, Costing, Accounts each had their own special series of menial tasks that were high on manual processes and Bob did his best to make them seem appealing.

    My eyes wandered to the back few desks, as the plumes of grey smoke wisped towards the ceiling as they nestled in the heavy glass ashtrays that were, if not compulsory, certainly in the majority. “What to those old blokes asleep up the back do?”, I inquired, commencing my workaday disrespect before morning tea on the first day of the rest of my life.

    Vic and Bran both spoke with heavy Eastern European accents that were hard for me to tune in to. They were responsible for managing Highways’ healthy swathe of residential properties, compulsorily acquired during the 70s courtesy of the MATS plan. They were no mugs, but they treated me with more respect and interest than I did in return. I regret not finding out more about these men, who came to Australia post-war.

    Vic seemed to spend all day on his olive green bakelite rotary dial phone, chasing up debtors, sundry and otherwise.

  8. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    PB – I raced two greyhounds with aforesaid Bob a few years after I started. One of them, Towards The Dawn, had its only win at double figure odds at, you guessed it, Angle Park. The trainer didn’t rate it that night, and I had a whole $2 on it. The earlier one, Quarterflash bobbed up on the box when I was taking a holiday with the prospective Mrs Swish at Mandurah (after we had offloaded it).

    6% and Luke – I’ve got a photo somewhere of me in my day 1 work clobber. Hope I can find it.

    Regarding the blue denim Luke, I considered myself neither working class nor a fan of J Barnes. I hadn’t realised that song was written by an American, who knew nothing about Australia, until I read JBs latest. By the way, any respect that I gained for JB from his Working Class Boy book evaporated (and more) when I read his follow up. There may be a book review coming up.

    6% – both of those buildings had internal stairs as well.

    Neil – you saw the Beatles ?!?! But I bet you didn’t hear them, not that it mattered.

    Earl – in your role as the holder of the world’s best LinkedIn profile, thanks for that. (BTW – am I the only person that ever listened to Schoolboys In Disgrace ?)

  9. This is a great yarn, Swish.
    Just like my old Redgum discs, it is an Adelaide history lesson.

  10. Swish- XTC’s Senses Working Overtime is a great song forever connected to my first Queensland trip in 1987 with some mates from home and singing along to it at Tangalooma Beach Resort’s disco.

  11. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Ta Smokie, I lived there so that you didn’t have to.

    Thanks Mickey, XTC rarely get their share of plaudits, several ripping shoutalong numbers and always very clever lyrics (eg Dear God)

  12. I reckon one good ‘un you missed was Loverboy’s “Working for the weekend”,
    which is what the young Swish was surely doing back in the day.

  13. John Butler says

    Magnificent, Swish.

    Just magnificent. :)

  14. Peter Crossing says

    A most enjoyable read, Mark. It is to your eternal credit that you resisted the Johnny Paycheck approach to employment. I believe that, besides your good self, a number of SA sports-persons (or characters of note) worked in that particular Highways Dept building. And the Sussex Hotel. Saw the Moonshine Jug and String Band there in the mid 70s before the Brewsters evolved into The Angels. At present, the Sussex is being given a make-over, presumably to destroy whatever ambiance remains.
    Loved the Kirsty McColl video but there is another that knocks me out.
    Two big fifty gallon cowboy hats and an even younger looking Billy Bragg on guitar and back up vocals. Shades of the manic MJ&SB at the Sussex.
    I had a mate who reckons he once saw Elvis at a fish and chip shop at Moana. I know what Kirsty McColl would have said about him.

  15. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Smokie, I’ve had a letter from the estate of Roy Orbison, complaining that I’d left him off the list. Someone should tell them that’s not how it works these days. In a similar vein, I could’ve gone for Friday On My Mind or a fave from the Vapors, Waiting For The Weekend.

    Thanks JB. Very kind. I would have gone with workmanlike myself.

    Geez, where did they fit them in Noughts? Were they in the beer garden? Plenty of characters at the Highways, which made it such a good place to work. This piece started life as a roll call of people that I’d worked with and snippets of their lives too,, but with names withheld, it didn’t seem right. Bob, Vic and Bran were real. I’ve worked for myself (except for a couple of recent interludes) since 2004. I’d recommend it to anyone.

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