My first job was working as a porter at the Sheraton Wentworth Hotel on Elizabeth St, Sydney. I worked there while I was at uni, from age 18 to 23.
There were some interesting times there. The one that stands out in my mind was when I was doing a room upgrade for then failed entrepreneur Alan Bond.
I was supposed to be upgrading him because he was a long-term customer of the Sheraton and in the process of the upgrade put a bottle of red Plax mouthwash into his toiletries bag, which was white.
When I got to the other room to unpack it everything was red – I’d managed to pour Plax all through his medication and everything. I’d like to think there’s a couple of IQ points that Bondy lost that can be chalked up to me.
For a while the hotel had the Cricket Australia contract, so we had the West Indies cricket team staying there quite a lot. It’s fair to say they seemed to be thoroughly enjoying their tour. It was in the peak of the Brian Lara, Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose, Richie Richardson era.
My favourite daggy spot was the president of the newly independent Lithuania. He walked out and, because I happened to be studying Soviet history at the time, I said, “Good evening President Landsbergis”.
He looked at me like he could not believe he had been spotted on the street in Sydney and to be frank, neither could I.
I didn’t get many offers of sexual activity of any kind, but there was a curiously heavy tip from a middle-aged businessman. I think it was more of a proposal rather than for services rendered.
It was a pretty physical job. Big tour companies would come in and you had to load up all the suitcases and deliver them to all the rooms. There was also some carparking to do.
One day my boss asked me to bring his car around from the carpark and I only realised when I got to his car that I hadn’t driven a manual very much and his vehicle was a manual.
There are about four hill starts between the back of the hotel and the front, one of which I totally failed and only grabbed the handbrake just before ploughing into a Mercedes behind me.
In those days tips kept me going. There was a lot of cash in hand, so for a while I was able to live off cash and my wages would go into my bank account. I think the tipping culture has changed since then.
I would like to be able to say that I learned to always treat people in the service industry with respect and dignity.
That’s certainly what most decent human beings would have learned from this job.
But I went on to do The Chaser’s War on Everything and kind of harassed receptionists and security guards and the like. All I can say is I felt very bad about doing that and knew that strictly speaking, it wasn’t the thing to do.
But the job actually aligned pretty well with my law degree. I was, and still am, very passionate about industry law. It was very clear that employees had very little power and there were times that power was abused and it reinforced for me the importance of employees having good rights and representation.”
• Julian Morrow presents The Checkout on ABC TV and as part of The Chaser team has just opened a new live venue called Giant Dwarf at 199 Cleveland St, Sydney.