‘Can phone 15 be put through to 19 please?’
‘Just putting you through now,’ I said in my raw, Aussie accent.
People knew us as the tarts of the town – wearing ridiculous layers
of makeup; reapplying our lipstick every second call, just in case it
had smudged on the transmitter… not that it mattered, as we worked
throughout the day in a room surrounded by women. I grabbed the
worn, wire cord and placed it into slot 19.
My job, rather basic, but better than nothing, didn’t require much
beyond answering the phone to people who wanted to be connected
to others. Warrnambool during the 1950s was a small town; everyone
knew everything about everybody, I’d even started recognising
people’s voices and phone numbers.
Another call came through, interrupting my thoughts and giving
me a quick, sharp fright. ‘Hi there, may phone 34 be put through to
23 please?’ Phone 34 was Jane’s boyfriend. Jane was a staff member
here doing telephony and she ensured everyone knew which line he
was on just in case he ever called. ‘Just putting you through now’, I
said curiously. I’d never been asked to connect someone to phone 23
before, maybe they were new to town. There was no secret that
sitting in front of phone calls accessible to me sparked much
temptation to listen in, despite the fact it was strictly prohibited. I
wasn’t sure what went through the other telephonists’ minds, but for
me, I was desperate to know what conversations those connected
lines were having. Instead of disconnecting myself from the call and
making the line available to the next person, I listened in, my heart
‘Maggie, how are you settling in? I haven’t got the chance to
arrange a time to meet and catch up on the years we’ve missed
together, but now that work’s under control and Jane on full-time,
there should be an opportunity.’ Hearing these words would
generally put someone off listening to any more out of shock and
horror, but the curiosity in me seemed to dominate and I sat in
silence waiting for her reply.
‘Hello James, I’m settling in just fine. The town is very small and
I can tell everyone knows each other by the way a passerby interacts
with each other. Yes, I would like to see you, it has been far too long.’
I had finally heard enough. I turned off the line and tilted my head
in Jane’s direction, innocent of knowing the words I had just heard.
I didn’t know whether to tell her what I’d heard or not as we weren’t