Linda Frith

Linda is the President of the AIOP Perth Chapter

When asked to write about my life as a PA in Australia, it was hard to know where to begin, particularly as my career spans nearly 43 years.

My family and I made the permanent move here (Perth, Western Australia) from the UK nearly 16 years ago. By that time, I had managed my own career deviations, the rapid advances in technology and adapted to the ever-changing duties I was expected to take on without question. I had also raised 3 daughters with a husband who constantly travelled overseas (and still does).

However, it was nearly 27 years ago we first applied for our visas. Believe it or not, the role of 'Secretary' was on the list of 'Required Skills' at that time, and yet my husband's career as an Aircraft Engineer, was not. Aside from the fact that my age was also on the right side of 35 (a fact he still complains about), I had all the points required to be the 'Main Applicant'. The process, although different by today's standards, was still a long one, and quite challenging due to the final stages - I had to pass certain tests. Shorthand and Typing. That sounds simple enough, but I had a total of four tests of which one was Shorthand at 100wpm for 10 minutes, and another was a typing test with a minimum speed of 65wpm. Not too difficult, you might think, but my pass mark had to be 98% or above. And remember, I only had one of those clunky machines with a carriage and an arm called a 'carriage return' - and it wasn't a train!

Obviously, I managed to scrape through those exams, and we were accepted, but for a number of reasons we delayed our move. 10 years later we finally sold up and came here. However, in Perth, it is 'who you know' not 'what you know' and I struggled to get my first job. Admittedly I was refusing to do typing tests, and walked out when a young lady, not much older than my daughter, refused to put me forward for a role because I didn't have mining experience (I said I wasn't aware I had to wear a hard hat, but that didn't go down too well). But I do believe my extensive experience, exposure to a number of industries in the UK, determination and belief in myself stood me in good stead and I finally found an amazing job with a company I stayed with for the next 5 years.

During that time, I discovered an organisation called IPSA (Institute of Personal Secretaries of Australia) and became a member. Set up by Office Professionals for Office Professionals, its aim is to help and support its members providing them with networking and further education opportunities. This made a huge difference to me, as I realised that - in Perth, anyway - it is not what you know, but who you know. Through events, dinners and Professional Development Workshops members have the opportunity to listen to professional speakers and facilitators in a range of fields and also share experiences (and solutions) with each other. It was later renamed AIOP (Australian Institute of Office Professionals) recognising the fact that we are not all secretaries. We are a group made up of Executive Assistants, Office Managers, Small Business Owners and many of the other types of office support/administrators, and I am currently President of the WA Division.

Essentially, no matter where we are in the world, the role of a PA or EA, or whatever we call ourselves, is the same. It is the influences that vary - oh, and the weather of course! Perth has the reputation of being 'laid back' (the locals say WA stands for 'Wait Awhile') but starting work at say, 6am is not unusual. Yes, we can leave a little earlier perhaps, however the early start generally means our organisations have offices in other States. Compared to the UK, Australia is a huge country and we have to accommodate time differences, e.g. in the summertime, Sydney is 3 hours ahead of Perth so even if we start at 8am, it's already 11am in Sydney.

In my current role, I am EA to the General Manager of Engineering and Infrastructure at the Pilbara Ports Authority, which recently amalgamated the Ports of Port Hedland and Dampier. My duties are quite varied, supporting a team of project engineers as well as the GM himself, and although I am based in Perth, the projects are all in the Pilbara, where work is planned around the cyclone season, and the local environment and aboriginal heritage land. There are many interesting aspects to my role, the latest being the opportunity to provide mentoring to a student of Aboriginal origin to attain a business certificate under a Government Funded Scheme, which provides equal opportunities to everyone.

But I look back on my career and remember not so much the jobs or the achievements, but the more quirky moments that made it memorable - and there were quite a few. I learned how to reverse an articulated lorry and chauffeured one of my bosses in his peppermint green Rolls Royce. I was PA to an Austrian Baron, and organised parties for his friends who included members of the Royal family and I even worked for the Entrepreneur who got the licence to introduce the first Apple computers into the UK. My daughters also loved the fact that for 5 years I worked for the Finance Director of Top Shop in London!

In Australia, I've worked on a multi-million dollar project at WA Police Headquarters, owned my own business (Knitting Boutique and Coffee Shop which I ran with one of my daughters) and was EA and Marketing Manager for the CEO of The Truffle and Wine Co. And now? Well, we are considering moving to France to be closer to 2 of our daughters who are back in the UK - after all, the world is our oyster and who says I can't be a 'Virtual Secretary'......