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“YOU’VE GOTTA KNOCK ABOUT SON!” a story about Crutchings to politics

Bruce Laming i


Contents Prologue����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� iv The Interim Years������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� vii Introduction����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� ix Early Memories – the Forties and Fifties������������������������������������������������������ xiii BOOK ONE 1

An Introduction to Crutchings����������������������������������������������������������������� 1

2

Home, But Not For Long������������������������������������������������������������������������ 9

3

I Can Drive Any Bloody Thing!������������������������������������������������������������ 19

4

The Snowy and the Western Plains������������������������������������������������������� 27

5

Queensland at Last�������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 41

6

Time for a New Direction���������������������������������������������������������������������� 59

7

Back to School��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 69

8

A Permanent Job at Last – Or Was It?��������������������������������������������������� 77

9

Go West Young Man!���������������������������������������������������������������������������� 83

10

The Boss of the Board��������������������������������������������������������������������������� 91

11

The Vanguard of the Bush��������������������������������������������������������������������� 97

12

The Last Hurrah?��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 103

BOOK TWO 1

To Tassie with Love����������������������������������������������������������������������������� 109

2

Island Life�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 123

3

Life Amongst the Clouds��������������������������������������������������������������������� 139

4

Beautiful One Day, Perfect the Next��������������������������������������������������� 155

5

A Taste of Public Life 1980 – 1992���������������������������������������������������� 167

6

The Journey to Politics 1988 – 1991��������������������������������������������������� 185

7

In Politics at Last��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 195

8

Reflections������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 221


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

Prologue This Prologue is a fictional story. The main characters, however, are real people. They are two men who immigrated separately to Australia from Britain in the mid nineteenth century. They represent the beginnings of their respective families in the Australian colonies. There is no record that they ever met. But then again – they may have… It was midday on a cool spring day in 1856 at a respectable Williamstown tea house, near Melbourne. It was crowded. A well-dressed man, about 40, with a neat bushy beard, sat at a table with a six-year-old boy. The man looked over his shoulder when a little bell rang as the front door opened. A police constable, about 35 and shorter than most police officers, entered and then paused as he looked around the room for a seat. At first no one offered him one. ‘Constable!’ the bearded man beckoned. ‘Come, share our table.’ The policeman looked across and noticed the contrast between the man’s neat attire and his powerful, sun-tanned hands. ‘Thank you, Sir. That’s very kind of you,’ he said, walking to their table. ‘Ah. It’s the least a fellow could do,’ replied the bearded man, rising. ‘As a community we worked hard to have a police force established here in Melbourne just three years ago.’ The policeman’s eyes flicked to the man’s hands again. ‘My name is Head – William Head,’ the bearded man continued, offering his hand. ‘And this is my son, James.’ The two men shook hands, and the policeman nodded in James’s direction. ‘My name is also William, Sir, Constable William Laming.’ The two men sat down. ‘Ah, and do I detect a Scottish brogue there?’ Head asked. ‘Ach. A wee bit, aye. We’re from Greenoch, you see. We’ve been here in Melbourne barely a month and all.’ ‘Allow me to welcome you!’ Head beamed, catching the waitress’s eye for another serve of tea and scones. ‘Only if you’ll allow me to stand young James here a lemonade,’ Laming responded. Head glanced at his son whose eyes had lit up. ‘Thank you, yes. My wife, Sarah, and I arrived - in Sydney first - back in 38 on the William Metcalfe from Plymouth. The well-known Port Phillip farmer, John Gardiner, offered us work straight away down here on his property. We’d only heard of the place as Port Phillip, but they’d changed it to Melbourne in 37. So we sailed down in the vessel, Hope, and made land fall on the first of January 1839.’ The waitress brought a fresh pot, an extra cup and saucer and scones. ‘I built our first cottage with just one door,’ continued Head. ‘Easier to defend against the blacks – they were a little troublesome back then.’ iv


Prologue

‘And papa grew the first-ever crop in the Port Phillip area,’ added James proudly. ‘Now, my boy,’ chided Head with a stern but friendly smile. ‘Remember what I told you about boasting.’ ‘I’m sorry, Sir.’ ‘You certainly were pioneers,’ said Laming, sitting back smiling at James. ‘I didn’t even come out here on my first trip until 53.’ ‘First trip?’ ‘Yes I worked my passage out of Greenoch to Geelong as a ship’s steward – even though I am a qualified ship’s carpenter – on the Duncan Foyle. Then I returned to get my family last year on the Sea Bird when I was convinced we had a future here.’ ‘I commend your caution,’ said Head. ‘And your family comprises…’ ‘My wife, Mary and me, three sons and two daughters – so far,’ answered Laming, without expression, as Head hid a smile from his son. ‘And I have five sons and two daughters – so far.’ They both laugh softly. ‘So the second trip was on the Glen Maria,’ continued Laming, ‘and we arrived at Williamstown in August – just in time to be welcomed by the golden wattle. I was fortunate indeed to secure this position so soon.’ ‘And have you encountered any ill will on account of the sad Eureka Stockade revolt two years ago?’ queried Head. ‘No, I’m in the Water Police. We’re a wee bit removed from that tragic event.’ Laming paused. ‘Did you ever try your luck on the diggings, Mr Head?’ ‘Hmm. My eldest boy, William, and I gave it a try - unsuccessfully I’m afraid - up at Bendigo in 51. Just as well the family kept things going at our Brighton farm. Then in 53 we moved out to our present location at Oakleigh.’ Oakleigh? That’s a long way from Williamstown,’ said Laming. ‘And what brings you here then? ‘I’ve got some cargo from Sydney to pick up on behalf of the Methodist churches in Brighton and Oakleigh,’ Head said, looking at his fob watch. ‘It was going through Customs this morning. I’ll take the wagon over there shortly to load up.’ Laming sipped his tea, picked up a scone and turned to James. ‘And what would you like to be doin when you grow up, young James?’ ‘I’d like to be a violinist, Sir.’ ‘Indeed?’ ‘Socially perhaps,’ added his father, nodding sternly. ‘I’d like to see him with a trade first. This colony will need builders and farmers for generations to come. I think he would make an excellent builder, don’t you, Mr Laming?’ ‘Aye, that’s good advice, Sir,’ answered Laming thoughtfully. ‘But somehow I think my boys have a restless nature and will go bush, but your’s is very good advice and all.’ ‘Let us hope and pray,’ said Head, with finality, ‘that, above all, our children and their children lead a God-fearing, prosperous and happy life.’ ‘Amen to that,’ replied Laming, standing up. He looked at the clock on v


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the wall. ‘But now I must get back to my work. ‘Thank you for your company, gentlemen.’ The two men shook hands and Laming turned towards the door. The little bell on the door rang again as the policeman departed. William Head smiled at his son, the young James Head, as he took a long sip of his lemonade.

vi


The Interim Years

The Interim Years Young James Head, seventh child of William and Sarah Head the original Head family pioneers from England, grew up and married Ann Trebley in 1874. James Head followed his father’s advice and entered the building vocation. James did learn to play the violin - socially. James and Ann’s fourth child, Frederick, was born in 1883 and Frederick, in turn, went on to marry Elsie Andrew. Frederick was a builder too – and also played the fiddle. Frederick and Elsie’s second child was Edith Head, my mother, who was born in Melbourne in 1911. William Laming, the original Laming family pioneer, continued in the service of the Victoria Water Police for 24 years. His and wife Mary’s tenth child was Edmund who was born in 1866. Edmund Laming remained around Williamstown at first, where he became a champion Australian Rules footballer, then he moved to Drouin in Gippsland, country Victoria and, it seems, he also spent some time in Kalgoorlie, WA. Edmund, in turn, married Catherine Morgan in 1899. Their fourth child, Charles Edmund Laming, my father, was born in Drouin in 1903. Charles became a butcher in Sale, a large country town, also in Gippsland. Edith Head and Charles Laming, my parents, were married in 1932. Although Mum went to Sale initially it was, I believe, her influence that brought Dad down from his beloved bush, not just to Melbourne, but to Mum’s favoured south-east side of town, to Murrumbeena near Oakleigh. My brother, Greg, was born in Sale, before the shift to Melbourne in 1933, and I was born in Hughesdale, near Oakleigh, in 1938. But Dad was now far away from the horses he loved and those exhilarating cattle drives in the high plains. Despite his success, becoming Victoria’s youngest high-grade butcher at that time, I believe he held a deep-seated distain of city life. Our family lived at East Malvern (now Chadstone) and at Murrumbeena where Dad owned the butcher shop for fifteen years. He had two unsuccessful tilts at state politics as a Liberal in 1950 and 1953. He went shares in a dry sheep property at Womboota in the Riverina first then on his own on an irrigated property at Wakool, further north. Greg and I attended Scotch College and each of us, after completing grade ten, joined Mum and Dad at Nullabooma, Wakool. The call of the bush had been answered. Willem de Vlamingh In relation to history, some of the Laming family in Australia claim that many of us are descended from the Dutch explorer, Willem de Vlamingh, who landed on the west coast of New Holland (as Australia was then called) in 1616. I have not been able to prove the connection so far. Further information can be sought from the excellent indexed book: The Great Race by David Hill, first published 2012.

vii


Centenary 1939, Me with Dad, Bottom Right Hand Corner Mum in Second Back Row in Front of Man with White Shirt (no hat)

You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

viii


Introduction

Introduction Well here I am in 2010, aged seventy plus, wondering whether I am retired, semi retired or simply between jobs. I find myself sitting in front of my computer starting to write my own story. But why are people interested in writing their autobiography? Could it display an inflated assessment of their own importance that posterity could not function without their story being told? Perhaps it is so in some cases - but not in mine. In my particular case, I often ponder about my relationship with my father. I seemed to have lost communicative contact with him when I left home at sixteen to see the world. Perhaps it was earlier. He used to tell stories if we had visitors or were visiting, about his days in the bush and as a horseman in the high plains of Victoria. My elder brother, Greg, and I were quite small at the time, both attending Murrumbeena Primary School in south-east Melbourne. I recall Dad telling us once that in 1931 he had flown with KingsfordSmith in the “Southern Cross” when its sister plane the “Southern Cloud” went down in the Snowy Mountains. The “Cloud” wasn’t found until 1958, but I sure wish I knew more about dad’s involvement. I think he was selected as an observer because of his ground-level knowledge of the country being searched. Unfortunately, with this and with many other stories, we used to scoff and say ‘not this story again?’ It is no surprise that he eventually gave up telling his stories. My main recollections of him are of weekends at home, visits to the butcher shop at Murrumbeena and his brief tilt at state politics in 1950 and 1953. Because of the shop, he rarely joined us on holidays. There were a few months, in the mid fifties, when I rejoined the family on the farm at Wakool in the Riverina near Deniliquin, but alcohol had taken its grip of my father by that time and meaningful discussions particularly about the past were a few and far between. What a shame for us to have fumbled and lost his earlier life and experiences. We were fortunate to have my mother much longer. Mum was very proud of her own family, the Heads, who had arrived in Victoria in 1838 and settled where Scotch College is now situated. It has been claimed that the Heads were among the first farmers in Victoria. Mum’s own father, Frederick George Head, was a master builder of many talents. He is reputed to have had the first motor truck in Victoria, possibly Australia (based on a T Model Ford), and invented all sorts the weird and wonderful things which he then built. What a book even his ideas would have made! And so I am mindful of the stories that were told and not recorded and those that could have been told and were not. I’m equally aware of the difficulty in recollection and communication when one reaches one’s dotage. I know I tell a lot of stories, and the kids have heard most of them. Fortunately they have been kinder to me than I was to my father. But how much of the intrinsic culture of life as a knock-about in the fifties has been retained? Little, I expect. And what about my grandchildren who one day might be quite curious as to what this dithering old ix


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fool did when he still had his wits? Perhaps what follows in this book might even represent a chronicle of the last generation of Australians that could get out and see the real Australia, “knocking about” as I call it, without tertiary education, a knowledge of new technology or even a formal trade. Perhaps it will record some of the issues of the ‘50s, which marked the beginning of those times of great change in technology and, more importantly, in social issues and geo-politics. Anyway, I sincerely hope that, if nothing else, my story proves to be a cure for my nagging nostalgia, and the fear that I might forget the lot before I get a chance to write anything down. The theme ‘Knocking About’ is derived from the very same words that an old shearer, Abdul, said to me when I first left home and perhaps explains why I have continued to be unable right through my life to shake off, not just the desire, but the obsession to “knock about”, to the extent that I’m still not sure what I want to do when I grow up!

x


Charles Laming on Silver King.

Introduction

xi


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

Bruce as a Toddler

xii


Early Memories – the Forties and Fifties

Early Memories – the Forties and Fifties I suppose the early forties were comparatively difficult times, as the Depression had not long passed and World War Two was still raging. We lived in a small twobedroom duplex at 42 Sutherland Street East Malvern (now Chadstone). It was the time of rationing food, fuel and other items that were required for the war effort. People were issued with ration coupon books and I remember butter, flour, tea and sugar for instance could only be purchased with the correct cash and the tendering of the relevant little coupon, smaller in size than a postage stamp. Cars, too, rumbled about with strange objects on the back called gas producers, and I think they burnt charcoal to make petrol go further. I recall, when I was about five, walking up and down the streets with mum who was selling war savings certificates. These consisted of cards about A4 size with a picture in sepia of fighter planes in aerial conflict. Naturally, the British spitfires were shooting the Japanese zeros down. People purchased war saving stamps and stuck them on the cards as a receipt for their financial contributions. Everything possible was recycled, from the cardboard that breakfast cereal came in to something that was particularly important, toothpaste tubes which in those days were metal (I think they were lead, but hope I’m wrong there!) Most homes had air-raid shelters in the backyard. We were very proud of ours, but also happy that we never had to use it. Similarly, Murrumbeena State School had zigzag slit trenches in the school yards and when the sirens were sounded, the whole school had to practise vacating the classrooms and heading quickly for the trenches in the school yards. It was a time when many of the men and women were away on military duties. One of the families in the street comprised about five young children, a hardly-coping mother and an absent father. They were very friendly and we used to play together in their large back yard quite often. Subsequently it became pretty messy and when the father came home on leave one time he loudly directed all of the kids to various clean-up chores. I got a whiff of a job heading my way so I took flight. ‘Come back here, you!’ the father yelled at my retreating back. I slowed uncertainly. ‘Let ‘im go Dad!’ the mother shouted from the back door. ‘He ain’t one of our’s.’ Although it may have been relatively hard times when compared to the decades that were to follow, we in Australia were so much better off than those in most other parts of the world. I was only vaguely aware that Dad was very much involved in the ‘Food for Britain’ campaign and can remember the food parcels being put together for shipment. But it wasn’t until long after he passed away that I came across several letters from British recipients of those parcels. Their gratitude over such things as a packet of raisins that they ‘simply couldn’t wait until Christmas to open’, was a chronicle, not just of their gratitude, but to the privations xiii


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that they had suffered during the war. It seems hard to believe these days that the rubbish man, the milk man and the baker of the forties all came in carts drawn by horses. I think the first person that called in a motorized vehicle was the ice man, who used to sell large blocks of ice from a khaki ex-army truck to the housewives to put in their ice chests in the days before refrigerators. I think he came about twice a week in summer as the large blocks lasted surprisingly well. He was also popular with the kids, because he used to wield an ice pick to split the blocks up and, while he was delivering the blocks, the kids of the street would be scooping up the splinters of ice off the back of the truck and sucking them furiously. The back of the truck wasn’t all that clean as I’m sure the same truck delivered firewood in winter. I doubt that such a practice would be viewed favorably by the health authorities these days. At home, at the Sutherland Street duplex, Greg and I shared the same room until we were seventeen and twelve respectively. We didn’t fight much because Dad would have belted us both. However the five year separation in our birth dates meant that we did little together and I was consigned to the role of pest, a task that I filled admirably. We had a nice elderly lady next door on one side called Mrs. Dyason and everybody called her Dysey. When mum was working late at dad’s butcher shop Dysey used to invite us kids in for pancakes after school. Being a very generous kid, I invited all the kids in the street plus a few more. Dysey never seemed to mind, she just mixed up more pancake mix and threw it in the frying pan. A fellow who lived in the duplex next door to us played the bagpipes. Now it was usual at about ten years old to give pipers a bit of lip in those days and I kept the tradition going – to the point where Dad had to step in to avoid an un-neighbourly row. Believe it or not, I came home from Scotch College a couple of years later with bagpipes myself. I was spared considerable embarrassment because by then - at 1950 - we’d moved from East Malvern to a new brick home not far away at 712 Dandenong Road, Murrumbeena. No mention of the kids in Sutherland street would be complete without Willie, aka David Wilson, who lived just up the street twenty-eight. I don’t actually remember meeting Willie, he always seemed to be around. To be more precise, I was always around at his place. You see, his parents were very familycentred and treated me as part of their extended family. At Christmas time, there was always something under their tree for me. Each weekend in Summer there was always room in their Morris Cowley tourer for me to go to the beach too, and I spent many Christmas school holidays with them at places like Portsea. Willie’s house had the big sand pit, the swing and a barbecue for cooking pancakes and the yabbies we caught in Gardiner’s creek. I never realized until recently that this creek was named after the pioneer and farmer, John Gardiner, who employed my great great grandfather, William Head in 1839. The creek ran along side East Malvern Golf course and Willie and I plied a lucrative trade in selling golf balls back to the owners after they’d belted them into the water and we’d located them by wading in bare feet. xiv


Early Memories – the Forties and Fifties

Willy’s dad had the workshop and tools to make the boats, the trucks (billy carts), the bows, arrows and cracker guns with which we terrorized most of the neighbourhood. Willie had something else that I lacked – sisters – so Judith became my surrogate big sister and Elaine became my little sister as well. The Wilsons were a lovely family and regular church-goers, and I suppose that’s why I went along there too. It’s not as though I didn’t have good parents, I did, but Dad worked hard and long in the butcher shop and, as a result, was not around much to do things with the kids. When we did get away on a family holiday, it was usually with Mum and maybe one of my aunts, and Dad would come when he could. The exception to this was Emerald, but then Emerald was different. We had an Essex Super Six Tourer motor car back then, of which dad was very proud. On Sundays, Dad’s only day off, we used to enjoy our short trips to Emerald, south east of Melbourne in Gippsland. Dad had bought an eight acre block and, with a little help from his friends, had built a one room bungalow. Dad was at his happiest at Emerald, which was as close as he could get to the bush for a Sunday in those days. That partial-bitumen 23 mile journey from East Malvern to Emerald in the Essex seemed to take for ever and I was very prone to car sickness on that windy road which didn’t help. It was a lovely spot, and we used to look downhill over Galenti’s (I think) potato farm at the Emerald Lake, which is where I learned to swim. I recall the first time that I claimed to be swimming. ‘Look at me,’ I shouted, not realizing that the whole family could see my hands marching along the bottom. Dad frowned, Greg smirked and Mum cheered and clapped her hands. I think that little episode described each of us. I’ve been back since and it seems to be rather polluted and I don’t think you’re allowed to swim in it. That’s a pity, because it’s such a nice spot. Our Emerald property also had a bracken fern problem and a rabbit infestation. I remember these quite clearly. The whole family was recruited to slash the ferns with various implements and I drove the scythe into Greg’s leg. Following the first aid I was demoted to a small sickle. I didn’t fare much better with the rabbit trapping. I nearly puked when Dad demonstrated how to ring a rabbit’s neck, then I stepped backwards onto a set trap – more bloody first aid. I suppose our school, Murrumbeena State, was no different from the other state primary schools of the forties. The classes had about 30 pupils, girls and boys, and I remember that most of the teaching was done in the late forties from the blackboard. In the early grades, believe it or not, we used slates and slate pencils before moving on to lead pencils, probably in grade two. Progressing from pencils to pens and ink wells was a graduation that we all looked forward to nearly as much as our first pair of long pants, and the time spent practising our writing in red and blue lined exercise books was probably not quite as much as we tend to think looking back from the present. But my greatest embarrassment at primary school occurred, I think about grade 5, when the teacher made me sit with the girls. ‘I think you are a ladies’ man,’ he said, or words to that effect which rather xv


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

puzzled me, because my main attention to the fair sex was trying to dip the plaits of the girl sitting in front of me into my ink well - but maybe he knew something I didn’t know, I hope I wasn’t that transparent. In those days, of course, corporal punishment was normal both at school and at home. I don’t think any of the boys escaped the cuts at school, which caused the miscreant’s hands to swell up like an aching football. At home, dad had acquired a piece solid conveyor belt off the compressor of the fridge at his shop. Boy, did it hurt! Our sport at school was pretty much restricted to football (Aussie Rules) in the winter and cricket in the summer. The football usually amounted to end-toend kicking. I was a lousy kick and not much better at marking and it came as no surprise that I didn’t make the team. I made the cricket team briefly but they kept putting me in to bat in the middle of a hat trick so that didn’t last long. I wondered whether a non team sport would suit me better – but what? Eventually I started to show some of the interests that would revisit me later in life. The first one was while I was still at primary school; I asked my father for yacht for Christmas. This did not seem to surprise him as much as I thought it would, but I realized why when the he turned up on Christmas Day with a very nice two foot long toy yacht under his arm. I have hoped to this day that my disappointment at not being able to go sailing on Boxing Day did not show on my face that Christmas morning. The second thing of interest was horses. Dad was always going to be a soft touch for horses, as he had been an expert bush horseman in his younger days and never lost his own love of horses. As a matter of fact he might have even used my request for a horse to help him get back into horses himself when we moved to our new house in Murrumbeena. This house, by the way, was built by his father-inlaw, my grand father, F.G.Head in the late 40s. It was one of the first houses to use laminex shelving and terrazzo concrete work. But back to horses. The new house had a large paddock right next door. This paddock had been part of the outer circle railway route, which had been discontinued some years before. So both of us got a horse for Christmas in 1948. I helped select my horse, I think it was really classed as a pony, and his name was Ginger and he cost four pounds [8 dollars]. Dad always insisted that I shouldn’t have a saddle until I could ride very well bare-back. I don’t know whether it was my lack of riding ability, or finances that caused the saddle never to appear, I suspect that it was probably the former. Dad bought a nice horse, an arab stallion, but I can’t remember its name. He wasn’t another Silver King though, his former lovely horse of the thirties that, with Dad in the saddle, used to lead the local Sale brass band and step in time with the music – but he had a horse again. I know that he was frustrated just riding up and down the paddock, instead of across the Victorian high plains in the cattle country. Like most kids of the day, Greg and I went to Sunday school at Alma Street Methodist church on Sundays. Not surprisingly, Greg soon found better things xvi


Early Memories – the Forties and Fifties

to do, but I went on to Bible study all through my time at Scotch and became a regular at evening church services for a couple of years afterwards, which I knew pleased Mum. One year our youth club at the church decided to put on a concert and I found myself singing a solo called Bless this House. I may have been able to handle it has a boy soprano, despite being extremely nervous, but after my voice broke, I’m afraid the ability to sing that song disappeared right along with my voice. The ongoing involvement with the church, I must confess, was certainly encouraged, if not driven, by the presence of some nice girls at the youth club! The Wilson Christmas holidays seemed to get more crowded each year as Judith’s (Willy’s elder sister) friends, as well as Willy’s, joined the throng. Places like Portsea were the favourites and swimming was the main attraction. The Wilsons were all good swimmers and, once again, I joined in too. Those were the days when surf boards were almost unheard of and we sought new challenges as an alternative to just bobbing up and down in the water. We tried fishing, but I tired fairly quickly of that and besides, Willie always caught more fish than I did any way. The original third member of our group was Ronnie Roberts, but Ronnie’s family shifted to a dairy farm up at Erica and Willy and I used to visit on holidays . Then Bruce McDonough - who was a year older than me - moved into the street and joined us. We always seemed to do things first or better than other kids around the neighbourhood. And so it was when we decided to take up this new craze called spear fishing. Fins, or flippers as they were then called, had just become available but not face masks or snorkels. So the intrepid trio fabricated masks using ex-army gas masks, bike tyre pump casings, bike handle bar grips, wire and ping pong balls. Now we could actually see those elusive fish – but how to catch them became the challenge. So we made hand spears from curtain rods and strips of car inner tube. And they worked! Dad was less than impressed and in his usual encouraging style said, ‘You’ll bloody-well drown yourselves!’ But we caught and fried lots of lovely butter fish! When the 50s came along and I was twelve, a number of things had changed in our family. We had left Sutherland Street and moved a mile away to our lovely new brick house in Murrumbeena. Dad had entered his first political campaign in 1950 as the state Liberal candidate for Oakleigh and I was to learn the art of handing out how-to-vote cards. I was also off to join my brother at Scotch College. Although I had every reason to be pleased that I was attending such a good school, I think my self-satisfaction and a bit of laziness must have shown. The head master at the time was Colin Gilray and he was only the fourth head master in the school’s 100 years. When his bulk filled the doorway, it darkened the room but when he called me by name to accompany him outside, I nearly died on the spot. ‘What does your father do?’ he demanded. xvii


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

‘A butcher, Sir’, I stammered. ‘And what does it cost him to send you here?’ ‘Twenty-three pounds per term, Sir’. My voice had all but disappeared. ‘You’re wasting his money’, he roared, ‘Now, I want you to work harder after as well as during school!’ he ordered. I made sure that he didn’t have to speak to me about this again. The warning was timely. The very next class was Latin, and the master was Mr [Chesty] Bond. ‘Everybody tell me their names’, he requested. There were no comments until I announced my name. ‘Laming?’ he queried, straightening up. ‘Do you have a brother here?’ ‘Yes, Sir’, I said brightly. ‘You’ll fail then’, he said with resignation. It was 1950 and I went on to do three years of Latin, probably for no better reason than to prove him wrong. The following year, 1951, was to be the school’s centenary. Little did Chesty or I realize that fifty years later we would both be attending a dinner at the school’s Sequi-centenary. Now Latin might be a dead language but I have found it incredibly useful with English during those 50 years. Thank you, Chesty Bond! Scotch was a new experience after my six years of primary school education at Murrumbeena. There were boarders who we referred to as “scabs” because they always stayed and they in turn called us “dagoes” [day goes] which was not very complimentary in the ‘50s, just ask any Italian! The cuts from primary school days had been replaced by the cane. The interesting thing was that the masters, apart from the head master, could not inflict the cane but the prefects could. Everybody was very envious of that authority. Following the head master’s directive, I took up rugby union, commenced rowing and joined the pipe band. I hardly ever went straight home at 3.30. I came to appreciate what he had meant when he told me that I would get nothing more from the school than I put into it. Of all the additional activities, I think I liked the pipe band of the best. The uniform, the marching and the bagpipe music were all great and it was about the only activity that resulted in regular visits to the girls’ colleges. In fact the band was the first example I can recall where I allowed outside events to influence my direction in life. I had decided to leave school at the end of 1953 to study wool classing in mid 1954. Then I heard that the new Queen Elizabeth was visiting Australia in early 1954, so I decided to stay another term just to play in the band during her visit. I did not realize at the time, that I would never play in another pipe band. On the other hand, neither could I have even guessed that I would be playing the pipes solo in such unusual places as several shearing sheds, the Snowy Mountains, Mt Isa and Papua New Guinea. It was during 1953, that I commenced my future bad habit of trying to do too many things at once. I wasn’t able to play rugby union and Australian rules at the same time at school, so I joined the local suburban team to play rules on Saturday xviii


Early Memories – the Forties and Fifties

afternoons, after having played union in the Second Fifteen for Scotch. Sometimes I had to run across several suburbs to get from one game to the other. And I used to wonder why I got leg cramps at the pictures on Saturday night! In addition to school activities, I also worked at Myers Melbourne store selling ties. The pocket money was handy but it served to convince me that I did not want to work in a city. The head master was a little perplexed that I was leaving school ostensibly at the end of year ten with just my intermediate certificate. I must confess that Dad had asked me whether I wanted to go on to university and I, foolishly, declined saying that I just wanted to be a wool classer in the bush. This probably suited dad, because the rest of the family was about to move to a sheep property in the Riverina, and I would have had to become an expensive boarder at Scotch instead of a potentially useful person on the farm. So a rather academic education came to an untimely end. I don’t think it entered my head that I would, one day, be seeking tertiary education. If some one had suggested back then, that in fifty years time, I would be drawing close to a degree, I would have responded, not only with disbelief, but also a certain amount of scorn. I seemed to have picked up from somewhere a very working class, egalitarian view of the world. So I wandered away from Scotch, on my own, at the end of first term 1954, neither realising what opportunities I was leaving behind nor, for that matter, what sort of life lay ahead.

xix


An Introduction to Crutchings

BOOK ONE 1

An Introduction to Crutchings

‘Don’t you get drinkin’ that flamin’ beer, boy! I can drink enough for the whole flaming family.’ The words still ring in my ears. Dad had managed impeccable timing with his ham-fisted mixture of humour and fatherly advice at Spencer St Railway Station back in February, 1955. The Baptist minister, Rev. Bligh, Mrs Bligh and their two children from Weller Lodge had also come to see me off, as I was taking the Overlander to Adelaide. Everything had gone nicely until I was seated and waving goodbye, when dad let go with his advice. The smiles on the faces of the whole Bligh family froze and my last recollection as the train slid away was mum looking at dad with a mixture of embarrassment and anger. On leaving Scotch College early the previous year, 1954 aged 15, I’d headed north to the new family home, ‘Nullabooma’, Wakool in the NSW Riverina. I had just arrived when it was time to head off to the first of three annual wool-classing courses at Echuca, on the Murray River. Each course went for a fortnight and was really only designed to teach the graziers’ sons the rudiments of wool-classing. The couple of dozen teenage wool students were obviously more interested in the meal breaks, when their entire attention centred on playing Aussie Rules football with a ball made up of a small bundle of tightly-rolled newspapers. Now I don’t think you would see that these days. There is little doubt that I was the only attendee who had never even seen sheep shit, let alone a whole fleece of raw wool. We were all beckoned to gather around a wool table, the whole ten foot length of it covered by fleece and, wouldn’t you know it, I had the stupidity to ask a question. ‘And how many sheep does this wool come off, Sir?’ The chatter stopped and all heads yawed between me and the young instructor. Fortunately the majority of those present thought I was having a lend of the instructor, one of two who had come up from the Gordon Tech in Geelong. ‘Ahh, we have a facetious one in our midst,’ he said. The nick name stuck and I hurriedly accepted it rather than divulge my incredible ignorance. I can’t remember whether it was dad’s idea or mine that I should go off to work in a wool store for a while. Anyhow, Younghusband’s in North Melbourne was selected as Dad was one of their clients. Dad also found Weller Lodge, a men’s hostel in Canterbury, for me to board. So there was I, just 16 and having lost my school friends, youth club friends and family all in the space of twelve months. Although at an impressionable age, the culture and guidance at the Baptist hostel was in complete contrast to the more earthy mores of the North Melbourne lads. I also seemed to be developing a skill, wherever I went, of causing a furore of sorts resulting from my ignorance, stubbornness or attempts at being funny. The 1


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

wool store was no exception. The organiser for the Storemen and Packers Union came around to sign up all the new employees. ‘I don’t believe in compulsory unionism,’ I said, thinking that that would surely be an end to the matter. Not so! The whole store went out on strike and it was only a hurried phone call from the store manager to Dad which resulted in the union dues being paid by Dad on my behalf that got everyone back to work. I suppose this was my first dabble into politics – not a good start. At Younghusbands I encountered my first array of nick names. My closest workmates were “Puddin”, “Bluey” and “Threepence” – all self explanatory. I was able to score some casual overtime work after the first wool sale for the season, clearing the sold bales off the show room floor and downstairs for dispatch to their new owners. I was (foolishly) entrusted with a truck, or twowheeled trolley, to take bales to a drop chute. My 140 pound weight was no match with the first bale’s 300, and truck followed bale down the chute. I nearly went too. There were howls of anger from below and my non-existent truck was officially confiscated and replaced with a bar about a foot in length, as thick as your finger and pointed at one end. I think that it was called a “fadging bar”, and it was used for levering loose wool back into the bale. Inside ten minutes I had let the thick end slip from the heel of my greasy palm and whack me just under the eye, giving me a shiner and a half. I was then presented with a deep, noisy sigh and a bag needle and twine to sew up the semi-opened bales. ‘This is your last chance, Muscles,’ the burley leading hand said. This time I put my pride aside and asked him how to use the needle. A few weeks later several of us wool store boys decided to head off to South Australia to do a run of sheds as rouseabouts, before the end of the busy period in the wool store. ‘Don’t think you’ll get your bloody jobs back here next season if you take off now,’ the boss announced. It was probably a combination of my not accepting that sort of blackmail plus the very first stirrings of my wanting to charge off into the wild blue yonder that resulted in me being the only one of the group that finished up sitting on the Overlander that day. As the train rattled its way westward, I had time to reflect on the beginning of my first adventure into the unknown. I don’t recall being conscious of the complexity of my social background and points of view in those early days. On the one hand, I was still very much an ‘old boy’ from Scotch College. I’d recently been heavily involved in the Methodist Youth movement and was an unrepentant son of a very politically-conservative family. This, in hind sight, was not the best pedigree with which to start a career in the shearing sheds! On the other hand, I was aware that I was becoming fiercely egalitarian. These complexities were to cause me considerable confusion and even anguish in the future. Bimbowrie Station, near Olary, was an eight stand shed: eight shearers, seven shed hands (rouseabouts), presser, boss-of-the-board, wool-classer and a cook. On the 2


An Introduction to Crutchings

first day of shearing I was directed to the board. ‘Sweep the floor, chuck the odd fleece when the other two are busy and pick the crutchings!’ the classer shouted over the din of the motor and eight shearers. ‘What are crutchings?’ I asked. The classer looked at me in pity. ‘They’re the stinkin, piss-stained bits of wool in the wethers’ bellies,’ he answered. I managed the sweeping okay by running a lot. I coped with the evilsmelling crutchings although they nearly made me vomit. However the fleeces were full of sand and were difficult to throw, so most of mine finished up in a heap. ‘You can have a go on the wool table tomorrow,’ grunted the frowning wool-classer. The shearer working nearest to the wool table must have heard the classer’s stern words and, when the classer was down talking to the presser, called me over. ‘Get shearin, boy,’ he said. ‘I’ll let you barrow mine on each bell.’ ‘Barrow?’ I asked. ‘Yeah. Barrowin’ is when shearers do the hard bits and let the rouseabouts finish em off at the end of a run.’ I accepted his offer, and many others in the future. There’s something about shearing that enticed me and soon I could do the hard bits too. Next morning I took up my new position. Skirting, or trimming the edges, and rolling the fleeces was not so rushed as the board work, but it was more complex. ‘I want these fleeces skirted lightly – do you hear?’ the classer barked. I swallowed and nodded. One of the other wool-rollers found out pretty quickly that I held strong religious views and it didn’t take him long to bait me. ‘You’re just a bloody God botherer,’ he snarled. ‘That’s blasphemous!’ I shouted. Meanwhile my skirting of the fleeces became quite erratic. Still, I couldn’t believe it when, after just one warning, I got sacked or ‘tramped’ as they called it. This propensity of mine to escalate from relative calm to anger if challenged was to become a source of bother to me for a long time. The boss of the board intercepted me as I slunk towards the door. ‘Don’t worry son,’ he said, as he scribbled on a piece of paper. ‘There’ll be sheep to shear and wool to skirt when we’re all dead and buried.’ I looked at him with a blank expression. He passed the note to me. ‘You show this note to any other contractor within a hundred miles of here and, if there’s one going, you’ve got yourself another job. Oh, and here’s your cheque.’ I must have cut a rather forlorn figure as I trudged alone back to the huts leaving the thumping of the engine and the buzzing of shears behind me. However my own miseries were momentarily suspended as I neared the huts. I could hear the cook in the kitchen singing Land of Hope and Glory in a very pleasant baritone voice, oblivious to having an audience. I paused in the sun until he had finished, 3


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

not just to enjoy the song, but to avoid embarrassing him by walking in mid-tune. I was aware even then that Australian men rarely sing where others can hear them, unless of course they’re drunk. Somehow I felt just a little better then, knowing that there were many good men among the bitter few, and there was music to be heard in the least expected places. I decided not to turn back but to continue my journey. ‘Ya wanna beer?’ asked Abdul, his dark eyes scrutinizing my face. ‘No – thanks,’ I stammered. I didn’t say why I declined – I didn’t want to provoke another argument so soon after the last one. I needed to keep this job – I was stony broke. This run was quite different to the previous one. We had three sheds to do but it was just crutching, not full shearing. We had three shearers in the team, the contractor Bruce, Abdul and Chalka. There was a penner-up/presser called Scotty, Betty the cook and me as the shed hand. We all travelled together in a 30cwt ute, three in the front and three in the back. Bruce the boss drove, Betty sat in the middle and Scotty was seated on the near side of the cabin and had to open the gates. It was an old trick to let a rouseabout to do this and then drive off at every gate and make him chase the truck. They were all surprised and, I suppose, disappointed when I opted to sit in the back. Not that I escaped all the chores. It was a long, hot, dusty 340 kilometres to our first stop Milparinka and as the team got drunker on the warm, tall bottles of West End beer, it became my job to take the tops off. However, I soon discovered that there was nothing else on the truck to drink except beer and my throat felt like a lime-burner’s boot. I wonder how many other Australian piss pots can claim such mitigating circumstances for their introduction to the amber fluid. The only bit of excitement along the Milparinka road was when a big red roo misjudged the ute’s speed and jumped slap bang into the back of the ute. There were claws and beer going in all directions and one of the shearers managed to get to his feet and said, ‘Bugger this!’ Then, before the boss could pull up, he stepped out of the ute, bottle in hand, and tumbled along beside the truck. The roo then fled the scene while the bedraggled shearer climbed back on board, not having lost even a mouthful of his beer. They say that the Lord looks after blind people and drunks. Ever since that incident I have tended to agree. Our last encounter with civilization was Tibooburra, the most northwestern town in NSW and well beyond ‘the back of Bourke’. I don’t know how he knew we were coming, but the town copper was waiting for us. And he was big. As we drove into town, he was standing there in the middle of the street, legs apart and arms folded, with a huge revolver stuck in his belt. ‘Who are you?’ he boomed. ‘A shearing team up here to do some crutchin,’ the boss stammered, with a hint of yodel in his voice. 4


An Introduction to Crutchings

‘Where are you going?’ ‘Mt Brown and Mt Shannon. We’re here for some supplies and a bit of lunch.’ The constable’s flinty eyes examined each of us in turn. Seemingly half-satisfied, he pulled out a pocket watch. ‘It’s 11.30,’ he said. ‘You’ll be gone by one’. And then he turned and strode away. We drove quietly out of Tibooburra at 12.30, I suspect in case that pocket watch of his was fast! There’s not much romance in a crutching run. It’s mainly penning-up, countingout and picking stinking, soft, warm dags out of pretty uninteresting wool – and I’d thought crutchings were bad. Still, I was a wool-classer, wasn’t I, so I sorted that smelly crap like no other crutchings had been. I had to make up for my earlier sins at Bimbowrie. The huts were pretty standard – fibro with galvanised iron roofs. Water was the main challenge. At one shed, we had about a bucket each a week for our personal use and usually cleaned our teeth in the dregs of our tea. At another, there was a little more but it came from a tank via an above-ground pipe. It was so hot you couldn’t get under it until after dark Despite all these challenges, there were rules. You couldn’t come to the dinner table shirtless or with bare feet. The boss had a roster to clean the pit toilet, called a long-drop, each day with phenyl. We were all on it, including the boss - there’s that egalitarianism again. The cook wasn’t on the roster though. Not just because she was a shiela, but because she was the food handler. The main problem in shearing shed dunnies was the red-back spiders that had enjoyed uninterrupted residency under the seats since the last team came through. I was on another one of the properties on that crutching run north out of Broken Hill in early ’55, I think it was called Colane. I met a young bloke about my age, Alan, who was working as a roo shooter’s off-sider. He introduced me to rifles. His boss had a lovely 303/22 bolt-action repeater with a telescopic sight and Alan had a .22 bolt-action repeater. We spent all of our spare time ventilating tin cans at ever-increasing distances – I suppose there wasn’t much else to do around the Colane shearing shed! I wonder what ever happened to that young bloke. Anyway, I bought my own .22 single shot that year and used it for years afterwards mainly for rabbit control and the sale of rabbit meat. I still have it. If I was to respond to the question as to what set me on my endless course of moving on to different places and new experiences, which still stirs within me, I’d have to hark back to that crutching run and particularly Abdul, the old shearer. I don’t know if that was his real name, he was very swarthy and may have been part Afghani. Why someone with a college education and considerable future opportunities would take life-style advice from an old shearer has often mystified me. ‘You’ve gotta knock around boy,’ Abdul used to say. ‘Until you’ve knocked 5


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

around, you’re nobody.’ Abdul took his own knocking around pretty seriously. One night we were travelling between sheds and he broke the silence of our nodding heads. ‘I know every shed in north-west New South Wales.’ ‘All right,’ I responded, seeing the white disc of a gate marker ahead in the gloom. ‘What’s this next place coming up?’ Abdul peered at the emerging gate for a moment with his big brown eyes. ‘Ah! I remember this place – I shore here once years ago. It’s called Boondari!’ As we drew up to the gate, I could make out the faded sign, despite a few .303 holes through it. It read: BOUNDARY GATE Please close. Abdul didn’t have much to say for the rest of that trip, but I continued to carry his wise advice with me. ‘You’ve gotta knock around, boy, you’ve gotta knock around!’

6


An Introduction to Crutchings

Abdul - you’ve got to knock about son.

Young mate Alan pegging out. 7


Home, But Not For Long

2

Home, But Not For Long

The gaunt figure that could well have been the Mildura Hotel manager held my cheque up gingerly by one corner as though it was infected with foot and mouth disease. He jabbed at it with the skinny index finger of his other hand. ‘Is this your name, and whose signature is this – a shearing contractor you say?’ I paled as I heard the hotel manager’s opinion of my hard-earned shed hand’s cut-out cheque. Does he mean that cheques are not every bit as good as cash? Do some people really write cheques that are no good – people that I’d actually worked with – that I was mates with? ‘Try to cash it at one of the stores in town,’ he said without expression. I stumbled, red-faced, out of the hotel and tried the major stores as soon as they opened - but without success. A bank! Why hadn’t I thought of the banks? Eagerly, I strutted off in their direction. But they were even more disinterested than the stores. I was getting desperate, so I sought the local police station and blurted out my tale of woe. ‘What do you expect me to do?’ the sergeant asked. ‘I don’t know, but I’ve tried everywhere else.’ ‘Where are you from, kid?’ ‘Wakool. It’s in...’ ‘Yeah, I know. How old are you?’ ‘Sixteen.’ ‘Hmm. Have you rung home and asked them to wire you some cash?’ ‘Ah, I couldn’t…’ I started to say. ‘But then I s’pose I could.’ As I plodded along the street back towards the hotel I pondered on my predicament. I had to get back to Echuca, which was over 200 miles east up the Murray River. I was booked in to turn up at a shearers’ school there in two days time, which was to be followed by the second of my annual wool-classing short courses. After these, I might at least be of some practical use to my father on Nullabooma where our second shearing was getting closer. But here I was with my money tied up in a cheque I couldn’t cash. How did I get into this damned situation? Although I had only just completed my very first shearing shed run as a shedhand, it seemed that I’d already unwittingly slipped into the “drought or plenty” trap. When the shearing cut-out, I found myself flush with two cheques. So, thought I, no bus or train for me this trip, and bugger hitch-hiking when I’ve got “jink” in my pocket. I’d cashed the smaller cheque locally and off I went and bought a plane ticket to Mildura, from where I intended to get a river boat to Echuca. Hah! I’d show the folks back home! My first-ever flying experience, which was on a DC3, was the beginning of my excitement. Then I checked out the hotels in Mildura and picked one where any cashed-up trainee wool-classer ought to be located. It wasn’t until I went to pay the bill that morning that my little world started to look decidedly shaky. 9


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

Panic started to set in. Could I chance a moonlight flit? After all, I had offered to pay my bill. As I packed my things with a smug expression, I pictured how I’d tell my friends. ‘Yeah, just shot through,’ I said to myself. But it sounded wrong. I couldn’t do that – I did have an option. And I had a vision of my old College head master, Colin Gilray, flexing his cane for use on me for besmirching the name of the School. So I hurried off to the Post Office and sent a telegram to Dad to wire me ten pounds. The funds arrived that afternoon, but there was no way that I could use that money to get a ticket on a river boat just to arrive in Echuca like a toff! It was with pride severely dented, but conscience still intact, that I humped my dusty port out onto the Murray Valley Highway next morning to hitch-hike to Echuca. My first rides were productive enough and I made it most of the way by nightfall. Those were the days, of course, when offering or accepting lifts on Australia’s highways was not considered to be a personal danger. But when the tail lights of that last car disappeared down the side road where I’d been dropped off, it was the blackness of my surroundings that entombed me, so I just sat on my port waiting for my eyes to adjust. After a minute or two I was able to draw comfort from the reassuring presence of the Southern Cross above. But it started to get cold. Should I keep warm by continuing to walk along the highway towards Echuca or seek out a spot to camp until morning? By now I could make out what seemed to be a shearing shed about 100 yards off the road behind me. You never know, I mused; there might even be a warm bin of wool to curl up in. That clinched it – so through the fence I climbed. Well, the only wool was a heap of fetid crutchings, but a few hessian bags spread over the top made a cot of sorts. But as I lay there, I could here the occasional car or truck pass by and I imagined each one dropping me off at the always squeaky-clean Shamrock Hotel in Echuca. And the stink of the crutchings gradually got worse. So I heaved myself out, climbed back through the fence and waited on a bend in the road that would give even the most weary night driver the best opportunity to see me and take pity on my situation. It worked, and the very next car pulled up with a screech and nearly ran over me reversing backwards to where I stood. ‘I’m turning off at Cohuna,’ the driver said. ‘Will that help?’ ‘That’s great’, I lied as I climbed in. But it was only a short contribution to the journey. There’s only one thing that’s lonelier than the bush late at night, and that’s a very small country town that’s gone to sleep. I stared at the outline of the pub for a while. I couldn’t see my watch, but I guessed it to be about 2 am. There was a door into what was probably the bar, and another that, no doubt, went into reception. I reckoned that the latter was probably not locked and that there would be a sofa inside. It wasn’t locked, but if I thought it was dark outside, it was absolutely pitch-black inside. My fumbling quest for a sofa resulted in me knocking a standard lamp over, which made a hell of a clatter. Someone coughed 10


Home, But Not For Long

upstairs, then silence. I retreated from the pub, and headed back across the road and scraped together a litter under the bridge, away from the descending frost, to rest out the remaining hours of darkness. It was cold – bloody cold. Dawn found me stiff in the joints from the cold, and I shuffled across to the hotel again in search of some warmth. A person I assumed was the bar manager walked past me in the foyer. He stopped and looked at me with disbelief. ‘Christ, where did you come from?’ I explained, but without reference to my earlier incursion into the foyer. ‘Jesus,’ he said, ‘you look like you could do with a drink before you go.’ With that, he poured me out a large glass of what he described as a port wine and brandy. For a non-drinker, this concoction had more than the desired effect. He asked me how I felt. ‘Oh great,’ I lied, as I stumbled out the door and into the dawn to resume my journey As if the morning had not already presented me with enough challenges, another was fast approaching. It arrived as a thunder of hooves behind me. I looked over my shoulder to see a Black Angus bull galloping towards me with a bloke on a horse with a whip in hot pursuit. ‘Look out!’ he bellowed. I was about twenty yards short of a culvert over an irrigation channel. I dropped my clobber and took a running jump into this only refuge as the angry Angus charged across the culvert beside me. Clancy slowed down a little. ‘You orright, mate?’ ‘Yeah, Okay,’ I lied yet again. Despite this less than auspicious start to the day, a truck on its way to Echuca pulled over. ‘Get in the back, mate!’ And away we went. I was just dragging myself out of the back of the truck outside the Shamrock Hotel smelling, no doubt, like a mixture of over-ripe crutchings and rotting cumbungi weed, when who should pull up along side me but Dad and Mum. So much for a grand return from my first adventure. But at least I was able to cash my cut-out cheque at the Bank of New South Wales in Echuca and have had continuous accounts with the Wales (now Westpac) ever since. With my cheque finally cleared I was flush for the first time in my life. Despite my later sage advice to my children (and grand children) I was, as a callow youth, never much of a saver. It was not so much a question of whether to spend it or not, but on what to spend it. Take clothes for instance. I had only ever owned one sports coat; a rather English hounds tooth design with two slits up the back. Some wag called it a “calendar coat” because you lifted up the flap to see the date – my main embarrassment was that, although I repeated this several times in mixed company, I didn’t get the joke until my mother explained it. 11


You���ve Gotta Knock About Son

White sports coats with a ‘drape shape’ were all the go in Melbourne at the time, and were reputed to ensure immediate success with the girls. Such a purchase naturally had great appeal. I admired one in the window of an Echuca men’s ware store one Saturday morning, but then I walked past a bushmen’s store. Although their smart but practical attire also caught my eye it was the smell of new leather, wafting out the door, that made me pause. And there, all on its own, in the corner of the window display lurked a lovely little .22 Slazenger rifle. What to do? In the end the decision was all about identity. Was I still the townie who wanted to look sharp, or was I gradually becoming a bushie? I walked to and fro between the coat and the rifle. The single shot rifle for six pounds ten shillings eventually won the day. I became, and have ever since remained, a rifle-owner. It became my constant companion, and found a permanent place on the shelf behind the seats of the old Mayflower utility that I drove around our farm, and in various other vehicles as I continued to knock around. The family farm was a small sub-division of the original Nullabooma property at Wakool in the New South Wales Riverina. It was only 600-odd acres and had some irrigation. Dad had set my brother, Greg, up on an adjoining block, but things didn’t work out, and Greg had left to pursue his love of trucks before I arrived back from my spell at the wool store and the sheds. Dad was fortunate, in some respects, in selecting the homestead block, as it had a large cool house, shearing shed, other sheds and manager’s cottage already in place. Our new neighbours, the Deans, the Walshes and the Shannon brothers had to start from scratch. Dad spent a lot of time helping all these neighbours, quite often at the expense of attending to his own farm duties. I was never sure whether this predilection to run around after others was simply generosity or a desire to be liked. The neighbours returned Dad’s generosity in various ways. The Shannon brothers were excellent shearers and Jimmy Walsh had a powerful tractor. It was a Bulldog Lanz which was started by using the steering wheel as a crank handle. Jim and I were ploughing up rabbit warrens one day – him driving and me wrestling behind with the single furrow mouldboard plough. It was hard going and the motor nearly stalled but it started again - running in reverse. It came straight at me, picking up pace. while I was up to my ankles in soft soil. Fortunately, Jim stopped it just in time. As I had assumed the chores of chopping wood, feeding the dogs and chooks, mending fences, mowing irrigation channels and keeping the rabbit plagues under control, Dad had little regular focus apart from irrigating and stock movements. In hindsight we may have been better off with a building challenge like our neighbours. But then Mum would not have been happy with that. This situation became a problem for a man that had been driven by the demands of working long and hard for a living in business for most of his adult life. For Dad, each afternoon included a trip into “the village” with his favourite dog Ginger, to spend time at the club. This was the start of a decline in productive development at Nullabooma. I was seventeen at the time, and certainly old enough to take a more 12


Home, But Not For Long

responsible role around the property. Many people of my age would have jumped at the opportunity. I suppose it was one of those many turning points in my life where there was an absence of any clear objectivity. Instead, I had the old shearer Abdul’s voice in my head: ‘You’ve gotta knock around, boy!’ The trigger to ignite this was not far away, but in the meantime, life for a young feller around the farm wasn’t all that bad. Apart from my regular chores, the sheep always seemed to need something, particularly at lambing time. But most of my time was taken up trying to control the rabbits that were in plague proportions. I had a team of dogs, referred to as the rabbit pack, and I hunted these pests with the dogs, particularly my two whippet/foxy cross speedsters, Mick and Mustard. I also ran a line of traps, dug the rabbits out of burrows and split them out of hollow logs with my favourite Kelly axe. But my greatest joy was dispatching them with my .22 by day, and likewise, with the aid of a spotlight, by night. We ate very few, and the dogs were sick of them, preferring dog biscuits, so it was fortunate that I was able to gut them, a stinking job, and sell most of them to a woman with a cooler van in town who took them away to God knows where. I used to get four bob a pair (40c). Rabbits were my only regular source of income, apart from some casual tractor-driving, crutching, the odd little bit of shearing, and occasionally I got to do some wool-classing. I was just seventeen, and occasionally my temporary profession (as a rabbit murderer) clashed with my social life. Whenever I took off to a country town dance somewhere, I’d check out the “talent” early, while the other blokes were getting a bit of Dutch courage at the pub. On more than one occasion I asked a girl up to dance only to be greeted with an audible sniff followed by: ‘You’ve been rabbitin’ eh?’ Country girls are pretty straight-forward, but an answer to such a question was hardly my preferred opening gambit – I don’t even think that a white sports coat would have retrieved such a bucolic start. I might have even been better off to have joined the boys at the pub, and taken on a nice beery breath, as some sort of antidote. It didn’t seem to affect their appeal when they clambered in about 10pm, just in time for the ever-popular barn-dance. Dad bought Mum a nice little Wolseley car when the wool cheque came in and then I assumed virtual ownership of the ageing Triumph Mayflower utility. This came about because I received no pay. I could make the Mayflower do all the things it was designed to do, plus a few more, like towing dead trees around and pulling out fence posts. This came about because we didn’t own a tractor. At times we had to take it through some pretty deep water, and I used to tie a bag to the front bumper that flowed back under the engine (as long as it kept going forwards) which sort-of prevented the fan picking up the water and drenching the electrics. In addition, I fitted a rubber glove (with the finger tips cut out) over all the leads out of the distributor. This worked fine on the four cylinder motor. I became quite 13


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

adept at getting out of bogs, and if all else failed, I could often winch the little beast out using a Donald’s fence strainer and a length of fencing wire. All this, plus the occasional trip into the village, was achieved without the benefit of a licence. I was reminded by a visiting policeman to remedy this. I picked a bad day to venture the twenty-odd miles into Barham in order to become a legal driver. But it only took a little rain to make the trip hazardous, a little more to make the roads virtually impassable for conventional vehicles. This particular day was firmly in the latter category. The secret was to keep the vehicle moving, and rely on momentum to get through the worst stretches. I duly arrived in Barham, with the whole utility caked in layers of mud. There was one little round patch of windscreen, rubbed clear with my shirt, which was reached via the driver’s side window without stopping. The police sergeant looked at me, then at the car through the window, and blinked. ‘Did you drive that bloody thing here from Wakool today?’ On being assured that I had done so, he just shook his head. ‘Obviously you can drive the bloody thing – give us your details and thirty bob!’ There were quite a few people my own age scattered around the Wakool area, but little organised social life. There were a couple of balls held each year, but they were a whole family affair, from the kids to the grand-parents. Quite often, the blokes had to front a girl’s mother to get permission to dance with the daughter. This often resulted in the mother demanding a dance first, so that she could put you through the third degree. We actually had a picture theatre built while I was there, and in those pretelevision days, just about the whole district turned up each Saturday night. It wasn’t easy for some people to make it into town. One farmer, during wet weather, had to plonk the whole family into a trailer behind the tractor, get to the river, boat it across and continue into town in the family car. There were very few 4WDs in those days – the odd ex-army jeep, and Land Rovers were just starting to appear. I recall the opening night of the theatre, and there was a double feature of All the Brothers Were Valiant and The Robe, which was, I think, the very first cinemascope movie. The whole event concluded about 2am. The closer settlement scheme, and the irrigation system that made it possible, resulted in a significant increase in the area’s population. It became apparent that the village could probably field a football team. The question that arose was: what code of football? Wakool sat astride the watershed of Australian Rules to the South, and Rugby League to the North. A straw poll indicated that there was a slight leaning towards Aussie Rules. A ground was marked out (which wasn’t difficult in such a flat region), and training commenced – well re-training as far as our rugby adherents were concerned. Tuesdays and Thursdays were the training afternoons, although this function sometimes took the form of chasing rabbits on foot in the early evening with the aid of a spot-light. Our games took us pretty 14


Home, But Not For Long

fair distances on mainly dirt roads, to such places as Moulamein, Deniliquin and Hay. They were great social occasions and a significant proportion of the local population followed their team faithfully, despite our limited success on the field. Although car-pooling was normal, it still required a lot of vehicles to transport the whole mob. Once, following a lot of rain, a bus was organised to get us to Deniliquin, thirty-odd muddy miles away. The bus spent more time bogged than in motion, so the team changed into their footy gear and pushed the bus, replete with women and kids, virtually all the way. The other team was sporting enough to wait for us to turn up, and we finished up losing by just a couple of points. I seem to recall that it was over 100 miles from Wakool to Hay. After one exciting game in Hay, we set out for home in our car, the team coach, two other players, dad driving and me. We were all talking at once about the game, as we drove out of Hay in the early winter dusk. It was about an hour later when the coach, who wasn’t local to the area, pointed at a mile post which beamed back at us from the headlights. ‘What does N stand for?’ There was a short silence, until one of the passengers blurted: ‘Christ, Narrandera – were on the wrong bloody road!’ It was about 2am when dad and I crept home. Mum was not amused. On another occasion, there was about five of us with Vic Landini, who was driving us to an away game in his dad’s Pontiac. The road had dried rockhard after being chopped up by trucks during wet weather. We hit a deep hole a bit fast and could soon smell petrol. An examination revealed that a rear spring leaf had broken and pierced the fuel tank, which was emptying itself into the dust. A handkerchief held in place by several fingers slowed the leak, while we all searched for a solution. Fortunately, we were carrying the team’s supply of chewing gum, so this was quickly distributed for a hurried chewing session. The amalgamated wad of gum was applied to the tank and we resumed our trek – carefully. Although the pictures and the footy expanded our social activities somewhat, it was a sequence of seventeenth birthday parties that that got the local youth together. These were always at the home of the birthday celebrant, were closely supervised and included no alcohol. It was during these parties that Colin Wallace and I became good friends. He led the entertainment and I played the straight guy. He was immensely funny, and I did my best keep him performing. Eventually, any party without Colin was sure to be a fizzer. It was Colin that was going to be the agent for my next bout of knocking around. Colin and I also became very interested in cars, particularly sports cars and it was an interest that was to remain with me for a long time. Dad had never been very good at giving gifts. It had nothing to do with being mean or anything, it was that he felt uncomfortable in the process. When I left school, he bought me a set of bagpipes – it turned out to be the most appreciated gift that I would receive from him. Subsequently, the skirl of the pipes often 15


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

drifted across those Wakool plains at night, causing locals to ask: ‘Who’s the mystery piper?’ Eventually, I owned up and this resulted in me having to do a round of New Year’s Eve parties. The following year, Anzac Day became an event. It had been decided to have a march, and as no other alternative presented itself to keep everyone in step, I was asked to lead the march as the lone piper – mum was very proud! I was trusted with the job of classing our wool clip in 1955, even though I hadn’t completed my last two-week course. The clip went through the valuing and auctioning process without any problems, so I was encouraged to take on other clips. In smaller sheds, where there wasn’t a “boss-of-the-board”, the classer was often in charge - well, nearly. I was doing this little shed up at Niemur, and it was right on the bank of a creek that ran into the Edward River. It was lowlying country, and there was a levee bank to protect the shed from the occasional flood. It was well and truly in flood on the last day of shearing, and we had to keep sending a rouseabout out to check whether or not it was about to break the levee. Had this occurred without warning, there would not have been time to get the sheep out of the shed and yards, and get out of the place. I felt pretty important as I strode down the board. ‘If you hurry, we’ll be finished by smoko, and we’ll all get clear,’ I announced. A shearer looked up, sweat streaming off his face. ‘How old are you, son’, he asked, as he straightened up from his half-shorn sheep. ‘Seventeen’, I answered. ‘Well I’m nearly sixty, so you just get your little arse back down to the wool room, and continue guessing which bloody bin to stick the wool in, because there’ll be sheep to shear a long time after you and I are dead and buried – flood or no flood!’ And he was right. My friend, Colin, worked as a chainman, or survey assistant, with an ageing surveyor called Harry Loxton on the Water Conservation and Irrigation Commission (WC&IC). Harry’s job in Wakool was completed in mid 1956 and he invited Colin to accompany him to his new job in Scone, in the New South Wales Hunter Valley. As his other chainman wanted to remain in Wakool, Harry asked Colin if he knew of a possible replacement. Colin immediately thought of his ‘straight man.’ I had just completed my third and final wool-classing course, and I was keen to give something else a go. The survey work seemed to fit the bill. Also, I’d never been further north on the eastern side of the country than Wagga Wagga, on the Murrumbidgee. What a great opportunity it was to knock around again. I did discuss it with my parents, and although they didn’t encourage me to go, they offered no objection either. In hindsight, my decision to go was rather selfish. Dad was going to have difficulty coping on his own, and mum was going to be left without the 16


Home, But Not For Long

moral support that I’d provided. Maybe we all thought it was going to be a brief trip and that I would soon be home. Little did any of us realize that I was leaving Nullabooma and farm-hand work permanently, and would not be back with my parents, apart for a couple of very brief visits, for five years. You see, I just had to knock around.

17


I Can Drive Any Bloody Thing!

3

I Can Drive Any Bloody Thing!

I read recently that there is a big environmental mess in the Snowy Mountains National Park. It is claimed that it is a sad legacy of the earthworks on the Snowy Mountains hydro scheme in the 1950s and 60s and the evidence, comprising abandoned earth-moving equipment, is hard to refute. There have also been claims that the scheme’s diversion of water westwards has starved the seaward-flowing Snowy River of adequate water to maintain its own environmental integrity, which is equally difficult to refute. One should be careful, however, not to judge the activities of those construction companies and the governments of the day by current standards, two generations later. To ‘tame the wilderness’ and to turn the ‘wasted water’ westward for irrigation and hydro-electric power generation was considered nation-building stuff in those days. It was the next generation of Australians who were to be stirred by a dam on the beautiful Lake Pedder in Tasmania and the prospect of a dam in the magnificent Franklin River also in the wilderness of Tasmania. I was to experience those heady days of the Snowy Mountains Scheme in its heyday, but I took a roundabout, eighteen month long route, via the Hunter Valley, to get there. It was mid 1956, as the ’53 Chevrolet utility headed north from Wakool for Scone in the Hunter Valley, with Harry Loxton, Colin Wallace and myself squeezed into the single bench seat. I didn’t really sense at the time that I was heading off on a new, long adventure. Colin had organised an opportunity for me to ‘knock around’. It was to turn out to be even more than an adventure. It heralded, indirectly, two completely new occupations. Even though I’d been brought up in Melbourne, Sydney was a pretty exciting stop-over for a couple of ‘bush-wackers’, while Harry headed off to his home in Yamba, on the NSW north coast, for a couple of days. Our visit to Sydney coincided with the end of the 1956 Redex (around Australia) Reliability Trial for cars. As Colin and I were absorbed in our interest in cars, this was an absolute highlight. The Vanguards had done well, and I decided that one day I would own one. I did eventually, but it was to be a few years later, as less practical cars diverted my attention. It was with some excitement that we travelled the remaining 200 miles to our destination, Scone, a nice little town, located in the Hunter Valley, a picturesque part of NSW. It wasn’t Sydney, but it sure wasn’t Wakool, either. Harry dumped us off at one of the four hostels in Short St, on the fringe of town, and disappeared towards his own more salubrious quarters. The hostels were mainly inhabited by recently-arrived migrants – Italians, Greeks, Germans and many others. The manager/cook was a huge Hungarian, assisted by his wife and mother and the food was predominantly, shall I say, European. We were shown our room, which was just big enough to squeeze in two wire beds. ‘Where are the mattresses?’ we enquired in unison. 19


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

‘Come!’ the manager/cook said, and led the way down the narrow veranda to the last room. ‘There!’ he proclaimed, pointing inside. I wish I’d taken a photo of Colin’s face as he gaped at a bundle of hessian palliasse covers and a heap of low quality straw. But it was getting dark and cold so we stuffed our ‘mattresses’ and plonked them on the beds. The rest of the night was spent trying to draw the pointy barley grass seeds out through the hessian as, one by one, they bombarded our backsides. As the next day was Sunday, Colin and I decided to strut along to church that evening. Some unkind observers might say that this was just a ruse to meet some of the nicer Scone girls – and even if this were true, what’s wrong with that? My story is that I liked singing many (definitely not all) of the hymns, and thought that I might join the choir. But let me return to my tale. We positioned ourselves near the back of the church and tried not to look too obvious as we looked around. But then it came to time for the offering. Colin and I looked at each other expressionless – we had both forgotten our small change. Colin had nothing, but I had brought my wallet, which I nervously opened. It contained just one note – a five pound note. With the benefit of hindsight, I now realise that we could have shrugged apologetically and this would have been understood by the good church elder. It might have even resulted in us being invited home for something to eat. But no, embarrassment prevailed, and I laid my precious ‘fiver’ on top of the other contributions on the shallow wooden plate. I will never know whether what happened next resulted from the elder reading and responding to my pained expression, whether God intervened on my behalf or whether it was just the wind. As the elder wheeled around to the next pew, my fiver floated unnoticed by others gently to the floor. Two things I do know, however, are that I didn’t hand it in to ‘lost property’, and that many churches that I attended subsequently used, rather than the shallow plate, something that resembles an over-sized billiard table pocket with a handle! Next morning, it was up for breakfast, grab a lunch, and wait out the front for Harry, who would drive us up the Hunter Valley, above the site of the then underconstruction Glenbawn Dam. The nearest little town was Gundy, which the oldies might recognise as Cooloomoo in the 1956 version of the film Shiralee, starring Peter Finch, which was filmed while we worked nearby. Our job was to survey a road through Belltrees station, as the existing road from Gundy up the Hunter Valley was destined to be flooded by the new dam. I hadn’t worked as a chainman before, and I relished the idea of learning new skills and using new equipment. It was outdoor work with lots of walking and axe work. I quickly learned how to roll the thin metal chain out along the ground and tension it for accurate measurement. Using the staff and keeping it perfectly upright for Harry to read through his theodolite at long distances demanded more skill, but it was more fun as Colin taught me how to angle it so that it reflected the sun into 20


I Can Drive Any Bloody Thing!

Harry’s eye. He used to bellow at us to twist the staff, and we, in turn, developed selective deafness. Harry was too smart not to know what we were up to, but played our little game, knowing that he would get us back in many ways of which we were not even aware. Colin and I were able to work unsupervised quite often, and we often amalgamated our diligence and our desire for fun. We achieved this by starting early and then working like hell, so that the afternoon was free. One warm Spring afternoon, as Colin drove the utility along our last section of work for the day on Belltrees Station, he looked at me with a grin. ‘How ’bout a swim?’ ‘Sounds good to me, but where?’ ‘Up in that big concrete tank on the hill,’ he answered, pointing. ‘We won’t want to get caught.’ ‘We won’t!’ So we parked beside the tank, stripped off, and had no sooner slithered into the surprisingly cold water when we heard a vehicle approaching. It pulled up, and although we couldn’t see anything, we heard the car door open and then silence. We bobbed up and down gently in the middle where we could not be seen from any side, trying not to cause even the slightest ripple, as it would have splashed over the side and caused our downfall. Still silence, and then we smelt a cigarette. Bugger; he’s having a nice old fag while we freeze to bloody death! Then we heard a voice, a little louder than what one normally uses when talking to oneself. ‘I wonder where those two young buggers have got to.’ The door slammed, the car started and headed back the way it had come. Bush surveying is a very self-sufficient job. Harry, being old-fashioned, made sure that we were aware of that. We had to cut and point our own 2 by 2 (inch) and 4 by 4 pegs on a big, unguarded circular saw back at the dam site. We had to sharpen our own axes (my favourite was a 3.5 pound Kelly, and if we were so “bloody useless” as to break an axe handle, we had to replace it in our own time. Yes, Harry was old-fashioned all right. For instance, he would not go without his ‘cuppa’ at lunch time regardless as to where we found ourselves. When we had to climb up some huge hills to find an ancient benchmark, he would insist that we lugged all our equipment up there with us, plus a ‘billy’ full of water to boil for his bloody tea! We could usually find plenty of fire wood for this daily routine, but one day, we found ourselves up a hill with a few green trees - but no fire wood. ‘I’ll teach you something new’, announced Harry. ‘If you light a bit of this here dry grass, and chase the fire down-wind holding the billy over it, it’ll boil in less than half the usual time. Guaranteed!’ Now Colin had heard this yarn before, and was always keen to get the last laugh. ‘All right!’ he said, and followed the directions precisely, as he trotted after his little grass fire and disappeared over a nearby ridge. Harry sat on his heels sporting the closest expression to Mona Lisa’s that I’ve ever seen in real life. Well, we waited for about ten minutes and then started on our dry sandwiches. Colin re21


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

appeared some twenty minutes later with a billy of barely warm water. ‘What happened? demanded Harry. ‘Couldn’t you even get it to boil?’ ‘Oh, that bit was easy’, Colin replied. ‘It took about ten minutes running flat out though, and when it boiled, I discovered that you’d forgotten to give me your tea. Now I must have been over a mile away, so there wasn’t much point in running all the way back as well!’ I found out later that he’d been hiding under a cool tree about 100 yards away. Now talking of dry sandwiches, the ones that we got from the hostel were pretty bloody ordinary, even when we picked them up. After about five hours being humped around in the sun, the outside slices were curled up and as hard as the hobs. Not only that, but they consisted of salami or sauerkraut every day. So off I went to the manager/cook. ‘How about a variety of Australian tucker’, I said. ‘Like what?’ he responded. ‘Well, for example, like vegemite, peanut butter or cheese.’ Well, for the next several months, Colin and I got vegemite, peanut butter and cheese every day. My mate stopped thanking me at about the end of the first week. I suppose when you’re about eighteen, life is just a bowl of cherries. We enjoyed our time in Scone. We had a lot of fun with the Italians – they liked to drink, eat, sing and box. We helped them with their English, and also learned a little Italian. The local girls wouldn’t have much to do with them, so they tended to congregate in groups a bit. One night there was a small group from our hostel at the pictures, and I went across to talk to them in the foyer at interval. One remarked on my shoes and asked what the sole was made of. I shrugged and lifted one foot up and turned it upwards to inspect the sole. Just then he farted loudly and backed off from me, just as every one in the foyer turned around to look at the only person present, standing on one leg! The mid fifties was a time of immense change, even in sleepy little towns like Scone. Despite my best endeavours to become an accomplished (I thought) ballroom dancer, I was quickly finding myself obsolete on Saturday nights – Rock and Roll had arrived. The Bill Halley film, ‘Rock around the Clock’ came to town and every one was dancing in the aisles during the screening. Just a few months earlier, you’d have been asked to leave for dropping your jaffas on the floor! A local lad and a couple of his girl-friends who were really ‘in the groove’ took me aside and convinced me to get a crew cut in preparation for a sort of flat top with that stupid Tony Curtis bit hanging down the front. Only then would they take us to the good dances in Muswellbrook and Newcastle. Only then would they teach me the basics of rock n roll. TV was in its infancy at that time, and it was quite common to see groups of people huddled on the footpath outside electrical goods stores watching the programs 22


I Can Drive Any Bloody Thing!

on the TVs on display in the shop windows. It was of course the year of the Melbourne Olympics. One of our disadvantages in the social set was that Colin and I were without our own wheels. Although our pay wasn’t all that flash as chainmen, together we were able to save up enough for Colin to put a deposit on a brand new Volkswagen. The change in a bloke’s outlook and opportunities when he has his own transport is pretty well known – we were no different. You can offer to take a girl home after a dance, and then actually deliver! Having a car enabled Colin and I to head home to the Riverina for the Christmas break and attend those wonderful bush 1957 New Year’s Eve parties. Dad and mum must have picked up how envious I was of Colin – after all, the VW was his car. They offered to let me trade the ageing Mayflower utility in on a new Standard 10 wagon. The poor old Mayflower only just made it to Deniliquin for the trade. My life changed immensely. No more hitch-hiking and sleeping in wool sheds or under bridges for me. In return, I had to scrimp and save to find 32 pounds ($64) a month repayments for three years – yes my life certainly did change! I didn’t realize it at the time though, but when I drove my own little car out through the Nullabooma gate that January of 1957, I would not see the property again for fifty years. Dad was considering putting it on the market shortly after I left. Back in Scone, having our own car each brought about two unexpected requirements. Firstly, we could not afford to become unemployed and, secondly, we really ought to find better-paying jobs. The first became a reality in the autumn of ’57. Our survey job was completed and Harry was moving on. Despite our shenanigans, Harry liked us and wanted us to accompany him to his next job. I can’t remember where it was that he was going, but Harry had some heavy competition – Colin and I now had steady girl friends in Scone. It was a ‘no contest’, but Harry was kind enough to put in a good word for us at the Upper Hunter Shire Council, which was looking for a couple of chainmen. Our new boss (whose name eludes me) was middle-aged, but not as old as Harry. Once again, it was three in a ute where ever we went in the shire, but this boss bashed our ears with his version of Goodbye from The White Horse Inn. So we got to stay in Scone, but our financial constraints were taking a lot of the fun out of life. The Water Commission advertised for plant operators on the Dam. Those were great days, because there seemed to be more jobs about for willing workers than blokes to fill them. ‘But I can’t drive a bloody bull-dozer’, I protested. Tell ‘em you can drive a tractor’, said Colin ‘A dozer’s just a tractor with a thing on the front – anyway, all you have to do is get your boot in the door, and then tell them that you can drive anything.’ 23


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

They didn’t buy the ‘tractor’ story, but they gave us a start in the heavy plant service station as grease monkeys, where we called in some favours with our Italian plant operator friends, who taught us a few operating fundamentals in the plant parking lot. The plant boss (I think his name was Hector Bell) eventually relented and tried us out on a couple of aging Caterpillar D8 crawlers. They weren’t actually dozers, as they had no blade, but one was used to tow a large scoop to take the topsoil away from the next clay ‘borrow pit’. This was a curious name as it was never intended to put the soil back, but just to drown the evidence when the dam filled. The other D8 was fitted with a big ripper and it loosened the clay so that the Tournapull scrapers could scoop it up. The D8s were ‘entry-level’ machines for budding heavy-plant operators, and although it was difficult to damage them, or damage anything else with them, they were brutes to start, requiring a petrol pilot motor to be started first with a crank-handle. Colin and I resolved to become the best-ever scoop and ripper operators that the Hunter Valley had ever seen – a formidable challenge with such a mundane, repetitive task! Our patience was eventually rewarded when the boss asked if we would be interested in learning to drive Tournapulls – Would we! Initially, we thought that it was funny that an area called the ‘bull-ring’ had been put aside, well away from everybody and everything of value, to allow the learners some space to learn and master the quirks of machines that had been re-named the ‘widow-makers’. Without going into the mechanical details, these articulated monsters had the gearstick between your legs, a steering and a brake lever on each side and a throttle for each foot. The steering was reversed going back-wards or down hill, and as if this wasn’t bad enough, on a gentle down hill slope under load at top revs, they had no flamin’ steering at all! It didn’t take Colin and I long to master at least the fundamentals of the widow-makers which, we learned, had been left behind by the US Army Engineers on the airstrips of the Northern Territory at the end of World War Two. In the space of a few days time, we were to learn why they didn’t bother to take them home… Now we were plant-operators and, as teen-agers still, we felt pretty damned important and were earning about forty-five pounds a fortnight plus keep. It was the best pay that either of us had ever earned, and the monthly car re-payments became less threatening. As the dam construction was approaching completion, we both transferred to the afternoon shift, which earned us even more pay, but restricted our nightlife. Our fellow operators where mainly Italians, whose flair for life suited them to plant operating – although two of them were killed on the job during that year, 1957. The night-time work was basically without close scrutiny, and allowed us to swap around and get experience on le Tourneau scrapers and Euclid dump trucks. It would be fair to say that both of us became excessively cocky about our new skills, and continued to out-do each other with new feats of stupidity. I had just 24


I Can Drive Any Bloody Thing!

managed to do the round trip up to the dam wall and back changing through the gears without using the clutch, then Colin sailed past doing the same exercise while sitting on the engine, looking backwards! We didn’t drink much in those days, but had taken up rolling and smoking our own cigarettes. It just seemed to be the normal thing to do – workers had ‘smoko’ breaks, sat on their heels for ten minutes at the union-dictated intervals, drank black tea and shared ‘the makins’. Colin and I poured any excess cash into our cars, particularly to obtain ‘go-fast’ equipment. I thought that I should get my licence address changed, so went into the local Police station one day and the sergeant gave me a stony look. ‘How fast does that little yella car of yours go?’ Being a bit half-smart, but not wanting to tell a lie, I played safe. ‘The book says that the top speed is 65mph, Sir.’ ‘That’s strange,’ he said. ‘I was doing 65 the other night on the Aberdeen road, and you went past me like I was standing still. Take it easy, son!’ I never gave much thought at the time to the probable conversation that preceded a visit to Scone, later in 1957, by not only my parents, but my grandparents as well. Neither do I recall any particular conversation during their visit about my future intentions. However, it was probably obvious that I had joined the ranks of the many itinerant semi-skilled workers in the Australian bush. They didn’t ask, I didn’t say, but they sensed that I wasn’t going home. They sold the farm shortly after that visit, and went back to Melbourne to live. Those who have worked on earth and rock fill dams will be well aware that as the construction nears completion, the working area on top, although getting a little longer, becomes extremely narrow and therefore hazardous for heavy earthmoving plant. Consequently retrenchments commenced, and as Colin and I were two of the last to be put on, we were among the first to be given notice. About six of us gathered around the table that night to discuss our future. Some wanted to follow the plant to where ever it was taken, some were keen to give the Keepit dam at Gunnedah, to the north west, a go. There was talk of the Snowy Mountains Scheme, cane-cutting and shearing; then some one pulled out a scrunched-up letter from his brother at Mt Isa. This knocking-around business was fine, but I started to realise that there was much more to do and see than could be squeezed into just one lifetime. It was time to prioritise. I distinctly remember making a mental note that I would go to Mt Isa and have a go at cane-cutting one day, but I couldn’t afford to get to the Isa, and the cane season had already finished. I announced to the group with a swagger that I was keen to try my hand on the Snowy Mountain Scheme – I had always been a victim for anything that sounded like an adventure –a talking point - and would continue doing so for a long time. I simply assumed that Colin would come too, but he was unusually quiet. After the group broke up he confessed. 25


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

‘What’s up, mate?’ I asked. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t want to leave Pauline.’ Now Pauline Green was the daughter of the local council dozer operator, and he had been taking her out for several months. This confession annoyed me on two counts. Firstly, I’d be fronting up on my own, and secondly I’d get heaps from my own girl-friend for not being as committed to the relationship as Colin. Bugger. So it was with a mixture of excitement and apprehension that I drove south away from Scone. I left an envious mate and teary girlfriend behind - but I was ‘knocking around’ again! The snow was still ankle deep at the Adaminaby Dam construction site. A couple of dozen rough-looking diamonds transferred their weight from one foot to the other outside the tin shed that passed for an office. A chequered-shirt bloke with a silvery tin hat emerged. ‘You guys can all go home’, he drawled in an obvious American accent. ‘Wait ’till the snow melts.’ I was suddenly overcome with panic, as I only had enough funds to get here, not to go home, where ever that might be. ‘What do you mean?’ I bleated. ‘I was told plant operators would get a job down here by just turning up.’ I was at the back of the mob, and a few heads turned around with only casual interest. ‘What can you drive, boooy’, the silver hat boomed. I opened my mouth, about to parrot off the few machines that I could handle, and then suddenly realised that the list would be much shorter than that of my rivals in that snowy parade ground. ‘I can drive any bloody thing’, I lied unashamedly. ‘Can you drive a Goddam tournapul?’ silverhat demanded. By now most of the heads were alternating between me and the boss. ‘Bloody oath I can’, I said, with my mind more on the measly ten bob left in my pocket, than my actual competence. ‘When can you start?’ ‘Give us a pair of decent boots, and I’ll start right now!’ I was starting to enjoy this ping-pong job application. ‘Well drag your ass in here, and the rest of you-all can go!’ With that he turned on his heel and stomped inside. As the others dispersed, there were a few winks and ‘good on yers’, but there were also a few jealous glares, which made me a little ashamed in case some of these poor buggers didn’t even have as much jink in their pockets as I had. Anyhow, I headed through the door – I had got a start! ‘Dave Morgan here will sort you out’, silverhat grunted, as he concluded his recruitment duties for the day. I turned to face Dave Morgan, and wondered how we would get on together on Australia’s biggest-ever construction project, the mighty Snowy.

26


The Snowy and the Western Plains

4

The Snowy and the Western Plains

‘There’s still too much snow and mud on our haul roads for safe operations on site,’ David Morgan said. ‘Would you mind working as a mechanic’s assistant on the Tournapuls in the workshops until the place thaws a bit?’ I graciously accepted his offer and spent the next couple of weeks finding out from the mechanics, not only how these tournapuls worked, but also the theory of driving them. It was probably fortunate for ‘Mr I-can-drive-any-bloody-thing’ that the Snowy Mountains were still somewhat snow-bound, that Spring of 1957. Otherwise Dave Morgan would have stuck me onto one of his late-model Le Tourneau Westinghouse earth-moving monsters and watched me flounder. These C Roadster models were twice the size of the Widow Maker Super Cs and had electric switch steering instead of levers. As it turned out, I need not have worried unduly. Other operators came drifting in from all over Australia and beyond, and none of them could drive the new models. A “bull-ring” had been set up and we all went round and round in low gear, but only after Dave had drilled us in machine maintenance – check the tyres, fuel, water, oil, brake air pressure, steering swivel motor and dump door operation. We were not allowed to move the machine until the brake air was up and the water had reached the operating temperature range. But David Morgan hadn’t finished with us even then – we virtually had to learn to drive all over again. As well as a powerful, six-cylinder, supercharged, two-stroke diesel engine, these machines possessed a five-speed crash (no synchromesh) gear box and an electric engine brake. Dave was insistent that we changed gears with absolute precision. ‘You will use only your thumb on the top of the gear stick knob,’ he said, ‘and just two finger-tips underneath the knob – understand?’ He looked at me closely through his horn-rimmed glasses. I just nodded, realising that any misjudgement in our timing could result in an injury to one or more of these digits. Obviously, my Glenbawn racing gear changes were taboo. The Snowy was a pretty exciting place for a nineteen year old knock-about lad. It was full of interesting characters from all over the world, many of whom had seen war service (on one side or the other), and many had been POWs. Unlike the government construction sites of the day, there was an unusual urgency here – the yanks were running the show. They didn’t just have a day to fill in, they had a valley to fill in - with water. On other jobs, it had been usual practice to take a toilet break or two, but try to make it happen in the boss’s time. It was my very first week on the job and I came up behind one of the other machines stopped on the side of the track and a yellow ute pulled up behind it. Being a naturally inquisitive sort of a bloke, I slowed down to see what the problem was. It seemed that the operator had stopped at one of the few corrugated iron “thunder boxes” to ease his bowels. The ‘silver hat’ leapt from the ute, selected a rock about the size of half a brick from the tray-back and hurled it at the dunny with a force and 27


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

accuracy that could only have been derived from plenty of practice. He yelled: ‘Come on. Get goin’. We got a goddam dam to build!’ Now I don’t know how many of you have experienced such a fright, but if my mate hadn’t already performed his intended function, I bet he shit himself when that rock hit the iron dunny! There was simply no stopping during the nine and a half hour shift – even the loading was achieved by driving along beside a moving Euclid Loader which poured twenty tons of earth into your hopper on the run. One day it rained so much that the roads between the borrow pits and the dam wall were simply too dangerous. So we were all pulled over, told to park and to wait in the crib room, cold wet and miserable. Then in walks the shift foreman. ‘Can anyone here operate a Mexican shovel?’ No response. This surprised me, but at nineteen, I still had a bit to learn. I was desperate to become a master operator, truly able to drive any bloody thing and here was my chance to add another machine to my CV. ‘I’ll have a go.’ ‘Follow me then’, said the foreman with a straight face. I followed him out into the thunderous downpour. He handed me a long-handled shovel. ‘See if you can dig some drains from the crib room across to that gully before we all float away.’ ‘What’s with the Mexican shovel bit?’ I asked. ‘If you went to Mexico, son, you’d find a lot of these over there’, he replied with a bland expression. I dug the drains. Operating the heavy plant was dangerous work and the mountainous terrain made it potentially lethal. I was following one machine during a night shift when it suddenly lurched off the road and down the mountain side, coming to rest upside down and teetering dangerously on a ledge half-way to the bottom. The operator crawled out in remarkably good condition, started up the hill on all fours, then returned down to the vacillating machine, climbed in again and re-emerged with his lunch box. I was speechless. It wasn’t all work and no play in the Snowy Mountains. A group of us took ourselves up to Smiggin Holes and had our first crack at ski-ing. In actual fact the more likely crack would have been a leg or two. We at least protected our heads by wearing our issued hard hats from the job – a forethought that proved wise on more than one occasion. It is worth noting that the American influence on Australian construction sites at that time was obvious. Yes, they demanded their ‘pound of flesh’, but they paid well and provided hard hats and thermoses for hot drinks at crib time. These issues might seem unspectacular to the modern reader, but this was the 1950s. In any event, the thermoses had to be replaced, on average, weekly due to the merciless bouncing of the machines on the uneven terrain. For the same reason, lack of hard hats would have resulted in a seriously depleted workforce, as the machines on the Snowy had small steel (unlined) cabins, and the same bouncing resulted in frequent hard encounters between your head and the roof. Drivers had to hang on grimly 28


The Snowy and the Western Plains

with one hand and steer with a tiny electric switch with the other. There was no such thing as seat belts in the 50s and the difficulty arose when trying to change gear while bouncing! On reflection, I don’t think that we were over-paid. One of the more obvious advantages of working on the Snowy scheme, compared with contemporary government jobs, was the way in which the catering schedules were arranged to suit the workers’ requirements. When we worked afternoon shift (4pm to midnight) at Glenbawn, we got back to the hostel in Scone at about 12.30 – 1.00 am in darkness and went to bed. We usually slept through breakfast, which was scheduled for the majority day-shifters, had a pretty ordinary lunch, and collected our cut lunch (remember: the dried-up cheese, vegemite and peanut butter ones?) to have for tea on the job at about 8.00 pm. Down at Adaminaby Dam, however, it was quite different. We could have a nice breakfast whenever we emerged from our single heated cabins, a great lunch before going to work with our cellophane-wrapped salad and what-ever rolls, and the high spot of the day was the great meals that were waiting for us at 2.00. Although the work was long, hard and a bit dangerous, life was pretty good at Adaminaby Dam (now called Lake Eucumbene). One day Dave Morgan was chatting to me and it turned out that he had completed the correspondence course on internal combustion engine driving that I had just commenced. I always seemed to be studying something – I suppose that was as a result of my rather truncated formal education. Any how, after a while, David looked at me closely. ‘Do you know any other operators like yourself from Glenbawn who might be interested in coming down here?’ ‘Yes, my mate Colin might be interested in the better pay down here. And he’s a better operator than me,’ I responded. ‘Well get him down here then!’ he said enthusiastically. I sat down and wrote the letter later that day. I was working on permanent afternoon shift (the yanks called it “swing shift”) at the time, and when I got back to my cabin at about 2.00 am, Colin was sitting on my bed with an exceedingly long face. ‘Why aren’t you in bed resting up for work tomorrow,’ I demanded – a little harshly, as it turned out. ‘They wouldn’t give me a start – they reckon I’m too young!’ he bleated. ‘That’s bull shit – I’ll straighten them out tomorrow,’ I promised. Now youth is a wonderful thing, but two human attributes that rarely co-exist with youth are wisdom and diplomacy. And so it was when Colin and I fronted at the construction office next morning. ‘What’s all this bull shit about my mate here being too young?’ The same tin-hatted cove looked at me stonily and replied. ‘You’ve got to be twenty-one to drive plant here.’ ‘That’s a bit stupid’, I ventured. ‘Hey, I’m only nineteen, and I’m operating plant on the swing shift. Besides, he’s a much better operator than I am.’ Tin hat’s stony expression changed to one of alarm. 29


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

‘You’d better talk to David Morgan then. Off you go!’ By the time I tracked David down, I could tell that tin hat had got to him first. He looked at me, perplexed. ‘Why didn’t you tell us that you were only nineteen?’ ‘Nobody asked me. Besides, I haven’t been on kid’s wages since I was sixteen.’ ‘I’m afraid your mate can’t start; and I’m going to offer you a transfer. You show an obvious interest in diesel engines, so how would you like an apprenticeship in our workshop as a diesel engineer - on your current pay?’ Now there are several times in my life that I’ve made poor decisions. I don’t actually regret them but, in hind-sight, I realize that I probably would have been better off to give the situation a bit more thought. And this one was a standout. But you see I reckoned that I was learning new skills, seeing new places and earning good brass – knocking around was the name of the game. Abdul the shearer had told me so two years earlier. ‘No, I’ll stick to operating, thanks’, I said and walked off to give Colin the bad news, not realising that I would not see him again for about thirty years. I knew that David was following me back and forth around the dam site in the yellow utility, waiting for me to do something wrong. I was tempted to do a couple of racing gear changes and get it over with, but I didn’t have the heart to abuse one of his machines in front of him, so I drove in exemplary style. I don’t know whether that pleased or annoyed him. I know I belaboured the point about pre-shift vehicle checks, but one thing that I didn’t mention was that, at the end of a shift, we were waved into the parking area on our way back from the dam - that is empty. Well, I came on for my shift and, seeing David looking in my direction, went through the procedure with immaculate care, finishing with the steering and dump door check. I felt my machine lurch upwards as twenty tons of fill dumped onto the park – someone had called my cross-shift operator in on the way to the dam. I simply got out and walked up to David and asked him to take me back to the office before it shut. ‘I’m sorry’, he said. I hadn’t really decided which way to go when I drove away from Adaminaby. I wanted to get to Queensland – there was so much to see and do up there, but it was coming up to Christmas and I hadn’t visited mum and dad yet in their new home at Beaumaris, a Melbourne seaside suburb. I arrived at the junction with the Hume Highway. I paused then turned left. Queensland would have to wait. By now I considered myself as a plant operator – not a chainman, a farm hand, a rouseabout or even a wool-classer. They were simply occupational detours on my tax returns. I trawled the Melbourne papers for my next adventure, but there was nothing in Queensland. However, in the ‘plant-operators’ section there was ad for a dozer operator to do tank-sinking in the Western District of Victoria. I must, at this juncture, put right a common misconception. Those large, square holes in 30


The Snowy and the Western Plains

the ground with dirt heaped up at each end and water (hopefully) in the bottom are tanks, not dams. Dams, on the other hand, are structures (earth and rock, or concrete) across water courses that cause the water to pond on the upstream side. So I applied and landed a job with Keath and Son sinking tanks around such places as Hamilton, Ballan, Hexam and Caramut. Having had virtually no dozer operation experience, I was fortunate enough to get cobbered up with a wild Irishman, Tom Foley, who was a whiz on dozers and taught me quite a lot. He even used to save the initial top soil and spread it on the end heaps of clay from the hole, then spread superphosphate and grass seeds on top. So if you’re ever driving through those previously mentioned areas and you see some lovely grassy tank mounds amongst the brown ones, you can safely say that it was built by Tom - or me! I was sent off for a while to join another crew as a dozer operator on a project to build a canal to drain Lake Corangamite. There was a lot of basalt that needed blasting, and it was decided that, as all the men and equipment had to be moved well back prior to each blast, it made economic sense to make the shots big and infrequent. And so it was this particular day, and I was asked to reverse the dozer about a quarter of a mile across the flat featureless landscape. I reckoned this was a bit extreme, but not being particularly brave, complied with the instruction. Now I had no direct experience with explosives, but knew that it was wise to look towards the blast and upwards. So I settled in the seat, put my feet up, rolled a smoke and waited. Well, I felt it first, then saw half the horizon go sky-wards, and then heard the bang. I’d never experienced anything quite like it previously and, as I peered skywards, there seemed to be one rock in particular that went straight up and towards me. I muttered something that I’m sure would have been unacceptable in polite society, as I scrambled off the seat in search of cover – but there was none! So I huddled on the ground, hard up against the back of the dozer and waited. There was an almighty clang when the grapefruit-sized missile struck the front of the dozer, bounced off it, hit the back of the blade, bounced of that and then came skittling back along the ground under the dozer, its lethal energy spent. Maybe this knocking around is not all it’s cracked up to be, I thought… It was bitterly cold out on those western planes at the time and winter had not even really set in. Once again I scanned the job vacancy ads in the paper and came across an interesting possibility. It was for a cadetship (if I remember the terminology correctly) as a trainee surveyor. I put in an application, mentioning my chainman experience, and received a very positive telegram back offering me an interview. It was the longest telegram I have ever seen and it was very positive in relation to my chance of being selected. I can’t explain what my reasoning at the time was but replied that I was no longer interested. Tom and I worked a split shift so that we could keep the dozer working from dawn until dark, so it meant working hours on your own which I didn’t really mind. I use the word ‘dozer’ (which it was, an Allis Chalmers HD 16 to be precise), but we usually used a fifteen yard scoop behind it, as it was quicker in good going and it did a cleaner job than a dozer. We used to live in the nearest pub to the job that we were working on, 31


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

which had one upside – that we could get a beer or three after the six pm closing time. We talked about all sorts of things, which must have included my yearning to get to Queensland and my love of Aussie Rules footy (spear-fishing was on the back burner, as I hadn’t lived on the coast since I left school four years earlier). Anyhow, one day when I was on the early shift, Tom turned up and waved that day’s Sporting Globe newspaper at me. ‘There’s an ad in there that might be interesting you, man’, he said in his rich brogue. I flipped those pink pages eagerly as Tom took over on the dozer. And there it was! ‘Aussie rules footballers wanted in Townsville’ Within a fortnight I was on my way north in my little Standard 10 wagon with a water bag mounted on the front. I had made mail contact with Garbutt Football Club, phone calls were out of the question in those days – short of an emergency. Mum had wished me luck, but must have been inwardly disappointed to lose my occasional visits from country Victoria, but she never made it hard for me. Some fella in Brisbane asked me where I was headed, and I recall my answer. ‘I’m on my way from Melbourne to Townsville, mate, and now that I’m in Queensland, I’m nearly there.’ ‘You’re hardly half-way, eh!’ he said laughing as he walked away. Realizing the pretty big distances ahead, on a sometimes rather ordinary Bruce Highway, I stepped on the gas. This was fine until I was leaving Mackay. I was crossing the old bridge over the Pioneer River and, when I got to the northern side travelling a tad too fast, I discovered that a wet season flood had taken the road away from the end of the bridge! So it was into the repair shop for a new front end while “BruceI-can-drive-any-bloody-thing” continued on glumly to Townsville by train. ‘Are you Kevin Caton?’ a tough-looking character demanded. ‘No.’ ‘Or Terry McInerney?’ ‘No.’ Then I noticed that police were challenging a number of the men getting off the train, and even seemed to be telling some of them quite bluntly to get back on the train. Townsville station was not the friendly destination that I had expected! The tough-looking bloke was still looking at me. ‘Where can I get a taxi?’ I asked him. ‘Where are you going?’ he countered. ‘Pimlico’, I said, not too sure how much I should divulge. ‘Not Barryman street, by any chance?’ ‘Yes, number 21.’ ‘Well I’m the secretary of the Garbutt footy club, and if you’re not Kevin or Terry, who the hell are you?’ When I told him, he scrutinised his bit of paper. 32


The Snowy and the Western Plains

‘I thought you were driving up.’ I explained my misadventure at the Pioneer river bridge, as he ushered me into an old Nash car, already packed with aboriginal footballers. During the introductions, I battled to get the door closed behind me, thankful that Kevin and Terry, who both turned out to be pretty good footballers, had already squeezed in. So this was Queensland – it sure promised to be interesting!

33


Le Tourneau Drivers’ Team, Adminaby Dam, 1957

You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

34


The Snowy and the Western Plains

Bruce and D2-21.

35


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

Snowmobile at Kosciusko 1957.

The boys: Colin, Burnie, Bruce, Neville and Bruce Laming.

36


Hazzards - whoops!

The Snowy and the Western Plains

37


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

Tank sinking Woorndoo.

Bogged.

38


The Snowy and the Western Plains

Bruce spearfishing.

Dave and Wendy Wilson.

39


Queensland at Last

5

Queensland at Last

And so it was when I lobbed in Townsville in April 1958. I was nineteen, had missed the last two footy seasons because of my gypsy lifestyle, had been separated from coastal activities for even longer, and didn’t own a sports car. It was time for some catch-up football (sorry!). Garbutt had done some enthusiastic recruiting over the Summer, and in addition to myself, Kevin and Terry eventually turned up together with yet another recruit, Vin Cousens. Our first night at training comprised mainly of everyone checking each other out, as a third of the team looked like it was going to be made up of Victorians, while the remainder were locals, nearly all of whom were aboriginal. The team played in Collingwood colours which, although not inspiring for me (being a Carlton supporter), turned out to be propitious, as it was the centenary of Australian Rules, the national code, and Collingwood was to win the 1958 grand final. We were all invited to board with the club secretary, Fred Aldridge, and his wife Beverly and their two children. This was a bit of a squeeze, but it was all pretty casual and we coped. I was still without wheels, so I searched for work as close to Barryman Street as possible, and was fortunate enough to get a start at Browne and Broad Sawmill at the end of the street. It wasn’t a bad job, it was physical, semi-outdoors and I learned new skills in an altogether new industry. My job was described as a sawyer, and I was responsible for cutting huge logs into lengths to fit into the ply-making lathe, using either a rail-mounted electric cross-cut or a large electric chain saw. We had to roll the logs in manually with long cant hooks, and it was this operation that resulted in me falling off-side with some of my work mates. They reckoned this task should be under-taken with the aid of several men, without anyone straining themselves (this sounds familiar!). From time to time a log would be delivered that was without humps and bumps, and I would start rolling it in on my own. I was informed in no uncertain terms that this was not on, for two reasons. Firstly, I would be expected to work that hard all the time, and secondly, everyone else would be expected to do likewise. They probably overlooked the main (valid) reason, and that was that it was a bit risky. Uneven logs could suddenly roll forward or backwards and catch the unwary in the wrong place. I was straining on my own one day and this reluctant log wouldn’t quite roll, so I bounced my skinny 65 Kg frame on the end of the long wooden cant hook handle, which snapped like a carrot and down I went. ‘Serves ya right, ya dickhead!’ was typical of the several expressions of sympathy from my workmates. I took an interest in the various types of timber that we used. I remember the names and looks of three, they were: silky oak, silk wood and candle walnut. And now, fifty-odd years later, when I examine the make-up of the drawers on the writing desk that I am using right now and realize that my father originally bought it in Melbourne in the sixties, I wonder whether I sawed that very timber. Although I had only owned a car for a couple of years, I realized (especially 41


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

while I was without it) that such a possession defined a measure of status. You could be a bit of a nomad or knock-about with a car, but without one, you were just a drifter. It wasn’t so much a visible status symbol, but it meant that you could throw all your stuff in it and just go. No relying on others to drop you at the train or bus station, and week-end activities were rendered a whole lot more diverse. If I didn’t mention the advantage that personal transport provided at Saturday night dances, where ever they were held, I would have to confess that I was messing with the truth – so now it’s on the record. However, there was a significant downside to my car ownership, and that was those monthly repayments of 32 pounds a month – I was buying independence, but at a stiff price. You will, of course, recall that my little car was a station wagon, and my aboriginal footy mates lived by the cultural expectation that what’s yours is mine. Not that they asked outright to be taken places, but when ever I stepped towards the car, one or more voices would enquire: ‘Where you goin’, bungee?’ And no matter what fanciful destination I dreamed up, someone was bound to want to go there. Even before I had redeemed the car from the repairers in Mackay, I was feeling the pinch of the repayments, as sawyers’ pay in Queensland was about half what I had been getting as a plant operator down south. With the possibility of down-trading in mind, I had started to take an interest in the local second-hand car yards. By the time I had left Scone for the Snowy, I had “hotted-up” the little Standard 10 considerably, but it would never be a real sports car. I had noticed a little red 1948 MG TC in Norm McKillop’s car yard, and although that sounds old, it was only ten years old then. This represented a faster car, lower repayments (it was listed at a price of 395 pounds) and, I reckoned, a reduction in un-invited passengers. I made the trade, and it resulted in the first two aims being satisfied, but had little impact on the third, as my enthusiastic passengers simply climbed on instead of into the MG in those reckless pre-seat belt days. Two things happened when I retrieved the Standard 10, and traded it in on the MG. I met new friends who had an interest in sports cars, and I was able to seek work further afield. Graham “Joe” Hodkinson is one such friend who, like me, is still a sports car freak more than fifty years later. At the time, he had a baby Austin special with which we had a lot of fun, but after I bought the MG, he did likewise soon after. He now enjoys a classic Austin-Healy, which is used mainly for club runs. Now the footy was an interesting experience. The local lads had wonderful natural skills and it was a pleasure to play with them – most of the time. We were playing against the RAAF one Saturday, and I was at full-forward, when a punch was delivered (actually by one of our non-indigenous players), which resulted in a huge melee that engulfed every player on the ground, including the central umpire, except myself and the RAAF full-back. Although the usual Australia-wide custom is to provide oranges at three42


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quarter time, we were usually offered the sherry bottle. Apart from the punch-ups, I slotted in pretty well with the team. They played extremely hard, and it was a style that I readily emulated (a style that caused me some problems in other clubs). Rarely a match concluded without somebody from the opposing team being carted off to the hospital, but to be fair, this was as much to do with the rock-hard ground as it was with aggressive tackling. We won most of our matches, but in the semi-final some one decided to give me a bit of pay-back, and I copped a very enthusiastic knee in the back while leaping for a mark, and it was my turn for the hospital trip. I was helped in by a couple of the others, and we all still had our Guernseys on. Well, I think I had received more sympathy at work, when I fell off the broken can’t hook than in casualty; this rather big nursing sister stood in the hall-way with her arms crossed. ‘Garbutt, eh! It’s about time one of you bastards lobbed in here, after all the other blokes you’ve been sending in!’ she said. But once inside, I was looked after pretty well and I had to stay in for a week. This meant missing only one game for the year, the grand final, which the boys won, kicking eight goals straight. The whole team traipsed into the hospital afterwards to share their exhilaration before they became too immersed in their celebrations. One of the highlights, not just of the season but of my whole stay in Townsville, was to make the North Queensland team to visit and play against Papua in Port Moresby. The team was selected from the players in the teams playing in Townsville and Cairns. It required a trip in a DC3 with long bench seats down each side of the cabin. Port Moresby in 1958 was hot and dry (a bit like Townsville), dusty and pretty much undeveloped. Most of the natives still wore traditional native clothing and were not allowed to handle, let alone drink, alcohol. The country would be a lot better off now had this restriction remained longer than it did, but that’s a story for later. I was still keen to re-engage with plant-operating, so applied for an advertised position with Tutt Bryant, a company who were contractors and parts suppliers/ repairers. Unfortunately, the position was substantially the latter and although I was amongst the plant, the closest I ever got was to drive the rather boring factory fork-lift. But having said that, I must point out that, from a “knock-about’s” perspective, no new skill is wasted. On two occasions, in later years, I was able to rely on those fork-lift skills to land a job when jobs were much harder to get. It wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination an exciting, rewarding or well paid position, but it kept me in bread until the end of the footy season, after which I became restless again. A totally unexpected thing happened one day – I was called up for national service, as was another of the Garbutt players, Adrian “Bony” Pryor. This was the old “nasho”, which applied to all males of eighteen or nineteen, and comprised of six months full-time plus follow-up time in the CMF. We both did our medicals and waited, but heard nothing… Meanwhile, back at work, I was asked to take on 43


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managing the spare parts department. Now as much as I enjoyed roaming, and mainly pleased myself when and where I went and what I did, I still maintained that “old school” approach which encouraged me not to dud people. However, I did use the national service situation quite shamelessly to decline the offer, and undertook to stay and train somebody to do my current job. Occasionally, this rather “British” approach to my perceived responsibilities back-fired big time, and I became unemployed at a time not of my own choosing, but I tried to remain stoic on such occasions. Observant readers will recall that when Glenbawn Dam was closing down and we were all casting around for employment options, Mt Isa Mines (MIM) was mooted, and I’d decided then to give it a go some time. Well, now I was a whole lot closer to Mt Isa, so I went into their Townsville office and made application and did yet another medical. It didn’t worry me that I was now on two short lists, ‘nasho’ and MIM. If the army called me first, I’d send my (genuine) apologies to MIM, and present at the barracks quite happily. If MIM called first, I’d go out there and have the additional advantage of a well-paid job to come back to after national service. It seemed that I had all the options covered, while I continued to train my replacement at Tutt Bryant. What do they say about the best laid plans of mice and men? The following weekend I ran into the back of another car on the main road north out of Townsville. That MG would go like a startled stag, but it wasn’t so good at stopping. The damage wasn’t all that bad, but it was going to be a workshop job for a few weeks. The following Monday, you guessed it, I got the call from the MIM office to report to the Isa ASAP. It was with a mixture of excitement and annoyance that I found myself on the ‘Inlander’ train bound for Mt Isa. I had a feeling that MIM was going to be a significant component of my employment life – and so it turned out to be. But I was leaving behind a bent car and a lot of my stuff at Barryman street. As I said earlier, a car certainly makes a traveller more independent, but when his car is not operational, that same traveller becomes less independent than a lightly-packed traveller without a car. I suppose I was my own worst enemy in this respect. I lugged a tool box, a rifle, spear-fishing and footy gear and, would you believe, a set of bag-pipes all the way from Melbourne – it wouldn’t have fitted in the MG, had it been mobile, anyway! It’s little wonder that in later life, I became obsessed with only travelling with what I could pick up with my two hands in one lift. But as the miles slipped past the train window, I started to look forward to my new adventure, and Townsville came to represent something of a forward stores depot. For the first time in five years, I was travelling a long distance to a job that had already been arranged. In my moment of smug self-satisfaction, I reflected on my mentor (or was he really my self-imposed nemesis?), Abdul the shearer in Tibooburra. I was knocking around all right, but I bet even Abdul hadn’t been here. Why? It was cattle country! 44


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I became aware of a distinct-sounding voice in the carriage behind me. It wasn’t so much that it was loud, but that it was a deep bass voice, and the other half of the conversation, oddly enough, was in a Scottish accent. It soon became apparent from the conversation that the voices were also headed for Mt Isa to work. It didn’t take long before I joined the conversation, and learned that the bass voice belonged to one Ron Cole from Tasmania. His mate, as it turned out, was indeed a Scot. We had a few beers (as you do), and Ron and I discovered that we had a few common interests – travelling, footy, politics and, of course, drinking beer. I’m not sure how politics came up, but it so happened that Ron’s dad was a Tasmanian senator, representing the Democratic Labor Party (DLP). We went our separate ways on arrival at our destination, Ron going underground as a rigger, and I went to the lead smelter. Neither of us suspected then that our paths would cross repeatedly for the next half-century. I was allocated a wire bed in a twin-bed room – Barrack 10 Room 10 in the BSD – which was to be my home for the next twenty months. It turned out to be my longest stretch with one employer from the time I left school up until after I was married, but I never did discover what BSD stood for. There was one big mess hall for about two hundred blokes although, because of shift work, we were never all there at once. The meals weren’t too bad – not as good as the Snowy, but better than the hostel at Glenbawn Dam. All courses had to be collected from the kitchen in one go, so to avoid cold fried eggs and bacon, this (nearly) hot dish was usually consumed prior to starting on the corn flakes. We were entitled to two meals plus a pre-ordered cut lunch, and as I had developed a friendship with one of the serving girls, my lunch was always enhanced to the point that it practically split the paper bag. Some of the BSD wags tried all sorts of manoeuvres to collect my cut-lunch before I got there, but were rarely successful. They knew full well that I couldn’t lodge a complaint to the mess manager, without blowing the scheme or jeopardizing my girl-friend’s job. The barracks were liveable enough, with about a dozen rooms and communal facilities in each of the ten strip barracks which was, in turn, separated from the others by rocks and needle-like spinifex grass. It was so hot and dry, both day and night, in summer that you could wash your dungarees before breakfast and take them off the line dry - and hard as boards - before lunch. Most jobs required a complete change of clothes, usually black or navy blue, every shift as they would be wet, sweaty and quite often full of lead dust. One of our little pleasures was the free, open-air pictures - I wouldn’t call it a cinema - on a patch of flat sand and stones near the mess hall. Rain was rarely a problem, but boy, it got cold on winter nights! Working the night shift (mid-night to 8am, which was called the “dog watch”), necessitated sleeping during the day and, during summer, it got extremely hot. Fortunately, I was able to buy a second-hand evaporative air cooler, without which sleep would have been much more difficult. The downside was that going to 45


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bed straight after the dog watch at, say, 9 am and sleeping well usually resulted in missing both breakfast and lunch – just as well there was somebody in the kitchen who always looked after my cut-supper order! As mentioned above, I was consigned to labouring in the lead smelter, which wasn’t surprising as the smelters were dirty work places and had a high staff turnover. In addition, I had no skills that were in demand within a mining community, such as a trade, and had to start at the bottom. No one (particularly Abdul the shearer) had warned me at sixteen that this knocking-around in different industries meant perpetually starting at the bottom. In twenty months time I was to grasp a challenge to the reality of this dilemma. The bottom job at the lead smelter was bloody awful and involved shovelling hot ash away from under the roasters. A lot of recruits couldn’t cope with it at all and resigned, but I worked at it as though the Mount Isa Mines (MIM) share price relied entirely on my efforts. This strategy worked, and the shift boss promoted me to shift work, first on the roasters then, shortly after, onto the concentrate filters. To explain the process, the ore came up from underground, went to the ball-mill where it was crushed into a slurry the consistency of tomato sauce, from where it was pumped to the smelter. It then went through a filter process to take out the water, and the paste was added to other ingredients before going through the roasters to make clinkers, which in turn were fed to the blast furnace. At MIM, like all such organizations, there was a hierarchy and, as in the army, there were officers and others. At Mt Isa, the former were the “staff” blokes, which included the shift bosses, who were always dressed in khaki, and the geologists and metallurgists who usually wore checked shirts (hey! This was the fifties, remember?). My good friend from Scotch College, John McFarlane, was there as a trainee metallurgist when I arrived, but left soon after to embark on his own very interesting odyssey, which eventually led him to Canberra as an authority on international crime. Another young bloke replaced him at the lead smelter, checked shirt and all. One day he was just standing by the roasters, watching the slow progress of the clinker bed, and I was some distance away hosing down the lead dust. I don’t know why, but I gave the hose a bit of a flick and sent a spray in his direction. He just looked up and smiled. We exchanged a few friendly words and he just sauntered off, no doubt to gaze at another aspect of the smelting process. Little did I realize that I had just showered a bloke with whom I had a lot in common and we would, in time, become life-long friends. Quite early in my stint at the Isa, I came down with stomach cramps which, I was told, was yellow jaundice and I was bunged into hospital. After a couple of days, when I was feeling a bit better, I complained to the night nurse that my controlled diet wasn’t much chop. Being the kind soul that she was, she invited me back to the kitchen. I was just about to tuck into some hastily-prepared supper, when the nurse heard familiar foot-steps. 46


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‘Quick - into the pantry!’ I couldn’t quite catch the conversation in the kitchen, but the door suddenly opened to reveal Matron and there was I, looking quite foolish, holding a plate piled high with heavily-buttered toast. The night nurse survived - obviously Matron had been young once herself - but I was booted out of the hospital without ceremony and sent back to work well before I should have been. But who could I complain to? As I was promoted through the ranks within my shift our own leading hand, Dick Hancock, was invited to go onto staff. Now Dick was a great bloke and he had no tickets on himself whatsoever, and really didn’t see himself as a boss. We didn’t help one bit, giving him a razzle at every opportunity. Now I will detour from my story about Dick, long enough to explain that there were rather stringent safety precautions, particularly at the lead smelter, in relation to possible lead poisoning. We had to wear face masks, either of the fabric type or the rubber ones with filter cartridges, we could smoke but definitely not roll your own on the job (which was a sackable offence), and we were regularly bloodtested. Now Dick and I got on pretty well. He was a laconic sort of bloke, and idolized his wife, Lyn and little boy, Les. They lived in a “tent house”, of which there were a number in Mt Isa back then. They were tiny three-room structures of fibro, with a timber floor, a canvas roof and a second separate “fly roof” of corrugated steel over the top. Most of their furniture was made out of discarded “gelly” (gelignite) boxes, and they both rolled and smoked “the makin’s.” I used to spend a fair bit of my spare time at Dick’s, and was with them when they discussed the promotion offer, They had so little, and this offer was so attractive that they decided to give it a go. We were working the “dog watch” on the week Dick was to transfer to staff, and he was to present to the lead smelter office the next morning to learn the ropes. We sat around the table that evening, chatting about the new job, while Dick and Lyn carefully rolled tobacco from one Log Cabin tin into cigarettes to be packed neatly into the other log Cabin tin for the next day’s shift – this was a daily ritual. I had a bite to eat with them and went off to get ready for my shift, and said that I would check him out in his new khakis at the office as I came off shift at 8 am the next morning. As planned, I caught up with Dick, resplendent but slightly self-conscious in his spotless khakis at about 7.50 am. Before I could get away, two shift bosses and the smelter manager suddenly appeared to congratulate Dick. Now Dick was a man of few words at the best of times, but at that moment, all he wanted was a fag to ease his nerves. He reached into his pocket, screwed the lid off the Log Cabin tin and offered one to the mine manager. The three bosses’ jaws visibly dropped, and my hapless mate looked down at his open tin, and there for all to see, was unrubbed tobacco and a packet of cigarette papers – he had picked up Lyn’s tin by mistake! Well that certainly broke the ice but was quickly, if a little nervously, explained. Fortunately Dick had a witness to the previous night’s cigarette rolling readily at hand. 47


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The work, particularly on afternoon and night shifts when there were few khaki or checked shirts about, was not too taxing, and the blokes used to look after each others’ plant checks so that we could all get a little nap. I don’t recall anyone getting the bullet, after being caught asleep, but it might have been a different story if a plant break-down occurred. Naturally the bosses used to bellow and threaten any apprehended sleepers, but they had all been there themselves. I used to make it a sport to come up with inventive places to sleep without being located. My only “never-to-be-discovered” location was up an eight metre long 700mm diameter tunnel, under a huge lead concentrate thickening tank. I even got to taking an alarm clock up that dirty damp hole so that I didn’t sleep past the end of my shift! I was never found, but then again, I never slept very well up there anyway! This apparent distraction with sleep did have some foundation, as in those days with only four people to cover each position in the smelter, the man off-roster was often first to be “called in” if someone was sick or didn’t show up for work. If the off-roster bloke couldn’t be found (which was quite often), there were only two other possibilities – either the one knocking off was required to stay, or the one coming in for the next shift but one, was brought in eight hours early. In either case, it meant a double shift of sixteen hours for some body. It was not unusual for a shift worker to be almost dragged out of bed with a gruff: ‘You’re wanted at work, mate!’ So there was a theory - or were we kidding ourselves - that you could put some sack-time “in the bank”, but I must confess that I invariably felt worse after doing my banking. We used to read, chat and drink a lot of tea and coffee. I also used to draw on the round pieces of filter paper with which we were issued, and strayed into cartoons. The leading hand suggested that I transfer my art to the crib room message blackboard. This I did, lampooning a number activities and personalities, especially the khaki and the checked shirted blokes, under the pen (or chalk) name of “Boof”, a nick-name given to me by my brother, but not publicly promulgated by myself. Boof’s real identity remained a mystery around the smelter, and I used to join my workmates at crib time, innocently chuckling at the weekly artistic barbs. Then one day, MIM’s glossy monthly magazine Mimag advertised for a commercial artist to do, amongst other things, cartoons. Once again, my leading hand spurred me into action, and I applied, using “Boof” as part of my CV. Would you believe, they said that I could have the job as long as I commenced a formal art course by correspondence. If this scenario sounds familiar, so was the response. As I wanted to go underground eventually, I declined their offer. For the sixth time in my life, I declined a course of action about which I would, one day, ponder on things that might have been… Unlike my long haul north to Townsville, my trip west to Mt Isa was driven by a new work challenge, rather than football. However I was pleased to discover that Aussie rules was alive and well in my new home town. Unfortunately though, there were only three teams – an awkward number - Tigers, Australs and one at the 48


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Mary Kathleen Uranium mine town, usually referred to as Mary K. There must have been an influx of blokes from the southern states in early 1959, because the local league decided to create an additional team, which would obviate the need for one team to have a bye each week. A meeting of likely lads was called, and a certain “Snow” Davies emerged as the driving force behind the proposed new team. As the players came from every state in Australia, many of whom were nomads like myself, we called ourselves the “Rovers”, and would play in reverse Essendon colours. Our first training session was another one of those “sorting out” sessions. Who could kick a ball well, who could take a mark in a pack, who had footy “savvy”, and who were just “bullshit artists”? We had a bit of everything, including some very exceptional talent. Most of the recruits didn’t know any of the others at all, some knew three or four from work, but we all had one thing in common – we loved playing footy and drinking beer, but not necessarily in that order! I was pleased to encounter my Tasmanian acquaintance from the train, Ronny Cole, at training; and was also surprised to see my young checked shirt metallurgist friend from the lead smelter front up also. The latter, Grahame Macintosh, although quiet of demeanour, was the best deliverer of a footy by drop-kick or stab pass that I ever played with. What a pity that the AFL has all but abandoned the beautiful drop-kick, and allowed its name to be taken over by others as a derisory description of life’s losers. Both Ron and Grahame became integral components of the Rovers, and life-long friends. We were still short of players as the start of the season approached, and a novel approach was introduced by “Snow”, which he might have even copied from the police methods at Townsville station. He and one or two others would meet every inbound train and front each likely footballer with a challenge. ‘Do you play Aussie rules?’ If they answered in the negative, the welcome was cut short. If, on the other hand, there was the slightest suggestion of a footy background, they were warmly welcomed, taken across the road to the nearest pub, plied with as much beer as necessary, and immediately signed up. As well as players, we needed funds to launch and run our fledgling team, so Snow and some of the boys came up with the idea to raffle a carton of beer each week. It wasn’t hard to sell tickets in Mt Isa with such a prize, and I diligently did my bit at the lead smelter each week. About half-way through the season, some of my workmates questioned why it was always ‘somebody from mine-side’ or ‘a bloke from Mary K’ or some other equally nebulous identity who had won the beer. ‘Why didn’t somebody from the lead smelter ever win?’ my work mates asked. A fair question, I thought, and it deserved a reasonable response if I was going to continue to flog tickets. So after the next game, I loitered in the change rooms instead of my usual practice of a quick shower and off to work, as I was usually on 49


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one shift or another and had people covering for me. I was offered a beer, which I readily accepted, and joined in the post-mortem of the match. During a lull in the conversation, I asked no-one in particular: ‘Hey, how come nobody from the lead smelter ever wins our raffle?’ I was answered with blank looks, then: ‘Christ, you don’t think we ever draw the bloody thing, do you?’ ‘Well, what happens to the grog?’ ‘Whadaya think you’re drinkin’?’ I never did discover whether they were having a lend of me or not, but the raffles continued. At least our possibly ill-gotten funds were put to good use. In the fifties, badges and blazers with club pockets (sometimes multiple pockets depicting premierships or carnivals) were all the go. Being the most artistic of a pretty unartistic bunch (Grahame Macintosh kept his more superior skills in that department very quiet), I got the job of designing a pocket and a badge, both of which were duly fabricated. I managed to keep one of each until fifty years later, but I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. Half-way through the season, it was decided to have a club trip away to Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. This involved continuous beer-drinking and multiple comfort stops by the bus, and probably still holds the record for the slowest trip between the two towns. As 1959 was my twenty-first year, my mum decided to take a bus trip to the Alice with three of her bowls club girl-friends at that time and meet up with me. This was a nice surprise, and although, in the words of a well-known Scottish air, she “wished me safe at home”, there was, as usual, no pressure exerted to even hint at this outcome. Mum bought me my first 35mm camera, which was to provide many photographic records of my escapades over the next ten years. Colour film was not common in those days, and most people used slide film, notwithstanding the difficulty of putting on a slide show in competition with the all-conquering (black and white) TV. We met up with some of the Alice Springs footballers, at a piss-up in the dry bed of the Todd River, where an idea was conceived. So, at the end of the season, in which Rovers won the premiership, our local league invited teams from Townsville, Alice Springs and Darwin to a carnival in Mt Isa. This event was won by the highly-skilled team from Darwin. A couple of months after arriving at Mt Isa, I had to return to Townsville and retrieve my repaired and ware-housed MG from Graham Hodkinson’s family home. Although it was a challenge to get it back to the mining town over some of those (then) unsealed roads, it wasn’t half as tough as getting it back to the coast eighteen months later – but more about that trip a little later. The little roadster had suffered a hard ten years life, to the point where the doors would swing open as the body twisted while cornering at speed. As I had nothing much to do outside work, apart from footy, I decided to rebuild the body 50


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work and have the engine renovated at an engineering works in Brisbane. Dick Hancock was kind enough to let me do the former under a tent fly attached to the back of his shed, while the motor disappeared to Brisbane on the train. The MG TC was one of the last cars to be built with hardwood framing to hold the body together. Because of the climate, a lot of this timber had rotted away to virtually nothing and some other sections seemed to be holding their relative positions in the car purely by memory. It wasn’t too difficult to purchase several slabs of inch and a quarter kiln-dried hardwood locally, but the only tool available to the amateur in those days to fashion it was a tiny hand coping saw. I then proceeded to exhaust the whole town’s supply of replacement blades, as they over-heated and snapped. I also sent the old wobbly 19 inch wheels away to be cut down to the (then) fashionable and more robust 16 inch wire wheels. Such a departure from the original would be very-much frowned upon these days. The car, when completed, ran better and handled firmer than perhaps it had even when new, but I resisted the temptation to have it re-ducoed prior to getting it back to civilization. It was great to have wheels again, and I was so confident in my recent mechanical skills, that I decided to take it on a little trip – to Darwin, 2000 miles away! Dick Hancock agreed to come with me, so we each arranged for a bit of leave and headed north-west with our swags jammed in behind the seats. Now there’s not a lot to see on that trip - and it probably hasn’t changed much in fifty years. There’s the whistle-stop little town of Camooweal, just before the NT border, a road house at Frewena and the Devil’s Marbles, before the road joins up with the Alice Springs – Darwin road. From then on it gets a bit more interesting and, even though there were a number of detours around the pools of bull-dust, we found our selves in quite a few. Our little car just plunged head-long into them. They looked like flat bare dirt but in reality were two-foot deep pools of talcum-like dust which flowed up and over the front of the little MG and, with the windscreen folded flat down, into our already-dusty laps. At least most of the roads were bitumen, even though the width of the tarmac was just adequate for one vehicle. As we were very exposed to flying stones in our little roadster, I developed a routine of slowing right down and moving well off the road, as soon as an approaching vehicle appeared. This usually - but not always - resulted in the on-coming car or truck staying in the middle of the road, thus pelting fewer screen-busting stones in our direction. The huge cattle road-trains were the exception, with their two or three big trailers yawing from side to side as they thundered past, closely pursued by an avalanche of rocky missiles. Many windscreens were lost on the bush roads in those days, and although mine was not one of them, I had ample cause to be thankful that I had decided not to have the duco re-sprayed while in Mt Isa. We pulled over away from the road each sun-down, as it quickly became too cold to continue driving without the hood up. It was impossible to hide our camp-site from passers-by in such flat open country, especially with a well-stoked 51


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campfire, so I invariably kept my .22 beside, but not in, my swag. We boiled the billy, cooked some tucker, and talked well into the night at these camp-sites, and it was on these occasions that I really enjoyed smoking “the makins” with a big pannikin of black tea. Dick was a good mate and being a little older and married, was a steadying influence on me. When I left Mt Isa, I called on Lyn’s family at Redbank, rear Ipswich, and on Dick’s sister at Wallangarra, on the Queensland/ NSW border. I believed that I would see a lot of Dick in the future, but it was not to be, as he died of lung cancer a few short years later.

Shortly before we reached Darwin, the MG’s generator failed, and it had to be completely re-wired before the return trip. Darwin was a remarkably casual town and it had embraced some of the elements of multiculturalism long before the word was invented. Dick hadn’t arranged for as much leave as I had and, because of the generator delay, had to fly back to Mt Isa. But before he departed he made me promise to shoot a scrub turkey on my return trip, so that we could cook up a feast at his place. The car was eventually fixed and I set out for home. I had just crossed the border into Queensland and remembered the turkey. The sun was setting quickly, and it was getting cold, so I slowed down and peered into the fading vista of scrub. I was just about to abandon the hunt when I spotted the silhouette of my quarry, just visible nearly a hundred metres away. I stopped in the middle of the road, and took meticulous aim – I’d only get one shot. A flurry indicated that I’d at least hit it, but it was scurrying off, so I abandoned the car and took off in pursuit in the rapidly fading light. I was able to catch and dispatch what I believed to be the unluckiest turkey in Queensland, and deposited it in Dick’s now-vacant seat beside me. It was so big that one wing poked out over the cut-away door and nearly dragged along the road. I made camp shortly afterwards, and was on track to get some breakfast the next day in Camooweal and make Mt Isa in day-light. As I drove towards Camooweal in the in the cold light of dawn, I got to looking more closely at my hapless victim, propped up beside me. It now seemed to look bigger than I’d imagined a scrub turkey ought to look - and it wasn’t plump or turkey-looking. What if it’s some sort of protected bird? I decided to hang onto it and look out for another turkey which might solve the mystery and, if I’d made a blue, I could dispose of this one. Now you blokes would all be aware that after driving at high speed for some time, the slow-down through country towns is often insufficient to satisfy safety or the law – and so it was in Camooweal on that fateful morning. My U-turn to park near the pub was executed at a speed that caused the car’s front wheels to slide in the gravel, and I connected with and dislodged one of the posts holding up the pub verandah. As the dust settled I looked about me and, sure enough, there was the 52


Queensland at Last

local copper strolling casually across the road towards me, as he pulled a notebook from his shirt pocket. As much as I regretted the leaning post, I was terrified that the law might spot the bird, spread-eagled on the seat beside me. I’d been wearing my footy jumper in the morning chill, and quickly pulled it off and spread it over the poor creature, which seemed bigger every time I looked at it. ‘G’day’, he said, devoid of expression. ‘G’day.’ Mt Isa Rovers, eh?’ ‘Oh – yes’, I stammered nervously. ‘Show us your licence!’ This is it I thought, as he scribbled slowly into his book. ‘Natty little bus – what is it?’ he asked, circling the vehicle with interest. ‘MG TC.’ ‘Don’t get many of those round these parts,’ he said, scratching his stubbly chin. ‘Hey, give us a hand with this post before the bloody roof caves in!’ Naturally, I couldn’t have been more helpful. I had the hammer out of the tool box in about two seconds, and in a minute or two we had the post back to its former near-vertical position. ‘That’ll do fine’, he announced. ‘It happens all the time.’ He made to walk away, then paused. ‘By the way, I’ve got money on yous bastards for the premiership – yous wont let me down, will you!’ ‘No bloody way!’, I responded, my voice trying valiantly to return to normal. He strolled away from what was possibly his only bit of official duty for the day. I re-arranged the car’s parking more tidily and, as I got out to head for the café for breakfast, noticed that the errant wing had been dragging along the road. ‘Uh! Maybe it is just a bloody turkey after all, I muttered.’ Dick was at work when I got back to the Isa, and Lyn came out to greet me. ‘What’s with the bloody brolga in the car?’ she asked. ‘Don’t you know 53


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

there’s a fifty quid fine if you’re caught with that? Hide it somewhere ‘til Dick gets home, and you’ll both have to go and bury it somewhere!’ I’ve done some pretty stupid things in my time, but killing that brolga would definitely be among some of my more regrettable actions. As a post-script , we did win the premiership and I was awarded a trophy as “Most Determined Player” that year, so I felt that I had at least squared-up with the Camooweal copper - if not with Mother Nature and my conscience.

54


Queensland at Last

Garbutt football team, Premiers 1958.

In the sawmill. 55


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

Mt Isa, 1959.

Rovers, 1959. 56


Queensland at Last

In the lead smelter D&L Plant, 1959.

57


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

MG on Rocky Road, 1959.

MG in Beaumaris, Victoria.

58


Time for a New Direction

6

Time for a New Direction

I stood there peering through gloom at the shaft safety gate grill. Would the cage never come to take me away to a new beginning? I was underground at Mt Isa (on Nine Level to be precise), and hoping like hell that I could catch the cage to the surface before the shift–boss came along – but it was not to be. ‘Hey, Bruce. Are you okay?’ boomed a voice from the darkness behind a hand-held cap lamp. As I turned I wondered why the bosses usually carried their lamps in their hand instead of having it attached to their hardhat. Maybe it was to warn the miners as to who was coming. I would have to make this sound good, or I’d look pretty stupid. You see, although I’d developed quite a slick routine for talking my way into jobs, I was singularly hopeless at resigning from them. ‘Boss, I’ve had an offer to train as a geologist in Melbourne, and I’ve just decided to take it up.’ ‘That’s great, mate’, he responded. ‘Pity. You were showing signs of making a good miner, and I was about to put you onto a mining contract, but geology’s great – good luck!’ He shook my hand, the cage arrived, I stepped in and rang to go up to the surface for the last time. What I’d said to the boss was not at all inaccurate, but it didn’t really explain my sudden dash to be out of the mine. I’d only been working underground for a couple of months, and on this particular day, I’d been assigned a small “mucking-out” contract with another older bloke. I was twenty-two, fit and healthy. My off-sider (I don’t recall his name) was in his forties, a smoker, and either unfit, lazy or both. Anyway, we got stuck into this big heap of ore, shovelling it into a nearby rail-truck, with a view to getting another small contract or going back onto the hourly rate as soon as possible. I worked and, while he did a bit too, he mainly smoked, coughed and yakked. ‘We make a good pair, you and me,’ he said from behind me, coughing again. ‘Youth and experience.’ I took two steps back, looked at him and nodded. Then it dawned on me as if he had belted me over the head with his short-handled shovel - the realization that I could be carrying this bloke until he retired, after which it would be my turn to look around desperately for a young bloke for me to bludge on. ‘Mate, I’m just goin’ f’ra walk’, I mumbled, and I headed back up the drive towards the cage. But let me make the point that the geology story was quite true. I always seemed to be studying something (remember Dave Morgan’s offer at Adaminaby Dam?). Since going off shift work at the smelter and onto day shift underground, I had been able to attend night school, and I started studying mechanical engineering. A fat lot of good that did me! After eight hours slog underground on a short-handled shovel and then a belly-full of tucker, I was usually asleep at my night school59


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desk within ten minutes. About all I can remember is that I learned how to use micrometers. But then one day shortly after, there happened to be a geologists’ convention at Mt Isa, and I thought quite a bit about those nice clean checked shirts, and what appeared to be a much more interesting job. I sought out one of the lecturers in Geology from one of the Technical Colleges down south, and this bloke not only offered me a start at the college the following year, but announced his largesse to all of his assembled colleagues at the convention. I felt that my life had turned a corner. When the 1960 football season was drawing to an end, I had applied to transfer from the lead smelter to the under-ground operations for a new challenge and better money. Going to the mine-side from the smelters was not straight forward, but having done over twelve months shift-work in various positions at the lead smelter, they let me transfer, and I was now working in the new exciting world of shafts, drives, cross-cuts, stopes and winzes in that mysterious black world far below the surface of the earth. There was a very detailed induction course, heavily influenced by safety considerations, which had to be passed, but some of the things that I observed the old hands do, made me wonder whether the course had only just been introduced. Where ever one goes, there is always some aspect that catches one’s attention. You might recall the story of the corrugated steel toilets down on the Snowy Scheme that became targets for rock-throwers in tin hats – so too were the “toilets” provided underground at Mt Isa worthy of comment. Now please don’t think that I have some fascination with work-place toilets, but if I did have to write a short humorous book about some aspect of Australian workplaces, I could not go past the ubiquitous dunnies provided in bush camps. Dunnies will come up for discussion again when my story heads back to the shearing sheds, and those encountered in Papua New Guinea cannot be ignored. Now, although indiscriminate bowel activities anywhere underground at the Isa were heavily discouraged, the facility provided for the miners amounted to an angle iron triangle on legs, with the edges, not the flats, uppermost and a bucket underneath. It was designed for squatting above, not for sitting on; and if one was caught short at some distance away, one was expected to use one’s shovel as the receptacle, and march forthwith to the nearest triangular dunny. Sometimes the darkness was a blessing! Working in the mine was an interesting and challenging adventure, but despite it being my intention that the job would only ever be another turn of the wheel in my nomadic life, I am surprised to learn, on reflection, that my sojourn at Mt Isa turned out to provide the longest duration of any job prior to me getting married. But towards the end of my time there, the desire to get into the big mining money was starting to be confronted by the awakening urge to move on again. Even so, I was really only mulling the idea of a geological career around in my 60


Time for a New Direction

mind, when I was assigned to work with that previously-mentioned name-less, and less than energetic off-sider. From a social perspective, leaving Mt Isa was more difficult than any of my previous departures, and I was not to experience a sadder exit from a place that I considered “home”, until our family departed Hobart, Tasmania nearly ten years later. The motive behind this move was different from all of those in the past. Whereas I’d always been moving on to new experiences – adventures in fact – this one heralded a return to school – and normality. I had built up a wide circle of football mates, two of whom, Ron Cole and Grahame Macintosh, are still close friends. There were work-mates from both the smelter and underground and, of course, Dick Hancock and his family. I had to quickly jettison a number of possessions, including my air conditioner, but I still had a lot of cargo. This included tool box, swag, rifle, spear-fishing stuff (very handy in Mt Isa) and, of course, my bagpipes. I hurriedly bought a tiny trailer with wheel-barrow sized wheels, and one of my footy mates welded a tow bar on the tiny tail of the MG – was this the first (or only) MG TC to have a tow bar fitted? In those days, there wasn’t much bitumen on the road to the coast – a bit from Mary K to Cloncurry, and another stretch near the coast. The rest was as rough as Hell, and my hastily welded tow bar broke off, requiring me to complete the journey to Townsville by towing the trailer with the assistance of a “Cobb and Co” hitch of fencing wire. A few other low slung bits copped a bit of a caning – the full extent of which I was to learn only when they failed later on. Fortunately, Graham (Joe) Hodkinson was on hand in Townsville to effect some tradesman-like repairs, and I took the opportunity to catch up with some old friends. As this looked like taking a little longer than my travel budget could cope with, I got a job at the Townsville cement works loading railway trucks with bags of cement. This was pretty tough work, requiring fitness and timing in order to keep up with the conveyor belt and to stack the bags in proper orderly sequence. Once again, I had no problem getting the job, but felt bad when I snatched it the day before hitting the road again. ‘I didn’t think I’d have you for long’, the foreman sighed, when I went to pick up my pay. ‘You showed a bit too much initiative for a labourer.’ The trip south was quite enjoyable, partly because I’d moved into the situation of having friends scattered up and down Australia’s mainland eastern states to drop in on – one of the fringe benefits of “knocking about”! My first stop-over was with Lyn Hancock’s (Dick’s wife) parents at Redbank, near Ipswich, and I took the opportunity to do some casual wool-sorting at the nearby Morris Woollen Mill. This was another new experience. Sorting, as opposed to classing, involved the breaking up of fleeces into sub grades before scouring and further processing. Not many classers got involved in this aspect of the industry, unless they went to Bradford in England, and I felt that this experience was helpful in ensuring that my shed classing was more objective. Even seeking 61


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

the job was a bit cheeky as I hadn’t worked in wool for four years. I just bowled in the door. You know, I think that’s what knocking around is all about. But I was on a deadline, and I realized that I still had a couple of stops to make before arriving in Melbourne, as planned, for Christmas. Dick Hancock had a married sister in Wallangarra on the Queensland-NSW border, and I made this my next destination. This couple was also very hospitable, and I made a mental note that I should extend the hand of friendship to other travellers when they call on me. But as I had no home to offer, I substituted my parents’ place and occasionally invited acquaintances there – even if I was away inter-state! This “proxygenerosity” was a bit much for my mum who, although charming and gracious on her own terms, held a very organized British view on invitations and hospitality. I suppose my sometimes rather off-hand manner in this regard explains, in part, our own son Andrew’s super-gregarious approach to life. As I was travelling south via the New England highway, Scone was the next obvious port of call. While working in that district on Glenbawn Dam four years previously, Colin and I had a social circuit that reached south to Newcastle and north to Tamworth, and it was upon reaching this region on my trek southwards that I experienced my first attack of overwhelming nostalgia. This feeling was to revisit me continually for the rest of my life whenever I returned to many parts of eastern Australia - and I can’t decide whether this is an up or a downside of “knocking about”. But Scone was a special place for me. It was where I irreversibly changed my hair-style, and where I learned to “rock and roll” and operate a bull-dozer. Apart from his short ill-fated trip to Adaminaby Dam in the Snowy, it was where I’d left my mate Colin, and it was the home town of my first serious girl friend, Alison. But as is the case with nostalgia, such returns can be either happy or sad. The dam was still there of course, but it was silent and brooding. Colin had shot through and no one knew where he was. Alison was still there, however, and was pleased to see me as we’d remained good friends. But time was running out and I took my leave to make the final stage of my trip to Melbourne. Alison made a short visit to Melbourne the following year, but time and distance had changed things. It was to be several years before I visited Scone again. I can’t recall whether I still referred to Melbourne as “home”, but it doesn’t matter now. This last leg of my journey, however, was not without drama. You will recall that I mentioned the punishment that the underneath of the little MG suffered in the outback. Well this included undetected damage to the steering tie rod ends, and one of them simply dropped off on the Hume Highway near Chiltern in northern Victoria. It’s a terrifying feeling when the car you’re driving starts to wander across to the wrong side of the road and the steering wheel spins to no avail. This feeling came to an abrupt halt when car and trailer rammed a huge gum tree which, in turn, remained unmoved. I was able to fashion a temporary repair, with my faithful supply of fencing wire, but the chassis was so bent that the front wheels adopted such an outwards splay (toe-out for the mechanically-minded), that it was difficult to keep it headed precisely towards Melbourne. 62


Time for a New Direction

As my speed was therefore drastically reduced, I didn’t reach that southern city until about 2 am which may have been, in hindsight, fortunate. Notwithstanding the hour, a policeman pulled me over on St Kilda Rd. ‘Are you drunk, Sir?’ Don’t you just love how they call you ‘Sir’, just before they throw the book at you? ‘You’re all over the road!’ I apologized and explained my car’s plight, referring to him as ‘Officer’, studiously refraining from using the ‘Sir’ word. I mean in five years I’d never heard the word even used within the company I’d been keeping and, although I had just arrived back in Melbourne, I made an instant mental determination that I would only use ‘Sir’ for senior ranks within the armed services. Although I was not aware of it at the time, this was to be the first instance of a life-long internal conflict between my Melbourne private school upbringing and my more-recent fiercely egalitarian conditioning. Anyhow, I was released from “verbal custody” and arrived at 385 Balcombe Rd, Beaumaris shortly before dawn, and parked in the driveway as quietly as possible. Now that I was to be living in civilized communities for a while, coming home late at night in the rowdy MG was a challenge that would remain my constant companion. Besides, everything I owned was in that un-lockable midget car and its diminutive trailer, and I couldn’t leave it in the street at the mercy of all those city people! Fortunately, we had a little bungalow in the back yard which was unlocked, and I stepped out of my boots and crashed on the bed. I woke to the sound of the door opening noisily, and seeing dad’s silhouette against the early morning light. ‘Oh, it’s you is it? G’day! Can you shift your contraption so I can get the ute out to go to work?’ Then he disappeared in the direction of the garage. Not much of a greeting after a three year absence, but that was Dad. He was a generous person, who had a sense of humour and yearned to be liked, but he had difficulty relating to and connecting with those nearest to him. For example, his greeting and calling my little pride and joy a “contraption” had probably been rehearsed and considered humorous but, like other comments that he made from time to time, it didn’t quite match the occasion. Not surprisingly, my first task was to contact the Geology Department of the generous Technical College (which probably has a different title now), and to speak to my one and only conduit between a life of semi-skilled labour, and one involving a profession. I don’t know, fifty years later, whether perhaps I was being overly sanguine, taking him at his word and just turning up on the strength of his very public offer to me, as you do in the bush. But, unless I misunderstood his offer in Mt Isa, he’d sure changed his tune by the time he’d returned to his city office. All of a sudden, a successful enrolment required grade twelve pre-requisites, waiting lists and other obstacles not even mentioned during that all-too-cordial Mt Isa convention. 63


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

Needless to say, I was angry and alarmed about my immediate future. I was now twenty-two, and had no substantial qualifications to carry me along my future course through life. My father had always advised my older brother Greg and me to get a trade ‘to fall back on.’ He didn’t often give advice, but when he did, it was usually pretty good. He’d prevailed upon Greg to start in marine engineering, but my brother also possessed a restless spirit and pursued his fascination with the interstate transport industry for his entire life. When dad had asked me about my future when I was fifteen, I’d answered ‘woolclassing’, which was a pretty brave call from a lad who’d seen more mutton on the dining table than in paddocks, and had never even been in a shearing shed! So when I told him about the geology setback, it should not have come as a surprise to me when he just shook his head. ‘I thought you wanted to be a wool-classer,’ he muttered. ‘Hello, it’s Bruce Laming calling – from the Echuca short course about five years ago.’ There was a short pause that seemed long enough to allow Vic Doran, the head of the wool school at the Gordon Tech in Geelong, enough time to think of the expected fob-off line. ‘Ah! The facetious one!’ he replied. ‘How are you going?’ I knew instantly that I was in much more friendly territory than with the rock gatherers. Pretty soon Vic had I organized to start the full course early the following year, 1961, and even to skip the first year of the three-year course due to my “experience.” I didn’t have the heart to enlighten him that the last four years of my recent experience was on a dozer or down a mine, rather than in “the sheds.” Is there such a thing as lying by omission? Probably, but I had classed a few sheds, including our own, since the Echuca course, and none of the other students could have claimed that, so I accepted his generosity without demur. My mother was delighted at the prospect of having me around off and on for the next two years. ‘And how do you intend to spend the holidays?’ she asked, beaming. She obviously assumed that it would be holiday time from that very day until the course was to start in early February. ‘Holidays?’ I replied with a blank look. I realized only then that I hadn’t taken a formal holiday since leaving school six years earlier. They are simply not on the agenda of itinerant nomads. Besides, I needed to build up some cash reserves before the course started. Initially, I did some bar-tending work in the Cheltenham Hotel. This was in the days of six o’clock closing and a glass of beer cost eleven pence (about 10 c). It wasn’t very good pay so I thought about picking up some dozer work and I answered a local ad for an operator in a sand and gravel depot. Now the bloke running this depot couldn’t operate the machinery, which is unusual, and his one operator had left. The dozer was smaller than what I was used to and of an unfamiliar make, an International. Well I battled with that machine 64


Time for a New Direction

all day, but it seemed to be operating at too high a speed and lacked power. There seemed to be no high/low ratio control, and at the end of the day, I had to confess to the boss that I couldn’t make it work to my satisfaction. This was something that rarely happened, as I could usually bluff through until I got the hang of any machine – not so this time! The mystery wasn’t solved until another day, when I was discussing the problem with my brother Greg, who had also done a fair bit of dozer work. ‘That model does have a high and low range’, he said. ‘There’s a long lever that comes up just in front of the seat…’ I recalled such a lever, but on the machine that I was wrestling with, it had obviously broken off and was only about two inches long above the foot plate – I’d assumed that it was a parking brake. Now if mobile phones had been around in those days, I could have rung Greg then and there and been put on the right track. Ah well, they’re the breaks, and anyway, I’d scored another job in the meantime anyway. The new job was also local, and it involved driving a large forklift at Contemporary Homes. I’d previously only driven a tiny forklift at Tutt Bryant in Townsville, but this time my bluff paid off, and I not only worked until the course started, but they were to employ me again during the next holiday period. Now it was full speed ahead into my chosen profession – woolclassing.

65


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

Grandma and Grandad Laming. 66


Time for a New Direction

Laming Family and Friends.

Charles (Grandad Laming) at the Butcher Shop. 67


Back to School

7

Back to School

‘I see you’ve got one of those dreadful cars!’, Mrs Webb announced as soon as she opened her Nantes St door in Newtown, a nice suburb of Geelong. I had been given her address at the Gordon Tech office when enquiring about private board. Her husband, Ted Webb, was a well-respected sheep and wool representative who worked for a Geelong wool broker, and spent much of his time calling on clients in Victoria’s Western District. He as away most week days and came home for weekends. The Webb’s son, Robert, and daughter had both left home and worked in Melbourne, but came home some weekends. I went back to Melbourne to visit my mum and dad some weekends too, so this arrangement worked tolerably well except in winter, when Robert Webb and I both played football for Geelong Amateurs. It wasn’t until the next day that I discovered the genesis of the “dreadful car” remark. Early that morning, I heard another MG TC start up in Nantes street just a couple of houses away. Its exhaust had been doctored to the extent that it sounded considerably more raucous than mine did since its Mt Isa refit, and I could imagine the impact that it would have on quiet little Nantes St late at night. Despite the inauspicious start, Mrs Webb and I got on quite well, and I’m sure that the other Webbs were reassured that she had a male around the house, particularly at night, while they were all away. If I recall correctly, this private board cost me five pounds ($10) a week, and dad kindly gave me seven pounds to cover this and everything else, without which I’d have been battling to get by. I had a budget worked out which, I do recall, included a counter lunch and one glass of beer in Geelong each Friday. When I got to know the manager a bit better, I enquired about a part-time bar job, and was pleasantly surprised to get a job at a time when jobs had become scarce. One of the best aspects of the wool-classing course was that the theoretical and practical study went through until about July, and then we were all consigned to a run of shearing sheds as paid rouseabouts until about December. This was primarily to give us some practical understanding of shed work, rather than the monetary consideration, as most of the lads were sons of sheep graziers. This was not the case as far as I was concerned, as I had expenses to meet that could not be wrung out of the seven pounds a week that Dad provided. Before my first run, I realized that I simply had no footwear suitable for shed work. My recent dozing and mining activities required heavy boots, and I only had my good shoes as an alternative. When shearers were broke and bootless, they sometimes used to make do with “bag boots”, stitched together out of hessian or jute, a practice that would not be allowed these days due to the possibility of fibre pollution of the wool clip. However, such a garb on a trainee wool-classer would certainly have proved embarrassing. What to do? Well, I’d spotted a very nice pair of leather shearers’ moccasins in a Geelong boot store for seven pounds, but when I checked my wallet, seven pounds was all I had in the world. If I bought the shoes, I couldn’t pay for petrol to get to my first shed, right up in the Wimmera district 69


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

near Horsham. I walked down the street a way, slipped my wallet out, took two pound notes out and returned to the store. ‘How much are those mocks?’ I asked in as casual manner as I could muster. ‘Seven quid’, he said, plucking them out of the window display. I handled them reverently and slipped one on. ‘Fits OK – let’s see what I’ve got’, I muttered dragging my doctored wallet out. ‘Bugger, all I’ve got’s a fiver – you wouldn’t accept that by any chance?’ He looked at me searchingly for a few seconds, and then slowly slid the other one across the counter to me. ‘They’re yours’, he said. I couldn’t afford to go home from Geelong to Mum and Dad very often so I organized my week end locally. I joined Geelong Amateurs footy club and enjoyed two seasons of my favourite winter sport. After about eight months of living in Melbourne and Geelong, it was great to get out on the road again and out into the bush, with my swag stuffed down behind the MG’s seat. My first shed was just south of Horsham and, being a small shed with local shearers that drove in each day, I stayed with the owner’s family. They were great people, and I was even able to organize to come back after my last shed for the season and help them with the wheat harvest around Christmas time. Some may suggest that I offered to return there, out in the mid-summer sun, just because the owner had two nice daughters. That would indeed be a cynical view of life. It was a small shed organized by a local contractor, Paul, who had just started out in the game. He arrived on the Sunday morning, and explained that he would do the penning-up, that is, getting the sheep into the shed and into the shearers’ catching pens. ‘Where’s your dog?’ the boss cocky asked. ‘You’ll never move these cranky old ewes without one? ‘I’ll bring him this arvo,’ he said, which he duly did. I heard this frightful yapping noise coming from inside the shed a little later, so I invited our presser, who was a tall English bloke who had absolutely no shed experience, to come with me over to the shed for a look. ‘That sounds like a pretty energetic shed dog’, I said, as we walked over to the shed. I was explaining how these marvellous dogs ran across the backs of the sheep, so as to get to the ones that were blocking the process. We walked quietly into the shed, not wishing to spook the sheep and send them all back the way they’d just come. And there was Paul, spread-eagled over the backs of about four sheep, holding between his hands a terrified miniature fox terrier, which was pissing itself with terror while Paul barked fiercely into the ears of his armful of captive sheep! Paul looked up all of a sudden and saw our astonished looks. ‘I’ve just got to learn him to bark’, he explained, ‘and then he’ll be right as rain!’ 70


Back to School

You will recall me saying that my procession of red sports cars drew attention quite often. So it was in Horsham, where a retired race car driver wanted to return his racing MG back to its standard condition. He contacted me and offered to swap me a super-charger in exchange for my twin carburettors – with a small cash adjustment by me. So the bloke that couldn’t afford the price of a pair of shed shoes the previous week, agreed to the swap on the spot. Not all of the sheds that I went to that year (or any other year for that matter) are worthy of particular mention. They just became part of a passing parade, a mechanism to enable a bloke to, in Abdul’s words, ‘knock about’. But I do recall another one. The first thing that made it a little unusual was that the owner invited me (then just a second year student) to class the clip, rather than just work as a rouseabout. I soon found out why he had been so generous – the whole flock had been infected with lice, and then dipped which tuned the whole flock into a stinking, cotted, amber-coloured mess. Well, I had accepted the job, and he’d agreed to classers’ pay, and there was, of course, a super-charger to pay for. Once again, I was to live in the house – well nearly, as he had a big family right down to a grizzly little baby, so I was relegated to the veranda sleep out. He was a hard man, and although he’d scowled at the MG, which I’d parked under a huge red gum for some shade, he was charitable enough to grunt that I should move the car because that tree was always dropping heavy branches. I decided to go into town one night, and the boss said to me at the dinner table with a humourless expression: ‘Don’t you wake the bloody baby when you come home or I’ll kick your backside!’ I planned my return trip carefully in the fading twilight as I drove into town. There was a stock grid beside the front gate and this gateway was about one hundred yards from the house. It was a clear night and there would be a bit of moonlight. I was so confident about the stealth of my return that I thought no more about it until the gateway came into sight on my return several hours later. I turned my head lights off as I swung the MG towards the grate, so that they wouldn’t shine in the homestead windows, and as soon as I was sure that I had enough momentum, I turned the motor off too, and the gravel under the tyres was barely audible as I coasted to a stop near, but definitely not under the big red gum. I’d made it! It was no time for carelessness now so I squeezed the car door shut, crept to the house and took my shoes and sox off. The steps up onto the verandah did not squeak, and the suspect hinges of the door into the sleep-out had been silenced before I left with a few drops of my Vaseline Hair Tonic. I was in! There were no windows between the sleep-out and the house proper, so the bed lamp wouldn’t be a problem. Just to be super-clever, I covered the switch with my handkerchief to muffle the click and switched it on. Nothing happened, and then I went cold as I heard the automatic start on the diesel generator kick in. The dogs barked, the grizzly baby joined in, and I heard heavy bare feet stomping on floor-boards in the adjacent room. I waited, but no-one appeared so I crawled in for a restless sleep. 71


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

The next morning’s breakfast was a quiet affair, until the boss turned to me, frowning. ‘Bruce, on second thoughts I think you should park your bloody car under that big red gum!’ And then with a wry smile, ‘Do you want some more toast?’ I was fortunate enough to have been given a couple of sheds in Tasmania in that first year at the Gordon. I had always wanted to go to Tassie, and that trip in late 1961 was to launch a long-lasting love affair for me with the “Apple Isle.” I was only rousing about, but they were very good sheds (one was a Corriedale stud), and I was assigned to work with a very experienced classer from the Geelong area. I didn’t know it at the time, but Vic Doran used to send hand-picked students to southern Tasmania, so that the wool store managers (also former Gordon Tech students) from Roberts Stewart & Co could check them out. Another thing that I didn’t even dream about then was that it would be me in a few short years that would be selecting the classers to work in these very same sheds and many others in southern Tasmania. I’d never seen grass as green as what I saw in the Tasmanian midlands in spring, and I don’t think it was a case of ‘the grass on the other side of the fence’. Somehow, I knew that I was going to see a lot more of the “Apple Isle”! My second year at the Gordon in 1962 was actually the third year of the course, as I was given a credit for the first year, due to my earlier experience. I was back at Mrs Webb’s, and I still had one of those “dreadful cars”, but it wasn’t the same one. During the break, I had stumbled upon a 1955 Swallow Doretti in a car yard, and had traded the MG in on it. It was rather rare, hand-made from aluminium and, of course, bright red. By retaining as much cash from the MG sale and putting in only the minimum deposit on the Doretti, I had some extra cash available to get me through the final six months of study. This final year included one night a week of extra schooling to learn “experting.” This was the term given to maintaining the shearing machinery and sharpening the shearers’ cutters and combs. I was not to realize at the time, what a useful skill it would become, and what amusing situations would arise during my practice of it. After the final year exams, we were dispatched to bigger sheds, further away, for what might for most of us be our last sheds as rouseabouts. I would not have believed then that I would, in fact, indulge in that ignoble task exactly forty years later! But in 1962, I was sent to the Riverina region in southern NSW. My first shed was “Bringagee”, on the banks of the Murrumbidgee. This was an unusual shed, if for no other reason than the diversity of the food, for instead of just mutton, we could have yellow belly fish from under the muddy water or duck from just above it. Now many shearers become uncomfortable if outsiders stand close by and watch them shear, and this discomfort certainly extended to being observed by graziers or their representatives. Well this particular day, the ringer (the fastest shearer in the shed) who was a tall gangly bloke, noticed that the “Bringagee” 72


Back to School

station manager was leaning against the top rail of his catching pen, studying the ringer’s style. What was worse was the fact that the manager was obviously very English. The ringer’s body language showed that he was uncomfortable, and he tried to devise a way of shifting the boss without getting tramped himself. Now, it is usual for the ringer to be on number one stand, closest to the wool table, so that the pickers-up don’t have to run too far to fetch the many fleeces produced by the fastest shearers. Subsequently, the little banter that was about to take place was easily overheard by the wool room. ‘Hey boss!’ he shouted, making sure that he had everybody’s attention. ‘Yes?’ came the polite reply. ‘I know you’re a pommie, and probably proud of it too’ he opened, ‘but the way you’re leanin’ against that post, people might say you look more like an Aussie and that’d be a bugger, wouldn’t it!’ The only thing that could be heard was the whir of the shears as the usual banter faded in expectation. ‘Oh, I don’t know, my good man,’ the station manager replied equally loudly, ‘you don’t want to take too much notice of what people say. I mean, people used to say that a shearer was nothing more than a long greasy thing in bag boots and shears in his hand.’ The wool-rollers froze and several shearers, including the ringer, looked up in disbelief. ‘But of course it’s not like that these days,’ the Englishman added quickly, ‘they don’t wear bag boots anymore!’ In trying to suppress a laugh, a pimply-faced wool-roller snorted loudly through his nose – and nearly died on the spot when the ringer turned his glare towards him. The latter then mounted a counter-attack as he booted his sheep down the chute with his heel and changed the cutter on his hand-piece. ‘Well you blokes never paid us enough to get decent boots!’ he claimed with feigned belligerence. ‘It’s hard not to notice your smart new leather moccasins, my good man,’ the boss replied, a little louder than really necessary and, as he walked away, ‘We’re not paying you too much are we?’ At this, all the shearers laughed, not at the ringer, but with him as he grinned, shook his head and yanked another woolly from the pen. At another shed in the western Riverina that season, we had a young learnershearer who used to love to drink and fight, not necessarily in that order, and the contractor knew that sooner or later, this bloke was going to cause a problem in the team. Coming back from town a bit drunk one Sunday afternoon, with a carload of rouseabouts, this learner came upon an abandoned old car, and he decided that they should take to it with axes out of his boot. Even though it was genuinely abandoned, the contractor was concerned that if he didn’t take some action, the next such foray might be more serious. So he rang up one of his mates who was a contractor about 150 miles to the east, set the young shearer up with another 73


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

job as a learner , and then sacked him and told him where he could go to find a “pen.” I have often wondered about the outcome of that bit of bush justice, but after finishing that run, I never worked in NSW sheds again, so never bumped into either the contractor or the wild young learner again. As it turned out, the winds of fortune took me predominantly to Queensland and Tasmania for the next six or seven years.

74


Gordon Institute, Geelong, 1961-62

Back to School

75


A Permanent Job at Last – Or Was It?

8

A Permanent Job at Last – Or Was It?

‘I’m glad you’re coming’, David Baines’ deep voice resonated on the phone. ‘I’ve fixed up some private board for you just down the road. The land lady’s a bit of a rum’n, with dyed red hair – I reckon she’s out of the Tivoli Theatre – but the place is very clean and tidy.’ I smiled inwardly at the Tasmanian slang used by the wool store manager. I have assumed ever since that “rum’n” was short for the old English “rum one”, used to refer to wags – an expression brought out to Tasmania with the convicts. It was now 1962, the year that Australia first took the USA on for the America’s Cup with the yacht “Gretel.” I had not yet been bitten by the sailing bug, as skindiving and football kept my spare time fully-occupied. I was twenty-four and, despite leaving school at the tender age of fifteen, had not yet held what would normally be described as a permanent job. The object of leaving Mt Isa, you will recall, was to gain a qualification that would allow me to establish a more careeroriented life. So I was pleasantly surprised to get the initial phone call from Don Grant, of Roberts Stewart & Co, Wool Brokers in Hobart, offering me a position in their wool store. The offer appealed to me, as it allowed me to ponder the possibilities of, not only permanent work in an industry that I enjoyed, but also the chance to get back into football, go diving, enjoying my new sports car on reasonable roads and, perhaps joining the Citizen Military Forces (CMF), now referred to as the Army Reserve. My new land lady, Marcia Alseika, was not from the Tivoli, but one could excuse the error. She was actually a retired tram conductress, whose withering glance and stentorian voice had commanded respect from travelling school students for several years. Although she had a heart of gold, she ran the house her way and took no lip from anyone. She declared that the evening meal went on the table at 5 pm sharp whether you were there or not. As I didn’t knock off work until 4.45 pm, it left zero time to come home via the pub, which may have contributed to the rule. But the real reason, I suspect, was that TV was relatively new, and she wanted to maximize her viewing. She’s the only person I ever knew that sat in front of the tellie knitting, and never dropped a stitch although she was asleep and snoring loudly! Mrs A, as she was generally known, and her quiet Lithuanian husband, Kazys, shared their house with their grand son Rocky, who they were raising, “Tubby”, a long-term boarder of generous proportions, and me. Although she liked to keep her house full, in subsequent years she held my room for me while I was away interstate, and even welcomed as extra boarders my travelling mates, who followed me through the door. I was given a couple of sheds to class before the wool store work became busy. The first one was Peter Cripps’ Strathelie at Broadmarsh, an easy, small shed with two local shearers and wonderful Tasmanian hospitality. I returned to Strathelie to kick off the next two seasons, simply turning up at the gate on the first Monday 77


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

in September. The other shed, “Scorcher” Harding’s Kenyue at Ross, was a little more demanding, but the soft Polwarth wool was a pleasure to class. It was the Hardings who convinced me that I should go along to a local dance just out (West?) of Campbelltown on the Saturday evening, instead of driving to Hobart for the weekend. When I was staying in the house on a property during shearing, rather than in the shearers’ quarters, I used to prefer to make myself scarce during the weekend to give them a spell. But they seemed insistent that I stay, which I did, and then they proceeded to tell me what the local custom was. Evidently, this involved getting some beer on the way through Campbelltown so as to have some “Dutch courage” handy to assist the ensuing social activities. By the time I got to town I’d forgotten this advice and it wasn’t until I saw the pub that I remembered. ‘When in Rome…’ I muttered to myself, and I drove back to the bottle shop for my first-ever transport of liquor to a dance. I’ve long since forgotten the name of the location, but there was a small weatherboard hall and one street light – that was it! The night became a litany of errors, probably starting with my half-hearted purchase of the grog. I parked the Doretti under the lonely street-lamp, so that I could keep an eye on it, which was mistake number two and counted a couple of dozen other parked cars and utes. Knowing that I would be quizzed by the good Hardings next morning, I knocked the top off one of my two tall bottles of Cascade and had a short swig and put the bottle carefully on the floor of the passenger side. I didn’t want to go in with a beery breath, so I rinsed my mouth out at the tap near the front of the hall and went in. Anybody who’s been to a country dance in the sixties would immediately visualise the scene: all the girls sitting along both sides of the hall, trying to make their glances towards the door look uninterested, with all the blokes gathered just inside the same door, pushing forward for a better view of the talent, without making it look obvious. This charade, however, was invariably shattered when the MC announced the next dance and an initially hesitant stampede took place. This was the scene, and I was in my custom-dictated position in the second row of males, when I felt a heavy tap on my shoulder. I looked around and there was a big burly copper in a heavy blue coat attached to the tapping hand. ‘Come outside, sir, I want to talk to you!’ I did what I was told and followed him out the door and to the right around the corner of the hall and down the side where it was pretty dark. This was undoubtedly mistake number three. At the time I didn’t give much thought as to why his off-sider remained near the front. The sequence of events that happened next took me by surprise. He angled around so that I was between him and the hall. ‘We found grog in your car – within 100 yards of a public place.’ I thought pleading ignorance might be the best bet. ‘I didn’t know…’ ‘Bull shit!’ he cut me off. ‘We saw you bombin’ around the streets of Campbelltown before you went to the 78


A Permanent Job at Last – Or Was It?

pub!’ This was a bit rich, so I went to plan B, to debate the claim, which I think was the fourth mistake. ‘I only drove along the main road…’ ‘Oh! Smart arse, eh?’ he grunted belligerently, making a sudden lunge forward to within two feet of my face. I put my left arm up defensively, while my brain belatedly kicked into gear, and I realised the spot I’d let myself into. He’d obviously played this little game before. ‘Ah! Wanna fight, eh? OK!’ and he swung a punch at my head with his right arm. I was only saved by his cumbersome coat, which slowed him down enough for me to slip under the punch to my left towards the front of the hall. The left that followed his right was more out of desperate frustration at having missed his king-hit, than any real hope of connecting, and I just skipped backwards around the corner of the hall into some light, where his mate was keeping any potential witnesses at bay. ‘I’m sorry that I didn’t know about that law, Sir, I guess that means I’ll get a ticket?’ ‘You bet! And we’ll confiscate your grog for good measure.’ I found it difficult to enjoy the remainder of the dance but persevered. At the expense of a few miles, I found an alternative route back to Kenyue, which didn’t involve ‘bombing around Campbelltown’! I didn’t mention my misadventure to the Hardings, but they read about my fine in the local rag. It will come as no surprise that I went down to Hobart for the following weekend, and my next visit to Kenyue was in a different car – but that’s another story… Although the wool store was a good place to work, and I was to enjoy working with former fellow Geelong students, Gerry Fisher and George Auchterlonie, I must confess that I was not their best employee. This worried me because I had always striven to be the best at whatever I was involved in. In shearing shed work, everybody has to keep pace with the shearers; I enjoyed that challenge and the time passed quickly. But in the wool store, I found that my mind wandered and the time dragged. In my defence I should say that there were plenty of distractions in and around Hobart for a bloke that had spent most of the preceding eight years in the bush. It was still the era of the big Saturday night dances, although cabarets were starting to become more popular, and Hobart held its big dance nights at the Belvedere. It was at one of these dances that I met a young lady called Jill, who indirectly had a bigger impact on my life, and two other young men, than any of us realised at the time. She invited me to partner her at the up-coming Catholic Ball – also at the Belvedere. It was at that ball, around the supper table, that I first met Ross Ford and his mate Wayne “Seabie” Seabrook. Despite our refreshments being limited to cream cakes, fruit punch and the like, we had a lively and interesting discussion about diving and CMF activities in Hobart. Ross and Seaby invited me to meet them the following Tuesday evening at the Aberfeldy Hotel, from where they would take me along to their training night 79


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

with the Artillery. As it turned out, they both forgot to turn up – a social slip that embarrassed Ross much more than it annoyed me. As it turned out, I had been harbouring a preference to join the Engineers, in order to maintain my plantoperating skills, and so took myself out to Dowsing Point the following week to commence a ten-year relationship with the “Ginger Beers.” But that was not to be the last of Ross and, to a lesser extent, Seaby! A couple of weeks later, I received another invitation from Ross, this time to go spot light shooting with him and Seabie. I’d done a lot of this up at Wakool and had, as usual, brought my trusty .22 single shot with me to Tassie. The evening started out OK, until Ross decided that possum-spotting might be a bit more of a challenge, so he changed the of his powerful spot light upwards into the trees. We were in the Richmond area, and I was only vaguely aware of the occasional plane flying over head towards Hobart’s airport. You can imagine my horror to read in the next day’s Hobart Mercury that a pilot was momentarily blinded by spot lights shining up from the Richmond bush! The next morning, Don Grant at the wool store come up and said: ‘Jack, there’s a policeman on the phone who wants to talk to you.’ Don called everyone “Jack”, but it wasn’t the title that was exercising my mind at the time. Nearly all of my associations with the law up until that time had to do with driving infringements (real or imagined), and my red Swallow Doretti was a dead give-away. As I plodded towards the wool store phone, I tried to retrace my more recent driving escapades so that I could have an explanation ready at hand. I picked up the phone apprehensively. ‘This is Detective-Sergeant O’Shaunessy here; is that Mr Bruce Laming?’ ‘Yes’, I stammered. ‘Is it true that you and some other idiots were in the Richmond area last night shining a spot light up in the air?’ I went cold, my heart beat doubled and my voice failed me completely. It was then that I heard the stifled laugh and realised who it was. ‘Bloody Ross!’ I spluttered. Now that little effort was quite a bit harder to forgive than being stood up at the Aberfeldy Hotel – but I did eventually. My joining 12 Field Squadron, Royal Australian Engineers (CMF) in 1962, was a good decision, and eventually resulted in ten years of learning new skills, maintaining some old ones as well as earning some badly needed pocket money, and meeting new people. In actual fact, had I not joined up, I’m not sure what alternative set of circumstances would have to have occurred for me to meet my wife-to-be, Estelle, three years later – but that, too, is another story. The new skills that I received in 12 Fd Sqn were interesting and varied, and I threw myself into it enthusiastically. As well as the normal army drill, weapons training and tactics, there was also the Engineer-oriented aspects of civil construction and mine warfare. The civil construction included roads and airstrips, which kept me in touch with my beloved plant-operating. This was particularly the case as I was the only non-regular army plant operator in the unit, a fact that 80


A Permanent Job at Last – Or Was It?

set me on an obvious course towards being the unit’s plant sergeant. As so often before and since, I settled on another short-term objective, with scarcely a thought to the momentum of either my own life or, more importantly in this case, to the development and promotion needs of the unit itself. This realisation was to occur abruptly in 1969. During my first two-week annual camp, I got to know a fellow sapper (Engineer private), who shared several of my interests. Peter Rumney, despite spending much of his time on the wrong side of Sergeant-Major Dwyer Peter enjoyed, not only his training days, but cars, beer and girls as well. Not only this, but he was a very keen and accomplished skin-diver. We became good friends, and it was Peter who was later to introduce me to wet suits and scuba gear. On reflection, I was fortunate indeed to gain and retain two such good friends as Ross Ford and Peter Rumney in my first few months in Hobart. The Spring and Summer months went by enjoyably. The job was good, I got on famously with Mrs A, and I must confess that she was more tolerant of my and my friends’ antics than most mothers would have been – but she had knocked around… Those months were consumed, outside of work hours, by diving, rabbiting, tuning cars and, of course, diving. It would be careless in the extreme if I neglected to mention, at this point, that the pubs, cabarets and dances were also consuming a considerable amount of our time and money, but unlike some of our fellow merry-makers, we rarely allowed over-indulgence to spoil our daytime sports. I was visited in turn by both of my sports car crank friends, Grahame Macintosh (formerly Mt Isa) and Graham (Joe) Hodkinson (formerly Townsville), both of whom dossed in with me at Mrs A’s. Although Grahame had settled back into Melbourne’s respectability, Joe and his other mate, Noel Maher, were still footloose and talking about Western Australia. Dammit – the only state that I had not yet visited. I could have blamed them, but I knew that it would not be fair. I simply had that familiar urge back: ‘You’ve gotta knock around, boy.’ The haunting voice insisted. Damn that Abdul, that old Broken Hill shearer! Here we go again…

12 FT SQN, Engineers 81


Go West Young Man!

9

Go West Young Man!

Life continued on at 25 Pearl St, Moonah, with Mrs A conducting her usual regular parties. These were preceded by massive cook-ups, particularly of pavlovas, as the supper was always the piece de resistance of the night. Her own favourite drink was a white rum called Royal Swan – a popular drop in Tassie, but not elsewhere – and no matter how inebriated she became, she always washed up and cleaned up the whole house before collapsing into bed. This timing was somewhat inconvenient for me, because it usually coincided with my arrival home from elsewhere on Saturday nights, so I was not able to sneak in at an undisclosed hour. It also meant that I felt that I should help clean up the mess, but that was more than compensated for by the array of left-overs. In fact the dear old soul got into the habit of putting a number of choice bits of everything aside for her errant boarder. Mrs A was a very open person, and although I’m sure that she never set out to embarrass me, she occasionally did just that. I’d come from a very conservative family, and it was the sixties after all, and even young people did not readily discuss sex, politics or religion. She’d tell me all about her friends’ sex lives, and about the problems she had with her vagina. She always put the emphasis on the first syllable of that word, and it was often hard to suppress a smile – but who knows, maybe she was right anyway! Occasionally, I stayed on at the parties, which pleased her immensely because she quickly wore all the other men out with her vigorous dancing. All the while, her Lithuanian husband, Kazys, sat there drinking quietly; he was difficult to understand when sober, impossible after a few drinks. I recall at one of these parties shortly before my return to the mainland, a regular attendee asked me what I thought about Australia’s proposed first purchase of several F111 fighter bombers. I knew next to nothing about them, except the fold-back wings, but said that they sounded great. ‘I betcha ten quid they’re obsolete in five years!’ he challenged. ‘You’re on!’ I said, and I never saw him again. However those same planes still continued to bring back memories of Mrs A’s parties, when I saw them howl over head almost fifty years later! My intention, in early 1963, to follow Noel and Joe and Joe’s girl friend, Judy, to Perth had hardened. As they had already gone I was getting impatient, but felt that I should remain at the wool store until the wool-classing season eased. It was about this time that catastrophe struck. One Tuesday night, I offered to drop one of my colleagues, Alan Pierce, home in the Doretti after CMF training. Peter Rumney took off in his Ford Zephyr, and although I don’t recall any challenge being issued by him, I do recall saying something to Alan like: ‘Let’s catch that Zephyr!’ While it’s bad enough to risk your own life and possibly the destruction of a valuable classic car, to involve the welfare of an unsuspecting passenger in reckless driving as I did that night is something about which I’m not at all proud. I went through a two-lane roundabout at a speed that left no room for unexpected 83


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surprises, not realising that somebody had parked their car in the outside lane of that roundabout. Although the parked car could have been avoided at a more appropriate speed, at my speed I had no choice but to steer into it to avoid hitting it sideways on Alan’s side. I was very fortunate that the major outcome was a badly damaged car, and Alan and I went home after a period of observation at Hobart hospital. Because the bodywork was aluminium, the repairers declined to take it on and I was paid out. As my departure was imminent, I was allowed to park the laterdriveable wreck down beside Seabie’s parents’ house until I’d decided what to do with it. One of my ideas was to attach a Jaguar E Type bonnet to the front of the Doretti but it turned out to be too long and wide. I took careful measurements of every thing forward of the car’s wind screen and packed these in my kit for further consideration. I’d been asked at 12 Fd Sqn to attend a corporals’ promotion course at Puckapunyal in Victoria, and used this to expedite my departure date from Tasmania. However, prior to departing, I arranged with Allan Green at Roberts Stewart & Co to do a full season of shed wool-classing the following Spring, to which he agreed. As I had been considered a permanent employee with a promising future I can chalk this departure up as yet another missed opportunity. By the time I made my farewells from work, army, friends and, of course, Mrs A’s, I realised that this was the most complex departure yet in my life, it was just like leaving home should have been. In fact it was not to be equalled until eight years later in an almost identical re-run from the same city and with the same people – plus a wife! The corporals’ promotion course proceeded more or less as expected and, although I passed, it was a few months before I was in uniform again and able to sew on my first stripes. On reflection, I must concede that the unit was more than patient with me over the next three years, as I blew in and blew out of their operations. It was at this course that I read in the newspaper of a bloke who wanted someone to share the driving of his car back to Perth. I rang him and it was soon arranged. The car was a late model Hillman Minx automatic, and although I’d never driven an automatic, it quickly became apparent that I was going to do most of the driving. He was a hesitant sort of driver and had one foot on the brake almost continuously, which probably explained why he tired quickly. Under the circumstances, we were both happy that I did, in fact, do most of the driving. Fortunately he didn’t ask me where my own car was! My first fright in the Hillman was coming down a long hill into Adelaide. I was a bit tired and decided to slip it into neutral to save fuel, and so plonked my left foot down where the clutch should have been – forgetting that it was an auto. The car stood on its nose as my foot unintentionally hit the brake, and my sleeping off-sider was catapulted off the back seat onto the floor. ‘What’s wrong?’ he croaked. ‘Someone cut in front of us but I dodged him!’ ‘Well done!’ he said as he remounted the back seat and continued his sleep. I’d 84


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just cemented my position as chief driver. Heading off across the Nullarbor in those days was quite an adventure for a young bloke and, despite the lack of bitumen, we covered long distances each day. Because the owner couldn’t drive for long, we had to stop occasionally for me to get some sleep. The other fella claimed the car to sleep in, which suited me, as I was never keen on sleeping in or beside my car beside bush roads. As I was usually driving the last shift, I looked out for a good camp, pulled over, quietly pocketed the keys and headed off a little way with my swag, rifle and some water. If this all seems a bit melodramatic, consider the situation if someone did happen along who wanted to steal the car - or worse. It never happened during my many years of bush travelling - but I slept easy. It was early Winter and although it got hot during the day, the nights were quite cold. For this reason I was tempted to light a camp fire, but this had some drawbacks also. You can imagine my delight then, on our first night out from Adelaide, to come upon a huge cleared paddock, right beside the road, where the farmer had grubbed and stacked a lot of dead timber, and even lit it for me – instant camp fire! In addition there was no snake risk from gathering fire wood in the dark. So stoked was I with this discovery, that I even tried to entice my upholstery-bound passenger out of the Hillman. He stubbornly rejected the offer, so I set off towards the nearest bon fire with my usual clobber. I had to negotiate the boundary fence and, for some reason noted that there was no barbed wire on it. The fire was about twenty metres inside the fence, with the breeze blowing from the road behind me, so I found a spot between the fire and the road which ensured plenty of radiated heat and no smoke. Being dog-tired, I was asleep in no time at all. Quite early in the morning (it was still very dark), I became aware of passing headlights at regular intervals, and that they all seemed to be travelling from west to east only. I stirred myself enough to focus my reluctant eyes on the road reserve to confirm my initial suspicion. But to my dismay, I discovered that the lights were not only coming from east to west, but they were on my side of the fence, and the huge tractor with its even wider plough in tow was coming straight at me! I looked at the ground between me and the fence, and in the tractor lights’ gleam, could clearly see where the machine had already made two passes and hadn’t quite awakened me. I sat bolt upright like the well-described startled stag, managed to get one arm out of my laced-up sleeping bag so as to grab my rifle and ground sheet, and hopped sack-race style towards the fence. The “no-barbs” situation came back to me reassuringly as I hit that fence with the same grace as an emu would’ve displayed in similar circumstances. I looked back at the tractor as I stuffed my gear into the car, and noted that the driver had stopped abruptly, mouth wide open, just short of my former, carefully-selected nest. The remainder of the trip was, perhaps, less memorable but I’m pretty sure that it was on the Hillman’s radio that I first heard the lovely melodies sung by the Seekers. I caught up with my three friends, who had preceded me, and we went about our 85


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usual routine of getting jobs as quickly as possible. I could say that it was our tough Aussie independence that prevented my many friends and I from ever going on the dole, but the real reason was that, in those days, we always seemed to be able to get something to go on with, prior to landing something better. We all had our own skills. Joe was a fitter and turner at the time, Noel was into cabinetmaking and I had the handy double of wool-classing or plant operating. Most of the employers in WA were a little gun-shy of “eastern-staters”, because there had been a flood of job-seekers from the east during the previous year’s Commonwealth Games and as soon as the competitors left, so did the job-seekers. Despite this, we all got something – Noel in his trade, but Joe had to do some doorto-door selling initially and it was definitely not his cup of tea. This trip saw me opt for classing down at a Fremantle wool store, from where I was able to organise a shed out of Northam. This wasn’t too far east of Perth, which suited me, because I had no transport, and it was great to get into Perth occasionally to meet up with the others. Some sheds you go to, you even have difficulty remembering that you’ve ever been there – despite old Abdul’s claims to an infallible memory on such matters. Other sheds are different, and remain as clear in the memory as yesterday – in fact as you get older, clearer than yesterday! My first WA shed was called Wywurrie, and it was in the different category. But then it should be pointed out that I was an “Eastern Stater”, and things are done a little different in the West. In addition, I had gone through a social metamorphosis. No longer was I the smart-arse little cocky’s son from a private school in Melbourne. The past ten years had seen me working in such places as the Snowy Mountains Scheme and Mt Isa Mines, as well as dozens of pretty tough shearing sheds in four (soon to be six) states of Australia. It wasn’t so much that I had adopted some sort of social conscience, but an egalitarianism that bordered onto a sometimes misplaced solidarity for the workers view of life, had established itself uncomfortably beside the conservatism of my up-bringing. This Jekyll and Hyde approach to life’s situations often puzzled future work mates, bosses and political colleagues. And so it was to be at Wywurrie. It was a mixed farm, wheat and wool, and the owner’s heart seemed to be more on the wheat side, with his tractors – and his Cessna aeroplane. The first issue arose when the cook claimed that the wood oven was no good, and that it wouldn’t heat up. He dropped his trousers in front of everyone (including the owner) and threatened to sit bare-arsed on the hot plates to demonstrate its lack of heat. As I wasn’t the boss of the team, I could just sit back and watch this mini dama unfold. As the classer, I might have been expected to support the boss, but because I not only lived with the team, but ate out of this cool-oven kitchen, I opted for solidarity. As it was, I didn’t have to declare my position, as the stove was quickly fixed! The next occurrence was in the wool shed, and I suppose in hind-sight, the contractor was only trying to ingratiate himself with the owner, as we had lost time due to wet sheep, but it would never have happened in any contracted shed in which I had previously worked. 86


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‘We’re gonna come back after tea and finish this mob,’ he said. I was dumbfounded. Occasionally a team would work until six (an extra thirty minutes) to cut out a mob, but to return after tea was unheard of. ‘I can’t class wool under a bloody light bulb!’ I said. ‘Please yourself,’ he replied, ‘We’ll chuck ‘em aside and you can do ‘em in the morning.’ We both knew that I would have to be in the shed to skirt my side of the fleeces and to supervise the other wool room staff, whether I actually classed the wool or not. ‘This is bull shit!’ I mumbled, still not convinced that they would actually shear at night. So I had my shower, changed into tomorrow’s dungarees, as is the way in the sheds, and had tea. At 6.30 pm, I heard the engine start up and the singing of the hand-pieces. ‘Bugger!’ I said, and plodded across to the shed. It hadn’t occurred to me what I would do if one or more of the rouseabouts refused to work. I couldn’t do my job properly even if I was only down one man, and it would be dangerous to sack someone for refusing to work non-union hours. I was relieved to find them all in the shed, so once again, I avoided a potential problem. It was potentially worse on the Friday night, when I was advised that they were going to work on Saturday. This was real anti-union stuff, even though we had suffered considerable delays with wet sheep, and I told him so. ‘She’ll be right,’ he said, and we worked the next day. Although I had not been working in the sheds during the then recent confrontations in the East with “scab labour”, I’d heard that they were very nasty. I must confess that throughout that long Saturday, I made a number of nervous glances down the drive-way that lead up to the shed. The shearers’ mantra, as explained to me years earlier by Abdul, was that there was a finite number of sheep in Australia and a finite number of shearers. These had to be shared fairly, and although this did not mean that everyone got the same number of sheep, there were rules to ensure that every shearer had the same opportunity. Shearing could only take place for eight specific hours each week-day, and only union-approved cutters and combs could be used on the contractor-provided hand pieces. Once the bell rang, there was fierce competition, and it was quite common for the “ringer” to actually shear twice as many in a day than the “snagger.” This was considered quite okay. The slower shearers were philosophical about all this, and one day when I was rushing to get sheep into the catching pen for Abdul on my very first run, he put his hairy hand on my shoulder. ‘Don’t worry young fella,’ he said. ‘There’ll be sheep to shear when we’re all dead and buried!’ The term “wet sheep” refers to the situation where the sheep get wet (usually from rain) prior to shearing. Sheep should not be shorn wet, as it is a health issue for the shearers, and wet wool can’t be baled up because of the likelihood of mould, rot or 87


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even combustion. Most sheds hold enough sheep under-cover for a day’s work in the hope that the wet sheep will dry off between showers. Even though the classer can halt the shearing of obviously wet wool, it is usually the shearers that vote sheep wet or dry by a secret ballot (an Australian invention!). In those days, the vote was often a cause of bitterness, but it was the shed hands that took the most interest, because a wet vote meant a fully-paid “holiday.” In theory, they could be asked to do nearly anything “in or about the shed”, but useful tasks quickly ran out. As we had a fair bit of wet weather at Wywurrie, and I hate inactivity, I helped the owner build a huge off-set plough to tow behind his equally huge 4WD tractor. These wheat farmers loved big tractors. As we worked, he suddenly asked whether I had been up in a small plane. On responding in the negative, he concluded that I had probably never flown backwards! ‘Let’s do it!’ he said, and before I could think of a plausible excuse, we were bouncing down his airstrip and into the air in his Cessna. There was a fierce wind blowing and, as he turned the aircraft around into it, he said, ‘Look, there’s a fox in front of us – keep your eye on him.’ The fox just stood there looking skywards at the plane, and my farmer-pilot eased back on the throttle. Despite some loud beeping inside the cabin, the stillstationary fox gradually receded away from the front of the plane. We were in fact flying back-wards! He didn’t explain until we were back on the ground that the beeping had something to do with stalling speed. I did another couple of sheds in the area, but because I didn’t have a car and I was saving the expenses to get back to Tassie, I didn’t see much of WA. I conferred with Noel and Joe and, although Joe and Judy decided to stay in Perth a little longer, Noel said that he would take me east in his FC Holden. Not only that, but he’d come to Tassie and learn to do shed work. Our trip back across the Nullarbor was more pleasant than the west-bound journey, as Noel was a good travelling companion. He had an eye for the girls and loved a beer, but both were exceedingly scarce on that long leg of the trip. We’d both developed a taste for Swan Lager in WA, and when we arrived at our first pub after crossing the desert, we ordered a pint each of the local beer only to discover that it was Cooper’s, a South Australian brew for which, let me say, we had not yet developed a taste. As there were several rough-looking local diamonds around the bar, who showed a mild interest in a couple of galahs who’d noisily ordered pint pots, we decided to keep our verdict to ourselves. It was August as we continued eastwards through Victoria, and the wattle was just coming into magnificent bloom, so I convinced Noel, with some difficulty, to stop and gather bunches of the stuff to take home to mum. As I was bringing an unannounced temporary boarder home, I reckoned the wattle would sweeten our arrival. Mum recoiled in horror at the doorstep – how was I supposed to know that she was allergic to wattle? It was not a good start, so it was lucky that we had a little 88


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bungalow out the back to doss in while we arranged our ferry ride to Tasmania on the “Pot� (Princess of Tasmania).

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10

The Boss of the Board

So it was back to Hobart and Mrs A’s for me (with Noel in tow), and once again I started at Strathelie on the first Monday in September and then went on to Kenyue again, while Noel found some cabinet-making work. As I was still carless, I bought a well-used black FX Holden (with “polar bear balls” around the rear window) for seventy-five quid. I don’t know who owned it before me, but it attracted a lot of attention and frantic waving from a coterie of leather-jacketed Hobart girls who had never taken any notice of me or my red sports car – hmmm… Another shed that I had done the previous year was Bruce Downie’s Katrine Vale at Bothwell, and Allan Green held out for me to do it again, even though the shearing contract had been given to Grazcos. Now they were Australia’s biggest contractors, and usually sent a whole team in, including a “boss of the board.” All the owner had to do was get the sheep to the shed and keep out of the way until the “boss” knocked on the door after cut-out and asked for a cheque at so much a head for the whole job. This was not the Tassie way of doing things, and was new territory for both Bruce Downie and myself. The whole crew members were “mainlanders”, and of the three shearers, one was quiet and serious, and the other two, from Inverell in the New England region of NSW, were real characters - as was the presser. The Inverell pair travelled by plane in spotless white combination overalls and called themselves “wool technicians.” With the presser, they’d set up and retained a unit in Hobart with a couple of “working ladies”, as they called them. My Grazcos job title was “overseer/expert/wool classer/shed-hand/book-keeper” – which meant that I was responsible for everything! The “expert” part meant that I was responsible to start the motor, keep the gear running properly and grind the shearers’ cutters and combs when they got blunt. On the first morning, I was greeted with a very small dish of blunt cutters and combs. The other duties are self-explanatory. I’d glued new emeries onto the grinder discs the previous night and thought that I may as well bite the bullet – my first test. The serious fellow came in first so as not to embarrass me in front of the others. ‘Do you mind if I grind my own tools?’ he said quietly. ‘Not a problem,’ I said, ‘As long as you don’t fuck-up my grinder!’ He just grinned self consciously, and went back up the steps to the board. Then one of the two characters came in with some more blunt tools. ‘Hereya, boss,’ he said with a wink. Then the third shearer, who was a real comic, entered with a very earnest expression on his face. ‘Boss, these are my favourite old cutters – will you do’em with lotsa care?’ I looked down at the cutters in his dish - they couldn’t have been more than an eighth of an inch thick. They should have been pelted three grinds ago, but today was not the day for that debate. So I set to with the two dishes of tools and ground them as carefully as my tuition (but no real experience) would allow. But it was all I could do not to laugh out loud, as there were three pairs of eyes straining 91


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to assess my style through a small gap in the corrugated iron wall between the shearers’ board and the engine room. The wafer-thin cutters had to be done quickly so that they didn’t over-heat and distort. I had to find a way to ensure that they wouldn’t be re-presented the next day. I took the two dishes up to the board and placed them nonchalantly on the shelf, and walked deliberately slowly towards the wool room. ‘Oi!’ shouted the comical one. ‘What’s with the bloody rock on my cutters?’ I turned around, and with the straightest face that I could muster, replied. ‘There’s a slight breeze coming up the chutes, if we’re not careful, your favourite cutters will all blow away – the rock’s to hold ’em down!’ There was instant laughter all round and, more importantly, there were three dishes of tools waiting for me to grind next morning. At the end of the shearing season, I went temporarily into the wool store again until our next proposed trip to follow the mainland sheds. This sojourn was interrupted to allow me to slip up to Sydney to attend Joe and Judy’s wedding in January, 1964. By that time, however, not only had Noel Maher shown a predilection to giving shearing shed life a try, but my first two Tasmanian friends, Ross and Seabie, also sniffed the wind of a possible escape to the mainland. This may seem quite reasonable, but both had steady jobs in the public service and lived at home with their parents. In addition, I had always been welcomed into their homes. But they were both insistent, so I gave them some rigorous shed work exposure, thinking that this might cool their ardour. However I think that this served only to confirm their resolve. I suspect that the Fords were a bit concerned about my apparent influence on their son’s future, but they remained gracious. The Seabrooks, however, were quite alarmed and this reaction was, as it turned out, well-founded as Seabie not only “up and off” to Queensland, but unlike Ross and I, he didn’t come back. So our little party headed off in February 1964 north to Devonport to catch the POT, initially in three cars, but I sold the black FX Holden along the way and we took Noel’s FC and Ross’s FJ across to the mainland. I don’t actually remember calling at mum and dad’s with my little group on that trip, but maybe that’s just as well – mum didn’t cope well with such surprises. We made good time to Queensland, using the inland Newell Highway rather than following the coast, and camped anywhere that was free, in the knowledge that we would be unlikely to be sprung as long as we only stayed at each place one night. One such location was the band rotunda at Annerley Park in Brisbane which was (I was to discover two years later) about two blocks from where my future wife lived! It was a bit of a first for all of us as we headed west to our first shed. My three companions had not actually worked in a shearing shed, and I had not worked in a Queensland shed – certainly not as a classer, so we were all given shed hand jobs at Welltown near Toobea, west of Goondawindi. Now Welltown was a ten stand (ten shearers) shed, so it gave the boss-of-the-board the opportunity to size 92


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up these three green rouseabouts, and also assess, with the classer’s help, Grazcos’ newest classer-recruit – yours truly. I was given the roll of piece-picker – a frantic task for ten shearers, sorting the shorter, broader and stained skirtings from the better. Somehow I also got lumbered with the job of union rep for the shedhands – an accomplishment that never seemed to make it onto my CV! How many stories have commenced with the phrase: ‘The strangest thing happened on my way to….’ Well, to borrow that intro, a strange thing did happen to both Noel and me after work one afternoon when we set out to go shooting. The country around Welltown was (and I’m sure still is) flat and covered mainly with patches of lignum scrub, so visibility was restricted in any direction to about fifty metres at best. We took off from the shearers’ quarters, a rifle apiece, with some urgency as there was little more than an hour of daylight remaining. We didn’t have a successful hunt and found neither kangaroos nor wild pigs. It was perhaps fortunate that we didn’t come across any of the latter, because with our rather puny .22s, it might have been us that became the hunted! ‘Which way home, Mate?’ he asked, half a breath before I did. ‘Whaddaya mean?’ I countered, it was your idea to go shooting. ‘Didn’t you take note of our track?’ But argument was obviously futile - we’d both relied on the other, and now we were lost. We had about ten minutes of daylight left, and it would have been a pretty good effort to find the quarters even with a compass and bearing to follow. To charge off into the surrounding scrub on the remote chance of locating home would have been reckless. We knew that the shed (and ourselves) were south of the main road, which ran east-west. Although it was a long way round, the only sure way home was to use the morning sun to head north until we hit the road. We could then establish whether we were east or west of the station drive-way from our familiarity with the road, locate the drive-way and follow it in to the shed from the north. If we jogged, we might even have time for a bit of breakfast before work – we’d already missed tea! So the last bit of daylight was spent on essentials – water and a camp fire. We followed a dry creek that became a billabong with drinkable water and a nearby small, dead, hollow tree became our firewood. Noel never went anywhere without his tobacco and matches and we soon had a reasonable, if hungry, camp. I rarely smoked much, but when I did, it was usually roll-your-own (the “makins”). I had a habit of sticking the cigarette paper on my lower lip while I rubbed the tobacco – a habit that annoyed Noel intensely. As he had supplied the matches (the means of a camp fire) that evening, I studiously held the papers his way, between my fingers, as we smoked that night! We were both wearing shorts, tee-shirt, boots and hats that night and although the fire would keep one side of us warm, comfort was another matter. The tufts of grass were dry, hard and spikey. I moved a bit further from the fire, beside a fence, and found a cattle-pad that was dirty, but at least prickle-free. It led into the billabong so that cattle from either paddock could get a drink. I stared up at the Southern Cross and wondered absently whether it might be possible for us to 93


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head north to the road tonight using this precise back-bearing. But the only light was our camp fire, there was no moon, so I laid my head into my hat and dozed. A little later I later became drowsily aware of a heavy, but seemingly distant, thumping vibration. I stirred my reluctant senses enough to sit up and look about me. Back up the fence-line were several pairs of large red eyes bearing down on me. ‘Shit!’ I yelled out. A small mob of cattle were making their way down the pad to have a drink – and I’d been asleep on their path. I recalled what my father had told me when I was quite young. ‘Watch out for cattle, son, they’ll walk all over you. Horses won’t if they can avoid you.’ Had I not woken, this mob probably would have simply walked over the top of me! I spent the rest of the night squatting on a log, looking at the fire. Our plan for the morning went even better than anticipated. We must have been pretty close to due south of the quarters, and after we had been jogging less than half an hour, we spotted the top of the shearing shed so this saved us going about half a mile further to the road and a similar walk back in to the shed. No-one let on that they’d missed us, and we didn’t say much either! One of the benefits of being in a large team is that you’re able to do things like get a cricket team together, which is precisely what we did. We challenged a local team from the village of Toobeah and got started mid-morning on the local field across the road from the pub. The most sought-after position on the field was longstop, which placed the happy incumbent squarely on the pub’s veranda. Guess who got that job. Our little band of four eventually headed off to Longreach, one of the centres for outback Queensland shearing, but the likelihood of keeping four mates together in the sheds was slim. This was made even more unlikely by the Grazcos boss, “Promising Percy” Taft, who ran a pretty tight ship and knew how to avoid problems by splitting up groups of young blokes who might get up to no good. Now letting an untravelled Tasmanian, like my mate Ross Ford, loose in the outback with just a few Queensland-style directions was always going to be hazardous, and so it proved to be on this trip. “Promising Percy” told Ross to head out on the Winton road and take a right at a big sand hill, and that track would lead him straight to his next shed. Well, Tassie Ross locked this in and set off in the FJ Holden in the indicated direction. Coming from the mountainous terrain of southern Tasmania, he peered high into the distance with the confidence of a boy scout who had never missed a sign, in search of this (now huge in his mind) sand hill. It was about 180 km later, when he saw the “Please slow down” sign at Winton, that Ross realised that he’d been searching for a Tasmanian-sized hill instead of an outback-sized big sand hill of about ten metres elevation! So Ross went west and I was dispatched north-east with an overseer to do straight classing at a shed called “Eastmere” at Aramac. I preferred the straight classing to the more complex classer/overseer/expert role which was usual in the 94


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small sheds. The wool clip was usually better and more satisfying to class, and the job finished soon after 5.30 each day when the shed was tidied up for the day. The other role required shorn sheep to be counted, cutters and combs to be ground and the “store” to be opened to sell tobacco, Rinso (laundry powder), chocolate and other goodies to the team at cost price. There always used to be a bit of a dead spot about Easter when sheds didn’t start so as to avoid the penalty rates of Easter and a couple of other close holidays. Shearers and shed hands had to decide whether to drink their hard-earned cash in Longreach or head off to the Coast. As Noel hailed from Townsville and the Tasmanians wanted to see as much of Queensland as possible, we headed in the direction of Townsville. The fact that I still had a number of friends there and hadn’t been back for four years meant that there was little debate about our destination. I decided that I should let Percy know what our movements were because, unlike my comrades, I had to come back sooner rather than later to continue now-chosen career. ‘Ah yes,’ he sighed, ‘I’ve seen it all before – you’ll drink at every pub from here to the Coast, blow all your kanga over there and have to drink at every bore drain on the way back.’ Bore drains were shallow drains that transported very ordinary water from the head of an artesian bore over long distances to stock troughs. You’d have to be very drunk or very desperate to drink from them. Townsville represented a sad parting of the ways of our little group. Seabie liked Townsville so much that he decided to stay – and is still there! Noel decided to have a spell in his home town (but we were to meet up again) and Ross and I headed west again, trying to avoid those bore drains. I was sent to a little shed south of Longreach and it was said that the owner lived in the shearers’ quarters for eleven months of the year and only reluctantly joined his wife in the homestead when he had to vacate the quarters at shearing time. I can’t remember the names of the sheds we did that season, but it was not very satisfactory for an overseer not to have his own transport. I didn’t know where Ross was – no mobile phones in those days! In actual fact, when I finally made it into Longreach, I discovered that Ross had flown home to Tassie, and left the ailing FJ behind for me to bring back to Tassie. I gave myself more than enough time to get back to the Apple Isle by September, and set out for Melbourne by the shortest possible route. This took me via Bourke in NSW, but before I got out of sight of Longreach I discovered that it was burning an awful lot of oil. I had to by 23 pints at servos on the way down as well as consuming a large drum which I used for top-ups along the way. I pulled up at one station and called out to the attendant to check the fuel and fill her up with oil. As he lifted the bonnet, he replied, ‘Don’t you mean check the oil….’ He didn’t get any further with his correction of my request, as he realised that there was no oil on the dip stick at all. ‘Shit! I see what you mean!’ 95


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Anyhow, against all reasonable odds, the FJ did make it to Melbourne, I and settled in for a rare stay of a few weeks with my mum and dad at Beaumaris I always hated not having an income, so out to Consolidated Homes again and redeemed my fork-lift job once more. There was always, of course, an ulterior motive for staying in Melbourne. I still had the measurements of the front bodywork of my damaged Doretti sports car, and set to in dad’s garage, making a timber and plaster of Paris mould for a complete fibre-glass replacement front. I didn’t try to copy the original, which would have been smarter and easier. I reckoned that I was a better designer than Signor Doretti! Well, I finished it in reasonable time, and one of the Bolwell boys from Bolwell Sports Cars down at Frankston layed up the fibre glass, and the new bonnet turned out quite good – much to mum and dad’s obvious surprise. The next challenge was to fix it to the top of Ross’s oil-guzzling FJ and book the whole caboodle onto the POT for Devonport, Tasmania. I managed to fit the plastic front to my long-neglected sports-car, and it fitted pretty well. Had I known then what I know now about classic cars, I would have tried a lot harder to have the original aluminium front repaired. Even though I thought mine looked better, I’d destroyed the car’s future growth in value. Notwithstanding that, it took me around my Tasmanian sheds in style during the 1964 Spring season. I could sense that I was getting into the rhythm of my seasonal shearing shed and wool store work now and I was quite liking it. In addition, my few weeks in Hobart each summer, spear-fishing, CMF training and chasing the local girls around in company with Peter Rumney was, undoubtedly, the good life. Then I had another bout of bad luck with the Doretti and, once again, Peter was involved. We had just taken off one Sunday for a “burn’ in the car, crossed the Derwent to the eastern shore, and were heading towards Port Arthur. One of the more significant errors that I’d made in my recent (but short-lived) auto body design debut was to hinge the whole front section from the back, rather than from the front. Fortunately, we were coming up to an intersection and were only doing about 50km per hour when the catch let go, and the whole front section flew up and back-flipped on the rear-mounted hinges. The first port of call for this huge lump of fibre-glass was our two heads! So it was hospital and neck-brace time again, followed soon after by my resolve to sell the car before I killed myself, or worse, someone else.

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11

The Vanguard of the Bush Despite the “good life”, the joy of knocking about was just starting to wear a bit thin, and I was beginning to think I should settle down – to something. Most of my friends were either married or on that final approach to the matrimonial airstrip. When I visited them, they reiterated how lucky I was to be still on what many of them quaintly described as “my working holiday”, but when I agreed with them how great it was, I seemed to be having difficulty convincing even myself. The out-standing question, of course, was whether I was getting sick of knocking about, or just knocking about on my own? The answer, even in hind-sight, is not clear and will have to be left to others to judge. Anyway, although I was looking forward to embarking on yet another trek, I also suffered an unexpected attack of practicality. I decided that I should get a more appropriate vehicle for the bush, but it should be pointed out that this rare piece of perspicacity rode on the back of the realisation that I’d done all my shearing seasons so far in sports cars, an oil dribbling FJ Holden or, worst of all, on Shank’s pony! I engaged the assistance of my well-travelled brother, Greg in Melbourne, and scoured the car yards. My choice may not, in hind-sight, have been perfect but I had little cause to ever regret the purchase of my second-hand 1959 Vanguard station wagon. And so it was north again, in early 1965, to join up with Grazcos in Longreach. “Promising” Percy Taft had a sprawling old weatherboard house called, I think, the “Golden Nugget”, and he used to let his classers, who were between sheds, stay there. I can’t for the life of me remember whether he charged us to stay there, but with a name like “Golden Nugget”, you’d be excused for assuming that it would make a valuable rental house. Anyway, now that I was in the “in group”, I was invited to stay at the “Nugget”, and it was certainly a less mischief-ridden option than any of the pubs in town. It’s amazing the silly little things you remember. I recall that there were two taps in the kitchen sink, and even I could quickly work out that one was hot and one was cold, so this day I asked a few of the boys if they wanted a cup of tea. Several agreed, and in order to save time, I filled the kettle with hot water, stuck it on the big wood stove, and in a matter of minutes was serving up a big pot of brew. It was not long before there were howls of disgust with my tea-making skills, and initially I put it down to the powdered milk, but on tasting my own black tea, I too recoiled. ‘Which bloody water did you use?’ one asked. ‘The hot tap’, said I. ‘Hot tap!’ they bellowed in chorus. ‘That’s bloody stinkin’ bore water!’ The up-side was that I was relieved of kitchen duties – apart from washingup, and that task was granted on the realisation that I knew where to find the 97


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hot tap. It was much better with my own reliable wheels, and the Vanguard wagon was able to carry and keep reasonably secure so much more cargo. As I said, it was not perfect and there were a number of times that I wished that I had a 4WD. One such occasion on that trip was when I was heading out to a shed along an unsealed road, and it had been raining for a couple of days and didn’t look like letting up. I was carrying a fair bit of the cook’s dry rations – not the most important stuff, as he’d insisted on not getting separated from that. I was also carrying a big heavy bag of shearers’ handpieces and my weighty tool box. I’d already been bogged a couple of times on the road, and had heard that the track in to the shed was worse. Because I was so over-loaded, the clearance between the tyres and mudguards was insufficient and the build-up of sticky mud acted like a brake. I reckoned that if I couldn’t reduce the weight, I’d get hopelessly bogged on the track in. There was a big bush opposite the front gate to the property, so I stopped on a firmer patch of road and jettisoned the heavy food items, and the sack of hand-pieces behind the bush. It was my intention to make it to the quarters, unload everything that wasn’t bolted on and come back for the other stuff. The lightened load made enough of a difference for me to make it to the quarters, but it was further in from the road than I’d anticipated and it was close to nightfall. That track was no easy drive in daylight, and it would have been perilous at night, so I decided to have something to eat, get an early night and drive back to the front gate very early in the morning. Anyhow, there’d be no shearing tomorrow, an opinion that was confirmed in my mind by the drum of the heavy rain on the tin roof. I don’t know whether it was a premonition, or that I was simply a creature of habit that took me over to the shed with the tilly lamp to glue some emery papers on the grinder disks before hitting the sack. ‘Come on sleepy-head!’ I sat up on the bunk, blinking. It was Percy. Where the Hell had he come from? I’d over-slept and the shearing shed motor was running. ‘What’s the motor doing?’ I asked. ‘The sheep must be soaked – it’s been raining non-stop for days.’ ‘I know’, he said impatiently, ‘but the cocky’s had a day’s dry shearing jammed into the shed for two days, and all they’ve had to eat are the burrs on each others’ backs. If we don’t shear em and get em out quick they’ll bloody-well starve!’ I started to get a terrible cold feeling about the abandoned hand-pieces and knew the questions that were about to come my way, and the answers that I had no way of supporting. So within three minutes the Vanguard was hurtling back towards the front gate with the window washers going flat-out for the entire trip. In fact, I had to re-fill the washer with my emergency drinking water for the return trip. All of a sudden, getting bogged was not the issue, as at the speed I was driving, a broken spring from hitting a 98


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“bottomless” puddle was more likely. I tried to look nonchalant as I walked into the shed and distributed the hand-pieces, gathered the tins of cutters and combs and started grinding them. Thank God I’d glued the emery papers on the previous night, or I would have been following Percy back to town! The shearers said nothing, and were either unaware of my stuff-up, or were just as terrified of Percy as I was that morning. He took off to terrorise some men elsewhere as soon as we got started, and although he never mentioned the matter again, I never in the future assumed that sheep were wet until the shearers voted them wet – and even then I was sometimes not convinced. Despite my inauspicious start, with a bit too much rain in the wrong place at the wrong time, the 1965 season turned out to be very dry. It was also a very hot time in politics, for it was the year that the Menzies Government decided to send the first small contingent of soldiers to Vietnam. I wondered idly at the time whether the decision might have had a more personal impact had I not decided to head off to Mt Isa at just the time I was about to be called up in 1958 for national service. As it was, we just moved around those central Queensland sheds as shearing teams had done for decades. There were, of course, the lighter moments of humour which punctuated a life that was largely devoid of social activity. As boss-ofthe-board, I was called upon to take minor actions occasionally to avoid a problem developing. At one shed I recall that we had a row of tin wash basins on a long bench outside the kitchen, so that we could wash our hands before meals. The union rep approached me a bit awkwardly one afternoon and mumbled, ‘Some of the boys are a bit shitty about Fred. He’s washing his stinkin’ feet in the hand-basins after work every day.’ ‘Isn’t that something that the rep should attend to?’ I countered hopefully. ‘Nah, but there’ll be a blue if he keeps it up…’ As Fred kept mainly to himself, it wasn’t hard to approach him privately. I thought I’d use the union-speak, so as to divorce myself from a personal debate. ‘The “boys” are a bit pissed off because you wash your feet in the hand basins.’ He looked at me with an expression of disbelief. ‘They’re pissed off?’ he gasped, ‘I saw one of ‘em cleaning his bloody teeth in them basins! I’m off to see the rep!’ ‘What a bloody good idea!’ I answered, nodding thoughtfully. There are probably as many yarns about cooks as there are about shearers, so I will share a couple. We were at a small shed one time and “Promising” was having difficulty getting a cook. He told us to go out there on the Sunday, battle through tea that night and Monday breakfast, and he would bring us a cook before smoko. You can imagine our relief to see the 99


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outline of what was obviously our cook, plodding towards the shed across the paddock with a big basket of goodies and the ubiquitous giant tea pot, as I stopped the shearing shed motor at 9.30 am. The pastries and cakes were something rarely seen this side of the Great Divide, and he really looked the part right up to his tall chef’s hat. I couldn’t understand the doubtful looks of the shearers – an ungrateful bunch! Anyhow, we headed across to the kitchen at mid-day, the rouseabouts and I a bit behind the shearers as we had to tidy up the wool room, and found the shearers sitting at the table gazing sullenly at – not roast mutton and veges – more bloody pastries! ‘He’s got to go!’ announced the rep, glaring at me. So I spent the afternoon taking our pastry cook back to Longreach and bringing a real food cook back as the un-classed wool mounted up in my absence. I approached the rep. ‘You knew at smoko time that he was a pastry cook. I suppose it was that bloody big hat that gave him away’ ‘Bugger the hat,’ he confided, ‘you can’t trust any cook that wears them checked pants!’ And then there was the yarn about Bobby the cook who was known as an excellent cook. But evidently some early-rising shearer had been sitting outside the kitchen having a smoke one morning when Bobby arrived to get breakfast under way. Not being aware of the shearer’s presence, Bobby commenced his daily ritual. ‘Good morning stove!’ he opened brightly as he lit the huge woodburning stove, ‘it’s time to wake up.’ Our eaves-dropping shearer listened to the animated, but one-sided conversation long enough to realise that it would be better for all concerned if he crept away un-noticed. However the potential to make fun of Bobby eventually overcame his initial reluctance to invade the cook’s early morning privacy. He divulged the ritual to a few of the more mischievous shearers at the shed, and a plot was hatched. They waited until the Friday night when most of the team (including Bobby) would be having a few beers, and shanghaied the smallest rouseabout to carry out their plan. They set an alarm for thirty minutes ahead of the cook’s next morning, and with a mixture of threats and inducements, shoved this unfortunate wretch into the confined space behind the cool oven, before secreting themselves outside the window to listen. Right on time, Bobby wobbled into the kitchen – still a little bit inebriated from the night before – and muttered wearily. ‘Good mornin’ stove!’ ‘Good morning, Bobby!’ the stove answered brightly. The pranksters strained their ears for the next utterance, but all they heard was Bobby crashing through the fly screen door and his car roaring down the driveway as the terrified cook headed for Longreach! It took a fair bit of cajoling to 100


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get Bobby back to the shed in time for the following week’s shearing, but it was the pranksters who cooked and did the kitchen chores over the weekend. I never did meet Bobby myself, but I heard that shortly after he had retired from the sheds he had bought a piggery just outside Longreach. My informant was with a bunch of shearers one Saturday morning in Longreach, when they bumped into their erstwhile cook. ‘Good morning, Bobby! How’s the piggery goin’?’ one of them beamed. ‘Fair enough,’ responded Bobby with an oddly superior air, ‘same sort of work as before, but now I’m cookin’ for gentlemen!’

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12

The Last Hurrah?

It had been a good run but, as usual, we ran into slack time. The decision to be made each mid-year slack time was whether to go interstate looking for work, hang around in one of the regional bush towns until the work picked up, or head to the coast for a break. It was far too early to go to Tasmania, my preferred alternative state, and the second option didn’t appeal to me – I like to keep active one way or another. So I headed to Brisbane to do some store wool-classing. Besides, I had teed it up with my CMF (Army Reserve) unit to do my annual camp in Queensland. The store work would fit in nicely until the camp started. Because I was a member of 12 FD SQN (Engineers) in Hobart, I was directed to report to 11 FD SQN in Brisbane which, on the appointed day, I did. They were a pretty good bunch of blokes and, being a corporal at the time, I was put in charge of a section of sappers. Our major task was to build a length of road and to construct a timber bridge within the Greenbank army camp, just outside Brisbane. The squadron was loaned an LW16 rubber-tyred dozer, and the regular army plant operator was delighted to have another operator in the unit. Not only did this make his fortnight easier, but he was able to leave me in charge of getting the clumsy machine back to Enoggera Barracks. This turned out to be a bit of a challenge as, not only did I not have an escort vehicle, but I had no idea where Enoggera was or how to get there – only that it was on the other side of Brisbane. As it turned out, every one gave way and many of the other road-users told me where to go – literally! Had I been attempting such an exercise in recent years, I would have had to apply in writing to the Police, Main Roads, Workplace Health and Safety, and to Brisbane City Council – oh for the simple sixties! The Commanding Officer (CO), Captain Coutts, was a likeable bloke who had the rare ability of being able to command respect while remaining “one of the boys.” As an example, he managed to organise a group blind date for all of his NCOs with a bevy of WRAAC girls at the nearby Glen Hotel during our camp. How he managed it, I have no idea, but as a result, he received our devoted cooperation to our engineering task to the point that we all agreed to work double shifts (with the aid of hired flood lights) to complete our bridge before we struck camp. Not surprisingly, our CO was expected to be able to solve everyone’s problems, and I unwittingly became the object of this philanthropy. You see at the end of the camp I was once again technically unemployed, a situation with which I was well acquainted (although it never lasted long). But my fellow NCOs were quite dismayed and, without any reference to me, made representations to our all-solving CO about finding me a job. Well, you wouldn’t believe it, but the CO actually worked at Winchcombe Carsons who were one of the Queensland woolbroking firms, and he was able to organise a couple of sheds for me to class shortly in the Talwood area in southern Queensland. But the old bogey of public holidays cropped up again and the first shed 103


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wasn’t going to start until after the Queen’s Birthday long weekend. This long weekend was always a bit of a favourite of mine because it coincided with my own birthday and I usually tried to organise something enjoyable. So when one of the other corporals, Bob Scott, asked me what I was planning for that weekend, I opened up for his suggestions. ‘We’re off to O’Reilly’s Guest House in Lamington National Park,’ he said. ‘Lots of sheilas, do you want to come?’ “Bloody Oath!’ I replied without hesitation. ‘Just hang on a minute!’ warned Bob. ‘All these sheilas are Catholics, and they want to get married.’ ‘No problem!’ I replied. My bravado came out a little bit too quickly to be classed as a considered response, but once said, there was no turning back. ‘You’re on!’ said Bob. Now Bob and I had developed a joint liking for a certain Jamaican rum called Rhum Negrita, which was referred to by many in the Engineers as Buka Mary, an Anglicisation of the pigin, “Meri Buka” or Bougainvillean woman. We preferred to have it with dry ginger, and bought both ingredients at the Canungra pub on the way to O’Reilly’s. Bob had custody of the dry and I had the rum, so I was able to give the rum a taste test as we continued our journey. Armed with this little bit of “Dutch courage”, I was also able to reconnoitre the girls on the bus, in order to have a head start on my colleagues. An attractive red-head caught my eye, but after our arrival at our destination I could not locate her until the next day. But we did manage to catch up with each other at breakfast and had a great weekend, notwithstanding the echoes of Bob’s warning words. Her name was Estelle Hobden and she was a highly-skilled court reporter and boy, what a great rock n roll dancer! As pleasant as O’Reilly’s had been it was now time to get back to work. So I headed off, but quite reluctantly this time, to my first Talwood shed. The country was suffering – 1965 was shaping up to be a tough year. Those sheep that could walk were coaxed into the shed, many were trucked in to be shorn and then put down, and others never made it at all. There were many rotting carcases in full wool as well as their attendant flies everywhere. I made an offer to the owner that I would dispose of the carcases if I could pluck the wool and sell it, to which he agreed. Consequently I made several dual-purpose trips to Brisbane with the Vanguard stuffed with wool. These visits to Brisbane were also an opportunity to visit Estelle, and her parents, the Hobdens, were very courteous to this sometimes strange-smelling bushy. I was invited to have a meal one evening and I thought that, because the dish obviously wasn’t mutton, it must have been rabbit. ‘Hey that’s the best “under-ground mutton” I’ve ever tasted!’ I said brightly. I was very embarrassed to learn after the meal that it was, in fact, a chicken dish - something that I rarely got to eat around the shearing sheds. These little trips resulted in two outcomes. One was that I was offered (as a wool-grower!) a vote in the proposed reserve price scheme. I was probably the 104


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scheme’s only registered voter who didn’t own even one square inch of Australia! This awakening started to play on my mind. The other outcome was the beginning of a relationship that was to change the rest of my life - for the better, The shearing contractor at Talwood, Bonny Taylor, who was also the local rugby league coach, plodded into the shed one morning with a mournful look on his face. ‘Any you buggers play rugby league?’ he grunted, ‘I’m two short in the seconds for Saturday.’ He received no takers from the board – no smart shearer would risk injury at the start of the shearing season – so he advanced into the wool room. ‘What about you?’ he demanded of me aggressively. ‘I play Aussie Rules’, I responded, not wanting to take up his expected offer under false pretences. He ignored this with a dismissive grunt and turned to the young Kiwi picker-up. ‘I play half-back in a rugby union team at home’, the Kiwi offered. ‘You’ll do for one’, said Bonney stomping off to grind some cutters and combs. It was the following Saturday morning that I popped into the pub for a beer after plucking a few dead sheep of their no-longer-required fleeces. Bonney was there. ‘Howya goin’, I greeted him. ‘Ah, still one down for the footy’, he growled. I’ll have a go if you stick me down the back – at least I can kick!’ ‘OK’, He muttered without much enthusiasm, and then he proceeded to tell me how to get to Collarenebri, NSW, for the game. Well, the seconds were on first and I had to borrow some footy boots and a guernsey before jogging onto the rock-hard ground. We weren’t doing too well at all, so I suggested that they chuck the ball back to me on the odd occasion that we got within kicking range of the sticks. This happened on two occasions just before half-time and I managed two field goals at a time when this approach was not common. At half-time Bonney looked at me sternly, ‘You don’t want to play the second half, do you?’ ‘I didn’t think I was that bad!’ I protested. ‘Nah, I want to save you for the firsts and you can bamboozle them with that fancy kickin.’ Well, it didn’t take the other mob long to work out what was afoot, and they’d decided that they weren’t going to get bamboozled. They anticipated the first bit of fancy stuff from me and descended on me in a pack tackle. I’d never been carried off a footy ground before, but there was a little bit of relief mingled with the pain and embarrassment at the impromptu termination of my rugby league career. I did another couple of sheds in the Talwood area, Warrandine and Yarrandine I think they were called, and then I headed off to Brisbane - impatient to see Estelle. We went to the Brisbane Exhibition together and were enjoying 105


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each other’s company. But alas, it was already that time again – time to head south where the Cripps of Strathelie at Broadmarsh in Tassie would be ready and waiting to shear on the first Monday in September. I would have to go, of course, but I had the strangest feeling for the first time that ‘knockin around’ wasn’t all that my old friend, Abdul, had cracked it up to be. Could the next trip be my last hurrah, I wondered? Just as it had been on the previous four trips to Tassie, driving down from the Devonport car-ferry terminal was a lovely drive. I’d been assessing my situation during the long drive down from Queensland. I seemed to have managed to get four months of each year of my future organised. Each September to Christmas provided me with the expectation of repeat work in Tasmanian sheds then wool store work in Hobart. It was the other eight months of the year that were uncertain unless I was prepared to commit to full time wool store work – not my preferred option at that time. Estelle came down to Melbourne to do an advanced shorthand exam at about the time I was coming to the end of my Spring sheds and agreed to visit me briefly in Hobart during late December. I was working at Roberts Stewart’s wool store in Hobart at the time, a task that usually took me through until at least the New Year. I didn’t have any fixed plans for 1966 but, as I had been looking for a change from interstate shed work, I had agreed to join old friend, Noel Maher, and two other fellas in a quick working holiday trip to New Zealand early in the year. It occurred to me when considering this trip that, although I’d been working for eleven years, I’d never taken a holiday. So what did we organise? A bloody working holiday! The four of us left Australia by ship. We disembarked in Auckland and rented a sprawling old house in the suburb of Onehunga. We all chased down jobs of our own choice and I recall that Noel found work in his trade as a cabinet maker. In my job search I dug deep into my bag of experiences and secured an interesting job with Putaruru Timber Yard (PTY) at Penrose. The job was operating a rather unique side-lift forklift which transported timber from the local rail siding to the PTY factory. I had to pass a New Zealand truck driver’s licence test to do this work. When the fork lift wasn’t required, I was happy to stack timber in the yard, and this resulted in me getting the best sun tan I’ve ever had – before or since. Although New Zealand was a nice change from outback Australia, I was uneasy and felt that I wasn’t really addressing my future, working in non woolrelated jobs in another country. Estelle flew over to New Zealand and paid me a visit in February, while we were still in Onehunga. We decided, then and there, to get married in April. It wasn’t a good time for me, work wise, to return to Australia immediately so the five of us did a short tour to the north of the North Island and Estelle returned to Australia. The boys and I packed up at Onehunga and went down to 106


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Wellington. I left them there while I got some immediate casual work at Upper Hutt operating a Caterpillar D9 bull dozer on the levee bank project. As a soon-tobe-married bloke, I settled on the probability of moving into permanent work in the wool industry somewhere back in Australia. I therefore grabbed a rare opportunity that presented itself to learn the basics of classing carpet wool at Beder Brothers wool store in Masterton, north of Wellington. This skill, though not difficult, was not practised in Australia as we didn’t grow carpet wools. I left the others in “Windy Wellington” and caught a plane to return to Australia. There were two of us sharing the three seats in our row – the centre one was empty. We introduced ourselves but he was a quiet fella and pulled out a book to read. I felt unusually content as I stared out the window until New Zealand slipped out of view. I was impatient now to get home – but where was home? Melbourne? Brisbane? Hobart? I was determined to find a permanent, responsible position in the wool industry and I also resolved not to reject opportunities for advancement in favour of new adventures. I had nothing with me to read so I dug into the pocket in front of me and found a sick bag. I started to list, in order, the opportunities that I had already passed up since I’d started knocking about, ten years earlier. The list read: 1954 The offer from Dad to continue my studies and go on to university. 1956 The opportunity to stay at Nullabooma station and eventually run the farm. 1957  The offer of an apprenticeship in diesel engineering on the Snowy Mountains Scheme. 1958 Offer from the State Electricity Commission (Vic) to accept a position as a cadet surveyor. 1959 The opportunity of promotion to Spare Parts Manager with Tutt Bryant, Townsville. 1960 Offer to join MIMAG magazine, Mt Isa as artist/cartoonist. 1961 Offer of a certain upgrading to contract miner status the following month at Mt Isa Mines. 1962 Leaving a good permanent position at Roberts Stewart & Co to go to the West Australian sheds. I read through the scribbled entries again. There were eight over the past ten years. But it would be most unfair of me to blame Abdul’s advice of 1955: “You’ve gotta knock around, kid”. My mindset was a pre-existing condition. ‘At least there won’t be a “lost opportunity” entry on the list for this year,’ I murmured, chuckling to myself. ‘You sound happy,’ the fella beside me said with a smile. ‘Yep,’ I said. ‘I’m gettin married next month.’ My travelling companion called the hostess over. ‘Two champagnes, please, Miss.’ I remember smiling. Was this the last hurrah, I thought - or was it to be the first? 107


Book Two

BOOK TWO

Estelle Hobden

109


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

Bruce and Estelle 1966 110


To Tassie with Love

1

To Tassie with Love

‘I hear you’re getting married, Jack,’ the voice said on the phone at Estelle Hobden’s parents’ house in Annerley, a Brisbane suburb. I knew immediately that it was Don Grant – he called all the blokes in the Hobart wool store “Jack”. ‘Yes,’ I answered, but how did you know?’ ‘News travels fast in this industry. Are you looking for a job?’ I find it hard to believe now but I don’t think I’d given a lot of thought to precisely where I would work – except that it would be in the wool industry. ‘Yes, I am,’ I said. ‘Good, we’ll see you as soon as you get down here then.’ He hung up. The wedding day, 9 April 1966, drew near and a lot of friends and close relatives of both Estelle and me had booked into nearby motels. None of my best friends lived in Brisbane at the time so there was no bucks’ night. This didn’t bother me at all because, although I liked a couple of beers after a game of footy, I had a distinct aversion to getting drunk and suffering the after effects. On the big day my elder brother, Greg, who took his best man duties seriously, and groomsman Graham (Joe) Hodkinson claimed that I appeared to be quite nervous. I probably was. I didn’t take much convincing that a beer and a peppermint on the way to the church would do me the world of good. This distraction resulted in us arriving at the Albert Street Methodist Church right on time, but with no margin for error. I mentally kicked myself for what I hoped would be my last dumb single bloke approach to life. My annoyance evaporated though when my bride walked towards me on her father’s arm. The reception was, of course, a happy event. Although I couldn’t compete with the polished singing of family friend, Bruce Jackson, who was a trained singer, I complied with my mother’s insistence and sang “The Way You Look Tonight”. Then Greg, Dad and I waded into Dad’s favourite, “The Holy City”. It couldn’t have been too bad because the people having a function in an adjacent room invited us to sing for them – so we did. The luxurious part of our honey moon amounted to one night at the Tower Mill Hotel in Brisbane. Next morning, following a hilarious session by Greg and his wife Lynn with Estelle’s mum and dad, all the Lamings took off in three cars for Melbourne by the shortest route. The navigation had been attended to by Greg the truck driver – I should have known better. He had already made accommodation bookings for the return journey at his favourite pit stops along the way. The first night of the trip was spent at a pub in Coonabarabran, in northern New South Wales, where Greg had booked Estelle and me – would you believe it - into two tiny single rooms – and boy, did the floors squeak! When challenged at the family’s breakfast table next morning, Greg responded with a straight face. ‘You weren’t married when I made the booking,’ he said piously. Greg and I were the only ones at the table not laughing. We couldn’t stay long at my parents’ home in Beaumaris, a beach suburb of Melbourne, mainly because I had to get to my job in Tasmania and replenish my 111


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bank balance. But Mum insisted that we stay long enough to have all the relatives, who couldn’t make it to the wedding, over for a morning tea so that they could meet Estelle. I don’t know if she was terrified but, if so, she didn’t show it. I had an uncle, Maurie Luxmore, who was married to Mum’s younger sister, Bobbie, and he took me aside. ‘What ever else you do, my boy, get into bricks and mortar!’ As he owned a tile factory I was surprised that he didn’t add tiles to the list. Anyhow, I followed that advice almost continuously up to the present time. Next morning, I stacked the Vanguard up with some of my stuff that Mum and Dad had been stuck with for ten years, while I was gallivanting round the country, and we drove off towards our own brave new world, Tasmania. On arrival we entered into a rental agreement on half a big old house in West Hobart. The first challenge was to unload the Vanguard of our ports of clothes and some very old and very new possessions. The former included bush stuff, spearfishing gear, army equipment, bagpipes and, of course, some practical household items. The latter was made up almost entirely of wedding presents which were stacked away in anticipation of a future more long-term accommodation arrangement. It was April and work in the wool store was winding down until the next season which would commence in earnest in September. It was now time to embark upon the winter routine of calling on clients in the Derwent Valley and the Midlands to discuss sheep, wool and other problems. I did this with either Don Grant or one of the company’s stock agents. Some former Gordon wool school colleagues, Gerry Fisher and George Auchterlonie, were also now permanently employed at Roberts Stewarts so it was a rather clubby arrangement. It was a cold and wet time of the year, so muddy shoes and cold feet were the norm and because we were usually invited in for a cuppa, so the muddy shoes had to come off and we padded around in soggy socks and cold feet. In desperation I decided to experiment with a pair of rubber galoshes that slipped right over the shoes, keeping the latter dry and clean, and then the muddy galoshes could be kicked off and left at the door, leaving my shoes dry and clean and my feet warm. I also purchased a suede leather coat which worked well in deflecting the Tasmanian roaring forties and it proved to be a good acquisition as it’s still being pulled out of my wardrobe from time to time forty-five years later. We had a mixture of sheep (and wool) in Tasmania – crossbreds, Polwarth, Corriedale and, of course my favourite, the fine wool Merinos. In subsequent winter seasons I was introduced to sheep-classing, a function to improve the overall quality of graziers’ flocks. Meanwhile, Estelle found that she had time to apply for some part-time work. I had never worked with females in my ten years in the workforce and, although I didn’t realise it then, I was not to do so for another ten years. I also harboured the fairly common view point of the day that it was the man’s responsibility to 112


To Tassie with Love

bring home an adequate wage. I don’t know why I was so convinced of this mid Victorian custom because my mother worked as a part-time cashier in my father’s butcher shop in Murrumbeena when we were kids. Estelle pointed out that, on our current income, she would not be able to travel home to see her parents - even occasionally. In addition trunk line telephone calls were so expensive that calls were rationed to special occasions. I couldn’t question her point of view so I dropped my negative position and she very quickly found a part-time job as a typist at Hobart’s police head quarters. It was still winter when we decided to follow my uncle’s advice and look for our own “bricks and mortar” - a house. We found a lovely little three-bedroom, weatherboard house at 28 Darling Parade, Mt Stuart. It had a beautiful northerly outlook that our neighbour, Reg Biggs, insisted was a forty-mile view. Our next challenge, of course, was whether or not we could afford it. The company’s Managing Director, Harry Roberts, didn’t hesitate to provide an interest-free loan of $1000 without which we could not have proceeded. A new bank borrowing initiative, the Housing Loan Insurance Corporation (HLIC), was launched that year and we were told that we were the first Bank of New South Wales (later Westpac) customers in Hobart to apply for it. HLIC was basically an insurance policy on a borrower’s ability to meet repayments. And so we signed up for our very first house - but had to wait before taking possession. That Friday night, after both of us had been working; we decided to splurge and went to the Hobart drive-in theatre. Evidently, when we went for a coffee at interval, Estelle’s handbag slipped out of the car and we drove off later without it. On arriving at our flat we found that we had no door key and Estelle had also lost her weeks pay. To add to the problem, the land lady’s lights were out. We hurried back to the drive in but it was deserted and locked up. It was then that I remembered that I had a key to 28 Darling Parade. Although we hadn’t taken possession we had been given a key so that we could let ourselves in from time to time and admire our purchase. It didn’t take long that night to decide to take up an early, though unofficial, residency. There was no furniture or heaters but it did have an open fireplace and some firewood, so we lit up and bedded down on the carpet in front of the crackling fire. Next morning we woke to find that an errant coal had rolled out and burnt a hole the size of a penny in the carpet. It didn’t spread as the carpet was, of course, pure wool. We never did track down the lost handbag and the thought of being sprung by the agent for our early residency became an issue. On the day of settlement, I stood with one foot on the burn mark until the agent left. It wasn’t a big job to move in officially as we had few possessions. As we unloaded the car, I not only unwrapped the wedding gifts, but threw their boxes into the rubbish bin. ‘What are you doing?’ Estelle asked, alarmed. ‘We’ll need all those when we pack up to go home!’ ‘Home?’ I croaked. We looked at each other for a few moments in mutual disbelief. It suddenly 113


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became clear to me that Estelle thought that we were just on another one of my seasonal visits, while it was firmly established in my mind that I was taking on a permanent position in Roberts Stewart’s Hobart Wool Store. I don’t recall the actual conversations that followed but I think I suggested that we should at least give Hobart a try. It was all right for me, of course; I had local friends, an interesting job, had joined a football team, was back with my CMF unit and was looking forward to a summer of diving for crayfish with close friends Ross Ford or Peter Rumney. Fortunately, Estelle was able to get a job as a court reporter with the Supreme Court and was paid more on an hourly basis than I was. This made the prospect of her getting home to Brisbane from time to time a lot better. It also contributed to the task of purchasing things for the house. I do not recall buying anything new except the regency dining suite, a wedding present from my parents, which we still have. Instead it was the Burns Mart weekly auction that, over a few months, furnished our home. Once again, how times have changed. One of the more interesting – but not essential – articles was a large, upright, wind-up gramophone. These amazing contraptions should be brought back into vogue because their power usage was nil. This one cost me 50c which reflects the fact that it didn’t work. Well I got it to work eventually and was lucky enough to discover several old 78 rpm records under the house. They were mainly Gilbert and Sullivan but my favourite was a single-sided disc of a duet with the Great Caruso and Dame Nellie Melba. We sold the gramophone on leaving Tasmania for what we’d paid for it but I still have that record. One of the last essential things we were pursuing was a lounge suite. I was working on a property, Kenyue, in the midlands and the owner, Harry “Scorcher” Harding a First World War veteran and a thorough gentleman, had just bought a new suite. So he offered me their two old non-matching lounge chairs for virtually nothing. I was really excited on the Friday afternoon as I loaded Scorcher’s big chair and his very slim wife’s little one into the Vanguard and choofed off to Hobart. When I got the cargo home I discovered that neither of us could comfortably squeeze into the smaller chair. We were now building up a social network as several of our friends, including Ross, got married and we also got to know socially one of our wool clients, the Dunbabins – a delightful family - of Mayfield on the east coast. During the winter – and the following winter - I played Aussie rules for Hobart United - and noted that I was slowing up. I was 29 by then, not a great mark of the ball and never much of a kick. My skills were confined to speed and determination, so when the speed dissipated, the determination turned into frustration. So I retired from football – until touch football came into vogue in Queensland ten years later. And then it was spring, and we were blessed by the arrival of our first child, Andrew Charles, at 2 am on the 30th of September 1966. Now I had been told by a rather tough matron, following a mistimed visit a couple of days earlier, not to 114


To Tassie with Love

come to the hospital at other than visiting hours. Consequently, when I received the exciting phone call, I thought I had to wait until visiting hours to make an appearance. Understandably Andrew’s mother was not impressed. Visiting hours? How times have changed. The next day Ross and a couple of the lads from the wool store came up home for a drink and our neighbour, Reg Biggs, also a first world war veteran, came across with a couple of bottles of his home brew. He used to bottle his brew with a sultana in each bottle to give them some fizz. He opened one, poured some drinks and put the bottle on the coffee table and then knocked it over onto the carpet. As the frothy brown puddle spread he looked at me with a frown. ‘I suppose you’ll blame me for that,’ he said. ‘Never mind, there’s plenty more at home. Even better, I’ll teach you to brew your own.’ It was shearing time again and occasionally we were asked to class a small wool clip at the weekend that had been shorn – often by the owner – during the previous week. Such was the case when Andrew was just six weeks old. I was asked to class this little merino clip down at Dunalley, an hour’s drive away, so I offered to take Andrew with me in a bassinet plus a supply of bottles and nappies to give Estelle a spell. I parked the Vanguard right outside the wool shed’s only window, gave Andrew a bottle and got to work. We knocked off for lunch and went across to the house about twenty metres away. The owner’s wife and daughter had prepared lunch so, after I washed my hands, I said that I would give my son his lunch in the car. ‘Bring him in!’ they demanded in unison. ‘There’s plenty of cold mutton. You should have seen their faces when I carried him in. They spent the rest of the day down there spoiling him – as women do – and he was no trouble to anyone all day. I planned to be home in time for the 6 pm bottle but there was a long hold-up on the Derwent River bridge and, by the time I got to Darling parade, Andrew was squawking for a drink. Oh dear! I should mention at this point that a similar, small weekend classing job of super fine merino wool at Colaba topped the market in Roberts Stewart’s catalogue. The following summer was exceptionally hot and dry. Our wool store had a corrugated iron roof and the heat was becoming unbearable. But something else was occurring that took our attention – fires were springing up in many parts of southern Tasmania. The radio was giving regular bulletins, advising residents of this or that locality to go home and protect their property. One of the classers, Gerry Fisher who lived with his wife in Rokeby, was similarly advised. After he left, half a dozen of us realised that our localities were relatively safe. ‘What are we doin here?’ one said. ‘Let’s go and help Gerry.’ Without further ado we gathered up wet sacks and headed off in George’s car towards Rokeby. We arrived just in time to see Gerry standing defiantly in front of his house, wet sack in hand, when a wave of fire leapt right over him and his house and came down to set his fire wood stack and garage alight. We worked all afternoon stopping several probable house fires but witnessing many more that simply 115


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

exploded in flames. We went back to the wool store, tired, hot and sooty, to retrieve our own cars. I drove a little way towards Mt Stuart and stopped at a milk bar for a drink to quench a rampant thirst. ‘You look hot, mate,’ the proprietor said. ‘Where’re you from?’ ‘Mt Stuart,’ I said. ‘Oh. I hear it’s been bad up there,’ he said. I dashed out the door and into the Vanguard. My heart was thumping. What a relief to discover that one of the fires had come right to the end of Darling Parade and subsided. Estelle and young Andrew were safe at home. More than thirty others were not so fortunate. Summer continued hot and we started spear-fishing again. Wet suits were now common and made even Tasmania’s ocean bearable. We discarded the spear guns and reverted to hand spears which were easier to handle when we groped into the rock crevices for crayfish by our gloved hands. Although we used aqua lungs quite often I much preferred the challenge and freedom of free diving. One day Ross and I went down to Fort Direction to get some crayfish and took Andrew, who was about two, along for the ride. I asked him to sit on a log at the top of a thirty foot cliff above the water. He sat there quietly for about half an hour watching us as we dived. He was an exceptional young fella. As soon as Andrew was old enough to be left with someone, Estelle successfully sought work as a court reporter. This had more than one benefit. It obviously enabled Estelle to take Andrew home to his grand mother in Brisbane. But, in addition, it brought about our meeting with the Bourke family from Lenah Valley. Mrs Mavis Bourke, ostensibly Andrew’s baby sitter, and her two daughters took to him so sincerely that sometimes we seemed to have problems getting him back! Andrew was still visiting her forty five years later. On the 20th of June, 1968, Susan was born. Now there were two children to take up to Brisbane. Little did I realize that it would be Sue who would, one day, take up my favourite water sports of diving and sailing – but that’s a story for later. I was always happiest when I was learning something separate from my current employment, which probably reflected my early departure from school at the completion of grade ten. Consequently I took modern history and geography lessons at night school and the following year gained mature age entry to university and studied my favourite subject, Australian history. We did a lot of diving during our four year stay in Tassie and one of our many favourite spots was Goat Bluff on the South Arm Peninsular. In about 1969 I got the idea that I might be able to start a crayfish farm in the Bluff’s main gulch, so purchased the freehold five acres of land from the Calverts and convinced the Clarence Council to lease me the waterfront section. I’m not aware whether anyone else in the world was attempting this at the time but I doubt it. I did a fair bit of research and kept some crayfish at home in a bath tub of salt water. Ross was simultaneously keeping some large Tasmanian freshwater crayfish in a tub of 116


To Tassie with Love

fresh water at his place. This was about the time that export considerations forced a name change from crayfish to rock lobster. We never got much further with our project as events overtook our efforts. I returned my pet rock lobsters to the sea at Goat Bluff. Meanwhile my involvement with the CMF (now referred to as the Army Reserve) became more regular as I wasn’t dashing off interstate each autumn and spring. I was promoted to sergeant in 1967 and created a nice little spot for myself as the squadron’s Sergeant/plant operator. This lasted for a couple of years and then it was suggested that I should undertake officer training. I casually declined, saying that I was quite content where I was. I should have known better. The army rarely offers choices. ‘Move up or move aside,’ the CO ordered. ‘You’re holding back the flow of potential promotions. And so I was transferred to the Officer Cadet Training Unit (OCTU 69). This comprised of about thirty young men from all the different corps and there was no expectation that cadets would return to their former or preferred unit. It was an interesting year – better than I anticipated – and was a big help to me in the future for problem solving, planning and leadership. I came second in the final exams and was second to front the CO of the CMF in Tasmania, Colonel Oxley, to discuss my posting. ‘And which unit are we going to send you to?’ he asked. ‘Are there other units apart from the Engineers?’ I asked with false innocence. The interview ended without further discussion and I was sent back to my beloved unit. I think Colonel Oxley, a proud infantry officer, had the last laugh as he would have known how difficult it would be for someone not trained as a civil engineer to pass the compulsory engineering corps subject. As it turned out I failed my first attempt because I requested twice as much gelignite as necessary in an exercise to destroy the famous convict-built Richmond bridge. I immediately requested another opportunity, and asked for this test to be something real rather than imaginary. My next task, therefore, was to proceed to a location in northern Tasmania to build a bush airstrip of a specified length and a culvert to access it from the nearest road. I was to take a regular army sapper who could assist and I had to request the necessary stores. I put in for a truck to carry us, a dozer, a large pipe, sandbags, shovels, a level and a staff, food etcetera. I was to learn by letter, after we had left Tasmania, that I had passed but I had a long wait before I proudly wore my pips as a lieutenant and met up with Colonel Oxley again. Life continued to be good for me in Tassie – but not for Estelle. Thinking things would no doubt improve, it took me over three years to address the problem. Tasmania was simply too cold for Estelle and, more importantly, too far away from her parents. The challenge for me was to please Estelle without embarking on either a job or a residential situation with which I would have difficulty coping. 117


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Although I coped well with the charm of Hobart, other cities – including Brisbane – were another story. So I studied the Hobart Mercury’s Situations Vacant with neither enthusiasm nor expectation. And then an ad for Papua New Guinea Patrol Officers caught my eye. The heading was graphic: What Sort of a Bloke is He? One of the Best – he’s a Patrol Officer. It was accompanied by a photo of man in shorts striding purposefully through the PNG Highland kunai grass. This appealed to both my vanity and my currently suppressed spirit of adventure. I showed it to Estelle, tentatively, who surprised me by suggesting that I should get some more details. This duly arrived in the post and, although I anticipated that I would be keen to apply, I was surprised at Estelle’s positive response. The two aspects that appealed to her were the warmer climate and the guaranteed flight back to Australia for the whole family after each 21 months of service and then three months leave. I was interviewed by Fred Kaad, a former senior patrol officer who had been crippled in a light plane crash in PNG. I think my Army Reserve training – particularly in roads and bridges – ensured my selection. Fred said that he was not allowed to tell applicants the results of his interview – but he suggested I read Adam with Arrows by Colin Simpson and Behind the Ranges by James Sinclair, ‘before I come to PNG.’ It was a sufficient hint for us. I advised my boss at the wool store, David Baines, that I had applied for the job and that I was expecting an affirmative answer. He said very little in the way of either annoyance or encouragement; he just kept training me in wool valuing until the end of my last day there in early February 1971. I had visions of David arriving at the wool store on the following Monday and looking around, asking. ‘Where’s Bruce today?’ It wasn’t the first and would not be the last time that I disappointed a boss by giving unexpected notice. There was a lot to do before leaving and the job continued through the busy last weeks of 1970 and early 1971. The CMF, also, remained busy and I was ordered to lead a troop of sappers in and out of the Lake Pedder region over a weekend. The task was to trial the new (then) twenty-five set radios for their range in various terrains. I’ve been glad ever since that I made that trip and witnessed Lake Pedder in its pristine condition before it was flooded by the building of yet another dam. There is no doubt that I became a conservationist that weekend. I was sad in the knowledge that my son would never see what I had witnessed – neither would his son. And soon it was February, 1971. I left a lot of fond memories behind when I flew out of Hobart to join my fellow assistant patrol officers. I must confess that I also left a lot of work behind for Estelle to attend to.

118


Wedding, 1966

To Tassie with Love

119


You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

New Arrival

Another Arrival

120


Family Arrives in Port Moreseby

To Tassie with Love

121


Island Life

2

Island Life

It was now February 1971 and the time had come to spend three months at ASOPA, the Australian School of Pacific Administration, at Middle Head, Sydney. I had private board with a pleasant lady waiting for me thanks to the efforts of a good friend of Estelle’s, Gaye Hislop. Meanwhile Estelle had been left with the unenviable task of selling up, packing up and driving up to Devonport to catch the car ferry and driving to my parents’ home in Melbourne. This was achieved in the trusty old Vanguard with the two kids also squeezed into the front seat and the remainder of our possessions, including the dining suite, stuffed into the back. The Hobart house was sold and I thought I was pretty clever to get 8% on fixed deposit for the net proceeds. Estelle had done a marvellous job, but my father took one look at what must have appeared to him to be more like a mobile shipping container than a vehicle. ‘You’re not driving that thing any further!’ he grunted. The Vanguard was subsequently sold after its contents had been disgorged into a truck belonging to Mac McKennon, a Hobden family friend, who was heading from Melbourne to Brisbane. I missed the old Vanguard as it had never let me down – getting bogged in Western Queensland isn’t counted of course – it had been reliable in both town and country. The loss was particularly evident while I was without transport of any description in Sydney. After our worldly positions were on their way to Brisbane, Estelle and the kids flew to Sydney, to see me for a few days and we stayed in a caravan right on Middle Head bluff beside an army house occupied by Gaye and her husband Graham. After an all-too-short stay in Sydney, Estelle and the kids flew on to Brisbane to spend several enjoyable weeks with their Grandma and Poppa. The course at ASOPA was interesting and certainly turned out to be helpful when I arrived in PNG. There were about twenty of us and the subjects studied included anthropology, PNG history and geography, pidgin, basic law and the Australian (Westminster) government system which, for better or worse, we would be introducing into PNG for self-government. Mosman is within walking distance of Balmoral Beach and on one of my “keep fit” walks I discovered that I could hire a sixteen foot corsair sailing dinghy there. I had never sailed previously but did not let that deter me from setting out for Manly, across the harbour. Coming back against the wind was another story. On the following Monday I had to swallow my pride and ask one of my colleagues, Chris Rivers – a Kiwi - to teach me the basics. In mid 1971 I flew with my colleagues to Port Moresby. I was one of the few who had been there before – even though my previous trip was to represent North Queensland against the local PNG expatriates in a game of Aussie rules in 1958. This time we were bundled off to Kwikila, about sixty miles to the east of Moresby, to become acclimatised. After a couple of weeks we received our various postings and in this I think the Laming family was very fortunate. We were posted to the 123


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patrol post of Wakunai on the east coast of Bougainville Island. After the rest of the family arrived in Port Moresby, we all caught another plane, this time to Kieta, the main town on Bougainville. We visited District Office and Sub District Office and then enjoyed a few hours on the government launch, Isis, which took us north towards our destination. I was feeling pretty good. The family together again, a beautiful place, a lovely climate and a challenging job. I pondered about my new role as I sat in the sun on the bow of Isis. All the books seemed to concentrate on the first contacts with primitive natives. But surely we have a different role now, I thought. I was offered a half coconut with thick white copra inside. I nodded and took it. I slipped my double-edged diving knife out and dug into the shell. The shell was cracked and I accidentally thrust the knife into the palm of my hand. I wrapped my hand up tightly to stem the bleeding, determined not to have to request a return to the hospital. We pulled into the tiny jetty of Numa Numa coconut and cacao plantation. We were met there by my new OIC, Denis Donovan, and his native driver, Katsin, and transported by Land Cruiser the couple of miles north to Wakunai Patrol Post, which consisted of three European-style houses, half a dozen IMQs (indigenous married quarters) for native police, teachers, the clerk and medical orderly. It was the medical orderly Terry that I sought out first. He swabbed my hand and nervously inserted two stitches There was our Administration office, high set with timber flooring and the walls above floor level were built of bamboo matting and the roof of sago palm thatch. Two white-painted, light Japanese field guns were positioned out in front of the office and a flag pole took pride of place in the middle of the lawn. There was a PTS (a Primary Territory School), a haus sik (native hospital) and a grass air strip. The station had three native police, some medical and school staff and a long “line” of public works labourers whose main task was to keep the grass on the airstrip trimmed by hand, using a saraf (a long piece of hoop iron with a makeshift handle. All these people had to be paid in cash which was delivered by plane fortnightly. There were two small trade stores – one run by a European lady and one by a Chinese man. There were a few dirt roads but these only accessed plantations, coastal villages and the Asatavi catholic mission. The only way out was by boat, the twice weekly DC3 aircraft or by charter plane – if the air strip was serviceable. There were about 10 000 very dark-skinned natives (whom I shall refer to henceforth as locals) in our area of responsibility and a smoky volcano on Mount Balbi behind us. Wakunai was to be our home for the next twenty-one months. At last I was an Assistant Patrol Officer – the “Number Two Kiap”- and about to launch into the best job I would ever have. Considering the challenges of some of the jobs I’d already had and the satisfaction derived from a couple that I would take on in the future, that’s saying something! 124


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Our house at Wakunai Patrol Post was a tired, low-set, two bedroom bungalow. We had power supplied from the station motor-driven generator until 10 pm. It had a kero fridge, wood stove and no hot water. This was, to a certain extent, made up for by the provision of a “house wind”, a concrete-floored, native material structure that sat fifty metres away from te house on the edge of the drop-off down to the black, volcanic sand beach. It was a top spot to relax. My outside chores, such as lawn-mowing, were attended to by the labour gang allowing me to spend more time on the job or, on free weekends, skin-diving. It didn’t take long for Estelle to proclaim that she wasn’t getting the same level of assistance as I was, particularly as she was also Andrew’s correspondence teacher. I had to agree and we were fortunate to find a nice young local lady, Marie, to be our ‘house girl’. There was only the one other Australian family at Wakunai when we arrived, Dennis and his wife Margaret, and a sprinkling of others on the four plantations to the south, Numa Numa, Tenakau, Arigua and Kurwina and at the Catholic mission, Asatavi, to the north. Of the dozen or so Europeans in our area, two were former coast watchers during the war. They were Paul Mason of Inus plantation, several miles to the north, and Sandy Sandford on Numa Numa, not far to our south. Paul has been described as the only coast watcher who remained behind enemy lines for the duration of the war. We were to get a didiman (agricultural officer) to move into the third house a few weeks later. The locals were a pleasant bunch on the whole. Some of the younger, educated ones were impatient for independence but the older ones and the children were happy and helpful. Most still lived in their traditional villages which averaged 100 to 200 persons. The dwellings were mostly constructed of native materials – woven bamboo walls and sago palm thatch roofs. Most villages had no running water, electricity, schools or medical facilities and only pit toilets. Road access was the main objective with out which the other aims were difficult. There were frequent local callers at the house – men with fruit, vegetables and artefacts and children with sea shells including giant clams. The most welcomed food item was the whole bunches of nearly ripe bananas – all that one man could carry. Sometimes an old man would arrive, having walked for miles, shortly after we’d already bought a bunch. Just as well we both like bananas! The artefacts were mainly ceremonial type spears, bows and arrows. Once the children were aware that Estelle liked the giant clam shells these monsters started to arrive at the door one at a time by wheel barrow. The quality of artefacts was varied. One old man had been commissioned to make a quality bow and arrow set as a gift for Prime Minister Billy McMahon on his proposed visit in 1972. The PM decided to cancel the trip – no doubt because of the opinion polls – and the set became redundant. I stepped in, even though I preferred traditional weapons, and bought the set for a price agreeable to both of us. 125


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There was one custom that still continued in the 1970s and may even still continue now, forty years later. It was the Upei. This name was given to selected youths and to the distinctive 50 centimetre high headdress that they wore. The Upei youths were sent away to live together under the watchful eye of an old man and one older youth. The old man instructed them on their responsibilities and made their upeis from the leaves of the black palm. The Upei could not cut his hair and it grew into his upei. In former days, this procedure used to last for three years and the hair would grow down to their knees. In the seventies the period was one year and the hair was only chest length. The only female they could speak to or be addressed by was their mother. They had a very restrictive diet, couldn’t leave the area and couldn’t go to school or church. When their time was completed there was much singing and dancing, the long hair was cut and buried and the upeis ceremoniously burned. (I had a more detailed version published in the Walkabout magazine at the time.) It had long been the expectation that patrol officers would accommodate visiting government agents in their homes. As the staff localisation process continued it meant that more and more of these agents would be the better-educated locals. We had one of these young fellows staying with us when a friend dropped by to ask us to dinner. The sign language made it clear that our visitor was not invited and, on the spur of the moment, I acknowledged that. When our friend left, the house guest said that he would rather not go out to dinner, thanks, as he had paper work to attend to. I wasn’t angry with my friend, who was just following the normal position, but I was disappointed with my own failure to politely decline the invitation. The tasks of kiaps (patrol officers) were many and varied and depended to a large extent on an area’s location and also on its level of development. The location refers, to some extent, to whether it was a Coastal, Highland or a Big River area. The level of development is measured by such things as an area’s acceptance of law and order and its provision of roads, airstrips, schools, medical centres etcetera. Although Wakunai is coastal it had quite a few villages that were located high in the hinterland hills. Many of these were not accessible by either plane or vehicle, thus affecting their level of development. Subsequently, much of my time was spent surveying or building new roads and supervising the maintenance of existing ones. As self-government was only a couple of years away, compiling a census of each village for voting purposes was essential. Wakunai had already established a local council but the councillors and staff still required some assistance. A lot of my time during the first couple of weeks was spent coming to grips with the office procedures, filing, radio use and meeting the several personalities in and around the Post. One emergency duty was to assist small planes to land in the dark. This had been done by alerting all the vehicle owners to take station down both sides of the strip and put their lights on when the plane was 126


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heard. I trialled a system having a couple of dozen empty cans filled with wads and kerosene. These were despatched to pre-marked equal distance points along each side. The first pilot said he liked the trial. I also had to learn the fine art of getting a Land Cruiser through a river – just charge into it and hang on grimly. It was no wonder that it was the driver’s seat that was one of the first items to wear out. Even more difficult was learning the skill of riding a motor bike. The Honda 175 trail bike was my personal transport for getting around the station and getting up to villages with a road or a reasonable walking trail. The rest of the villages were a Shank’s pony job. Sometimes I was able to urge the Honda up steep trails part way to a village. When it would go no further I would stand it up and put a banana leaf over the seat to protect it from the rain and sun. Sometimes on the weekend, the whole family climbed onto the bike to go visiting or to the beach. In addition to the Land Cruiser and the Honda I also had to master a 16 foot tinny with a 25 hp outboard. This was mainly used to travel up to Tinputz and back on the northern end of the main Bougainville island as the road was often impassable. One of the duties that came with the Honda was opening the airstrip each morning. When I asked Dennis how this was judged I was told that one rode the bike flat out down the strip and hit the brakes. If one remained upright the strip could be opened. Hmm. The boat wasn’t without excitement of its own. We always had a “Boats crew” which was, in fact, one person. Coming back from Tinputz one day, Boats crew did some trolling as he piloted us around the coral outcrops. I sat up the front to keep the bow down. A big fish took the bait and boats crew hauled the line in while steering with his knees. With a big heave it came aboard. Boats crew took one look at the barracuda and its razor sharp snapping teeth and yelled, ‘Masta, dispela pis i laik kaikaim mi!’ Then he jumped overboard. Well my options were limited but I did manage to squirm past the gnashing beast and take control of the wayward vessel. The barracuda was returned whence it had come and I went back to pick up a very subdued Boats crew. Doing census work, road building and trying to solve disputes required frequent visits to the various villages. Some of these could be accessed by four wheel drive vehicle or trail bike, but more often, only on foot. Occasionally the lucky ones with an air strip could be reached by small plane. The walking patrols were the most challenging and required a high level of fitness. While many small to medium water courses could be crossed on strategically fallen slippery logs, the big rivers, with their torrents leaping over boulders, had to be forded through thighdeep rapids. This meant wet socks and soggy boots for the rest of the day. Each village had a dedicated haus kiap, a good-sized native materials house to be used only by the kiaps and other visiting government representatives. Most villages provided a supply of clean water, which would be waiting in of long bamboo containers. These tubes had been carried up from a creek down in the valley by the women. This water could be used by the kiap for showering, cooking 127


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and drinking. Another welcome gift was a kulau (a green coconut) which provided a very refreshing drink. We always had a constable with a .303 rifle and, most importantly, a line of carriers to carry the big metal patrol boxes, each one suspended on a pole between two carriers. On my first patrol I thought it was unfair to expect the carriers to lump our folding chairs and tables for miles in addition to the food, clothing, primus stove, cooking pots, Coleman kerosene lamp etcetera. I soon amended my point of view and, like my colleagues, enjoyed the little bit of comfort that these items provided after a hard day’s slog. There was also the benefit of the provision of more pay to the villagers to be considered. One of our tasks was to check the adequacy of each village’s pit toilet. I did this at night with a torch once – but only once – and I wondered what was scraping across my face. I turned my torch upwards and found several huge rats squatting on the low-hung roof poles – their long tails hanging down to my eye level. Usually early on the first night at each village the men, women and children would commence to gather outside, but at a respectable distance from, the front of the haus kiap. The councillor or another “big man” would appear at the door and announce that everyone was ready. It was usual to attend to the regular items first – the state of the road maintenance, the activities of their council, progress on the self government and the election program and, perhaps, to present a new PNG flag to replace the Australian one. The new flag was designed by a PNG lass and was mainly red and black with a little white and yellow. Some claimed that this represented the proportional numbers of the skin colours of its citizens. There would be questions asked and grumbles expressed and invariably a request for jokes – in pidgin of course. Even ones that they’d heard once or twice before were popular and they drew the same level of laughter as the first time. A favourite was the story about ‘why do dogs spend so much time sniffing other dogs’ backsides’. Most bushies would have heard that one but somehow the yarn sounds so much funnier in pidgin. The days were often taken up doing a population census and listening to grievances. Most arguments were over women, land or pigs. I recall being involved in assisting two family groups settle a disagreement on the boundary between their contiguous lands that were about to be developed commercially. As there were several acres involved, I was advised to completely survey the land – with just a hand-held compass. During the day I was continually challenged in pidgin by both sides with heated claims that included the word aradei – a word I could not translate. I couldn’t wait to get back to Wakunai and look the word up. When I discovered the meaning, I was bewildered to realise that I seemed to have begrudgingly settled a long-running boundary dispute without knowing the pidgin word for ‘boundary’! Dennis and I were called to Inus Plantation to sort out a disturbance. Many of the plantations used Highlanders, referred to as “Red skins”, rather than the local “Bukas”. It was claimed that a buka overseer kicked a Chimbu worker in the backside. The latter gathered his mates and retaliated. Dennis held court 128


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next day and six Chimbus owned up to the fighting. It was interesting to observe the Chimbus. They appeared relatively calm but without shirts the rapid beating of their hearts was obvious and made me, a new chum, somewhat cautious. All concerned were fined an amount that required them to borrow from their wan toks (men from the same language group remembering that there are 700 dialects in PNG). The national election in early 1972 required the Wakunai didiman (agriculture officer), who was a Dutchman, and myself to visit all the villages over a two-week period. This election was important as it positioned the government that would usher in self government and eventually independence. Michael Somare was to become Chief Minister. There was a regrettable lack of understanding of elections by the voters – particularly preferential voting. Sometimes we were able to get through to Tinputz by 4WD. This was the case one trip when Katsin, the driver and I arrived to do the pays and attend to a police matter. It turned out to be an already-planned stakeout to catch some men playing cards of all things. I was advised to take a weapon so I reluctantly chose a .22 pistol from the safe. We were observing these card playing villains from our hideout when the ground beneath us moved. ‘Guria!’ (pidgin for earth tremour) hissed Katsin. The police instantly lost interest in their prey who were also dispersing in all directions. It was quite late and we’d had a long drive up from Wakunai so we went dog tired back to the quarters. As we weren’t convinced that the guria had finished we stayed dressed. I was on a hard folding stretcher and Katsin bunked in the land cruiser. I wondered why I was so uncomfortable and then I discovered the loaded pistol still in my pocket. I slid it under the stretcher and went to sleep with my left arm hanging down on the concrete floor. Some time later I woke yelling with a terrible pain in my left hand index finger. Not knowing who or what had hold of me, I grabbed the pistol and staggered to my feet. It was something heavy. ‘Masta! Masta!’ Katsin shouted as he arrived with a torch and a machete. It was a large rat. I flipped the safety off and took unsteady aim at its head. ‘No Masta, no!’ he said. I paused, heard a clunk and then the weight was suddenly gone. There was just a rat’s head hanging on my finger. Katsin picked up the rest of the rat by the tail and disappeared into the darkness. By the time I washed and treated the bite the sun was coming up – what a night. I was in Tinputz on my own on the night of 19 August 1971 and I was listening to the radio news when a bulletin came through that Jack Emanuel, a very senior Patrol Officer, had been murdered by several local Tolais in New Britain. I had no ability to contact anybody in Wakunai and just prayed that this was not the night of an insurrection similar to that in the Ion Idriess novel, The Tribe That Lost Its Head. I didn’t sleep well that night. I rarely felt in any danger on patrol or while camped at the haus kiap in the villages. On one patrol covering a few villages a tall, strong, local man called Peter Pak, who had a slight mental problem, followed us from a discreet distance each day. In the mornings I would discover a couple of cheap cans of mackerel 129


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on the top step. They were obviously a gift from Peter – but for what purpose? I had several options and on the first morning, after a lot of consideration, I decided to treat them as a genuine gift and left two of my cans out in exchange for him the following night. This seemed to work. I was neither in debt to him nor insulting him and I hadn’t involved the police but I kept them informed. By week’s end though, I’d run out of my tasty Wattie’s cans of food and had to resort to opening a tin of mackerel. Hmm. Road construction was one of the most important tasks in PNG at that time. The land was very hilly and covered with huge trees. A dozer and operator were often funded by the government and these were able to dig out the roots until the tree fell and sometimes there was enough funding do the basic earth-moving for the road as well. This approach was easier than cutting the tree down first and then trying to dig the stump out. The survey of the proposed road was conducted by the patrol officer with a small tool called an inclinometer. The approximate route was slashed of undergrowth and the “clino” adjusted to 10% and then aimed at a man’s head further along the track. He was then moved up or down the slope until the clino’s split bubble levelled. This was to be the road’s centre line. The proposed new road was then divided into equal sections of a fixed width and a price per lineal metre agreed upon. Payments were made out of the back of a truck in cash on completion. We’d always encouraged Andrew to be independent but he was only six when he disappeared early one morning shortly after our arrival in Wakunai. There was of course an understandable panic. As it turned out he had risen about 5 am and headed off to Numa Numa plantation about two kilometres south. Some locals found him and were bringing him home when we encountered them on the road. He was told to let us know before his next adventure. Andrew had to start his formal education on Bougainville as a correspondence student on the NSW curriculum. He was able to race through his lessons with Estelle before lunch each Monday and was given permission to attend the nearby “T” school with the local kids for the rest of the week and Susan followed him across if and when she felt like it. Both of them had many local friends and Andrew was speaking pidgin in no time at all. At about the same time we were presented with a male puppy. We called him Spike and he stayed with us for four years. We found a nice clear little creek for swimming which was accessible by vehicle. A few weeks later some locals warned us that a crocodile was chasing Spike in the same creek down stream where it flowed into the sea. We revised our swimming arrangements. As usual I too engaged in some correspondence lessons. I took on first year English Literature, which I abandoned because I didn’t enjoy it, and Introduction to Law which I liked but failed the examination. 130


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Later in the year Andrew had his sixth birthday and we took the family and several local kids across in the tinny to a small island. We had no other white kids at the party and I suspect a few comments were made. At the end of the year, Andrew was awarded the first prize for Wakunai Primary’s grade one. Estelle and I had been invited to the end-of-year festivities and were caught completely off guard. In hind sight he probably deserved the prize but I assumed that a local student would receive it, taking into account Andrew’s shortened attendance and his other significant learning assistance from his mother. I hoped that there was no favouritism to a kiap’s son – but all the other kids clapped and cheered. I came to the hurried conclusion that to protest would have demeaned the prize, their decision and the obvious support of the kids. Andrew still has the little book. Susan was too young for school but fortunately had an ability to entertain herself. When school was out and Andrew brought some of the kids home to play, Susan joined in. We still tease “blondie” Sue with photos of her being hugged by a very dark-skinned local boy. Andrew, meanwhile, had a special local friend called Ruth and told his mother. ‘Mummy, I love Ruth,’ he said. Ruth gave Andrew a gift when we departed Wakunai; it was a carved toy canoe which he still has. From May to August 1972 Dennis took leave and I became the acting OIC. As the year rolled along, it became obvious to Sue that she would soon have some one younger in the family to play with. We’d had advice that the Panguna Hospital, situated near the Bougainville Copper mine, was satisfactory but this turned out not to be the case. Estelle went down to Panguna at the appropriate time and was very impressed by the quality and quantity of the food. On the morning of Wednesday 3rd May I was having difficulty raising Radio HQ in Kieta for the daily schedule. I heard a plane fly over as it descended to the airstrip. The strip was open so I ignored it. I was still trying to get through. ‘Kieta – Wakunai. Kieta – Wakunai.’ I was conscious of someone behind me and turned around. It was another senior didiman who had just flown in and he had been met by Katsin our driver. ‘What’s the trouble?’ he asked casually. ‘Can’t get through to Kieta.’ ‘What’s the rush?’ he asked looking at his watch. ‘I need to see how Estelle is.’ ‘Oh, she’s okay...’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘She gave birth to a little girl, Julie, at two this morning,’ he said laughing. ‘Congratulations.’ A couple of days later I got a message from Estelle that there was a complication and would I come down and bring Andrew and Sue with me. We came down as soon as we could and discovered that Estelle was about to have an operation and that the doctor could not provide any anaesthetic. This was very worrying and, to make matters worse, Susan came down with bronchitis. She 131


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could not be put in with the young mothers and babies so she was placed next door in the male ward with just one young man with a broken leg. The operation was quite late that night at the surgery which was in a building a few metres from the wards. There was an open veranda running along outside the wards on the surgery side and, after Estelle was wheeled in, I found myself pacing up and down. Also it was teeming down with rain as only the tropics can. What a night – and there was more to come. The operation seemed to be taking for ever and then I smelt smoke. Silly time to be lighting the incinerator, I thought, and wondered if the smoke was getting into the surgery. It got worse and I’d just started off down the veranda to investigate when the men’s ward door burst open and the man with the broken leg hopped awkwardly out followed by a cloud of smoke. ‘Fire, fire!’ he spluttered as he held the door open for me. Susan was still asleep and a towel, draped over her reading lamp to dim it, was smouldering and dropping burning bits of material onto the mattress that was now also alight. I picked Susan up and carried her outside then returned and dragged the burning bedding though the door, that was still being held open, and threw them out in the rain. The panic eased and soon after we were able to get Sue and the alarm-raising hero re organised. Estelle recovered from a most unpleasant operation and the enlarged family made its way back to Wakunai. Although the job often ignored both the clock and the calendar, there was a measure of recreation available. This was not usually with the locals because of Estelle’s difficulty with pidgin and lack of common interests. There was also a tendency for local hosts to spend all their hard earned cash on trade store food for their visitors. I often wonder in hindsight whether I would have tried harder in this respect if we were on a more remote patrol post without any Europeans nearby. We did attend sing sings, other festivities and school fetes as a family, and the locals (particularly the women) always made a fuss of the children. At one fete at Wakunai, Estelle entered the bread-making competition and won first prize with an elaborate looking loaf. The judges didn’t cut and taste the entries and when we brought the champion loaf home and cut it next morning we found that it was still uncooked on the inside. Damn that oven! The plantation people were very social and a measure of this was their beer purchasing method, as it had to come in by air from Rabaul. ‘Do you want to add a couple of dozen to my order?’ offered one fellow shortly after our arrival. ‘Yeah, I reckon I could handle a couple of cartons,’ I said. ‘Couple of cartons be buggered!’ he snorted. ‘I’m talking about a couple of dozen cartons.’ Obviously he didn’t want someone in the social set who might run out of grog. There was a useable bitumen tennis court on the station, but it mainly came to life now and then when a Bougainville Copper rep visited the station with a 132


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film, a screen and a projector. The plantation people did a fair bit of fishing but I preferred skin and scuba diving. In early 1972 a few of us took a hike with a local guide to the top of Mount Balbi. It was hot and we choked on sulphur fumes. We weren’t inclined to hang around and took off down the mountain. I must have been bitten by the sailing bug the previous year but there were no sailing vessels available. I asked about as to who was the best native canoe maker and I was taken to an elderly fellow called Talaha. I explained that I wanted him to carve two identical canoe hulls for me to make a catamaran – a craft that he had never seen and that I had never sailed. I left Talaha to his axe and rain forest and went off in search of joining planks from the Asitavi mill and the straightest long length of bamboo I could find for a mast. My postal order to a Sydney sail maker for a main sail with a one inch bolt rope up the luff came back by return mail. ‘You’ve got to be joking!’ they said. When I explained what my mast materials were made of, they simply made and sent the sail – plus the bill. I received a message from Talaha that my hulls were ready and I couldn’t wait to see them. I hurried along to his village and there were the two canoes on the beach beside a mountain of wood chips. But there was a major problem - one was obviously thinner than the other. ‘Yu bin wokim tupela kanu na tupela i kam long wanpela diwai tasol (You’ve made two canoes out of one tree). Talaha hung his head. ‘Bai mi wokim wanpela gen, masta (I will make one again, boss). The construction continued in spare time over the following weeks. Then I wondered how I would get it to the lagoon. I need not have worried as a large group of locals turned up to be a part of the first such launching at Wakunai. What’s more, the numbers swelled at the lagoon end of the airstrip, including women and children, to witness my first voyage. I had submerged an old tractor engine in the middle of the lagoon with a mooring line attached to it and the other end to a plastic bottle to act as a buoy. I called Spike on board and set sail, taking off at a reasonable speed to the other end of the lagoon and back. It was getting dark so I headed for my mooring buoy. As the catamaran approached it, I eased the sail and grabbed the buoy. The line came taught, I stopped and fell into the drink and the cat sailed off towards the ocean horizon with just Spike on board. The locals on the beach must have thought that such an event had to have been orchestrated because they just laughed, cheered and clapped. I tried to laugh too as I requested some volunteers to get a traditional out-rigger canoe to fetch my cat and dog. It was later in our time at Wakunai that some of the locals took me turtle hunting, a traditional food source, and presented us with some turtle eggs, meat and the shell. The eggs are unusual in as much as the whites don’t go white but stay clear as the yolks cook. We tested a small portion of the meat and found it to be very tender and surprisingly tasty – like veal. So Estelle cooked and served it up, without description, for some dinner guests who loved it assuming that it was, 133


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in fact, veal. We then made the mistake of telling them what it actually was when they were half way through. The lady made turtle fin movements and ate no more while the gentleman battled on reluctantly. Oh dear. The locals also took us night diving. This used to be achieved with a small fire on the bow of the outrigger canoes which shed some light into the water under the canoe, but it is now done with pressure lamps. The fish are much more docile at night and easier to spear and the crayfish come out into the open – a relatively easy pick-up. I had been a little reluctant to throw my body into the murky depths below but, when I saw the size of the fish being speared, I couldn’t resist it. By the end of 1972 we were approaching the end of our first 21 month term. It was time to consider our next term. Should we consider a transfer? If so – to where? Some said that we were mad to even consider leaving an idyllic place like Bougainville Island – maybe they were right – but I felt that I might only get one chance to work in the Highlands, the big river districts or both. Once again my knock-about nature got the better of my consideration of the views of others. I asked for the Highlands and started packing. I was surprised one day shortly afterwards to get a visit from a fellow from the Asitavi timber mill. Could I use any rosewood planks? I couldn’t think of any use but said yes anyway and into our packing crates they went. I needed to take more stuff back to Australia than I could accommodate on a plane so I started loading a box, to be sent off ahead, that comprised a collection of artefacts and all my army clobber that I would need for the CMF camp that I had agreed to attend in Tasmania. I dispatched it on the Isis to take it as far as Kieta but the trusty old vessel hit a reef and sank. The Assistant District Commissioner who was examining the wreck found the box floating in the sea, took it to Kieta, dried the contents and sent it on its merry way. We left Wakunai, not without a tear, in March, 1973 and travelled via the Solomon Islands, New Hebridies and Fiji, where we caught up with good friends Joe and Judy Hodkinson, then onto Australia. Estelle and the kids went to her mother’s and I went to Melbourne to stay with my folks and got a job finishing furniture at Ramlers in Cheltenham. This was interrupted when I travelled to the CMF camp at Buckland, Tasmania. Was I temporarily home again I wondered.

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Julie comes home

Island Life

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Julie gets spoiled

You’ve Gotta Knock About Son

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Island Life

Wakunai school kids, Bougainville

Upeis dress for initiation

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‘Spike’ was usually just behind...

... But sometimes he was up front

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Life Amongst the Clouds

3

Life Amongst the Clouds

One of the more convincing aspects of taking the job in PNG, from a family perspective, was the three months leave after twenty one months’ service. This meant that Estelle was assured of a regular visit to her folks in Brisbane with the children. As far as I was concerned it allowed me to see my parents in Melbourne and to attend a CMF camp each second year. While on leave following our first term in PNG I happened to be bull-dozing a new road and cutting a deep culvert one morning in the Buckland Army Camp in southern Tasmania when a khaki car pulled up just ahead of a cloud of dust. And who should alight but Lieutenant-Colonel Oxley. After I’d graduated from officers’ training course three years earlier, he had sent me packing back to the Engineers ‘What do you do in your civvie life, Lieutenant?’ he asked. ‘Build roads, Sir!’ I responded with a poorly restrained grin. The Colonel paused looking at me closely and I knew I’d stuffed up again. ‘Hmm. Carry on, Lieutenant!’ he said as he nodded and departed. I leaned across to the pilot sitting beside me in the Twin Otter and pointedownwards. ‘Mendi looks bigger than I expected,’ I shouted in his ear. ‘That’s because it’s not Mendi,’ he shouted back. ‘It was “clagged in” by cloud and we’ve had to return to Mount Hagen. I’m sorry. Try tomorrow.’ On the next day we had another try, this time in a smaller plane, a Beechcraft Baron. Once again Mendi was “clagged in” and back to Hagen we went. Our third attempt was in a Cessna, which was smaller still, but this time we did make it through the clouds and landed in Mendi, the administrative headquarters of the Southern Highlands District. It was June, 1973, when we arrived. We were half way through the year in which Gough Whitlam had promised self government to the PNG government as a prelude to independence. I looked around deep in thought. I wondered how the reasonably flat airstrip had been achieved in such mountainous terrain and what the roads and bridges were like. My guess was that I was in for a busy time. Estelle, on the other hand, was alarmed at the appearance along the fence of a dozen powerful-looking tribesmen in full traditional attire. This included a very wide bark belt, a hand-woven net lap lap for modesty at the front and a hand full of crotan leaves (commonly referred to as “arse grass”) covering the rear. They wore various head adornments and bare feet. Their only concession to civilisation was the steel axes, with tapered handles for quick-drawing, that each had tucked conveniently in their bark belts. She said later that she wanted to go over to them and enquire whether any of them resented our coming to their district. I’m not sure what she would have done if they’d answered in the affirmative. Mendi was a small town. It had a hotel, a few shops, two clubs, a golf course, tennis court, a school, a hospital and a newly-acquired radio station, Nek 139


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bilong Muruk or Voice of the Cassowary. There was a resident unit of Army Engineers and their families in town and one of the clubs, the Clive Steele Club, was their own. A local man, Imo, in a Land Cruiser utility introduced himself to us in pidgin. He was the driver for the Mendi Local Government Council and had been sent to take us to the Mendi Sub District Office. Here we met my new boss, the Assistant District Commissioner (ADC), Ken Bond. I took to Ken straight away, he was a no nonsense bloke with a dry sense of humour. Being the location of the District Office as well as the Sub District Office, there were quite a few ex patriots, mainly Australians, in the town. They were involved with all the various administration departments, the Army, the missions and a few private businesses. We also met the District Commissioner (DC), Des Clancy, who was the first white man to walk into the Mendi valley some time in the fifties. Ken Bond drove us up the hill on the eastern side of the town, where most of the newer houses had been built, and introduced us to our home for the next 21 months. It was a fairly new place, high set and clean. There was a fence but no gate – a good sign! The adjacent neighbours were a mixed bunch – a teacher, a nurse, and a couple of army families. One of the latter was Corporal Trevor Russell and his wife Margaret who became good friends and remain so. Most of the indigenous people living in town were from other more advanced districts and worked for the administration. The locals who visited Mendi lived in villages near and far and the main visits were on market days. It was a good market, which we frequented often, but the toilets were filthy. It was one of the first things to go on my “to do” list. An even worse job one day at the markets was to take a dead body, following a traffic accident, back to the village of Sumik. As far as my usual duties were concerned, I had now dropped the “Assistant” label and was a fully-fledged Patrol Officer. But, unlike Wakunai on Bougainville, Mendi had all sorts of specialist officers on hand, so I didn’t have to be a “Jack of all trades”. In fact the role of Council Adviser cast me into a specialist role myself. Well nearly but not quite. Ken called me out on law and order issues from time to time. Julie had not long celebrated her first birthday when we arrived in Mendi and Estelle was able, with her short hand and typing skills, to get a job in the DC’s office – his secretary in fact. This meant that we had to employ a local lady to look after Julie and help with other home duties and that’s how Rose, a local mother, joined the family. Rose was just a child herself when Des Clancy strode into the Mendi valley. The locals ran away and hid as they thought that he was a spirit returning from the dead. Even twenty years later, when I arrived at some out-ofthe-way villages, the children would rub my leg or arm to see if the white colouring would come off. 140


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The role of Council Adviser was as wide as it was frustrating. The temptation to take over as the de facto CEO and get a lot of things done at a reasonable cost was almost irresistible. But my real role was to induce the wider community to elect councillors (and parliamentarians) who in turn would run the Council’s affairs efficiently and honestly. In reflection, I believe I fell halfway between the two. These village people were not ready for independence and, to make matters worse, didn’t want it yet. My main daily tasks were to supervise the population census gathering visits and the tax collections in the many villages, to oversee the Council’s financial statements, pay close attention to Council Staff Meetings and Capital Works Programs and to observe Council Meetings. The key people in the Council were the President, Enenal Tial, the Deputy, Tubiri Wagep and the Clerk, Isaac Kamong Telui. The first two were locals and “Big Men” in their villages, so they had influence. Isaac was the most educated but came from the Madang District on the north coast which meant that he had little real authority. However he was married to a local Mendi woman which, in this matrilineal society, rendered him accepted in her village. As mentioned above, the collection of tax was one of the most important activities of Council staff. Mendi’s tax-collecting officer was a quiet man and I was pleasantly surprised that, unlike other staff members, he rarely asked me for advice or assistance. The tax for the previous year, 1972/73, had been set at $6 for men and $1 for females and payment was recorded in booklets. Each original page was a tear-out for the tax-payer and each duplicate carbon copy remained in the booklet. The cash at the end of the day had to tally with the sum of that day’s carbon copies. The tax rate had not been altered for the current year. In June 1974 I received a phone call from an auditing officer of the Regional Local Government Office in Mt Hagen – an expatriate. ‘There appears to be an inexplicable shortfall in total tax collections in Mendi for 1972/73,’ he said. ‘I wasn’t here then,’ I responded. ‘Maybe fewer of them paid up?’ ‘No, the overall number of tax payers is about the same,’ he said, ‘but assuming there was the normal 50/50 ratio of males and females, the total tax collections are considerably short.’ ‘But surely the cash balanced with the books didn’t it?’ I asked. ‘Yes’ he paused, ‘but the books, I think, are the problem.’ ‘Oh?’ ‘Quite a few carbon copies show a faint imprint in the amount column of “six” and a carbon-copied “one” over the top,’ he explained. ‘I suspect the originals belonged to men who paid six dollars, not women, and have all got six dollars written on them.’ Over the following few days I went around several nearby villages and collected about 500 original tax payment receipts from men. About 10% had a “one” altered to a “six”. This evidence led to charges being laid which, in turn, 141


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resulted in a gaol sentence. Some of the local observers of this whole episode did not appear to me to be either surprised or angry. This made me wonder about the future tolerance of financial mismanagement in the Territory. But I was halfway through my term in Mendi and had more pressing things to attend to – in the shape of roads and bridges. Roads and bridges had more than their obvious utilitarian value. Kiaps had introduced an understanding twenty years earlier that roads connecting villages were to be treated as government roads and that everyone could travel on them at any time without interference. The government, through kiaps or councils, supplied Rural Development Funds (RDF) to pay for labourers, earth-moving equipment or a mixture of both, and for compensation for gardens and plantations destroyed in the process. So road-building was also, in many cases, a village’s main source of income. It was the setting of dollar amounts for work or compensation that was one of the main challenges of my job. One could be generous in one village and find that the expectations in all the others went up accordingly. I treated the bags of money that I was entrusted with as Australian tax payers’ contributions and had many long debates on the rates to be paid. These debates were sometimes a little theatrical and even though I occasionally left the village without a deal being struck, I reflected that my main job was to get damned roads built. Although they preferred the flat rate system which, at that time was 40c per day each, I quickly learned that an attractive-sounding contract, such as $20 per 100M of road, gave me and work supervisors much more quality control. Work supervisors were hard to find and keep. If they were from the village they sided with their comrades but if they were from another district nobody took much notice of them. I had to forcibly reinstate one supervisor who was challenged to a fight, but found an excuse to transfer him elsewhere soon after. Isaac, the Council Clerk, was not comfortable conducting these debates. In retrospect, perhaps I took this aspect of my job a bit too seriously. The Mendi-Kandep road was my greatest construction challenge. It was the only link over the central mountain range between Mendi in the Southern Highlands of Papua and Kandep in the Enga District of New Guinea to the north. The existing track’s gradient was too steep and slippery even for four wheel drives and a surface of crushed rock had been started prior to my arrival. The other end of the road was snaking its way up from the Kandep side so as to meet with us in a saddle between two rugged hills which marked the border. The Kandep kiap, Mr Robson, and I eventually met at the top. ‘Ah, Laming I presume,’ he said, extending his hand. ‘Ah, Robson,’ I responded as we shook hands. ‘I think your crew just beat us to the top.’ Robson looked past me, down to where the last rocks were being crushed and laid. ‘Maybe so, but your road’s straighter.’ There were a number of road works going on at once in the sub district and 142


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it was on one of these projects that I was fortunate in having the assistance of the Royal Australian Engineers (RAE) unit based in Mendi. I asked Imo to take me on an inspection of the Pumi-Pinj road in the Lai Valley. The track, for that’s all it was, literally crawled around the side of the huge valley. At one spot in particular the track comprised of an immoveable slab of smooth rock which sloped towards the outside edge. Imo drove onto it, the Land Cruiser tilted towards the edge and I looked at him - he was sweating profusely with fear. I looked down outside my window and could not see any road at all – just the Lai River hundreds of feet below! It was no time at all before I was able to organise Sergeant Stinson onto the site with a drill and gelignite. Then the main job was to keep the locals back from the site and we had to temporarily close the road. Because of the tropical climate, and the shade from the surrounding forests the hand-built timber bridges rotted away in a few short years. The cost of replacing the hundreds of timber bridges in the Territory with ones constructed from concrete or steel was out of the question. However, I was fortunate enough to learn that some second-hand Bailey bridging was available in Lae on the north coast. During the war, thirty years earlier, the Americans had built a large bridge across the Markham River near Lae using Bailey’s demountable steel section invention which replicated a huge meccano set. It was a one lane bridge though and not up to the now busy coastal town’s needs. A new permanent bridge had recently been constructed and the old bridge dismantled and its sections offered for sale at a very reasonable price. The next task was to identify the best site or sites for a steel bridge and convince the councillors to put in a bid. This was not as difficult as I feared. Nobody asked if we had enough funds – the thought of securing a bris ain (iron bridge) was enough and the clerk was requested to purchase not one but two sixty foot sections of bridging. They were to be constructed on the area’s busiest road where it crosses the Wapult and Wap rivers. Although it was fortunate that I had built temporary Baileys in the CMF Engineers I was, once again, fortunate to have the Engineer unit close by. They recommended permanent, rather than the temporary foundations and had the plans for the necessary reinforced concrete foundations. When it came to scraping the gravel out of the river bed by hand for the foundation concrete, guess what, the women did all the work! In order to transfer the magisterial role of kiaps, a system of Village Courts was introduced for minor crimes. This required a lot of travel around the villages to explain the concept and get feedback from the villagers. It proved popular and at Pingirip, for instance, approximately 500 attended one of the meetings. The questions were usually quite pointed, such as: who gets to be a magistrate? How much is the pay? And what is the area of jurisdiction? Village courts were accepted by the government in December 1974. 143


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One of the benefits of the attention that patrol officers gave to road works was the easier access they provided to the villages – not for just the kiaps, but for the officers of all the government departments and to the villagers themselves. Unfortunately this situation resulted in patrol officers being called “petrol officers” by some of their ungrateful colleagues. One could simply respond, ‘well, mission accomplished then’ – but it hadn’t been – and independence was just round the corner. You see, there was a deeper concern. Other villagers, usually in sparsely populated areas, without reasonable access risked falling behind the level of development of those in the more accessible villages. Airstrips were often provided but they weren’t the complete answer – especially for the villagers themselves. To be perfectly honest, many patrol officers, including myself, were also missing the challenge of patrols on foot. As it turned out, I was talking to ADC Ken Bond one day in August 1973 and he told me that he was preparing a patrol to show a couple of Swiss VIPs “the real Papua New Guinea”. He intended to take them, on foot, from Oksapmin Patrol Post in the West Sepic District eastward to Kopiago in the far north west of the Southern Highlands District. It would require a crossing of the Strickland Gorge and take five days. I asked him if I could go too and he must have done some sweet-talking to convince the DC that we could both be absent from the Sub District at the same time because I got the nod. We all had to fly to Oksapmin in two Cessnas – Ken, the two Swiss men, Terry Chapman a senior officer of the Education Department, an interpreter, a policeman and me. We would use local carriers. The Oksapmin strip was covered in small stones which flew up hard against the fuselage as soon as we touched down. I was crammed in down the back and it sounded like someone had opened up on us with a bren gun! We set out eastward across undulating country covered with waist-high Kunai grass. It was a journey of about 30 kilometres as the crow flies but a lot longer taking into account the zig zags and the ops and downs. The hills got steeper and one of the Swiss men asked if it was going to get more difficult. When advised in the affirmative he wisely decided to return to Oksapmin with a guide. This was tough country with poor, stony soil and a sparse population, but I was still amazed at the primitive life style of the villagers. I happened to be near the lead of the long line of men climbing a steep path to the first village when I nearly walked into a villager standing rigidly to attention and saluting me. I propped and blinked, a little shocked at his sudden appearance. He was wearing what looked like an old railway station master’s hat adorned with what I fortunately recognised as a luluai’s badge – a village leader, as probably appointed by an earlier kiap years earlier. I stood up straight and returned his salute as I looked down at his traditional attire. He had a dead rhinoceros beetle hanging from a hole in his nose. The penis gourd was the first I’d ever seen being worn but it was the other parts swinging slightly in the breeze that rendered me speechless – which didn’t matter as he, no doubt, didn’t speak pidgin let alone English. But he 144


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was a proud and courteous man and welcomed us to his village. The carriers, under the direction of the interpreter and the police corporal, set up our tent camp in some reasonably flat, open ground not too far from the village. Ken bought sweet potatoes to feed the patrol members - other than the four Europeans - from the locals using salt to barter which was in much demand in the high country. As we were entering a different language area, Ken paid off the Oksapmin carriers, who would return home next morning and enlisted a new line from the village. The village women were very shy and held their curiosity back behind the nearby scrub. Their apparel amounted to nothing more than short grass skirts. We sat down after a long, hard day and shared our opinions of the day and our various cans of patrol food. Ken said he would keep his to save unpacking everything until our’s ran out. Our Swiss friend, Terry and I had no objection, besides a surprise in the food department is a good thing on a patrol – we thought. The next day was heavy going as it was necessary to continue eastwards, crossing a couple of high north-south limestone ridges. First the west-facing uphill sides were steep, smooth rock with hardly a toe hole, and then the east-facing downhill sides were steep and jagged with just a faint outline of a track. The tops of these ridges were so sharp that it was not possible for all the patrol members to sit down for a spell at the same time. Worse still, the edges of limestone were so sharp on the downhill sections that many of the carriers had badly cut bare feet by the end of the day. I derived no joy having the route marked out by bloody footprints. The camping spot was very different to the previous night. It was in a gully amongst scrubby trees. The next day we continued, mainly downwards, to the Strickland Gorge which was about 50feet across and about 20 feet down to rushing water and with steep rocky sides. We were not surprised to find that any native bridge that might have existed on this the narrowest section had long been cut down or had washed away. Our carriers were non committal on this, as those living on the other side were a different group again. Our interpreter instructed a couple of the carriers to call out loudly to anybody on the other side who might be close enough to hear. ‘Tokim ol meriman. Kiap i kamap ia!’ (Tell the people the kiap is here.) ‘That should fetch somebody,’ said Ken with a grin. Sure enough a few figures appeared cautiously on the other side. The discussion across the gorge continued for about five minutes, each group seemed to be seeking the ascendency. They reached agreement and one of our carriers tied a light line to an arrow and shot it across the gap. This line was used to drag three lengths of vine across which were strongly attached on both sides of the abyss. These were set up in triangular fashion with one at the bottom to walk on and one on each side to hold onto at waist level. These three were held in their relative positions by adding lighter zig zag vines between them, which was the job of one of our more intrepid carriers. The four Europeans were the only ones who could swim, and even then the swirling current would almost certainly prove too much. So it’s not hard to 145


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understand the fear in the faces of the carriers. There was no way that they would even attempt carrying patrol boxes on a pole between two men at a time. And so we started the slow task of transporting our equipment across the gorge, bundle at a time. Some of the carriers were braver than others, and the more timid would only cross with no baggage and with someone else preceding them walking backwards looking into their eyes. It was a full day’s work and we camped nearby on the third night. It was time to eat again and we had to start on Ken’s food. Out came several cans of curried mutton. We frowned. ‘I hope you like it,’ Ken said with a grin. ‘That’s all we’ve got left for tomorrow night too.’ The remainder of the trip was uneventful and we were picked up, as planned, from Kopiago. The post script came courtesy of Ken a couple of days later. ‘I took the Swiss blokes up the road in the ute yesty to see a bit of a singsing,’ he said. ‘They said that’s all they wanted to see. We didn’t need to take them on that patrol!’ But I’m still glad I went. As mentioned earlier, Ken occasionally called on me to give him a hand with a law and order matter. I recall an issue arising where there had been a fight between two villages and one man had died. We dashed off in Ken’s utility to the village of the accused to detain for questioning all the men involved before a pay-back was mounted from the aggrieved village. There was Ken and me, an interpreter and a policeman with a rifle. After a strong lecture, Ken demanded that all the men involved step across a line he’d scratched in the bare dirt. They were told that they would be further questioned in Mendi. About twenty stepped across. Ken asked that the utility’s tow rope be passed through each man’s bark belt. It was only long enough for ten, so the tow rope operation was repeated for the ten younger men and the ten older men were told to hold hands as they walked all the way into Mendi for further questioning. They did so. Ken was a very practical and resourceful patrol officer and much-respected ADC. As if all the different responsibilities weren’t enough to keep me busy, the Mendi Council ran a weaving unit. Its looms were staffed by three middle-aged women. With my interest in wool, how could I resist getting involved? Its main products were floor rugs, blankets and ponchos. A Mrs Granger came across from Goroka to assist in the training process. I tried to encourage the younger women to take up the skill but they complained that it was not well enough paid. The response to the introduction of silk worms was even less enthusiastic. Unlike Wakunai, there was a reasonable amount of recreation activities available in Mendi. There were two clubs, the Mendi Valley Club and the Army’s Clive Steele Club which ran movies each week. Estelle and I were at the Clive Steele Club one 146


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evening and Rose, our house helper, turned up at the door clutching little Julie. ‘Masta! Masta! Haus i savi paiya ap no gut tru!’ (Sir! The house is well on fire!) I beat all records running the short distance up the stony road to the house, only to find that most of my stubbies of home brew were exploding due to the altitude. There was no fire, but buckets of froth were cascading down the back steps. No wonder Rose panicked! Obviously I had to volunteer to clean up the mess, which gave me time to ponder on why they had printed on all the stubby bottles: “not to be refilled”. There was golf and tennis, both of which I had a go at, and a wider expatriate population involved in the Administration, the Army Engineers and various private enterprise activities. I also took on responsibility for a small weekly lesson at Andrew and Susan’s primary school, teaching the kids photography and black and white developing and printing – as if I had flaming time on my hands! We had a visit from my Mum and Dad in 1974 – Dad’s only trip outside Australia. We knew when we decided to apply for the job in PNG that we would become an active part of a changing landscape, but how and when these changes would occur and how we would be affected and respond was not at all clear. We got off to a worrying start in Mendi when in December 1973, at the time self government was to be declared, the doctor at Mendi Hospital advised Estelle that she was pregnant. She kept insisting that she didn’t think she was, but eventually an entopic pregnancy was diagnosed. The doctor at the hospital said that this was no problem. One day the tube would burst, an emergency operation would be necessary and all would be well. Estelle was not at all comfortable with this diagnosis and requested a transfer to the hospital at Goroka for a second opinion. This request was met with hostility at Mendi Hospital but Estelle’s opinion prevailed. Upon arrival at Goroka immediate surgery was organised. No entomic pregnancy was found, simply a cyst on an ovary. Although an air of uncertainty prevailed, there was no public disturbance associated with the introduction of self government. Never the less I flew to Goroka to be there when she came out of surgery. This was another sobering experience for both of us, similar to the problems Estelle encountered when Julie was born on Bougainville. It needs to be understood that a majority of the Southern Highlanders were not in favour of an early independence. Naturally, there were locals – particularly in the developed areas around the coast and on the islands – who did want independence as soon as possible. The timetable was being pushed by the new Australian Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, and many of the United Nations delegates who saw our presence as simply colonialism In 1973 a UN delegation, together with the Australian Minister for External Territories, Mr Morrison, travelled around PNG and, among other destinations, came to Mendi on 2 August to talk to the councillors. I was asked to translate the Council President, Enenal Tial’s formal written submission from pidgin to English 147


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and to interpret the locals’ verbal statements to English to be further interpreted into other languages where necessary. I was impressed with Enenal’s argument and passion. He reminded delegates that the Southern Highlands had only sighted civilisation twenty years earlier and had only utilised government for seven years. He explained how, decades ago the New Guinea (northern) portion of the country had been much further developed commercially under German rule than Papua, including the Southern Highlands, had been under the Australians. He repeatedly asked for several more years of assistance before self government. The opinion of the majority of the councillors would have been quite clear but I’m sure that the delegation’s mind was already made up. During a break I noticed that a couple of our councillors and council staff were missing. This perplexed me as being odd if not suspicious. I left the chamber and walked into the general office where I heard some scuffling of feet coming from an adjoining office. I entered that room and was greeted with an array of guilty expressions. I spoke in pidgin. ‘What are you doing?’ ‘We don’t want independence!’ ‘So?’ ‘We’re going to jump up on the table in the chamber there and rip up this new PNG flag!’ I looked down and saw the flag’s selvedge cut in several places thus ensuring the ripping process. I paused – trying not to smile – then gave them a little lecture about the shame that such an act would have on all the people helping them and that their children would be sad because one day they would love that flag. Then I asked them to give me the flag, which was sheepishly handed over and I’ve kept it ever since. My term in Mendi was drawing to a close and in October 1974 I was promoted to Assistant District Officer. It had been difficult trying to bring so many strong-willed people to responsible self-reliance, but I handed over formally in December 1974. I’d nurtured a desire to apply for a big river posting for my final term and although the first offer was the Western Highlands (rejected) and the next was a West New Britain posting (which had no Australian schooling), I was eventually offered an East Sepik posting on the mighty Sepik River. A move back to the Coast somewhere became more important because Susan did not suffer with asthma on Bougainville, but the symptoms came back in the Highlands. In January, when it became known that we would not be coming back to Mendi after leave, a large group of locals put on a big party for the family at the Mendi Hotel. Oh how I wish that video cameras were available then which would have allowed us to tape record the speeches and so many grown men crying and with noses running. We were offered a gift of good farming land to stay in the sub district and I started to feel bad about the hard time I had given many of the attendees over our differences of opinion on projects. The final item was a gift. It was a lovely cotton rug from the weavers who I had worked with so closely. The 148


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price was written in big numbers on the outside and referred to loudly in the speech as is the custom. Our planned departure was blocked by cloud just as our arrival was, but fortunately Andrew and Susan had flown out to their grand parents’ home in Brisbane earlier to start school pending our important decision on which, if any, posting we would return to. Eventually we could not wait any longer for fear of missing our connection to Port Moresby and on to Cairns, so we commandeered a Land Cruiser and slipped away by road to Mt Hagen without further fanfare. We paid cash for a second-hand Mazda RX2 Rotary in Cairns and commenced our search for a possible location to eventually live somewhere between Cairns and Brisbane. The hours of driving gave us time to reflect on our four years in Papua New Guinea. Was it the best job I’d ever had? Well, it was secure, well paid, adventurous and satisfying – if somewhat frustrating at times. Yes it was the best job I’d ever had – or likely to have – so why was I not sanguine as we headed off on holidays? Perhaps I took those differences of opinion with the locals a bit too seriously sometimes. Maybe I felt that I hadn’t been able to really bring Mendi Council to what I considered to be a satisfactory level of competence in the time available. Was that my fault? ‘I wonder how they’ll be managing in forty years,’ I said. ‘Hmm,’ murmured Estelle. Her mind was elsewhere. I smiled and my mind drifted back to my query. Little would I have believed that our role would be assessed in a PNG newspaper about forty years later. It appears below. Days when patrol officers rule Source:  The National, Friday, May 20, 2011 THERE was a time not too long ago when the medical officers would patrol into the remotest parts of PNG. Patrol officers, so-called because that is what they did for most of their term in office, would travel with a small detachment of police officers into rural villages to update records of births and deaths in the village register and conduct court hearings on disputes. They did this for no special allowances except the pay they were on. They survived on the provisions they carried with them and on the kindness of villagers who appreciated their presence. Such efforts paid off immensely. Most of the adults living today have been fully immunised from the debilitating effects of polio, meningitis, tetanus and other illnesses. The government had accurate records of the number of people living in every village. The crude system of justice, administered by the patrol officers, proved most effective and law and order problems were kept to a minimum. Indeed, Papua New Guinea was a far more peaceful place to live in throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s than it is today.

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until we had nearly reached Brisbane. The next stop was the Sunshine Coast. We parked and took in the view of Point Cartwright and a very young Kawana from Alexandra Headland. ‘Now this is not a bad spot to consider,’ I said, looking from the beach to the ocean and back again. Estelle laughed. ‘What’s so funny?’ I said. ‘I started school here,’ she responded with a grin.

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Eating Kau Kau (Sweet Potato)

Bridge Abutments

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On Patrol West Sepik

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4

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It was early 1975 when Estelle, young Julie and I arrived at Estelle’s family home in the Brisbane suburb of Annerley. Naturally, everyone was glad to be reunited and, as Andrew and Susan were enrolled at Yeronga State Primary School, we only had ourselves to plan for. At my interview with Fred Kaad in Hobart four years earlier he asked me what I would do when my contract in Papua New Guinea expired. I shrugged. Me, look that far ahead? Not likely! “My father-in-law in Brisbane runs a house-painting business,’ I had blurted. ‘I’ll probably work for him.’ Fred just nodded, he had done his job. When we eventually decided to “go finis” from PNG – mainly for family health and education reasons – I wasn’t offered a job painting. Nor did I ask. I also rang the relevant sub district office in the East Sepik District in PNG and advised them personally of my resignation. So the cords that reached back to PNG were finally severed, even though at the time I often found myself actually thinking in pidgin. Meanwhile, Estelle found part-time work as a court reporter and, as had been the case in Hobart, was making more money than I was. I had firmed my desire to live on the Sunshine Coast and Estelle, although she preferred Brisbane, went along with the idea. I thought that managing a motel on the Coast would suit us and started an appropriate course and got part time jobs in the hospitality industry. The first one of these was in the bar at Chardon’s Corner Hotel, just up the road, but then I upgraded to a steak house at Aspley. The procedure at the latter was for all the part-time staff to gather outside the back door at a predetermined time and they would be admitted one by one to clock on as it got busier. I resented this approach. On my second night, after some thought, I entered via the front door at the time I had been asked to be at the back, walked through the building, clocked myself on and reported for work. I wasn’t challenged – in fact I was put in charge of the little bar at the front. On one of our trips to the Sunshine Coast, I visited some motels in case there was a vacancy coming up. It was then that I learnt that a family with three children was unlikely to get a manager’s position. So I dropped the rest of the course and started some serious job-hunting on the Sunshine Coast – “Beautiful One Day, Perfect the Next” as they say. At about the same time we had been looking at houses for sale but came to the conclusion that the only way to get what we wanted where we wanted it was to secure the right block, plan a house to suit the block and have it built. When we showed an interest in a canal block at Mooloolaba one Sunday our agent, Ian Ash, said, ‘I can show you a better one over in Kawana. It’s just come on the market and won’t last long.’ He took us to 38 Adaluma Avenue and, as we were in two cars, left us there 155


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to ponder. We looked at it, sat down on it and enjoyed the view. We were sold – despite the price tag of $15000. Fortunately, this was the same amount that Bellerive Council in Hobart had offered us for our block at Goat Bluff. ‘Ring Ian at home and tell him we’ll take it!’ Estelle said. We found a public phone and did just that. Next morning, when we arrived at the office, we learned that a number of very interested people had already come in or phoned the office regarding “our” block. How close was that? Ian was as good as his word and we purchased the Adaluma Avenue land. Meanwhile, I’d had this impulse to make my own solar hot water system for some time so, while I had the use of a workshop at Estelle’s parents’ house, I started gathering the materials including a 1948 vintage hot water tank. Now Estelle overheard her dad telling a mate. ‘He sure isn’t much of a solderer!’ ‘What do you mean?’ she said, reprimanding him. ‘If he needs help, you should offer to help him!’ I did get a bit of guidance after that rebuke, like making sure the metal to be soldered is hot, and I did solder a bit better, but I’m sure that most of the unit’s weight was solder. I swivelled the house round on the plan to ensure that the front roof gable faced the north for maximum sun absorption. The unit lasted for over twenty years but the salt air rusted the absorber boxes so I sold them for scrap getting as much then as I’d paid for the parts for the whole unit originally. Result: twenty years of hot water for nothing and a nice contribution to a new Solarhart. We had a picture of what we wanted in our future house from various magazines while in PNG. Our favourite was a split level Mediterranean living room with a Persian rug – so we bought a Persian rug as a start. So now we had what sat on the top of the house and what lay at the bottom. The challenge was what to put the middle in. Eventually we went for a cottage-sized two storey with arches and a borrowing limit that ensured that it would never grace the pages of snobby magazines. We love our little house nearly forty years later – and the rug. Although the managers and owners of the various businesses I canvassed were courteous and encouraging, no job offers were made. Finally, I got a job as an office manager at Golden Bread Bakery in Maroochydore. It was then that I got a surprise. In nearly twenty years of employment I had never worked anywhere near females. I had a lot to learn, eh! We shifted to the Sunshine Coast and rented an old house in Upper Gay Terrace, Caloundra. We didn’t realise at first but we were actually just across the road from Sir Frank Nicklin, a former Queensland premier. Our builder, John Blanck, commenced work on our house in late 1975 but unfortunately let one of his young foremen take over and we had a number of building issues arise that required me to call by the block every morning on the way to work. On the sixteenth of September 1975 PNG became independent without my noticing. The next chapter in our lives had begun. I couldn’t settle in at Golden Bread and, in early 1976, decided that my time 156


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would be better spent doing a lot of house jobs that weren’t included in the contract such as laying wall and floor tiles. I was on the roof one day connecting up the solar hot water system when Norm Mc Fadden from across the road appeared and offered me a job on his prawn trawler. This sounded like a new challenge so I took it on. I liked the job but found that the combination of the smell of diesel exhaust and the rolling motion of the boat brought on extreme sea sickness. One night I vomited eighteen times – although the last few times I only brought up blood and saliva. So I resumed applying for attractive-sounding jobs and got an interview for a credit controller position with Sunshine Coast Newspapers. The company published two twice-weekly paid papers, the Nambour Chronicle and the weekly Near North Coast News plus some free papers. My CV was good – although alarmingly varied – and I had developed a smooth approach to interviews based on my many experiences during my single days. This might have put many employers off but General Manager, John Jones, took me on and asked me to set up their first credit control system. I accepted the challenge, despite having absolutely no experience - either in the newspaper field in general or the credit area in particular. Little did I anticipate that I was about to embark on what would become the longest employment engagement of my working life. I started as Credit Controller in 1977 and was promoted to Circulation Manager in 1979. The late seventies to early eighties was a busy and diverse period for our family. All the kids were going to school, Andrew had won a scholarship to “Churchie”, and Estelle landed a job with Maroochy Shire Council as a stenographer and quickly rose to the position of private secretary to the Chairman, Eddie de Vere. Because she needed the car to get to Nambour each day I mounted the case for a second car – and bought a 1964 Triumph TR4 sports car. I also purchased the dream I’d held since Bougainville days – a little yacht. It was a seventeen foot, fixed keel trailer-sailer, a Red Jacket called Anna. I joined the Mooloolaba Yacht Club and sailed a season on Bill Cutts’ Diddley Doo to learn the racing procedures. The following year I entered Anna in races and found that the mandatory safety equipment cost me more than the boat did. We raced it regardless and had such a favourable time handicap that everyone else had to wait until Anna finished – often in the dark – to ascertain the placings. The sailing gave me the experience to take the family sailing in the Whitsundays on a Compass 29 yacht in 1981. John Jones encouraged me to join the company-endorsed touch football team, Sunstrip Printers. ‘I’d like to see our management members more involved in the staff activities – and in the wider community too,’ he said. I’m sure, in hindsight, that he had no idea just how literally I would interpret this. I also joined the Buderim Male Singers and sang as a first tenor for about three years. At about the same period, Susan wanted to do gymnastics and Julie wanted to tag along too. Training was held in the Alexandra Headland Surf Life-Saving 157


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Clubhouse. I was really only the chauffeur but it didn’t take long before I was helping the trainers out. Then I allowed myself to be talked into a coaching program and started off by helping to train the boys. This was fine until they split the boys and girls into different nights. That meant two nights attendance each week for me, which was a bit much but I persevered. They decided to shift the club’s training to a new hall at Maroochydore Primary School. The floor was newly varnished and on my very first demonstration the mat shot out from under me and I fell and broke the scaphoid bone in my left wrist. End of active gymnastics. While we were at the surf club, I met Richard Curzon, a life saver, who talked me into doing my bronze medallion test and becoming a life saver. I continued this activity, mainly as a Patrol Captain, for ten years. I was able to qualify in some other activities including operating the inflatable rescue boat (IRB). I was tearing along into a slight head wind towards Maroochydore one fine day with one of my young team when we hit a small wave, took off and landed up side down. No dramas, but I was spotted and won the unofficial award for a capsize on the smallest wave. This was not my most embarrassing moment though. We were rostered on one miserable morning near the end of the season. It was a cool overcast day with rain and windy squalls which whipped the sea up into wild chop. My usual adult off-sider was absent this day and I had two school age helpers, but fortunately, there were only two brave souls in the water. One of the lads was down the beach to our right, watching the swimmers, while the other one was sitting on the beach with me. A young female life saver walked down to us from the clubhouse. ‘Hi, I’m Lisa. I’ve been told to join this patrol today,’ she said. I looked up. She was all kitted out with a cap, sun glasses and sun cream. I introduced myself. ‘You can look after that end for us.’ I said, pointing to the left. ‘You a strong swimmer?’ I asked. ‘Okay.’ ‘You call out to me if there’s a problem, eh.’ ‘Yes, okay,’ she answered with a smile, as she strolled away with a rescue tube. ‘Don’t you know who that was?’ the young fellow beside me said. ‘She said “Lisa”, didn’t she?’ ‘Yeah. Lisa Currie you goose!’ ‘Oh, bugger!’ When I was about fifty I decided it was time to give it away and was proud, in my final season, to have my younger daughter, Julie, join me on patrol as a life saver. It wasn’t all happiness at this time, as my dad was quite unwell in Melbourne in 1978 and I went down to see him and Mum. He was in the Parkdale Private Hospital and I visited him daily, travelling by bus. One day he seemed to be asleep and I chatted to him for some time, not knowing if he was hearing me. When I’d 158


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said what I wanted to say I decided to walk home and think about things. When I got to Mum’s house, she was waiting with the news that Dad had just passed away. In 1977 Andrew was eleven and I was 39 which meant that we were entering a period where we could do serious things together. We decided to tackle the Tasmanian Overland Track from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair, about a five day walk. We got off to a bad start by leaving my warmest jacket behind, but the weather was fair and, after all, it was December, wasn’t it. This was a mistake that I vowed never to make again. We joined up with another group, a father with two mid-teenage sons. It got bitterly cold and wet later in the day and then the backs of my legs somehow got colder. On investigation I found that the cheap plastic bottle I carried the metho in for my little stove in the backpack had cracked open. No cooking tonight. Then we entered a flat, boggy area crossed by lots of small muddy creeks. This was hard enough for me to negotiate but Andrew’s shorter legs sank their full length into the slush and he was bogged. Even though I had limited both of our packs to the suggested weights, I had to lighten Andrew’s further so that he could extricate himself and soldier on. The five of us made it through to the first night hut which, if memory serves me correctly, was Windermere Hut. We were all cold, wet and exhausted and, as the forecast was for more of the same, our travelling companions decided to retrace their steps the next day back to where we’d all started. Andrew and I thought about our situation. One set of wet clothes each (currently draped in front of a smoky fire outside) that would have to go on again tomorrow, and one dry set, inadequate warm weather gear and no stove fuel. I was confident that we could get back to Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre, but I was not convinced that we could carry on and make it through to Lake St Clair. Although I didn’t anticipate that we would need assistance to go back, I reckoned that it would be mentally helpful for all five of us if we stayed together. ‘What do you reckon - we go back tomorrow?’ I asked Andrew. He didn’t argue. The weather was as miserable as predicted but we got back in daylight. Our three companions were from Hobart and were happy to squeeze us in when their pickup car arrived for them. They were even kind enough to take us right down to Ross and Charmaine Ford’s house at Kingston. As we waved these generous people goodbye we encountered a shock. Our little Mazda RX2 was parked on Ross’s front lawn and it had a shattered windscreen and a split in the front of the roof immediately behind the screen. Unfortunately no one was home and our imaginations ran wild – was one or more of the family in hospital? Just then the Ford’s car arrived and we did some frantic counting of heads. Everyone was accounted for. ‘What on earth happened?’ I asked. ‘You’d never guess,’ said Estelle. ‘A uni student was driving an old Jag 159


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in the opposite direction, up from Hobart to Launceston, with an iron bed and a mattress tied on top. There was a truck travelling ahead of us and, near Oatlands, the Jag came past us both and I saw the mattress fly into the air but didn’t see the bed until it landed on top of us.’ ‘Geez, did he stop?’ I gasped. ‘Oh yes. He was apologetic - said that his bit of string must have broken.’ ‘String!’ ‘Yes, he tried to be as helpful as he could, but the main thing was that no one was hurt – just shocked. I got his details for insurance purposes. The girls were good. Julie even offered her $5 pocket money to go towards fixing the car. Naturally, the conversation at the Fords for a few days was the accident and the Overland Track. I vowed to have another go at the latter in the future. Even the one section that we saw was enough to convince me of the wisdom of retaining it as a national park. ‘It’s a pity they didn’t declare Lake Pedder a national park too instead of engulfing it in a bloody dam,’ I grumbled. Ross was sympathetic to my view, but as a keen fisherman, couldn’t resist adding a comment. ‘But you should see the size of the trout they’re pulling out of there though,’ he said with a grin. ‘We’re living on the Sunshine Coast now Ross. Maybe I should turn my attention to that environment. The mangroves are giving way to development and that was the case right where we live, I know. But surely there must be a limit on development encroaching all the way to the sea and river banks.’ Some plans were starting to form in my head. During the following year, 1978, I made contact with a number of environmentally aware individuals, including Stan Tutt Secretary of the Caloundra Branch of the Queensland Wildlife Preservation Society, Hardie Buzacott a naturalist, Jim Cash President of the recently-formed Sunshine Coast Littoral Society (of which I became a member), and Ben Bennett. The first three agreed to write articles for the local twice-weekly newspaper, the Chronicle, based on Stan’s description of the Mooloolah being ‘A River in Bondage’. These were followed by two articles by me which outlined some proposed remedies to the problem. Jim Cash took me up river and showed me a parcel of land, adjoining the Mooloolah River’s north east corner, which was then referred to as Portion 101. It would double the river frontage of the Park if it was added to the Park. It came onto the market and Estelle and I went to the auction, fearing that it might finish up in the hands of a developer. There was a particular bidder there whom I was sure was bidding on behalf of Maroochy Shire Council. I later discovered that the Works Department considered that it might be useful as a site for a sewage treatment works. So began another tussle. All these concerns were collated and fine-tuned to become the basis of my submission, The Mooloolah River Plan in 1980, which was widely distributed on the Coast. It covered such considerations as Portion 101, preservation of river banks, river dredging, disposal of sewage and speed limits. This was my first encounter with councillors, council chairmen, Eddie de Vere`` 160


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of Maroochy and Jack Beausang of Landsborough and Mike Ahearn MLA. A decision to run for Landsborough Council was becoming almost inevitable. Andrew was always naturally competitive and was getting fitter as I was getting slower. We both decided to enter a fun run, in 1979, from Caloundra to the Mooloolaba Yacht Club and the other family members were to meet us at the finish. I was christening a brand new pair of expensive, lightweight, Nike track shoes and was confident that I could still beat my thirteen year old son. As I plodded through Kawana, Andrew passed me. I increased my pace and could not have been far behind him as I sprinted down Parkyn Parade to the MYC. I registered my finish time, chatted briefly to a couple of other competitors, and started looking for the others, but they were nowhere to be found. Eventually, I could only assume that they had missed me finishing and had gone home. I looked longingly across at our house on the other side of the Mooloolah River, then down at my delicate Nikes and back at our home again – so near and yet so wet. I looked around at the finishers and the spectators and, after gripping my precious Nikes in my teeth to keep them dry, furtively launched myself into the river and breast-stroked towards home. Boy, would I have something to say to them! I didn’t realise how hard it would be to swim without having your mouth to breathe through. I had just reached the other side, breathless, when I was spotted and Estelle strode down the water’s edge towards me. ‘Where the Hell did you get to?’ she demanded. I was so taken by surprise, as I staggered out of the waste deep water, that my jaw fell open and my precious Nikes flopped into the salt water. ‘Bugger!’ was all I said. In April, 1980, Estelle and I enjoyed a couple of lovely weeks in the Hawaiian Islands. Even though this was a holiday, I’d seemed to have developed a habit of taking my work or major interests with me. My environmental interests were unable to dodge the main Sunshine Coast issue of the day – high-rise buildings. Without prior arrangement I called on the Head of the Planning Department of Honolulu, George Moriguchi, who shared with me their problems and solutions. This candid discussion resulted in me writing two more articles in the Chronicle. I also put my newspaper man hat on and visited a local Hawaiian publisher as their publication rolled off the press. It was jam-packed with colour, and encouraged me to make an approach to our General Manager, John Jones, on our return. ‘John, I’ve got the greatest idea to enhance our tourist publication, the Sunshine Coaster.’ ‘Sit down and listen to me,’ he said with a twinkle in his eye. ‘We’re going to commence publication of a daily newspaper thirteen weeks from now. I need you, as my Circulation Manager, to ensure that we out-sell the Courier Mail within twelve months from the launch.’ I don’t recall my response - but I knew that soon I had to become a real newspaper man. 161


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Launch of the Sunshine Coast Daily, 1980 - With John Jones GM

Fun Run with Andrew, 1981

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Ford and Laming kids in Tasmania, 1977

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Bruce and Julie on Patrol

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Cooloola Cup, Tin Can Bay, January 1987

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A Taste of Public Life 1980 – 1992

5

A Taste of Public Life 1980 – 1992

Thirteen weeks was an alarmingly short time to move from a regional twiceweekly publication to a six-day daily. I was told that the Sunshine Coast Daily would be the first daily newspaper to be launched in Australia since the Australian hit the news stands in 1964. Whether that was correct or not was irrelevant. The immediate challenge was that there were no reliable guidelines available as to the challenges that might be encountered - and certainly no remedies to counter them. The strategy employed was to drop the Chronicles, reduce the size of the free papers and to take Brisbane’s Courier Mail on head first. We launched successfully on 7 July, 1980, but there was more reader resistance than originally anticipated. All sorts of reasons for poor newspaper sales came flooding into our staff meetings, including unfair criticism of newsagents, but fortunately General Manager, John Jones, remained positive and he enthusiastically coined the phrase ‘Do it Daily!’ He gave me and my Circulation Department twelve months to unseat the Courier Mail as the most-purchased daily newspaper on the Sunshine Coast. ‘What problem are you going to tackle first?’ he asked. ‘None of those that have just been bandied around the room,’ I answered. ‘First I want to establish what the real problems are. I’m going to set up a canvassing program with a double–barrelled function. Firstly to promote home delivery sales of the Daily and, at the same time, seek reasons for any reluctance to sign up.’ John agreed. Evidently, it was a practice at some newspaper establishments to organise a free home delivery to all employees. There were a few requests and I rejected them, claiming that we should all set an example and organise our own homedelivery through our newsagent. I paid for my own six-day home delivery from day one and have done so ever since. I set up the canvassing program, utilising two personable ladies, working under the direction of my enthusiastic assistant, Greg Miller. A special price of $1 per week home delivered for all readers was instituted and this price was achieved by subsidising the home delivery fee. The canvassing involved two weeks home delivered at no cost, then the two canvassers returning to sign up the new customers and survey all recipients’ comments. The information gathered was carefully collated by Greg and weighted as to its importance. When the program had been running long enough to provide a meaningful guide, I took the findings to the Action Meeting. The readers’ comments, some of which were surprising, included, inter alia, the following. 1. Soggy unreadable newspapers on wet mornings. 2. Black printers’ ink coming off papers and onto hands, clothes and table cloths. 3. Only the Courier Mail carried the Brisbane funeral notices. 167


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4. Low advertising days meant skinny papers that did not pass the “pinch test” with readers. 5. The same level of parochial news was not as easily (and cheaply) available in the Daily as it had been previously in the two fat frees and the Chronicles. These concerns and others were discussed at length and were referred to the relevant manager/s for action. Soggy papers were a real problem for all Australian newspaper publishers prior to the later introduction of plastic wrap by newsagents Australia wide. The Daily gained the jump on the Courier when I tracked down a durable greaseproof paper and Production Manager, Arthur North, designed and fabricated an attachment to the press that added the grease-proof cover to the outside of all those papers that were to be home-delivered. Arthur also quickly solved the ink stain problem by the introduction of the more smudge-free front page black ink on the front and back covers. The Brisbane funerals issue came right out of left field and was the result of so many Brisbane people retiring to live on the Sunshine Coast and wanting to “keep in touch”. Marg Simpson from Classifieds set up a routine of getting this information from the major funeral parlours in Brisbane each day and publishing this at no cost to the parlours. The skinny papers problem was a real disincentive and was caused by an adherence to mandatory minimum advertising percentages. This policy was eventually eased at my continual insistence to achieve a minimum 28 pages – but preferably 32. Also more advertising brochure inserts were sought and marketed into the thinner days to give them more bulk. The parochial news complaint was addressed by David Lonsdale and his resourceful team by, amongst other measures, the introduction and use of regional editions from time to time and by Arthur North and Circulation printing the right amount of each edition and sending them to the correct destinations. Special posters were sent out to support each edition’s local stories. Single posters for a particular newsagent were hand-written with a very wide felt pen. This made them appear “hot off the press”. Ric Bronson came up with the hugely successful concept of a weekly TV guide being published in booklet format. It was called The Entertainer (which the Courier Mail copied and still uses!). These and other initiatives, plus energetic advertising sales and great journalism, resulted in Circulation being able to report to John Jones and the other managers that the Daily’s net sales had eclipsed those of the Courier Mail in just eleven months of production – beating the deadline by one month. In early 1982 my mind was focussed on the issue of keeping my job at the Daily, taking a tilt at election to council or having a go at both tasks simultaneously. I would have to decide pretty soon. One day about then I spotted a book in a bookshop that immediately drew my attention to a previous life. The title was 168


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simply Kiap and the author was James Sinclair. After reading this wonderful book which describes the history of the kiaps (patrol officers) in PNG, I submitted a review of it and was fortunate enough to have it published in the Sunshine Coast Daily on 20th February 1982. I have included below the final paragraph of my review. ‘It is obviously a must for the library of every former field officer and essential reading for all persons with an interest in Papua New Guinea or modern Australian history. A challenging, exciting, sad book that may well be recognised as one of the great works on that fascinating country.’ I don’t believe that I can put a calendar date on the day that I decided to run for election to the old Landsborough Shire Council (Later becoming Caloundra City then part of Sunshine Coast Regional Council. It was more about the gradual culmination of my determination to address a handful of issues. Eventually, I felt that I could go no further without committing myself into the ranks of the local decision-makers. John Jones had made it a little easier with the suggestion that his newspaper executives should become engaged in community affairs. Well, I was certainly doing that, eh! Fortunately, I was well aware that I had a rather narrow grasp on the current issues facing Council and, for that matter, the responsibilities of a councillor. I had been a fairly regular attendee at the Kawana Waters Advancement Association meetings and, about six months out from the election, I asked our editor if I could be given a column in the Caloundra Kawana Weekly. He agreed and it turned out to be a good opportunity to put forward some of my concerns and I was also able to pick up on those of others. Prior to the election, my column covered the wide spread concerns on the lack of sewerage in Kawana and my call for the preservation of Goat Island in its natural state rather than allow it be developed as a residential island. In my very first contribution I described the “no sewerage” situation. Septic tank soakage trenches have proved inadequate to the task in wet weather… Holding tanks have been reported as overflowing, causing considerable stench… Disappointing as those far away dates (for providing sewerage) were…they’ve been blown to pieces by the (State) Government’s decision to remove the 40% subsidy on all sewerage programs. The Goat Island plea fell on deaf ears, but fortunately was the prompt for some good advice from a former councillor, Ben Bennett. ‘Don’t waste your energy on un-winnable battles,’ he said. ‘Fall back to a location to draw your line which is possible to win. I suggest McKenzie’s Bridge, where the Nicklin Way crosses the Mooloolah River.’ I took that advice. Other issues covered during that pre-election period were the Kawana Waters Flood Study, extra street lights, boat speed limits and allowing jetties in canals. As the election drew nearer, my two issues became four – which I thought was 169


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enough. The sewerage issue turned out to actually be two, comprising firstly the reticulation and secondly the concept of using an ocean outfall for treated effluent instead of using the Mooloolah River. There seemed to be a lot of support behind gaining at least one extra councillor for our division – in fact virtually no one in our division claimed to be against it. This, together with my environmental intentions for the Mooloolah River, made up my four undertakings. Studying a copy of my one and only election pamphlet, thirty odd years later, Can I detect a political tone? My four undertakings commence: By urging sensible environmental consideration… By continuing the pressure for the rapid sewering… By aiming for eventual ocean outfall… And by pressing for extra representation… Oh Dear. There were three candidates for Division Three in the election of March 1982. The long-serving councillor, Ted Pierce, a thorough gentleman who lived at Mooloolah, another well-known Kawana resident, Frank Schellenberger and myself. Frank and I were both on the gate of the Buddina Primary School and, judging by the acknowledgements that Frank received during the day, by 6 pm I reckoned I was in for a walloping. This was not the case. I won. I was a councillor. It didn’t take long to realise that I had bitten off a huge workload with council duties added to my circulation manager’s responsibilities. I now had to attend regular ordinary council meetings, executive meetings and works meetings. Jack Beausang, the Chairman, had to attend my works meetings to provide a quorum of two. If I missed any of the meetings, 25% of the Shire’s residents were not represented. This was not a fair situation. At that time Landsborough Shire had a financial separation system in place. Each division set its own rate in the dollar and, after paying its per head share into a central fund for common costs, applied the remainder of its revenue to its own divisional works and services. Division Three had the lowest rate in the dollar, a good bragging point, but not without its own problems. I had so much to learn and relied heavily on Chairman Jack, Shire Clerk John Smith and Shire Engineer/Town Planner, Max Poole. Max and I had both worked on Adaminaby Dam in the Snowy Mountains Scheme in 1957, but hadn’t actually met down there. My occupational life now had three segments, the first with the Sunshine Coast Daily, the second attending to council issues that were thrust upon me and third my declared issues, special policies and projects that I wanted to pursue. It was later than I anticipated by the time that I got my teeth into my declared issues. My Kawana Comment of 31 August 1983 was about the environment – my Mooloolah River Plan in particular. I have added below three small paragraphs 170


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extracted from the article. The object of the Plan is to cater for future passive recreational needs near the Mooloolah River. The basis is a strip of natural esplanade to be allocated for public use along both sides of the river before further development takes place. I can see this on Landsborough Shire’s side (southern) as comprising long sections of natural bushland and mangroves interspersed with picnic areas, barbecues, toilets and playgrounds. The whole system would be linked with a walking/jogging track and a cycle path adjacent to the vehicle esplanade. The mangrove islands, upstream from the Nicklin Way Bridge, would be retained and no dredging of the river allowed. Boat speed limits would be kept low and the present release of sewerage effluent would be phased out as soon as practicably possible. I later added that a smaller adjacent block (Portion 101), which had a long river frontage, be added to the National Park. Although it took some time, it has been added. The biggest challenge to me as the sole Division Three councillor was the urgent need for the sewering of Kawana. It seemed to me that the implementation of sewerage had fallen behind Kawana’s rapid growth. This was due mainly to the 1960s agreement with the State Government that the developing company did not have to provide sewerage. The State Government’s decision to remove the 20% subsidy on all sewerage works added to the problem. Costly ventures cannot be commenced or accelerated at short notice. The budget has to be prepared and a decision made on whether to use rate money or borrowed funds. And borrowings need to be organised well in advance. Often, any increase in one area means a cut elsewhere. The 1983-84 budget brought an increase of $400 000 extra for the sewerage program to a total of $1.6 million. It was the next financial year that that allowed more flexibility. I anticipated that there would be some raised eyebrows in the community so I took the basics of the budget on a black board to a special meeting of the Advancement Association. The Association’s President, Bruce Stirling, was quoted in the Daily 18 Dec 84. ‘Members are very happy with the progress in these sewerage works.’ He said that Cr Laming explained just what the Council’s budget would achieve for Kawana and the cost to ratepayers. He said Cr Laming should be congratulated for his “top class” presentation. End quote. The main reason that I include the above is that it displays the benefit to all concerned residents of full and open communication. I was able to explain that the previous year’s low rates left very little funds for discretional spending after the common amount had been paid. A moderate increase in the rates left a far bigger percentage of revenue available for divisional works. The related issue of the disposal of treated effluent was a different matter. There was a general accord that river disposal was not acceptable in the longer term. However, I sensed a measure of uneasiness with some residents about disposal into the ocean. The only alternative that had been put forward was 171


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some form of land disposal. I made a series of phone calls to a number of east coast councils (including New South Wales) to gather their views. None of them indicated to me that land disposal was a workable option in high rainfall areas. Perhaps some may have altered their view in the mean time, I don’t know. All of these councils stressed that tertiary treatment was essential whatever the disposal system. I did receive complaints about my position on ocean outfall from a few concerned residents but, after I visited them and chatted to them in detail, most took a cautious “wait and see” position. My main concern with the outfall was the cost, and this was aggravated by Maroochy Shire’s decision in October 1983 not to join in the proposed joint venture ocean outfall. As if this wasn’t bad enough the project was thrown into further financial distress when the Caloundra councillors decided in May 1984 that the Caloundra and Kawana disposal systems should be developed and paid for separately. Kawana had no feasible option but to proceed alone – an expensive course of action. It was Chairman Jack Beausang who, in November 1984, initiated a bid to ease the massive financial burden of future shire sewerage programs. He was particularly concerned about the $4 million cost of the ocean outfall. He arranged for himself, Shire Clerk John Smith, Division Five (Caloundra) Councillor Sharyn Bonney and me to meet with Kawana Estates directors in Sydney. We put a strong case for significant financial assistance. The trip was seen as one of the most important missions ever undertaken by the council. While waiting for a response from Kawana Estates, the council received an offer of some assistance from the State Government, but one of the four conditions was that all sewerage charges be equitably spread across all ratepayers in Landsborough Shire through a single undertaking fund. Not surprisingly, this caused uproar from the Caloundra councillors. My position was reported in the Daily, 6 Dec 1984. Kawana’s representative Cr Bruce Laming said he believed the combination of the sewerage funds was desirable and inevitable. He said that Kawana and Maleny had waited while Caloundra was sewered. Cr Laming said that he believed Kawana Estates had a moral obligation to make a substantial contribution to the sewerage scheme In mid March 1985 I had to battle against a motion from Division Five (Caloundra) to withdraw my funding application to the State Government for $2.9 million to start work on the ocean outfall sewage disposal scheme. Despite not knowing what amount of funding assistance would eventually be offered by Kawana Estates and the State Government, and under what conditions, I was determined to maintain the works momentum that I had built up. The motion was defeated 5 – 8. My fourth declared issue was that of the lack of representation in Division Three. As it comprised more than 20% of the Shire’s population a case could be mounted that, on current boundaries, it should have three representatives. 172


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In December 1983 Jack Beausang was called to a meeting in Brisbane with local State Member, Mike Ahern, and the Director of Local Government. He was advised that Division Three would gain one representative and Division Five (Caloundra) would lose one of its five. Although I had some sympathy with my Caloundra colleagues, I supported the change. I went so far as to say publicly that the change should have been made prior to the 1982 election and then the division would have had the benefit of the experience of former councillor, Ted Pierce, plus a younger councillor learning the ropes. Apart from the declared issues, there were others that either I initiated or that I responded to. The Bi-centennial Way was a project that I planned in late 1983 and put forward for consideration and Commonwealth funding as a bicentennial project. It involved a thirteen kilometre track from Dicky Beach to Point Cartwright for walking, jogging and cycling. The day after I launched the proposal, 7 December 1983, the Daily editorial gave it their blessing. Whether or not the proposal for a major coastal bikeway in the Landsborough Shire gets the nod as a bi-centennial project, the concept is sure to receive strong and well deserved public support… Unfortunately it came in at second place behind the extension of the Landsborough Museum. Because of the financial separation system, the only other place from where the funds could come was either further borrowing or out of my divisional works program. But I had already restricted the general works program so that I could redirect funds to the sewerage program. I could hardly add this new project, costing $110 000, at the expense of either the desperately needed sewerage challenge or the already committed general works. Parts of the track have been built since, but the increase in population of the dune areas has also meant more voices that are not in favour. I have, for a long time, been an advocate of Work for the Dole. However some of the conditions of the then Community Employment Program made it difficult for councils to participate. In February 1985 I succeeded in winning unanimous support for asking the Local Government Association to prepare a case to put to the Commonwealth Government to change the programs guidelines. The two main problems were, firstly, that programs had to have a minimum of 50% labour content and, secondly, that councils had to make a minimum 25% contribution. I never discovered whether the LGA did eventually make that submission or, if they did, whether it was successful. The rating system in Queensland was something that I always considered to be unfair. Firstly, rates are not a tax, they are the cost of local services. Secondly, the valuation of a property quite often has no relationship to a resident’s ability to pay. Although I was critical of the system in 1985, it was to be several years later when I, and a handful of like-minded residents, took up the challenge for change. Local government can be a very rewarding pursuit – and sometimes very disappointing. As well as the big issues already outlined above, there was a host of smaller matters that had to be dealt with. I failed to get the army Engineers to do 173


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a UXO (unexploded ordnance) sweep through the undeveloped parts of Kawana looking for any unexploded artillery shells – more about this later. I also failed to convince my colleagues that yabby-pumping should be banned in the canals as it was destroying bank profiles. It was eventually banned some years later. On the other hand I was able to get a canal-dredging program started and also opened up the canals for private jetties. I was also given support to introduce water meters into Kawana so as to avoid wastage of water - that valuable resource. On one memorable day councillors from Caloundra and Maroochy met to inspect the proposed site of Baroon Pocket Dam. It was a tight squeeze into the 4WDs to travel the last few hundred metres so I offered, in deference to the ladies, to walk and follow their tyre tracks. We remained separated for a couple of hours and, despite my insistence that it was they who were lost not I, sheer weight of numbers prevailed. At our very next general meeting I was asked to stand and I was presented with a cow bell to wear round my neck by country councillor, Selwyn Carbery. ‘In case you get lost again,’ he said. ‘But I told you it wasn’t me…,’ I started. ‘Oh, never mind!’ Although Estelle did a magnificent job with the three kids, keeping them at their schooling, work and other activities, I tried to keep involved as best as I could despite two “full-time” jobs to cope with. 1983, for instance, was a busy year. Andrew and I drove the Triumph TR4 down to Woolgoolga in New South Wales and spent three days white water rafting on the Nymboida River - wow! Andrew displayed his speaking skills at an early age and was runner-up in the Lions Youth of the Year Contest. Julie, our younger daughter never liked to be left out and won the Pentathlon at the local Little Athletics. Late in 1984 I realised that I could not sustain another three years of doing two full time jobs, despite John Jones’ endless patience, unless there was a change in council procedures. It wasn’t just me that was disadvantaged, but all men and women who would like to stand for election but had a job, a business or a family commitment during the day. The Daily followed the debate with interest. Cr Laming said he believed the Council was at the crossroads in its operation. A decision had to be made on whether it was a full-time or part-time job for its elected representatives. The night meetings would provide access for a greater cross section of the community… The move attracted heavy criticism from the majority of councillors at yesterday’s general meeting. Cr Laming received support from councillors Winston Johnston and Darren Grigor only. Sadly, this was the last throw of the dice for me in considering a tilt at the next election. I gave three months notice of my intention to step down so as to be fair to my colleagues, constituents and possible candidates for the now two positions. The Daily asked me several questions. These were my answers and 174


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comments as published. ‘I will be happy to advise prospective candidates on council responsibilities and, if requested, assist those elected to division three to phase in to their new tasks.’ Cr Laming said that he had experienced a number of highlights in his term in council. One of the most important was to speed up the rate of sewerage installation at Kawana. Cr Laming also played a role in arranging the proposed ocean outfall sewage disposal scheme. He said another major gain had been the appointment of a further councillor to represent the division. As the term of office wound down, a couple of sorely-needed projects were announced as commencing soon, the traffic lights at the intersection of Nicklin Way and Point Cartwright Drive and the four-laning of the Nicklin Way. Chairman, Jack Beausang, was sorry to hear that I was stepping down. ‘You have a future in politics,’ he said. ‘You should consider joining the National Party.’ I just nodded thoughtfully. It was now April, 1985, and it was time to resume my pre-council activities – particularly my role at Sunshine Coast Newspapers. I also idly wondered what my next challenge might be. Back in 1982 the Coast had suffered an economic down turn and the Daily’s advertising and circulation sales were not immune from its flow-on effects. It was a little embarrassing for me as I had been invited to give a presentation in Sydney to Australian regional newspaper Circulation Managers on proven methods of circulation promotion. The convention went ahead, of course, and the gains we’d made in sales during the first two years fortunately spoke for themselves. Following the down turn, the head office managers of APN commissioned consultants to examine our structure and personnel. Although I was also in council at the time, I was not blamed for the drop in newspaper sales - but I thought it wise to renew my efforts to recover the numbers anyway. Although I got on well with our fifty-odd newsagents, particularly those who had home-delivery runs, quite a few of my other regional colleagues claimed that their agents were not enthusiastic in promoting their publication. Possibly our home-delivery subsidy and waterproofing of home-delivery papers on wet mornings helped our relationship. Never the less, I visited the Brisbane office of Ancol and enquired as to the training given to new agents. I learned that the Courier Mail made regular presentations at each agents’ school and that the regional papers didn’t. I made the necessary enquiries with APN HQ and was then able to do my own presentations to each class on behalf of all our regional publications. I was told that the Courier canvassed the traditional newspaper role which was to “inform and entertain the readers”. I added a third and that was “to educate”. To justify this I promoted our vigorous Newspapers in Education (NIE) program, run by Stella Hopcott and advised all of the new regional agents that NIE was popular in all of our regional areas and that they had a responsibility to help promote it. I was particularly 175


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impressed with Stella’s development of the NIE News Quiz, where school pupils were provided with complimentary Dailys to study, then were quizzed on the most interesting stories. The competition was then decided by points scored by each of the participating schools. Susan, our elder daughter, had a busy time from 1985 to 1987. She graduated from Queensland College of Art in Brisbane in ’85, won the Queen of the “Harvest of the Sea” contest in ’86 and was a finalist in the Girl in a Million Contest in 1987. She then went back-packing in Europe on her own. For quite some time I had believed in the theoretical merits of employee ownership of shares in the company they work for. I believed that, if managed properly, it would reduce, if not eradicate, the “them and us” syndrome. Once again, John Jones was receptive of my proposal, or was humouring me, and gave me permission to make personal enquiries at a leading stock brokers’ office in Brisbane. I went downstairs to my own office and made an appointment for the following Monday. I arrived at the appointed time and barely had time to introduce myself, let alone outline my proposal, when I noticed that the broker was ignoring me completely and was gaping at his computer screen. ‘It’s crashed!’ he said. ‘The market has crashed. You’ll have to excuse me today – I’m sorry.’ I drove back to the Sunshine Coast, disappointed and confused. How could I have chosen the infamous “Black Monday”, the 19 October 1987 to put my submission? Who knows how things might have turned out had I made this appointment six months earlier? This market problem continued for some time and I never did arrange another appointment. It was at about the same time as my “employee shares” project stumbled, that I was also working on the possibility of a study tour of several American regional publishers. I had become a member of the International Circulation Managers’ Association (ICMA), based in the USA and read I about their 89th Annual Sales Conference to be held in Dallas, Texas in June 1988. The official aim was twofold, to gather circulation building ideas and to accompany our own entry – News Quiz - into the small newspaper circulation promotion competition. The unofficial aim was for both Estelle and I to take our long service entitlements and have a magic trip around the States at the same time. I put a proposal forward and was fortunate enough to have it accepted. As I was going to turn fifty while we were over there, I joined The American Society of Retired Persons (ASRP). I hoped this would give us lots of discounts, particularly on meals and accommodation. Another stroke of luck emerged when I was chatting about our trip to a former PNG District Commissioner, Des Ashton, who had retired to the Sunshine Coast. 176


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‘Are you visiting the American north east coast?’ he asked. ‘Yes, I certainly hope so,’ I responded. ‘Good. I know a lovely couple from Jamestown near Newport where the America’s Cup used to be raced. We met at the Fremantle race and put them up at home here afterwards. Their names are Dwight and Eleanor Dickinson and they’re always asking us to reciprocate. I can’t manage the trip – perhaps you two can visit them instead?’ ‘I, I mean we, er,’ I stumbled. ‘Good. I’m glad that’s agreed,’ he announced with the authority that he was accustomed to. ‘I’ll send them a letter of introduction.’. We made contact a little later and received a warm invitation. As Andrew was at boarding school, that only left Susan and Julie, both still at school, to be looked after. Fortunately we had two old friends who, with their wives, were keen to have a spell on the Coast, Colin Wallace and Roland Clark. We commenced our three month, 23 state journey in California and did the rounds of the tourist haunts. We were at Universal Studios one day and I thought I caught sight of Adrien Jericho, the principal of Immanuel Lutheran College on Buderim, and his wife. The distance and surging crowd caused us to lose sight of them. Was it really them? Some days later we joined the end of a queue outside a steak house at the Grand Canyon in Arizona. I expressed a greeting to the couple in front of us and, you guessed it, the Jerichoes turned around. We joined them for dinner and compared our travels so far. Our next state was New Mexico, the home of turquoise and silver jewellery, which for some reason turned out to be Estelle’s favourite state. After a visit to the Houston Chronicle in southern Texas we flew to New Orleans in coastal Louisianna and were fortunate enough to gain entry to Preservation Hall, the Mecca of jazz lovers. The audience was able to request favourites for $2 each – except when choosing ‘The Saints” which cost $10. We were glad that our visit didn’t coincide with St Kilda Football Club’s annual footy trip! Then it was a newspaper stop at the small town of Biloxi Mississippi, on to Florida and the Epcot Centre – marvellous – and Georgia to visit three newspaper publishers. In Atlanta, Estelle found the Cyclorama, the world’s longest painting (they claimed) which was circular with a revolving seating section in the middle. It was an American Civil War scene. We bussed up the east coast to Charleston, South Carolina where, I understand, the Civil War commenced. We were staggered to learn that America lost more lives in their Civil War than they did in the First and Second World Wars, Korea and Vietnam combined! We soon found the wisdom of sitting up the front in buses, behind the driver, where we could ask - and answer – questions. On telling one particular driver of our overall itinerary, he whistled out loud. ‘Wow, Man! Even most Americans never get to see that many places.’ 177


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We continued by bus north and arrived at Wilmington North Carolina, one where we had a hotel booked. At the bus station, I summoned a taxi and, although we were desperately tired, I helped the huge Afro-American driver stow our baggage in the boot. Estelle was already seated in the back seat and I walked wearily up the left hand side of the long vehicle, opened the door and slumped into the seat. Before I realised that there was a steering wheel in front of me the driver yelled, ‘Hey! Where yo goin with mar cab?’ I woke up quickly and scrambled across to the passenger side. We spent a couple of interesting days in Washington DC and really enjoyed visiting the Smithsonian Institute. The next newspaper stop was at the small town of Pottsville, Pennsylvania. They had assembled the whole Board of Directors and asked me to address them. This wasn’t too difficult as most Americans are very courteous and curious about Australia. It’s worth noting that Crocodile Dundee had just hit the big screen and I was asked on several occasions about my “big knife”. I turned fifty that day. On the way to our next newspaper stop at Willingboro, New Jersey we had to change to a suburban bus. A local traveller, whom we hadn’t even spoken to, was also getting off to pick up his car. He’d heard us talking to others and knew we were Aussies. ‘You can’t take all that luggage on a little suburban bus,’ he said. ‘I’ll give youal’ a lift to your hotel.’ This was well out of his way but he insisted. New York couldn’t be missed but we could only stay a couple of days as we were scheduled to visit the Advocate in Stamford Connecticut. We hired a car for this north eastern leg and it was at Stamford that we had our first good opportunity to try the American lobster with its big claws. It was judged by us as being as good as the clawless Tasmanian rock lobster – but not better. We continued the drive, looking forward to our next pre arranged stop. It was to be with Des Ashton’s friends, Dwight and Eleanor Dickinson at Jamestown, Rhode Island. On the first night we went to a dignitaries’ party which was attended by some politicians. The main course was absolutely first class, then for dessert a plate of have a hearts was passed around. There was a stir next morning when it was realised that there had been a couple of non-party members in attendance. We promised that we would not divulge anything even - though we didn’t know what the secret was. So now, 25 odd years later, we are still keeping our word. On the next day we were escorted around several mansions in the Newport area. It was such an enjoyable day that we decided to shout our hosts out for a nice dinner. All went well until it came time to pay the bill. The restaurant wouldn’t accept American Express – in America! Dwight smiled good naturedly as he fixed them up and I had to square him off with cash when we went home to the Dickinsons. That night Dwight and I had a late session discussing the politics of our two countries. I mulled over our comments well into the night and by the time I rose for breakfast I was convinced that I would pursue a state or commonwealth seat. 178


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That morning we were about to drive out the long gravel driveway and away when Dwight hurriedly emerged from the house waving a newly opened envelope. ‘I’ve just read Des’s letter introducing you two,’ he called. ‘When you get back, tell him I approve!’ ‘What a proud and dignified couple,’ I said as we headed north. We drove through the beautiful states of Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and then north west to the beautiful town of Lake Placid in up-state New York. Our accommodation was the Saint Moritz Hotel, a lovely old building, built for the 1932 Winter Olympics. Everything looked very dated as we checked in, from the black and white staff dress to the carved furniture. ‘I bet the TV is black and white too,’ I chuckled as we made our way to our bed room. It was. The next day was to be set aside to take in the magnificent Niagara Falls and that night we booked into the Frontier Youth Hostel in nearby Buffalo. It was the 21st of June and I had been fifty for a week but hadn’t claimed any discounts. ‘Any discount for members of the American Association of Retired Persons?’ I asked. He squinted at me as he shook his head slightly. ‘Give us a break, Mack,’ he said. ‘This is a youth hostel!’ He had also told me on the side that boarders were expected to help clean up the kitchen before leaving in the morning. I tried to come up with a way to tell Estelle without spoiling her day but finished up by blurting it out after lights out. Estelle had visions of a dozen greasy black frying pans piled up in the sink. As it turned out there were no other boarders that night and the manager let us off. The next leg was a long, two-day bus trip through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee (where we visited Elvis Presley’s house), Arkansas and into Dallas, Texas. The 1988 ICMA Sales Conference was held at here at Loew’s Anatole Hotel, lasting for four days. It was a good balance of circulation ideas break-out sessions and entertainment. We had entered our News Quiz program into the 15000 to 25000 daily sales category of the Circulation Promotion Competition – and won it. I was so excited that I mounted the mechanical bull in the foyer and just managed to stay on for the required time. I could hardly wait to ring the news on both victories through to the Sunshine Coast Daily office. We flew to Salt Lake City, Utah, then on to Jackson, Wyoming, and hired a car to drive through the stunning Yellowstone National Park, where we spent three days. We were fortunate enough to meet up with Dwight Dickinson again who was on a fishing trip. He caught a good-sized trout and we supplied the cook – what a great night and more political discussions. Then we bussed north through Montana and over the Canadian border to Calgary, Banff and Jasper. The highlight for me in this region was the white water rafting in the Kicking Horse River. Wow! We proceeded by bus westward down to Vancouver and continued across by 179


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ferry to the town of Victoria on Vancouver Island. The beautiful Butchart Gardens were the real treat of the island and the journey back to our hotel in a free stretch limousine was as enjoyable as it was unexpected. The next day we ferried the sixteen miles south across to Port Angeles in the US state of Washington. Before we left home, one of my sailing mates, Pat Sheers, asked us to visit a young lady called Kandace that he had befriended when she visited Australia. The family lived near Dungeness not far from Port Angeles and, even though Kandace was away working in Idaho, they invited us to call in. Her mum and dad insisted on taking us on a picnic in their campervan to the stunning, snowy heights of Hurricane Ridge and serving up a magnificent lunch of chicken and Dungeness crab. We continued south on Highway 101, detouring to visit Mount Saint Helens Memorial Park where 57 people died in the terrifying 1980 volcano. The damage was still very evident for miles around. Then it was back to 101 to make our next newspaper visit, The Columbian, which was based at Vancouver, Washington, just across the river from Portland, Oregon – and was not to be confused with Vancouver, Canada, or Vancouver Island. As was the usual practice, arrangements had been made for a senior lady at The Columbian to take Estelle shopping and/or take in the sights. This young lady arrived in a Mercedes Sports car and had one blue eye and one green. Obviously the use of contact lenses was a little further advanced in little old Vancouver than back home. We drove through San Francisco and east through orchard country where we enjoyed the lovely stone fruit of the region. We spent three days at Yosemite National Park, which was lovely, but after seven weeks we were starting to feel travel weary. Our last leg was back to San Francisco and then home – home sweet home! The Eighties had been a challenging and rewarding decade for the kids and me, but not so good for Estelle. She enjoyed her work as personal secretary to Maroochy Shire Council Chairman, Eddie de Vere, up until the 1982 election. The same election that launched me into Landsborough Shire Council saw Eddie defeated on an anti-high rise buildings mood. Estelle had great respect for her former boss and had the courage to attend his valedictory dinner. It was shortly after this time that electronic type writers were introduced into the office and the required light touch was not familiar to many typists. The required lifting of the forearms caused an onset of what was called “Repetitive Strain Injury” or RSI. Worse than the disability itself was the suggestion by some employers that it wasn’t an illness at all but an excuse for time off by work shire employees. Such a suggestion was humiliating to conscientious workers like Estelle and although the illness was eventually recognised she reluctantly accepted a redundancy package.

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Estelle with Eddie Devere and Fred Murray

Landsborough Shire Council (Caloundra) 1984

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Bruce & Estella at home, 1983

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Told U So

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Relaxing After Election Day 1995

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6

The Journey to Politics 1988 – 1991

Upon leaving Council in 1985 I found that I had created more spare time than expected. Even my renewed efforts as a full-time circulation manager – notwithstanding eight weeks in America - didn’t satisfy my appetite. What personal activities should I resume? What new challenges lie ahead? The answers to these questions revealed themselves to me just as they had ever since leaving school – mainly by chance. In a few words and no particular order, the main activities were part-time journalism, sailing, singing and party politics. Early in 1988, I applied for and became a JP, which added another aspect to my life. I had quite enjoyed sending my environmentally-favoured submissions to our editor in the late seventies and early eighties and found that my series on council matters, Kawana Comment, in 1982 and 1983, to be a good method of communication. One of my duties at Sunshine Coast Newspapers was to organise and look after the microfilm of both the Daily and the former Chronicle. I started to read the films of the Chronicle of fifty years earlier and recognised the potential for an interesting column. And so Fifty Years On, a column which revisited the news of the day exactly fifty years earlier and compared it with 1989, was published in the Daily every week throughout 1989. Some extracts follow. Published in the Chronicle, January 6, 1939. ‘The surf, like the participants, was frolicsome; it tumbled the bathers hither and thither, but there was no detraction from its popularity. The early morning plunge was devoid of all temerity and the late evening immersion was regarded as a stimulus to appetites if such indeed was needed.’ It was published again January 6, 1989 where I drew the readers’ attention to three headlines in the Daily, fifty years later, which referred to: ‘Sunbather attacked on beach’, ‘Holidays – a time of rape and violence’, ‘Coast drink-driving blitz turns to beaches’. I then asked the question. ‘What is happening to our community standards? Is the pursuit of pleasure and “lifestyle”, often assisted by alcohol or even drugs, actually bringing us less real old-fashioned happiness than our grand parents enjoyed? Published in the Chronicle September 8, 1939. ‘An un-named biographer of Queen Victoria was quoted as saying. She was simple, matter of fact and sometimes was guided by a great sense of what was right and what was wrong. This sense grew out of her hatred of injustice and her fearlessness…from the beginning to the end, moral courage was the theme of her life. A Minister once used the word “expedient” to the Queen and she answered, “I have been taught, Lord, to judge between what is right and what is wrong; but expediency is a word I neither wish to hear again nor to understand”.’ It was published again in September 8 and I added. 185


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‘Ah, that somebody in authority could be so refreshing and not reliant on intellectualism or charisma…but they didn’t have TV then did they?’ Published in the Chronicle, December 22, 1939. ‘The statement by the secretary of the Jewish Freeland League, Dr I. Steinberg, about the plan to establish a Jewish refugee settlement in the Kimberley area of north western Australia has caused some stir in New South Wales. ‘Dr Steinberg claims that the scheme has the approval of the West Australian Government, leading citizens of different states and of the Australasian Council of Trade Unions. He says that if he can enlist sufficient public support, he will ask the Commonwealth Government for permission to establish the settlement. ‘“This settlement”, he says, “will have no political aspirations – no idea of separatism or autonomy.” It was published again, December 22, 1989, when I said, ‘One wonders if the whole recent history of the Middle East would have been altered, had this option been seriously pursued rather than the occupation of Palestine in the late forties.’ Nothing’s changed over the last twenty-odd years, eh? These three examples, and there were forty-odd others, indicate my growing interest in politics. Due to saving the bit of extra income derived from being a councillor until 1985, I was able to consider purchasing a bigger yacht than little Anna. This would be more comfortable for Estelle and the kids and would allow us to sail further safely and moor overnight. It would also, if chosen carefully, be faster for local racing. The search was not difficult as a fairly new Sonata 8 became available locally. It was an eight metres long, fixed keel, fibreglass sloop with running backstays and an out-board motor. It had berths for four but no galley or head (kitchen or toilet). The price was right and her name was Sunburn. Selling Anna was a little bit sad and, as it was quite small, would not be easy to sell to a couple of average proportions. I nearly talked a lanky fellow of six foot plus out of even coming to look at her, but he insisted. He squeezed in and writhed out like a python. ‘I’ll take her. She’s just what I want for Tin Can Bay.’ Finding a good crew for Sunburn was as important as selecting a good boat. I could not have been more fortunate than having Bob Irvine and Roy Colquhoun in the cockpit. ‘Just call me “Starboard” and call Roy “Port”,’ Bob announced to us. We did, and the nicknames have stuck. Our first foredeck hand was Gary McDonald and he brought experience in all aspects of racing as well as great skill to the sharp end of Sunburn. When the originals weren’t available we also had Peter McTavish and Graham Needham – both great sailors. For one season I had my daughter Susan on board. She had learnt to sail through the Mooloolaba Yacht Club in sabots and lasers, and displayed a natural talent. Sunburn proved to be a responsive boat to sail and seemed to be just as comfortable in a stiff breeze as in light airs. We had a secret weapon when the 186


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breeze dropped. Bob was a smoker and when there was virtually no wind, just the odd puff from one direction then another, we got him to light up. Any wind at all could be instantly detected and used. The Yacht Club conducted races for a Division One, the bigger offshore boats, and a Division Two, the smaller boats, both of which had arbitrary handicapping. Division Two had another group within it called JOG (Junior Offshore Group), the boats of which were handicapped by a strict boat measurement system. Sunburn raced in the Division Two and JOG contests simultaneously and was very successful in both from 1985 to 1990. I believe that this was primarily due to a great boat and a top crew, which together made up for the skipper’s short-comings! Sailing faded a little for me in the early nineties as other activities took up my time. I read a story in the Daily some time in 1990 about barbershop singing. Two blokes, Mell McMichael and Mike Ivess were in the process of putting a quartet together and they needed a baritone and a bass. I think about twenty responded, of all four voice parts, so they decided to set up a chorus. This was the start of the Sunshine Statesmen Barbershop Chorus and I signed up a few weeks later. Australia’s first Barbershop Convention was held on the Gold Coast in late 1991 and I was excited to be included as one of the lead singers of the original Sunshine Statesmen. But, like time for sailing, time for singing became harder to find after 1990. Ever since becoming involved in the local political sphere in 1982 I have recognised the value of studying philosophies. They often provide you with a benchmark for assessing policies. Over time I’ve gathered a collection which I browse from time to time. My favourite is small but thought-provoking. I can’t recall where I read it but the author is acknowledged. ‘It was the great English lawyer, Lord Fletcher-Moulton (1844 – 1912), who wrote that civilisation itself depends on “obedience to the unenforceable”.’ During the eighties I developed strong views on a number of subjects but I soon realised that I would have no real opportunity to promote them unless I joined a political party. The obvious question emerged: which party? I was brought up in a Liberal household and was, by nature, conservative on most issues. I attended meetings of both the National Party and the Liberal Party in late 1985 and felt that the Nationals were better organised. I had some reservations on certain issues so decided to write to a local National Party parliamentarian for clarification. I received a detailed response and, although I believed that some policies needed amendment, I joined the Nationals in 1986. I have very fixed views on several issues that I debated within the Party over the following four years. In particular I argued: in favour of Work for the Dole, Citizen Initiated Referenda, Tax-free Savings Interest and Differential Rating in councils. I opposed Capital Punishment and Foreign Land Ownership. 187


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In 1987, I nominated for the Party’s Senate ticket of four. To show my enthusiasm, I took a week off work and sought out voting members all the way up to North Queensland. The preselection took place at Hervey Bay and continued into the wee small hours due to the excitement over the announcements of the “JOH for PM” campaign and the number of preselection candidates. Head Quarters had set up a TV camera and a journalist in the venue to interview us on an undisclosed topic. I was told that I did well on the TV test but I suspect that my “Johnny come lately” status and strong personal viewpoints went against me. In reality we could only hope to have two senators elected, so my fourth spot on the ticket was little more than an encouragement vote. One can imagine my delight when Labor called for a double dissolution – now there could be four National Party senators elected in Queensland. But it was not to be. A second preselection was called, in Milton this time, and John Stone, the party’s financial guru, put his name forward. My percentage share of the preselection vote remained constant and I finished up in eighth position. Needless to say I was not elected – but then again, neither was Joh elected as Prime Minister. He was busy in USA when the election was called early and abandoned his aspiration. The Hawke government was re-elected. I continued my efforts against unemployment generally – not just promoting “Work for the Dole” – and picked up on two new issues. In 1987 the Australia Card debate surfaced. I was offered a newspaper “debate” with Labor Senator, Susan Ryan, by the Daily. The card was unpopular and was never accepted by a majority of Australians and the concept was abandoned. In 1988 the Daily launched a debate on “Daylight Saving”. I couldn’t resist going into journalistic battle, comparing Queensland summers with southern states and my final three sentences of my letter to the editor read: ‘So instead of cold mornings and balmy southern afternoons, we are blessed with superb mornings but inflicted with oppressively hot afternoons in summer. One only has to compare a stroll along our beaches followed by a swim in glassy surf between 6 and 7 am to the heat and chopped up surf between 4 and 5 pm. So my suggestion to you, Sir, and to those who would simply “follow the South”, is to leave your clocks alone and just try putting your alarms forward one hour.’ Just for the record, three years later in 1992 the Queensland Labor Government held a referendum on Daylight Saving and, although more electorates favoured the change, 54.5% of state voters were against it. It was not introduced. 1989 brought another Senate preselection, this time at Toowoomba. I had recently been vocal in support of Citizen Initiated Referenda and against Foreign Land Ownership. The former is often referred to as Direct Democracy. It is a system, used in some European countries and some states of the USA, which requires governments to put issues to a binding referendum if a pre-determined minimum percentage of eligible voters have so petitioned. The sort of issues that might draw such a petition are Daylight Saving, Euthanasia and an Australian Republic. 188


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The Foreign Land Ownership question speaks for itself. Most of those concerned are not against foreign investment which can be achieved by utilising leasehold arrangements. I had debated the issues loud and long – unsuccessfully I’m afraid – and I think this contributed to my failure to make the senate ticket. Later in 1989, Evan Adermann announced his intention to retire as the Federal Member for Fairfax. Once again I put my name forward but it was a strong line up and John Stone was successful at pre selection. However, he lost at the General Election to the Liberal’s Alex Somlyay. At about the same time, Queensland Transport were proceeding with a plan to put a toll on some new and existing local roads, some of which had previously been free. Estelle and I, together at a function, told Mike Ahern the Premier that this was not a fair thing to do to the locals and that it was politically most unpopular. Wayne Goss, Leader of the Labor Opposition, promised to lift the tolls if Labor was elected to Government. 1989 was a busy year and the next function was the State Conference. I had managed to get foreign land ownership onto the agenda where it could be fully debated. I’m not sure whether this displayed determination or pig-headedness, but when I rose I was denied the right to speak and, when I persisted, my microphone was turned off. I gathered up my paperwork, left the auditorium and sat down in the foyer outside the doors. Not a single soul came out to even deplore the lack of freedom of speech. I was mentally shattered. I sent a letter to a local National MP, for whom I had considerable respect, to advise him of my imminent resignation. The last line read; ‘Perhaps I am an idealist.’ And then, on the 15th of November 1989, I resigned. The Fitzgerald Inquiry into Queensland Police Corruption which had been submitted earlier in the year had a significant effect on voters, despite the Premier Ahearn’s sincere undertaking to implement the recommendations “lock, stock and barrel”. On Saturday, 2nd December 1989, Labor came to power for the first time in 32 years. It was a landslide win for the Premier-in-waiting, Wayne Goss. I was feeling pretty empty again over the following months but another issue arose to demand my attention. Suburban land valuations in some areas were skyrocketing and, under the rigid Unimproved Capital Value (UCV) System, some residents were being rated off suburban properties that they had not intended to ever leave. A community committee had been formed to review the Local Government Act and I hurriedly compiled a two-page submission to at least keep the rates matter on the agenda. I concluded with three options. 1. That UCV rating should be abandoned altogether. 2. That consideration should be given to a maximum as well as a minimum rate. 189


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3. That the State Government should encourage those councils with disparate valuations to utilise and consider implementing valuation-based differential rating systems. This third option had recently been successfully introduced in Brisbane by Lord Mayor Sally Anne Atkinson. I was able to get good media and differential rating gradually gained support, but implementation was to be slow. Following the 1989 election loss Mike Ahearn resigned from Parliament. This is a common response from defeated premiers and, although Mike wasn’t Premier at the time of the election, he had been Premier a short time earlier. His resignation caused a by-election to be called for May 1990 in the seat of Landsborough – a seat that he had held for several years. Although I had previously been critical of persons who join a political party only when a preselection is called, I was in a dilemma myself. Although I felt that I would eventually join the Liberals, I’d thought that I should let a little time pass so that it didn’t look like a rebound from the Nationals. The unexpected by election meant that I had to choose between what I disliked in others by joining and nominating immediately, or sitting back and losing nearly three years. I was nearly 52 years old and had all the necessary paperwork ready to go. I selected the former and became a very busy Liberal. I re-used the material that I’d already presented in 1989, such as my three half- page articles in the Daily arguing against Labor’s Bill of Rights and a further two articles criticising the proposed Australia Card. There were many dangers in both initiatives but a major concern of mine was that if a freedom or a right that was already enjoyed was legislated, that same freedom or right could also be changed or taken away in the same manner. I included an appendix from a then recent Griffith University study, Mooloolah River Management Plan, which praised my 1980 report, the Mooloolah River Plan. Some might say that I ran with the fox and hunted with the hound to impress the right and left members of the Liberal Party. My response would be that I was in favour of preserving what is good in Australia, both in the social and environmental fields. The preselection was won by Joan Sheldon who went on to win the byelection By this time it became quite clear that the new Labor government, despite their promise, had no intention of abolishing the tolls on the Motorway. The locals were furious and a swing towards the non-labor parties was an almost certainty. However, a poignant question loitered – which non-labor party, the Liberals or the Nationals? Since the 1989 election population growth in Queensland, particularly on the coast, was enough to require a redistribution of state electoral boundaries and submissions were called for. I was convinced that I had to take this opportunity to show the Liberal Party members that I had some skills in the political arena. I volunteered 190


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to join a small committee and make a submission on behalf of the Party. It was accepted by the Party and was then adopted closely by the Electoral Commission. The Mooloolah Electorate, named after the river that flowed through it, came into being shortly afterwards. It was geographically quite similar to my former council division, plus some additional areas. It was made up of Mooloolah, Glenview, Eudlo, most of Buderim and Kawana and part of Mooloolaba. I then set about planning a strategy to gain preselection. This meant a lot of work within the Party, not only for me, but for my small group of supporters, Estelle, Judy McFadden and Jean Bidstrup. It also included working with Andrew Champion, who was also seeking pre-selection, to create a Kawana branch of the Party. The formal opening was attended by Peter Costello. I was well-prepared for pre-selection day and I not only knew my speech off by heart but had prepared a list of possible curly questions that might be asked and had all the answers ready. At last, in November 1991, after a six year political journey, I won preselection in a winnable seat. It was at this point that the management of the Daily decided that they would soon be losing their circulation manager. They asked me to train a replacement. I was no longer playing politics – I had to get fair dinkum and win!

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Sailing with Susan

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Trophy Night Mooloolaba Yacht Club

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7

In Politics at Last

Back in 1992 the Liberal and National parties were independent from each other and worked as a coalition that sometimes, unfortunately, had its difficulties. One of the main causes of tension was the debate between the two parties prior to each election on the allocation of seats to be contested. Naturally, determination encouraged both parties to compete against each other, in an effort to gain the majority of elected members in the Coalition, but this created three-cornered contests and a probable leakage of preference votes. Good sense, on the other hand, dictated selecting only one coalition candidate for each seat thus avoiding the appearance of squabbling amongst ourselves. Usually it was a mixture of both, allowing sitting members of both conservative parties to stand unchallenged at each election by the other party. Mooloolah was a brand new electorate and all three major parties considered it to be winnable for them. This resulted in a three-cornered contest. The ALP candidate was not well known in the electorate and I quickly came to a realisation which I shared with Estelle. ‘You know, all I have to do is win more votes than the National Party candidate and then collect his preferences.’ That National Party “opponent” was actually a friend of mine, Kevin Asmus, owner of the Kawana Newsagency. I didn’t have much money to promote my campaign but Estelle gathered together a very enthusiastic, competent team of supporters headed up by Barbara Carlile. My introductory brochure canvassed the usual issues such as, schools, a university and law and order. We also had a burning local issue, our promise to abolish the Sunshine Motorway’s road tolls. I sneaked one issue in for myself, too, the introduction of Citizen Initiated Referenda. My main activity program was a sophisticated door-knocking campaign for Estelle and me. Many of my colleagues scoffed and said that door-knocking didn’t reach enough people but our system gave the impression of a much wider penetration. You never know what you will encounter when you go from door to door. Estelle was keen to hear how day one went. ‘Oh great!’ I said. ‘At the very first house a shitty little Australian Terrier latched onto my big toe with its needle sharp teeth.’ ‘Okay,’ she said. ‘Rule number one will be: don’t wear sandals doorknocking!’ As if to balance my fortunes, the last house I door-knocked in the whole campaign had a different outcome altogether. I was working in Mooloolaba, it was starting to get dark and I was tired. I found the door around the back of the last house and stared wearily at the door mat that welcomed me, ‘Piss Off!’ it read in big print. I thought about it, sighed, shrugged and proceeded to knock. Don Walker answered my knock and listened to my spiel with interest. I felt that I had finished on a good note. Soon after, he joined the Liberal Party and in 195


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three years time he became my enthusiastic Campaign Director at the next election. There were, of course, a lot of other things to do during the campaign: fund-raising, advertisements, printing, signs, media releases, letters to the editor, letter-boxing, candidate meetings on the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane and public meetings. We were fortunate indeed to be loaned a campaign office in Mooloolaba by Geoff and Linda Mead. The new Liberal candidates were often told that they were just a few percentage points behind their opponents and could win with a bit more effort. I was no exception. A few weeks before election day, Estelle took a call from Liberal Head Quarters advising us that one of the many senior members of the party would be calling to see us at 5.30 pm the following day and we were to keep the appointment confidential. Estelle was working in the campaign office on the huge task of sending a letter to every voter in the electorate who had received a postal vote application form in the previous state election. It was a very slow process and worried her so much that on the day of the appointment she was awake at about 2 am and decided to drive to the campaign office to keep processing the letters. It was a cold night so she headed off in track suit and ugg boots and worked all day. Although embarrassed with how she looked she made it to the post office to make sure that all the letters caught the mail. The senior member arrived at our home and proceeded to tell us that research had indicated that I would not win the seat of Mooloolah and that Headquarters were asking me to step down from the campaign in favour of another member from Headquarters. I rejected the notion that I was going to lose and Estelle added that such a request wasn’t fair to our supporters, donors or the campaign team who had worked so hard. The visitor responded. ‘What the Liberal Party gives, the Party can take away.’ He left and the matter was never brought up again. Election Day was an exciting day for all of us and when we rang our booths’ results through that night the State Director, Lynton Crosby. After a moment of dead silence, he gasped, ‘Hey! It looks like you’ve won.’ After the National Party preferences were distributed we finished up with 69% of the vote. The state election result overall went along the lines predicted by the less optimistic of our experts. There wasn’t much change in the overall seat numbers and Wayne Goss’s ALP government was returned for a second term. The Liberals lost a couple of seats and gained a couple, including Mooloolah, finishing up with nine seats again. One of my first tasks was to request that Parliamentary Services accept Geoff Mead’s loaned office as my official electorate office. They agreed. After the Declaration of the Polls it was time for my first official visit to Parliament 196


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House where I would soon be spending about a third of my working time. It’s location on George St, in between the Brisbane River and the Botanic Gardens was, and still is, in a delightful position. The main building was built in stages in the 1880s and accommodates two chambers, the Lower House and the Upper House, the latter unused since 1922 when that level of government was abolished in Queensland. The tall annex building, behind the original structure, was built in 1979. Its style was more for utility than any attempt to match the existing nineteenth century stonework. There was a training program in Parliament House for first-time members and this was quite helpful. But in all my travels I’d never struck another job that required fewer mandatory skills as being a parliamentarian. A constituent asked me, one day shortly after I was first elected, what capabilities were required of a just-elected politician. ‘You’d need more skills to get a job as a rouseabout, pickin’ crutchings in a shearing shed.’ I answered with a grin. And so I commenced yet another career – as a Queensland Member of Parliament. I represented Mooloolah for three terms, first in opposition, followed belatedly by a short term in government and then, sadly, back into opposition again. It amounted to nearly nine years total. During my first three year term, because we had such a small group of Liberals in the Parliament, it wasn’t hard to get a job. I was given the Liberal Party Parliamentary Secretary position and I was also made Deputy Opposition Whip – along with the National’s Lawrence Springborg - a young man for whom I’ve retained considerable respect. Our job as whips was to count the heads after a voting division and to organise our respective speakers during debate. Being initially in opposition we Coalition members had no power at all and could not deliver any of our policies. This was so different from my experience in Landsborough Shire, the local Caloundra council whose members were not divided along party lines. In State opposition we had to make do with asking government ministers difficult questions and being critical of the Government’s policies in our speeches. Also in my first term in 1992, there were our maiden (first) speeches where we foreshadowed the wonderful things that we would achieve in the Parliament. Firstly, in my maiden, I thanked Estelle and my campaign team. My speech went on to emphasise the need for a police station in Kawana, two new schools in Mountain Creek, a Sunshine Coast University and the abolition of the Sunshine Motorway tolls. The general policy areas that I visited included my favourites; unemployment, the environment and Citizen Initiated Referenda. As an opposition back bencher one virtually has no influence on which matters were debated – let alone whether they were passed. Most of the bills are put forward in Parliament by the government’s ministers, and much of the content had 197


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been presented to the relevant minister by the bureaucracy. Many issues are not disputed by the Opposition, making it a challenge for an opposition back bencher to get a mention in the media. The major media, of course, have their own agenda and prefer to print contentious matters rather than good policy ideas. Regional newspapers are usually good and I had only a few disagreements with the Sunshine Coast Daily. Occasionally it’s possible to have a win over the Government from the Opposition benches. This was the case in early 1994 with Sunlover Hire Boats a small business located in Mooloolaba. The owners, a local couple, came to see me and to complain that they had been told that the name Sunlover was owned by Queensland Tourist and Travel Corporation and that their local business would have to stop using the name. Although the locals had registered the business name, QTTC had trademarked it under Federal law. I did some effective media, including TV, and the next day I was preparing to bring the matter up in Parliament when the phone rang. ‘Bruce, it’s Bob Gibbs, Tourism Minister. I’m going to get QTTC to back off on this Sunlover matter. How would you prefer that I tell the House? Would you prefer to ask me a Question without Notice or will I make a Minister’s Statement?’ I gave it some thought. Sometimes it’s hard to get onto our Questions List and I didn’t want to loose the momentum. ‘A Statement will be fine, thanks Bob.’ I was able to get more media in the Sunshine Coast Daily the very next day – my last paragraph read as follows. Mr Laming said he was pleased that the right of businesses to go about their work unhindered by the bureaucracy had been recognised. ‘It is a victory for commonsense,’ I said. In 1993, Julie was old enough to copy some of Susan’s former activities and was delighted (and so were we) to be a State finalist in the Lions “Miss Personality Quest”. As Deputy Chairman of the Police for Kawana Waters Committee I was keen to acknowledge the start of the station’s building in my first speech – even though it was launched by the Labor government. ‘I am pleased to see the long-awaited station under construction…and look forward to its 24 hour operation,’ I said, but here we are now, twenty-odd years later – still waiting for a 24 hour service. It’s one thing to pass laws about such things as sea pollution but another to have trained officers on hand to implement them. For this reason I called for a water police unit at Mooloolaba in January 1993. In June, 1994, the Police Commissioner, Jim O’Sullivan, confirmed that the water police base would be created and that $180 000 was available to provide a suitable vessel. One of the spoiling aspects of the otherwise popular Mooloolaba beach precinct was the behaviour of many club patrons when they departed licensed 198


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premises, sometimes as late as 5am. In mid 1993 a trial of 3 am closing was undertaken – it worked and I supported the move towards a continuation of the 3 am closure. ‘The decision will be welcomed by all residents in the Mooloolaba area,’ I claimed. The following year, in 1994, another problem arose, that of people drinking in public after closing time or when they were refused entry to the clubs. I raised the issue in parliament, as an opposition member, with a suggestion. ‘Having talked to police on the beat,’ I said, ‘I am convinced that on-the-spot fines would be of great value in our fight against crime.’ It was implemented and found to be effective. It did also provide some positive media cover. At the time of introduction it was understood that it would not be applied to behaving family groups but used with discretion on disruptive persons, usually at night. However it’s one thing to provide police stations and make changes to laws but unless there are sufficient police officers on the beat the task will be beyond them. This issue continued for most of my time in parliament. Probably to avoid arguments between regions over police numbers, the QPS Regional Staffing Model was implemented and followed. Fair enough in theory but the Sunshine Coast was left disadvantaged. Firstly, the number of police stations was taken into account but, being a growth area, the Sunshine Coast was always behind in this factor. Secondly, there was not adequate adjustment for the huge number of tourists visiting the Coast, particularly at holiday times. It was not until the Coalition gained government in early 1996, and Russell Cooper became Police Minister, that my voice was heard and our police numbers were increased. Unfortunately, the Model was not adjusted and our region slipped back after we lost government in 1988. Education was also under population growth pressure on the Sunshine Coast in 1992 – particularly in the Mountain Creek area. In my maiden speech I called on the new ALP Minister for Education, Pat Comben, to visit my electorate and assess the need for a high school in addition to the already-planned primary school. Opposition members have to be careful when being critical of ministers as the latter are nearly always better informed and well briefed by the relevant department heads. I decided to give credit where it was obviously due and to save the criticism for when I held an advantage. The Education Department called a public meeting in August, 1993, to acquaint the public with the new primary school and I acknowledged the government’s effort “so far”. This brought an unexpected letter to the editor by a stranger, some of which is repeated below. It was refreshing last night to hear a politician get up and give credit to one of his political opponents regarding the new school coming to fruition. Too often all we hear about are politicians arguing with each other or continually denigrating their opponents. If more politicians were like him and willing to give credit where credit is due, they may find that the public will have a higher opinion of them! Well 199


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done Bruce. (SCD 23 Aug 93) Fair enough, but I needed to take the initiative. I made some enquiries with the department and learned that another high school was planned for the future on the central Sunshine Coast. I had to move quickly with the media - thus “owning” the project. I did just that. Mr Laming said that land was available at Mountain Creek that had been designated for a future high school. Mr Laming said that he would call on the Minister for Education, Pat Comben, to make an early decision on the proposed new high school so that local parents could start planning their children’s high school education. (SCD 17 Feb 94) It wasn’t long before the Mountain Creek High School was announced and it appeared that it was partly due to my efforts. I didn’t get another letter to the editor though. Prior to the opening of the new high school a public meeting was held to brief the prospective parents. Towards the end of the meeting, during a question time, a man asked the principal, Greg Peach, whether or not there would be a school uniform. Greg rose from his chair and answered. ‘Whether there will be a uniform or not will be a matter for the P and C to decide,’ he said. ‘But if there is to be such a uniform, every student shall wear it every day!’ The spontaneous ovation that followed convinced me that I would get on well with this bloke. The school was completed and became a very successful high school – so much so that attendance was restricted to those within specified boundaries. Our daughter Julie’s three children attended the primary or high school and loved it. If there was only one State Government issue that angered the majority of Sunshine Coast voters in 1992 it was the imposition of toll roads. The genesis of the tolls goes back to the mid eighties when a private group planned a toll bridge across the Maroochy River. The concept was taken over by the then National Party Government of the day and extended to a motorway south through Maroochydore and Mooloolaba and then out to the Bruce Highway. Of the three proposed toll booths, two were in my Mooloolah Electorate. Although the Sunshine Coast did require a bypass of the series of congested local roads along the beachfront, the local reaction to the tolls was one of outrage. Estelle and I were two of the many who approached the National Party Premier, Mike Ahern, and complained that some of the proposed toll roads had been used free for some time. Also, travel between Mooloolaba and Kawana could only be reasonably possible by using the toll road. To Mike Ahern’s credit, he recognised the unfairness of the plan and he rescinded all the tolls except the bridge toll. Prior to the 1989 election, the Labor Opposition had promised to abolish the tolls altogether. They won that election (the first for Labor for years) and, not only did they break their election promise, but they reinstated the other two polling 200


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booths. Locals were furious so they formed a group called “Toll Busters” which became the visible, audible, focal point representing the views of the vast majority of Sunshine Coasters. They actually occupied a part of the motorway land for some months to block an attempt by the Government to cut off a toll-avoiding manoeuvre. In July, 1993, when we were still in opposition, I endeavoured to solve the impasse. I brokered an offer from a leading petroleum company to lease an appropriate site on the motorway for a state-of-the-art service station including a major fast food company and probably Australia’s first drive-through bank. It was well supported and soon a petition was being circulated but the government wouldn’t budge. A friend of mine, the late Vic Walker proprietor of the two Moby Vic’s servos on the Bruce Highway, and I were invited to inspect the tunnel underneath the Mooloolaba booth with some Motorway officials. We could hear the occasional vehicle above, and when a few coins rattled down the tube Vic turned to our hosts with a big grin. ‘You got one!’ he shouted, then gave me a wink. Vic wasn’t in good health at the time but was determined to the end. We talked one day and he said, ‘If you don’t get rid of the tolls as soon as you get into government, I’ll come back and haunt you, you know!’ It wasn’t until nearly three years later, my second term, that we finally gained office and the power that goes with it. At our first joint party meeting I asked the question of the new premier, Rob Borbidge. ‘When do we abolish the tolls? I asked. ‘I’m sure it won’t be long,’ he said, ‘when you have the State Treasurer, Joan Sheldon, very much onside.’ And so it was, and the only ones to complain were those that lost their jobs – and I sympathised with them - and the Labor members. With the toll removed, there was no impetus to pursue a service station so we cast our attention elsewhere. ‘What greater insult can we deliver to our young people than to tell them that their skills are not needed and that their ambitions will not be fulfilled?’ The above is an extract from my maiden speech delivered in Parliament on 5 November 1992. I continued the theme for the nearly nine years that I was a State MP. I asked questions openly, such as, ‘How much research have we really done into the causes of unemployment? Have we quantified the effect of the movement of married women into the workforce? What has been the real impact on jobs of the lowering of tariffs and the introduction of technology? Perhaps it’s simply a mal-distribution of jobs within our society.’ In July, 1993, I put forward as a policy my first job-making scheme. It was originally called the “One in Ten” plan which would allow all employers to hire one unemployed person for every ten people on their full time staff. The business 201


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would only have to pay the difference between the new employees’ award wage and their previous dole entitlement. I wasn’t able to achieve the necessary support at Commonwealth level - we were in opposition at both levels anyway - so it was back to the drawing board. You might recall that back in the mid eighties, when I was in Landsborough Shire Council, I was concerned about the number of unexploded shells left behind during wartime when Kawana was a practice live firing range. I was of the opinion that not only should it be an Army Engineers responsibility to find and remove the unexploded shells but that it would also be a great training exercise to do so. I was not able to convince the Commonwealth Government back in the eighties but in June 1993 I decided to have another bid. Having had ten years training myself in the Army CMF Engineers in Hobart and being a State Member of Parliament, I felt that I had reason to be optimistic this time. I had strong support from the local media as well. The Sunshine Coast Daily editorial had this to say on the fifth of April 1997. ‘Accepted or not, the responsibility is there. As the Member for Mooloolah correctly points out, it was the Army that put the ordnance on to the area; and it should have properly cleared it years ago.’ But it was not to be. The army maintained their negative stance. Ah well, you can’t win em all, eh! One of my first opportunities to make a contribution to an issue of my own interest was just prior to an oil spill in the Kawana canals in December 1992. I had supported an increase in fines to $1M for offending corporations. In August, 1993, I delivered a paper on the subject to the Australia and Pacific Regional Conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in Sydney. ‘I am particularly determined that unseaworthy oil tankers should not be allowed to operate in any Pacific waters.’ I said to the meeting, and got unanimous support. I also promoted that only tankers with double hulls should come through the Barrier Reef. Nearer to home, in early 1995, I rejected a Caloundra City Council proposal to dispose of treated effluent from Landsborough into the Mooloolah River. ‘As a councillor I worked hard to stop the Kawana effluent from being discharged into the river,’ I said publicly. ‘I do not want to see a return to it.’ By the following September over 3000 supporting signatures had been gathered and presented to Parliament. The Landsborough town treated effluent was eventually directed to the Kawana ocean outfall. Citizen Initiated Referendums (CIR) was one of my special interests but it was neither a Liberal nor a National Party policy. It involved allowing voters to petition for a special referendum on a particular issue. I referred to it in my maiden speech and then set about canvassing my coalition colleagues. My argument acknowledged that Members of Parliament were expected to 202


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adhere to the position of their party – and this is vital in our style of government. However in non party - political issues, usually of a social kind, we are often expected to reflect the point of view of those whom we represent. So in this case, precisely whose viewpoint does a member reflect? Your family, your profession, your friends, your church or do you simply rely on your own opinion. These are just some of the potential influences. But even your strongest supporters don’t necessarily agree with all of your viewpoints. I can recall that on a couple of personally difficult social issues, for which we had a free vote, I rang Estelle late at night and found that even just the discussion helped me to clarify the elements and thus come to a decision. But was it the right one? If the matter was one of deep concern to a lot of people, wouldn’t a referendum have been more appropriate? I think so. Although busy, the first three years of Parliament weren’t all work. Andrew and I found a few weeks, over the Christmas holidays, to go back-packing in South America visiting Malaysia, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Chile. My second term commenced with the July 1995 election. It started as a cliffhanger with the following seat distribution: ALP 45 Nationals 29 Liberals 14 Independent 1 This gave government to Labor. However one seat’s result, Mundingburra’s, was contested resulting in another election there which was held in February, 1996. A lot of Coalition Members, including me, went up to on the day to assist and the Liberal candidate, Frank Tanti won. This gave both Labor and the Coalition 44 seats. Elizabeth Cunningham, from Gladstone, placed her support carefully behind the Coalition. Rob Borbidge visited the Governor and he was invited to form the government. My appointment in Parliament by the new Government was to Chairman of Committees – more commonly referred to as Deputy Speaker. One of the definite disadvantages of that position is that one is not generally able to take part in normal debate on bills. It would be difficult to be debating one minute then taking over the chair the next minute and presiding over the same debate in a fair manner. As Chairman of Committees I presided over the sitting of Parliament when it resolves itself into a Committee of the Whole to debate the clauses of bills in more detail. The secondary role of the Chairman was to act as Deputy to the Speaker, Member for Nicklin Neil Turner. When I was in the chair it was my job to maintain order and ensure the orderly conduct of the members. We both had the power to eject disruptive members out of the House. Neil was a great Speaker and worked hard to avoid expelling ALP Members when the voting numbers were so tight. This precedent made it difficult for me not to follow suit. One day, Neil was attending 203


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his father’s funeral and I was in the Chair for Question Time when an attack was launched on the Speaker in his absence. Rightly or wrongly I decided to not expel the offender so as to abide by the Speaker’s own precedent. But boy, was I tempted! I really liked the position of Chairman of Committees – it was the highlight of my short political career. The new Sunshine Coast University College opened in 1996 with just 524 students - but it was not an independent institution in its own right. The Coalition won government shortly afterwards and it wasn’t long before the Vice Chancellor, Professor Paul Thomas, was arguing strongly with local Members that the university should be granted independent status and be able to drop the word “College” from its title. However, our new education minister the Honourable Bob Quinn, a former teacher himself, was not in favour of such a change unless SCUC was first assessed by a panel of appropriate, independent people from other universities. Professor Thomas, on the other hand, was not in favour of being judged by competitors. I felt that the panel idea – handled fairly - was the only workable course to take, as the matter looked like developing into a Mexican stand-off. I pleaded with the Professor to allow me to address the University College Board. This was eventually allowed to me and to Fiona Simpson, the National Party Member for Maroochydore. I had prepared for what I reckoned would be the debate of my life - but I held a few points back to counter the anticipated difficult questions. To my astonishment, no questions were asked and no comments were made. We were politely thanked for attending and then we left, somewhat bewildered. We were advised subsequently that the Board had accepted the panel option. In May 1998, just weeks before the state election, Bob Quinn announced that the panel had decided that the Sunshine Coast University College would be granted full independence status. I also received a letter from the Federal Minister for Education, David Kemp, that the university would receive direct funding. The word “College” was to be formally dropped. Universities are not just made up of students and study, however, and their nonacademic activities often come to the attention of members of parliament. In May, 1997, I put forward a bid for funding a $1.2 million synthetic athletics facility at the University. There was a 50% State Government subsidy available and it was important to quickly tap into the “Sydney Olympics training flavour”. Although the Uni is placed in Maroochy Shire, I urged Noosa Shire and Caloundra City to also back the project to indicate a Sunshine Coast solidarity. Sports Minister, Mick Veivers, advised me later in the year that our bid was successful. Unfortunately the official opening of the track was officiated by a Labor back bencher as we lost power in June 1998. Ah, such is life in politics! In October 1995 I was able to gain approval for the construction of a $300 000 bikeway linking Mooloolaba with the Sunshine Coast University College. This required cooperation from Queensland Transport, the Sunshine Motorway 204


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Company, Maroochy Shire Council and federal funding to utilise unemployed workers. Maroochy Mayor Bob King was particularly supportive. It was early February 1996, when we had been elected to government on a wafer thin majority in Queensland, One day, just three months after the State Coalition took office, word came through that 35 people had been murdered by a young man with assault rifles at Port Arthur, Tasmania. The new Commonwealth government, lead by John Howard, was elected even closer to this tragedy yet took action immediately by promising tougher gun legislation. These laws were state laws, but they were weak and inconsistent. The Prime Minister insisted on uniform national gun legislation which entailed an end to automatic and semi-automatic weapons, introduction to gun registrations, fewer guns in the community and other measures. I sat down and wrote a very impassioned letter to Prime Minister Howard. I expressed my concerns with his proposed legislation. It wasn’t that the amendments to the legislation were not necessary, but I had deep reservations about their scope. I had always been of the opinion that self-loading military style weapons should never have been allowed into this country (apart from army use), but to take single-shot 22s off people who had lived with and relied on them for years was verging on ridiculous. But the Prime Minister was from Sydney and wouldn’t understand this. So, as an elected Liberal State MP, I felt that it was my duty to write the letter. Why me? Did I fall into the same category as the ‘gun lobby’ fanatics? Did I have a vested interest? Well, no to the former but yes, I suppose, to the latter. Little did I dream that this issue would perplex me for so long. You might recall that it had all started for me about forty years earlier when I was on one of those sheep properties on that crutching run north out of Broken Hill in early ’55, I think it was called “Colane”. It didn’t take long for the debates to start between the gun control groups and the pro-gun lobby. Of those scores of people who contacted me, both from within the electorate and from state wide, it seemed that everyone was either dead against all guns or bitterly against any change. Our Premier, Rob Borbidge, made the difficult decision early in the piece that we should support John Howard. This gave us a better opportunity to bargain for reasonable amendments. I believe that our Police Minister, Russell Cooper’s office, received 12 000 letters and faxes on the issue. Russell, who was from the country and, to his credit, didn’t just lamely follow the proposed legislation. He sought out individuals and groups that represented the concerns of grazing and sporting people and put together amendments that were eventually accepted by John Howard. With the amendments, I felt that I could support the legislation. I asked for and received an invitation to a North Arm shooters’ meeting on the Sunshine Coast. A group gathered and listened to what I had to say. One very unhappy individual fronted me closely and spoke loudly. ‘Why don’t you hold a referendum on the issue? 205


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‘Because it would have to be held right across Australia,’ I answered. ‘The big cities’ vote would swamp the count and we would lose all of our .22 rifles. Does any one else here support the idea of a referendum?’ There was no response. The parliamentary debate, in October, was strained as many members held gun licences and/or represented electorates that didn’t support the new laws. The Speaker, Neil Turner, insisted on speaking in the debate, which is a most unusual for a speaker. A couple of Labor members questioned this departure from convention and, anticipating this, I had my ruling ready. I was ready to rule that Neil was the Member for Nicklin prior to becoming Speaker and it would be wrong to deny any electorate of their voice on such an important issue. As it turned out the Labor members didn’t press the point and the debate continued. I insisted in taking the Speaker’s role for much of the debate. All of the states passed their bills before the end of 1996. Was the legislation effective? It seems so, as a later report declared the following. In the 18 years prior to the reforms 13 mass shootings occurred in Australia. In the 10.5 years following the reforms there were no mass shootings in Australia. In hindsight I would call this the most difficult issue that I took on. The local press was unkind – from lack of understanding - and some “friends” wiped me. Ah, such is political life. In mid 1996, while the gun debate continued, I was selected as one of eight Members making up an all-party trade delegation to Asia. The countries visited were Malaysia, Singapore, China and Hong Kong. We met with Australian and Asian government officials and business people in each of those countries, and it was our intention to seek out new trade opportunities for Australia, in my case, specially rural. Two discussions come to mind, one in Hong Kong and one in Shanghai. The first was at a luncheon in Hong Kong where I was fortunate enough to catch up with Wendy McTavish whose husband Peter sailed with me at Mooloolaba when they both lived on the Sunshine Coast. Wendy introduced me to a local man who explained his dilemma. ‘We import a lot of fruit from Australia,’ he said. ‘But they keep sending fruits that are popular in Australia instead of growing and sending varieties that are familia to Chinese.’ I made a note and passed it on to the appropriate Australian official but wondered how an Australian farmer would react to any suggestion that he should change holus bolus to an unheard of crop without guarantees of a continuing market… The second discussion was in Shanghai. The Australian High Commissioner, who was fluent in the mandarin language, took us to meet the owner of a local textile factory who, in turn, spoke no English at all and relied on an interpreter. The conversation concentrated mainly on cotton so I decided to introduce my favourite, wool, into the agenda. The owner responded through the interpreter. ‘It’s too expensive for clothing,’ he said. 206


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‘But there are some very inexpensive lines of wool,’ I responded. ‘I am aware that it has been used successfully in the roof space of homes and is very warm in winter.’ The interpreter looked at me oddly and muttered something to the owner who, in turn, smiled at me and just said ‘thank you’ in mandarin. When we were leaving the factory in the High Commissioner’s car I asked for clarification. ‘What did the interpreter tell the boss about my woollen insulation suggestion?’ I asked. The High Commissioner smiled. ‘Strange people these Australians,’ he chuckled. ‘They put their sheep in the roof to keep them warm!’ Needless to say I was the butt of all that day’s humour. Back home in the land of reality - if politics can be so defined - I tidied the plan and re-named it “Workforce”. It was endorsed officially by the Liberal State Convention in 1997 but was not adopted at the Federal level by the appropriate minister, Dr David Kemp. Further refinement, with the help of Robert O’Sullivan of Sunshine Coast Group Training, produced “New Workforce” in early 1998. It was aimed at business people to encourage them to take on employees in general and unemployed men and women in particular. Group Training, based in Maroochydore, also agreed to sponsor a trial on the Sunshine Coast to the tune of $70 000. Once again, despite strong support from the Sunshine Coast Daily, the Commonwealth Minister declined to assist. I think there was a feeling that there were adequate employment programs already available. There had to be a circuit breaker but I hadn’t come across it at that time and the 1998 election was looming. Similarly in our second term, like the first, Estelle made sure that we had a break away from work. This time we visited South Africa and Zimbabwe with our good friends, Rodney and Loma Berger and then Botswana on our own as the Bergers had to return to Australia. My third term commenced following the election on the 13th of June 1998. Hunter Ploetz was our enthusiastic campaign director and we did well. Labor held its ground but the Coalition lost several members to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party, which attracted the votes of usually conservative people who had all sorts of concerns that they believed were not being addressed, and independents. This may also have been partially caused by a back lash following the gun laws of 1996. It is my opinion that One Nation played on the nation’s concerns but had few workable solutions in a modern environment. The loss of government meant a move out of the Deputy Speaker’s office near the chamber, and back into a small office and a smaller bedroom in the Annexe. It was Estelle who insisted that I attend a particular reunion at about this time. She bought the plane ticket and booked the rental car, so off I flew to Canberra. I 207


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picked up my rental car for the drive to Cooma. The old town was in a festive mood for the reunion, but I delayed my involvement long enough to visit my old friends, Graham (Joe) and Judy Hodkinson, on a small cattle property at nearby Brogo. I had the pleasure of being his best man at his and Judy’s wedding in the early 60s. It was now 1999, and Jindabyne was hosting the Fifty Year Reunion of the Snowy Mountain Scheme. I’d never been much of a “go backer”, in the past but I suppose that I was entering the nostalgic phase of my life. Besides, Estelle insisted and made all the arrangements. I had been pretty busy with parliamentary stuff, and I hadn’t really had much time to think about the trip apart from grabbing an old photo album and enlarging a few copies of a good clear shot of my whole shift of Tournapul operators. I don’t know what the psychological explanation is when a person gets goose bumps and an increased pulse for any other reason but on account of fear, but it happened to me on the road to Jindabyne, late that afternoon. As I said earlier, I hadn’t had time to give a lot of thought to what to expect on this return to the Snowy. I had called in to the completed Adaminaby Dam about twenty years earlier, during a family trip by road from Queensland to Melbourne. In my opinion, there’s nothing as lonely as a deserted dam project site (except perhaps a worked-out mine), the rocks are there, the water’s there, but the absence of its former frenetic activity renders its silence somehow deathly. There was a kiosk there at that time, but no one about, so I just stood inside the door looking at the large photographic mural on the wall. It was – you guessed it – a picture of roaring tournapuls on the dam project in its hey day. I was searching the numbers on the front bumpers – was my D2-21 among them? ‘You were there, weren’t you?’ The voice of the kiosk owner startled me. ‘Yes – were you?’ ‘No, but a lot of you blokes come by, and you all just stare.’ I had decided not to call in there again on this trip, but to drive straight past the turn-off and proceed direct to Jindabyne before it got dark. I think I heard it before I saw it in the fading day light. It was the unmistakable whine of a GM 6-71 diesel engine, and it came from a big yellow le Tourneau scraper, bouncing along a track beside the road. In actual fact, it wasn’t the model that we had operated at Adaminaby, but the earlier Super C (or “widow-maker”) that we had used at Glenbawn in ‘56. This lumbering refugee from the second world war was probably fifty years old – what a sound, what a sight! It was then that the goose bumps appeared, and I realised that my heart was pounding. All of a sudden I was focussed on why I was here, and I noticed the stream of cars ahead and behind me with number plates from all over Australia – all heading to Jindabyne for the same reason. All of a sudden, I couldn’t wait to get there. Next morning, in one the marquees, I stood behind this stooped old man for quite a long time. He’d just propped in front of the photo enlargement that I’d put on the notice board, and I hoped that he hadn’t blocked it from the view of others 208


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who might have been in the picture. Probably not, but many had stopped and looked at it closely. No one took up my offer of declaring that they were in the picture, thus getting a copy of the photograph for themselves. At one point I heard the voice of John Howard addressing the crowd. I’d had a few chats with him and no doubt would do so again, so I stayed with the Adaminaby mob and talked myself hoarse with those I’d probably never see again. I’d spent enough time hovering around the notice board and chatting to the passers-by. It seemed that among the thousands in attendance, there was none of the old crew at the reunion, so I went forward to redeem my photo. ‘Excuse me’, I said to the stooped old man, who half turned stiffly towards me. I looked at his face, which was enhanced by thick-lens, dark-rimmed glasses – the same sort of glasses had been worn by the bloke who greeted me unemotionally in tin-hat’s office forty-two years earlier. I read his name tag. ‘Dave Morgan! You’re the bloke that sacked me!’ ‘Probably’, he replied quietly. ‘Please come and meet my family.’ I did and then we spent an enjoyable hour together, discussing the old days. I was given the task of Shadow Minister for Public Works and Housing and was pitted against Labor’s Robert Schwarten who had already benefited with a term as that Minister. Schwarten was a wily opponent and I found that the accepted task of attempting to ridicule one’s minister was a negative approach and not enjoyable. I preferred positive policy debate - but there’s not much of that in opposition! It was interesting dealing with the building industry and the public housing representatives were a good bunch. It was a pity that their efforts were spoiled by those tenants who damaged their homes. It was time for our each-third-year vacation again and this time Andrew suggested Central America. This was very interesting and Estelle, Andrew and I visited Costa Rica, Guatemala and Mexico. By mid year, 2000, another election day was approaching. I put New Workforce on the list to be considered as Coalition policy. A helpful and wise Leader, Rob Borbidge, advised me that we could qualify for Commonwealth (Liberal) cooperation if the scheme applied to state government departments instead of private businesses. It was initially renamed State Service and because it would be a two government partnership I decided to call on the relevant Commonwealth minister, Tony Abbot. ‘Can I have ten minutes to promote an alternative employment promoting idea?’ I said at the door of his office in Sydney. “Make it five,’ he said with a grin - and I did. He responded by letter with his guarded approval. Gaining cooperation was also the only way that we could market it as our election policy. Under this policy Canberra would pay the dole to people being job-skilled by state departments such as Transport, National Parks and Emergency Services. Closer to the election it was decided to give it a 209


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less bureaucratic name and we opted for Working for Queensland. At the time Queensland had an unemployment rate of 7.9% and the Sunday Mail gave Working for Queensland a good write up as a poll issue. At about the same time I hurriedly put together another relatively simple project. It involved unemployed people who held bronze medallions being able to volunteer for life saving duties as part of a Work for the Dole” scheme. It was supported by Surf Life Saving Queensland. It was the front page story in the Sunshine Coast Daily and fifty news agents’ posters read “DOLE PATROL CALL”. The Gold Coast Bulletin also gave it a good cover. I also put forward a policy of putting a loading on quotes by foreign companies for the construction of Queensland Government infrastructure. I got a call from someone in Liberal Party head quarters in Brisbane. ‘They don’t agree with your policy down here,’ he said. ‘And I don’t agree with foreign companies that don’t pay decent wages or observe environmental requirements being allowed to undercut Australian companies’ quotes,’ I said. ‘Get the person who complained and we’ll have a little debate.’ No one contacted me… Meanwhile, Andrew was in USA and had enrolled at Harvard where he gained a Master of Public Administration at the School of Business. He also studied at the schools of Law, and Divinity. As the 2001 election drew near the issue of preferences came to the fore. Although it was made clear to voters that they could choose their own preferences many sought guidance from the “how to vote card”. Unfortunately the Coalition was goaded by Labor into putting One Nation last - despite my warnings - while One Nation, on the other hand, had decided to put all sitting members last as a general rule. A meeting of members and officials was held in Brisbane to discuss the deteriorating situation - the mood was heavy. We were each asked to express our electorate situation. I went quickly through my expected voting figures, declared that I was almost certainly going to lose my seat and requested having no preferences on my cards. These figures were disbelieved - mainly by the Brisbane Members - and the request was denied. They obviously didn’t understand the make-up of my regional electorate. Later, I received a call at home one night from a One Nation representative saying that something might be able to be done for me if I dropped the “One Nation last” card. This was tempting as it had the potential to save the day for me. I gave serious consideration to printing my own cards with no preferences. But then I remembered that I had been a member of the Liberal Party for over ten years and my mother and father had been members fifty years previously. Most importantly, without the name and assistance of the Party I would not have enjoyed the privilege of nine years in Parliament - I probably would not have made it into politics at all. I believed in democracy and decided to use the official card. Not withstanding the obvious difficulties, we mounted a good campaign 210


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again run by Hunter Ploetz. Despite our efforts my fourth election, on the 17th of February 2001, was a wipe-out for the Conservatives. Only three Liberals were re-elected in Queensland - not including me. I found that I was nearly 63 years of age, unemployed and without having made any plans for future employment. But I had enjoyed forty-seven years of wonderful, varied careers.

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The Barbershop Quartet

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Election Night Win

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Opening of Parliment

Planning stages of USC

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Dinner at Parliament with Mr and Mrs Ploetz and Mr and Mrs Davidson

Dinner at Parliament with George and Vi Hobden

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Election Day

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Good Supporters are Essential

Talking Politics with Don Walker

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Rob Borbidge, Joan Sheldon and Myself

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Bruce and Estelle with John Howard

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The 1995 Elected Team

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8 Reflections The year 2001 had two major set backs. The first, but not the more important, was my election loss on the seventeenth of February and the later, but more note worthy, was my mother’s passing, at 89 years and eleven months, on the thirteenth of August. Even though I had predicted a loss at the 2001 election, it still came as a shock to me and many others. I felt that I’d let down the Party, my constituents and my family but fortunately my electorate officer, Lyn Parker, was able to continue working in the office. The clean-outs of my electorate office and my parliamentary office were sad events for me. The conservatives, as a party, would have to wait for over ten years for an opportunity to enjoy government again. Even though I had often changed jobs and even careers at very short notice all my life, I had made no plans at all for this event due, probably, to the demands of that last campaign. My first and only paid work, post-parliament, was as a shed hand in the shearing shed of “Cooinda” out near Warwick in Southern Queensland. The sheep were well cared for and didn’t need “pizzle” attention. Talk about me doing the full circle and “jeeze”, how wool classing had changed! I then spent four weeks at Port Augusta, South Australia as an Indigenous Community Volunteer. This was interesting and I wanted to do more, but various health issues rendered it unwise to go to the outback for long periods. My other work-like activity was working unpaid with, mainly, John Harrison and Garry Graham on the Rates Review Group in Caloundra Shire. We were successful in having differential rating (based on land valuations) introduced in Caloundra Council. During some of the years after being an MP I satisfied my building urge by planning and constructing firstly a sunroom and secondly two large pergolas at home - a section of which is partly weather proof. I gradually took on various interests on the Sunshine Coast. I sold my Triumph TR4 roadster and bought a Jaguar E Type which I kept for twelve years. Estelle and I joined the Jaguar Drivers’ Club of Queensland, Sunshine Coast, and enjoyed great outings with a great group. I also rejoined the Sunshine Statesmen Barbershop Chorus and volunteered to be president for a few years and then took on the role of publicity officer. I enrolled as a mature-age student at our University of the Sunshine Coast, for which I’d worked so hard as a local MP to help promote it as an independent university. I went on to complete an Arts (Honours) Class Two, Division One in 2006, my thesis being based on whether or not the 1996 Australia-wide gun laws were an example of co-operative federalism. These gun laws had been very difficult for me to handle as most people were either strongly for or dead against them. Following this study I then continued on to do some creative writing subjects. This interest led to the writing of a novel “A Reed in the Wind”, and short stories and poetry. I have included one of the latter below.

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I Will Be Sad. A soliloquy in free verse. 36 lines Hey there, Old Son! You won’t remember your conception In the fifties, out on those western plains. An old roo shooter, with few words to say, Extolled your worth to me. ‘Another mouth to feed?’ I challenged. ‘Not likely!’ so I thought, but the seed was sown. And when you came into my life a few months later On those burrowed southern flats, I knew that we would get along. And I was glad. It wasn’t you that had to change to help us win the war Against that plague of foreign pests. It was I who learned by trial and error To guide your rounds more truly. And as those early years slipped by and I held you in my hand, We were mates, I told you so, although you never answered, And with your help we won that war – and paid our way to boot In a world far more accepting. And I was proud. Then we sort of went our ways, but it was no fault of yours You see, my life became less simple. Didn’t everyone’s? You and I were always close but you never met My town-bound friends and my relations. But you met my other son one day, when he was young And you formed a brief liaison and it was he who held you in his hand But you and I were getting older – sharing values of a bygone time Which were not enticing to those who sip cappuccino - and not black tea. And I was sad. Then thirty years just passed us by until one fateful morning By an ancient convict prison ruin A man – no friend of yours or mine – took thirty lives. So now you must be locked away and that is rightly so. But we also wear the sins of others and that’s not rightly so. Hey! My son might like to share some time with you when I am gone, To take you in his hand again, back to those western plains. And if he’s not keen, yes, I will be sad. But hey! Old Son – will it really matter?

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My love of sailing re-ignited, only this time in an Etchells, a racing yacht, with owner-crew members selected from any three of Drew Wilkinson, Roy Colquhoun, Michael King and myself, depending on availability. In addition I have a Flying Fifteen (feet) sail boat which I still sail occasionally. I was fortunate to be able to walk the Overland Track from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair in Tasmania with a group that provides huts, food and cooking - easier than what Andrew and I battled along with in 1977. Estelle and I also walked the Milford track in New Zealand with Norm and Wendy Cardinal - who went on to become keen mountain climbers. These walks were very different but both were great. Two less strenuous trips were southern Western Australia by motor home in wild flower time and a bus tour of the Kimberleys and Kakadu National Park in northern Australia. The highlight trip of all however would have to be the three month house swap holiday in Italy, Switzerland and Austria. In 2009 we were able via the internet to contact the Rovers Football Club of Mount Isa. They couldn’t believe that the club was older than they thought - 50 years in fact - and when we proved it they invited any of the 1959 players we could find to attend their annual dinner. We were able to organise Graeme Macintosh and wife Ronda, Ron Cole plus Estelle and myself. We located Bill Eckhardt and Lorraine but they were unable to attend. What a nostalgic visit it turned out to be! During this post 2001 period Estelle continued her supportive role, ran the house, helped our kids and spoilt the grand children. She planned and organised most of our travel and ensured that our social life was enjoyable. Andrew was elected to Federal Parliament, was married to Olesja and was presented with two lovely daughters, Sophie-Claire and Isobel. Susan already had three children, Shanti, Jai and Tahlia and experienced running a restaurant and a vineyard. Julie and Justin added Jinja and Jack to Jazz as they developed their computer business. We have eight grand children in all. I’ve loosely maintained a personal philosophy for many years and that is this. We should all grasp the opportunity to have a go at whatever work, sport or other activity that is on our wish list while we possess the opportunity and ability to do so. This leaves many memories to revisit and enjoy in the future rather than, ‘I wish I had…’ For instance it gives me goose bumps to hear the distant approach of a Scottish pipe band and I can still recognise a few of the tunes I used to play in the Scotch College band. My first employment was in the wool industry and later the fragrant smell of Tasmanian super fine merino wool, although not shared by others, brings back pleasant work memories to me. A very different work-related memory is the shrill sound of heavy earth-moving equipment powered by the General Motors 6 71 two stroke diesel motors. It’s not often heard these days, but when it is, memories of that rugged work at Glenbawn Dam in the Hunter Valley and Lake Eucumbene in the Snowy Mountains come flooding back - together with first cars and rock n roll of course. Later on, four years in Papua New Guinea was a marvellous experience 223


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and challenge, never to be forgotten. In a fairly balanced life, recollections of sport bring back memories too. When I left school, skin-diving was in its infancy and equipment was scarce or home made. But this didn’t diminish the absolute joy of deep free diving. As much of my early working life was spent inland, away from the ocean, diving and some of my other desired aquatic activities had to wait. So it was with bodysurfing and sailing until arriving at the Sunshine Coast where I had difficulty in choosing between the rush of sea water past the body and the spray of ocean in the face when sailing hard to windward in a well-balanced yacht. However, I unfortunately failed to accept the offer from Estelle to learn to play bridge with her in readiness for my later years. Ah well… My greatest memories of all flow from my darling wife, wonderful united family, extended family and our many friends. What a life! I’m so glad I listened to Abdul, my old shearer mate over fifty years ago at Colane Station in the far north-west, when he said, ‘You’ve gotta knock about Son, you’ve just got to knock about.’ And so I did just that.

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Barbershop Boys for Mothers Day

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A Uni degree in 2006 226


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