Autobiography of John R A Cameron

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John Cameron

Contents

Chapter One: PRE-WAR

It was always assumed that I would go to war because when I left school at the end of 1940, we had been at war for over a year and it showed no sign of ending. "You'd better make sure you have a job to come back to," my father said. So I sat for the entrance exam for the Commonwealth Public Service, and early in 1941, aged seventeen, I started work in the Dept. of Works and Housing on the tenth floor of Bryant House in Pitt Street, Sydney.

I lived with my parents and elder sister at Harris Park in Sydney's western suburbs. It was the house my father had bought when he first came to Sydney to teach at the Kings School during the First World War. Before that he had taught at Geelong College in Victoria. My brother and sister were both born in Geelong, Donald in 1910 and Lilias in 1913. My mother Annie, or Nana as she was known, arrived there as a young bride. Dad had gone to Scotland in a vacation from Cambridge University to see if he could find any of his ancestors. He didn't have success with ancestors, but met other Camerons and fell in love with one of them. After graduation he returned to his native Tasmania, but later went back to Scotland to marry a very surprised Nana.

Dad was older than Mum, and her happy but isolated life in the Scottish highlands at Ullapool did not really fit her for a journey half way round the world with a man she hardly knew. Her own father was a teacher and, to some extent, the teacher she married was like a second father. Once in Australia, she missed her family very much and Scotland became for her a Brigadoon, a wondrous place forever frozen at the time she left it.

In Australia in the exuberant 1920s, the Union of Congregational Churches decided to branch into education, and bought an established boarding school, Headfort, at Killara on Sydney’s north shore. The school was re-named Milton Grammar School, and Dad was appointed its headmaster.

The family moved into residence in 1928, bringing with them the little accident that had occurred four years earlier: a baby brother fourteen years younger than Donald, and eleven years younger than Lilias.

Most of my earliest memories are focussed on Milton with its two full-sized ovals, a tennis court, two swimming pools and twenty acres of bush. It was a great place to grow up, and, outside of term time, it all belonged to me. My partner in revels was Jacky Clarke whose family owned the dairy on the other side of Stanhope Road from Milton. We were both cricket fanatics, and one of our favourite games was an Ashes series in which a toss decided who could be Australia.

We set up the stumps in the middle of the full-sized oval, and tossed again to see which side would bat first. Once play started we were scrupulous about changing ends after each eight-ball over, and having drinks, luncheon and tea breaks at the appropriate times. We each had ten lives, one for each fall of wicket for the side we represented. Each time a batsman got out, you became another player until all ten wickets fell, and it was time for the other side to bat.

The only runs we scored were boundaries, because we only had a batsman and a bowler. The rule was that any ball that came to rest behind the batsman was his responsibility, while those in front of the wicket had to be "foxed" by the bowler. The result was that both Jacky and I became great front of the wicket batsmen, but were hopeless at cuts, glances or hooks.

Dad was appreciative of my interest in cricket, and did all he could to foster it. Because the school had to purchase sporting equipment, Dad got to know another Killara resident, Bert Oldfield, who owned a sports store in the city. Oldfield was the wicket keeper for Australia’s Test team and I was overwhelmed when Dad introduced me to him. Dad himself had been a first class cricketer and I believe played for Tasmania. Certainly he played at Cambridge because I have a photo of a group of players headed "Freshmen's Matches" with a dapper John Cameron from Trinity College looking proudly at the camera. I also recall an impressive cane with a silver top inscribed "Most catches in the season : John Cameron".

Each season Dad and I picked Australian test teams to see who could get closest to the actual selection, and Dad took me to the England/Australia Test matches. We watched from The Hill, which got its name from the sloping grassy area in front of the scoreboard. This was devoid of seats apart from a few rows by the fence, but we sat in the adjacent Hill grandstand where there was conventional seating. I suppose that Dad went there because it was the cheapest area, but actually it was more interesting than the more prestigious Members Stand. The people on the Hill were the real afficionados of the game, enlivening it with spirited barracking . 'Hey, Barnsey, you're wanted on the phone!" or "Send out a bed!" if Barnes was batting slowly. In moments of extreme boredom papers would be gathered and a bonfire lit in the open grassy area.

I was with Dad on the Hill for most of the notorious Bodyline matches in Sydney, and remember my horror when a ball from Larwood felled Oldfield who was carried from the field. We were there too for the historic innings of my personal hero, Stan McCabe, when he scored 189. Larwood was a great bowler and his very fast bumpers aimed at the batsman's body forced players to concentrate on defending themselves with the bat, resulting in catches being given to the cordon of men behind the wicket. McCabe's method of defence was the hook shot, swinging his bat horizontally and sweeping the ball to the boundary time after time. Had it not been for his superb judgment, he would have failed to make contact with the ball and been hit on the head or body. I remember that the papers of the time showed a photo of Australia's opener, Jack Fingleton, with arrows showing where he had been hit literally dozens of times. All this was long before the protective armour of today.

We were there, too, for one of the comic highlights of the season. Bert Ironmonger was in the Australian team. He was a good slow spin bowler, but a hopeless batsman and an even worse fieldsman. The English were batting and Larwood, their demon bowler, was demonstrating his versatility by scoring runs. At 98, he played a vigorous on-drive which should have gone to the boundary and brought up his century. Bradman had placed Ironmonger at mid-on in the belief that he would do less damage there than else-where. Larwood's drive was in the air and waist high. It struck Ironmonger in the stomach. Bert bent over and clapped his hands to his stomach in pain and shock. When he straightened up he was holding the ball. Larwood was out for 98 caught by Ironmonger. Larwood flung his bat to the ground in disgust. Such gestures were unacceptable in those days, but I like to think Larwood saw the joke, and was over-reacting in good humour. That was not the perception of the crowd and he was boo-ed loudly as he left the field.

Going to the cricket with Dad was not without its hazards. One day rain stopped play, and we returned home in a typical Sydney down-pour. There was quite a walk from Killara railway station to Milton, and the crown of Dad's hat was becoming a crater lake. He solved the problem, logically, by punching out the depression and turning the hat into a rimmed dome. It was very sensible but to a small boy it was not the right thing to do, and when Dad ignored my pleas to put form before convenience, I dis-owned him and walked home on my own some ten paces behind.

Another of Dad's "logical solutions" was the manufacture of short pants for the beach by cutting the legs off long trousers that had seen better days. The result was very functional, but baggy round the rump and frayed around the legs. The family died of embarrassment initially, but developed a tolerance to this and other unchangeable elements of his behaviour.

Among the plusses of an academic family was having frequent and long holidays. Every Xmas we had six weeks holiday at Toowoon Bay on New South Wales central coast. Getting there was quite a journey as we had no car. First there was a taxi to Killara station where the luggage was booked through to Wyong. We then caught the suburban train to Hornsby where we waited for the Newcastle train to take us to Wyong. At Wyong, we collected our luggage and boarded a bus for the short trip to a jetty and Sargeant's launch. The launch took a hour or so to travel across the Tuggerah Lakes to Long Jetty, where we boarded another bus which took us to the intersection with the road which ran down to our house. We and our luggage were unloaded and we made several trips to carry our luggage by hand the couple of hundred yards to the house.

"Our luggage" was not comprised of three or four over-night bags; it resembled an African explorer's kit. There were personal clothes of course, linen and foodstuffs. There were books and games. There was fishing tackle and prawning gear. And there was Dad's hurricane lantern.

The lantern was an essential part of Dad's equipment for prawning. Because it still contained vestiges of kerosene, it could not be packed inside anything, and because the glass shield for the flame was easily breakable, it could not be entrusted to any luggage van. Where-ever the family went the hurricane lantern went too. My mother and sister tried to disguise it by wrapping it in brown paper, but the wire carrier handle stuck out to give the game away and shattered any Cameron pretence to poise and sophistication.

When you went prawning, you picked a dark night, waited until the moon had set, then assembled your kerosene tin for the prawns, your nets and your lights (including Dad's hurricane lantern), and walked the couple of miles to the prawning site. If this was in the lakes themselves, you waded around in water up to your knees with a prawn net in one hand and a light in the other. When you saw a prawn, you scooped it up in your net. If the site was The Entrance, where the water from Tuggerah Lakes flowed out to sea, you stood in water up to your waist, bracing you legs against the current, and positioned your net so the prawns heading out to sea went into the net. Either way you hoped to have half a kerosene tin of prawns after about an hour.

When you had your prawns you walked home, filled the kerosene tin with sea water and put it on the wood stove which you fired up with as much wood as it could take. Then it was off to bed. By morning the fire had died down, the prawns were cooked and a breakfast fit for a king could be had by all.

The other great joy of Toowoon Bay was fishing off the beach. One or two professional boats operated out of the bay. They went after deep-sea fish, but they came back to clean their catch at moorings in the bay. This had two great benefits: there was plenty of food in the bay to attract fish, and if you didn't catch enough yourself, you could always supplement your meagre haul by purchases at very reasonable prices.

Dad enjoyed fishing and would sit on the beach for hours in his cut-down shorts. He never used any sunburn protection because he had great faith in leaving it to nature. Most of the time his faith was justified, but occasionally he would get very badly sun burned. When this happened there was only one sure remedy : a liberal application of Mr Dey.

David Dey was an old friend of Dad's who was a publisher. He published mainly religous material, and was one of the most gentle and generous people I have ever known. He was always happy to answer the call to come to Toowoon Bay and apply the balm of his personality to Dad's sunburn. He also added greatly to the lives of the pupils of Dad's school by donating the timber crates used to package the rolls of newsprint used in his business. These broke down into panels approximately a metre square, which could be used to make fabulous "houses of cards" to play in. Because the timber panels were strong and light, you could even make houses of several storeys on the ground or up in trees.


The house at Toowoon Bay was a work of art. It was built by or for other academic friends, the Sangers. Mr Sanger was headmaster of the Armidale School and he generously made the house available to us. For reasons I never knew, it was called “Cockatookatownka”. It was built of weatherboard, and many of the walls were louvered so you could swivel the weatherboards through ninety degrees and open up the side of the house. As the house was sited on a headland right by the beach, this was a huge advantage. It was near perfection lying in bed on a hot summer's night, looking out over moonlight on the bay with a gentle sea breeze blowing through the house.

The showers and toilet were not en suite. They were in a separate building in the grounds. The toilet, a malodourous container collected weekly by the local night-cart did not merit any nostalgia, but the showers were terrific. Separate male and female cubicles were open to the skies, with shoulder- high partitions and concrete floors. You collected your bucket of water from the tank and sloshed it over yourself with a dipper. It may not have worked so well in the winter, but in summer it was a real joy

Thanks to other friends in Killara, the Woods, our winter holidays were spent at Blackheath in the Blue Mountains. "Rostherne", the Wood's house, was a very large timber house , set in an over-grown orchard, several miles out along Hat Hill Road. It had a billiards room, and about fifteen bedrooms. Most of these were very small, and lined long corridors of panelled wood. A wide verandah encircled most of the house, and original bush surrounded the block itself.

I remember, while staying at “Rostherne”, reading a detective story, "The White Cockatoo" by Gnaio Marsh. The setting for the murders in the book matched “Rostherne” to an uncanny extent, and the creaking of the wood panelling and the dancing of the overgrown orchard’s trees in the moonlight precluded any sleep until I finished the book shortly before dawn.

From “Rostherne's” back yard , a path lead through the bush to Govett's Leap , and it was a thrill to explore the rim of the great sandstone canyon, or to climb down to the lush green world of the valley floor.

The best of holidays come to an end, and so did Milton. When the Depression hit in the early Thirties, those people who could afford to send their boys to a boarding school opted for the big established schools, and at the end of 1934 Milton was forced to close.


Dad decided to try his luck with his own school, and in 1935 leased two back- to- back houses nearby in Kardella Avenue and Rosebery Road and founded Lochiel Grammar School. I missed the generous proportions of Milton, but we were still in a very pleasant Killara. It was not however a pleasant time for my family.

My brother, Donald, had just graduated from Cambridge and was teaching at Geelong Grammar School. He contracted tuberculosis and had to spend a year at a sanatorium in the Blue Mountains. After he was cured, he took a job as a research scientist in Newcastle for Lysaghts, who manufactured Australia's ubiquitous galvanized iron. He worked for them for the rest of his life, ultimately becoming their head of Research. My sister, Lilias, was in the process of becoming a Master of Science at Sydney University, but an unfortunate love affair led to the first of a series of nervous breakdowns which were intermittent complications for the rest of her long life.

My father and mother struggled to prevent Lochiel from going the same way as Milton, but it was a losing battle which caused Dad to have a stroke. Problems with the Killara leases caused the school to shift to St Johns Avenue, Gordon in 1940, and at the end of 1941 Dad was forced by ill-health and economic necessity to close the school and move back to the old family home in Harris Park.

Although the period had been a rough one for the family as a whole, I was largely unaware of the problems because I had won a boarding scholarship to Barker College, Hornsby and from 1937 to 1940 inclusive completed my secondary education in style.

I was a long and lanky lad. One of the school prefects on seeing me for the first time exclaimed: "My God, it's Basil Rathbone!" Basil Rathbone was a cadaverous movie villain of the period, and I was "Basil" for the rest of my time at Barker.

I was heavily involved in the life of the school, with cricket and drama two major preoccupations. Another was a journal, "The Barker Weekly," which John Moorhead, Digger Brown and I founded in our penultimate year. We wrote, printed and distributed it, never winning any journalistic awards but having a lot of fun and preparing me, to some extent, for later hazards of current affairs reporting in television. We were regularly in trouble with the authorities, and Stan Leslie, the Headmaster, told me that I was the only boy he had caned who subsequently become a prefect.


World War 2 was a factor in my final school years, when membership of the cadet corps became compulsory. I was totally disinterested in the cadets, and until then had remained aloof. I was a prefect and prefects at Barker were a special breed. They were responsible for most of the school discipline, and had the authority to cane, although this was denied to all the masters, except the head and housemasters. As a Prefect, it was clearly inappropiate for me to be a Private in the cadets, but I refused to accept a proffered commission as an officer. The dilemma was solved by making me Drum Major: this involved me taking up a position in front of the drummers on parade, and then marching them off to a secluded spot where I could read a book, leaving the Drum Sergeant to drill and train the drummers.

The highlight of my cadet experience came in 1940 when we went to Chatswood rifle range to fire our Lee-Enfield 303s with real bullets. We were instructed to wear casual clothes because our cadet uniforms were of the chocolate soldier kind - navy-blue with thick red stripes. It so happened that, in our year, we had a number of German students. Most were sons of refugees from Nazi Germany, but one very popular boy was Theodor Hermann Junge, son of a prominent German businessman who had been interned as an enemy alien at the outbreak of war. Theo had been allowed to remain at school to finish his education but was facing internment on its completion. Our day at the rifle range was at the end of his last year, and he turned up in full Nazi gear - jack boots, swastika armband, the lot.

We didn't know what to make of it. Theo had always been so correct and exemplary in his behaviour that we had never thought of him as being any different from the rest of us, yet here he was flaunting a uniform which our papers and radio assured us could house nothing but a monster. In bed, I used to listen to "Germany Calling" on shortwave radio because I liked the tuneful music and the zest and swing of their male choirs. I couldn't picture Theo as a monster, and the uniform seemed right out of character. I don't know if anyone asked him why he did it, and to this day I don't know why. Looking back, I imagine it was a reaction to his parents being interned and a sense of isolation. I see from my copy of Old Boy news from Barker that Theo still lives in Australia, so any disaffection with the country was transitory.

At the end of 1940 when I finished secondary school, the war was still remote for Australians at large. The papers were full of it, and many young men had enlisted in the armed forces and shipped off overseas, but those of us at home found life relatively unchanged . We had been shocked by Germany's successes leading to the evacuation at Dunkerque, and by the intensity of the air war, but our belief in the British Empire On Which The Sun Never Set was such that there could be no doubt of the ultimate outcome.

1941 began with some encouraging victories in North Africa where most Australian troops were involved, and we could delude ourselves that this was the beginning of the end for Germany. Then Rommell wiped out all our gains, Hitler invaded Russia and raced to the gates of Moscow, and, rounding out a disastrous year, Japan entered the war on Germany's side and swept south towards Australia. The remote war suddenly was very close to home.

Early in 1942 the Camerons had their first taste of conflict. It was a peaceful summer's night until it was broken by the scream of the air-raid siren mounted on the telegraph post in the street in front of the house at Harris Park. It had gone off previously as a forewarned test, but never at night, and there was a scarey feeling that this might be the real thing. If bombs were to fall, the safest place seemed to be under the kitchen table and the Camerons hastily sought its refuge. There wasn't much room for the four of us, and we squeezed together so no parts were exposed to the anticipated bombs. At various times during the first few minutes, we were sure that we could hear the planes, but no bombs were forthcoming. Dad decided our case would be improved if the double-bed matress were to be placed on top of the table, and set off to get it despite the pleas of the rest of us.

After an hour, the absence of bombs and the congestion under the table encouraged some attempt to find out what was happening. An apprehensive foray outdoors revealed nothing, and a cautious pot of tea was brewing when the air-raid siren blew the sustained note which was the all-clear. It turned out that it had not been an air-raid, but an invasion of Japanese midget submarines. Jap intelligence had apparently reported that the two giant liners "Queen Mary" and "Queen Elizabeth" were in Sydney Harbour as troop ships and the invasion was an attempt to sink them. Unfortunately for the Japanese, these ships had already left, and their place was taken by some American warships which opened fire on the subs and sank them. In the process some of the shells ricocheted off the surface of the water damaging some harbourside homes. The subs managed to sink a harbour ferry moored at a dock before being destroyed themselves.

Back at Harris Park, a fitting climax to the night was provided by the air-raid siren which jammed in the all-clear mode and provided a sustained wail until morning.

Although the war and the Public Service occupied some of my attention, the real focus of my life was the theatre. On leaving school I set out to find a stage on which such talent as I had could find expression. In those days before television, there was a very lively world of Little Theatre, and thanks to the war it was acutely short of males. The most prestigeous little theatre was the Metropolitan, with May Hollingworth as its guiding star. It attracted the professional actors of radio who wanted stage performance in worthwhile plays to supplement the financially rewarding but aesthetically limited world of broadcast radio drama. I screwed up my courage and went to see May Hollingworth.

The show in rehearsal was Ferenc Molnar's "Liliom", which Rodgers and Hammerstein were later to turn into the musical "Carousel". The play was great and the performances all I could wish for, but the stage and auditorium made it very clear why it was called "little theatre". I wanted the sort of theatre which I had experienced at school, seating some hundreds of doting fans and with a raised stage and a proscenium. I wanted Broadway and the West End, or at least something that looked like their distant relation. I decided to explore my second choice, Doris Fitton's Independent Theatre at North Sydney.

Like the Metropolitan, the Independent drew upon the same mixture of talents - professional actors from radio, frustrated professionals in non-theatrical fields and aspiring amateurs; unlike the Metropolitan, it had a real theatre, and that was for me!

The Independent also had a theatre school where you paid to be instructed in the arts of the theatre. Talent was desirable but not essential and I was in ! Not only that, but I won a part in the current student production of "The Trojan Women". It was a non-speaking part, and required only that I stand around in a short skirt, holding a spear, but my career had begun.

I quickly became aware of Doris Fitton's total dedication to the theatre. Her husband, Tug Mason, was obliged to operate the curtain, and to nurse their baby, Malcolm, until he was required as a prop for one of the Trojan women.

It was not long before I cracked the big time with a part in a major production, "The Life of the Insects" by the brothers Capek. I played an ant, and I had lines !

My costume was all-over black, which should have given me anonymity, but most of the ants were girls, due to the shortage of men, and I was a lanky, if not skinny six-footer in more ways than one. In the play, hostilities break out and the ants march off to war.

The desired effect was of an endless line of ants crossing the stage. Because our numbers were limited, we had to march across the stage, then immediately rush behind the set in time to re-join the line of marchers before it came to an end. Unfortunately we had to pass through a narrow opening at the end of the set before rejoining the marchers, and the ant in front of me was a rather tubby girl who invariably got stuck in the opening. She always just made the end of the line, but her delay plus mine in getting through the little opening was too much, and my reappearance was always preceded by a gap. The first few times took the audience by surprise, but soon they caught the rhythm and my appearance each time got a welcoming laugh.

I consoled myself with the thought that my few lines actually brought down the curtain at the end of the war. With a surge of excited anticipation I freed myself from the writhing mound of black and brown ants and rose for my big speech. To my horror the curtain descended before I could say a word !

My first actual spoken words in a major production came in Sean O'Casey's "Juno and the Paycock". I can remember them to this day :

Mobilizer (played by John Cameron): "Quarther Masther Boyle!" Johnny (played by Sumner Locke Elliot): "The Mobilizer!" Mobilizer: “You’re not at the funeral?” Johnny: “I’m not well.” Mobilizer: “I’m glad I’ve found you; you were stoppin’ at your aunt’s; I called there but you’d gone. I’ve to give you an ordher to attend a Battalion Staff meetin’ the night afther to-morrow.” Johnny: “Where?” Mobilizer: “I don’t know; you’re to meet me at the Pillar at eight o’clock; then we’re to go to a place I’ll be told of to-night; there we’ll meet a mothor that’ll bring us to the meeting. They think you might be able to know somethin’ about them that gave the bend where Commandment Tancred was shelterin’.” Johnny: “I’m not goin’, then. I know nothing about Tancred.” Mobilizer: “You’d betther come for your own sake -- remember your oath.” Johnny: “I won’t go! Haven’t I done enough for Ireland! I’ve lost me arm, an’ me hip’s desthroyed so that I’ll never be able to walk right agen! Good God, haven’t I done enough for Ireland?” Mobilizer: “Boyle, no man can do enough for Ireland!”

I worked very hard on my Irish accent. After opening night, attended by my proud family, my brother Donald assured me : "You were very good, but what did you actually say?"

This was the same brother that had shamed me by having me presented with a bouquet of flowers when I played a lady in a school play. My embarrassment was only marginally relieved by discovering that the flowers were coloured lollies on wire stems!

During the season of “Juno and the Paycock”, we had a visit from a member of the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, where the play had first been performed. He came round backstage after the show and we were all quivering with excitement to hear what he thought of our production. "I felt I was back in the Abbey Theatre", he said, and we all glowed. "Yes, I always thought that the Abbey was the coldest theatre on God's earth, but the Independent's got it beaten!"

Small parts in Bernard Shaw's "St Joan" and Ferber and Kauffman"s "Royal Family of Broadway", were followed by the part of Joe in Gwen Meredith's "Shout at the Thunder". This stage play was adapted to become her very long-running radio serial "Blue Hills" in which the character Joe loomed quite large. For me Joe's most significant feature was that he had to smoke, and that was how on the eve of my eighteenth birthday, I had my first cigarette.

As a permanent public servant, I was in a reserved occupation, which meant that I was exempted from conscription for the armed forces, but as my eighteenth birthday approached, I was contemplating war service. A colleague at work wanted to enlist in the Navy, and I agreed to join him, but, at the time, they had vacancies for stokers only, and this sounded so grim that we both switched to the air force instead.

The air force was in the process of setting up the Commonwealth Air Training Scheme, and there were substantial delays in actually taking recruits on strength. While waiting, you were required to attend lectures and sit for tests etc. This suited me, as it meant that I could continue in the theatre until I was formally taken into the RAAF to become a Navigator. That was my chosen military role because it allowed me to do my bit without getting my hands too dirty or having to kill someone at close quarters.

I was patiently attending lectures, awaiting my turn when, to my horror, the Army conscripted me. I claimed that I was in a reserved occupation. They said that I wasn't, because I had been released to join the air force. I said that I was already in the air force. They said that I was merely in the reserve and that the army needed me now. My worst nightmare was to be realized - I was to become a soldier!

I decided that the most acceptable role for me in the army would be in anti-aircraft. This would keep me at a distance from the enemy, and I still wouldn't have to kill anyone at close quarters. I hastily ran through my limited acquaintances in the forces and came up with Doris Fitton's husband, Tug Mason, who was a Captain at Victoria Barracks. Tug was sure he could help me get into ack-ack, so I had no fears when I lined up with all the other recruits for assignment. My confidence increased as more and more conscripts were shipped off to ack-ack, but they were taking a long while to get to me. Finally the hundreds were reduced to just four of us, and the Sergeant said: "Right, you lot, you're cypher."

I had no idea what "cypher" was, and viewed it with trepidation, but we had really cracked the jackpot. Cypher was the branch of Signals which handled the encoding and de-coding of all messages. Our initial posting was to a headquarters unit in a mansion near Tom Ugly's Point, in Sydney's south. It meant the end of theatre for the time being, but it was all very civilized.

Civilization came to an end shortly afterwards. The Japanese bandwagon rolled towards Australia. They had landed in New Guinea and were pushing across the Owen Stanley Range towards the capital city, Port Moresby. Australian Intelligence learned that a new Japanese landing was planned at Milne Bay, New Guinea's most easterly tip. As a counter measure it was decided to rush urgent re-inforcements to the small Australian garrison at Milne Bay.

Fortunately, some infantry brigades, veterans of the war in the deserts of the Middle East, had been re-called to defend Australia, and these could now be sent to New Guinea. To get a command unit, the army turned to the one in charge of the Sydney area of which my cypher unit was a part. Because it had recently been determined that youths less than nineteen years of age could not be conscripted to serve outside Australia, I was given 24 hours to decide whether I would volunteer to go north with my unit or be posted elsewhere in Sydney. There was no doubt about my preference, but I hadn't the courage to express it, and 24 hours later I was in a troop-train heading north.

I was to have a fair serving of troop trains in the years ahead, but I remember my first one for playing cards. My family were great card players and along with all the respectable games, I had played all the gambling games as well. We never played for money, but I had won a goodly pile of matches in my time. On the train, it was Poker, and not for matches. I was managing to hold my end up pretty well, when disaster struck. I was dealt two kings and bought two more. The bidding rose steadily until there were only two of us left. Harry was a nice chap and a first-class card player. I felt sure any prospects of continuing friendship would be ruined if I let him lose too much money, so I "looked" instead of raising the betting further. Harry smiled and put down his four queens. I declared my four kings, and was never so abused, not for winning, but for "looking" when I had four kings !

Our initial destination was Brisbane, where we spent a few days while a little cargo ship was converted into a troop-ship, and then we were off. We sailed up the Whitsunday Passage between the Queensland coast and the Great Barrier Reef. For our protection, two 25 pounder guns had been mounted on the hatch-cover of the hold, and occasional practice shots were taken at the pretty little tropical islands dotting the incredibly azure sea. Another gun was mounted on a platform at the stern, and a round-the-clock watch was maintained on it. I don't think it was really a look-out, just making sure no-one pinched the gun. On watch at night,the phosphorescent wake gave almost enough light to read by. Not that I did much reading.

Some years earlier, crossing Bass Strait with Dad on the "Taroona", I had established that I was a rotten sailor. I wasn't too bad in the Strait, but once we entered the Tamar River and followed its serpentine course to Launceston, I was done for. The same thing happened in the Whitsunday Passage. As we weaved our way between the islands, the gentle motion had me sick as a dog; once we headed out through the Reef and into the Coral Sea where it was rough, I was O.K.

A few weeks previously, the Coral Sea had been the setting for one of the great naval battles of the Pacific War, but we had a peaceful crossing and soon entered the China Strait off the eastern tip of New Guinea. It was most romantic with palm fringed beaches and countless little islands. Some were so small that they sported a single coconut tree. The main pre-war centre for the area was the island of Samarai. One of the boys at Dad's school had been the son of a missionary based on Samarai, and I was reminded of his affection for it as we sailed past its postcard beauty and into our destination , Milne Bay.


Chapter Two: MILNE BAY

Milne Bay was a big bay. Low hills backed a narrow coastal plain . The hills were the dense green of rain forest, but the plain was all coconut palms, which hung like a fringe over the narrow grey beaches. Here and there among the palms were primitive wooden huts thatched with palm fronds. It looked very picturesque and peaceful.

After a couple of hours we tied up by a small wharf at a place called Gilli Gilli, and humping our gear, made a short march to a clearing which was to be our initial home. There were no buildings, and our first task was to build native style huts to sleep in. The headquarters group of what had been "C Force" and was now "Milne Force", moved a bit further inland to what was to be our permanent location.

We quickly learned that the best structural material was bamboo, and set about collecting it from the towering clumps surrounding the clearing. I was carrying a twenty foot piece when three shots rang out. We had been briefed that this meant an imminent air raid. Suddenly I felt very alone and wanted desperately to regain the companionship of the rest of our unit. I broke into a brisk trot, with the bamboo bouncing up and down on my shoulder. I had just about reached the little creek at the bottom of the clearing when there was a loud explosion. My pole and I took off and landed in the creek, where I lay pressed as close as I could to mother earth. The explosion was probably a burst of anti-aircraft fire, but I didn't lift my head to find out, preferring to continue my intense study of the small insects crawling on the blades of grass.

After what seemed like an age but was probably only a few minutes, there was a single shot signifying the all clear. My pole and I continued our return to the unit. I had survived my first enemy engagement.

As soon as our huts were built, our commanding officer, Captain Dixon, set about establishing some order. For his part, he set off to make contact with the naval officer in charge of the port area. He returned horrified, because he had discovered that the navy was using a code called Playfair. This was a code created by using a twenty five square grid, and writing a code word in it. You started in the top left square and worked across the first line of five squares, never repeating a letter. When you had inserted the code word, you put the rest of the alphabet in the remaining squares in alphabetical order. With I and J being regarded as interchangeable the alphabet had twenty five letters, and neatly filled the grid.

To encode a message, you took a pair of letters at a time, located them on the grid, and took the diagonally opposite letters for the code message. If the letters to be encoded were in the same horizontal line, your encoded letters were the letters to their right in the grid; if they were in the same vertical line your encoded letters were the ones below.

Playfair, like any substitution cypher, had a low grade of security and required frequent changes of the code word to give any kind of protection. Captain Dixon asked how often they changed the codeword, and received blank looks: they hadn't had to change it yet. Although he didn't know the codeword, Captain Dixon took a pile of their encoded messages, and after a few hours returned them to the navy in clear text with his compliments and the suggestion that they change their codeword daily.

Our first night at Milne Bay gave us a spectacle that was never to lose its magic. At night the drab green of the palm leaves turned silver in the moonlight. Against a sky full of stars, undimmed by any human lighting, you felt you had walked onto a Hollywood movie set. The other touch of magic was the smell. There is a scent of life and growth in the tropical air, which goes a long way towards compensating for the heat and humidity. Most nights it rained briefly but heavily. While this freshened the air, it also made a mockery of the air-raid trenches we dug. They became instant lakes, offering protection only if you submerged.

Reading matter was always of concern in New Guinea. There were code books, and letters, and endless messages, but our lives were enlivened in those early days by a book someone had found at Samarai - a beautiful bound edition of “The Decameron” by Boccaccio. It passed from hand to hand, becoming increasingly dilapidated, until its delicate pages were no longer legible. Its destiny then could only be one of two things : an alternative to the sandpaper issued by the Army for an intimate personal function, or as cigarette paper for the boongs. I use that term today with trepidation, but it was the standard terminology of the time, and as the war progressed its overtones of affection and respect soared. Paper, to go with trade tobacco in cigarettes, and used razor blades were incentives for the natives to climb palms for coconuts for us and were the begining of a rich relationship which was to save many Australian lives.

For the few days we were at Gilli Gilli there were several air-raids each day. We always knew when one was imminent, even before the three shots, because the "fishing fleet" put out to sea. The "fishing fleet" was the squadron of US fighter aircraft stationed at Milne Bay. In retrospect they were probably scrambling to avoid being caught on the ground, but as the Japanese Zeros seemed to have no interference at all in the air when they attacked us, we uncharitably assumed that the US air force was avoiding combat. A little later a couple of Australian squadrons of Kittyhawks were posted to the Bay, under Truscott and Turnbull, and we could watch dog-fights right overhead. A Jap Zero, diving to treetop height to strafe us would have a Kittyhawk in hot pursuit. On such an occasion, I indulged in one of the few shots I fired in anger.

We had a Tommy gun to protect our code books. The theory was that if we were in danger of being captured, we should hold the Japs off with the Tommy gun while we destroyed our code books! During an air-raid, I had taken the Tommy gun to a slit-trench which didn't happen to be full of water, and as the Zero went past, I pointed the Tommy straight up and pulled the trigger. I didn't hear any plane crash, but to my horror Bluey Truscott was shot down that day and I have often wondered whether it could have been me. I never again fired a weapon !

After a few days at Gili Gili, we were ordered to make our way to force headquarters to begin operations as the code unit for communications with New Guinea Force at Port Moresby, some 250 miles to the north west. Transport was pretty chaotic, and we were left to find our own way to our destination. This involved finding a blitz buggy, as the trucks were called, and cadging a lift. As there were a lot of others trying to do the same thing it took some time to find a truck to take us to headquarters.

Finally we were able to scramble on top of a load, and the truck bumped its way along muddy tracks until we came to a wide river flowing fast. The road dropped steeply down to the water's edge and we could see it emerging on the other side. In between there was what we later knew as Hagita Ford, but then it just looked very dicey. Our driver had evidently been across before as he headed straight down and into the river. Half way across the motor coughed a few times and stopped. We were in midstream with a queue of trucks behind us. The truck immediately to our rear must have had better waterproofing because it proceeded to ram our rear end and gradually banged us to the other side. For those of us clinging to the load, each bang seemed likely to pitch us into the river but we made it to the other side. After some more coughs and splutters the engine started and we resumed our journey.

When we finally reached our destination it was dark and raining. Again there was no accommodation but we were so tired that we just flopped down on the earth beneath the palm trees and slept. This was not a good idea as coconuts had a bad habit of falling as the not-so-gentle rain from heaven on the place beneath, but happily no one was injured.

Next morning we were starving. Hot baked beans were on offer at the cookhouse, and to this day I eat baked beans with affection, but none have tasted better than they did that morning.

We set about erecting a tent for an office and other tents to sleep in. The office tent was sand-bagged, and slit trenches were dug beside our sleeping tents, preferably on the side of a hill to let water drain out. Beds were four forked sticks set in the ground with ground-sheets tied around two long poles resting in the forks. There was quite an art in selecting poles of just the right thickness to give a nice spring to the bed. An army blanket spread on the ground-sheet gave you something to lie on and to absorb your sweat. Your pillow was a small pile of clean clothing. The whole bed was surrounded by a mosquito net which had to be tucked under the blanket before dark. Going to bed, you prised up a small section and wriggled yourself in, before restoring the seal under the blanket, and hopefully excluding all mosquitos.

It seemed to rain some time every day and the humidity was very high. We weren't helped by the rain protection which the army provided. You could choose between a groundsheet which did a poor job of keeping the rain out, and a gas cape which kept the rain out, but created its own internal rainfall from human sweat and humidity.

Creature comfort demanded that you washed both yourself and your clothes as frequently as possible. The best solution was to find a clean stream, strip off and lie in the water while banging you clothes on the wet rocks. This technique was not without its hazards. We were near the coast where it was often dry while raining in the surrounding hills. River depths varied markedly. A typical stream was a clear shallow flow with flat river-stone verges, and beyond them dirt cliffs of 10 to 20 feet. You had to keep watch for rain clouds on the hills, because streams could turn into torrential rivers in just a few minutes.

One day while washing I saw distant rain clouds, and immediately left the water and started to dress in the clothes which had been spread on the river-stones to dry. I had put on one boot and noticed that my other boot was in the water. I realised that the water was rising fast, grabbed my remaining clothes, ran across the river-stones and clambered up the dirt cliff. When I reached the top and turned around, the little stream stretched from cliff to cliff, and, in its racing brown water, whole trees were tumbling around.


We had only been at our new location a day or so when the unthinkable happened: the Japs invaded! A fleet of their warships sailed up Milne Bay and started shelling as a prelude to landing troops. Our reaction was a mixture of dis-belief and panic. The disasters of Pearl Harbour, Malaya and Singapore had established a belief that the Japs were invincible -- a belief also held by the Japanese. They landed with tanks and marched down the tracks singing!

Shortly after the landing we had to encode a message from our commanding officer, Major-General Clowes, to the overall commander of Australian forces in New Guinea, General Rowell, advising that our position was hopeless, and requesting permission to evacuate. We awaited a reply with more than usual interest, and when it came we didn't exactly do handsprings of delight. Evacuation was impossible; we had to stay and fight. The acute apprehension that this engendered was further increased by the 7 o'clock National news that night on the shortwave service of the Australian Broadcasting Commission which reported "the position of our troops in Milne Bay is now hopeless".

To ensure that the conquering Japs were not able to live off the land, it was decided to blow up the bulk store where our canteen supplies were kept. There was a rumour that there was a major discrepancy between the stores and the records, and that the Jap threat was a fortuitous chance to square the books. This may not have been true, but advance warning of the planned detonnation quickly spread, and vehicles of all kinds converged on the store to collect free beer and cigarettes before the bomb went off.

Although I had learned to smoke for a play, I didn't take it up, nor did I drink at that time. As a result, by evening I was one of the few people at Headquarters still sober. At about 10 o'clock we received from the Staff Office a long Order of Battle to be sent to 18 Brigade to take effect at 6 a.m. This was to be our do-or-die attempt to stop the Japs. The only code we had for communication with 18 Brigade was a fairly low-grade cipher which was slow to use. While it would be possible to encode and transmit the message by 6 a.m., there was no way it could be de-coded in time for it to be put into effect by 18th Brigade. I screwed up my courage and made my way to the Staff Office to report the dilemma. The senior officer on duty was clearly not a non-drinker and was not inclined to give much credence to an 18 year old Corporal from cypher --corporal being the lowest rank in the unit.

I suggested that it would be best to assign one of our few Bren-gun Carriers to take the Battle Order to 18 Brigade uncoded. The major did not think much of this idea: "You might as well ask me to tie it to a bloody bullet and shoot it to them!" he said. "Go and send it off in code!" I returned to the cypher tent and set to work as fast as I could. Somewhere between 3 and 4 a.m. I finished it and passed it to Signals for transmission. I know that it was sent and received, because a day or so later the cypher bloke at 18th Brigade was killed and I was sent as his replacement. Sometime after the Japs had pulled out, when I was clearing up, I found the message; it had never been decoded.

Fortunately, Brigadier Wootton and 18 Brigade, left to their own devices and with their Middle East battle experience, were able to drive the Japs into evacuation and their first defeat of the war. Their tanks got bogged in the New Guinea mud, and the spirited resistance encountered when they had not expected it, caused them to over-estimate our strength. They scared the hell out of us with another night's ferocious shelling by their navy which we thought was a prelude to further landings, but it proved to be cover for their evacuation.

There was great celebration when it was clear that we had won. The cooks decided on a feast, and, to this end, shot and butchered one of the local zebu cattle which were roaming wild. We lined up with our mess-tins for the treat of fresh steak, but it turned out to be far tougher than the Japs. All we could do was suck it to get the fresh meat flavour and spit it out.

Apart from the celebrations, there were some questions to clear up militarily ; how come we had won after requesting permission to evacuate from a hopeless position. To sort this out, General Rowell announced his intention to visit Milne Bay.

We were notified by an Emergency Operations coded message. It arrived one evening and informed General Clowes that General Rowell would arrive at 0900 next morning. Unfortunately wireless reception was bad as usual and there were errors in the four figure groups of numbers from which we had to decode the message.

It was a short message, and standard procedure for short messages was to surround the message with "padding"- nonsense material to confuse enemy cryptographers. You encoded some rubbish, then gave the code group for "Message begins". The message followed, then the code group for "Message ends", and some final rubbish. This was usually quite straightforward, but on this particular day, the code goups for "Message begins" and "Message ends" were lost due to transmission problems, and the man encoding it at New Guinea Force Headquarters in Port Moresby had used some unfortunate padding. The best our man could do with the message was :

  GET OUT THE BAND AND RED CARPET GENERAL ROWELL ARRIVING TOMORROW 0900 HIS FAVOURITE TUNE IS "MY BABY DON'T CARE FOR CLOTHES"

Because wireless reception had deteriorated it was not possible to check with the originator of the message, and, because it required urgent action the message was delivered to General Clowes in its garbled form. It is doubtful if he appreciated the pun.

The tension between Rowell and Clowes proved a useful tool for another general, Sir Thomas Blamey. Some of this is my speculation in the light of later knowledge, but Blamey was having his troubles with the Prime Minister, John Curtin. There was a chance that he would be replaced as over-all head of Australian forces. He needed to get himself operationally involved so that he was fire-proof. The victory at Milne Bay gave him a perfect opportunity. He hailed Clowes as the hero of Milne Bay, promoted Brigadier Wootton, sacked Rowell and took command of the forces in New Guinea himself.

Although we had won a notable victory at Milne Bay, the situation elsewhere was still grim. The Japs were crossing the Owen Stanley Range which is the jungle clad mountain spine of New Guinea, and were threatening Port Moresby. It was decided to ease the pressure on Port Moresby by attacking the Japs in the rear.

To this end, 25th Batallion of the Seventh Division was moved secretly to Tufi on the north coast of New Guinea, about 60 miles south east of the Japanese base at Buna. The batallion was to keep its location hidden while it made a landing strip by cutting the tall kunai grass on a natural clearing. When this had been done, an airborne division of the U.S.army would be flown in to take the Japs in the rear, and force them to pull back from their attack on Port Moresby.

A couple of my colleagues went with the original group to Tufi, but later someone else was needed and I got the job. There had to be aviation fuel for the landing strip at Tufi when it was ready for use and it was decided to ship this from Milne Bay in a converted fishing trawler -the "S4 ". She was a metal ship with a high forecastle, a central deck, virtually at sea level so they could haul trawl nets in easily, and a high superstructure aft to accommodate engines, bridge and crew quarters. This was to be my transport to Tufi.

It was not encouraging on boarding to hear the captain explain to a friend that his cargo was aviation fuel so Milne Bay would know if anything went wrong - they'd be able to see the blaze wherever we were!

I was further discouraged by my accommodation for the trip which was not in crew or passenger quarters but the hatch cover of the well-deck. A further problem was that I did not have exclusive occupancy. Because the 25th Batallion had had no fresh meat, it had been decided to send them some sheep. They too were to travel on the well-deck.

As it was only a two day trip it was decided that it could be self-catering for me and the sheep and to this end a carton of food and some straw were provided. The carton contained tins of canned bacon and the ubiquitous packets of dog-biscuits. With no cooking facilities, this put me on a par with the sheep.

Fortunately, it was considered ill-advised to sail difficult waters at night, so we anchored at Dogura Mission - the isolated headquarters of the Anglican church in New Guinea. Dogura was a truly beautiful spot, a lush grassy shelf on the jungle-clad walls that plunged almost sheer down into the sea.

As our ship edged in to find an anchorage, one of the crew in the bow sounded with a line. "30 fathoms, and no bottom" We edged in a bit further. "30 fathoms, and no bottom" We edged in a bit further still, and could have thrown a stone onto the shore. "30 fathoms , and no bottom" From the bridge came "Find the bloody bottom!" Finally we did, and dropped anchor.

We were greeted by Archbishop Strong and a happy crowd of natives. We were shown the playing field with a cricket match in progress. We were fed and, in the evening, went to a church service in the cathedral. The cathedral was made of concrete and in the walls were set relics of the days before Christianity. One such relic, I remember, was a stone which reputedly had been a fire-stick which a dog had brought to New Guinea from a neighbouring volcanic island, bringing fire to the people.

A highlight of the service was the singing of the hymns. Natives sang with a constant progression to a higher pitch. All hymns began with a deep chest note from the Archbishop which the congregation shared. They then sang the words in an ascending scale until the Archbishop pulled everyone back with another chest note. The congregation sat on the polished floor, with a balmy breeze wafting in through the open doors. Outside the moonlight shimmered on the water, and far across the sea, Goodenough Island towered into the night sky. It was hard to believe that there was a war.

We sailed the next day and made it to Tufi. The S4 anchored some way out at sea, and a native outrigger canoe came out to the ship to pick me up. The canoe was a hollowed-out log with another thinner log attached to it by two poles. Bamboo slats bridged the two poles to form a little deck from which a small mast and sail arose. I left the company of the S4 and the six sheep, and cautiously entrusted myself and my pack to the bamboo slats. There was no wind, so my boatman paddled us about a quarter of a nerve-wracking mile to a ricketty jetty. There was no reception committee, and when my boatman paddled off, I was alone.

There was a track leading away from the beach into the jungle and I assumed it would lead where I was supposed to go. After a short distance I came to a stream where a muddy log served as a bridge. It should not have posed any problem, but in my cumbersome army boots, with a heavy pack and alone, I found it a bit daunting. I made it safely across, and shortly thereafter the jungle gave way to kunai grass.

This was quite encouraging as I knew that the battalion was involved in cutting such a clearing, but they hadn't got around to this part. The grass was the colour of straw, and about 10 feet high. The track wound its way through it, but you had no idea where you were or where you were going. It was very hot. Every so-often the track forked and I had no idea which fork to take. As time went on, I became increasingly hot, tired and desperate. I could not go back, and had no idea where to go on. It was with enormous relief that I finally met some Australian soldiers, and , although it was hard to give directions where there were no signs and one stand of kunai looked exactly like any other, I finally made it to Battalion HQ.

Battalion HQ was in a swamp. The kunai clearing was surrounded on all sides by jungle swamps. Because it was essential that the Japs should be unaware that a hostile airfield was being established close to their main New Guinea base, all accommodation and movement had to be swamp-based. Care had to be taken to ensure that no new tracks gave away our position, and the cutting of the kunai grass, while making it short enough for a plane to land on, must not be evident from the air.

We lived and worked in native type grass huts on stilts,with log floors above the muddy water. Paths were World War 1 style duck-boards. There was one small island in this sea of mud and this had to serve as the battalion latrine. A butter-box throne at the peak of the island allowed you to answer the sterner calls of nature, while watching democracy at work; all-ranks had to skulk in the bushes until you had finished.

The climate was atrocious. One of our tasks was a daily weather report to base, and for the three months I was there it rained every day and the average daily temperature never fell below 90 degrees Fahrenheit. To make matters worse, there was a local volcano which erupted after the war, and while we were there subjected us to daily earthquakes. Had we been living in civilized structures, serious damage would have been caused, but our grass huts, tied together with vines, did no more than shimmy gracefully until the quake was over.

The swamp had its fair share of disconcerting fauna. Gekko lizards became friends as they dined on mosquitoes and other insects which came to call at night. Snakes were another matter. There was not a great deal of space in a hut. There was a central table, at which we worked and ate, and on three sides there were benches on which you sat by day and slept by night. Many of the trees in the swamp had aerial roots, and these were sliced in two to provide decking for the benches. A reasonably flat surface was obtained by fixing these flat side up, round side down. The surface was also a bit soft and springy, but even after over 50 years my hips still bear the scars.

Our hut was home for us two cypher blokes and one other body - the RAAF liaison officer, Peter Schlenker. Peter used to wear his flying boots. They were hot but they kept out the mud and creepy-crawlies. He was writing a letter one night when he glanced down and saw a snake crawling over the toe of his boot. He let out a yell and kicked his foot forward. The snake soared out of the pool of light into the upper darkness of the hut. We never actually saw it again, but all three of us sensed its presence continuously.

My rapid departure to New Guinea from the fleshpots of Tom Ugly's Point , Sydney, meant that I had arrived in New Guinea with pyjamas, which no one under the level of General wore. (The battalion commander at Tufi said he felt that he had to salute me each time he saw me in them.) When I was going to bed one night soon after the snake drama, I turned off the lamp, and in the darkness eased myself under the protection of my mosquito net. As I stretched out, I felt something in my bed, and the next minute it was up my pyjama leg. It could only be the snake! I lashed out violently with my leg and became entangled in my mosquito net, while the snake continued its progress up my leg. My anguished cries awakened my colleagues and a torch provided some illumination. I freed myself from the mosquito net and leapt out of bed. There, on my bed, was my "snake": it was the smallest mouse that I have ever seen.

There was some debate among us army personnel whether RAAF liaison officers should be allowed to share army accommodation. In the end the RAAF was tolerated because RAAF equipment included a folding wash-basin and a folding bath. The bath, in particular, was a great asset. One day I carried it to one of the many streams, filled it with water, and luxuriated in a leisurely ablution. God was in his heaven, and all was right with the world. There was even a chorus of laughter as a happy group of native children played catchings. I was in paradise until I registered that the "ball" in the game was a hand-grenade. Fortunately none of the little dears pulled out the pin before a lanky nudist in a lather put an end to their game.

There were moments of drama. A Jap reconnaissance plane used to fly over every day or so, and a watch was kept for it. When it approached we all dived for cover. At night all lights were extinguished, until it had passed. One time, a Jap patrol came through the area, and we all had to lie doggo. If the patrol registered our presence they had to be killed, but it was preferable to let them return to their base and report nil sightings.

At one stage food became a problem. Our army supplies ran very low, and we were reduced to one cup of weak black tea and two dog-biscuits a day. We were able to survive by obtaining native food in the form of paw-paws and the occasional banana. I still like fresh paw-paw, but having it for breakfast, dinner and tea day after day palled pretty quickly. When we finally got fresh supplies of rations, there was an opportunity for over-indulgence. I bought a carton of Cadbury's Energy Chocolate. The quarter pound blocks were all mint flavoured. I ate them, but I still find it hard to get enthusiastic over dinner mints.

In order to shift supplies from the jetty to the airstrip and HQ, a small rail track was laid, along which trolley-loads of supplies could be pushed, rather than manhandle everything through the mud. I spent hours one day trying to decode a message which seemed hopelessly corrupt. I finally took it to the intended recipient with my apologies; parts of it were indecipherable. He asked me to show him the parts in question. "There," I said. "The references to DOG SPIKES and FISH PLATES". "That's right," he said. "That is what you use to fasten rail lines to sleepers."

At last the airstrip was completed, and we were ready for the big day of the fly-in of the American troops. They arrived and we were all most impressed; never had we seen so much equipment. They had enough to bury all the Japs in the South Pacific. It was as if a Swiss Army knife had been issued to each soldier, and each function thereof had been converted by magic into an individual tool. It was possible to trace the route to Buna by following the trail of discarded equipment. It took the Americans so long to get to Buna that the Japs troops were back from across the Owen Stanleys and most of the fighting around Buna was done by Australian units.

The end of 1942 was particularly good for me. I learned that I was to go back to Milne Bay as soon as transport was available, and on December 31st the "Matoma" arrived at Tufi. She was a lovely wooden trading schooner that looked and was part of the romantic South Pacific. I slept on deck, without any sheep, and gazed up past the sails to the stars. As we glided silently along, we had a bow wave of flying fish spraying out each side.


Chapter Three: RAMU VALLEY

Soon after my return to Milne Bay, our unit was transferred to New Guinea Force HQ at Port Moresby, and had a much more civilised life-style. We worked regular 8 hour shifts and could go into town on days off. There were also regular movie shows, and as we were close to the major airfield, we had nightly screenings of the films from the gun cameras of the fighter planes to let us know that there was a war on.

An American permanent army unit, the 66th US Regiment arrived after years of service in Panama. They needed a cypher operator to handle their communication with the Australian command and I got the job. I imagine that the permanent army of any country is unlikely to consist of liberal intellectuals, and certainly this one did not. I have never been to Panama but it would not seem to be representative of the highest human endeavour. To my innocent eyes, these were tough and rough troops. They had come directly to Port Moresby, and Australian banknotes were just so much Mickey Mouse money. To watch them shooting crap and betting in thousands of pounds shook me to the core, and sexual references in their conversation were way beyond my personal code book.

There were however some very big positives. Food was one of them. Breakfast was a revelation. You lined up in front of a battery of hot-plates and specified how many freshly cooked hot cakes you wanted with butter, crisp fried bacon and maple syrup. This was washed down with mugs of hot black coffee quite unlike any coffee I had had before. Another joy came at lunch when fresh bread and crunchy peanut butter, again with black coffee, proved a winner. By this time too, I had got tired of people taking my Red Cross cigarettes for granted and had begun to smoke. It was heaven to be able to walk into an American canteen and buy cartons of Camel or Chesterfield cigarettes for virtually nothing .

My American experience received an added dimension from a trip to an American hospital with a recurrence of my malaria. This introduced me to a much better class of people, and I could not have been better treated. Real American women as nurses were a particular joy, and I was quite sad to recover and get discharged from my life of Riley. As a replacement had to be found for me while I was in hospital, I was returned to New Guinea force on discharge. If I had been in an Australian hospital, I would have had a shorter stay and then been sent to a convalescent depot. Because the Americans didn't have so many patients, and because for them malaria was still a bit special, I had had a longer stay in hospital.

The convalescent depot was at Koitaki, a few thousand feet up in the mountains behind Port Moresby. It was cooler, less humid and by all reports a nice change. I cried crocodile tears at having missed Koitaki by my “ill-fortune” at getting sick in an American context, and managed to persuade a reluctant Medical Officer to give me a fortnight at Koitaki. We set off in a jeep following a dirt road which wound up the river valley, past the Roma Falls and into the foothills of the Owen Stanleys. The country around Port Moresby was fairly flat with low hills cleared of most vegetation. Without the shade of the tree canopy, the hot sun burned the grass off to the straw of an Australian summer. At Koitaki, there were trees and coffee plantations and everything was green and lush, without Moresby's humidity. From the camp you could look down on the coastal plain, Port Moresby and the distant Coral Sea. While I was up there, Port Moresby suffered a couple of hundred-bomber raids, and we had a spectacular view of them. We could see the bombs as they burst, watch the searchlights feeling for the attacking planes and the orange roses of the anti-aircraft bursts whenever a plane got caught in the lights.

In my tent at Koitaki there were two people who took a particular interest in me. One was Sid Davis,a died-in-the-wool Communist, who played a significant role in the party after the war. The other was Jack Fegan, also a Communist, who was an actor who had played with Sydney's New Theatre League. After the war he made quite a name for himself on TV, notably as one of the main cops in "Homicide". On learning of my interest in the theatre, the two of them decided to convert me to Communism, and organised themselves in shifts to brainwash me. Jack spent his time proving beyond all doubt that Shakespeare was a Communist, and Sid gave me a respite from Jack's tortured reasoning, introducing me to the more serious arguments of Engels, Marx and Lenin.

Had my stay been restricted to the bare two weeks prescribed by the M.O. at New Guinea Force, they would not have had time to make much of an impression but the Education Officer of the camp had been an actor, and he decided to put on a play to entertain the in-mates. Jack and I were both included in the cast. I was assured that there would be no problems with my length of stay, and I had six glorious weeks as it turned out. The chosen play was "Campbell of Kilmore" from a Penguin book of one act plays. It was a funny choice for an army audience, but it had the right number of male parts, and a plum role for the Education Officer.

During rehearsals, my brain-washing by Jack and Sid continued, and I was given all kinds of Communist pamphlets and brochures to read. I have often wondered if, in my vetting for various government jobs subsequently, ASIO turned up my involuntary association with the Red Menace.

For the actual performances, a stage had been constructed in a small natural amphitheatre, and a mobile generator provided generous stage lighting. Lighting in the tents was limited, and it was disconcerting to discover that the front rows were taken up by card players, using the spill light from the stage to illuminate their game. It would not have been so discouraging if they had stopped while our play was on, but they didn't. The poker continued and we actors were sorely tempted to reveal the cards they were holding.

On return to duty at Force HQ, life continued as before with routine shift work. There was however one significant change in our cypher work: we were mechanized. While much of our signal traffic continued to be in "hatted codes" - text enciphered into four figure number groups via a code book, and the resultant figures subtracted from random four figure groups printed in re-cyphering tables - a new cypher machine based on the German "Enigma" machine had turned up. Known as the TypeX machine, it was an electric typewriter with complicated electric circuitry between the text you typed in on the keyboard and the five letter groups that came out on a tickertape as the encoded text.

I was a slow two-finger typist, and I was proud of my speed and efficiency working with the old hatted codes. You were not supposed to rely on your memory when you encoded a message, as this could lead to error, and your memory could compromise the code in the unlikely event that you were captured and tortured. I had a good memory which had been developed in learning parts for the stage, and inevitably I remembered the code groups for words and phrases I was using every day. Why bother with the code book when you were certain of the group in your memory?

I was also good at simple arithmetic and could handle at speed the subtractions from the re-cyphering tables. Also there was quite an art in decoding messages in which something had gone wrong either in the encoding or in the transmission of the text. It was very satisfying to solve the puzzle and produce the correct text. For all these reasons, I turned away from the keyboard and told myself that man could beat the machine. How wrong I was, but for that time at least I did not have to learn how to type.

As 1943 drew to a close, I had another reason to forget any pressures for a new cypher. I had then been working in New Guinea for nearly 18 months and at last someone decided I should have some leave. In early December, I received movement orders to sail from Port Moresby to Townsville on the troopship "Katoomba". From Townsville I was to go south by train and should be home in Sydney for Xmas.

En route to Townsville, problems were found with the ship's engines and a trip to Sydney for repairs was required. Sydney passengers were allowed to stay on the ship and complete the journey by sea. By good fortune, we entered Sydney heads at just after 5 p.m. on the perfect summer evening of December 23rd, 1943. The harbour was alive with ferries taking people home from work, and we were given a royal welcome as we sailed up to Circular Quay.The only cloud on the horizon was my brother's wedding.

Donald was the brains of research at John Lysaghts at Newcastle. Their main product was galvanized iron, but there were other things. Donald was involved in some aspects of the production of the Owen gun, which had become the main automatic weapon of the Australian army. He had also become involved with a school-teacher, who shared his boarding house. He and Nance thought that it would be appropriate to get married during my leave and for me to be Best Man. While I was very sensible of the honour, and would normally have jumped at the chance, the idea of my three weeks leave being spent in a family coping with a wedding was more than I could bear. In deference to me, Don and Nance got married three months later, by which time I was back in New Guinea.

The return to duty was by rail, first to Brisbane, where I had a few days in a staging camp, before the troop train north to Townsville. Brisbane was full of American troops and the odd Australian felt rather out of place. I was delighted to find that the Borovansky ballet was performing in town. I was able to get a seat in the stalls behind an American soldier and his Australian girlfriend. The ballet had been in progress for some minutes when the girl asked her escort rather petulantly : "When is someone going to say something?" As a bonus, Eugene Ormandy was conducting the Queensland Symphony Orchestra in the Brisbane Town Hall at that time, and I soaked up that bit of culture too to sustain me in the months ahead.

When the day came to head north, we were moved to the railway station to await our train. It was all very organised with carriage markings on the platform, and the troops heading back to the war were quite resentful of the base-bludgers bossing us around. When the train finally came in, we could not believe our good fortune. The carriage that stopped opposite us was a sleeping car. We surged in and settled down, resisting all attempts to move us. It turned out that the train had arrived in reverse, and we got the officers' carriage.

It was a slow trip north. There was only a single track with loop lines every so often to allow trains to pass. We seemed to spend as much time stationary on the loops as mobile on the main track. We learned that tea could be made on a loop by walking with a billy up to the steam engine, where you borrowed the stoker's shovel, as a support for the billy, and held it where the engineer could squirt a jet of steam and boiling water onto the tea-leaves.

We stopped on a loop at Gladstone and were able to buy wonderful cooked mud crabs. They were huge and rather messy to eat, so we sat out on the little balcony at the end of the carriage. As the sleepers clicketty-clicked away beneath us, the crab was superb, washed down with fresh water-melon. After two nights and three days on the train, we finally made it to another staging camp at Oonoonbah, about ten miles out of Townsville, and I distinguished myself with another attack of malaria.

I reported to the sick bay, and was told to go back to my tent and await an ambulance. I stretched out in the wooden floor of the tent and thought seriously about dying. It was the worst attack I ever had, with fever, shakes and nausea. Eventually I threw up violently and felt much better. By the time the ambulance came, I was feeling so much better that I walked down to meet it at the sick bay, and wondered if I needed to go to hospital at all. I later saw that my temperature on admission was 104 degrees.

A few days later, I was put on a hospital train and shipped inland to Charters Towers, where I had a very pleasant convalescence before being railed back to Townsville, and shipped to Port Moresby.

While I was away, plans were made to attack the Japanese positions on the north west coast of New Guinea at Madang, where they had a major base and an airport. An airborn landing was made at Nadzab, at the junction of the Markham and Ramu river valleys. From there assaults were made to the coast at Lae, and up the Ramu valley to Dumpu, just over the hills from Madang. Lae was captured and the 7th Division drove up the Ramu valley, past Kiapit to Dumpu.

I was posted to join 7th Division Signals at Dumpu. I flew from Port Moresby across the Owen Stanley Range in a Douglas DC3 transport plane. These were known as a "biscuit bombers" and were the aerial workhorses of New Guinea. The mountains were 9000 feet high - right at the plane's ceiling. To cross them, it was necessary to follow mountain passes. This added a lot of spice to the trip as you didn't only look down, but could look out sideways at the mountains as you flew past.

Accommodation in the plane was basic, with metal bench seats running down each side of the fusilage. The windows were plastic and had once featured little round plugs which could be removed to allow the passage of air. Plastic was quite a novelty then, and previous occupants of the plane had discovered that the plugs could be carved into all sorts of attractive things - koalas, kangaroos, maps of Australia or brooches. These could be sent home to loved-ones, or sold to the Yanks at enormous profit. The result was that the plane flew with permanently opened windows. When we finally crossed the range and came over the valley at Nadzab, the pilot put the plane into a dive down to the airstrip.

With the plugs gone from the windows, the change of pressure in the cabin in the 9000 foot dive was acute, and the earache was terrible. Some hours later on the ground when trying to hitch a flight from Nadzab to Dumpu, I blew my nose and leapt at what I thought was a gun shot right beside me. It was my eardrums clicking back to normal.

I finally found a plane that was going to Dumpu, and the American pilot agreed to take me after he had his lunch. I waited by the plane and watched as it was loaded with cases of apples. These were stacked neatly on the floor of the cabin. When the pilot arrived, the loaders had gone and didn't hear all the names he called them for making the plane tail heavy. He asked me to join him in the cockpit for take-off to help with a bit more weight up front.

He started the motors, taxied out to the end of the strip, and revved up to full throttle before releasing the brakes. We raced off down the strip, but the tail would not lift. When the pilot tried to take off, the front wheels rose but the tail wheel remained on the earth. The front wheels came down with a bump, and we bounced. In this fashion, we raced towards the end of the strip and the mountains beyond.

A final bounce and we gained enough height to clear the trees at the end of the runway, banked steeply to avoid the mountains and headed up the valley. I was sent back into the freight area, and perched on the apple-cases for the hundred miles to Dumpu. We stayed at tree-top height for the whole trip as a precautionary measure because Jap planes were at Madang, just over the hills.

The Ramu Valley was known to the locals as Death Valley. I never found out whether this was due to the fact that the vegetation was mostly kunai grass instead of jungle, or to its principal fauna - death adders. Death adders were peaceful, and liked nothing better than to lie in the sun all day, but they did not like to be disturbed. Because the valley was covered in kunai grass some feet high, the death adders were forced to sun-bathe in the paths through the grass. This added spice to walking around, and you tended to look for sixpences where e'er you walked.

We worked and slept in tents. Our beds were ground sheets strung between poles as they had been at Milne Bay. Good housekeeping and our Sergeant-major dictated that the banket on which you slept would be neatly folded at the head of the bed during the day. Coming off shift at about midnight, a colleague entered the tent in the moonlight, shook out his blanket, draped it over his bed and flopped down on top of it.

He felt something move beneath him, and broke the world record for a leap from a lying position. A torch revealed that his bed had been pre-occupied by a large death adder, very angry at having a blanket suddenly thrown over it and then being jumped on. We tended to put the light on before getting into bed thereafter.

Other less dramatic, but no less troublesome occupants of the valley were rats. They were omniverous and consumed not only Army property but also the goodies that came from home or the Red Cross. The only successful counter measure to the rats was one which disturbed our slumbers.

The lid was cut from a kerosene tin and then returned to its original position on a wooden axle. The tin was then set in the earth, with the lid at ground level. It was half filled with water and an attractive bait was attached to the middle of the lid. To get at the bait, a rat had to stand on the lid, which swivelled and dropped the rat in the water.

As a trap, it was undeniably effective, but the sounds of a rat slowly drowning would never win an award as a lullaby.

Fifty miles back down the valley was Kiapit, where an American construction unit was building an airstrip. The Japs became aware of this and an imminent counter attack was reported. An infantry company was sent down from Dumpu to take care of it, and I went with it to handle cypher communications.

The airforce constuction unit proved to be in stark contrast to the permanent army unit to which I had been attached in Port Moresby. Without exception, these people were sophisticated beyond the dreams of an Australian teenager. They lived in huts with floors, and used furniture they hadn't made themselves. Their food bore no relation to Australian army fare. A DC3 had been suped up and polished to allow it to make a daily "milk-run" to the Australian mainland to keep the Americans in fresh food and the little luxuries to which they were accustomed. They were friendly and generous. They wouldn't hear of me roughing it with the real soldiers of the infantry, but provided me with a hut to work in, and a folding stretcher to sleep on.

Some weeks later, after I had returned to Dumpu, Christmas ‘44 was approaching and I received word that there was a plane at the air strip and that the American pilot was asking for me. Very puzzled I went to the strip and discovered that a light aircraft had flown up from Kiapit. It was loaded with food, cigarettes and all kind of luxuries from the American construction unit to wish us a Merry Xmas, and to say "Thanks".

Another expression of good will at that time was the pianist, Isador Goodman. He came to Dumpu and gave a magical recital under the stars. This was a cut above our normal entertainment which took place nightly in the Salvation Army tent.

Every soldier had a special spot in his heart for the Salvos. No matter how tough the going might be, the Salvos seemed to be there with a mug of tea and, if you were lucky, a biscuit. In the settled HQ of Dumpu, they also ran regular quizzes to entertain the troops. It was at one of these that I earned a totally unwarranted reputation as a brain.

The Salvation Army officer had a book of quiz questions, and he was moving steadily through it. He would have been better advised to select questions because in the book they were grouped around certain themes. On the night I attended, he had reached the section on Theatre, but neither he nor any in the audience were aware of the homogeneity of the questions. The questions were pretty rudimentary, but no one else had any knowledge of theatre. By the end of the evening, the officer was begging for an answer from anyone but me. For the first and only time in my life I knew all the answers, and was regarded with awe on all sides.

While we were living the soft life, there was still grim action for the heroes of any army - the infantry. Dumpu was in a river valley between steep mountains, some of which still harboured Jap troops. One group of them was entrenched on a particularly nasty peak known as Shaggy Ridge. There was no way a direct assault could be made on Shaggy Ridge without horrendous casualties, and it was decided to bomb them out. A hundred bomber raid was planned.

Because one peak looked pretty like another it was decided that a small reconnaissance aircraft, a Boomerang, should mark the target for the massed bombers with a smoke flare. In due course we received a long message from the Fifth US Airforce, giving all the details of the strike, the escorting fighter planes, and the timing. We were very excited as it was the first time we had been on other than the receiving end of such a raid.

The message arrived in code. We decyphered it and passed it to operations. Unfortunately there was a small error. In the code book, words and phrases were allocated four-figure code groups. The same group covered the various parts of a verb. The group 5243 for example could cover the verb "arrange" and would be shown in the code book as:

                                         arrang-e-ing-ed

Usually the appropriate ending would be evident from the text, but if you wanted to be precise you would precede the group for "arrang-e-ing-ed", with a group specifying "take ending after second hyphen", if the word you wanted to encode was "arranging".

In the message from Fifth Airforce, after all the details of the massive air strike, the final words were "arrange Boomerang lead in". We were being asked to arrange for one of the Boomerang aircraft of the army co-operation squadron to lead the attack bombers to Shaggy Ridge and to identify it for them. The chap encoding the message simply used the base group for "arrange", assuming that the decoder would understand that he should use the ending after the first hyphen, as the Boomerang squadron was not under the command of the Fifth Airforce.

In the excitement of decoding the message, our operator (not I ) thought that the massive arrangements by Fifth Airforce included the Boomerang and that therefore the ending after the second hyphen was the right one to use in the context. The final text delivered to operations concluded "arranging Boomerang lead in".

The next day at the appointed time, the floor of the Ramu valley and the slopes of Shaggy Ridge were crowded with people looking excitedly to the skies. Then the planes came, with an awesome throbbing of engines. The sky was full of fighters and bombers , silver in the sunlight. They circled and circled as we waited for them to bomb the tripe out of the Japs on Shaggy Ridge. After what seemed like hours of inaction, they turned and went back whence they had come. No one had arranged for a Boomerang to lead them in, and for want of a hyphen a battle was lost. Shaggy Ridge was finally captured, after a grim battle by our troops, and 7th Division returned to Australia for some well earned leave. I was lucky to get a second serve so soon after my last helping.


Chapter Four: BORNEO

After recreation leave, the Division re-grouped on the Atherton Tableland, back of Cairns. My return to duty was delayed by another attack of malaria, and I was hospitalised first in Brisbane then at Warwick on the Darling Downs. When I finally got back to the unit, they were nicely settled amongst the cane toads which were everywhere, - around the camp, in the tents and in your bed. Driving was an exercise in squelch, with the road behind you looking like a delicatessen counter.

Apart from the toads, the tableland was a nice place to be after New Guinea. Warm, sunny days were followed by cool nights with humidity seldom a problem. Although the land in our area was mainly flat, it was intersected here and there by creeks, which cut impressive valleys in the plains. To get from our camp to the central canteen and recreation area, we had to cross one such valley. It was spanned by a road bridge with timber supports down to the little creek running clear some 30 feet below. That was how it was on one occasion when we drove to the canteen. A couple of hours later when we drove back, the creek was a raging brown torrent, inches only below the roadway. Rain, when it came, was heavy, and the tableland was a spectacular catchment for the rivers that ran to the escarpment and plunged down to the narrow coastal plain.

The road down to the coast was a series of hair-pin bends through lush vegetation with cataracts of which the most impressive were the Barron Falls. Even more impressive than the road was the railway, which snaked its way through countless tunnels in ferny forest-clad cliffs, with sugarcane fields below and the tableland above. Cairns, the main town, was then a most attractive place. At that time, nature enhanced it, and humans had not yet given it the crowded, jerry-built dustiness of Townsville.

I cannot remember at what stage we first became aware that our function on the tableland was to rehearse for the invasion of Borneo. We certainly knew by early 1945, when we moved down to the coast north of Cairns and invaded Trinity Beach. Before then, life on the tableland drifted by pleasantly enough. On occasion you could make a little foray into the "civvy-street" of Mareeba or Atherton, but mostly you had to find ways of passing the time around the camp. I discovered that the Education Unit had a portable sound system and a good collection of records which no-one used. I borrowed the system for my own entertainment but on terms which required that I share my enjoyment with others. My musical knowledge was very small compared to my enthusiasm, and my attempts at linking patter for an audience occasionally got me into trouble.

The record collection included a number of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, and these were very popular. While I knew and loved the music of "The Mikado", I had never read the book or seen it staged. I knew the plot in general terms, and managed to produce a coherent and quite entertaining linking patter which went down very well when I took my "show" to neighbouring units. I was feeling very pleased with myself until one night after a performance, a lieutenant came up to me and told me that he had been a member of the Mosman Musical Society and had often played in "The Mikado". He had loved the recorded music, but was intrigued to find that it was possible to present the story of "The Mikado" without mentioning Pooh-bah!

Fortunately, the joys of the music ensured audiences tolerated the presenter, and the sound system and I became welcome guests to quite a wide circle. Months later after the landing in Borneo, it was particularly gratifying to have an infantry company ask if the bloke with the gramophone could come out to visit them.

The first stage of our invasion of Borneo was to board a Liberty ship to take us to the Halmahera Islands. Liberty ships were America's answer to submarines. They were made at a prodigious pace to keep ahead of sinkings, and were a fantastic triumph of the American assembly line on a huge scale. However they were not much chop as a form of sea transport for troops. I was a bad sailor and suffered from claustrophobia. One look down into the bunks crammed into the ship's hold convinced me that I could never live down there. I pitched myself a little camp between two winches up on deck, and pretended that I was on the point of going back down into the hold, whenever anyone in authority came along. I became quite friendly with an American sailor who came, from time to time, to grease the winches. He was an inveterate cigar smoker, and used his grease-covered hands to fondle his cigar from one side of his mouth to the other. Goodness knows what the cigar tasted like!

Apart from brief dashes to toilets, the only time I had to go below decks was to collect my food. This involved a queue crawling past all-manner of foul smelling activies, lethal for anyone subject to sea-sickness. A pervasive smell of burnt oil mingled with that of baking bread and hot food of all sorts. Often I could not stick with the queue until I reached the point where food was slopped into your dixies, and I would flee up a companionway to the deck and fresh air. I did this once when we were in a gale in the Arafura Sea, and stepped out onto the deck with a hard-earned mug of tea, covered by a thick slice of bread and jam. The wind whipped my bread away over the side of the ship, and the tea followed it. I was left with an empty mug.

Our immediate destination was Morotai. The Halmahera Islands had been taken back from the Japs by the Americans. With admirable logic, they had reasoned that, as the Japs were unable to supply their troops, there was no point in fighting for any more ground than was needed for the base. With no supplies, the Japs could be counted on to cause no trouble. An armed perimeter was established, and that was that.

The base was called Landops HQ, and as we arrived the Americans were moving out with their sights set on islands closer to the Japanese mainland. Morotai did not have any docks, and our ship anchored off shore. We and our gear had to be ferried ashore in landing craft. The troops clambered down a landing net on the side of the ship and onto the landing craft.

Our cypher documents were a problem. They lived in a large wooden trunk and were heavy. Two men could just carry the trunk on level ground, and there was no way it could be carried down a landing net. The trunk was a particularly precious object at that time, because it contained not only the Australian army code books, but also the Combined Operations Code of the American army.

A strong rope was procured and tied to the handle at one end of the trunk. Gently, the trunk was eased over the side of the ship, and lowered towards the waiting hands on the landing craft below. Unfortunately the trunk was old, and the screws holding the handle were tired. The weight of the trunk was too much, and, parting company with its handle, the trunk dived into the strip of green water between the landing craft and the ship.

After a short while, the trunk surfaced and gracefully moved with the current, along the strip of water between the ships towards the open sea. As it did so, it gradually sank as water seeped in. It wasn't possible to reach the trunk from the landing craft except with a boathook, and desperate efforts were made to hook the trunk's remaining handle. Just when all seemed lost and we were about to compromise all Allied codes, the boathook and the handle got together and the trunk was coaxed to a point where human hands could nurse it back on board.

Our most pressing task on Morotai was to sit in the sun all day, turning the pages of one code book after another, as they slowly dried out and became usable again.

When not engaged in Operation Dry-out, we were rostered to handle messages between Landops and Macarthur's HQ. These proved to be fascinating because there was a major disagreement. General Macarthur was focussed on striking at the Japanese homelands as soon as possible, and wanted to have the Australian army as an integral part of the combined forces for that attack. General Blamey was determined to maintain the integrity of the Australian forces under his command, and to this end proposed an independent strike by Australian troops to liberate Borneo. Macarthur considered this to be totally irrelevant to the conduct of the war. The Japanese could no more supply their troops in Borneo than in Morotai. They would have to surrender when the war was won, and there was no point in squandering lives on their separate defeat. These conflicting views were the subject of an increasingly heated exchange between the two generals. Macarthur held the trump card because General Blamey needed the Fifth US Fleet to cover any landing in Borneo.

Finally, General Blamey had his way; Macarthur agreed to release the necessary elements of the Fifth Fleet for a fortnight, but he would have no more dealings with General Blamey personally. All future contact with the Australian forces would be via an Australian, General Berryman, attached to Macarthur's HQ.

With the Borneo invasion definitely scheduled, attention turned to detail. We were to land at Balikpapan, while other troops of Seventh Division were to land at Sandakan. Balikpapan was the main processing point for the oil of the region. There were large oil-storage tanks around the cracking plant, and their capture intact was an attractive prospect. However, unless they were first destroyed, it was almost certain that the Japs would flood the beaches with oil, and barbecue the invading forces. Caution finally won the day, and the night before our landing we had a truly magnificient fireworks display as all the storage tanks were bombed and set on fire.

When the first wave of troops went ashore the next morning at 0900, clouds of smoke rose thousands of feet in the air. The work of the bombers was supplemented by rocket ships launching salvo after salvo on the city. We were to go ashore at 1100 (H+2), and about an hour before this, we began transferring from our LST to LCMs. An LST was a Landing Ship Tank, and provided ocean transport for the thousand odd miles from Morotai to Balikpapan. LSTs were too big to get right onto the beaches, so they opened their bows off shore, and lowered their landing ramps to create a docking facility for the smaller LCMs (Landing Craft Medium). Anchor chains were attached from the LCM to the LST to prevent them from drifting apart while equipment and personnel were transferred.

I had a particular interest in the transfer process, because I had brought with me a very comfortable air mattress which I had purchased in New Guinea from an American pilot. With a moderate sea running, there was clearly a chance of things going wrong in the transhipment and landing. I couldn't carry the mattress myself, so, after much deliberation, I added it to the truck which was to carry the signal corps' most expensive radio transmission equipment. By this stroke I figured my bed and I had best chance of being re-united on the shores of Borneo.

As I watched the transhipment proceed, I was horrified to see one of the anchor chains come adrift just as the signal corps radio truck was driving from the LST to the LCM. The front wheels were across, but the rear wheels dropped into the green water between the two loading ramps. With an invasion under way, there was no time for any fancy salvage operations: the driver got out, the LCM backed off, and the truck slid off the LCM's loading ramp and down to the depths. My agony was accentuated because my mattress floated clear and I could see it heading out to sea on its way back to Australia.

In due course we boarded the LCM and made for the beach. Thanks to the naval and aerial bombardment, there had been little or no enemy fire on the invading forces at sea, though we were to learn that there was vigorous resistance to any move inland. Troops had advanced rapidly to the left and to the right, but little progress had been made straight ahead. We were so re-assured by the absence of enemy fire that we sat on the roofs of the trucks in the LCM to get a better view of what was happening. Overhead we could hear naval shells heading for enemy gun emplacements in the steep hills behind the beach. Suddenly we heard a shell going the other way, and a column of water leapt up behind us. It was quickly followed by others. Our LCM turned round and headed back out to sea until the source of the enemy fire could be dealt with. Once we lost our place in the queue, we had to wait and wait and wait.

The Japs had carried out extensive tunnelling in the hills behind the beach, and their guns were withdrawn during our heavy bombardment. When things settled down a bit, they were activated . It was well and truly dark by the time our LCM made it to the beach. From the sea, all had looked strangely beautiful, with fires still burning in the cracking plant, flame-throwers amongst the palm trees on the beach, and flares of various colours lighting the sky. It was not so beautiful once we waded ashore.

We had to find our way to Division HQ, but no one we spoke to seemed to know where that was. There was constant sound of gunfire and explosions, and the fires and flares, which had looked pretty from the sea, were scarey and disconcerting when you were in the middle of them. After what seemed an age, we made it to what we were told was HQ, and, as no-one seemed to have any time for us, dozed nervously off and on till it was light.

With dawn came the realization that things had not gone according to plan. In the centre, where we were, the beach-head was only a few hundred yards deep. Division HQ was situated between the mortars giving supporting fire and the infantry engaging the enemy. The mortar shells soared up over our heads and lobbed only a few hundred yards away. We set up our office in a bombed house, and dug little sleeping trenches in the side of the hill. When 25 pounder guns were brought up to support the infantry, they too fired over our heads and effectively ruled out sleep.

Instead of my luxurious mattress, I slept on a door. It had panelling and left a lot to be desired in comfort, but it did get me off the ground, and above things that crawled or wriggled thereon. Another sleep hazard was the Japs' tactic of infiltrating our lines at night and quietly strangling unwary sleepers. I found a most impressive metal wrench with a long handle which I clutched purposefully as I lay on my door, watching the triangle of light at the entrance to the pup tent for any intruder.

When time allowed, I decided to improve my sleeping arrangements and began enlarging the trench in which I slept. The soil was sandy and easy to dig. I was making good progress when suddenly I struck metal. Very carefully I brushed away more sand and there it was - formed metal, and large. If it was a landmine, it could blow me and Divisional HQ to kingdom come. I sought higher authority, who, in turn sought higher authority still. More earth was removed and it became clear that the landmine was the size of a 44 gallon drum!

As more earth was removed it became clear that, not only was it the size of a 44 gallon drum, but that it was a 44 gallon drum. The good Dutch family that had lived in the house we used as an office, had decided to protect their crockery from the ravages of the impending war, and had buried their best china in a 44 gallon drum. Thanks to them we ate in a rather better style than we had any right to expect.

Gradually the heroes of the infantry pushed the Japs back, and HQ was restored to its usual placidity. We were able to explore the ruined city of Balikpapan, and to marvel at the ingenuity of the Japs in their underground defences. It was quite thrilling to explore tunnels where occupancy had been so suddenly terminated that all equipment was still ready for immediate use, and you could sense the presence of the previous occupants. Balikpapan is only a few degrees off the equator, and it is hot and humid every day. The nights however are pleasant, and a favourite pass-time was an evening drive in a Jeep. A cooling breeze was created by the movement, and the tropical coastline, in the moonlight with the stars above, banished the reality of the war. There were however signs of things to come.

Our invading forces had with them Dutch representatives of the pre-war government of the Dutch East Indies. The Japanese had played up their role as liberators of European oppression, and had created Indonesia under a popular leader, Soekarno. Although Japanese occupation proved in time to be generally inferior to the Dutch, it created or gave form to an enduring hatred of the Dutch amongst the locals. Walking down a street in Balikpapan, a Dutchman would be subject to derisive and hostile gestures from the local population as soon as he was past. Nightly Jeep drives required care because locals would string cables across the road at a height to clear the bonnet of a Jeep and decapitate its passengers. This hostility seemed restricted to the Dutch; Australians were regarded as liberators and locals seemed to assume that we would share their views of the Dutch.

Our landing at Balikpapan was in July 1945, and the situation had no sooner settled down than the atom bomb was dropped in early August and the war was over. We had our own little formal surrender in Balikpapan, and then had to set about taking charge of the enemy forces. Prisoner of war compounds were established, and soon POW working parties were being used for the menial jobs around our own camps. Disarmed and at close quarters the Japs proved to be much like ourselves. There were those who fitted the war stereo-types, but most seemed ordinary folk caught up in affairs beyond their control. I imagine they thought the same about us, but initially there was for them a real fear of their captors. I remember one working party building a hut, and a particularly nasty looking snake had got itself into the rafters. One of our chaps gave one of the Japs a machete and told him to climb up into the rafters and kill the snake. The Jap was petrified, dreading both the task and the presumed punishment if he refused. We shot the snake.

The main concern at that time was how soon we would get home. There was not much to do at Balikpapan. When we were preparing to land there, we had been warned not to go in the water for fear that we would tread on a stone fish or get coral polyps in our ears. The land itself was home to the most deadly snakes in the world, and, if they didn't get you, there were cholera, malaria or any number of other sicknesses. As we landed, the airforce liberally sprayed the whole area with DDT to eliminate the nasties as much as possible. No wonder home seemed a good place to be.

The task of demobilising the troops to civilian life was a huge task. Priority was given to married men, and to single men of maturity with jobs to go to. A young squirt like myself was way down on the list, and on my return to Sydney, I was posted to the Army Psychological Service at the Royal Agricultural Showground. My task initially was to administer aptitude tests to groups of dischargees, and advise them on their future careers in the light of the test results. After a short time at this, I was assigned to individual testing for those who had problems with the group tests, either because their results were incompatible with their aspirations, or because test results were so bad as to be suspect.

A fairly high degree of literacy, combined with speed and accuracy, was necessary to succeed in group tests. The individual tests aimed at discounting literacy and relied more on observed performance with blocks and geometric shapes. I remember one chap who performed very poorly on the group tests, with an intelligence rating way below his aspirations. He had only answered a few questions in the time available, but his accuracy was 100%. He was a brilliant chess champion, and wasn't used to being hurried.

Although I had no training for the task, I was conscious that I could ruin or seriously damage people's futures. I took the work seriously. The problems were real and numerous. A potential minister of religion wanted to go to university, yet his test scores suggested that he was not up to tertiary standard, and even on the individual tests his performance was poor. Yet he was a charming man and clearly had a very strong calling to spread God's word. I crossed my fingers and passed him.

My problems got worse when I was shifted from the Showgrounds and posted to 113 Army General Hospital at Concord. As the Army Psych Service's representative, my task was to establish the level of intelligence beneath the psychiatric disturbance of patients, as this would help the psychiatrists in treatment. At times this involved being locked in a padded cell with a patient, and trying to get him to do a test. The cells were padded but they were not sound-proof, and I was more conscious of my patient's reaction to the raving coming from next door, than of his application to my tests.

Another hazard was being asked to give tests and vocational guidance to a patient full of tubes, when told in advance that he only had days to live, but that I might cheer him up talking about his future career. Somebody with qualifications could probably find satisfaction in such work, but for me it was nightmare.

The only thing that kept me from becoming a patient myself was my return to the theatre. While working at the Showground, I had gone back to the Independent Theatre and started acting again. My army work was all daytime, and theatre rehearsals and performances were all nighttime so there was no problem under normal circumstances. However from time to time we were rostered for guard duty. This meant sitting in the office at the Showground and seeing no-one pinched the wastepaper basket or read our files. Such tasks came round infrequently, but on one occasion guard duty clashed with a performance at the theatre. I arranged with an army colleague to do my duty on the night in question, and I would do his next time.

Unfortunately my colleague did not turn up, and some-one broke in to the office and stole a typewriter. I was charged with failing to carry out a rostered duty, and of deserting my post in the face of the enemy. I couldn't believe they were serious, but they were. In due course I was marched into a Court Martial between two soldiers and grilled. I remember the crucial question:

"When you were overseas would you have neglected a rostered duty because it clashed with a personal activity?"

If I said "No", I would be faced with: "What makes you think you can do it here?" If I said "Yes", it would be an admission of a serious crime. After some quick thinking I said "The situation never arose, Sir." I got off with a caution.


Chapter Five: INDEPENDENT DAYS

Throughout the war, I managed to maintain contact with my spiritual home, The Independent Theatre. Doris Fitton, the theatre's founder and director, was a generous correspondent, and her letters included copies of Shakespeare's plays, individually ripped from a collected edition of his works. My sister, Lilias, sent reviews of shows from the Sydney Morning Herald, and from The Wireless Weekly which gave rather more space to Little Theatre performances. I had renewed personal contact with the theatre on the couple of recreation leaves, and even performed during one of them.

Sunday night play readings were a feature of the theatre, and were used to try out new scripts or potential major productions. On one of my leaves, they were doing a staged reading of Eugene O'Neill's massive work "Mourning Become Electra". I knew it was a milestone in twentieth century theatre, so I went along full of interest.

As I sat in the auditorium waiting for the curtain to rise, Doris Fitton came to me and asked if I would mind reading a part as one of the characters had failed to show up for the performance. I was not crazy about the idea as I had never even read the five-hour play, and everyone else had rehearsed both the words and the movements. However, one of Doris's main talents was to have her way regardless of objections, and my first contact with O'Neill's masterpiece was on-stage, sight-reading in a well-rehearsed reading with action.

My character was Peter Niles, the nice ordinary boy-friend of the wayout leading lady, Lavinia. While I did my best to pick up the changing relationship as we went along, the result was dreadful. While Peter is consistently in love with Lavinia, she is forever changing. At first she declares that she hates love and will never marry; registering this, I felt I should play the part as Mr Nice-guy accepting a write-off with charm and assurance. I was halfway through my big scene in the finale in this mode, when I became aware that Lavinia's words were at variance with my interpretation. She comes to Peter, hot from an incestuous proposal from her brother, and makes violent love to him. Lavinia was so well rehearsed that she didn 't need her script and I was so put out by this turn of events that I could hardly hold mine. Peter was required "to leave her, repelled by her eagerness". I think I may have given the right impression there, although confused and embarrassed would have been a more accurate description of Peter's state that night.

On my return to Sydney, at the war's end, I contacted Doris and was immediately offered a part in a new Australian comedy, Sumner Locke-Elliot's "Invisible Circus". Sumner earned his living churning out scripts for radio dramas and his play was about this unseen circus.

I arrived for the first reading, early in May 1946, at Doris's home in Miller Street, North Sydney, just down the street from the theatre. Most of the cast were radio actors, but Doris had mentioned that it also included two very talented young girls. She was quite right; one was Diana Perryman, who had an impressive career before a tragically early death leaving her younger sister, Jill, to carry on a family tradition in theatre. The other girl was Betty Duncan every bit as talented, but who was to make an even greater impression on me in her long-running and continuing role as my wife.

"Invisible Circus" was followed by a production of "Hamlet", and although I was not originally in the cast, I joined shortly after it opened when the actor playing the Ghost of Hamlet's father suddenly dropped out of the production. I was conscripted for the part, and for the first couple of performances was the visible embodiment of the Ghost while Charles Tasman, the actor playing Polonius, read the lines from the wings. By the third night I was able to do the lines myself, and to this day I remember them, such was the trauma of the occasion. Hamlet was played by John Carlson who later went to Italy and cropped up in various major films in small character parts. He enjoyed playing Hamlet, which he did quite well, but in the scenes with the Ghost, he gave himself a little respite from rigours of playing, by standing with his back to the audience and pulling faces at the Ghost. Initially it was probably the incongruity of me standing in my black cloak, shining the green light of a torch onto my face, as I mouthed the words which came floating from the wings, but his mugging continued even after I was delivering the lines. Years later when I tried my hand at play-writing, I toyed with a plot in which a young actor got his big break as the Ghost of Hamlet's father but was killed on his way to the theatre on opening night. An understudy went on, but such was the psychological motivation of the young actor that his ghost also turned up for the part. The production with a real ghost in the part was a sensation and ran for years, but when it finally closed and a new show replaced it, the Ghost continued to appear at its usual time and delivered its usual lines. No matter what they did, they could not get rid of the Ghost and the theatre was finally turned into a warehouse where to this day, the Ghost of Hamlet's father delivers his lines to assembled furniture in crates.

Charles Tasman, who initially provided my voice in that Independent production of "Hamlet", was a remarkable character. His full name was Charles Tasman Parkinson and his main role in life was as headmaster of The King's School at Parramatta, Australia's oldest and proudest private school. He was passionate about theatre, and we became good friends, partly from being in plays together, but largely because his actor son, Nicholas Parkinson, was in my year at Sydney University, and we were both members of a small group of ex-service students who pooled resources to cope with the demands of the Arts faculty. Nicky went on to a distinguished career in the diplomatic corps, culminating in his appointment as Australia's ambassador to the United States.

Actors at the Independent Theatre received no remuneration but backstage staff were paid. I needed money and gladly accepted Doris's offer of the position of Stage Director. It gave me some money immediately, and would prove a most acceptable supplement to the Government's Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme allowance which would cut in when I started my University course at the begining of 1947.

In September 1946, John Carlson, who had made my life difficult in "Hamlet", produced Ibsen's "A Doll's House", and the cast included both Betty Duncan and myself in minor roles. During a performance a group of us awaiting our calls were chatting in a dressing room, and I seized a chance to make a joke at Betty's expense. She responded by dipping her hand into a bowl of cold-cream and sloshing it onto my face. As I was about to go on, and she had ruined my make-up, I was furious and told her what I thought of her. On reflection, I later concluded that I had got no more than I deserved, and the next night I arrived at the theatre with a box of gardenias for Betty as a peace offering.

In November, we played together again in Schiller's "Maria Stuart", which starred Jean Forbes Robertson in the tital role. I played her faithful Catholic priest. It was a small part but it shared one great scene with the star, in which Mary is prepared for her execution. Doris Fitton played Queen Elizabeth and there was a fair bit of real-life tension between the two Queens. In rehearsal the play had proved to be over long and cuts were made, largely in the protracted scene preceding Mary's execution.

One night during the season, Ethel Gabriel, who played Mary's trusted maid, thought her part was over, took her make-up and costume off and set off for the Miller Street tram stop to go home. She had forgotten her final appearance which broke into the scene between Mary and her priest with the news that the executioner was at hand. On stage, Mary and I had given our all to the very moving climax, and were shocked at the non-appearance of the maid. Mary sighed tragically and moved past me hissing "Where is the bloody woman?"

As the play was in blank verse with the last rites delivered, there was not much scope for ad libbing to cover the hiatus. Fortunately, we both had a fair recollection of the substantial cuts which had been made in the scene and we proceeded to patch these together as coherently as we could with frustration and frenzy barely under control.

Backstage a desperate search for Ethel was under way. She was caught at the tram stop, rushed back to the theatre, thrust into her clothes and pushed on stage where Mary and the priest were on the point of suggesting to the audience that it would be as well if we all went home and came back another night.

During the show I plucked up enough courage to ask Betty Duncan if she would like to spend Christmas with me and my family at Toowoon Bay on New South Wales central coast. Betty was somewhat surprised at the invitation, but accepted as she could not return to her home in Victoria, because she was in rehearsal for a production of Jean Anouilh's "Antigone" to open early in the new year.

I had been cagey with my family. Though I had received permission to have a friend at Toowoon Bay, I knew that they had assumed it to be a boy friend. They were staggered when they discovered it was a girl. My mother had been brought up to regard the theatre as a place of sin, and my involvement in it had required an act of defiance on my part. Once I was in it, mother had supported me, but that support did not include embracing an actress as a future daughter-in-law. Poor Betty walked into a polite but cold reception, but before the holiday was over, the family had fallen for her. We had to be back in Sydney for the new year, and at a party at Doris’s on New Year’s Eve, Betty agreed to marry me. It was a shock to her family which had backed her move to Sydney to find a career, and here she was committing to an ex-soldier with no money and no prospects.

Towards the end of 1947, J.C. Williamsons took up the Independent production of Lilian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes” for a season at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne. Because the actor playing Regina’s dying husband could not make the tour, I replaced him and this was how Betty’s family met the man who was to wed their beloved daughter. Her mother and father, her oldest sister Peg and her husband, and her brother Alex and his wife came to a performance and took me out to a nightclub afterwards. It was the first time I had ever been to a nightclub. In those days liquor restrictions were acute, and although Claridges was probably Melbourne’s top night spot, you could only drink furtively. Betty’s brother Alex brought a bottle of gin. A jug of lemon juice was ordered, and Alex’s bottle of gin was transferred to the jug of juice and the empty gin bottle was spirited away by the waiter.

The family could not have been more friendly, but I was both tired and nervous. My dilemma became even more acute when dancing began. I had learned to dance at school, but that was long ago, and I had hardly ever danced since, and certainly not with people I did not know and desperately wanted to impress. Some time after 3 a.m., I got back to my room in the home of my uncle and aunt in Jolimont Terrace. I was tipsy and tired, and apprehensive how I would manage to hold my own in the new world to which my engagement had brought me.

Earlier in 1947, I had had my finest moment in the theatre. Alphonse Silberman owned a successful restaurant chain in Sydney called Silvers Grills. He was also passionate about the theatre. He discovered a German adaptation by Stefan Zweig of Ben Jonson’s “Volpone” and translated this back into broken English. He persuaded Doris Fitton to produce it. She was short both of time and money as usual, so a very low cost production was rushed on with sets and costumes largely rehashed from the previous year’s “Hamlet” and “Twelfth Night”.

Although the script was at times convoluted and obscure, it was basically very funny and full of great character parts. Each of us in the cast did the necessary re-writing of the dialogue and revelled in the evolving situations. John Faassen played Volpone’s parasite, Mosca, I played Volpone and Betty played the harlot, Canina. There was no way that I could persuade anyone that I was a lascivious monster, and I think the fundamental incredibilty of the central character lent a light-heartedness to the production which audiences warmed to. It was a huge success and even my critical brother enjoyed the show in general, and Betty in particular. He said that she cut the most delicate of figures on the thinnest of ice. A particular delight was the headline to the review in “Honi Soit”, the paper of Sydney University where I had just started: “MURDER, HARLOT, RAPE: SUPERB” The show played to capacity houses. Doris took it off after three months when it equalled her record run in “Mourning Becomes Electra”. On the last night, not only were all the seats in the auditorium filled, the doors to the foyer left open to accommodate more people, but seats were provided in the wings and we still turned people away.

A theatrical highlight of those days was a visit of the Old Vic Company, starring Laurence Olivier and Vivian Leigh. Bet and I went to all three of their productions; “Richard III”, “School For Scandal” and “The Skin Of Our Teeth”. Olivier was magnificent as Richard III, and also in “School For Scandal”, while Vivian came into her own in Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth”. The whole company came to the Independent Theatre for a performance of “Mourning Becomes Electra”, and were paired off with the Board members. I was just behind Olivier and able to see him wince at a rather gauche love scene. It was on that trip that the Oliviers adopted Peter Finch and took him back to England, launching his international career. In the medium term, the adoption became more Vivian’s than Larry’s when she and Peter were involved in an affair that was common knowledge.

Another visiting theatrical highlight was J.C.Williamsons importation of an Italian opera company. Betty and I, in our ignorance, had no time for opera, and we bought seats in the gods at the Sydney Tivoli Theatre to have a laugh at “Turandot”. We were totally captivated, and bought seats for “La Boheme” which completed our rout as scoffers. The leading soprano was Rina Malatrasi, and she was as wonderful to hear as to behold.

Athough my connection with the theatre was to continue through the four years of my full-time Arts degree course, the focus of my life shifted jointly to my studies and to my relationship with Betty. The money I earned as Stage Director provided a little jam to go with the bread and water of the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Allowance, but we were very poor. Once I lost the return half of a suburban train ticket, and the consequences were like a stockmarket crash.

Accommodation was a problem at that time. Betty lived in a boarding house in Barncleuth Square in Kings Cross, near where the Alamein Fountain now stands. I lived with my parents at Harris Park near Parramatta, 20 miles west of the city. Looking ahead to our marriage, it was hard to see where we could live. The war had caused a great shortage of flats and houses, and “key money” had to be paid for the priviledge of renting even the most modest of dwellings. Early in 1948, an actress we knew was going overseas, and she said we could rent the cold, damp hovel she called home. Betty’s parents came up to see where their daughter was going to live, and nearly died. The arrangement finally fell through, and we lived with my family for the first weeks of our married life.

Our wedding was in Geelong, and took place in the first vacation of my second year at the Uni in May 1948. At least it should have, but Betty’s mother, Nan Duncan, recalled the old saying “Marry in May and rue the day”. The wedding was put back till June 1st, and we wed in term time. Pop Duncan bought us a secondhand Austin Ten and enough petrol coupons for a motor honeymoon. I went to a driving school to get a licence, and after the wedding breakfast, we set off for our first night of married bliss in Ballarat.

Ballarat is about 60 miles from Geelong, and the road is a gradual but steady climb all the way. It was a cold wet night, and, as I was a stranger to the area, it was arranged that we should follow the matron of honour, Peg Franklin, who lived in Ballarat. I explained to her that she must not exceed 35 miles per hour, as my driving skills could not cope with higher speeds.

The windscreen wipers on the Austin were of the vacuum kind, working on compression from the engine. With the motor running, and the car stationary, the wipers worked a treat, but immediately there was any load on the motor the wipers stopped. As it was uphill all the way to Ballarat, we had trouble. If I took my foot off the accelerator, the wipers swished back and forth and I could see the Franklin’s tail-light disappearing in the distance. When I accelerated to try to catch them, the wipers stopped and I could see nothing through the rain on the windscreen. Betty was exposed to areas of my vocabulary I had not used since the war, and which I had hoped would remain forever my secret.

We finally made it to Craig’s Hotel, but the romantic fire in the bedroom and the champagne and chicken supper were of minor interest to the two exhausted nervous wrecks. Next morning, the car would not start and we were towed in reverse to the automobile club for repairs. These got us to Ararat where we lunched. As a cautious motorist I got a top-up of petrol and checked the water in the radiator: it was well down. I added one can of water and then another before I noticed a jet of water squirting out from the side of the engine block. The garage man hammered in a wooden plug, saying that it would hold us until we had time to stop for repairs. At Mildura, the universal joint gave out, and the brakes were so bad that, on arrival at Swan Hill a little later, we drove straight across the footpath and into the foyer of our hotel.

The situation was enhanced by the problem of backing out. To put the car into reverse gear, I had to open the door and step out while keeping my foot on the cutch pedal and shifting the gear lever across to where my right buttock would normally be. This act of contortion was made more entertaining by the cloud of confetti which sprayed out of the car whenever we opened a door. Having survived our honeymoon, our marriage was set for the long haul.

On our return to Sydney, we resumed our search for a home of our own. Another theatre friend, the writer Sumner Locke Elliott, decided to try his luck in America and said that we could take over his rented apartment in William Street, North Sydney. We were delighted, as it was a nice modern flat with a distant harbour view. Our euphoria was jolted a few days before Sumner’s departure. His parents had died while he was young, and he had been brought up by his aunt, Lily Burns, who shared his flat. Lily was to have gone into a retirement home, but at the last minute she refused to budge. She proposed instead that we should share the flat with her. We would pay all the rent and have the run of the flat, sharing the bathroom and kitchen with Lily, who would retain her bedroom and pay the gas and electricity bills. It was far from ideal, but the location was convenient and we accepted the deal.

After we moved in, we learned rather more of Sumner’s life than we would have wished. Lily was not Sumner’s only aunt. Her two sisters, Nana and Blanche, also had a proprietary interest in Sumner and had conflicting views on his up-bringing and affairs. Nana was a devout Christian Scientist Practitioner, while Blanche was a former J.C.Williamson chorus girl approaching 60, who lived la vie de Boheme in Kings Cross, smoked like a chimney and swore like a trooper. Blanche considered that her theatrical background made her a more appropriate guardian of Sumner’s affairs than either the sober Lily or the otherworldly Nana. Differences were regularly aired on the telephone, and usually ended with Lily saying: “I’ve got to go, Blanche.....I’ve got to go,Blanche.” Lily would then hang up. Blanche had to ring from a public phone, so there was a lull of a minute or so while she mustered the necessary coins, then the phone would ring again, and we could hear her abusing Lily for hanging up on her. Lily would listen, with occasional attempts to interupt the tirade, before playing her trump card: “I’m going to send you a solicitor’s letter, Blanche” and down would go the phone again. I don’t think she ever sent one, but the threat was enough to force Blanche into a temporary withdrawal, and bought Lily a few hours of peace.

Lily’s troubles with Nana were of a different nature. Nana never raised her voice or used bad language, but she had a supreme sense of superiority. Lily was a half-hearted Christian Scientist. Her late husband had been a Labour Party polititian in the State parliament of New South Wales, and Lily had been his active supporter. She was closer to Karl Marx than to Mary Baker Eddy, and Nana attributed any of Lily’s problems to this weakness. Lily politely tolerated Nana’s lectures on her wrong mindedness and went on in her own way. She was however no chicken and when her health began to fail, she was in a pickle. Marx would suggest that she call a doctor, but to do so would be a shocking affront to Mary Baker Eddy and Nana, and Lily was too nice a person to inflict such outrage. She just got weaker and sicker as Nana visited her more often and found increasing fault with her mental processes.

In the end, we couldn’t bear it any more; Lily was dying and we were powerless to help. Another theatre couple, Jack and Shirley Faassen, owned a house at Mosman, and, aware of our dilemma, invited us to stay with them. Lily died not long after we left. We went to the Christian Science funeral and found that there was no reference to the deceased, although she was there in the coffin in our midst. If you believe everything is in the mind, the dead body of a loved one is something of a problem. Nana didn’t go to the funeral but diffidently asked Betty how it had turned out.

Another peculiarity of our time at 5 William Street was associated with the lady who lived above us. Mrs Nairn was married to a railway worker on nightshift, and daytime was their time for sleep. Sumner, in the flat below, earned his living writing radio soap-operas, and during the hours of daylight he rattled away on his typewriter. Mrs Nairn took this as wanton provocation, and took revenge on Sumner by pouring water on him as he left the apartment block for a trip to town or the shops.

His departure for overseas seemed divine intervention, but our arrival created new problems. During the day, I was at University, but Betty was likely to be typing an essay for me. At night we would both be at the theatre, and when we got home, we usually wanted a meal of sorts and generally made enough noise to set Mrs Nairn off. Her registration of our behaviour took the immediate form of a cadenza of flushed toilets and broom handle thumps on the floor. In the morning, when we were trying to sleep, Mrs Nairn would vaccuum energetically on the floor above our heads, with stomping and broom banging as punctuation. I tried diplomacy, but this resulted in tears and no long term benefit. I hope life treated her better after we left.

Our time with the Faassens at Mosman was a happy time. They were a young couple in a nice house which had belonged to Shirley’s mother, near Taronga Park Zoo . They were poor like us, but knew of a hole in the zoo’s fence, whereby you could enjoy its pleasures gratis. Jack had a beautiful baritone voice which earned him good money on radio and the stage. His singing teacher however was convinced that he could be turned into a great dramatic tenor. Jack gave up his baritone career, and never quite made it to dramatic tenor. He did manage to create a successful new career in the theatre as the creative genius of the Music Hall at Neutral Bay, but he lost his wife in the process.

By the time we joined them, my university course was approaching its end. With no real idea of how I was going to earn a living, I had embarked on an Arts course. My preference was to work in a theatre, but, at the time, this was not a way to earn a decent living. With my family background, there was a sense that I could teach if all else failed, but that hardly seemed good enough now that I had a wife to support.

Looking back, one of my greatest regrets is that I did not get more out of my university course. Due to the war, I came to it older than most undergraduates. A small group of us ex-servicemen clubbed together to tackle the course. We divided up tasks to be done and pooled our knowledge. It was a good way to get the work done, but it reduced one’s chance of getting an education. The only one of our group who had any problem in passing exams, was the one person who took education seriously. Paul McKeown actually failed first year Arts, though he did more work and was better read than any of us. He left Sydney University and went to Oxford where he got a good degree. On return to Australia, he had a distinguished academic career as Headmaster of Canberra Grammar School.

My own inclinations were towards Psychology, which I thought should be my major. My first essay was on scientific method, and I gave it my very best shot. I had help from both my sister, a Master of Science and my father, a Master of Arts. Both were impressed with the result. I was shocked to get a B+. I was so annoyed that I did no work for my next essay, but wrote it in one night incorporating every psychological cliche I knew. I got an A+ and congratulations for a well reasoned essay. I decided that Psychology was not for me. I had started out with English, Psychology, History and Economics. Economics had been swiftly discarded. With Psychology now gone, I was left with English and History, both of which I enjoyed but neither seemed likely to carry me to a rich and full life.

My final year at university in 1950 was fraught with change. My sister, Lilias, who was 37, returned from a year’s transfer to an English teachers’ training college, with the announcement that she was to marry a Scot from the Isle of Harris. They were wed in January, and were living with my parents at Harris Park when my father died. By that time Betty was pregnant and expecting our first born in November, right in the middle of my final exams. She wanted to have the baby in Geelong, with her mother and family as support, and was delighted when J.C.Williamsons decided to take “Dark of the Moon”, the play she was in, to the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne. Betty, if not the part, got bigger each week, but it was a character part and she stayed with the show until six weeks before our son arrived. The birth occurred during my final exams, and I went straight from my last paper to the plane to take me from Sydney to my new family in Geelong.

With nothing specific lined up in Sydney, Geelong had substantial attractions as a future home. We returned to Sydney early in 1951 to let my family meet the first grandson, but we decided to make a move to Victoria. I contacted the Victorian Education Department to see if they could offer me a teaching job in Geelong. The only job available was at Matthew Flinders Girls Secondary School, where I would be the only male on the premises. It was too good a chance to miss!

Betty rang her mother with news of our impending arrival. She was delighted, and said that we could have the upstairs flat at Pevensey Street, as Betty’s sister Dorothy and her husband Max Bennett, the current occupants, were about to move out to a house of their own.


Chapter Six: GEELONG

Betty’s parents had a successful gourmet delicatessen business in Geelong, the “Bon Accord”. They lived in a lovely old blue-stone home, just up from Geelong’s showplace, Eastern Beach. Not only was the accommodation first class, but catering was supplemented by the “Bon Accord.” On the work front, Matthew Flinders Girls Secondary School proved to be a riot. It was ruled by two very capable women - the Principal, Miss Cawthorne, and her deputy, Miss Hooper. I think that they quite liked having a man about the house at school, but domestically they found eachother sufficient. As might have been expected with my qualifications in English and History, I was required to teach Science and Maths. I managed to keep a couple of pages ahead of the girls, and even learned to cope with their regular attempts to embarrass their odd male teacher. It was only when my school life merged with public life that I had real trouble.

Once a week the girls went to the baths at Eastern Beach for swimming. A long sentence of little girls ended with a male exclamation point. As the crocodile wound its ways through the streets of Geelong on its way to the pool, it was serenaded with derisory obligatos on car-horns from friends and acquaintances. Speech night was even worse. By tradition, each class gave its mistress a corsage. I scored a beautiful buttonhole of pink carnations. I wore it for my official post as doorman. Geelong is a country town, and most of the girls’ parents were cow-cockies who eyed the solitary male and his pink carnations with contempt.

While our initial accommodation at Pevensey Street was in the upstairs flat, the death of Betty’s mother, Lilian, on holiday in Tasmania, led to us moving downstairs and Bet keeping house for her father as well as ourselves. Os found solace in our young son, John, who shared his bedroom and gave him a focus outside his own tragedy.

In the Christmas holidays of 1951, we drove up to Sydney to let my family renew acquaintance with our firstborn. Dad had died before John was born, but my mother, my sister and her husband were living in the old family home. John was referred to as “John-son” to differentiate him from his father. My mother,who was enchanted by her only grandchild, contracted this to “Johnsie”, and, to his future embarrassment, it stuck. My brother-in-law, Stephen, built a billy-cart for his nephew, and named it “The Johnsiecart”.


After Sydney, we drove up to Newcastle where my brother, Donald, was Superintendant of Research for Lysaghts. Although he was marvellous with kids, he and his wife, Nance, had no children, but then and for the rest of his short life, he was an ideal uncle. When time came to return to Geelong, we decided, as it was mid-summer, to go back on the coast road .

The Princes Highway, then as now, is a very winding road. Most of the way is through coastal scrub with only occasional contact with the coast. That year happened to be one of the worst for bushfires, and from the time we left the outskirts of Sydney until we reached Orbost in Victoria, we were never out of sight of fire.

On the first day, we were making for the little township of Mossy Point, a few miles north of Moruya, where family friends, the Whites, had a holiday home. Young John was a bit off-colour, and was sleeping fitfully on the back seat. We were apprehensive about the clouds of smoke ahead of us, and the occasional glimpses of fire, first on one side of the road and then the other. As we approached Milton, the flames were on both sides of the road, and the road itself was largely obscured by smoke. We thought of turning back, but did not wish to stop and turn with no guarantee that the road behind us was now any better. I put my foot down and went through a wall of fire, hoping no trees were down across the road. We got through and learned later that we were one of the last cars to make it, because the road was closed by fire about that time.

To get to Mossy Point we had to leave the main road, and follow a narrow dirt track through the bush. Fortunately there were no fires on the way and a couple of nervous wrecks reached the White’s house in time for a dinner of freshly caught schnapper. The next day, our objective was Orbost in Victoria. When we got there, we were at last out of the fires which had threatened us all day. Sometimes the bush was burnt out, leaving a desolate landscape of charred earth studded by smouldering blackened tree trunks with branches devoid of leaves. Young John was suffering from diarrhoea and, with that and the heat, was becoming very dehydrated. After a meal at Orbost, we decided to keep on going to Geelong. It was a long way but we were so worn out that it seemed best to get home and collapse. We finally reached Geelong a bit after 3 a.m..

About a year later, my brother-in-law died suddenly, and my widowed sister, Lilias, could not face going back to Sydney Teachers’ College, where she had been a lecturer. She decided that she would like to teach young children, and to be near us. She and my mother moved to Geelong, where she secured a job at Geelong Grammar School preparatory school, Bostock House. They bought a house in Alexandra Avenue, just round the corner from us in Pevensey Street.

I had married into a large and wonderful family, and this was never more in evidence than at Christmas time. The family home, “Beaconsfield”, was a large two-storey blue-stone building. It had large rooms, including dining, breakfast, lounge and billiard rooms, and at Christmas time it needed them all. Family occasions involved twenty-eight people. At the head was Pop Duncan. His son, Alex was Victoria’s Public Trustee with a wife, Phyll and three children. Pop’s eldest daughter, Peggy, was married to a dentist, Noel Heath, and had four children. His second daughter, Kath was married to a pharmaceutical chemist, Colin Rankin, who had three children. Dorothy was married to wool-merchant Max Bennett and had three children. Betty and I contributed our two children, plus my mother and sister, making twenty-eight in all.

The Christmas tree was erected in the front hall, and presents were piled on the billiard table. The huge dining room table was covered in food contributed by all the family, and generously supplemented by produce from the family’s business. One Christmas, a barrel of Russian caviar turned out to be red instead of the usual black, and it was considered preferable that the family take care of the error, rather than inflict it on the cash customers. I had forgotten these wonderful, warm occasions until my children reminded me how big a part Pevensey Christmases had played in their lives. It was a great statement of one’s membership of a greater, loving community, which stayed with you all your life.

Betty’s eldest sister, Peg, and her husband,Noel Heath, were the social centre of the family. Noel’s successful dental practice provided the financial support for a life-style in which only the best was good enough. Their home at Highton had a wonderful cellar, and all the family were regularly involved in bottling parties for the bulk wines Peg and Noel bought at the vineyards. They were active members of the Wine and Food Society and set standards of living that the rest of us found difficult to match. I remember Peg asking me for a gin and tonic, but changing her order when she saw me uncap a bottle of Gilbey’s Gin. At the time, I was outraged, but in time I came to share her preference for Gordon’s.

The next sister, Kath, and her husband, Colin Rankin, were very different from the Heaths but no less delightful. Kath had a heart as big as Phar Lap, and Colin had the ability to find infinite joy in the smallest of things. He adored machinery of all kinds, and would spend weeks refurbishing a rusty old pump till it would work like new. Not that he had any need for a pump, it just called for his attention. Next to Kath, his great love was the motorbike. No-one less like a bikie could be imagined , but no bikie was ever more in love with his machine than Colin.

Betty’s youngest sister, Dorothy, was married to Max Bennett. They were closer to us in age, and all my life they have made me feel inadequate. They used to go dancing and I let Betty down because I had two left feet and she was a wonderful dancer. Moreover Max always seemed to have a new car, each one better than the last. He had an eye for a deal and made the most of it. Any time I bought or sold anything I ended up worse off.

For all our differences, we had great times together. Family billiards tournaments at Beaconsfield, while lacking in finesse, were unbounded fun. Once a year the men in the family went out to dinner at the Grovedale Hotel. Os and his four sons-in-law in Geelong were joined by his son, Alex, from Melbourne. After the dinner, the men returned to Pevensey Street for a challenge match at billiards with the women.

Our time living in Geelong was greatly enhanced by the Geelong Repertory Society. In those days before television, amateur dramatic societies flourished. Geelong’s came within the framework of the Geelong Association of Music and the Arts (GAMA), which owned a theatre in which the Rep. presented it plays. The club rooms were in Yarra Street, where parties and other social activities took place. The club rooms had a small stage and it was on this that the annual original revue was staged. A further delight was the summer picnic, held by tradition in the sandhills and on the beach of Point Roadnight near Anglesea. Food was barbecued and flushed down by beer from the keg.

Society membership was drawn largely from the city’s professionals, with the Law and Academia strongly represented. Plays chosen for presentation were far removed from commercial fare. During our time with the Rep. I recall Jean Annouilh’s “Ring Round The Moon”, Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, T.S.Elliot’s “The Cocktail Party”, Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance Of Being Earnest” among others. The standard of production and performance was remarkably high with audiences sharing the exuberance and zest of the cast.

During my year at Matthew Flinders I made my first attempt at writing for the general public. It was the school’s 50th anniversary, and they wanted a pageant to celebrate the event. As one of the regular writing team for Repertory Society revues, it seemed only fair for me to have a go at the pageant for my employers. It turned out to be a bit more light-hearted than had been expected, but it went down well with a theatreful of parents and friends.

It was clear that as a teacher I was never going to be able to support my family in the manner to which they were accustomed. The biggest commercial concern in Geelong was the Ford Motor Company, so I went to it to see if I could land a job. At the time, Fords was setting up Industrial Engineering under Brian Inglis, the son of one of the directors of the company. He had just returned from an apprenticeship in America and was building up an Australian team. When he saw me , I explained that I had no qualifications in engineering of any kind as my degree was in Arts. Brian replied that the only thing of any use to be learned at a university was how to think, and you could learn this just as well in Arts as anywhere else. He asked me how much money I wanted. I told him the pittance I was getting at Matthew Flinders, and that I could hardly accept less. I did not have to, and in January 1952 I started work at Fords in Industrial Engineering.

Brian’s boss was the legendary Director of Manufacturing, Slim Westman. Slim was an American who had virtually built Ford Australia. He was a man of extraordinary capacity and ingenuity. During the Second World War, Slim was the ultimate port of call in Australia for anyone with a manufacturing problem. General Motors built staff-cars and Bren-gun carriers; Fords built mines and landing barges, because no-one else could do it. When the war was over, General Motors had a plant in good order for peace time car production; Fords had a plant with mechanical hernias from struggling to do what it wasn’t designed for.

Slim was pretty much a one-man band, and after the war, business became very corporate with organisation charts and collective endeavours. There were moves to bring Ford Australia into line with world practice, and it was decided to appoint a new head of manufacturing. Slim Westman would remain a Director of the Company, but the new head of Manufacturing was an American from Studebaker, Andy Millar.

Andy Millar was a mate of Brian Inglis, and Brian suggested that it might help him come to grips with odd Australians if he had one on his personal staff. I was appointed to the position Assistant To Head of Manufacturing, not Assistant Head of Manufacturing. I was the dogsbody who handled Andy’s mail and tried to keep him loved by everyone who mattered. Coming after years of Westman, he had problems. Westman knew everyone, Millar knew no-one. I built up a reference book with photos and little personal histories of all the supervisors in Manufacturing. With a minimum of study, Andy could walk out to a section, recognise the supervisor and ask appropriately about his family or hobby. There were however problems much more difficult to solve.

Although Westman was no longer Director of Manufacturing, he remained Chairman of the Facilities Committee. Any substantial expenditure on equipment had to be approved by the Facilities Committee. As virtually all the changes Andy Millar wanted to make in the way things were done involved expenditure on equipment, they had to be approved by a Committee chaired by the person who had established the practice to be changed.

One of my duties as Assistant To Head of Manufacturing was to be Secretary of the Facilities Committee, and perhaps the greatest achievement of my life was the preparation of minutes which did justice to my boss’s submissions, which the Chairman would agree to sign,. A few months later, Fords decided to sack Andy Millar and restore Slim Westman as Director of Manufacturing. I was sure my life with Fords was at an end, but to my surprise Westman kept me on as Assistant To, and we formed a happy working relationship. He always treated me with consideration and affection, and for my part, I consider him to have been one of the few great men I have known.

In 1953 a radio network decided to run a progamme “Stars in Overalls” where amateur talent from commercial companies competed in a kind of talent quest. The organizers did their homework, and the grand final was arranged to be a contest between Fords and General Motors. At this stage, it became a battle in public relations, which Fords was determined to win. A prominent ex-priest radio producer, Morris West, was engaged to write and produce Ford’s amateur offering. The leading musical arranger and conductor, William Flynn, was engaged to write and conduct the music, and employment records were scoured to discover any relevant talent at Fords. I was drafted to be the continuity announcer, and for the few weeks of rehearsal, the manufacture of cars took second place in Ford’s perception. The biggest picture theatre in Geelong was hired for our final presentation, and, happily, we won. Fords went back to making cars and Morris West went on to become one of the world’s best-selling authors.

Meanwhile the corporate world marched on. Henry Ford II had taken over control of the family company, and great changes were afoot. Outside USA, the Ford empire was run by Ford International. At that time, Commonwealth Preference applied within the British Commonwealth, and Ford perceived that there could be advantages if Ford was seen as a Commonwealth company. To this end they created an Overseas Operations Division of Ford Canada to control all the Ford plants in the British Commonwealth. The division would be based in Canada and would be staffed by personnel drawn from each country which had a Ford plant. Selected staff would migrate to Canada to man the central operations, and would be posted out to other countries as required. A small group was required from Australia, and I was one of those chosen.

The General Manager of Ford Australia at that time was an irascible American, C.A. (Charlie) Smith. A few days before my departure for Canada, Charlie ordered me to his office for a farewell briefing. From previous experience, I knew Charlie was a pacer: he would stride around you while he talked, and you were forced to rotate uneasily as he encircled you. I manoeuvered myself into a corner, so Charlie could not get behind me, and gave him my full attention. I was told to remember that my first loyalty at all times was to Australia. The whole Overseas Operations Division was a power ploy by the Vice President at its head, George H. Bates, who was a long time enemy of Charlie Smith. He knew nothing about making cars and was a bully and a tyrant. “You know what they call G.H.Bates, don’t you? G.H. - God Himself- Bates!” At this point I almost broke up, because Charlie was C.A.Smith, and known generally as C.A.- Christ Almighty-Smith!

While the move to Canada was exciting for us, it had unwelcome implications for the wider family. Pop Duncan had to engage a housekeeper, and our departure for overseas was a blow to my mother and sister, who had moved from Sydney to Geelong to be near us. We had no guarantee that we would ever return to Australia to live, and the expectation was that, after Canada, we would be posted to an operation elsewhere than Australia. We made application to be accepted as landed immigrants on arrival in Canada, and underwent a series of mandatory medical checks which included a Wasserman test for venereal discease.


Chapter Seven : CANADA

On a wintry day in 1954, the family saw us off at Essendon airport with tears and kisses. As we waved goodbye from the top of the steps to the Lockheed Constellation on our way to Fiji, Canton Island and Honolulu, we were at the same time happy, sad, scared and excited.

Our son, John, was three years old and Catherine, still in nappies, just over a year. We had been apprehensive about travelling with young children, but Ford’s policy was that all staff travelling abroad were representatives of the Company and as such travelled First Class. On the plane, the children were not a major problem. We stretched our legs in the tropic night of Fiji and Canton Island while the plane was refuelled, and in the morning were festooned with leis as we disembarked at Honolulu. As we were then entering the United States, we had to go through migration facilities which at that time were located in a tin shed! A long black limousine carried us to the Moana Hotel on Waikiki Beach where we were to recuperate for a couple of days before the next leg to Los Angeles.

Honolulu was a revelation. The hotel was right on the beach, and we dined that night in the Banyan Court under the stars, with flaming torches on the beach beside us, and the gentle sound of the waves mingling with the guitars of the radio show, “Hawaii Calls”, which was being broadcast around the world as we ate. This was as romantic as we had ever known it, and the only fly in the ointment of paradise came over the public address system: “Will Mr and Mrs Cameron return to their room; your children are calling for you.” We had lovingly bedded them down and waited till they were asleep before going down to dinner.

They came with us next day when we went sight-seeing, and they, like us, were enchanted: by the International Market, with its huge banyan trees with aerial roots, by stalls of every kind, by palm trees growing up and through the awnings over sidewalks, by grass-hut restaurants like Don the Beachcomber’s, and by flowers everywhere, in leis, in people’s hair, in trees and in exotic drinks. We have been back to Honolulu many times since, but it has never seemed more beautiful than in 1954 when we were overwhelmed by all the advantages of commercialisation and with none of its disadvantages. In Australia at that time, we had no television, no supermarkets, no discount stores, no expressways, no motels and no multi-culturalism, but then as now, they were features of Hawaii.

We stopped in Los Angeles for one night only, and the only lasting impression from that brief stay at the Biltmore Hotel was that our bathroom had three taps - hot, cold and iced. Next day it was back to the airport, and the flight to Detroit. We were met by Ford Canada representatives, and driven over the Detroit River, on the Ambassador Bridge, to Windsor on the Canadian side of the river. By the time we got to the Prince Edward Hotel, we were tired and only half awake. ( I nearly said “jet-lagged”, but the planes in those days were not jets.)

Despite the fact that our hosts spoke English, everything seemed very strange. I felt obliged, on our first night in Canada, to entertain our hosts to thank them for the kindness of our reception. I rang room service and ordered some drinks and a couple of dozen sandwiches. We were staggered when half-a-dozen trolleys were wheeled in bearing 24 plates with slices of bread covered in various meats and salad, with knives and forks and napkins. Sandwiches as we knew them did not exist in Canada.

We had left Australia in mid-winter but it was mid-summer in Windsor, and the weather was most oppressive. Windsor is on a peninsular between two of Canada’s Great Lakes, and to the north lies a vast network of forests and smaller lakes. In summer the humidity is frightful with virtually no difference in temperature day or night. The situation is made worse by the buildings which are built to retain the central heating through the long winter months. We were startled in the hotel by static electricity causing sparks to leap from our hands to metal doorknobs when we walked across the carpet and opened a door.

Another distinction of Windsor was the dirt. Everyone knows that Canada is north of the United States, but Windsor is located on a twist of land which manages to place it south of Detroit. With the prevailing winds from the north, all the pollution from the industries of Detroit wafts across the Detroit River and settles on Windsor. For the short time we lived in a rented house in Windsor, we were able to sweep up a plateful of black dirt on our small front verandah every morning.

Windsor’s two main industies were Ford cars and Hiram Walker whiskey. Back in the days of prohibition in the States, Hiram Walker’s main outlet was the USA, with bootleggers’ boats ferrying the liquor by night across the river. Today the trade is legal, but Canada itself in 1954 had strange liquor laws. They had their origin in keeping fire-water from the Indians, and liquor could not be bought anywhere but at a government liquor outlet, and then only on the presentation of a licence card. Once purchased, the liquor had to be conveyed from the outlet to your home by the shortest route. Wine from local vinyards could be bought in privately operated wine stores, but these were few and far between.


Smuggling was still a thriving industry in 1954, but out of USA, not into it. Nearly everything cost less in the States, and if you wanted a new suit, you wore rags on the way over, and a brand new suit on the way back. Sometimes the technique was to wear several layers of clothing. Hiding purchases in the boot of your car was another favourite trick, but you were in trouble if you got caught. Customs officers were hot on cars, and it was much safer to take the tunnel bus to and from Detroit. You could not carry so much, but there was much less chance of detection.

While still living in the hotel, I started work at Fords. I found myself the Facilities Engineer, presumably on the strength of my having been Minute Secretary of the Facilities Committee in Australia, but this was a whole new ball-game. Any Ford company in the British Commonwealth wanting to spend more than $250,000 on facilities or equipment, had to obtain approval for that expenditure from the Vice President, Overseas Operations, the legendary G.H. Bates. His approval was conditional on my recommendation as the Facilities Engineer. Awareness of my own ignorance was my greatest strength; I wasted no time trying to evaluate the submissions myself, but quickly built up a network of engineering contacts in Ford Canada and in the parent plant in USA at Dearborn. With their help, I kept myself out of trouble and allowed God Himself to make suitable decisions.

One strange aspect of our operations was the typing pool. No one had a secretary. All papers and memos had to be dictated via Edison machines onto wax cylinders which were then spirited away to the typing pool. They came back some hours later in print. It may have been good in theory, but in practice it raised blood-pressure levels to a dangerous extent. One high-powered Canadian, who had a great deal of correspondence and could have employed a secretary/typist full-time, went ballistic one day when an urgent letter to a supplier, Gray Bonney, came back addressed to Grey Bunny.

I nearly caused a strike one day, when my desk had to be moved a few feet. A request was lodged with the appropriate section. When only one man turned up and was having difficulty moving the desk, I gave him a hand. The next minute, there were shouts to put it down or a grievance would be lodged. Work demarcation disputes were much more prevalent in Canada than in Australia.

The Nineteen-fifties were the age of the colour slide, and you had to be prepared for the horrors of slide nights, when you were asked to a friend’s place to view the projected highlights of their most recent holiday. With friends it was just possible to stem the flow when you had had as much as you could bear, but we discovered that there was no escape from a Ford command performance. George Bates invited the staff of Overseas Operations Division to his home for an evening’s fraternisation. After the drinks and nibbles, out came the slides, and we could do nothing about it, except to vie with eachother in false tributes to God Himself’s photographic skill.

The staff dining-room at Fords was a joy, with nice linen on the tables. I became devoted to lettuce hearts with Thousand Island dressing. Meals at the hotel were less satisfactory. With the two small children, we found it best to depend on room-service. This meant massive trolleys with everything that was not hot swimming in bowls of melting ice. Meals were eaten in the ghostly grey light of the television, as we marvelled at the ingenuity of man.

We had acquired a car on arrival, a Ford Meteor, and our first automatic. In it we spent all our spare time looking for a house to rent, and seeing the sights. We were enchanted by the motels, then unknown in Australia. To park your car outside your own log-cabin with all mod cons was a great advantage, especially when travelling with two infant children.

Niagara Falls was one of our first week-ends away, with the thrill of “The Maid Of The Mists” sailing right up to the foot of the falls. Another week-end took us to Ottawa with red-coated mounties guarding the parliament building, and the excitement in Montreal of our first experience of living with a foreign language . “Buvez Coca Cola” looked so much more exciting than “Drink Coca Cola”. Perhaps the highlight of those early trips was provided by Catherine. She had hardly eaten any food since leaving Australia and we were very concerned about her. On one drive we came to a cherry orchard and bought a basket of cherries. Cathy was captivated by their shiny red colour and tried one. The drought broke; she wolfed them down, and got back to normal eating.

Detroit was a great attraction, just across the river. While Windsor was a big town, Detroit was a big city. Its biggest store was Hudsons, which had its origins in the Hudson Bay Company and trade with wild north of Canada. Now a department store, it was huge by any standards with gracious service for its customers. If you wanted “cheap”, and could do without service, they had a warehouse in another part of the city where goods were still in packing cases, and, for a song, you could buy and cart away any of the goods so prettily displayed in the main store.

Detroit was famous for its car factories, but also for Greenfield Village. Henry Ford felt that Detroit lacked some of the charm of an old world village, so he bought one for it. His agents scoured Europe for suitable “olde worlde” charm, and the buildings selected were dismantled, stone by stone, and shipped to Detroit. Re-assembled, they became Greenfield Village. You could travel by horse-drawn coach to the village blacksmith’s shop and watch a horse-shoe being hand-forged to your order. Then progress to the village chemist where figurines of Gog and Magog struck a bell on the hour to mark time’s passing. As an antidote to excessive Europeanism, the laboratories and workshops of Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers had been similarly dismantled and re-assembled.

Expressways were another feature of Detroit. While Canada had just opened the Queen Elizabeth Way leading into Toronto, and a visiting Australian could be shocked to find himself in two lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic travelling at eighty m.p.h., Detroit was surrounded by expressways. On one occasion we were driving to Willow Run, Detroit’s airport, to catch a plane to Chicago, and we missed the exit. We had to drive for miles to the next exit, then had to find our way back onto the expressway going in the other direction. As a result, we missed our plane.

Most American cities had elevated public transport routes, and in general terms they deflated the value of adjacent real estate. Detroit had chosen to excavate for its throughways, and this had the effect of enhancing property values. Broad vistas replaced the ugly under-pinings and shadows of elevated roads and rails.

By far Detroit’s biggest attraction for us was the theatre. One of the biggest live theatre chains in the States was Schuberts and they had a big but rather run-down theatre in Detroit. To it came all the big shows from Broadway, and to it we regularly made our way. Initially we traded baby-sitting with other expatriates, and latterly, when Betty’s father came over to stay with us, he did the honours most nights. It was a great time for musicals, and we saw magical productions of “Kismet”, “Wonderful Town”, “Silk Stockings”. “The King and I”, “Guys and Dolls”, “Mrs Paterson” and “Can-Can”. Among the straight plays was Elia Kazan’s production of “Tea and Sympathy” starring Deborah Kerr. A touring production of “A Mid-summer Night’s Dream” was too big for the Schubert Theatre and was presented in the huge Masonic Auditorium, with a stage almost a block and a half wide. The production was designed by Cecil Beaton, starred Robert Helpmann and Moira Shearer, and had Stanley Holloway as Bottom. The final scene, when Oberon and Titania fly off with their fairy train, was probably the most spectacular theatrical effect I have ever seen.

Back in suburban Windsor, the first home of our own was a rented house belonging to the Knights. He was a teacher, and he and his wife let their home in the summer vacation, while they stayed in their holiday house in the Muskoka Lakes area. It was in their home, at 2240 Moy Avenue, that Catherine learned to walk, and both she and John discovered the joys of an inflatable swimming pool in the backyard. We were intrigued by the absence of front fences and footpaths. One front garden ran into another, and the tree-lined streets looked very pretty. The unseen backyards were fenced and offered a degree of privacy.

Our long term accommodation problems were solved by a South African couple, the Forbes. They lived in a rented house in a little village called Cottam, about an hour’s drive from Windsor. They were being posted to another country and asked if we would like to take over their lease. We fell in love with Cottam and readily accepted their offer. Because we had to wait some weeks for the Cottam house to become available, and because the Knights needed their home back, we rented a summer holiday shack on Lake St Clair for the bridging weeks.


The Knights earned my gratitude shortly after we moved out. I discovered that I had mislaid my two-tooth denture, and was greatly embarrassed by its absence; I was even more embarrassed by its presence when it turned up courtesy of the Knights who found it in their cream jug ! Shortly before our first Christmas in Canada, we received an invitation to spend Christmas with them. We were staggered by their hospitality, and became close friends. Cecil died some years later, but, until her death a couple of years ago, we corresponded regularly with Caroline, and visited her whenever we were in Toronto.


The holiday shack on Lake St Clair was a little primitive but very picturesque. The long drive was flanked by maples aglow in their autumn colours, but, as we found to our cost, the shack was also rather isolated. I was at work one day and Betty was having a late shower, while John and Catherine watched TV. Suddenly, the hot water cut out, and Betty came out of the bathroom to see what had happened. She discovered that a pipe from the hot-water generator had come adrift and was spraying hot water all over the kitchen. She grabbed a rain-coat to cover her nakedness and ran through the spraying hot water to find a way of turning it off. She headed for the kitchen door and the water main outside. She slipped as she went down the steps and landed with one leg twisted beneath her, unable to move. Her cries for help went unheeded by the children who were absorbed in TV, and there was no-one else. Such homes as were nearby, were empty and she sprawled there on the steps in a cascade of hot water, nude and unable to move.


After an age, a woman and her daughter came to collect some things from their holiday home and heard strange cries. They approached what seemed to be a mad woman with due caution, but ultimately entered into conversation and turned off the water. They helped the cripple hobble inside, and rang me at work. Betty had done some serious damage to her right knee, and was on crutches for some months. Despite a lot of medical attention in Canada, it was not until years later, back in Australia, that she went to a celebrated football masseur who found the cure. He felt her knee, and told her that it was dislocated. He manipulated it, put it back correctly and charged $10 for his services.

While at Lake St Clair, we set about buying the appliances necessary to furnish the Cottam house. We discovered that the price structure was very dissimilar to Australia’s. At that time, Australia had Retail Price Maintenance, which ensured that you paid the same retail price for anything you bought, regardless of location. A particular model stove cost the same at David Jones in Sydney as it did in a small hardware store in Bourke. Competition was in buyer’s convenience and in after-sales service to the purchaser. Canada had Australia’s current system of variable prices, and take your chance with anything not covered by manufacturer’s warranty.

A colleague at work told me that his brother had an appliance store, and would give us 10 % off the purchase price of anything we bought. We were very grateful until we read in a week-end paper that a big store, Mady’s, would give us 30 % discount, and a rival firm, Tepperman’s, would give us 40 % off. We were delighted to take advantage of the savings, but, even then, felt uneasy. Maybe we could get it cheaper somewhere else. We missed the certainty of Retail Price Maintenance, which allowed you to buy with a minimum of fuss, and left you free to concentrate on more important things than getting the best deal.

By the time we moved to Cottam, we had had the first snow and few leaves were left on the trees. The town was a string of houses flanking the highway that ran through it on the way from Windsor to Chatham, Hamilton and ultimately to Toronto. The population was only a few hundred, and it was a great change from the dirt and congestion of Windsor. Opposite our house there was a little park with a pond, which became an ice-rink in the winter. The main road was along a ridge with the houses on land that sloped away on either side. Our house had a garage underneath with a drive which went past the side and curled around to go under the house. There was not a great fall, but we discovered that it was quite enough to preclude use of the garage in winter. The slope was unscaleable without chains, and the build-up of snow in front of the garage door took an age to shovel away.

The house next-door was rented by another South African Ford couple, the Cohens. Neville and I used to drive to work together each day, and a hazardous trip it was in winter. On one occasion in Neville’s Ford Prefect we were travelling at about 30 mph on a flat road and, without any turn of the wheel, the car executed a slow 180 degree turn and we were heading back home again. Invisible black ice was a constant trouble, made worse by the fact that the road was flanked on either side by deep drainage ditches. A crane was needed to get you out if ever you went in.

Cottam seemed to us to be a charming little village, and we decided to involve ourselves in its affairs. The locals were hospitable and we were soon being invited to social events. It came as a shock to discover that the major local industry was wife-swapping. I suppose things can get pretty dull in small towns everywhere, but we weren’t ready for this solution. We withdrew from social contact and threw ourselves into sight-seeing.

Betty had been reading an autobiography by Louis Bromfield, who achieved modest fame with the novel “The Rains Came”. In his autobiography, he wrote of his pleasure driving home to his “Malabar Farm” in Ohio. His description of the trip was so graphic that Betty thought it would be fun to follow his descriptions and try to find the farm.

We set off one weekend, I behind the wheel, and Betty with the book on her lap. We finally found it. There, on the other side of a creek, was the farm , just as it appeared on the dust jacket of the book. However there were notices promising eternal damnation to anyone who dared to set foot in Malabar Farm. We took photos but did not risk physical contact.

Another outing in Ohio, was to a visiting exhibition at the Toledo Art Gallery - “The Golden Age of Dutch Painting”. The exhibition itself was magnificent, but to get to it, we had to drive 50 odd miles through a snow covered landscape with black bare-branched trees. After a completely monochrome world, the explosion of colour at the exhibition was staggering.

Snow was a novelty to us, initially. We built snowmen, rode sledges and young John tried skating on the pond, but was discouraged by the Canadian kids playing ice-hockey. Catherine did not care for the snow at all, and Betty got very tired of the routine of wrapping and unwrapping the kids each time they went in or out of the house.

Most of our shopping for food was done in the supermarket at Essex, a larger village a few miles away. We were amazed at the profusion on display, especially the frozen foods. Food generally made a big impression. Drive-in restaurants were a novelty, with little tables clipping onto the car doors, to receive chicken in a basket or whatever else took our fancy.

In restaurants, I made accquaintance with the pizza. On the first occasion, I was with some colleagues from work. I asked what a dish of brown stuff on the table was. “That’s to sprinkle on your pizza”. I did as directed, and almost blew my head off, to the amusement of my colleagues. That was how I met chilli powder.

Milk was delivered to your home and there was a huge diversity. You could have cream, whipping cream, coffee cream, whole milk, homogenised milk, skim milk, flavoured milk, or Breakfast Delight. The latter was a creamy milk to put on your cereal, and, in those days before cholesterol, a breakfast delight it was. Winter brought special milk problems; one particularly cold morning we forgot to bring the milk in first thing, and when we went to get it from the front steps, the silver cap of the bottle was six inches in the air on top of a column of frozen milk and cream. The milkman also delivered beautiful cakes and other indulgences. Despite our general enthusiasm for the food, we were disappointed in the bread. Like the Americans, Canadians preferred their bread sweet and bland. We longed for the savoury taste of home.

We accepted the local preference for coffee over tea, and explored the local predisposition for cocktails and rye whiskey. There were peculiarities in the method of consumption. I had stopped for petrol at a gas station and the proprietor was a Canadian with a nostalgia for England. He thought me British and invited me to have a drink. We went down to the basement of the service station, and he gave me a glassful of rye whiskey, and a bottle of Canada Dry, their ginger-ale. As the glass was full of whiskey, the ginger-ale posed a problem. I proceeded to drink the neat whiskey, and progressively to top-up the glass from the bottle. As I was not then much of a whiskey drinker, I was getting even fuller than my glass. I was saved by the arrival of another customer for petrol. I took advantage of my host’s absence to tip all of the remaining whiskey and half the ginger-ale into a sink. When my host returned, I was no longer preoccupied with consumption problems, and belatedly noticed that the technique was to mix the drinks in the mouth, by taking alternate swigs from glass and bottle.

Petrol stations and commercial organisations generally gave a standard of service then unknown to an Australian. On our return home from one trip, we discovered that a favourite toy rabbit of John’s was missing. This was a tragedy of overwhelming proportions. On reflection, we thought it most likely that he had dropped it at a service station when he got out to stretch his legs. We were in the habit of buying White Rose petrol, so I wrote to the parent company, gave them our itinerary and begged them to check their network of stations. Some weeks later, bunny returned home through the post with a nice covering letter. We stuck with White Rose for the rest of our stay.

Our Australian accent caused some problems. It was quite impossible to buy a bottle of tomato sauce, even when we dutifully said “tomayto”. It was some weeks before an astute shopkeeper exclaimed: “Oh, you want tomato ketchup”. Another time in an American metal stamping plant, I was intrigued by a metal tub about seven feet long and two feet wide. In response to my enquiry, I was informed that it was a gasket. I could not imagine any machine which would require a gasket of such proportions, and pressed for enlightenment. It turned out to be a metal-formed coffin, - a casket, in American parlance.

I was surprised one day in another American factory when a voice called out “Hello, Aussie”. I had not spoken, and I asked how he knew I was an Australian. “Only an Australian wears trousers with bottoms as wide as that!”

Apart from sight-seeing trips with the family, my work involved quite a lot of travel to see factories and operations relevant to Fords. I became used to high speed travel on the roads. I do not think that there was then any speed limit. You were simply required to drive safely, and on good open roads without much traffic, you could do this and still travel fast. I remember one trip involving 300 miles, which we covered in three hours. To average 100 m.p.h. we had to travel at a steady 120 to allow us to slow down for the odd built-up area. It did not seem fast because the roads were straight and well-surfaced: 100 m.p.h. on the test track at Dearborn was hair-raising due to bends and banks.

We went to a materials handling exhibition at the stockyards in Chicago. I still wear a leather belt which I bought there, and I open letters with a Motorola knife which I was given at one stall. Chicago was memorable also because we stayed at the Palmer House. It was a famous hotel, and I was delighted to discover that the dinner floor-show was Jose Greco and his Spanish dancers. I had already eaten when we checked in, but decided on another dinner in the circumstances. Another day I went to a nightclub because the floor-show was Nat King Cole. That was the first time I experienced the thrill of a famous name performing at such close quarters. The only other evening we were there , I went to the theatre and saw the play “Come Blow Your Horn”. I had a lot to remember besides fork-lift trucks and pallets.

The coming of spring had a special appeal for us, because Betty’s father decided to come to Canada and stay with us. Pop was in his seventies and had never been out of Australia before, so this was a big decision for him, and we were concerned how he would manage the trip over. We planned his arrival at Willow Run in fine detail. We would be waiting at the gate to help him through immigration and Customs, and drive him out into Canada and to a big welcome at Cottam.

We were just getting ready to leave for Windsor, the US border and Willow Run when Betty looked out the window and saw Pop walking across the lawn. His plane was early so he had hired a taxi at the airport to take him to our address in Canada! So much for the infirmities of age.

It was a wonderful time for us and for him. He made his own way to a supermarket convention in Cleveland, but generally he just tagged along with us wherever we went and enhanced our enjoyment. He was with us for the rest of our time in North America, and for our ultimate return to Australia. We repeated our trips to the best places, and enjoyed them all the more for sharing them with him. We did one long tour of the States, driving first to New England, and then down the east coast to New York, then down south and back up through the mid-west. The children were not keen on travelling normally, but it was much better for them with Pop to play with. For Betty and myself it meant greater freedom. We had come to love American musicals, and Pop’s company allowed us to indulge ourselves and see a Broadway musical on Broadway.

We picked Julie Andrews in “The Boyfriend”. She had taken the country by storm in the part, the rest of the cast were first rate, and the music from the Bearcats had all the drive and attack of the jazz age. We were bowled over, bought the original cast recording of the show, as we had done for all our musicals. Fifty years later the LP is a little scratched, but it still takes us back to the awesome experience of our first musical on Broadway, ironically of English origin. In 1950, I had chosen for my final English Honours thesis at Sydney University “The American Theatre 1935 To 1945”. The most significant trend in that period had been the rise of the musical from an exotic, frivolous import to an expression of local culture from the comic to the tragic. It hadn’t taken much perception to identify the trend, but it was satisfying to be on the spot and register the importance and impact of a new art form.

Initially we expected, on leaving Canada, to be posted to some country other than Australia, but this was not the case. God Himself decided to give Ford Australia a major overhaul in planning and material control. To this end a Canadian, Andy Agnew, was to go to Australia, and he decided to take two Australians, Jack Patterson and myself, to help him. On the way to Australia I was to stop over in San Francisco for a couple of weeks to learn what I could from Ford’s showcase plant at San Jose.

We sought to take advantage of the trip to see a bit more of the country, and looked into drive delivery of cars to the west coast. At that time, all Cadillacs were made in Detroit, and their biggest market was on the west coast. Because the cars were so big, they were uneconomical to transport in bulk, and were delivered individually. An approved driver would accept a brand new Cadillac, be given enough money to buy necessary petrol for the trip and accommodation, and would undertake to deliver the car to the depot in Los Angeles five days later. It seemed like a good deal, but it imposed a fairly rigorous routine on the occupants of the car,and, in the end, we decided against it. As an alternative, I proposed that instead of flying to San Francisco, we should go by train to Vancouver, and hop across the border to San Francisco. Had I realised that San Francisco is not just across the border, but 600 miles further south, I would never have dared to make the suggestion. However, in my ignorance, I put up the proposal, and it was accepted along with the idea that I would break the journey in the Rocky Mountains at Banff and take a few days leave there.

That was how we came to be seen off in Toronto on the Canadian Pacific Railway, with adjoining suites on the train for us and the kids, and a separate compartment for Pop. The novelty of the trip soon wore off as we rolled across the prairies. The food in the dining car was good, and we made good use of the bar in the lounge car, but seats in the glass dome remained vacant for most of the time until we reached the Rockies. We would get out to stretch our legs at the occasional stops, and watch as ice was shovelled into containers beneath each carriage to provide the cooling.

At last, a low line of mountains was visible on the horizon, and slowly they rose up before us. Once in the Rockies, the observation carriages came into their own, providing magnificent vistas of craggy peaks and rushing rivers. The train was an enormous snake and from its tail you could see its head on bends. Arrival at Banff was a relief after two days cooped up in luxury.

Fords had booked us palatial rooms at the Banff Springs Hotel, but, as I was now technically on leave, the cost was mine. A quick look at the brochures in our room convinced us that, apart from breakfast, we could not afford to take advantage of their dining room. We went into the township and bought the food for picnic meals which we had in our rooms. We didn’t stint ourselves in sight-seeing however, and did all the standard trips and walks. One walk, up Sulphur Mountain, was described as the best way to get to the top of one of the Rocky Mountains. The path allegedly wound up in easy grades with spectacular views, and frequent resting places. We had rented a car and drove to the foot of the mountain. We started our walk, sighting the occasional bear, and came to hot springs. Pop decided with John to stay in the pool at the hot springs while Betty, Cathy and I walked to the summit and back.

It was not long before Catherine, now three, got tired of walking, so I put her up on my shoulders. Even without this extra weight, I was begining to be sceptical about the easy grades. The frequent resting places proved to be a single wooden bench in a three hour walk. By the time we reached the summit we were almost too pooped to appreciate the view. Fortunately we took photos, and in retrospect could enjoy what was beyond us at the time. The way down was quicker, but less pleasant as every step was a jolt which seemed to push your toes out of the front of your shoes. Overall Sulphur Mountain, and Banff generally, was a great thrill, and a happy band rejoined the train for the short trip to Vancouver.

Vancouver is a spectacular city, with the sea on one side and towering mountains on the other. We took the boat trip over to Victoria on Vancouver Island, and, having afternoon-tea in the salon of the hotel while a string trio played soft airs, realised why the province is called British Colombia.

We crossed the border into Seattle, and boarded the Shasta Daylight for the 600 mile rail trip to San Francisco. This was a much nicer trip than the trans-Canada. It was a single day in a lovely train through more varied scenery. In the run down the coast, the line often crossed old lava flows. Mount St Helens provided some of these, and a couple of decades later provided more with a spectacular eruption which took out the whole side of the mountain.

In San Francisco I was back on Ford travel allowance and able to revel in the luxury of the Fairmont Hotel. Again we had a couple of suites and could afford to enjoy all the hotel had to offer. This included the legendary Lena Horne, whose rendition of “The Lady’s A Tramp” in the cocktail lounge was in itself justification for the visit. I was provided with a car, and each day drove the fifty miles out to the plant at San Jose. Betty, Pop and the kids spent the days sight-seeing, and were joined by me in the evening. We did Fishermans Wharf, rode the cable trams, and in taxis scaled the incredibly steep streets of a lovely city. My old boss at Fords, Brian Inglis, happened to be in San Francisco at the time, and he took Betty and me to the famous Top of the Mark lounge in the Mark Hopkins Hotel on our last night.

On our return to Honolulu we stayed at the Royal Hawaian, and enjoyed a surf on Waikiki Beach. The last leg was in a Boeing Strato Cruiser. It was, I believe, the first two-storey passenger aircraft. At the front it had a spiral staircase leading down to a First Class cocktail lounge. In the evening, a steward asked you to go down to the cocktail lounge for a nightcap while he made up your bed. You returned to find a Pullman style bed with sheets, blanket and pillow. You got into your pyjamas, and went to bed. There was a belt across the bed to keep you safe when landing or taking off. When we landed at Fiji in the middle of the night, we stayed in bed, Betty nursing Catherine and I, John.

We spent a night in Sydney. My brother , Donald, and his wife, Nance, drove down from Newcastle and had dinner with us at the Hotel Australia. We flew on to Melbourne next morning. The family met us and we drove back to Geelong. A great adventure was over.

Chapter Eight: ABC - EARLY DAYS

While it was great to be back in Geelong with the family, and to rediscover all the joys of living in Australia, things at work were not so good. The work itself was fine. Andy Agnew , Jack Patterson and I set about bringing Ford Australia’s material handling into line with latest world practice, but the problem was one of nationality.

There had always been a division at Ford Australia between native sons and the mighty brains from overseas. Americans were top of the tree, closely followed by Canadians, and their remuneration reflected their status. Those of us who had been baptised by Overseas Operations Division hoped that financially we had become North American, but we found that we were still considered Australians financially, and were resented by our former work- mates. By the end of a year, all of the returnees were in the process of leaving Fords for pastures greener.

In mid 1956, I was wrapping up the kitchen rubbish in the broadsheet pages of “The Age”, when I noticed a couple of advertisements for jobs in television at the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The money was not great but the prospect of getting back into something like my beloved theatre was a real siren song. The senior of the two jobs had very wide-ranging responsibilities. It was less appealing than the other, which involved supervision of all aspects of staging television productions. After a brief consultation with Betty, I applied for the position of Supervisor, Staging, without really having made up my mind to quit Fords.

I was interviewed by Tal Duckmanton, who was then the ABC’s Co-ordinator of Television under the General Manager Charles Moses, and Neil Hutchison who was the ABC’s Head of Drama. Because I had not definitely decided to leave Fords, the interview became a case of them trying to persuade me to join the ABC, and to accept the senior job for which I had not applied. In the end, I undertook to think it over, and to let them know within 24 hours whether I was prepared to become Supervisor, Service and Supply, Melbourne.

Television was due to start with the Olympic Games in mid November, and there was great excitement at the prospect. Betty and I talked things over, and I accepted the ABC’s offer. I gave Ford’s a month’s notice and started at the ABC on 1st of September 1956 .The ABC was frantically building its television studios in the grounds of “Ripponlea”, an old mansion in the Melbourne suburb of Elsternwick, a 20 minute train ride from the centre of the city. I was given an office in the city at Waverley Court, an old double storied building next to the radio studios on the corner of William and Lonsdale Streets. The office had a desk, a telephone, a waste basket, a pad and a pencil. I had two and a half months to get together the people and skills needed to support a television transmission which would begin on November 18th and continue seven days a week thereafter until eternity.

The service was to be run under three people. There was a Supervisor of Engineering, Colin Stockbridge, who was over all things electronic; a Programme Director, Darrell Miley, who was responsible for all the programmes which went to air, with Producers to produce such individual programmes as he decided; and me, Supervisor Service and Supply, responsible for the actual presentation of the programmes, and for the people and things needed to make and present such programmes.

My neck of the woods included studio supervisors to control the overall transmission and to produce linking segments, presentation announcers, floor-managers to control activity on the studio floor to achieve the producer’s requirements, graphic artists for titles and illustrations, designers for settings and costumes with workshops to manufacture them, studio hands to erect sets in the studios, operate them during production and to put them away and store them when finished, make-up artists, buyers for properties and anything else needed for productions, and cinecameramen, film sound recordists, editors and librarians needed to handle film for such productions or parts thereof as were to be recorded photographically as distinct from electronically.

It was a wonderful rush in an unfamiliar world. At times we seemed to be attempting the impossible, but as Neil Hutchison said: “Enjoy it while you can. Soon the accountants will catch up and then it will be hell.” As the television studios were still being built, the opening programme was to come as an outside broadcast from the largest ABC radio studio in the city. The overall transmission would be controlled from a temporary master control located in the garage for the outside broadcast van, with linking continuity from a temporary one-camera studio in what would ultimately be the film dubbing suite. As the concrete floor was still wet, masonite sheets had to be layed on the floor to support staff and equipment.

Most of our air time, apart from outside broadcasts of the Games, came from imported film. This was fed into the system by Telecine which was temporarily located some distance from Master Control in part of the garage for the Outside Broadcast van. The Studio Supervisor in charge of transmission had to advise Telecine to start the film rolling five seconds before it was needed to allow the equipment to get up to the right speed. Because communication systems were as primitive as everything else, the Studio Supervisor had to call out “Roll Telecine” sufficiently loudly to be heard over other ambient noise. It was rumoured that trains mistakenly left the platform at Elsternwick Railway Station on hearing the call from our Supervisor.

These were the days before video-recording, and everything was live to air. It was possible to record television output by telerecording, where a film camera was pointed at a TV screen, but the resultant film was lacking in contrast and definition, and the viewer felt that he was watching the programme through a mosquito net.

While the Olympic Games were on, our daily transmission consisted of direct Games telecasts, and a few hours of imported film programmes each night. We were dependent on film from commercial sources for a large part of our air time, and any commercial programmes we bought came five minutes short of every half-hour to allow time for advertisements. As it was expected that our programmes would begin on the hour or the half-hour to facilitate switching between channels these gaps had to be filled. This was a problem we had to solve.

We bought “filler” films from the BBC of such things as a potter’s wheel, providing movement and a limited amount of development, but they could not hold viewers’ attention for five minutes at a stretch. We decided to follow overseas practice and use a “live” hostess, who could react to what had just been seen, promote future programmes, or generally share the TV experience with the viewer. The “live “ presenter had the advantages of flexibility, being able to provide fill material of any length required, and also coverage for technical hitches, which were much more numerous in those early days.

We were fortunate to recruit a winner in our first Continuity Announcer. Corinne Kerby had the knack of seeming to talk personally to each viewer, and her linking chats were often more entertaining than the programmes on either side of them. At an early stage, we decided to give her a kitten as a prop. Viewers took to it, and as time went by watched it grow. Ultimately, it become pregnant. This was something of a disaster as times were less liberated than now. We had to banish the mother when she became too large, and introduce a new kitten after a suitable hiatus. This time, we anticipated trouble and sent pussy to the vet to be “arranged” before TV stardom. The Accounts Department refused to pay a bill for de-sexing a cat. We overcame the problem by giving the cat an inventory number, and processing the bill as Maintenance of Equipment.

Corinne was joined by Ruth Nye, and later by the ABC’s dean of radio announcers, John Royle. John was very cultured and so ill-suited to much of our TV programming that the juxtaposition was funny. We used to schedule him when Liberace was on. John had a particular loathing for Liberace, and I remember one back-announcement:

“I am afraid you fans will have to wait another six days, twenty-three hours, thirty-four and a half minutes before you can once again enjoy Liberace’s company.”


With the Games behind us, it was time for more ambitious local production. By then we had one small studio operational. From it we ran an evening news five nights a week, occasional “talking head” programmes, and continuity announcements between programmes. Saturday and Sunday stood out as the time for more ambitious local productions, and it was decided to mount a half-hour play.

One of the first plays we produced had a scene in a cocktail lounge. This was considered too adventurous for the times, and the scene was changed to a lunch counter. No-one was allowed to smoke on camera, lest it encourage viewers to take up the deadful habit. No brand names could be shown on bottles or packages, as this was considered to be advertising. In another play a bottle of champagne had to be opened on camera, and the script required the typical champagne explosion when the cork was removed. In rehearsal it was discovered that a gush of bubbles did not necessarily follow the pop of opening, so we tried heating the bottle slightly and achieved the desired result. By the time the show went to air, rehearsal and experiment had used all but one of the half-dozen bottles of the cheapest champagne we could buy for the purpose.

Somehow news of this reached the General Manager, Sir Charles Moses, and he seized on this as an example of television’s extravagant behaviour. General Manager’s letters came on a distinctive yellow paper, known naturally enough as “yellow perils”, and we received one on the subject of our champagne. Sir Charles was horrified that we had used real champagne for the actual production, let alone rehearsals. We should have used our initiative and dummied up a soft-drink bottle to look like champagne. Unless we were much more aware of the need for economy, television would break the bank. Melbourne became known as the champagne station, and for years to come our extravagance was cited by the General Manager as an example of how not to service television. We were so shocked by the folly of his position, that we were too embarrassed to correct him. The time taken to dummy-up a soft-drink bottle to look and act like a bottle of champagne would have cost many times the price of even top quality champagne, and ran the risk of spoiling the production in the live performance.

Moses had battled hard to secure television for the ABC, and his main argument had been that, given the ABC’s radio base, TV would cost little more. His whacker was probably justified by the end, but it made our early TV operations a lot more stormy. We were not helped either by the absence of any link initially between the stations in Sydney and Melbourne. They were two rival operations. My opposite number in Sydney was a longtime ABC employee who had his mind focussed on the day when our stations would be linked, and one of us would have to be declared the boss of our combined empires. To this end, opportunity was taken to bring to management’s attention any differences in our practices with the clear implication that Sydney was the paragon, and Melbourne the prodigal son. Only now does it occur to me that the champagne incident was probably the first shot in that long war.

Some of the differences were farcical. The basic unit of settings in TV, as in the theatre, was the “flat”. Flats were joined together to make the required walls. In theatre they were traditionally canvas-covered wooden frames to keep them light and easy to move. Television, like film, subjected sets to the close scrutiny of the camera, and the tendency of canvas flats to sag and wobble was not acceptable. Accordingly, the wooden frames were covered in plywood before being papered or painted as required. In Melbourne, we sprayed a lacquer base on to the plywood, and then painted or papered it as required. In Sydney, the senior designer was a highly respected theatrical designer, Desmonde Downing. I had worked with her in the theatre, admired her work, liked her as a friend but knew that her dedication could involve a lot of work. She could take an age getting just the right shade of paint or texture. She did not like working on plywood; she was used to canvas, and convinced Jim Hall, my opposite number, that television’s plywood flats should be canvas covered. As flats were often covered in wall-paper, it is hard to credit that anyone could believe that Sydney’s practice was more economical than ours, but Sydney had one big advantage: it was Head Office and they had access to our costs, while we did not have access to theirs. Over the years, we gradually sank under the weight of yellow perils that came like autumn leaves, and we could do no more than assert that our practices seemed logical and wonder how Sydney could be so much more efficient.

As Christmas 1956 approached, our first large studio was completed, and the second large studio was taking shape. We decided that it would be a great place to hold our first Christmas party. For a bar, the workshop made a cut-out champagne bottle about 3 metres high, with beer barrels behind it and the pipes and taps coming out the front. It seemed a good joke, until Tal Duckmanton, then Co-ordinator of Television for Moses, came down from Sydney to show the flag at our party. Fortunately, he took it in good part.

Good relations with him did not last however. He had appointed me, and initially it was “Tal” and John’ in a very informal and amiable relationship. Another of his appointments had been an Englishman as my Senior Designer. The man in question had worked in films in England and was a competent professional. I suspect Tal may have decided to restrict the title of Senior Designer to a single national position probably in Sydney. He wrote to me telling me to change our man’s title to Designer. As our man had been brought out from England as Senior Designer and supervised the work of our other designers, I did not see how I could simply tell him he was now just a designer, and I wrote back to Tal to this effect. The exchange of correspondence which followed grew colder with each letter. “Tal “ and “John” disappeared, and our Senior Designer remained till he terminated his contract some years later. The irony of the situation was that Tal had appointed as our Staging Supervisor an Australian who was a much better designer than our Senior Designer. This factor gave rise to unnecessary tension in our operations for the first few years, and I often wished I had been able to do as Tal had asked.

Our Staging Supervisor, Kevin Lynch, was a man of extraordinary talents. One of his first great achievements was to make the first vacuum-forming machine for Australian television. Kevin had read about a new product, Flovic plastic. This was a plastic sheet which became semi-fluid when heated, and would replicate any form to which it was applied. Kevin reversed the connections on our air-compressor, to convert it to a vacuum tank. He built a battery of infra-red lights, and a frame to hold the sheets of Flovic over a base carrying the mould to be copied. The heated sheet was lowered onto the mould and the air between the mould and the sheet evacuated. The efficiency of the process was such that it was possible to reproduce the engraved lines on a bank note. It was used to produce everything from “brick walls” to army helmets. Such machines are common now, both in television and in industry where they produce standard packaging for biscuits, hardware etc. ABC Melbourne had Australia’s first in TV thanks to Kevin.

I have never known anyone so versatile, though Kevin did have one fault: he could not bear to be the bearer of bad news. If ever I tried to contact him, and could not find him, I started searching for something to be wrong. I knew that somewhere in his kingdom there was something he couldn’t bear to tell me about. It was a tribute to his efficiency that such searches were rare.

Problems in the Film area were of a different nature. My staff tolerated me, but considered me a technical vacuum. Apart from filming outdoor inserts for studio productions, our major film effort in the Summer was the production of filmed Cricket Highlights. Nowadays when Channel Nine provides ball by ball coverage from dawn to dusk, with instant replay, and nine cameras, it is hard to believe that we had to cope with Test Matches on one cinecamera. There were no co-axial cable links between States, and local TV coverage by video was restricted to the two hours between Tea and Stumps. An edited half-hour film package of the day’s play was flown early evening to all States for late night replay.

The film was shot by a single cameraman perched on the sloping roof of the Members Stand at the MCG, just in front of the Bar. Our Senior Cinecameraman, Bert Nicholas, manned the single camera, and he had worked out a pattern of shooting. With a zoom lens on the camera; he would focus tightly on the batsman and roll the camera as the bowler delivered the ball. If nothing interesting happened, he stopped the camera; if anything interesting happened, he kept the camera rolling and zoomed back to cover the action. During the day, he would pick up enough shots of each bowler, running up to the wicket and bowling, to give the film editors some scope in editing. The bowler’s run-up could be cut in just before a piece of interest from the batsman. It didn’t look much like cricket but it was coverage of a sort of each day’s play.

The limited resources became acute whenever Bert had to change reels of film. This involved immobilising the camera for two or three minutes, while it was placed in a lightproof bag, and a new magazine substituted for the old one, which was then rushed off to the lab for processing. During the down-time it was hoped nothing important happened in the cricket. This was not always the case.

In the celebrated tied Test against the West Indies in Brisbane, Bert was very nervous as the climax approached. He was running out of film, but could not afford to suspend coverage to change magazines and thereby possibly miss the end of the match. He sweated blood for about ten minutes and, with great relief, covered the final ball. He was so worn out that he packed up and went straight to his motel to recuperate, forgetting to send the exposed film to the lab for processing.

It was in lab processing that I finally managed to convince my staff that I was not entirely technically useless. The commercial lab we used in Melbourne was Cine Service. Its output had an intermittent processing fault, impairing the left third of the film. It did not ruin it entirely but severely marred the vision by seemingly over-developing that portion of the film. The problem cropped up whenever there was a heatwave, but no-one had been able to establish the cause. All else having failed, I went to the lab, and asked them to explain the process. I was shown the great stainless steel bath into one end of which undeveloped film entered, to emerge, developed, at the other end. Inside the unit, the film passed through various processing fluids, with thermal controls to maintain the constant temperature necessary for correct operation. Additionally, the room that housed the unit was air-conditioned to offset general atmospheric conditions. Although the problem looked like a fault in the developing mechanism, checks had revealed no mechanical defects.

I noted that, in the developer section, there was a temperature gauge, and an immersion heater to lift the temperature of the fluid, if it fell below the required level. It struck me that if, on a very hot day, the operators had the general air-conditioning going flat out, the unit and its developing fluid could be cooled below the desired temperature. In such circumstances, the immersion heater would cut in to restore the temperature, and, as it was relatively close to the transport mechanism for the film being processed, it was reasonable to expect a current of warmer developer to wash past the developing film. This proved to be the case; the problem was solved, and I walked a little taller in matters film.

Our first ballet was a studio production of “Les Sylphides”. It was memorable because the producer, Chris Muir, decided to cover the ballet with a single camera to avoid the distraction of cutting between cameras in a traditionally fluid presentation. He made great demands of the operator of the camera crane and his support staff, but they rose to the occasion, and the production remains in my mind as one of the best film coverages of ballet I have seen.

Some years later in 1962, the same producer was assigned to a play I had written with less happy results. It was after the Sharpeville massacre in Africa, and I decided to write a play on the black and white problem then emerging there. To point up the problem, I counted on viewers instinctively sympathising with a white man, who was nonetheless in the wrong, and I gave to the leading black man all the best arguments but planned for them to be overstated in performance to weaken their effect.

I was horrified when I went to the first rehearsal to find that Chris had cast as the leading white, a distinguished New Australian actor with an engaging Continental accent. For many of our audience at that time he was “a bloody refugee” for whom there was antipathy rather than an instinctive sympathy. As there was no suitable black actor for the other main part, Chris engaged a well-known Australian actor, Keith Eden, who would have a black make-up. Chris brushed aside my apprehensions and assured me that it would be alright on the night.

When I attended a camera rehearsal, I discovered that Keith was playing all-out for sympathy, instead of over-playing his strongly-written case. I complained to Chris, who said he was too busy to change anything, but I that I had his permission to talk to Keith. Keith told me that it was too late to change things, and he went to air as a black Jesus Christ. The critics had a field-day. They roundly berated the author for his simplistic view of a complex problem. “Teeth of the Wind” was my second play; I had been so lucky with my first, I was due for a bad break.

In early Australian television, such single plays as were produced were either adaptations of stage plays or scripts written for overseas television stations. There was concern at the total absence of original Australian writing. To meet this need, Neil Hutchison, the ABC’s Director of Drama established a stable of writers to study the medium and meet its needs. There was an immediate outcry from writers who were not members of the stable, that this was jobs for the boys.

As television expanded, I found that I was living on an island of constantly diminishing dimensions; one after another my sections grew to be independent departments, and were hived off for a life of their own. To some extent this was a welcome easing of responsibility, and I found myself with a bit more time on my hands. In 1959 I decided to have a go at writing for the medium. I chose to write a “who dunnit” based on my war service. My play, called “Outpost”, was set in an isolated location in New Guinea, where a death, initially attributed to enemy action, came to be seen as murder. The sergeant in charge of the outpost had to investigate the circumstances, and, of course, it turned out in the end that he was the murderer.

To spare myself and everyone else embarrassment, I adopted the pseudonym of John Alexander, and sent the script off to the ABC drama department. To my amazed delight, it was accepted and I awaited developments. Some days later I was horrified to read in the press a letter from Neil Hutchison defending his writers’ stable, saying that the only script bought since the creation of the stable was from a totally unknown writer with no connections to the ABC. I had no alternative but to ring Neil an explain that, as he had just bought my play, the unknown writer in question had to be myself. He took it very well, and that is how I came to be the writer of the first original Australian television play. It was produced by Chris Muir and was generally well received. One review was headlined “HOORAY WE’VE HIT THE JACKPOT”, and went on “Last Wednesday was possibly the most significant night in Australian television since television began three years ago. It gave us our first completely successful, completely local drama.” By chance, CBS in America decided to run a world television drama series as a prime time summer replacement and they bought our recording of “Outpost” as the Australian contribution. All in all, it was a spectacular first effort, and I never lived up to it.

Perhaps the greatest stir in the dramas produced in Melbourne arose from an overseas script set in the 18th century. It revolved around investigations into psychic phenomena at a particular location. People reported hearing sounds of the headlong rush of a large and frightened crowd. It was thought to be the sound of Boadicea’s troops being massacred by the Romans, and although the characters in the play proved this not to be the case, they were unable to establish what it was. The viewers, however, realised that it was not a flash back in time but a leap forward; the rush was in the fifteen minutes between the launch of ballistic missiles in World War 3 and their arrival on target.

The stir was not in the play or its subject, but in the equipment used by the investigating scientist. His central device was a cat’s head whose whiskers sensed the psychic phenomona. As the equipment was to be seen in close-up and had to be convincing, there was no way we could get away with a toy pussy. We contacted a local vet, and asked if he would let us have the head of the next cat that he had to put down. We arranged for the head to be sent to a taxidermist and stuffed. When pussy finally arrived in Staging, it was a joy to behold, and everyone was delighted. Well, not everyone. Someone gave the story to the Press, and they ran it big. The ABC was killing cats for television. Every cat lover in Melbourne wrote to the papers or rang the ABC. When we admitted that we had a real cat’s head, Management ordered us not to use it. Over our protests, our prize possession stayed in the Props Store fridge, and a toy cat’s head ludicrously featured in the production.

Animals were often a problem. We had a weekly programme for children, and the producer thought it would be fun to have a piglet as a mascot. We duly acquired a little piglet, appropiately called “Hamlet”, and arranged for one of the studiohands to keep it in his back yard and feed it. It was collected once a week and brought to the studio for its star appearance. It was a big success from the outset, and, in time, it became even bigger. After a number of months, Hamlet was gross. The producer and the kids still loved him, but he was too big for anyone’s back yard, and, in the studio, a hazard to the kids and staff alike. Hamlet became so well known that our governing body, the Australian Broadcasting Commission itself, became involved. Local Management was battling to head off a Federal order to get rid of the pig. It was an unfortunate mischance that on the day of a Commission meeting at “Majella”, Victorian ABC headquarters in St Kilda Road, a truck called in at the parking lot with Hamlet on his way to the studios. It was taken as an affront to the Commission, and Hamlet was banished to the Melbourne Zoo, an ex-TV star, holding court for those who remembered him.

1962 was the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Canberra as our national capital. A Government committee was formed to consider how the occasion should be celebrated. The ABC’s General Manager, Sir Charles Moses, was on the committee and ended up committing the ABC to arrange it. I dont know what buck passing went on up top, but out of the blue I was offered the job of organising it. When I declined, I discovered that it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. I went to Canberra to meet the Secretary of the Department of the Interior who was charged to give me whatever I wanted for the task. I learned that there was a strong disposition towards a procession. I had a deep bias against a procession due to its dependence on the weather; you could arrange the most wonderful of spectacles only to have it messed up by rain.

In my youth there had been an outdoor pageant at my Dad’s school in which a highlight was to be a representation of the World War I battle between HMAS Sydney and the German raider Emden. Frames of the two ships were made out of timber, and on one side they were covered and painted to look like warships. On the day, due to a change in the weather, the spectators were on the opposite side of the oval from what was planned. Instead of two warships, they watched two groups of boys inside wooden frames executing a meaningless dance. As the Canberra show was to be a Royal Occasion, I was determined to make it weatherproof.

I contracted a firm of exhibition designers, and we came up with plans for a static display. We would build an exhibition building on the lawn in front of Parliament House. The building would have a walkway winding through varying levels, past a number of exhibitions relevant to the founding and development of Canberra. The building would have no windows, so the interior would be dark and we could add whatever dramatic lighting we required to enhance the exhibits. We included a number of projection areas so we could use edited archival film footage. Because Canberra was then in the process of realising the central feature of Walter Burley Griffin’s design, a lake to bear his name, I decided that our centrepiece would be a three-dimensional model of what Canberra would look like when the Molonglo River was dammed, and the lake formed.

When I was growing up, Canberra had been very small, but its streets and streetlights had been laid out as per Burley Griffin’s plan. By day, there were only Civic Centre, Parliament House and scattered buildings, but it became a city by night when the lights went on. Tourists used to climb Red Hill to watch the transition at sunset.

Our model would be 10 metres long by 5 metres wide, and on this scale ordinary houses would be about a centimetre square, and major buildings would have a recognisable shape. We would build the model in our Staging workshop at Ripponlea. To make it more dramatic, we would use dots of fluorescent paint for streetlights and lighted windows. The whole model would be constantly flooded with ultraviolet light, and variable coloured lighting would simulate daylight from dawn to dusk. When darkness came the ultraviolet light dominated, causing the fluorescent dots to glow as if the street and house lighting had been turned on. Mechanically controlled dimmers took it through a 24 hour cycle every three minutes.

Once we had the concept, we had a bit of a race against time to get the job done. The building was the basic problem, because it had to be finished before we could instal the walkways, exhibits and equipment. It was to be a giant scaffolding of 10 foot cubes, through which a wooden walkway would wander. It would be roofed with galvanised iron and clad with masonite, painted white externally.

In the world of industrial relations, any job which has a fixed deadline for completion becomes a lever in negotiations for working conditions, and as our deadline drew nearer, industrial hold-ups became more frequent. When it looked as if the Queen would arrive to open a construction in progress, we pulled out all stops, and involved the Industrial Relations Commissioner. He came off the golf-course one Sunday, heavied the union bosses and we made our completion on schedule. There were lots of unexpected problems even so.

We were making heavy used of archival film footage, running on continuous loop projectors. We discovered that the projectors, over time, heated up and were liable to jam. This meant we needed to have an operator standing by. With projectors mounted on scaffolding and no floor for the operator to stand on, the situation was quite complex. We were counting on total darkness in the building to allow us to have light where we wanted it, but we found there was some unacceptable ambient light between exhibits. Frantic application of black plastic sheeting was needed to get rid of it.

In the end we made it, and the great day dawned fine and clear, so we could have had a procession after all. The Prime Minister, Mr Menzies, escorted Liz and Phil through our creation. The Queen treated it as a horse race, and finished a clear length ahead of the field. No one could have covered the distance in less time. Prince Phillip, on the other hand, earned our gratitude by taking a keen interest in all the exhibits and lingering at all the right spots. The exhibition remained open for a couple of months to allow schools and the general public to learn and marvel at the story of our national capital, before being demolished to remove the large excressence in front of Parliament House.

With the exhibition behind me, life returned to normal but the job itself seemed a bit boring. My second TV play, “Teeth of the Wind”, was produced in May 1962, and I pushed ahead with other scripts over the next couple of years, but my real job was seeming to become unstuck. My diminishing responsibilities and the flow of critical yellow perils from Sydney led me to consider my future .

In 1964 the grand-daddy of all yellow perils arrived. We were again alleged to be shockingly less efficient than Sydney but for the first time they gave comparative figures to prove it. Comparisons between Sydney and Melbourne showed that the cost of labour in Sydney was half that for purchases of materials for shows; in Melbourne labour and material costs were about the same. Our labour was claimed to be twice as inefficient.

Nothing I have ever written has given me such pleasure as my reply to that criticism. I asked the GM to check his figures as I could not believe they were correct. Our staffing levels were determined by our output, on the same basis as Sydney. If Sydney’s labour costs were half their purchasing costs, it meant that they were spending twice as much as we were for the equivalent output. The comparison was even more unfavourable for Sydney because our labour costs included film staff, which were in a separate division in Sydney. My response was unacknowledged but I received no more yellow perils.

The ABC’s house journal called for applications for the Federal position of Director of Television Drama, and Betty suggested that I apply for it. On receiving my application, Neil Hutchison rang to say that the advertisement had been a “Dorothy Dix” in that a man from the BBC had already been given a three-year contract; the advertisement was simply to regularise the position. He was however delighted to learn of my interest in joining the Programme Division, and he would see what he could do.

Shortly afterwards, towards the end of 1964, I was contacted by the Assistant General Manager, Wally Hamilton, and asked whether I would be prepared to take the job of Assistant European Representative, based in London. I accepted with alacrity, and was duly summoned for an appointment with the General Manager, who was now Tal Duckmanton, succeeding a retired Sir Charles Moses. Tal made no reference to the years of yellow perils, but said that he expected that I felt he had been unduly hard on me. I did not contradict him. It marked the resumption of a close relationship.

The impending posting to London had some odd consequences. Betty and I had become increasingly interested in wine, and earlier in 1963 we had laid down our first substantial self bottling. We had expected it to mature over the years, and that, in the distant future, we would revel in its maturity. With an imminent departure for Europe, we decided that viticultural infanticide was the only course that made sense, and we embarked on a period of conspicuous consumption. As it happened, it was mid year before we left, and we had time to rue our undue haste.

There was another wine event before we left. My sister, Lilias, and my mother lived in Alexandra Avenue, having moved there to be near us, shortly before we were posted to Canada in 1954. Lilias was not much of a drinker, but she had a cupboard of miscellaneous alcohol, and for some time she had been asking me to go through it and throw out whatever was rubbish. I decided that I could defer it no longer, and in early December 1964, I set about the task. That evening we were to celebrate the sixtieth birthday of Betty’s brother-in-law, Noel Heath, the gourmet of the family. In Lilias’s cupboard, amongst an assortment of bottles better forgotten, were two plain bottles devoid of commercial labels, but each bearing a strip of faded white paper on which was typed “SANDEMAN 1904”. They were birthday bottles of port which had been put down for Lilias’s late husband, Stephen. One bottle had been opened and was way over the hill, but the other was in mint condition. It was extraordinary that I should have found it on the sixtieth birthday of our most knowledgeable drinker, and that he should have been born in the same year as Lilias’s late husband.

We carried the bottle reverently up to Pevensey Street and presented it to Noel. He opened it, decanted it through gauze, and left the pale gold liquor stand for a few hours. That evening we remembered Stephen and toasted Noel in the oldest wine we had ever drunk. It was perfect in its delicate maturity.



Chapter Nine : ABC - EUROPE

We left for London in mid 1965. I suggested that rather than fly to London, we should go by sea, taking recreation leave to cover the difference in time. It turned out to be a great idea. The ship was Lloyd Triestino’s beautiful “Marconi. We had two inter-connecting First Class cabins. My son, John, was 14 and in the middle of his Timbertop year at Geelong Grammar School. He found life on the “Marconi” a great change. At one dinner, he had 24 different courses. Cathy was 11, and she too took to the high life with delight. No tipping was allowed on the ship, but you could order anything you wanted to be served anywhere, and it was brought to you. We embarked at Melbourne, and had days ashore at Adejaide, Perth, Singapore, Bombay, Port Said and Messina before disembarking in Genoa. We were to have had a day in Aden, but there was civil unrest there, so we just stood off shore.

The days ashore were all memorable. In Singapore we were met by our neice, Joy Duncan, who had married a Chinese Malaysian, Barney Gan. They introduced us to their first child, Christine, who was only a couple of months old, and took us on a conducted tour of the city. Amongst other purchases, I bought a lovely Pentax camera at a very low price negotiated by Barney.

In Bombay, we were also taken care of. A Geelong friend, Dulcy Meakin, introduced us to a Bombay acquaintance, Maki Marshal. Maki wrote to us and said that she would collect us at the ship on arrival and take care of us. She also wondered if she could impose on us to bring her a few things she could not get in India; some baby clothes, soap and whisky, as I remember. We were a bit surprised, but did as she asked. On arrival, we awaited the mysterious Indian woman in our cabin, and hoped she would find us there, as we would be unable to recognise her. Through the portholes, we watched for Indian women on the wharf, and tried to pick our lady. In due course, an elegant lady, impeccably turned out in Western dress and speaking perfect English arrived. This was Maki. We felt pretty insignificant beside her, and proffered our purchases on her behalf to make up for our general inadequacy. “No,no,” she said. “You carry them off. The customs officers wont check you.” It was then that we realised that the reason she could not get the things in India was because they were illegal imports at a time when India had an acute balance of payments problem. We had no alternative but to carry the contraband down the gang-plank, and hope that the first action of the ABC’s Assistant European Representative was not to be arrested for smuggling.

Once safely ashore, Maki accepted our purchases and led us to her car. It was a huge old model American car, very well maintained, and driven by a liveried chauffeur. We had an extensive tour of Bombay, and a lot of shopping. Betty was buying up big on beautiful linen for our home in England. Maki would not let us pay for anything, saying we could sort it out later. Late in the afternoon she took us to her home in the fashionable suburb of Malabar Heights, and introduced us to her husband. He had a meeting with a group of fellow business men, whose conversation was an unbroken exploration of ways to by-pass all laws enacted by the Government to cure the country’s ills. The proudest item of furniture in the house was a huge but battered American refrigerator which occupied pride of place in the entrance hall. As no overseas purchases were allowed, it, like the car, had been bought second-hand from some homeward bound US diplomat or other official, and lovingly restored.

That evening Maki took us to the Willingdon Club for dinner. In the days of the Raj, this had been the centre of British culture, and totally out of bounds to all Indians other than staff. Maki and her friends were the inheritors of the Raj, and the club was now the preserve of the Indian upper classes. As we sat at our table in the lavish gardens, Maki imperiously rang a little silver bell for service by the underlings. Over dinner, we tried to settle up for all our purchases. Maki produced a detailed list, but declined to accept any payment. She had a friend in Air India and hoped soon to arrange a flight to London. When she did , she would call on us and we could pay her what we owed. That way, she would be able to supplement the money for her expenses in England. She was not allowed to take any money out of the country. In due course, she did call on us in London, in a Rolls Royce, and we payed our debts.

At Port Suez, we had the option of going throught the Suez Canal in the ship, or of leaving the ship, and taking a bus trip to Cairo for the day, re-joining the ship at Port Said in the evening. We chose the latter, and spent the day in Cairo doing all the sights. In the Museum of Antiquities we saw King Tut and all the chattels to keep him happy in the afterlife, and of course we saw the pyramids. We were to go up inside the Great Pyramid, but I suffer from claustrophobia, and found the heat, smell and crowd more than I could bear in the low, dark, sloping tunnel leading up to the burial chamber. Bet and the kids went ahead, and when the crowds thinned out a little, I finally joined them. Cairo was our first experience of real crowds. It was a shock to see almost as many people clinging to the outside of a bus as in it. Another shock, on our way from Cairo back to the ship at Port Said in the evening, was bedouin groups quietly crossing the desert on their camels.

Messina, our last day ashore, was a major centre on the island of Sicily. Robert Quentin, Professor of Drama at the University of NSW, was another passenger on the “Marconi”. We had known him in the theatre, and became closer friends on the trip. He was anxious to visit the old Greco-Roman theatre at Taormina about 100 kilometres from Messina. We decided to share a taxi for the day and go there. Taormina is a small picturesque village high on a hill, with a spectacular view of the next hill, the active volcano Mount Etna. We had a meal on arrival and it was early evening when we went looking for the theatre. When we found it, it was closed. After all our trouble, Robert was not going to accept that, and by knocking on various doors we finally found someone who could let us into the theatre. It was magical to have it to ourselves in the moonlight. It was in a good state of preservation, with wonderful views. We took turns to ham it up on the stage, and sat and dreamed of past performances, while Etna glowed faintly in the background. It was nearly mid-night when we got back to the ship, after a great day.

We disembarked at Genoa, where we were to board a train for the overnight run to Boulogne, Folkestone and London. We had booked all our heavy luggage through to Australia House, so we only had overnight bags with us when we hired a horse drawn coach to take us from the ship to the rail terminus. On arrival at Folkestone, we had to go through Migration and Customs. As I had a diplomatic passport, I did not expect any trouble, and had none until the Customs man asked if we had anything to declare. I said no, that all our things had been sent to Australia House. He asked when I had bought the Pentax camera around my neck. I told him that I had bought it in Singapore on the trip. He asked to see it. I passed it to him, and after a brief study told me that I had to pay 100 pounds duty. I explained that it was my only camera, that it had already been used extensively, that I could have sent it to Australia House with the rest of our luggage, by-passing Customs, and that there could be no justification for charging a duty which was greater than the cost of the camera. These observations had no effect. I told him that I did not have 100 pounds until I could get to a bank. In that case, he said he would have to confiscate the camera; it would be returned when the duty was paid. I was livid, but surrendered the camera, and paid the duty when I had been to a bank. I wrote irate letters to Customs to no effect.

About a year later I read in The Times about a court case where a man had won a case against Customs for charging duty on a piece of personal property. I made a copy of the report and mailed it to Customs, referring to our previous correspondence, requesting a refund. I got it.

ABC offices in London are in Portland Place, off the top end of Regent Street, and a few doors from the BBC’s Broadcast House. It is a very desirable address. Above the offices is a very nice flat for the ABC Representative and his family. Across the backyard, there is a garage and above it a mews flat which another staff member could have, but it was too small for our family. The then Representative, Doug McLean, had booked us into the Inverness Court Hotel in Bayswater until we could find a suitable place to rent. The location was great, but the hotel was on the seedy side. It had echoes of past grandeur, but carpets were a bit threadbare, and the waiters wore tails which had seen better days. Nothing however could dull our excitement at being in London for the first time, not even the obligatory skating on dog pooh on the footpaths of Bayswater Road.

Our most pressing need was to get John and Catherine back into school, and this had an impact on where we would live. We had already had some negotiations for John to get into The Highgate School, so we looked for a school for Cathy in the Highgate/Hampstead area. We were recommended to try for Henrietta Barnet, which was a so-called direct grant school of very high repute. In response to our enquiries, Cathy was called in to sit for a five hour exam. She was accepted, and we found a two-storey pseudo-Tudor house in Hampstead Garden Suburb within walking distance of Henrietta Barnet.

At work, my boss was the European Representative of the ABC. The position of European Representative had been created in1945 to accommodate Richard Bearup who acted as the ABC’s General Manager from 1940, while Charles Moses served in the army. At the time of my arrival, the Rep was Doug McLean, but he was soon replaced by Eric Sholl. Eric had been with the ABC since the very early days, and had risen to the position of Controller of Administration, with some expectation that he might succeed Moses as General Manager. He was side-lined to Manager Western Australia in 1957 to make way for Talbot Duckmanton who had risen rapidly with the advent of television. When Duckmanton finally became Moses’s successor as General Manager, he appointed Eric Sholl to Bearup’s old position in a nice gesture of reconciliation. Before working with him in London, I knew little of Eric, and regarded him with the operator’s usual scorn for administrators. He had been in the Navy, and proved initially to be a bit pernickerty at close quarters, but in the longer he run earned my profound respect and affection.

Indirectly I was indebted to Eric for a cocktail which was to become an alcoholic staple for us. Betty was very keen on Dry Martinis, and our cupboard always had a bottle or two of Cinzano Extra Dry to meet this need. When we had visitors in London en route for the Continent, we would ask them, if they were non-drinkers, to bring back their alcoholic duty-free quota in Cinzano. We prevailed on one couple to bring back six bottles of Cinzano Extra Dry. This they did but in their ignorance brought Cinzano Rosso. We settled up financially, and carted the bottles to our local merchant to swap them for Extra Dry. He sadly declined, pointing out that the bottles were labelled “duty free”, and he would lose his licence if he tried to sell them. I told our sad story to Eric, and he undertook to purchase them with such alacrity that I had reservations about the deal, and studied the bottles closely. I saw that the label detailed a recipe for an Italian Cocktail: one part Cinzano Rosso, two parts Cinzano Extra Dry over ice cubes in a wine glass with a piece of orange rind, a slice of lemon, and a dash of Angostura Bitters. I decided to try it before selling the bottles of Rosso to Eric. We were delighted with the drink and kept the bottles. Over the years we have continued to add our pittance to Cinzano’s annual profit. You cut back on the Rosso in summer, and increase its proportion in winter, with the result that it is the best all seasons short drink I know.

I am indebted to Eric also for a lovely story from his exile in Perth. One of the real pleasures of being an ABC Branch Manager, was acting as host to visiting concert artists. Eric developed a scenic car trip around Perth that took in all the standard beauty spots along the Swan River, through the garden suburbs and up and around Queens Park. Often Eric would leave the tour to an underling, but when the great pianist, Alfred Brendel, toured, Eric conducted the trip personally. To Eric’s dismay, Brendel proved totally bored by all the beauties of the trip, sitting hunched in his seat with his camera on his lap. In despair, Eric told the driver to return to Brendel’s hotel by the shortest route. This took them through a totally undeveloped area dotted with native grasstrees, scruffy eucalypts and acacias. Brendel came alive, asking for the car to be stopped so he could take photos. In the driest continent on earth, we Australians have tended to equate beauty with the green of gentler climes, under-valuing what is uniquely ours.

My main responsibility was to look after the ABC’s music needs. In this capacity I was offered a huge stack of orchestral sheet music at a bargain price of 10,000 pounds. The difficulty was that there was no detailed schedule of what was in the stack. I advised the vendors that we were interested, but could not make a decision until we knew exactly what was on offer. Before we heard back from them, I went on leave. On my return, I asked my secretary if we had had any response. “Oh, yes, “ she said. “It is all fixed.” She had typed up a letter confirming the purchase, and presented it to Eric for signature. Eric duly signed it. When I examined the detailed list, it was clear that many of the scores were incomplete, and that generally the package would prove more trouble than it was worth. The vendor was delighted to have unloaded it, so there was no chance of arranging a cancellation. All hell would break loose when the package hit Sydney. Your typical administrator would have blamed the secretary or me as her boss, but Eric was the captain of his ship and accepted full responsibility. In this as in all else, Eric was a true gentleman.

An elderly lady, Mrs Mason, had handled the detail of the ABC’s music needs ever since the London office had been established. She had a prodigous knowledge of the music scene, and, as the booker of artists for ABC concerts, was a person of considerable status. I imagine that she saw the writing on the wall with my arrival, but she was generous with help in educating the new-chum. She was essentially the London mouthpiece of the ABC’s Director of Music, but agents, dealing with her, conferred on her a decision-making power which really belonged to the Director of Music in Australia.

As part of my education, I had to attend as many of London’s major music events as possible. This certainly included the opera at Covent Garden and Saddlers Wells, the Royal Ballet, and concerts at Festival and Wigmore Halls plus other events outside London. Over the years of our stay, I developed a good awareness of the musical scene, and the need to attend performances and to become familiar with artists and their agents was a sheer joy. Business was mixed with a liberal dose of pleasure, and we saw performances in circumstances that we could not have afforded otherwise. Regular visits to the best seats of Covent Garden, then at its peak under the musical direction of George Solti, meant that we saw Sutherland, Pavarotti, Nihlsen, Gobbi, Vikers and Gedda at the height of their powers in productions impeccably staged and lit. In ballet, we had the magic of Fontaine and Nureyev in their prime, with their superb “Romeo and Juliet” forever etched in our memory.

At Festival Hall, London’s big three symphony orchestras vied with eachother nightly under such conductors as Klemperer, Boulez, Boult, Kempe and Ozawa with soloists like Schwartzkopf, Los Angeles, Ashkenazy, Brendel, Richter, Menuhin, Du Prey and Fischer-Dieskau.

Negotiations for concert tours with the artists’ agents, were under terms broadly set out by my masters at home in Australia, but Tilletts, Van Wyck and Gorlinsky became familiar contacts. I had a ring-side seat at one of the great splits of the musical world at the time. Emmy Tillett was the grand lady of the Tillett empire, and via Ibbs and Tillett and Tillett and Holt, she covered London’s top artists. Ashkenazy and Barenboim were among her hottest properties. Occasionally I made contact with the lady herself, but most of the time I dealt with her talented underlings, Terry Harrison and Jasper Parrott. The London music scene was shattered when these two young Turks broke away from Tilletts to found their own agency, and took with them the cream of the Tillett stable.

Occasionally I had contact with the artists themselves. I breakfasted with the violinist Henryk Szeryng at the Savoy; I battled to get a very casual guitarist, Julian Bream, on his plane to Sydney; and with the conductor Moshe Atzmon, about to go to Sydney as the resident conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, I had the strangest photo call.

Sydney wanted some action shots of Atzmon conducting, and he did not have any of the kind required. I arranged to use one of the BBC’s sound studios in Broadcast House, and booked a photographer. Atzmon donned his white tie and tails in an adjacent room, and was persuaded to stand on a table to give the photographer some interesting angles. He flatly refused to strike any poses, but agreed to perform an orchestral work. The photographer could take whatever shots he wanted while Atzmon conducted.

In the empty room, standing on a table, Atzmon brought the orchestra to order and began the performance. We got ample excellent shots, and when we were finished Atzmon paid me a great compliment, which I in no way deserved: he asked me what work he had been conducting. My silence matched his performance .

There were plenty of Australians in the London music scene. Malcolm Williamson was busy as a composer before being appointed Master of the Queen’s Music, and we went to see performances of his operas “Julius Caesar Jones”, and “The Violins of Saint Jacques”. John Shaw was a regular supporting artist at Covent Garden, and when Tito Gobbi was unable to fullfil an engagement in the title role of Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra”, John was asked to take his place. Betty and I were invited to the first night, and a box was provided. Unfortunately Betty was sick, so I took son John to his first opera. It was most impressive , and after the performance, when we went backstage to congratulate John Shaw, we accepted an invitation to join the cast at a local pub for a celebratory drink. John could not have had a better introduction to opera.

Another Australian, Marie Collier, was called upon to sing the female lead in “Tosca”, opposite Tito Gobbi, when Maria Callas pulled out at short notice. On the first night before the show, there was a commotion in the foyer when Callas, resplendent in emerald green satin with magnificent emerald jewelry to match, arrived on the arm of her squat swarthy Onassis. She sat in the centre front row of the Dress Circle to see how her replacement fared. Collier did a mighty job, but it must have been sheer hell with Callas out front.

Golders Green was near our rented home in Hampstead Garden Suburb, and its Hippodrome Theatre was regularly used for try-outs of musicals before West End openings. With the assembly of notables, the show in the auditorium was sometimes better than the one on the stage . At the tryout of “Charlie Boy”, a super-glamourous Marlene Dietrich came escorted by Noel Coward.

At Sadler’s Wells, the English Opera gave the premiere of William Walton’s “The Bear”, and it was a thrill to have the composer take his bow on the first night. Another English Opera production at Sadler’s Wells was Strauss’s “Die Fledermaus” with Australian Jennifer Eddy as Adele and Henri Kripps, from Adelaide, as conductor.

In the early days of TV in Melbourne, I had engaged Ruth Farren Price as one of our continuity announcers. She had married Ross Nye, a onetime jackaroo, and was known professionally by her married name. She had studied piano with Claudio Arrau, and when she went to London to try her luck as a concert pianist, she and Ross had a mews flat. From it Ross ran a business providing London’s elite with horses to ride in Rotten Row. With concerts at Wigmore Hall and visits to the stables, the Nyes gave us a lot of pleasure during our stay in London.

Wigmore Hall was a wonderfully intimate concert venue. Although Festival Hall’s Elizabethan Room became its competitor for recitals, Wigmore always seemed to hold its edge. Its stage was used by aspirants and big guns alike. Alfred Brendel, Janet Baker, Andre Tchaikowsky and Jorg Demus performed there. I remember at a Brendel concert, Daniel Barenboim and his parents were in the audience.

Wigmore was also the venue for a memorable series of piano recitals by the American, Raymond Lewenthal. In three programmes he covered the extraordinary range of Liszt’s piano works with a flamboyance that would have graced the composer himself. We took John and Cathy to all three recitals and they were thrilled to meet Lewenthal afterwards.

Apart from music, it was expected that I would learn what I could from English television and keep tabs on the West End generally. It would be hard to imagine a more congenial employment for a person of my taste. In the two years that we were there, we averaged almost four nights a week at concerts or theatre, and it should be noted that our posting coincided with the period of Swinging London and Carnaby Street.

From time to time, I was called upon to represent the ABC at international broadcasting conferences of one kind or another: to Ireland for a conference on rural broadcasting, to Switzerland on the jury of the world’s top light entertainment television award, the Golden Rose of Montreux, and to Ravenna in Italy on the jury for radio’s Prix Italia.

The Rose of Montreux was particularly interesting, quite apart from the all-expenses paid fortnight for Betty and myself in a lovely hotel overlooking Lake Geneva. Jurors were treated royally with outings to adjacent alps, and dinners in romantic locations. Our final voting session was on a cruiser on the lake.

I was concerned about the way votes were to be counted. We had to award three prizes, the Golden, Silver and Bronze Roses of Montreux. There were representatives from about a dozen countries on the jury and we each had a single vote. The Golden Rose went to the show receiving most votes, the Silver to the next most votes, and the Bronze to the next most. With a dozen or so jurors, it seemed to me that it was possible for a small group voting as a bloc to walk off with an award, particularly if there were an outstanding entry winning a large majority of the votes. This would mean leaving Silver and Bronze awards to be determined by a very small number of votes. I raised my concerns with Frank Tappolet, who was the Swiss Secretary of the Award Committee. He saw my point, but said it was too late to change things. As it happened, that was the year when “The Frost Report” deservedly won in a landslide, and the Silver Rose went to a totally unworthy Russian entry, thanks to the French voting with the Eastern Bloc. As Frank Tappolet went past me to take the results to the Chairman, he whispered, “You were right!”. They changed the voting system in subsequent years.

The awards dinner was the most spectacular meal I have ever eaten. It was held in the Chateau Chillon, built in Lake Leman, and approached via a causeway across the water. For the dinner the causeway was lined on either side by flunkeys in period dress holding flaming torches. Inside the castle all lighting was by candles. The tables were festive boards with candelabra, and heating came from fires with logs big enough to build several houses. Waiters in period costume brought the food on wooden platters to the accompaniment of period music. The finale was a Swiss cheese as big as a cartwheel carried in on a board by a group of flunkeys. It was a great night.


Our London home was a rented house in Hampstead Garden Suburb, and weekends and holidays saw us loading up the car for sight-seeing; in weekends we covered Britain, and in holidays the Continent. When we moved into the house, we discovered, amongst sundry papers left by the owner, a booklet entitled “Camping Through Europe By Car”. We were captivated by what we learned and set about equipping ourselves for such activity. We bought a camping carnet, which documented and rated camp sites in all European countries. At a camping expo at Earls Court, we acquired a folding tent, tables, chairs, storage units and airbeds. We bought a packrack for the roof of the car, so all our camping gear could go on the roof, leaving the boot for suitcases and normal luggage. When we travelled in UK or Europe, we never booked ahead; if the weather was fine, we camped; if not we stayed in hotels.

In spring of 1966, we set off in our second-hand Austin Cambridge on our first sight-seeing trip to the Continent. In three weeks we went through France into Switzerland and Italy. Then back up through the Dolomites into Austria, Germany, Holland and back home. We stayed in hotels in Beaune, Interlaken and Parma, and camped in Florence, Rome, Sorrento, Venice and Cortina D’Ampetso. We were back in hotels for Innsbruck, Saltzburg, Rothenburg, the Rhine, and Amsterdam. Bet had a terrible cold to start with and was a cot-case until we got to Florence. We nearly turned back at Interlaken but she insisted that we keep going and, by the time we got to Capri, she was fine.

With Betty as our mentor, eating was a wonderful experience. We had Michelin Red Guides to pick locations for formal meals. Lunches were usually al fresco on a rug by the car, with baguettes, wine and the best of local produce. We recorded our experiences on sound tape, and the family treasures one taped gem from our first lunch in France. I am heard to hold forth on the superb climate, locale, wine and, in particular, the food. As I wax poetic on the wonderful terrine we were eating with our baguettes, Betty can be heard laughing heartily. Rather huffily I ask what is so funny, and Betty tells me that the terrine is tripe, which I had always claimed to detest and refused to eat.

In Florence we dined in a starred Michelin restaurant. We took the kids with us, and the prices were a bit steep. Despite much footwork under the table, John and Catherine both ordered very expensive items. Betty and I had the house specialty which was steak. The kids loved their dishes, but when our steak came, it was so rare that it still had a pulse. To the mutual horror of the proprietors and our children, we sent the specialty back for further cooking.

In Rome, our camp site was in a pine plantation on one of the surrounding hills near where Mussolini built many of his Olympic stadia. Our restaurant there had a wild west theme, and it was disconcerting to have waiters drawing six-shooters and firing off blanks as they moved around the tables. A final treat in Amsterdam was to eat fish at stalls by the wharves. Freshly caught herrings were cut into fillets on marble slabs, and eaten raw with chopped onions. Despite some hygenic qualms, they proved to be absolutely delightful.

Shopping was great fun, because at that time, none of us had any language other than English apart from some vaguely recalled schoolboy French and German and a smattering of Italian from our trip over on the “Marconi”. Our shopping involved our multi-lingual fingers indicating our preferences, and there was an element of cosmopolitan achievement in whatever we acquired. All in all, it was a great success and we eagerly looked forward to our next foray on the Continent.

Shortly after our return, we were joined by our good friends from Geelong, Harry and Vida Fallaw. They were always great fun to be with, and their enjoyment of theatre and sight-seeing generally augmented our own. A highlight was the opera at Glyndebourne. We hired a dress suit for Harry and set off with the mandatory chicken and champagne picnic dinner. I imagine that the new theatre has improved the staging, but I hope it has not killed off the wonderful sight in the interval of the English, in formal dress on stools, having chicken and champagne on the grass in the long summer twilight, while cows safely graze on the other side of the haha.

An old joke has it that when Greek meets Greek , they open a fish shop, and when Englishmen meet they form a queue. We found the latter to be true when we attended a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Yeomen of the Guard” in its real setting , the Tower of London. At interval, I moved down to one of the refreshment stalls, and was one of the first to arrive. I politely waited while other early arrivals were served, and noticed that a queue was forming behind some later arrivals. I waited a short while for some of the latecomers to be served, then firmly lodged my order. A strangled little British voice was heard to complain: “There’s a queue, actually.”

About a week after the show at the Tower, we learned that Bet’s father had died. There was nothing we could do about it, but it was hard to believe that we would never again see a wonderful man who had shared our joys in Canada, and with whom we had lived for over ten years after his wife’s death.

I had relatives in Scotland. As I grew up, I had been bored to distraction by my mother’s tales of Scottish girlhood which she poured out to my sister. When we first arrived in England, I had to come to terms with my Scottish ancestory. I had a cousin living in London, Dr Katharine Cameron, who was a pathologist. She lived in Highgate and turned out to be wonderfully hospitable to the visitors from downunder. Her sister, Cousin Margot, lived in Edinburgh with her parents, my Uncle John and Aunt Isa. At the first opportunity Betty and the children went up to Edinburgh to visit them. To my shame, my aversion to things Scottish caused me to plead pressure of work, and remain in London. Betty reported back that the Scots were jewels of the twentieth century, not pixies of the past. They drank, smoked and had a warmth and generosity just like my mother. The only blemishes on otherwise perfect natures, was that my Uncle John took lemonade with his whisky, and my Aunts Madge and Bessie were addicted to the famous Australian pop group they called The Sickers. I came to love them all, and to understand and share my mother’s nostalgia for Scotland.

Shortly after our return from our first Continental trip we decided on a tour of Scotland. We headed up the west coast via the Lake District and Oban, then by ferry to the Isle of Skye. On the ferry, a fellow traveller was a sight to behold in full tartan gear, kilt, sporran, jacket and cap. For the first time we really felt we were in Scotland. Then he spoke, not Gaelic but in the broadest American accent.

We went to Ullapool in Ross-shire, where my mother had been brought up. This had been the epicentre of my mother’s sagas, and I expected nothing but kilts and Gaelic. I found a charming fishing village, with a school and schoolhouse where my grandfather had taught and my mother had lived. Mother was very devout, as well as being proud of her heritage. I remember her chagrin at church once in Australia when she met a fellow Scot and modestly admitted to some fluency in Gaelic. The fellow Scot responded by disclaiming any Gaelic except for a speech he rattled off. “What on earth was that?” my mother asked. “It’s the Lord’s prayer,” the man replied.

We headed on north, round the top of Scotland, past John O’Groats, and down to Aberdeen, from which Bet’s paternal ancestors had come, and whose motto, “Bon Accord”, the family had used as the name of their business in Geelong. Then, it was down England’s east coast to London.

We returned to Edinburgh that year to have Christmas with the family, and in Spring set off on our second European foray. Our first stop was Paris, and along with the usual sight-seeing, we decided to take the kids on a package night-club tour. John put on a suit to escort Betty, and Cathy looked very chic on my arm. She also looked rather young, at fourteen, to be doing the nightspots with someone old enough to be her father. We visited three small clubs, with intimate stripping, and by the time we reached the finale at the Lido, we had seen enough breasts to last us a lifetime. John observed that once you’d seen two, you’d seen them all. The Lido show was spectacular, with the stage switching from bare boards to ice rink, to pools and fountains and back again. With the mandatory half bottle of champagne at each venue, we got back to our hotel with the dawn and a hangover.

From Paris we drove down through the Black Forest to Ludwig’s castle at Neuschwanstein. It was snowing when we arrived, and walking up to the castle from the carpark was a magical introduction to its Wagnerian excesses. At Interlaken, we took the train up to the Jungfrau, only to arrive in a blizzard where you could not see more than a couple of metres. The highlights were a tour of the smelly castle carved out of the glacier, and lunch in the restaurant where the only meat on offer was cold tongue. We had better luck at Zermatt. At that time, you had to leave your car at Visp and take a train to Zermatt. While waiting for the train, I decided to use the toilet, and was disconcerted to find that the cubicles contained not the familiar pedestal pan, but two footplates either side of a recessed hole. I gathered my clothes about me, and settled down above the hole. I was about to rise, mission accomplished, when a wall of water sloshed through the building, washing my shoes as well as the floor, and narrowly missing my trousers as I rose to the occasion. The Swiss have a reputation for cleanliness, and the convenience was undoubtedly flushed with success, but there should have been some warning for foreign patrons.

Zermatt was a delight. We heard of people having our Jungfrau experience year after year, but for us the Matterhorn stood out against a clear blue sky. Neither Betty nor I ski-ed, but we took the rack and pinion railway up the Gornergrat and walked down the slopes while John and Cathy ski-ed. On our way home through France, we did the chateaux of the Loire and the cathedral at Chartres.

In April, my sister, Lilias, came to stay with us, and not long after that I learned that I was to return to Australia. The ABC’s Programme Director for radio and television in Western Australia was retiring, and it was thought advisable to give me some Programme experience in a State operation before taking me to a Federal position in Sydney. The retiring Programme Director was John O’Connor, son of the engineer who brought water to the goldfields of Kalgoorlie. He was very much part of the Perth establishment, and was respected and liked by all who knew him. His deputy for many years had justifiably expected to inherit the position on O’Connor’s retirement. Nobody would be very enthusiastic about the blow-in from the Eastern States via London. However that was in the future. Our immediate task was to wrap up our affairs in London and arrange the trip home.

When it came to disposing of our car, we tried to sell it privately but were horrified at how little we would get for it. We decided to hang onto it till the last minute, and sell it to a dealer. I had a couple of jobs to do on the Continent, in Hamburg and in Paris, so we decided to make a trip of it. We had never been to Berlin and asked about driving there. We were told that this involved travel through the communist Democratic People’s Republic of Germany, and, as this was not recognised by Her Majesty’s government, we were advised to avoid any contact. We were given a pile of papers explaining why, but I contacted the East German representatives in London, and, thinking that they seemed human, decided to give it a go. We got visas and set about arranging a round trip to Berlin which would allow me to take in Hamburg and Paris.

We booked the car-ferry from Harwich to Esjberg in Denmark, and nearly paid the ultimate price. As our ferry approached Esjberg, another ferry heading in the same direction decided to race us to the entrance of the channel leading to the docks. The two ferries were neck and neck as they neared the channel, and got closer to eachother by the minute. There was a crash and a shudder as we were rammed amidships by the other ferry. A large hole was torn in our side just a few feet away from a stack of 44 gallon drums of fuel. Fortunately the hole was above our water-line and we made it to the dock.

From Esbjerg we drove across Denmark to Copenhagen where we took in the Tivoli Gardens, before boarding an East German ferry to Warnemunde in East Germany. We then drove through East Germany to Berlin. It was an eerie experience. The countryside seemed strangely empty. There were no cars on the road, just families walking. If you stopped, people came up and asked for lifts. All the way, you were never out of sight of lookout towers. Houses were usually in good condition but totally lacking in paint. There were very few shops along the road, and the general impression was of a dispirited populace, so unlike West Germany.

We entered west Berlin through a gap in the wall, without too much fuss, and explored the city’s west which was in stark contrast to the east. Our departure was through Checkpoint Charlie. The Allied side was fairly routine, but the re-entry to East Germany and the corridor which led to Hanover was a scary experience. You drove over mirrors so they could check the underside for people smuggling. Military police probed the petrol tank, and the occupants had to get out and be searched. On the shelf behind the back seat an officer noticed the documents we had been given about East Germany. He seized and read them. We had to go to a hut for interrogation. At last we were allowed to set out on the road to Hanover, warned that we must not stop on the way or leave the main road. With our hearts racing we set off for the free world. John was very pleased with himself. “I recorded it all,” he said. He had kept our little sound recorder going throughout the whole incident. We were horrified at what might have happened had he been detected, but we were glad to have the tape as a souvenir.

In Hanover we parted company. Betty drove the car, with the kids, into Holland, while I took the train to Hamburg where I had to buy some film-editing equipment. We joined up again in Amsterdam a couple of days later, and drove through Belgium to Paris. There we parted again, Betty driving with the kids to Calais and back to London, while I did my business in Paris and flew home.

Our trip back to Australia was not straight forward. I had to stop off in Ravenna for a week to sit on the Prix Italia jury, and we wanted to see a bit of Spain. We had a lot of luggage, thirteen cases in all, but when we tried to book most of them direct to Australia, we found that this was not possible. Unaccompanied baggage was freight and had to be paid for separately, so we had to stay with our cases. We flew from London to Malaga in southern Spain. There, we planned to leave our luggage at the airport, rent a car and drive to Granada to see the Alhambra, then to Cordoba to see the Mosque and then back to Malaga, whence Betty and the kids would fly to Vienna for the week I was to be in Ravenna. We would meet up again in Athens, before I flew off to Perth while the others would have a more leisurely trip home to Geelong via Bangkok and Hongkong.

Our plans came unstuck on arrival at Malaga. There was nowhere at the airport to leave any luggage. There was just a tin shed and a landing strip. The car lady was there with the car we had rented, but it was a small SEAT, the Spanish version of a four seater Fiat. For economy reasons, we had picked the smallest car that would carry the four of us and an overnight bag each. There was no way it could take us and our thirteen cases. I decided to hire a taxi, which would take all of our luggage and John to the hotel in Malaga where we were booked to stay in a few days time on our return from Granada and Cordoba. Our luggage and John were duly loaded in the taxi, and I thought I made it clear to the taxi driver that he should wait until I had sorted out how to drive the SEAT and then he could lead me to Malaga and the hotel. When I had finally sorted out our car and was ready to leave, there was no sign of the taxi, just a cloud of dust to mark its passing. With no map and no Spanish, I managed to make the twenty odd miles from the airport to town, and finally to the hotel. We knew it was the right hotel, because out on the pavement were our thirteen pieces of luggage, John and an irate taxi driver who had tried to book our luggage in to the hotel, only to be told that there was no reservation for us. John had no money, so the driver had to wait and hope.

We persuaded the hotel to hold our luggage till we returned, and, rather behind schedule, set off for Motril, our overnight stop on the way to Granada. It was a coast road and very narrow and tortuous. I had been made aware that road rules on passing in Spain were very strict. If you wished to pass a car, you must first toot your horn, then signal you were pulling out to pass, and signal again that you were pulling in after passing. Normally this would not cause too much trouble, but our circumstances were not normal.

In the first place, our car was a gutless wonder. It had four forward gears to allow its tiny motor to carry out its tasks. If you accelerated, you had to change down. Secondly, although I had driven extensively on the Continent, it had always been in our own right-hand drive car. The SEAT was left-hand drive, and the positions of the levers for gear-change and turn-indicator were reversed. In time I got used to this, but on our dash to Motril I was still very green. The tortuous road meant that any passing had to be done quickly before encountering another curve and/or on-coming traffic. Variation in traffic speed was also a problem. Cars shared the road with donkeys, moving at walking pace, and carrying huge bundles of corn across their backs.

The passing routine was: touch the end of the turn-indicator to sound the horn, move the gear lever to change down, accelerate, depress the turn indicator prior to pulling out to pass, pass, move the turn-indicator up to indicate pulling in, and move the gear lever to change up. It was dark before we got to Motril, so switching the headlights from high to low beam and back had to be added to the routine. As the turn-indicator and gear levers were reversed from my right-hand driving experience, I instinctively went for the wrong one each time.

After dark had fallen we were intrigued to notice small cooking fires all along the road. It is a very poor area, and many people live in caves, cooking their meals on open fires. Miraculously, we made it to Motril a bit after 9 p.m. I made diffident enquiries about something to eat so late, only to be told that dinner would be served from 10 p.m. They eat late in Spain.

After the drama of the first day, the run to Granada was uneventful and we arrived at our hotel in ample time to enjoy a beautiful dinner out under the stars. It was the first time we tasted gaspatcho, and it and the rest of the meal were memorable. The next day we spent in a personally conducted tour of the Alhambra. It must be one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, with an overall conception and a delicacy of detail to take your breath away. Unfortunately, it didn’t manage to take our guide’s breath away, and we marvelled at the felicities in an inescapable cloud of garlic. Garlic is one of the great flavours, but it loses all its charm taken secondhand.

The Mosque at Cordoba was impressive but a bit of an anti-climax after the Alhambra. We had an uneventful run back to Malaga, of which highlights were encounters with the locals. We came across a peasant, astride his donkey, with a load of melons. He looked so typically Spanish that we stopped to take his photo. After we had mimed that we would like to take his photo, he accepted it as a compliment, and afterwards gave us, with great dignity, one of his melons as largesse. We had no implement to cut it, so visited an inn further along the road, and I went in to borrow a knife. On entry, the inn appeared a cut-throat’s retreat, and the brigand patrons looked as if they would prefer to use a knife, rather than lend it. Finally, however, they gave me a broken blade and insisted that I keep it. Gratefully, I returned to the car, and after putting a few miles between us and the donors, we stopped and enjoyed the melon.

Malaga seemed very tame on our return, and we set about trying to confirm details of our onward passage. I tried to book the bulk of our luggage through to Australia, but as none of us was embarking for Australia, this was not possible. I left for Ravenna with my personal luggage, and Betty and the kids left for Vienna with the rest.

Food was the highlight of the Prix Italia for me. At the outset, I discovered a trattoria that served the most beautiful mussels in white wine. I lunched there every day to my complete satisfaction, except on the last day. Then, I enjoyed my lunch as before, but by mid afternoon I began to feel ill. That evening I had to catch a train from Ravenna to Bologna, where I would have a four hour wait for the night train to Rome. We would arrive at Rome at dawn, and I would take a taxi to the airport to catch the first plane to Athens, where I would be met by Betty and the kids. On the station at Ravenna, I was running a temperature and feeling like death. I spent much of my four hour wait at Bologna trying to wangle a sleeper for the trip to Rome. I didn’t expect to sleep but I reckoned that I might survive if I could lie down. I finally established that my only chance would be with the conductor on the train when it finally arrived some time after midnight. Thanks to the conductor and a financial transaction, I managed to get a sleeper and faced the prospect of dying in comfort.

I can’t remember much of the taxi ride to Rome airport next morning, but on the plane I dreamed of arriving in Athens, and repairing to the hotel for twentyfour hours sleep. I was greeted on arrival by Betty and the kids, who had deferred a tour of the Acropolis so they could see it with me. There was nothing for it but to go with the flow. This involved the Acropolis, the museum of antiquities, and a tour of Athens generally, rounded off by dinner at a bazouki restaurant in the Placa. Next day we were booked on a day tour to Delphi, and the day after that Betty and the kids headed off for Bangkok, while I boarded a plane for Teheran where I had a five hour wait to connect with the Qantas flight to Perth.

Because Betty had to cope on her own, I had been at pains to make her trip back as trouble free as possible. At Hongkong this involved staying at the Mandarin. There was some mix-up on arrival about the booking, and the huge pile of luggage complicated things. It was a somewhat flustered Betty who finally made it to her room with a connecting one for the kids. She had just settled down when the phone rang. It was the desk, with an officious clerk in halting English asking if she could come down and settle her account in advance in view of the confusion of her arrival. Betty quickly mounted her high horse, and after giving the clerk a piece of her outraged mind, started re-dressing to do battle with the enemy. She called the kids in to let them know she was going down to the desk, whereupon they burst out laughing. It had been John on the phone from their room ! Even after that, she still loved him.


Chapter Ten : ABC - PERTH TO SYDNEY

I arrived in Perth in September 1967. I had seen it before briefly when the “Marconi” called there on our way to London. Now it was to be our home for a year. As an interim measure, I rented a furnished apartment in the suburb of Applecross.

Perth is a very pretty city, on the banks of the Swan River, and well endowed with parks near the city centre. In the late sixties it was riding on the back of a mining boom, and the locals regarded the Eastern States as parasites on their prosperity.

The education of our children was a major concern, particularly for John, who was nearly seventeen and about to start his final year of secondary education. When Betty and family arrived back in Geelong, I flew over to see them and to bring John back to Perth with me so he could settle in as a boarder at Christchurch Grammar, his new school, for the last term of his penultimate year. I went back to Geelong to help sort out our affairs, and at the end of October returned to Perth with Bet and Cathy. We found a house to rent at 44 Kininmont Avenue, Nedlands, and set about making it home.

We were disconcerted to discover previous occupants were still in residence. The house was infested with mice. They left their calling cards everywhere : on tables, benches pillows, and in cupboards and drawers. We launched a massive offensive with traps and poison, and in the end we won the war.

Another peculiarity was the floor covering in the dining-room. Instead of carpet, there was wall-to-wall coir matting. It looked alright but was quite slippery, and this could be a hazard. We had to do a lot of entertaining of strangers as we were new to the State. Sometimes the going got a bit heavy as the night wore on, and wine took effect. I was horrified on one occasion to see that not only were the hostess’s eyes closing, but she was slowly sliding under the table as her heels found no purchase on the unyielding coir matting.

Today Western Australia produces some of Australia’s best wine, but in the late 1960’s most of the local brew suffered from what was called “Swan River burn”, when the hot summer sun imparted a distinctly unpleasant taste. As part of my indoctrination as Programme Director into the local scene, I was taken by the Supervisor of Rural Broadcasting to a local vinyard. After physical inspection of the vines, the time came for tasting. Their pride, at that time, was a range of local champagne, and one impressive bottle after another was opened. Alas, the contents did not live up to the containers. Each seemed worse than the one before, and I found myself in a dilemma : as the new big chief, it was clearly expected that I would buy something after all the tasting, but I could not see myself paying money for anything I had tasted. In desperation I asked if there was anything else. I was told that there was another champagne in the system of which they had high hopes, but none was currently available for tasting. If I cared to place an order, however, it could be sent to me in a few days. In desperation I paid for a case, and it later duly arrived, but maintained the pattern of progressive deterioration. When we left Perth shortly before Christmas, we left the case of champagne for the garbo.

Cathy’s schooling was resumed at Perth’s Presbyterian Ladies College. While John settled in comfortably, Cathy had a rotten time. Her classmates, girls in their early teens, were very parochial, and were casually hostile to the new girl from England. Cathy had a very outgoing personality, and had never before experienced anything like it. She came home in tears every day, and we promised to find another school if things hadn’t improved by the end of the term. Socially things did improve but we were very unimpressed by the standard of tuition.

One lesson on English appreciation related to an American Civil War story, in which a young husband was marching off to war, and his wife fell on her knees by the window as he went. “Why did she do that?” the teacher asked Cathy. Cathy said that she was praying that he would be spared to come safely home. “Yes, yes,” the teacher said doubtfully, ‘Or it could have been a low window.”

My life at work was rather strained. I was following a much loved West Australian, and thwarting the expectations of his long term deputy. Television was less of a problem than Radio because the staff was newer, and there were two exceptional talents among them. The Supervisor of Presentation, Alan Bateman, was sharp as a tack, totally on top of his job and full of fresh programme ideas. We were about to introduce a nightly current affairs programme and its Executive Producer was Bruce Buchanan. Like Bateman, he was a live wire. Both of them moved to Sydney when I did.

In Radio, the Assistant Programme Director was a relatively new chum trying to bring Western Australia into the swinging sixties. His biggest stumbling block was the Breakfast Show. The ABC had long had the top rating breakfast show, with its host, John Juan. Over recent months the audience had been declining and everyone was very edgy. John Juan’s style was informally chatty and homely, and it went very uncomfortably with the swinging sixties music with which he was now surrounded. There were proposals to get rid of him, in the search for better ratings. I suggested that before any such action, we should first restore the kind of music he was used to and see what happened. We did this and in the next ratings he was back on top with a bigger audience than ever.

As the time to launch our nightly current affairs programme approached, Bruce Buchanan was very much aware of the key position of business in local current affairs, and he decided to incorporate a business segment in the programme each night. He contracted a well-respected journalist to run the segment. Less than a fortnight before opening night, Bruce told me that they had a scoop to use in the first programme. Lang Hancock had discovered a massive ore body at the Pilbara, and we were going to break the news. Some days later problems arose when we learned that Hancock was planning to issue an embargoed press release. This would contain information which could not be made public until a specified date, some days after we were due to go to air. Bruce was at pains to ensure that no one on his staff sighted the release in question, so we were free to go to air with our own information. When the ABC News Department received the Press Release, and learned that Current Affairs was going to break the news immediately after their 7 p.m. news bulletin, they were outraged and told me that we had no right to use embargoed material. I pointed out that our material was not based on an embargoed release but on good independent investigative reporting. The News Editor went back to Hancock’s PR people and told them what was happening. They got in touch with Charles Court, the Premier of Western Australia, and he turned up the heat on the ABC’s Manager for W.A. who duly passed it on to me. It was the biggest story for a long time and temperatures were running high. I rang Neil Hutchison in Sydney, and put him in the picture. On hearing the facts, he agreed that we should go ahead as planned. When News learned that we were going ahead with the story, they refused to be scooped by Current Affairs. They broke the embargo and ran the story in their own bulletin.

The whole affair left me with a profound distrust of the Stock Market. There was money to be made from the Pilbara discovery, and first pickings properly went to the discoverer and his friends. Then there was the wider group represented by our business correspondent, and beyond them, all the people who received the embargoed release. By the time the news actually broke to the general public, the bones were well picked over, and you would have to be a fool to rush to your stockbroker and buy shares.

Another programme that we started had long term implications. Alan Bateman wanted to do a series of short programmes with animals, and came up with an excellent presenter in Harry Butler. Harry was fantastic with animals, and handled them with complete confidence as old friends. Our little series was done at the local zoo, but later in Sydney we used Harry again in many programmes, notably with Rolf Harris in “Rolf’s Walkabout”.

We arranged an outback safari with the distinguished naturalist Vincent Serventy. Vince and his family, together with Rolf and his family, did a four wheel-drive safari in Central Australia with Harry Butler along to handle the wild-life, and with linking chat from Rolf. Alan Bateman went along as Director, and sent the film back to me in Sydney. Harry made handling deadly poisonous snakes look so easy that Rolf wanted to try it. Alan had his work cut out to keep Rolf safe, as we couldn’t afford to have him killed. Harry’s technique with a King Brown Snake, was to slap his hat down in front of it, and, when it sunk its fangs into the brim, grab it by the scruff of its neck and stow it away in a shirt with the sleeves tied in knots to contain it.

For some reason that I cannot now recall, the film of a sequence round a campfire in Central Australia was unusable. Fortunately, the ABC’s Gore Hill studios were located in an old brick-pit site. Down at the lowest part, you could not see any surrounding buildings, and we were able to reshoot the sequence at Gore Hill and intercut it with the original material and no-one was the wiser.

Outside of work, we set about seeing as much of Western Australia as we could in the year we had there. At Easter we drove north, and got as far as Geraldton and Kalbari Gorge, camping along the way. The mouth of the Murchison River is a famous fishing site, and I tried my luck. There were fish biting alright for everyone else but me. There was a school of trevally close inshore and people were pulling them in two at a time. Clearly I had the wrong bait. Dear Betty drove like fury to the little township to get me the necessary bait, but by the time she returned, the fish had gone off the bite. We were forced to buy some Spanish Mackerel (or albacore) steaks, and pretend that we had caught them. They tasted just as good, but lacked the overtones of personal achievement.

One feature of our stay in the west was the Meckering Earthquake. Quakes are not common and we had no expectation of one. The kids were at school, and Betty and I went for a run in the country. At one stage I remarked on a bit of wheel wobble, but thought nothing of it until on returning to Perth, we saw buildings with their tops in the street. Ourchildren at school had much more excitement. John had been able to see waves moving across the playing fields, and Catherine had been exhorted to get down on her knees and pray. I have subsequently learnt that Perth is on the junction of two large tectonic plates and there is a real possibility that a relatively small slippage could result in substantial inundation for a metropolitan area very little above sea-level.

In the Autumn, we were visited by Betty’s brother, Alex, and his wife, Phyllis, and toured the southwest with them, through the great jarrah forests, to Cape Leeuwin and Albany. At Cape Leeuwin you really feel you are at the end of the world. Standing on the grey granite boulders of the Cape, you are 5000 miles from Africa to the west, and a similar distance from the South Pole. Sydney is about as far to the east as Singapore is to the north. Judged by the proximity of the nearest city of the same size, Perth is the remotest place on earth. This remoteness is part of its charm and southwest W.A. abounds in wonderful old trees above the ground and fantastic limestone caverns beneath.

Our enjoyment of the trip was marred by the change in Alex. Although he climbed stairways up giant trees, and explored underground caves, he did it with great effort. Neither we nor he knew that he had terminal bowel cancer, and that he would be dead before the year was out. Some weeks before he died in September, Betty flew back to Victoria to be with him, leaving the kids to the perils of my catering. In the few weeks she was away, the kids had enough Beef Strogonov to last them a lifetime.

I discovered Lawry’s Beef Strogonov in a packet at the supermarket, with instructions on the outside. Each week I would buy enough steak to last us a week, cut it up and follow the directions on the packet. We dined on the result each night with frozen beans or peas, followed by icecream, until it was the weekend and time to cook another batch. All of us were very glad when our fabulous cook returned from her sad visit to the eastern states.

At the end of the year, we decided that we would drive across to the eastern states. This meant crossing the Nullabor Plain in mid-summer, but we decided to risk it. The road is now all sealed, but in 1968 there was still an unsealed stretch between Eucla and Ceduna. On our way, we stopped at Kalgoorlie and discovered an unsuspected aspect of that roaring gold town. We booked connecting double rooms, one for us and one for the kids. The receptionist told us we needed three rooms; it was not acceptable for John and Catherine to share a room. We solved the problem by Betty sleeping with Cathy and I slept with John.

We had a civilized night in the motel at Eucla, driving down to the huge cliffs of the Great Australian Bight, with the waves of the Southern Ocean crashing relentlessly against them. The next day was to be the horror stretch - 317 miles of unsealed road, and a clear blue sky and blazing sun. Our car didn’t have air-conditioning, so we packed the esky full of ice and draped ourselves in wet towels to get the benefit of evaporation. The RAC pamphlet for people doing the crossing said: “ it is of paramount importance that speeds be moderated to suit the road conditions”. For this dirt stretch, road conditions were very hairy. At times the road was just a normal dirt road, with concealed potholes full of powdered earth ready to rupture your springs; at other times the road disappeared, lost in a maze of old wheel ruts up to twenty yards wide. Any other traffic on the road threw up a cloud of dust to blind you. Passing became a nightmare because you had to pull out into a cloud of dust raised by the vehicle ahead, and trust to luck that there was nothing coming from the other direction. The widely spread wheel-ruts had probably been made by vehicles trying to pull out beyond the clouds of dust.

About half way through we were anxiously looking for the engagingly named Ivy Tanks. There we would get petrol and cool drinks to sustain us for the last lap. We saw no ivy at Ivy Tanks. A bleached fibro shack stood between a petrol bowser and a twenty foot high pile of empty bottles and cans. There were drifts of sand behind anything that rose above the flat aridity of the landscape. Inside the shack, behind the dilapidated flyscreen, were a few tables and chairs and a rudimentary general store. The walls were graced by a collection of reptiles in jars of colourless liquid. It was just as hot inside as outside. On entry we were instructed by a waitress in a bikini to “shut the door, love, or you’ll let the sand in”.

We left Ivy Tanks, feeling hotter than we’d ever been in our lives. It became a matter of switching off, and keeping the car going at a 50 m.p.h. and trying to avoid any hazards. In places, large vehicles had become bogged in isolated downpours, and minor valleys, now baked hard by the sun, remained to trap the unwary driver.

As we approached Ceduna, we could feel some moisture in the air, and by the time we reached our motel the cool change seemed to have come. It was a shock to learn that our “cool change” had brought the temperature down to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. We shall never again do the Eyre Highway to or from the West, but we are very glad to have done it once and survived. The rest of the run to Geelong was uneventful, and we arrived in the bosom of our family in time to spend Christmas 1968 with them.

Our joy was tempered by the absence of both Betty’s father, Os, and her brother, Alex. Both had been central figures in family occasions, and this was our first Christmas without them. Both were lovely men who had graced every occasion with warmth and dignity, and Christmas was not the same without them.

After Christmas, leaving John and Cathy with my mother and sister, Betty and I drove off to Sydney to find somewhere to live. The ABC television studios were at Gore Hill on the north side of the harbour. For this reason, and because I had grown up on the north shore, that was where we looked and quite quickly found a suitable furnished house at 40 Allambie Avenue, East Lindfield. When I was growing up, East Lindfield was all virgin bush, abutting the grounds of my father’s school in Killara. It was a happy return for me. For Betty it had the attraction that our nextdoor neighbours were the Taylors, and Fran and Betty became the closest of friends.

Because the ex-BBC producer was still in the final stages of his contract as Director of Television Drama, I was given a stop-gap job as Head of Forward Programmes. I had an office in the head-office building in Elizabeth Street, and my duties were broadly to develop new programmes, or to act as doctor for any programmes that were in trouble. One of my first tasks was to find a new role for Sue Becker. Sue had made a great success of an exercise programme, but its novelty was beginning to wear off.

I cooked up a panel game, which Sue could chair, but a pilot episode quickly showed such a role was not for her. We shuffled everyone around and tried her as one of the panelists. As with most panel games in television, writers provide words for participants, should their own imagination fail them. However, this did not suit Sue either. She was excellent at her exercise speciality, but I was a failure at finding something else for her to do. When her ABC television contract expired, she carved a new career in radio in Tasmania. My attempts to find a vehicle for her were not dead losses. The panel show went ahead without her and as “Would You Believe” ran for years. One team of three people gave varying explanations of an object presented to them : one explanation was true, and the other two wrong but plausible. The opposing team had to pick which was the true explanation. Roles were reversed for the next object. It was a big success thanks to its director, Bill Munro, its writer, John O’Grady, and the panelists Jackie Weaver, Frank Hardy, Len Evans, Noeline Brown, Michael Baume and Cyril Pearl.

Another panel show grew out of efforts to find a role for Sue. This was ‘The Inventors” where people presented their inventions to a panel, which quizzed the inventor and selected a winning invention each week. Weekly winners reappeared in periodic heats, with an overall winner each year. Alan Morris and I developed the format, which was not an imitation of the BBC’s “Inventors Club” as reported in the ABC’s official history, “This is the ABC”. In the very early days of television in Victoria, a programme about inventions was produced with Keith Mackriell as compere. It stuck in my mind, and when we were looking for a new show in 1970, I suggested such a show to Alan Morris. He was enthusiastic, and we looked in the phone book to see if there was an inventors’s society listed. There was and, when we rang, we spoke to its President, Charles Smith. He told us that we were too late, because he was already doing a pilot for a commercial television network. We thanked him, wished him well, and turned to other ideas. Some weeks later Mr Smith rang me to say that the commercial pilot had been turned down, and he asked if we were still interested. When Alan and I saw him he offered us the script of the commercial pilot, which we declined saying we would do it our way.

When work on our pilot was under way, we had a call from the woman who had produced the commercial pilot offering her services to us in a similar capacity or alternatively asking us for a royalty for her idea. We said “No” to both proposals and went ahead with the ABC’s Beverley Gledhill as producer. The pilot was well received except for objections to one of the panel, Diana Fisher. Di was the wife of one of ABC television’s department heads, and she had developed the art of gushing on camera to a high degree. Alan and I thought that she was perfect as a foil for the other panelists, but we had to fight the Commissioners to keep her. She made all the viewers feel superior, and over the years, such incisive questions as “Could it be pink?” endeared her to the public. The show piled up an impressive list of inventions, and some years later, when we thought it had been running long enough on our channel, it was taken up by a commercial network.

Another interesting problem was programmes for children. The ABC had a proud record of programmes for the very young, such as “Kindergarten Playtime”, but for older children, programmes which were excellent in themselves, played almost exclusively to audiences over fifty years of age. This was true of the latest attempt to reach the teen audience; a show called “GTK”, the acronym for Get To Know. Ken Watts, the Director of Programmes, asked me to see what could be done to reach its target audience. I was given a young director, Ric Birch, to work with and he proved a winner. He dropped the elements which adults would like teenagers to watch, and substituted material of real teen interest. It was the begining of the road which lead to “Countdown”. Ric went on to fame and fortune internationally as the creator of opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympic Games.

One day in my office, I had a visit from an American with an exceptional professional record. It was so good as to be suspect. Charles Russell had been a Hollywood actor, had for years directed one of television’s earliest classics, “Naked City”. He had worked with the cream of the American industry and the obvious question was what was he doing in my office in Sydney looking for a job. Instead of asking an embarrassing question, I gave him one of Tom Kennealy’s novels, “The Survivor”, which we were going to tape, and asked him for his opinion. He returned it with good reasons why it would not make good television. We went ahead with the taping, but Charles was right.

All of Charles’s claimed experience proved to be true. He was a man of great talents, who had developed a drinking problem to help him cope with the pressures of Network American television. He was winning his battle, but still had bad spells. He gave the ABC a great shot in the arm, and built a degree of professionalism in its drama filming that continued to pay dividends long after he returned to America.

I was indebted to Charles for identifying three fundamental principles of TV drama. The first was the principle of “rooting interest”; there had to be someone the viewers would identify with and root for. The second was an American term for a script that had no potential; it was “a crock of shit”, and it was important to avoid wasting time on such crocks. Thirdly, there was “the shit-click syndrome”; this applied to all television and cut in after the first 30 seconds of the programme. Unless the viewer was involved by that time, he would say “Shit” and switch channels.

The Drama Department was about to produce a television version of “Seven Little Australians”. A script had been prepared but there were doubts about its effectiveness and it was referred to me for consideration. I passed it to Charles on the strength of his earlier advice, and got back a critique that was spot on. For the adaptation to work, Charles insisted that the story had to be built around the father and his inability to express his deep love for his children, particularly his eldest daughter. It was such an excellent assessment that I put Charles on contract to work on the script with the writer, Eleanor Whitcombe. Shortly thereafter I became Director of Television Drama and I made Charles the Executive Producer of “Seven Little Australians”.

Although it turned out very well, there were difficulties at every turn, and at some time during the production every member of the production team, from Charles Russell down, came to me to report that we could not do it, and should abandon the project. Years later, when I was leaving the ABC to take up my new job as General Manager of the Australia Council, the then head of television, Graham White, gave me the Logie which “Seven Little Australians” won in 1973 as the Best New Drama. It was a nice gesture, and much appreciated.


As our year’s lease on 40 Allambie Avenue drew towards a close, Betty and I set about finding a permanent home of our own. We wanted somewhere on the North Shore, and preferably fairly close to our rented home, because we loved the area and we and the kids had got used to living there. One of the first places we looked at was ideally sited in the bush of Killara, the next stop on the train-line from Allambie Avenue’s Lindfield. The house was a bit small, had a scruffy garden and showed evidence of a family whose kids had kept pets in the house. We went on looking but the memory of our first sighting lingered, and we returned for a closer look. It was built on a steep hillside of native bush. It faced north, and from none of the windows could you see another house. It was 18 minutes walk through one of Sydney’s loveliest garden suburbs to the railway, and under 20 minutes in the car to the city.

The house was architect-designed and built for the present occupants who had run out of money before it was finished. The marriage was breaking up but before they could sell the house, they had to create a back patio by excavating and terracing the hillside which currently came right down to the back door. The buyer could decide whether it was to be done in concrete or local sandstone.

We decided that we could solve the space problems by converting the built-in double garage to a family room, and building a carport under the front deck. If we re-did the kitchen and the bathroom, re-carpeted the whole place, and painted it inside and out, we reckoned we would have a very nice home. We bought it, and in January 1970 moved into the first home of our own. We lived there for over a quarter of a century and Betty, John and Catherine came to love the area as much as I did.

For me it was a real nostalgia trip. The house was built on land which had been Clarke’s Dairy when I was growing up. The dairy was opposite Milton Grammar School, of which Dad was headmaster. Jackie Clarke had been my playmate. In school holidays, when we weren’t playing Test Matches on the school oval, we ran wild in the bush around the dairy. From the front deck of our new house, I could see Radiator, the magic sandstone cave of my youth, always warm from the northern sun.

Chapter Eleven : ABC - DIRECTOR TV DRAMA

I became Director of Television Drama early in 1970. When I had been servicing drama productions in my early career, I noticed that producers tended to select foreign scripts for production. In one way this made sense, as the producer could be sure that he was working on a proven product, but it limited the scope for local writers to deal with local themes. Moreover, we could buy productions of overseas scripts for a fraction of the cost of mounting our own production. I resolved that, from the moment I took over, any production mounted with our own money, would be by an Australian writer.

Thanks to David Goddard, who had preceeded me as Director of TV Drama, the ABC had the nucleus of a drama film unit, but some inescapable film problems and bad luck had resulted in cost overruns and there were strong moves to close it down and restrict TV drama to electronically taped shows with filmed inserts. Such productions were not subject to the vagaries of the weather, nor to the costs of routinely operating away from the studio base. If we wanted to retain the advantages of drama in actual locations and to avoid the limitations of live editing, we had to find ways of reducing the cost of filming to the ABC.

While increased efficiency might have a marginal effect, the only real solution was to find partners to bear some of the costs. The BBC was the obvious first choice as a source of funds for joint ventures, but the BBC rightly believed that it could do what it did better than anyone else, and, at that time, it too was starting to explore ways of raising money to keep its staff fully occupied.

While living in London, I got to know Ian Warren and Tom Donald, the co-directors of Global Television, who handled the ABC’s purchases and sales with European commercial organisations. As selling agents for our productions, it made sense for them to make their job easier by enhancing the product they were to sell.

Money for our productions could come in two ways. One way was for a purchaser to buy “off the plan”, getting a better deal than if he waited to buy the finished product. The other was to invest in the production and have a creative input in the production process. As the ABC was a substantial purchaser of productions from other television networks, Global had a useful lever to encourage reciprocal purchases of our productions. Global also had a production arm of their own in Portland Productions. Over the years we were to do a number of joint productions with Portland Productions. In these, as with the BBC, we had to surrender ultimate artistic control in the product.

The ABC had the film equipment and skilled personnel, but we did not have the buildings for film production. In filming “Delta”, the ABC had rented the Artransa Studios in French’s Forest, but if we were to be in the film production business on an on-going basis, it made sense to buy these studios and up-grade them. “Seven Little Australians” was filmed in rented premises at Channel 7, but its success provided the justification for buying the Artransa Studios, and strengthening our hand for co-productions with England, America, Germany and France.

Early in the piece, we flirted with CBS in America, and although it came to naught, it led to one of my most embarrassing moments. The potential CBS association, was going to involve us in shooting 35 mm film, and although we had some of the necessary equipment, we had never used it, as 16 mm was our production norm. We did not have the money to spare for 35 mm experiments, so we were desperately anxious to find a local entrepreneur wanting to shoot on 35 mm. Our saviour appeared in the form of Terry Bourke. He had a pilot script for a horror movie called “Night of Fear” and he wanted to shoot it on 35 mm film. It was most unlikely that we would ever broadcast the finished film, but Terry had commercial aspirations and was prepared to put up the money to cover all the above-the-line costs.

I had never read the script, but Charles Russell told me it was a crock. It would, however, get us the experience to cement our CBS deal, so we went ahead with it. When it was finished, Terry arranged a press preview in a cinema at Avalon. Betty and I were invited, and were part of a full house of press, film and TV dignitaries. Before the screening, Terry made a speech, in which he expressed fulsome thanks to John Cameron, without whose help this film would never have been made. The film was then screened.

I cannot remember it in detail, but generally it was the story of a homicidal grotesque who lusted after a bimbo. After he had had his way with her, he tied her to a pyre to be eaten by starving rats. Only a last minute rescue saved her, and us, from this fate. All my life, I have lived with the dreadful awareness, that, without me, that film would never have been made.

We managed to get investment money from Global and from Bob Kline of Twentieth Century Fox for “Seven Little Australians”. Global was considering a future joint venture with us via their production arm, Portland, which was currently shooting a TV series of “Elephant Boy” in Sri Lanka. It was suggested that I visit the unit at work, and sort out details for our joint venture with director, James Gatward, and writer, Ian Stuart Black. Ian had made his pile by originating the big international hit “Danger Man”.

I flew out of Sydney, heading for the tropics, with just an overnight bag and a briefcase. I changed planes at Singapore and arrived at Colombo to be met by Ian. Unfortunately my overnight bag did not come off the plane with the rest of the luggage. Ian impressed me enormously by running out on the tarmac and waving his arms to stop the plane from flying off. It was however fruitless as my bag proved to have been lost en route. We made suitable representations for it to be traced, and hoped it would be there for me to collect a couple of days later on my way home.

Because the unit was filming in the hills up near the capital, Kandy, Ian and I were to spend the night at a hotel in Colombo and drive up to Kandy next morning. I was feeling and looking pretty seedy after the messy flight and about midnight I decided to have a shave before retiring. Fortunately my shaving gear was in my briefcase, but unfortunately I did not have a suitable adaptor for their powerpoint. I rang reception and asked if they had an adaptor that I could borrow. They didn’t, but they promised to locate one for me.

They seemed to be taking a long time about it, and I was about to go to bed when there was a knock on the door. On opening it, I was alarmed to see two soldiers with machine guns and a terrified little Singalese in his pyjamas. There was a high degree of civil unrest at that time, and a curfew was in force. With no adaptor in-house, Reception had sent out for a local electrician to supply one. Because of the curfew, they had to send troops to get him out of bed and bring him to the hotel. My sense of shame at causing such trouble was greatly enhanced when the electrician showed me that there was a second socket, which I had not noticed, which fitted my razor perfectly.

The drive up to Kandy was fascinating as the road wound up through picture-book villages of thatched huts surrounded by lush green vegetation. Dirt floors were swept by colourfully dressed villagers, stirring romantic associations with biblical scenes from Sunday school and Kipling’s “Jungle Book”. The only flies in the ointment were the buses. The road was very narrow and tortuous. Bus transport was the only way to get from Colombo on the coast to the capital in the hills. The local fuel generated a dense black cloud on combustion, adding a visual and respiratory hazard to the problem of passing on a winding road. Almost all the way, our car was behind one bus or another in a fog of foul-smelling black smoke.

Kandy was a picturesque city in a high valley. I was to stay with a wealthy Anglophile who loved cricket. The home was large and open to allow whatever breeze there was to alleviate the heat and humidity. The architecture allowed the entry not only of breezes but of local livestock. You slept in a mosquito-net tent while all around monkeys, reptiles and flying creatures held a nocturnal corroboree.

When I reached the film unit, my first stop was the Wardrobe Department to provide me with a change of clothes. While usable, these were on the small size as I was well over six feet and local actors were barely five feet. We had a heartening ring from the airport to say that my bag had been found and could be collected on my way home. I told James Gatward that I was particularly pleased, because my overnight bag also contained six bottles of a Hunter Valley red wine I knew he liked.

We quickly sorted out work problems for our future association, but James had a serious local filming problem with a leopard which had killed its handler. On a happier note, the elephants were delightful, but I was surprised to find that most of them had blotchy pink patches which required make-up. This was applied with long-handled brooms, until a standard elephant-grey was achieved.

On Sunday, Ian took me back down to Colombo and the airport, and we collected my bag so he could take the wine back to James. When we opened my bag, the smell was of Tyrell’s tasting room. All six bottles had been reduced to crushed glass and my clothes were a sodden pink. Ian returned to James with confirmation of my good intentions, but no wine.

Left on my own at the airport, I addressed financial problems. On arrival, I had changed enough money into local currency to allow me to keep my end up socially and to pay my way. I had not been allowed to spend a penny, so I had quite a lot of local currency, and was shocked to find that exchange restrictions did not allow me to convert local currency back into Australian dollars. The only thing in the airport worth buying was Ceylon tea, so I bought a large quantity which was bundled up into two columns of tea packets, each about three feet high.

The airline was Thai International, with whom Portland Productions had an arrangement. Without further fuss we arrived back in Sydney late on Sunday night where I discovered that Customs regarded Thai International with grave suspicion. The flight that arrived late on Sunday night was known as the drug-runners’ special.

I was not looking my best in the crumpled, under-sized clothes from the film wardrobe. My overnight bag looked the worse for wear, and when I opened it, on the Customs man’s order, the smell of wine and the damp discoloured clothes did nothing to improve the impression I was making. Customs attention then turned to my two columns of purchases and I was asked what they were. My contention that they were tea was the final straw. I was told to undo the columns and open packets of tea nominated by Customs. When these proved to be tea, the frustrated search intensified, and I was obliged to open more packets. When all packets had been opened, and proved to be tea, very embarrassed Customs officers told me I was free to go. I don’t know if they made some record on my file, but I have never since been held up by Customs.

The co-production we ended up doing with Portland Productions was “Castaway”, and it was memorable for its palm trees. Artistic direction was in English hands, with Ian Stuart Black writing the scripts, and James Gatward directing. Major money was coming from Germany, and the big appeal for the Germans was the location. “Castaway” for the Germans meant a desert island with palm trees. We reckoned that we could fudge the desert island on the mainland at a location up near Cairns, where there were the necessary palm trees. One week-end, James Gatward and I flew up there to check it out.

When we arrived at Cairns airport, it was pouring. The weather was so bad, that the helicopter to take us to the potential location could not take off. We hired a car and driver and set off by road in the teeming rain. Flood waters were rising by the roadside, but we made it to the chosen coconut plantation, and set about getting polaroids of the area. We stripped to our underwear and donned rain capes. James took the shots, and I developed and stored them under my cape. After wading through flooded streams in unrelenting rain, we made it back to the plantation office satisfied that we had found our location. The owners, having assessed our enthusiasm for their plantation, announced an outrageous fee for filming. We could not make them see reason, so we called it off and returned to Cairns and Sydney.

We ended up using a location near Port Macquarie in northern New South Wales. It was much more accessible than Cairns but it had no palm trees. A kind of palm tree grows in the Sydney area, so we had thirty or so of these cut off at ground level and treated with fibre-glass so they would not disintegrate over the shooting period. They were shipped to Port Macquarie, and planted in concrete at the location. When James arrived, he was horrified to see that the crew had planted the trees with regimental precision, and any resemblance to natural growth was absent. With considerable effort the palms were up-rooted from the concrete and re-planted. For a time all was well, but, as shooting progressed, the leaves became increasingly brown. The crew had to paint them a suitable and stable green. Fifteen to twenty feet in the air, this was no easy task.

About the same time as we were shooting “Castaway”, a writer, James Workman, brought me a proposal for a play about the attempt to establish a settlement at Port Essington in the Northern Territory early in the 19th century. It was a great idea. I had been thinking about an entry for the Prix Italia, which the ABC had won for Radio with John Thompson’s “Death of a Wombat”. It would be great to win a prize for television, and James’s idea seemed ideal for the purpose, but, as I saw the project, James was not the one to write it.

Port Essington was planned by the colonial government to be a rival to Singapore. It would become a thriving commercial centre, and the focus of the colony’s development in the north. The trouble was that European settlers knew little of the Great South Land, that was to become Australia, and nothing of life in its tropics. The little bit of Europe they planted at Port Essington was a tragedy where ignorance and incompetence overwhelmed human courage. James Workman was a good writer, and he could have written a good documentary account, but for the Prix Italia we needed a more poetic treatment.

With some difficulty, I negotioted a fee for James to let me use the idea and his research, and asked Thomas Kenneally if he would do the script for us. I asked Peter Sculthorpe to do the music score, and, with Julian Pringle producing, looked forward to an artistic triumph. The Staging Department built a beautiful facsimile of the settlement in an unspoiled piece of bush near Kellyville on Sydney’s outskirts, but all to no avail. It was not a bad show, but it wasn’t an international prize winner. Looking back at it over the years, I still don’t know exactly what went wrong, but I suspect that it was my fault for failing to apply one of Charles Russell’s basic principles: the subject was good but it lacked someone to root for. It was all there, but it remained remote and uninvolving. Strangely enough, I think we had the same problem with a BBC co-production of “Ben Hall”.

Colin Free wrote the script for the series, and the BBC provided a producer, Neil McCallum, and the two male leads, Jon Finch and John Castle. If the end result did not quite live up to our hopes, the making of it was a joy. Neil was an actor before he became a producer, and a real charmer. Visually the show was superb, but the central character was a robber and a killer, and however much we might try to make him more sinned against than sinning, he had to be killed off in the end. The more engaging we made him, the more his ultimate death would displease viewers.

Neil McCallum provided a wonderful social memory for us one night when we were dining at a very classy Italian restaurant in Sydney. The drinks waiter had just brought the bottle of wine Neil had ordered, and poured a sample for Neil to taste. Neil eyed it solemnly, nosed its bouquet, and finally sipped it with reverence. As it went down, he staggered to his feet, grasping his throat, and emitted a strangled scream. We and the waiter were horrified, until Neil resumed his seat and said, with a serene smile, “A beautiful year!”

Throughout our drama filming, we were always on the verge of breaking into the American market. 20th Century Fox bought “Seven Little Australians” for American release, although they changed its name to “Seven Little Woolcotts” lest the audience be put off by a titular suggestion that it wasn’t an American product. Through this connection we had early contact with Bob Kline, who was then Fox’s Vice President International. He came out to Australia to explore co-production possibilities, and liked what he saw, not merely at the ABC. He fell in love with a call-girl he met, and took her back to America with him and married her.

We always seemed on the verge of a major joint venture, which never quite eventuated. This may have been because Bob had troubles with his top brass. On one occasion, after suitable briefing, he wheeled me in to meet the big boss, Haley. Haley’s one dictum which sticks in my mind was “We don’t want any downers”. As “Ben Hall” was a downer, in that the hero got killed, I guess that is why we didn’t get together on that one. Perhaps it was frustration as well as ambition which lead to Bob going out on his own to line up German money in a new company, Trans-Atlantic Enterprises, to produce telemovies with us in Australia.

The money was fine, and Bob lined up well-known actors and directors but I don’t think he had any experience judging scripts. Certainly the first script I saw for “No Room To Run” was not up to much. Under criticism, Bob agreed to some rewrites, but he was fairly prickly at criticism because the German money had been provided in the belief in America as the ultimate authority in show-business. Bob did not intend to disillusion them at the outset. With a cast that included Richard Benjamin, Barry Sullivan and Paula Prentiss, there was an aura of success, and with future productions to include such directors as Norman Panama whose credits included a “Road” picture with Crosby and Hope, and actors such as Sid Caesar and Beau and LLoyd Bridges, prospects were encouraging. There remained the scripts.

I hoped that my relationship with Bob would allow us to have increasing input, and that, in time, we would be able to work on Australian scripts. Unfortunately, in this connection, I was promoted to Controller of Television Programmes, and my successor as head of TV drama, Jim Davern, was handed a problem without any established relationship to Bob Kline to help him. After three very indifferent productions, it was agreed to terminate the association. Not long thereafter, Jim Davern left the ABC and started his own production company, and made himself a fortune with the long-running hit “A Country Practice”

Each year, shortly before the Film Festival, at Cannes, there is an international television market (MIP), where the world’s producers and buyers of TV product gather to do business. There are no awards, just transactions. Global had always been an active participant, and with our increased interest in drama sales and co-productions, the ABC established its own stand with Global and each year I used to go there to help push our sales and to line up future co-productions. There were three or four failures for every success, but it was a very stimulating environment.

The central venue was on La Croisette at Cannes, with a string of prestigeous pubs on one side, and the Mediterranean beach on the other. The beach was all taken up with commercial establishments which allowed you to lie in a deck-chair or swim for a modest charge. Meals were also provided at a price. Because it was early Spring, asparagus was just coming on the market, and a superb lunch could be had of Asperges Hollandaise and white wine, as you stretched out in your deck-chair under a mild and misty sun.

Eating in the evening was more formal, and a lot more expensive unless you were a guest. Fortunately for potential guests, there was a lot of showing off by big players trying to impress. Even Global used to run an opulent party of champagne and strawberries each year in a mansion on the steep hillside back of the beach. I remember one dinner Bob Kline gave for Fox at one of the best restaurants on La Croisette. There were nearly twenty in the party, and all ended up ordering the specialty of the house which was bouillabaisse. When the superb dinner was over, Bob produced a concertina of credit cards, only to be told that none were acceptable. The bill was over $1,000. There was an embarrassing moment when guests started feeling in their pockets for change, before some deal was arranged between Bob and the proprietors.

In the hills back of Cannes, at a little village called Mougins, there was one of the world’s great restaurants, Le Moulin, run by a three-star Michelin chef, Roger Verge. If you really wanted to impress, that was where you took people. The first time I went there was as Hector Crawford’s guest. When the wine waiter came round, Hector, for some reason, asked me to choose the wine. I looked at the list and was horrified to see a bottle listed at 1,500 francs. I suggested it to Hector, and before he knew the price, he agreed. I quickly told him the price and chose an alternative.

Some years later, Betty and I were there again as the guests of a German construction millionaire, Anton Staudinger, who was trying to break into television production. He travelled with an entourage managed socially by the Baroness St Paul. On arrival at the Moulin, the Baroness ordered strawberry champagne cocktails all round, and summoned her friend, Roger Verge, to suggest what he would like to cook for us that evening. No looking at any menus. Anton’s accountant chose the drinks for dinner, and ordered a forty year-old red from a famous vigneron. I recalled the $1500 franc standard bottle with which I had scared Hector Crawford, and could not even guess what our magnum cost. As it turned out, I did not much care for either the wine or the food, infinite variations on duck, on which cuisine minceur had taken its toll.

Anton rang me the next day to invite us to go for a trip with him the following Sunday. I politely declined because Bet’s friend, Peg Franklin, was travelling with us, and I had booked a car to take her on a run around the Cannes hinterland. Anton would not take no for an answer. Of course Betty and her friend were included in the invitation. We were going to fly to Corsica for the day in Anton’s private plane. Because we were trying to close a deal, and his offer topped my planned drive, we accepted.

When we were collected at our hotel on Sunday morning, we were told that the weather was too bad to fly to Corsica, so instead we would fly over the Savoy Alps and have a nice lunch at Avignon. At the airport, Anton’s Luftwaffe pilot was standing by a twin-engined ten-seater aircraft. As we flew over the little mountaintop villages, the pilot dived down and circled them in a brief straffing run. All the diving and banking, allied to updrafts from the alps, made for a very bumpy ride, and a very sick Betty. To avoid messing Anton’s carpets, Betty opened her handbag and held it ready for what it was about to receive. The Baroness was made aware of her dilemma, and the pilot’s exuberance was curbed.

Fortunately, Betty managed to hold out till we landed at Avignon, where three cars were waiting to take us to lunch in the town. Betty opted for no food, but the Baroness insisted that there was a sure cure for an upset stomach. It was marc, a potent brandy made from the residue of pressed grapes. At the restaurant, Betty tried it, and it worked well enough to allow her to take some light nourishment, and give her the strength for the flight home. Out of consideration for her, we flew straight down the valley of the Rhone to Marseilles, and low along the Cote D’Azure to Cannes.

As Director of Television Drama my focus was mainly on taped production. I had four Executive Producers, two in Sydney and two in Melbourne, each responsible for two days studio output per week. A studio day’s output averaged 30 minutes transmission time for a serial type programme, such as “Bellbird” or “Certain Women”, where characters and sets were well established. For single plays or series, where characters and sets were more varied, it was necessary to allow time for both cast and crew to become familiar with the material and to present it in the best light, and the average daily output was closer to 15 minutes, In Sydney, the two Executive Producers were Eric Taylor and Alan Burke. Eric had come to us on contract from the BBC, where he had been a sustaining producer for such distinguished series as “Maigret”. For the ABC, he had produced the very successful series, “Contrabandits”, before I was appointed. There had been problems when David Goddard was brought out as Director of TV Drama, because this made him Eric’s supervisor, and Eric considered himself to be senior in experience to David. This rivalry led to David’s determination to show the world, and Eric, just how good he was. Instead of running the Department, David made himself the effective Executive Producer of the series “Delta”. To make sure it was more impressive than the taped “Contrabandits”, “Delta” was to be all film with exotic locations, such as Lake Eyre. It was a good series, but not significantly better than “Contrabandits”. With very bad luck weather-wise and the more expensive nature of filming, costs were high and went way over budget. Far from advancing David’s cause, “Delta” became his swan song.

Eric Taylor continued to produce good television. I had the idea of doing a series on Australian soldiers in World War II, not a blood and guts battle series, but a saga of everyday life behind the lines. It ran to two series under Eric’s able hand, and re-inforced his relationship with the actor, John Meillon. He and Eric were good mates, and when Michael Craig came up with the idea for a sentimental trilogy about an ordinary Australian, Eric grabbed it, and gave John Meillon one of his biggest successes in “The Fourth Wish”.

The close relationship between Eric and John had occasional problems, and in “Over There” one of our First Assistant Directors, Ray Brown, earned my admiration. Ray was trying to get a sequence ready for shooting, but was having trouble because John Meillon was holding court on the sidelines, indulged by Eric. Ray finally walked up to John and said: “You’re one of Australia’s top professional actors, Mr Meillon. Will you please start behaving like one.”

Studio output in drama, as I saw it, had to meet several goals. We needed both volume and reasonable audiences. “Bellbird” was achieving this in Melbourne, and we needed an equivalent in Sydney, preferably urban in nature to complement the rustic character of “Bellbird”. The rest of our output should aspire higher, and relate to our cultural heritage. We could tackle book adaptations as well as original themes.

Our first attempt at an urban “Bellbird” was a disaster. It was to centre on a Greek family living in an inner suburb of Sydney. It was called “Lane End”, and although Greeks were a significant percentage of our population, there weren’t many Greek actors that we knew of, so we had Anglos doing character bits. We did however have a real Greek for the central matriarch, but she was taken ill shortly before we went to air, and we fell back on another Anglo doing a character bit. After six episodes we consigned it to history.

At that time, we were recording six single plays by Tony Morphett looking at the evolving roles of women in our society. They were going to air under the anthology title of “Certain Women”. With our first shot at an urban serial in tatters, it seemed a good idea to expand Tony’s six single plays into an on-going serial. Tony was agreeable, and with Alan Burke in charge, we set about volume production of “Certain Women”. As they would be going to air weekly, we had to build up a bank of programmes before starting transmission. When we were well and truly committed with about six episodes in the can and others in production, Ray Newell of Audience Research suggested that we have the show tested with an audience.

A couple of episodes were screened to a test audience. We got the results the week before transmission of the serial was due start, and the reactions were dreadful. The show had registered one of the worst responses on record. There was no way it could hold an audience, and we would be advised to pull the plug straight-away. This was not an option for us, and we didn’t believe the assessment was right anyway. We checked the test procedures. Viewers were seated in chairs with a reaction knob which the viewer had to turn, one way for “loving it”, and the other way for “boring”. The system worked well enough for non-involving commercials, but if viewers became involved in the story, they forgot about the knob. That was what had happened with “Certain Women”. When transmitted “Certain Women” was very well received, pulled a big audience, and ran for over three years. We should have sued the audience research company for the few terrible nights they gave us.

It takes a large scale operation to support a long-running weekly show. The main problem is the supply of scripts. The cast and crew become increasingly familiar with their own contributions, but the scripts have to provide constant new twists and turns to maintain freshness for an audience which is increasingly able to detect any behaviour which is inconsistent with characters they have come to know intimately. The show began with Tony Morphett and he remained central to its life. He wrote scripts regularly and played the major role in plotting the main lines of development for the supporting writers. The Script Editor for the serial acted as minute secretary for the weekly story conferences, prepared the basic briefs for the writers, and worked with them on development of the scripts.

Before we started “Certain Women”, Tony had begun an association with a former British policeman, Glynn Davies. Glynn had left Scotland Yard to become technical adviser on such early British TV series as “Murder Bag” and “The Ratcatchers”. Just what he contributed to those shows, or to Tony, we never found out, but he was omnipresent, commenting on others’ scripts, and occasionally writing some himself. Residual traces of his life as a copper added spice to our lives. He had a reputation for being a nosey-parker, and there was evidence that he used to drop into my office after hours and browse through my in-tray. It was a delicate situation, as we could not be sure of our suspicions, and could not afford to alienate Tony by confronting his colleague. We solved the problem by leaving a letter to Glynn in my in-tray, saying we knew he went through it, and that we would have to take formal action if he didn’t stop. It worked.

Sometimes there would be such trouble with a script, that there was a last-minute panic to make it workable. On occasion, I wrote substantial parts of episodes myself. It was during the show’s long run, that I became convinced of the error of the oft-heard argument that single plays were automatically superior to serials or series. It would be silly to assert that single plays cannot achieve great dramatic heights and explore issues with subtlety, but the fact remains that, in drama, the medium through which you work is characterisation, and in a single play, you must spend a lot of time developing the characters you are to use. In a series or a serial, the characters are already developed, and the audience is so aware of them, that subtle nuances can be explored with an ease that is seldom possible in a single play.

It is true that the characters in a series or serial may be so limited in concept that they are of little use in treating issues of intellectual complexity, and it is also true that writers of great intellect may not wish to be subservient to the limitations imposed on a contributor to a series or serial, but this does not alter the unequalled capacity of a continuing framework to engage the deep concern of viewers. One of the earliest and greatest successes of television, was the BBC’s original production of Galsworthy’s “Forsyte Saga”. Because viewers got to know the characters intimately and could feel for them, the total effect on television was arguably greater than from reading the original novels.

We had an echo of “Forsyte Saga” in my early days in Drama. An English writer migrated to Australia and secured permission from Neville Shute to adapt his novel “A Far Country” for television. The book was not in the same league as “No Highway”, which predicted both the crashes of the first passenger jets and their cause, but it was a good story and carried the great attraction that the writer’s wife, who had played a major role in the “Forsyte Saga”, would play the lead in “A Far Country”. Eric Taylor and I were not over impressed by the adaptation, but consoled ourselves that our star leading lady would make up for any deficiencies. It came as a bitter blow discover that the writer’s migration to Australia was a prelude to his divorce. We had to go ahead without our star.

Our biggest commitment to book adaptations was a Norman Lindsay festival, in which Alan Burke produced adaptations of “Redheap”, “The Cousin From Fiji”, and three other Lindsay books. It was very well received. Another of Alan’s projects was “Behind The Legend”, in which we presented half-hour dramatisations of a humanising incident in the life of someone who had become an icon in our culture. I can’t remember whether the idea was originally mine or Alan’s, but Alan certainly came up with the idea of having each episode introduced by Professor Manning Clark, to give a seal of approval. We ended up doing 28 legends from Nellie Melba to Les Darcy.

In Melbourne,the two Executive Producers were Oscar Whitbread and James Davern. All three of us had been together at the start of Victorian TV, Oscar as Studio Supervisor, and James as a studio cameraman. Oscar moved to Producer and Executive Producer, marrying our first Presentation Announcer, Corinne Kerby, along the way. Jim moved from Engineering to Programmes, and became the Executive Producer of “Bellbird”. Oscar’s main achievements were as the originator of our very successful series,“Rush”, set on the goldfields of the 19th century, and the later serialisation of Frank Hardy’s “Power Without Glory”. He was a great colleague and friend, and with writers Cliff Green and Howard Griffiths, was responsible for some of Victoria’s finest hours on television.

Jim was not so easy to get along with, but he had good judgment, and an unswerving focus on the main task. When I was promoted from Drama, and had to nominate my successor, I had the difficult task of choosing between Jim and Oscar. In plumping for Jim, I must have hurt Oscar, but I thought that he was just too nice a person for the job. The head of Drama had to be able to take decisions which, at times, went against his natural inclinations, and in this I thought Jim had the edge. The two Sydney contenders, Eric Taylor and Alan Burke, were more of my age, and, in my opinion, were inclined to be less objective in their judgments than Jim.

“Rush” was a huge success. It was colourful and a breath of fresh air from cops, robbers and doctors who were the staples of TV, then as now. The biggest hit of the show was its theme music, which made the pop charts. Oscar had contracted George Dreyfus to write it for him, and George did him proud. The first series of the show was taped in black and white. Its second series was shot on colour film as a co-production with Antenne Deux of France, who supplied a French co-lead. He had previously made his name in dubbing English films into French, having the knack of speaking French with an English accent. It was ironic that the second series of “Rush” went into production after Jim had succeeded me as Director of Television Drama, and he, not the series originator Oscar, was its Executive Producer.

It was filmed in Sydney, because that was where we had our Drama Film Unit, and because we wanted to make use of the sets we had built for the BBC co-production,“Ben Hall”. We had needed a major location for “Ben Hall” which was reasonably close to our film base in French’s Forest, and from which all evidence of the Twentieth Century was absent. There was a large stretch of bushland, ideal for our purposes, and the owners were agreeable to us using it, but they were in they process of trying to sell it to Arabs, and they were not prepared to enter into any agreement which might jeopardise the sale. Our period of occupancy would be about nine months, three months to build the sets and six months to shoot the series. To embark on such a project with no security of tenure for the main location was a real hazard. I was confident that we would be alright, because the land would have to be re-zoned prior to any development. By the time a sale had been finalised, and the land re-zoned, we should be long finished. However a final decision, rested with the Commission, who would be guided by the Director of Finance, Phil Dorrian. Phil was an unknown quantity as far as I was concerned. I rang him and asked if he would come with me and inspect a site for which we were negotiating. He agreed, and came out to our studio. We boarded a Jeep, and set off down the narrow, winding dirt track which led to the desired area in French’s Forest. By the time we got there, Phil had been jolted out of any memory of Broadcast House. When I explained our problem of secure tenure, he said there was no way anything could happen to the area for at least a year. We were free to go ahead, and build a 19th century village in the heart of the bush. The village was still there when “Ben Hall” was finished, and it provided a wonderful location for the second series of “Rush”.

As a consolation prize for losing “Rush”, Oscar was given “Power Without Glory”. We had hopes of co-production money for this too, and spent months of on-again, off-again negotiations about it with David Frost. In the end we went ahead alone, but the negotiations allowed Frost to demonstrate at least one of his great talents. On a visit to Sydney, I took him to meet a roomful of ABC programme executives. They were all strangers to Frost, and I walked him round them once, giving their names and areas of responsibility. We then chatted over drinks for half an hour or so. Frost remembered every detail and never once made a mistake with a Christian name or area of responsibility. No wonder he made such a great interviewer.

The adaptation of “Power Without Glory” was a good one, and Frank Hardy was pleased with it. I remember him telling me of his problems launching the original book. Purchasers of first editions generally set great prize in having a copy autographed by the author. For “Power Without Glory”, the rare copies were the ones not inscribed by the author, for nearly every sale of the first edition was personally carried out by Frank, and autographed by him as part of the sale.

The final production had many good points, but a central flaw was in the casting of “John West”. It was not the actor’s fault, he gave a good performance, but he did not have the charisma needed for the role. “West” was a potent figure, and unless his appearance on TV conveyed this, the story lacked the engine to make it work. On TV, our “Power Without Glory” proved to be deficient in power.

Chapter Twelve : HOLIDAYS AND CONTROLLER PROGRAMS

It occurs to me that my writing to date has been work-centric, whereas my life really revolved around my family, and our yearly highlights were how we spent school holidays.

When we returned from Canada in 1955, John was five and Cathy three. In 1956, John started school at Bostock House, Geelong Grammar’s preparatory school. Catherine started at the sister school, The Hermitage, in 1958. As soon as they were old enough to enjoy holidays, we embarked on a camping era. We had inherited from Betty’s father a Ford Customline Sedan in the fashionable two-tone colours of the day. In a trade paper we read an advertisement for “lay-back seats”, whereby your car could be converted into a luxurious double bed by the back of the front seat angling back through 90 degrees. It sounded great so we had it done, and bought a pup tent and a couple of air matresses for the kids.

The first trial of our new camping facilities was on a weekend at Cumberland River, on the Great Ocean Road a little beyond Lorne. We pitched the tent, inflated the beds, and settled the kids down before “laying back” our front seat. It looked great, and we settled for an early night. It took about three minutes for us to realise that our problems were insoluble. Although the double bed looked flat, the junction of the seatback and the rear seat created a ridge for the small of your back which rapidly assumed the proportions of a mountain range. Attempts to ameliorate things by lying on an angle were frustrated by the steering column. It took about an hour for us to conclude that lay-back seats were not for us, but that son John could lie crossways on the back seat, and Cathy could fit on the front seat before the steering column became a problem. We transported the two sleeping children from the pup tent to the car, and settled ourselves on the air-beds in the pup-tent. A pup-tent is intended to cater for a single adult. When two share it, they are forced away from the relatively high centre, and out towards the side where the sloping roof rushes to reach the ground. On an air matress, an adult’s nose lightly brushes the roof of the tent. When it rains, as it did that night, an adult occupant is in a perfect position to inhale the fine mist which initially permeates the canvas, and which is soon converted by nose contact into a steady flow of droplets.

We decided that we needed a proper tent in future, and for our next camping holiday, we were able to borrow an American army tent from a friend. This had its inaugural pitch at Wilson’s Promontory. The tent was 12 feet square, with 6 feet walls and a centre pole raising the roof’s apex some 10 feet in the air. The colour was olive green. Erection instructions required that you spread the tent out on the ground, erecting first the four walls. When this was done, you made your way in under the canvas with the centre-pole, inserted the pole’s pin in the hole at the apex and thrust it vertical to complete erection.

Had the ground at the Prom been lawn, our erection of the tent would have been a triumph. Unfortunately the ground was grey sand, aesthetically pleasing underfoot but an on-going hazard when adhering by moisture to the ceiling of the tent. As it dried out, the sand fell as a continuing grey rain upon the occupants and all the tent’s contents. Its persistence throughout our entire stay put one in mind of the good Lord’s miracle whereby a few loaves and some small fishes were an inexhaustable food supply for a multitude. By the time we packed for home, we felt that we had had a lifetime’s quota of grey sand.

Our holiday was not without its highlight, in that it launched me on a career as a surf fisherman. As we were to camp by the sea, I had borrowed a fishing rod and reel from Betty’s father in the hope that I might catch some fresh food. One bright sunny day we drove to Squeaky Bay, a lovely sheltered cove with a steep white sandy beach which made a noise when you walked on it.

A couple was there before us. The wife was sitting above the high-water mark reading a book, while the husband was fishing, and what was more, catching fish. He had a long surf rod, with a star sinker and twin hooks on his line. As we watched, he reeled in with a salmon on each hook. He unhooked the fish, threw them up the beach towards his wife, rebaited his hooks, and cast out again. In less than two minutes, he was reeling in another two salmon.

This pattern continued while we rushed down to the beach and set about assembling Pop’s rod and reel to participate in the sport. It wasn’t a surf rod, but I figured that I would be able to get amongst the fish if I waded out a bit before casting. First there was the problem of bait. The rocks abounded in shell-fish, and it was short work to prise some off and bait up. I waded knee-deep and cast out. My baited hooks dropped in the sea fully ten yards from the shore, not the 200 yards of the man nextdoor. I reeled in and waded out chest-deep before casting, but again my line was distressingly in-shore. It was the best I could do, and I waded ashore and waited for the fish to bite.

In the next hour nothing happened , except that the other chap continued to catch two at a time, and his wife lifted smug eyes from her book and sneered at Betty sitting fishless nearby. My only achievement all morning was to catch a seagull which, as it flew past, got tangled in my line and gave me screaming hell to untangle it.

When we stopped for lunch, I approached my competitor to congratulate him, and, hopefully, to learn the secret of his success.“You need a surf rod,” he said. I assured him that I would get one next opportunity, and told him of the trouble I was having keeping the shellfish bait on the hook. “Cut up one of these. Salmon are cannibals,” he said, giving me one of his catches. I thanked him profusely, and expressed my awe at his success. “It’s a bit of a bore really. I’m into a school of tiddlers. I can’t get any decent sized fish,” he complained. I returned to Betty with my beautiful fish. She was inclined to take it home and cook it, but I assured her that, as bait, it would allow me to achieve wonders.

After lunch, I baited with salmon, waded up till my armpits and cast a few yards further. Back on shore I waited for a bite. Suddenly it came. Not a nibble, but one huge tug that almost pulled the rod from my hands. The reel screamed as the line took off. I grabbed the reel to try to stop the run, but the reel came adrift from the rod. I grabbed the line itself and began to pull the fish in hand over hand, walking backwards up the beach to keep tension on the line. My heart was pounding as I finally saw frenzied splashing in the wash as the fish came up onto the sand. It was a salmon, but not one of the school of tiddlers. It was a full-grown salmon of over seven pounds. The man nextdoor was furious, Betty was proud to be married to someone who could catch such a fish, and Izaac Walton himself was launched on a surf-fishing career.

By the time we tried camping at the mouth of the Snowy River at Marlo, I had bought a surf rod and all the related gear. We had also acquired a decent tent and all the folding furniture to set up a proper camp. While our campsite was pleasantly isolated and rustic, there was a long walk across sandhills to reach the river mouth, and when we got there, the fish were distressingly few. It was a good chance to practice tying knots, baiting hooks and casting with the new rod. As my reel was a side-cast, I spent many happy hours undoing tangles in my line. As the name implies, to cast you must turn the reel at right-angles to your rod. The line spools off the side of the reel. If there is any twist in the line, a half hitch is thrown round one of the runners on your rod, usually snapping the line, and allowing the hooks, bait and sinker to continue on a route of no-return towards Tasmania. Finally you learn to tie a battery of swivels into the line, and make a point of allowing all twists to unwind after each reel-in. Once you have mastered its idiosyncrasies, the side-cast reel is a lot of fun, and it will give you the joy of seeing your line splash down into blue water up to 200 yards from the shore. Somehow it always seems that is where the fish will be, although, in reality, they are more likely to be closer in, where the first waves are breaking and lifting up tempting morsels from the seabed.

Our most dramatic catch, came when camping at Mounts Bay, next to Apollo Bay. A low sandhill separates the Great Ocean Road from the beach. At that time, it was permissible to camp on the sandhill, which was pleasantly covered with grass and tea-tree on the road side. I got up at dawn one day, and cast out into a picture-book sea of blue.

I set the rod in its stand and sat on my creel to watch the dawn light spread over the water. The conditions were perfect and for half an hour or so, nothing disturbed the tranquility. Suddenly my reel screamed, and the rod bent forward as the line raced off the reel. With trembling hands I grabbed the rod, and applied some braking to the spinning reel. There was a marvelous tension on the line and in me too. About 200 yards out to sea, I saw a salmon leap out of the water and try to throw the hook. He was unsuccessful, and with heart pounding, I reeled in, taking care not to put too much pressure on the line but to keep it taut. When at last I had the line in, I found I had a salmon on each hook, each fully grown and weighing over 7 pounds.

I gutted and cleaned them, and carried them back to the tent for breakfast. Betty and the kids were thrilled. When we put them in the frying pan, we were disconcerted to find that they continued to fight, and flipped about in the pan. It was quite eerie. When they proved to be as tough as old boots to eat, a little of the glory rubbed off. Big fish are seldom the best eating, at least not the Australian salmon, which is really a kind of pike.

On a later holiday another big salmon was a joy to eat. That was in Lake Eucumbene in the Snowy Mountains. We had been driving around the lake, trying various fishing spots without success, and we were on our way home when we came to the Frying Pan Arm. The name was so attractive that we decided on one last attempt to catch some fish. In a grey evening I had a couple of casts into chilly water. Reeling in after the second cast, I became snagged. I moved about a bit until I felt the line give and reeled in cautiously. I seemed to have a bit of a log on the line, and I didn’t want a break.

It was not until the trace was in the shallows that I could see that the log was a monster rainbow trout! John and Catherine were watching and came to my aid with a net. Once the trout was netted and clear of the water, I got the hook out. Even in the net, it didn’t seem terribly excited. I think he was just a grand old gentleman who felt he had had a good innings, and was happy to go to the great frying pan in the sky. Betty cooked him, and this time there was no jumping around in the pan; he was great to eat.

Lake Eucumbene also provided one of those days that live in your memory as a foretaste of paradise. Eucumbene is not a natural lake but was created by man as the central storage area of the Snowy Mountains Scheme. Water that naturally ran down to the nearby coast was to be returned by tunnels to a central storage area and released, as required, to irrigate inland areas, and to generate electricity in the process. The lake was generously stocked with fish which thrived in the cold, clear mountain water. Near the main retaining wall of the lake is a little spot called Braemar. We were fishing there one Autumn day with clear blue skies and no wind. Knowing that fishing is too often a one sided affair, we had brought lamb chops for a barbecue lunch.

By late afternoon, we had had a good lunch, caught enough small rainbow trout to make life interesting, and we lay beside the sweet smelling coals of our gumtree fire, watching the thin wisp of white smoke head straight up to the heavens. We decided on a final couple of casts to round off a beautiful day, and hooked the best fish of the day, a lovely brown trout. Betty still had some foil, butter, salt and pepper. She made a parcel of the fish and settled it in the coals. As the light faded, the fish was cooked. We built up the fire and by its light had the most beautiful fish we had ever eaten.

John and Catherine always came on our camping trips, but on other trips, Betty and I sometimes went off on our own, and the kids stayed with my mother and sister. On one such occasion, we accompanied our friends, Jack and Marge Ricketts on a holiday to the Grampians. These ranges in western Victoria offer wonderful bush walks and spectacular scenery. A migrant named Zumstein had built a number of mud huts in the heart of the Grampians, and it was there we were to stay. While the mud had been painted a civilized white, door and window openings remained just that, and you were able to share your delights with the local fauna. Our hut had one bedroom and a large general purpose living and cooking area with a fireplace. There was a verandah on two sides, which sported a double bed, and a walled-off bathroom where you could stand in a bath tub and pour cold tank-water over yourself, should you feel so inclined. We tossed for the bedroom, and the Ricketts won. As we had seen several snakes during the day, we retired somewhat apprehensively that night on our open verandah. Our only illumination came from hurricane lanterns and torches.

We were wakened in the middle of the night by screams from the bedroom. A bat had found its way through the window and wakened Jack. He grabbed his torch to see what it was, and saw, not the bat, but its greatly enlarged shadow projected on the white walls as it flew back and forth through the torch’s beam. Both the Ricketts and the bat were in a high state of panic, before the bat finally went out the way it came and took with it the Ricketts illusion of Dracula.

John was a dayboy at Geelong Grammar School, and early in secondary education, all boys spent a year boarding at the school’s rustic branch, Timbertop, just out of Mansfield. To see the loved one undergoing this experience, parents had to find accomodation in the vicinity. We decided to camp on the banks of the Delatite River, close to the school. A friend, Joan Hannah, also had a son at Timbertop. Her husband was a mining engineer in India, so she came with us. The camp was quite idyllic by the bank of the stream. When it was time for ablutions, you stripped off and availed yourself of the plentiful running water. With due modesty, Betty and Joan moved away from the camp before taking the plunge. As they frolicked in the water, there was an addition to the rippling of the water and the song of the birds : voices were heard, as a group of fly-fishermen made their way up stream in search of trout. They rounded the bend and were startled to see two oversized mermaids frozen in shock. They beat a decent retreat, and Betty and Joan stuck to dry-cleaning for the rest of our stay.

In Easter 1964, when John was 13 and Cathy 11, we had a memorable camp in the Grampians at Flat Rock Crossing. A large group of friends was to convene there for bush walking, campfires and good company. As we drove to the site in perfect weather, we shared our dirt road with a flock of emus. Kangaroos spent the nights exploring the camp site, dropping faeces as calling cards to let visitors know who had prior claim. Easter always provides a full moon as though by magic, and beneath it our songs around the campfire had a special quality because a few days later we were to sail off to Europe on the big adventure of my ABC posting.

Camping in Europe was a much more organised affair than in Australia. At home we always camped in the native bush, but in Europe it was all commercial sites. Australian commercial campsites tended to be in useless land adjacent to a land fill or garbage dump. The European equivalent came with a star grading system, and coded signs for beauty of outlook and amenities. Even in big cities such as Rome, our campsite was in a lushly grassed pine plantation with a great outlook. In Florence we were in an olive grove overlooking the Arno and the city. In Sorrento, it was a terraced orange grove where you could lie on your bed and look out across the Bay of Naples to Capri. All locations had excellent facilities and stores; most had restaurants.

The only time we camped in difficult circumstances was in the Dolomites at Cortina D’Ampetso. It was early spring and the site had only just opened. There was no-one else there, so we had the pick of the sites. We had our tent up before we identified the white piles dotting the area as swept snow. That night the temperature plummetted. Wrapped in everything we had, we were still bitterly cold. Foraging in the facilities building, produced an old ironing blanket, and we took that to augment our insulation. We spent the night thinking of Scott and the Antarctic, and wondering if one of us should do an Oates.

When we returned to Australia, we tried out our European gear in Western Australia. The frame tent, of which we were very proud, could be erected in about 10 minutes. It had a verandah and was insect and water proof. The tent went missing on the move across to the Eastern States, and we were sad to see it go, but by that time we had all got a bit old for camping anyway.

We had earlier explored an alternative to camping, getting a towbar fitted to the Customline and hiring a caravan. Living in Geelong, I had relatives in New South Wales, and a caravan was a good way of getting to them without imposing unduly on their hospitality on arrival or on our accommodation budget en route. We had a few Victorian holidays to develop some expertise in towing and backing, before venturing on holidays interstate.

Perhaps our first major caravan holiday was up to Newcastle to visit my brother, Donald, and his wife, as well as my mother and sister in Sydney. On our way back, we came via the Snowy Mountains and joined a car convoy tour of the extensive hydro-electric works then in progress. After the tour, we came home, with the caravan behind, via Cooma, Adaminaby, Kiandra, and Cabramurra, Australia’s highest town. It was a very tortuous road with some steep grades. The climb up from the Tumut Ponds Dam was really a bit much with a caravan. The cooling system of the Customline was never its best feature, and the car was boiling about half way up the mountain. We didn’t dare to stop, as there was nowhere to pull over. Finally with the temperature needle anchored in the red, we finally came to a spot wide enough to get off the road, and gave the engine a chance to cool.

When we came out of the mountains, we discovered the little Upper Murray Valley town of Corryong, which was to become our overnight stop between Melbourne and Sydney for many years. Caravans are no longer our thing, but we still stop overnight in Corryong on a route between the two big cities which allows you to feel the taste of the country. From Geelong we follow good secondary roads to Bacchus Marsh, Gisborne, Romsey and Lancefield. Then it is through the bush to Pyalong and Seymore where we join the Hume Highway to Benalla. There, we head off on back roads again to Moyhu, Oxley, Millawa, Everton, Beechworth, and Yackandanda. We join the Kiewa Valley for a short distance before leaving it for Tangambalanga and then the Murray Valley highway, which takes us past Tallangatta to Shelley and Corryong, where we spend the night.

In summer, we go from Corryong via Cabramurra, Kiandra, Cooma and Queabeyan, rejoining the Hume Highway at Goulburn. In winter, to avoid the snow, the route from Corryong is via Towong, Tumbarumba, Tumut and Brundle, before rejoining the Hume at Gundagai.

In the 50’s and early 60’s, our winter holidays were at Wandiligong, a little village near Bright in the foothills of the alps. Wandiligong had been built on gold, and for a few years in the 1870’s had delusions of grandeur. The Library and the School of Arts date from those days in their solid brick construction. Today the town has a past, but no future except as a holiday area. There is still a small amount of alluvial gold mining, but the pits are all closed.

There were two stores when we first went there, facing eachother across the road through the town. On one side, the Bennetts, and on the other, the Greys. Both stores supplemented their miniscule trading with holiday accommodation. We started with the Bennetts. Coral Bennett was, and is, a live wire. A dedicated communist, she maintained the first wall-newspaper I had ever seen. All issues of concern to her were documented in cuttings pinned to the wall, and you could only marvel at the breadth of her concerns. Her husband ran a rustic school camp on the outskirts of Bright.

When she was unable to accommodate us one September, we stayed with the Greys, and registered a permanent black mark with the Bennetts. The Grey’s claim to fame was a budgerigar. Mrs Grey had taught Budgie Grey to talk. She wrote a brief interview, to fit Budgie Grey’s limited conversation, and arranged for the local radio station to interview him on the breakfast session. We didn’t hear the original broadcast, but we heard the tape recording each time we stayed with the Greys.

From Wandiligong it is about an hour’s drive to the top of the local mountain, Mount Buffalo, and in September there was still enough snow for tobogganing. Initially I made a toboggan, but it was heavy and slow moving. One of our cinecameramen at work was a Swiss and he lent us a beautiful little Swiss toboggan. It was light as a feather, and would carry the two children together at a rattling pace down the slopes. At that time most families used sheets of plastic as toboggans, so we were really state of the art. Nevertheless I managed to shame the family by my personal snow gear. In September the snow was often quite deep but slushy, and walking around after the kids left me with wet feet and trousers. I solved the problem with plastic garbage bags which I wore on each leg, suitably laced over my feet and pants. It was undeniably effective, but forced Betty and the kids to pretend that the strange man was no relative of theirs.

Buffalo is a beautiful mountain. It is not particularly high, but it rises sheer out of the plains with flanks of lush vegetation, and an extensive and attractive summit rich in waterways, wildlife and walks. It was pioneered, most improbably, by Victorian Railways who built an extensive chalet on the summit in the early 1900’s. Until quite recently guests at the chalet had to buy railway-type tickets for meals and activities.

Apart from Buffalo, gold fossicking was the favourite activity. There was plenty of fool’s gold in the quartz on the mullock heaps, and happy hours could be spent in the sun accumulating fortunes which had everything except exchange value.

One day on each visit to Wandiligong was spent on the trip to Falls Creek, and on each such trip, Cathy got car sick. The road at first was fine as it ran along the Ovens valley floor towards Harrietville, but once we turned off onto the road to Towonga Gap, we were in trouble. The road had a good gravel surface, but it was narrow and wound up through dense eucalypt forest to the Gap. Cathy handled her sickness with stoicism, and it was not until we stopped, got out of the car and saw the telltale technicolour streaks on our rear fender that we realised yet again what a gem of a daughter we had.

The stop was a welcome break for all of us, and the view is spectacular. Below, the Kiewa River runs through its lush valley, and on its far side, Mount Bogong towers to its rounded cap, the highest spot in Victoria. The run down into the Kiewa Valley was still windey, but shorter. It was followed by a welcome flat stretch to Mount Beauty township, before the long climb up the valley to the snowfields of Falls Creek. Here there was deep snow, putting Buffalo to shame, and compensating Cathy for the drive up and fortifying her for the return trip.

When we moved to Sydney in 1969, we used to take summer holidays at Southwest Rocks on the New South Wales north coast. Blair’s Travel Guide refers to it as a perfect beach resort, and for us it was a joy. About 500 kilometers north of Sydney, near the mouth of the Macleay River, it boasted an apartment block that should never have been approved for erection. It was located on a low headland jutting out into the Pacific Ocean. On one side was Horseshoe Bay, as good a surf beach as you were ever likely to find, and on the other, the mouth of the Back Creek. Beyond it, the Back Beach swept round to the mouth of the Macleay River.

It was a great spot to fish, and a 50 yard walk took you to a rocky point to catch fish for breakfast. The units in the apartment block had no pretensions, but were modern, well-equipped and all rooms had superb views of the coastline. Back from the little township, on the road leading in, there was a farm with the intriguing name of “Kum Ava Luk”. We assumed that some exotic Asian was making his way in our wide brown land, but when we entered and bought the lovely organically grown food on sale, we discovered that the owner was an ex prison-warder, growing vegetables as a source of retirement income. The exotic name was a phonetic invitation “to come have a look”. We took great delight in having our purchases pulled out of the ground before our eyes.

Another delight was a deluded local fruiterer who believed that wrinkled passion fruit were past their prime, and had to be sold cheap. They were so gorgeous that we asked for confirmation that they were locally grown. They came from the market in Sydney.

South of Horseshoe Bay was the Front Beach, which boasted the wreck of a car-ferry from Newcastle. It had been sold to a scrap-merchant from Hong Kong, and was being towed there when heavy seas caused the towline to break, and the ferry was washed up on the beach. It was half buried in the sand at a 45 degree angle. A walk through it was a wonderfully disorientating experience with walls and ceilings at disconcerting variance with the floor of beach sand.

At the other end of Front Beach was Trial Bay Goal. Now largely a ruin, it was built late in the 19th century as an exercise in prison reform. Prisoners, towards the end of their sentences, were given the chance to work at Trial Bay and learn a trade. They built their gaol, and a sea wall for a local harbour. In World War I, it was used to house German internees. Today it is an historical monument and tourist attraction, but it retains an aura of romance and offers great sea views.

If ever the fish were not biting during the day, you could always catch sharks at night off the rocks. Three and four foot gummy sharks were fun to reel in, but were a problem thereafter. Their leather skins laughed at any attempt to cut them with a knife, and even if you managed to hack off steaks by the light of a torch on slippery rocks, the results proved dry and tough to eat. In Victoria, gummy shark flesh is sold as “flake”, and is a tender joy to eat. I guess that we just didn’t know how to do it.

Not long after we discovered Southwest Rocks John and Cathy both moved out into student digs, and our family holidays were at an end. They were both at Sydney University, John doing computer science, and Cathy dentistry. Occasionally, they would join us again for holidays, but increasingly they were caught up in their own lives. We had been very lucky to share so much of our lives with two such remarkable people.

A summer highlight for us each year was a trip from Sydney to Geelong to visit Betty’s family at Xmas. There was a reciprocal trip from the family most Easters. Peg and Noel Heath discovered Mollymook, near Ulladulla on the New South Wales south coast, and started spending Easters there. We drove down from Sydney to join them. There was a motel right on the surf beach, and a golf club with a good restaurant only 50 yards up the road. It was a short drive to Ulladulla, which was a centre for Italian fishermen. Local restaurants were excellent, and the whole area most picturesque. A surf before breakfast, and days of surf fishing in the autumn sunshine made life a joy.

About this time, we had a holiday in New Zealand with Betty’s sister, Dorothy, and her husband, Max Bennett. It was for three weeks over Xmas, and as we were all a bit weary from a year’s toil, we decided that the first half of the tour, the South Island, would be by coach but we would hire a self-drive car for the North Island. We flew to Christchurch, and had a conducted tour of the South Island’s incredible sights. After the broad flat acres of Australia, New Zealand’s green valleys and towering mountains were eye-openers. We sailed up Milford Sound, helicoptered and clambered over the Franz Joseph and Fox glaciers, walked through fields of wild lupins below the snowclad peaks of Mount Cook, and cable-car-ed to the winter sports area above Queenstown. Our only disappointment came with wine at dinner one night. I ordered a carafe of McWilliams red to go with a roast; McWilliams was a well-known Australian vigneron. The wine turned out to be a local product and was undrinkable. We found a reasonable dry white to stay with for the rest of our trip. That was thirty years ago. Now, New Zealand makes the world’s best sauvignon blancs in the Marlborough area of the South Island, and some great reds as well, but, if the reds existed in 1974, we never found them. We sailed past the Marlborough area in our ferry trip from Picton, up Tasman Bay and across Cook Strait to Wellington and the North Island.

When we picked up our car in Wellington, we discovered that I had left my driver’s licence at home. Consequently, Max had to do all the driving, until he had a funny turn on a mountain road due to some anomaly in his blood-pressure medication, and Betty had to take over. The North Island is only marginally less spectacular than the South Island, with thermal areas the highlight. The whole countryside around Rotorua is a tourist’s delight with lakes of boiling mud, giant geysers and active volcanoes. While we were there, one of them put on an eruption for our benefit. Further north the Bay of Islands gave us a chance to see what fishing should be like; the sea so full of fish that you could almost walk on them. We made it to the northernmost tip at Cape Rienga, so we could claim to have covered New Zealand from bottom to top. Their tourist board used to run a television advertisement showing scenes of what appeared to be Norway, Switzerland and Europe generally, before disclosing that all the places shown were in New Zealand. I doubt if any country can boast a greater diversity of wonderful sights. It was a great trip.

Early in 1975, Ken Watts, the Head of Television, was appointed Chairman of the Australian Film Commission. Graham White moved up to take his place, and I became Controller of Television Programmes. Looking back all those years ago, my recollections are largely of the last quarter of the year, when the Governor General sacked the Prime Minister, and all hell broke loose. In the calm before the storm, I remember deciding that we should establish Sunday night’s television as “quality time”. The commercial channels were slugging it out with movies, and nothing we could mount would win us a big audience. It seemed sensible to forget about ratings and programme only shows of outstanding quality.

As the political climate heated up, Current Affairs became more and more the focal point of my existence. It had long been contended that the ABC was biased to the Left. This was an inevitable charge during the long period of Liberal government, when necessary questioning of the government was seen as Left wing. When Labour came to power, and funding for the national broadcaster was substantially increased, there was initially some reluctance to bite the hand that fed, and this reinforced the perception of the ABC as Leftist. Once Labour had been in power for some time, it too became critical of the ABC, although the bias was no longer seen as Left wing.

In any stable society, the government is the most powerful force in the land. In a democracy, the government, elected by the people, is the one which the people believe promises to govern in a way most beneficial to longterm public well-being. Because the government is necessarily elected for a number of years, it is desirable during its lifetime, for the electors to be informed of progress in meeting promised objectives. The government can be relied on to publicise progress, and equally to conceal or minimise its shortcomings. The public depends on the media to keep it informed of real progress or the lack of it. The commercial media are owned by big business, whose survival is dependent mass public endorsement, and on the government providing a climate favourable to their existence. Criticism of the government, therefore, is not conducive to their commercial well-being. Although the commercial media must be seen as reasonably impartial reporters to retain public acceptance, the public has no means of checking the commercial media’s performance or the government’s progress unless there is an element of the media which is free from commercial interests.The public broadcasting network provides this necessary yardstick against which the government and the commercial media can be measured.

Public broadcasting’s independence tends to attract employees who are unsympathetic to a commercial environment, and the balance of staff will therefore be Leftish. There are two factors which must counter-balance this inevitable Leftish weighting: one is a sense of professional responsibility as broadcasters, and the other is the Commission itself, which is the ultimate authority for public broadcasting.

Professional responsibility is something which ABC Management must monitor and nourish, rewarding achievements and punishing lapses. The Commission must judge Management’s performance in this, and do for Management what Management does for staff. Government, in turn, must monitor the performance of the Commission, whose members it appoints. Neither the Commission nor the Government should be involved directly in rewarding or reprimanding staff.

There will inevitably be occasions when the political climate is such that professional responsibility is overcome by passionate beliefs, as in the dismissal of the Whitlam government and its consequences. Such lapses are regrettable, but they are the price we must pay for all the other occasions, when passionate belief sustains reporters in efforts to ferret out truth from authoritative lies and misrepresentations, with no personal benefit save the sense of a professional job well done.

Most of the people working for the ABC, see themselves as public servants, trying in their own ways to improve the public lot, but conscious of the diversity of interests and aspirations in that public. Political parties, with the primary objective of serving special interests, business, agriculture or labour unions, inevitably will find themselves in opposition to the ABC some of the time.

After Whitlam’s dismissal in late 1975, the subsequent election campaign was a nightmare for the ABC. The then head of Current Affairs, Derek White, was certainly no Leftie. He had been given the Federal appointment in recognition of his performance in Queensland, and in an effort to dampen down passions which were diluting professionalism. Many, probably most, of his staff were outraged at the dismissal and wanted Labour to win the ensuing election.

ABC election coverage is governed by operational rules to ensure that bias is avoided, but rules without professional responsibility are ineffective. In the edition of “Four Corners” to go to air on the Monday before the fateful Saturday poll, air time was divided equally between Whitlam and Fraser as required by rule, and the campaign of each was covered by a camera team with the same facilities. In the “balanced” coverage that went to air, Whitlam was seen with enthusiastic crowds at all times, while Fraser was interviewed while in a chair being made-up. Much of the Fraser footage was of Phillip Lynch, his deputy, recording a TV commercial in which the slogan “You can trust the Liberals” was the feature. The Four Corners interview with Lynch included several takes of this being said. The effect was the same as when Mark Antony repeatedly asserted that Brutus was an honourable man.

On the day following “Four Corners” transmission, Fraser recorded his final election address in the ABC’s Melbourne studios. He had seen “Four Corners” and asked the ABC’s Melbourne producer to tell Duckmanton that, if Fraser won the election, he would gut the ABC. Fraser had every right to be furious. In theory he should have directed his ire at the Commission, not the Management, but at that time the Commissioners were almost all Labour appointees, and he would have regarded them with suspicion at best.

Fraser lived up to his threat. He changed the membership of the Commission, appointed a new chairman, Sir Henry Bland, and imposed major cuts in funding. The new Chairman had an impressively draconian record with government agencies, and he set about the ABC as might be expected. He quickly established that it was his intention to exercise direct and personal control of what went to air. He surprised staff by touring the organisation in the company of friends and relatives, and demonstrating his power in front of them. Relations with staff at all levels sank to an all-time low, and it was only a matter of time before a major confrontation occurred.

It came over a worthless situation comedy, “Alvin Purple”, which was based on a couple of films about the sex exploits of a witless innocent. The ABC had made the short television Light Entertainment series before I was appointed Controller of Television Programmes. It had not gone to air when produced because of a legal dispute over rights. This had now been resolved, and the series was programmed. Bland was disturbed by promotional trailers and by press publicity. He ordered a screening for the Commission. The Commission was neither impressed nor unduly concerned, and asked that some minor cuts be made before the programmes went to air. This was an unprecedented act by the Commission, but the particular case was so trivial that we made the cuts, over violent objections from the producer, Maurie Murphy. The show went to air a week late.

After seeing the show on air, Bland was not satisfied with the cuts, and ordered that transmission of the rest of the series be suspended until the remaining episodes had been viewed and approved by the Commission at its next meeting. At this stage all hell broke loose. From Management’s point of view, the Commission was intruding into the daily operations of the organisation in an unacceptable fashion, and to Staff it was a gross infringement of freedom of expression by a Chairman who had already forfeited both their respect and loyalty. When Management, under protest, suspended the screening, Staff refused to air the replacement programme, and the screen was blank for half an hour.

Duckmanton arranged a viewing for the Chairman with the Assistant General Manager, Clem Semmler, the Head of Television, Graham White, me as Controller of Television Programmes, and Alan Morris, Director of Light Entertainment. Apart from the Chairman, we were agreed that the programme was no great shakes, but fundamental principles were at stake, and suspension would do far more damage than transmission. Management made a submission to this effect to the full Commission, and the Commission agreed to transmission, to the fury of its Chairman. This was the beginning of an undeclared war that ultimately lead Bland to resign, when Malcolm Fraser, who had appointed him, refused to back him.

In the middle of 1976, Tal Duckmanton told me that he had been approached to see if I would be interested in becoming the General Manager of the Australia Council. This was another statutory authority like the ABC, with responsibility for handling the Federal Government’s funding of the Arts. As the ABC was going through such a rough patch, my inclination was to stay and help the organisation which I had served for twenty years. I was a little aggrieved that Tal did not plead with me to stay. However I am grateful that he didn’t, in the light of history, both mine and the ABC’s.

Chapter Thirteen : AUSTRALIA COUNCIL 1977

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Age announcement 1 Dec 1976

The Australia Council was established after World War 2 on the initiative of Nugget Coombes, who was its first Chairman. The Council members were the Chairmen of its constituent art-form Boards: Literature, Music, Theatre, Visual Arts, Aboriginal Arts, Crafts, and Community Arts, plus a few members appointed for their individual expertise in related fields. The Chief Executive Officer was Jean Battersby. The Council achieved much for the arts in Australia, but, inevitably, ran into criticism, especially from unsuccessful applicants for Commonwealth funds. While the level of funding grew, applause for achievements stifled criticisms, but in an era of reduced Federal funding, criticism of the Council escalated.

The art-form Boards decided which applications should be supported. Board members were respected practitioners in their particular art forms, and were appointed for three year terms. They made informed decisions on the relative merits of applications. To avoid Boards becoming captive to cliques, initial appointments were not extended. This system worked well at first, but, as the years went by, the most outstanding practitioners had served their time on Boards, and a dilution of expertise in membership occurred. With no expansion in funds for distribution, new projects could only be funded by cuts in previous support. This alienated communities which had previously been loyal supporters of the Council.

As the senior staff member, Jean Battersby, who had first become the object of applause for achievements, now became the target for criticism. With her wide knowledge of the arts world, she was, at times, critical of the decisions she had to implement. If Council or Boards made decisions with which she did not agree, Jean would sometimes try to find ways around them, and this lost her support within the Council.

In the face of mounting criticism, both inside and outside the Council, the Government decided to solve the problems by amending the Australia Council Act to create a new position of General Manager to run Council affairs. This was the job I was offered late in 1976. I was unaware of the above background at the time.

I was summoned to Canberra to meet Tony Staley, the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in the Arts. This meeting was followed by another with Tony and John Menadue, head of the Prime Minister’s Department, and finally by a meeting with both of them and the Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser. Tony Staley was informal and friendly, John Menadue was formal and friendly, and Malcolm Fraser was formal and silent. He was impressively aloof, and could have been one of the Easter Island sculptures he resembled, for all he contributed to the conversation. I answered Dorothy Dix questions from John and Tony as engagingly as I could, and we left the Prime Ministerial presence.

Tony said it had gone well, and that I would have to come up to Canberra again in a few days time for the formal meeting with the Governor General. The appointment was by the Executive Council, which meant that it had to be by the representatives of the elected government and the Queen, acting in concert. In due course, I returned to Canberra and Tony took me to Yarralumla where we met the then Governor General, Zelman Cowen. I was formally appointed General Manager of the Australia Council for a seven year term to begin in January 1977 and to end when I turned 60 in 1984.

Although I had over twenty years experience working in what was acronomically known as a QANGO - (quasi- autonomous national government organisation) - there had always been people above me to handle relations with the Minister and the Secretary of the relevant Department. I knew that each QANGO had formal operational independence established in its founding Act of Parliament, but I had not realised that this still had to be achieved in practice. I had a lesson in my first few weeks with the Council.

The Minister, Tony Staley, rang me within days of my taking up duty about a friend of his who was dedicated to the Arts, and published an arts periodical. It was having a battle to break even and he had applied to the Australia Council for a modest grant to allow him to continue the good work. Could I fix it for him.

It was only a few thousand dollars and a worthy cause, so I said “yes”. I located the application, and found out that it had to be approved by Council. I had a suitable recommendation prepared, and placed it on the Agenda of my first Council meeting. Discussion at the meeting was perfunctory at first, and approval, without fuss, seemed imminent. Then one member, Wally Curran, attacked the proposal. He knew of the periodical and its publisher, and had no time for either.

Wally was the Secretary of the Meatworkers Union, and was a formidable champion of the Left with little sympathy for the present conservative government, or the more genteel arts which the periodical supported. To my horror, Wally’s persuasiveness won the day, and the application was rejected. As I had told the Minister that I would fix it, I was on a spot. I told Council what I had done in ignorance, exceeding my authority in what I thought had been the best interests of the Council. There was a pregnant pause before Wally Curran declared that Council couldn’t make a monkey of its new General Manager at his first meeting, and proposed that the grant be approved. To my relief and education, it was approved, and I never again gave any assurance in advance of what Council would do.

Council’s offices were in an imposing modern high-rise at North Sydney. The area became increasingly fashionable for big business and, over the years, there were moves to shift us to humbler premises more in keeping with the general poverty of our clients. I resisted such moves as strenuously as I could. I was anxious for the Commonwealth’s art funding agency to reflect the importance of the industry, rather than years of neglect. Moving us to humbler quarters would do nothing for our clients, and increase difficulties in having the arts taken seriously. I am proud of the fact that we stayed at North Sydney for the full term of my contract, although the offices were moved to the slums of Redfern, at enormous expense, after I retired.

One on-going problem was Jean Battersby. She had been the Council’s Chief Executive Officer since its creation. In accepting the appointment as General Manager, I asked Tony Staley what was to be done with Jean, now that she was no longer the chief executive officer. Tony said that the Government didn’t want any fuss, and that I should just give her an office and some nominal duties to keep up appearances. I should have made a stand and demanded that she be shifted to another department, but in my innocence I went along with his request.

Jean was a very able officer who knew the arts scene intimately, but she polarised all who came in contact with her. The position of General Manager was created because there was greater concentration at the negative pole than at the positive one. My early days in the office were largely spent in sorting out the negatives and positives amongst the staff and members of the Council and Boards. It was soon apparent that I had nothing to fear from any group of Jean supporters, but Jean herself was another matter. We had to find a working relationship, and this was an insoluble problem. I tried, and I believe Jean tried, but the best we could manage was an armed truce. I had taken her job and the public image that went with it. I let her retain the title of Chief Executive Officer and a Secretary to go with it, but her old office was so obviously the boss’s that I had to evict her to more modest accommodation. Whenever any matter arose which was self-contained and without potential controversy, I referred it to Jean. She, in return, avoided any overt clashes, though she would not have been human if she did not occasionally rock the boat a bit. She maintained good relations with some key people in Departmental and Government ranks and managed at times to influence the affairs of Council, as she had in the past.

The staff generally were dedicated and competent people, managing an involved funding operation with efficiency and integrity. One staff member had echoes of the ABC. When I had been in the ABC’s European office, the ABC’s American representative had been Charles Buttrose, father of the redoutable Ita. Charles had accepted a retirement job in Jean Battersby’s office, and I was lucky to inherit him in my new position. I had always admired Charles’s dogmatism and certainty. He had a journalist’s ability to ferret out information, and was great company with an inexhaustable fund of stories. I remember one about the engagement of Sutherland and Bonyng for the Metropolitan Opera by manager Byng. Asked why he engaged Bonyng to conduct with Sutherland, he replied that if you wanted the meat, you had to pay for the bones. Whenever I had a problem, I liked to try it out on Charles. I wouldn’t necessarily adopt his solution, but it was always helpful to have his clear-cut view, putting other solutions in perspective.

Council’s biggest problem came from the membership of the Boards. The members were drawn from the arts community and they were desperately anxious to use their membership to make a difference to the circumstances of their particular area of the arts. Without an expanding budget, new projects could only be undertaken at the expense of existing ones. This problem was not so obvious when most of the money went to self-contained applications from individuals, but, over the years, grant money was increasingly provided as operating funds for worthwhile organisations. This was true for all Boards, but most noticeably in the performing arts areas of drama, dance and music.

By the time I joined the Council, the bulk of funds were granted to the “dinosaurs”: the Australian Opera, the Australian Ballet, the Elizabethan Theatre Trust ( to provide major pit orchestras in Sydney and Melbourne ), and major drama companies in Sydney and Melbourne. Even such bastions of individual artists as the Visual Arts and Crafts Boards increasingly delegated their funds to independent umbrella organisations to operate in their respective areas. The dinosaurs believed that they had a right at least to funding indexed against inflation, but as the funds of Council itself were declining in real terms, this was possible only if their share of Council funds constantly increased.

To overcome the problem, Council encouraged the dinosaurs to augment their funds by corporate sponsorship, operational economies or by higher seat prices for their shows. Each of these initiatives, while reasonable on the surface, had the potential to undermine fundamental Council objectives : corporate sponsors wanted as big a bang for their bucks as possible, so they tended to support the most popular arts. This was contrary to a basic purpose of Council arts funding, to popularise the less popular arts. Operational economies tended to promote the avoidance of risky expenditure, while a central function of Council was to encourage the taking of worthwhile risks. Higher seat prices meant that the arts became increasingly beyond the means of the community at large, whose interests the Council was established to serve.

The dinosaurs understandably used the media to put pressure on Council to maintain or increase their grants, and, to this end, they drew attention to innovative grants to individual artists at the outer edge of the funding spectrum in Visual Arts, Crafts, Literature or Community Arts. The media happily picked up and ran with stories of public money being spent on ”outrageous self-indulgence”. Only the Aboriginal Arts Board was free from such attack, not because it avoided exotic activity, but because there was a general and growing belief that our community’s record with our indigenous people was so bad that we had to walk very carefully. I was to discover that any shortage in public criticism of Aboriginal Arts Board’s affairs was more than compensated for by the dissent within its own community.

Despite the tensions generated by the above problems, there were many attractions to being Council’s General Manager in the 1970’s. The late seventies and early eighties were a great time in Sydney. In the 1960’s London had “swung” to a burst of creativity which shook the world, and the 1970’s were a similar time for Australia, and for Sydney in particular. Whitlam had been ousted as Prime Minister at the end of 1972, but his influence lived on in an exuberant sense of national optimism, and in a belief that great things were possible.

In theatre, it was the time of Nimrod where John Bell and Richard Wherrett brought their great talents to fruition in an extraordinary run of shows which realised to the full everything the Australia Council was trying to achieve in the theatre. Creative originality was applied, night after night, to old and new material, giving it relevance to enchanted audiences. At The Old Tote Theatre, Robert Quentin and Robin Lovejoy similarly provided a remarkably sustained output, with the aid of an astonishing array of acting talent, such as Mel Gibson and Judy Davis who graduated from the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) under John Clarke and Elizabeth Butcher. As a longtime lover of the theatre, I found no hardship in spending three or four nights a week as an invited guest at such performances.

Music could be enjoyed in the recently completed Opera House where standards of performance matched the sensational venue. In dance, Graeme Murphy and his Sydney Dance Company were a brilliant contempory contrast to the elegant traditionalism of The Australian Ballet.

All these artistic achievements came in spite of a progressive diminution in the Commonwealth Government’s funding for the Arts in real terms, and the Australia Council’s delight in them was tempered by acute frustration at not having the funds to give them the support they meritted.

Towards the end of my first year at Council, I decided that I had better acquire some awareness of the arts funding elsewhere if I was to be an effective advocate for the Arts. I arranged a six week world tour to cover government involvement in the arts in the other English-speaking countries of United Kingdom, Canada and USA. The tour also included Sweden, where a much admired Cultural Policy provided heavy support for all arts. I wanted to study differences in support strategies; for depressed inner city areas, and for the remoter countryside as well as for major metropolitan areas. With both our children now independent agents, Betty was able to accompany me (at our expense).

We arrived in London in late October 1977, and called at the British Council which had arranged my contacts in U.K. They did a great job, in spite of an understandable preoccupation with their own future; they had recently been the subject of a major review by a government that was at best apathetic to the British Council and its role of maintaining world admiration for the English language and its country of origin. As it turned out, the Council survived the review’s adverse recommendations and emerged largely unscathed from the report. For me, the Council was civilisation personified. At every point, they went out of their way to anticipate and realise my every wish.

In Australia, we were undergoing a major change of direction towards fostering creative arts in local communities. With static funding from our Government, this meant a redirection of funds away from support of established arts professionals. While the British Council generally agreed that everyone had creative potential, it did not regard the fostering of such potential as something on which they should spend money. This was seen as the responsibility of departments of Education or Local Government rather than of a body concerned with the highest aspirations and achievements of the human spirit. Despite their general indifference to community arts, the British Council arranged for me to visit the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, where there was a shining example of how the arts could involve and enrich a whole community.

Tower Hamlets was an area of some 40 square miles of London’s East End, home to some 160,000 people, and containing the major part of London’s docks area, including the Isle of Dogs. After the Blitz in World War II, the bulk of the facilities for London’s shipping was transferred nearer to the sea at Tilbury, and, in 1977, the old docks area was largely idle, with one of Britain’s highest rates of unemployment.

Early in the 1970’s Thames Television offered over 10,000 pounds for some sort of artistic activity in the Borough. The local government arts council put forward a plan, but the local residents rose in opposition and proposed instead the establishment of a bookshop and literature centre in an area where there was no bookshop for five miles in any direction. This proposal won the Thames grant, and the recipients formed a company limited by guarantee to administer the project. The bookshop was established, and local government was so impressed that it swung in behind it and appointed a full-time arts and recreation officer on the strength of the initiative.

To mobilise local support for the arts, a month long festival was mounted called The Big Show. This covered a full range of arts activities, all locally based and heavily locally supported. The bookshop became a centre of community activity, and carried an impressive array of locally published works as well as paperbacks of acknowledged classics and popular literature of all kinds. The local publications were by far the best received. Written by locals about local issues, they had an immediacy and relevance to daily living. The resultant climate generated a wide range of inovations, from an art gallery and theatre company to an urban farm on reclaimed dockland, where city locals could grow crops and raise farm animals. While Tower Hamlets offered a great example of what joint funding of the arts could achieve locally, our next visit provided an equally effective example of joint funding’s problems.

The Arts Council of Great Britain worked through a network of regional arts associations and we went to Manchester to meet one of them, the Northwest Arts Association. Although funding for this body came 70% from the Arts Council of Great Britain, and only 30% from local government, local government representation on the governing body was allowed to dominate to attract local government support. Recent local government elections had seen a landslide to the conservatives, whose representatives on the Arts Association proceeded to delete from funding all arts activities other than the politely conventional. This was contrary to the purpose of the principal funder, the Arts Council, but its minority role in the governing body made it powerless to prevent its money from being spent against its wishes.

In another region, with the Lincoln/Humberside Arts Council, we saw a much happier situation. Again there was a council with members appointed by the local government, but it was a very large body which met infrequently. Its appointed Director who managed its affairs was also responsible for the expenditure of all the funds from the Arts Council of Great Britain. He would confer with individual local governments, and enter into partnerships with them for specific projects to be jointly funded, but the Director ensured that all funds from the national body were spent in line with its directions. The system seemed to work well. They were very proud of their local touring theatre company, and invited Betty and myself to sit in on the final rehearsal for their next attraction to tour. It was “A Day in the Life of Joe Egg”. We were the only audience in a rehearsal room for a first class performance of a very moving play. The small professional company mounted a play every six weeks, with two weeks rehearsal and four weeks to tour the region. Performances could be booked by local entrepreneurs for a modest all-inclusive fee, and made availble to the public free of charge or at a cost determined by the local entrepreneur.

The Arts Council of Scotland received its funds as a block from the Arts Council of Great Britain, but operated independently. It avoided creating any network of regional Arts Councils, opting to deal directly with the regional councils of local government. Limited inspections of Scottish operations did not give much indication of a thriving system.

Back in London, we made a round of thanks, and, before leaving for Sweden, had the good fortune to see a very good performance by Grace Bumbry at Covent Garden in the title role of Strauss’s opera “Salome”. She was much more convincing than Marilyn Richardson in the Australian Opera production, although I thought Tom Lingwood’s Australian decor was superior.

We had never been to Sweden, and on arriving at Stockholm’s airport hopped into a cab and gave the address of out hotel. After about 20 minute’s travel we were still in the countryside, and realised that we were having the longest taxi trip of our lives. The airport is miles out in the country, because Stockholm is built on a nest of small islands, and you have to go a long way out to find enough room for a Jumbo to land.

When we finally made it to the hotel, it was charming. The Reisen was only a stone’s throw from the palace, in the old town. We loved the cobbled streets, with the rushing waters of the Baltic providing a whiff of ice-cold salt every time you crossed from one island to another. The hotel began my love affair with yoghurt. I had it on my cereal each morning, followed by scrambled eggs, and reindeer bacon which seems,sadly, to have remained unique to Sweden.

Of all countries, Sweden was reputed to take the Arts most seriously. Their long dark winter shut the population indoors for so much of their lives that there was a big incentive for activity of the mind to compensate for bodily restriction. Rather than focus on central planning for the general good, the organisation of government gave maximum scope for local initiative. On paper it seemed a great idea, and I was eager to see how it worked out in practice.

One prime example of success was in the satellite village of Sodertalje, the main centre for the manufacture of Saab and Scania vehicles. Facilities and amenities were on a mind-blowing scale. Here, as elsewhere, there was great concentration on the written word, not only in libraries but in local publication of local works. This encouragement of personal creativity seemed to work extremely well, but organised culture was less successful.

We went to Stockholm’s Royal Opera for a performance of Verdi’s “A Masked Ball”. It was a real public service job in the worst sense, an orchestra and cast enjoying penalty rates for a night’s work in decor inadequately maintained and well past its use-by date. We had a further example in a drama company in Lulea, some 600 miles north of Stockholm, on the edge of the Arctic Circle. Here a regional theatre company was generously funded, but after two successive appointments of bad Directors for three years each, the situation was disastrous. The actors were thoroughly disenchanted with the company, and all who were good enough had left for jobs in the south. The remainder, permanent public servants who could not be fired, went through the motions and hoped that the next Director’s contract would go to some-one who was competent.

The gap, created by the failure of the regional company, was filled by a local free theatre. It received a small subvention from the National Council, but none from the local commune or county who were committed to the hapless regional company. The free theatre company employed five professional actors with all other members donating their services. They performed only locally written material on local issues, and charged a lump sum fee for performances for schools, communes, etc, with no charge being made for admission. 255 performances had been given in the past year.

We celebrated our return to Stockholm by dining at the renowned Opera Reataurant. After a beautiful meal, we walked back to the hotel with the mysterious rushing black waters of the Baltic generating icy-cold salt air. Crossing the last bridge to the old city and its cobblestone streets, we were reminded of one of their less romantic features. A day or so before we were in a taxi when another taxi approached at right angles. It braked, but cobblestones do not provide a good braking surface and we were hit amidships.

Our general impression of Sweden’s grand cultural plan was that it had outstanding successes and some awful failures, but with the great underlying advantage that the difference between success and failure lay in local hands. Our final night was spent at the opera for a production of “Boheme”. Again the decor was public service at its worst, but the performance of a youthful cast was exhilarating. Perhaps the most striking sight of our Swedish visit was the mothballed suburbs of Lulea, deserted and wrapped in plastic because because cheap steel from Australia’s BHP had made the operation of Lulea’s Arctic Circle steel production uneconomical.

Our next stop was Toronto in Canada. For some reason I cannot recall, our international flight landed late at Montreal in heavy snow, and there was a wait of some hours before we could get a flight to Toronto. When I pleaded that there must be an earlier flight, I was told that there was a First Air flight about to leave right away, and we could catch it if we hurried. We literally sprinted through a network of corridors and finaly arrived at a door labelled First Air.

We opened it to find that it led onto the snow-covered tarmac, and the First Air flight. It was an old DC3 from World War II, with icicles hanging from its wings. After a moment’s pause we put our trust in Canada’s air regulations and walked out to the plane. There were two wheels at the front and a small one at the back. Near the back there was a small flight of steps, which we climbed and turned left to move up the steeply inclined passage to our seats, directed by a hostess who was clearly a university student paying her way through college.

There were two seats each side of the aisle, and, once seated, we were each given a small pillow for our lap to support our refreshment tray when it came. There was a curtain at the top of the aisle to give the pilot some privacy. Just before we set off the pilot pulled it back and gave us a personal briefing on the flight: the weather was pretty dodgy, so we would be travelling under it, at a couple of hundred feet, all the way to Toronto. The vibration of the engines shook the icicles from our wings, and we taxied off to the runway. It was a fascinating trip at not much more than tree-top height over a snow-clad world. We had a tray of coffee and biscuits to put on the cushion on our laps, and arrived at Toronto safe and sound.

We were booked in at the Four Seasons hotel in McPhillamy Square in the centre of down town Toronto. It was Saturday night but we were tired after our trans-Atlantic flight, so we went to bed after an early dinner in our room. We were on the seventeenth floor, and noticed that the film available on “in house” video was “Towering Inferno”. We quickly fell into a deep sleep, but awakened soon after to a distant ringing. As consciousness returned, the realisation dawned that it might be the fire alarm. I stumbled out to the corridor, and sure enough it was the fire alarm. Not only that, but Bet was sure that she could smell smoke. I grabbed my brief case with all my trip documents, put on a plastic raincoat, and with Bet, similarly attired, joined the rest of the silent nervous throng heading for the fire escape. There was no panic, but a silent preoccupation with getting down the seventeen floors as quickly as possible. At each floor we were joined by more people and were grateful that no wall of flame came as the fire doors were opened to let them onto the fire-escape.

We finally reached the bottom and spilled out into snow-covered McPhillamy Square. When we looked back at the hotel, we could see no sign of fire, but stood shivering awaiting information. It was still early evening, and smartly dressed Canadians were arriving for dinner and a night out at one of the city’s most fashionable nightspots. After a short while, we were told that the alarm had been the result of an electrical fault; there was no fire and we could return to our rooms. Our relief at this was tempered by the fact that we had to enter by the hotel’s front doors to get to the lifts. The celebrating Canadians derived great pleasure from the motley crew shivering in from the Square. Those of us in night attire drew the most interest, with heckling about not being able to wait to get to bed when the world at large was just settling down for dinner. In a plastic raincoat over pyjamas and carrying a brief case, it was not possible to make an effective retort to the ribald comments of the happy locals. The night’s interuptions didn’t end there. Some hours later we were again wakened by the fire alarm, but, based on experience, rather than head for the fire-escape, we rang the desk and established it was another false alarm.

My main contact was the Canada Council, roughly the equivalent of the Australia Council. It was originally a body founded by private donation, and was expected to live on the interest from the donated funds. By the time of our arrival over 85% of its funds came from government appropriation, but because of its history, it remained largely free from Government regulation. It was at pains to preserve this state of affairs by refraining from biting the hands that fed it. Unlike the Australia Council, it had no structure of art form boards to determine expenditure. Grants of under $10,000 were approved by the Director, with larger grants going to the full Council. Thanks to Canada’s Franco-British heritage, the organisation was headed by a Director and a Deputy Director, one drawn from the French sector and the other from the English. At the time of my visit, the Director was French. He was concerned with policy matters, leaving the day-to-day running of the organisation to the English/Canadian Deputy. Both heads were appointed on contracts whose duration depended on satisfactory performance. The Deputy Director told me that he was an appointee of the current Government, and that he would expect to sacked if it lost the next election.

Because the Council started with very limited funds, it had no capacity to develop the arts generally, and it opted for an elitist approach. Although Government funding had created pressure for arts support on a more democratic basis, the Council remained elitist in its philosophy at the time of my visit, with support going to individual artists of excellence. Recommendations for grants in specific arts areas were made by staff members and were approved by the Director, Deputy Director or Council. Funding by the federal body was seen as a recognition of national achievement, with support for regional and amateur arts being the responsibility of provincial and/or local government.

Our contact with Provincial arts support was with the Ontario Ministry of Culture. This body was in the rare situation of being flush with funds thanks to the provincial lottery, Wintario, which provided almost unlimited amounts for capital or one-shot projects. The Ontario Ministry saw its arts support as essentially independent of considerations of quality. The belief was that there should be a common arts framework throughout the province funded by the Ministry, with questions of quality being the responsibility of the Ontario Arts Council. This was an independent statutory authority, created by the Ontario Ministry of Culture, with a part-time board of fifteen government appointees, who, in turn, appointed a full-time Director and staff. The Province of Ontario comprised almost a thousand municipalities, and although there had been a number of attempts to establish regional groupings, these had all come to grief on the shoals of independence. There were strong pressures from the municipalities for Provincial funding to move away from money for specific projects to general purpose grants. Ministerial Arts authorities feared that, should this eventuate, arts projects would lose out to education, health and sports. At the time of our visit, the Ontario Arts Council was heavily committed to matching grants for funds raised by local initiatives.

At the Municipal level, I had a most useful meeting with David Silcox, Cultural Affairs Officer for metropolitan Toronto municipality. He used to be a staff member of the Canada Council before going into private consultancy in the arts. Some time ago Toronto Municipality had considered getting out of arts funding altogether, and engaged Mr Silcox to advise them on the matter. He recommended continuing the arts programme, and was engaged by the municipality to run it. His was the simplest of administrations, consisting of himself, with a shared typiste and an office, when he wanted one. He had managed to build up the arts subvention from $300,000 to $2,000,000 a year. His main attraction for the Municipal government was his ability to bring in funds from the Provincial and Federal governments. He himself made decisions on how the money was spent, and he did this without any formal board or committee structure. Based on his own inspection and discussions with organisations in the area, he recommended the appropriate level of Municipal funding, and there were few complaints. Contrary to usual practice, he battled to have specific funding lines for arts organisations in the Municipal budget. He did this because he believed that once a government accepted responsibility for funding a specific activity, it would not have the courage to cut it but, along with other expenditure items, would at least index the allocation annually against inflation. Most arts councils, including the Australia Council, battle to avoid governments specifying arts allocations, because it reduces the dependence of arts organisations on the council. I met no-one who was critical of Mr Silcox’s operation, and I personally was greatly impressed.

One evening in Toronto we went to a performance at the Tarragon Theatre, a small intimate “little theatre” of the kind common in Australia. The play was Strindberg’s “The Dream Play”, and the style of performance was Japanese Bunraku, where roughly life-size puppets are manipuated by black clad operators on stage, and the dialogue is delivered by a single narrator on a balcony above the action. The narrator changes the voice slightly to differentiate characters. I had stage-directed a production of the play by Raoul Cardamatis at The Independent Theatre in Sydney thirty years previously, and it had remained in my mind as one of the most inscrutable works of the theatre. I was staggered to find Tarragon’s production lucid and profoundly moving. It remains to this day one of my great experiences in the theatre.

The United States turned out to be least like Australia in its arts funding. I had expected the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Arts to be the equivalent of the Australia Council, but the differences were marked. In the first place it was not formally established on an on-going basis, but had to be re-voted into existence every four years. This was because its creator, Nancy Hanks, did not believe it should be permanently established until it was being funded at an appropriate level. This had not happened. The annual appropriation for 1977 was $110 million, about the same as for the Australia Council but, with fifteen times our population, the American per capita funding was miniscule. At that level, it could not afford to be involved in other than specific project grants, although it was in the process of introducing some matching grants for general purposes on the basis of one Endowment dollar for every three raised from other sources. State and Local governments gave some support to capital and general purpose projects, but by far the major support came from the private sector, at seven or eight times the level of the public dollar.

In New York, the Lincoln Centre was a delight, although the opera house of the Met had very commercial seating compared to Sydney. Patrons were obliged to rise in their seats every time someone wanted to pass. The auditorium was spectacular with magnificent chandeliers low enough to be appreciated, and rising impressively up to the ceiling when performances started. While the gilt of the proscenium and auditorium gave a beautiful glow to the occasion, it tended to obtrude a little on the drama on stage. By contrast to its New York equivalent, the Kennedy Centre in Washingtion was a disaster.

Impressively situated on the banks of the Potomac, the building is virtually three auditoria in line with two transverse foyers, and one major foyer running the full length of the building. The auditoria are a drama theatre, an opera theatre and a concert hall. It was apparently designed by a number of architects who didn’t speak to eachother, and, as a result, staircases went up to rooms that didn’t exist, and some rooms were built without doors. While these problems had been overcome with the passage of time, one abiding problem remained at the time of our visit: a leaking roof. In the major foyer and the approaches to all auditoria, the public moved through wooden tunnels to protect it from falling pieces of ceiling as water permeated the structure. The walls of the auditoria were water-stained and wall panels were lifting. There were no convenient bars or public amenities. One had to queue to get to the toilet. As in other American theatres, the seats were so close together that it was literally impossible for anyone to pass you while you remained seated. As a result, late-comers, inevitable with inadequate drink and toilet facilities, were obliged to squeeze along a row of people, with audience views being obstructed as patrons rose one after another to allow passage. It is claimed that the centre was well laid out for production operations. This may be true, but in other respects the building was almost as disastrous as the assassination of the man after whom it was named.

Throughout our trip, I dictated daily summaries onto a mini-recorder, and presented Council with a detailed report of some 70 pages. Looking back at it all these years later, it seems to me a good report, with good recommendations. It is dispiriting to reflect on how few of my recommendations I was able to put into practice. With hindsight, my greatest shortcoming at the Council was my failure to manipulate the Council to my point of view. It is ironic that my job at the Council was created because Jean Battersby had been too successful in by-passing the Council. I am inclined to believe that any Council should be advisory only; if one looks to it for decisions, the disparate views of its members will result in inertia at best, and inappropriate “trade-off” decisions at worst.

Chapter Fourteen: AUSTRALIA COUNCIL 1978

We spent 1978 as a solid year’s work in Australia, coming to grips with the Council. In October, I took my annual holidays and made a trip to India. I had always wanted to see the Himalayas from the ground. Flying over them at a great height whetted an appetite created from reading about them. I had grown up on Kipling and, latterly, Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet had filled out the picture.

We flew first to Singapore for a couple of days, and then on to Bangkok. Bet and the kids had been there on the way back from our European posting for the ABC, but it was new ground for me. We stayed a couple of days at the Montien Hotel which was magnificent, with great restaurants in which to savour Thai cooking. After the racket and steamy heat of the streets and canals, you were in welcome air-conditioned isolation high above the city. I thought it wonderful, and in marked contrast to later visits when the sheer volume of people and traffic made movement of any kind in Bangkok a nightmare.

From Bangkok we flew to Kathmandu. At the Hotel Malla, we were struck by the colour of the linen on the beds; it was clean and pressed, but grey not white. As we had flown over India and looked down on an arid landscape like our own outback, I had said to an engineer on the plane next to me, that Nepal should be able to prosper by selling water and hydro-power to India. He told me that the age of the Himalayan mountains was a problem. Because of their youth they were subject to enormous erosion, and any dams would very quickly silt up. Rivers did not run clear, but cloudy from eroded minerals, largely mica. This gave our bedsheets their distinctive colour, and flavour to anything cooked in or containing water.

Food was strange at the Malla after the Montien, and menus came in an exotic form of English. The dinner menu on our first night read:

DINER Rice Dal Vegtabla Muttiow curry Chiren curry Plain Frid Rice Honey Pancak Rice Pu

For sight-seeing, we hired a car and a guide for our stay. The guide, Koshal Raj Regmi, proved a wonderful investment. Nepal was, and, in 2006, is still, an autocracy grappling with various popular movements aimed at everything from democracy to communism. Mr Regmi was a leading democrat who had spent much of his life in prison for his politics. He had been recognised by the United Nations, and had been the Nepalese delegate to a number of international conferences. For these he was let out of prison, and gaoled again as soon as he got back to Nepal. University educated and a fluent English speaker, he gave us a fascinating insight into the country and its people.

It is a shock for westerners, as you drive down a main street of Kathmandu, to see people singing as they carry a corpse wrapped in a white sheet. This is a funeral procession on the way to final rites. Another shock is a heavily made-up girl, aged less than 10 years, peering down from a verandah. She has been chosen as the re-incarnation of a goddess on account of the exact time of her birth. She will be the subject of veneration until she reaches puberty, when she will be replaced as a goddess by another infant and returned, pennyless, to her village.

The origin of this strange custom lay in a 12th century ruler of the kingdom of Nepal who had the good fortune to be supported by a beautiful goddess. He was grateful for her help and enchanted by her beauty, and in due course displayed his affection. The goddess was shocked at his presumption and promptly abandoned him. The king, discovering how much she meant to him, entreated her to come back and promised to keep his hands to himself. She finally consented, but to ensure that there was no more funny business, she came back in the form of a pre-pubescent girl. When the girl turned twelve, she said that she would reincarnate herself in a three-year-old girl. The king would be able to find her new body by locating a three-year-old girl whose birth date coincided with the birth date of the girl whose body the goddess had just vacated. To make things easier, the goddess said the girl would be wearing a red dress.

For centuries now, the goddess has lived in Kathmandu, venerated by the people. When the little girl she inhabits turns twelve, the search is on for another little girl in a red dress who is now a goddess. There is no superannuation scheme for ex-goddesses, and they are left to cope as best they can with the sudden switch from adoration and luxury to being just a youngster who doesn’t even have the satisfaction of being ordinary. At the time of our visit, the goddess was aged four. We stood in the courtyard, which hadn’t been cleaned since the time of the original goddess, and our guide called out. A four-year-old in a red dress appeared on the balcony, munching an apple as she looked down on us. I don’t suppose it is so much different from the Pope, but Italian hygiene is much better.


Goddesses are all very well, but the real stars of Nepal are the Himalayas, and at about 4 am one morning we drove 36 miles to a little village on the border with Tibet, and waited in the bitter cold. Gradually the sky lightened in the east, and first one mountain peak and then another was bathed in pink and whitening light. It was a quite mystical experience. The road back to the hotel in daylight was clogged with people, baskets hanging from a pole across their shoulders, walking to town to sell their produce in the market.

A day or so earlier we had taken a flight over Mount Everest. There is always an air of uncertainty about such flights as clouds can make the trip pointless. The airport at Kathmandu was then rather primitive, and intending passengers for the Everest flight sat on wooden benches awaiting final confirmation that the peak was cloud free. Given the all clear, we climbed into a plane that didn’t look much younger than the mountain, and raced off along a runway that seemed barely long enough for lift-off. The flight takes an hour and a half and the views of the Himalayas are awe-inspiring but Everest itself was a disappointing pimple amongst such grandeur.

Another Nepalese flight was to Tigertops. This is a gamepark about half an hour’s flight from the capital. The plane this time was another period piece - a two winged De Havilland Otter, which I had only seen before in photographs. It flew down the valleys, finally landing in a jungle clearing, and taxied to a small grass hut. Here we waited for our on-going transport. A team of elephants finally appeared on the far side of the clearing, and slowly made its way to our hut. The elephants knelt down, and by means of small flights of steps we were able to get aboard. Seating was on a four-poster bed on each elephant’s back. A passenger sat in each corner with legs locked around the corner-post. The driver, or mahout, sat up front on the elephant’s neck, with a metal-ended stick as his combination accelerator pedal and brake. Steering was by bare heels with a running commentary in elephant talk. In the half hour it took us to reach the camp, we moved out of the clearing into the jungle, down river banks, into the water and up the other bank in a dignified procession which was very pleasurable once you got used to it.

The camp, when we reached it, was very romantic, looking primitive but with every comfort. There was a large central grass-roofed building which was the lounge and dining area. This was at ground level, but all the individual living quarters were built about ten feet above the ground, as protection against wild animals, and to facilitate boarding elephants, on which you travelled for the daily game safaris.


The park abounded in wildlife with rhinos the most noticeable during the day. The elephants were very professional in their transport, and managed to deliver you to within a few feet of rhinos, but always left a gap in the circle of elephants so the rhino did not feel threatened. Although the elephants normally moved at a dignified pace, they could run when the occasion demanded, and there can be few things more exciting than to be on the back of an elephant at full speed hurtling along a jungle trail, with branches brushing your face, or through a patch of elephant grass 10 to 15 feet high.

We never saw tigers on an elephant safari, but one night, in the middle of dinner, we were told there had been a tiger kill at one of the live baits staked out for the tigers. We left our dinner and boarded a jeep which moved out along a dirt track in the moonlight. After a short distance, we got out and walked in a queue behind our guide. A little further on he stopped and, in a whisper, told us to take our shoes off, and move very quietly from here on. I feared that the pounding of my heart would give us away, but I dutifully followed the red glow of the guide’s hand over his torch. Then, in the dark, we could hear the tiger enjoying his dinner, and I fervently hoped that I was not going to be afters. Suddenly our procession bunched up as we came to a halt behind some bushes, with the tiger noises now very loud and close. Suddenly lights came on, and there was the tiger and his kill only a few feet from us. The bushes were a hide, and the lights regularly came on and off so the animals got used to them and carried on regardless. He was a magnificent creature, and to be in his presence was an honour. The wonder of the occasion almost overcame our qualms over the tethered goat whose death had made it possible.

We returned to camp in a breathless state of achievement, and felt a drink was in order. In the course of discussion, I sang the praises of an Italian cocktail, and was sufficiently persuasive to carry the day. As the bartender did not know it, he made it under my directions. Three parts dry vermouth, one part sweet vermouth, one dash of Angostura bitters, a piece of orange rind and two ice cubes. As it was my idea, I had to shout the round. What I hadn’t counted on was that each of my ‘parts’ counted as a shot, and each drink was costed as a quadruple scotch. The bill for the round in a dry country ensured that I remember the occasion clearly over thirty years later.

One day, instead of going out on the elephants, Bet and I went for a day trip with a guide to a new out-station which they were building. It involved an initial run in a Jeep, then a walk through the jungle to a river, a trip down the river in a dug-out, lunch at the out-station, and the reverse trip home. The highlight proved to be the jungle walk. Our memories of the dining tiger were revived by our guide when he showed us the claw marks on tree trunks, which the tigers used to claim their territory. The claw-marks were over six feet from the ground, so it was a big tiger, a fact confirmed by the big paw marks in the soft soil. Our guide assured us that tigers would be sleeping during the day. A bit further along the trail, our guide indicated that we should be very quiet, and I was delighted to see the reason. There, just a few yards away behind a bush was a full-grown rhinocerous. It was a great photo opportunity, and I got my camera out and moved around to get the best shot. Then I noticed that our guide seemed to be having a fit and was beckoning us frantically. We moved up to him and he hustled us away. When we were at a safe distance, we asked him what was the matter. “They are very dangerous,” he said. We had been up close on elephants, but it appeared that it was different on foot. We told him we felt safe because he was an experienced guide and ranger, and would have shot the rhino if there had been any danger. He told us that he had no gun, and that he was an ornithologist, not a ranger, and would have climbed the nearest tree had the rhino registered our presence.

As we approached the river, the ground became a bit damp, and when we paused for a brief rest before getting into the dug-out, Bet discovered that she had picked up a leech on her leg. Fortunately the removal of a leech came within an ornithologist’s jurisdiction, and Bet was able to carry on.

One of the pleasures back at the camp, was to watch the elephants bathing. They loved to lie down in the water, while their mahouts walked all over them scrubbing away the dirt with a yard broom. On request, the elephants would roll over to allow access to inaccessible parts, and render assistance by squirting a trunkful of water to facilitate matters. Altogether Tigertops was a big thrill.

Leaving Nepal, we flew to New Delhi and were back in crowded humanity. The taxi from the airport gave us a good introduction into the local rules of the road: there weren’t any. In congested traffic, you drove on the footpath, on the median strip, even on the other side of the road against on-coming traffic, anything to gain a few extra yards. Despite the driver’s best efforts we became stuck in a roundabout, and our driver got out to discuss the situation with other drivers. We arrived at our hotel nervous wrecks, and the hotel itself did not help much. It had known great days, but they were long ago. Our room, when we reached it was big enough for a game of basketball, but electricity seemed to have been added hastily after construction was complete; there were wires everywhere, life being at risk if ever you tried to turn something on or off.


We dined in quite an attractive dining-room, with pools of light on the tables and discreet darkness everywhere else. There was a small band for dinner music, and a songstress in a spotlight who sang in English that it was “chust the chypsy in my soul”. When we retired for the night, there was suddenly a terrible clanging, as though someone was hammering on pipes in the wall. After it became clear that this was not just a passing whim, I rang the desk to report the problem. I was told that it was quite alright; renovations were in process. When I raised the matter of our beauty sleep, I was assured that it would soon be quiet. It wasn’t. Despite further complaints, the row continued all night, and our wake-up call for 5 a.m. to catch the train for Agra proved unnecessary.

We had decided on a day trip to Agra, catching the early morning train and returning after dinner in the evening. It was a shock to arrive at the station, and to discover that it served as an hotel for half the population of the city. Many of the people were still in bed, sleeping on benches, luggage trolleys and on the ground. Others were in the process of ablutions wherever there was a tap. Still others were relieving themselves in odd corners. We had booked First Class on the train, but our carriage, when we found it, destroyed any sense of joy. Seats were individual aircraft type, but were grubby and in a poor state of repair. My table dangled from the back of the seat in front, and resisted all attempts to fix it in either a vertical or horizontal position. The walls were originally of pale green formica but were now coated in a wash of mid-brown grease. The air-conditioning was an oscillating fan scewed to the wall, which rattled as it wafted the aroma from nearby toilets, which had apparently missed out on their weekly cleaning. On the platform outside our window, were beggars with all kinds of deformity entreating us to give them money.

Due to our early start, we had had no breakfast, and I am not at my best until I have eaten. I had no great confidence that my spirits would be lifted by breakfast on the train in the course of the three hour run to Agra, but in my distress, I decided to give it a go. There was no menu, but a waiter arrived to take our orders. By this time I was in the depths, but on Betty’s advice, I ordered a boiled egg, a piece of toast and a pot of tea, each of which bid fair to escape corruption. The capacity to shock had been under-estimated. My egg arrived with feathers, bonded to the shell by a brown substance whose origin was only too obvious. The toast came in thick slices of stale bread whose only evidence of any processing were dirty finger and thumb prints. The tea came in a pale green thermos which matched the formica of the carriage in colour and in the coating of brown grease. I sobbed quietly and passed on breakfast.


On arrival at Agra things took a decisive turn for the better. We had booked a car and guide for the day, and he was there to meet us at the station. He correctly assessed our mood, and drove us straight to a very classy hotel, where we had a beautiful breakfast, impeccably cooked and served. Supplemented by a toilet stop, whose facilities matched the breakfast, we set off to “do” Agra. Our guide was a retired public servant, who, in his working life, had been responsible for the maintenance of Agra’s public buildings. He was a mine of information, and we could not have been better served. It turned out that our travel agent had erred in booking us First Class on the train; it should have been De Luxe. We considered changing for the return trip, but opted instead for a luxury dinner at the hotel where we had breakfasted, and no food or drink on the train.

Agra more than lived up to all our expectations. The Taj Mahal took our breath away, both for its overall conception and the marvel of its detail. We had heard that the marble was suffering from discolouration due to pollution, but, if it was, we could not see it. The coloured inlay of semi-precious stones in the white marble was quite superb. Our guide took us to the workshops where such inlay is still performed. It is done by small children under supervision, as adult hands are too big and coarse for the delicate task. We bought a marble table-top with Agra style inlay for a modest sum, and arranged for it to be shipped back to Australia. Somewhat to our surprise, it turned up some weeks after we got home undamaged. It still graces one of our display cabinets.

Back in New Delhi we spent another day doing its sights, and then flew to Srinagar in Kashmir. We were booked for a week on a house-boat on the Dal Lake. A taxi from the airport took us to the lake, where a shikara, the local equivalent of a gondola, took us to our house-boat. It was unpainted wood, and consisted of a front verandah, which doubled as its dock, a lounge-dining room, a bedroom and a bathroom. It was moored to an island at the back. There was ornamental carving on all but the structural beams. It was serviced by Abdul, a gracious local in white gloves that greyed as the week wore on. Cooking was done elsewhere, and Abdul brought it on board and served us very nicely. He had clearly been briefed on strange western ways, for all the meals aimed to be replicas of what we would eat at home. After some days, we raised the issue with him and told him that we would prefer local food. What about some curries. He was delighted to oblige, and that night we had a beautiful curry and rice. Next morning we were sick as dogs, ejecting victuals at both ends. We dipped into our traveller’s medicine kit, tossing down lomotil pills to no end. Abdul urged us to try a local black tea, but we brushed him aside in our agony. At last we consented to try the tea, and though it wasn’t an instant cure, it certainly registered instant and substantial improvement. We were well enough to explore the origins of our problems. It turned out that the curry was fine, but the boiled rice had been rinsed in the lake water. As the lake was the recipient of the sewage of all the houseboats as well as Srinagar itself, the rice as served was a potent dish. We reverted to lamb cutlets and three veg.

Each day there was a procession of shikaras with vendors of all sorts. There were carved wooden art works, fruit and vegetables, and even a tailor from whom I ordered a suit made to measure. Prices were very reasonable by our standards. When we were not fending off salesmen, we explored the lake by shikara. Our private shikara proudly bore a painted name board which read:

HEAVEN FLOWER FULL

We discovered that “FULL” referred not to carrying capacity, but to the seats which were “fully sprung”. There was a long tapered bow and a similar stern where the crewman sat and propelled the boat with a long pole. The passenger’s quarters were amidships, with the fully sprung seats under a canopy in a kind of four poster bed. It looked exotic and was quite comfortable for a short trip. The lake was dotted with shopping complexes on stilts, private homes in various stages of decay, and gardens both floating and on the banks. The whole area was encircled by mountains. Although nominally Indian, the population is predominantly Moslem, and calls to prayer from local mosques constantly drift across the lake. The first of five daily calls comes before dawn, competing with the roosters, and the last at 7.30 p.m.

On one occasion we hired a car and drove up into the mountains to the disputed border with Pakistan. At the top there was mist and rain, but also some fearsome looking brigands who encouraged a rather earlier return than we had planned.

The city of Srinagar is pretty scruffy, with narrow alleys rather than streets, and residences spilling onto the alleys, as cottage industries earn sustenance for the families who live there. People going about on foot, tended to wear a kind of brown kaftan, and looked pregnant because, under the kaftan they carried a small earthen pot of hot coals to keep them and their hands warm.

Leaving Kashmir we flew to Kuala Lumpur, and then down to Penang for a couple nights rest at a luxury hotel before heading home. It had been a fantastic holiday.

Not long after we returned, I had a visit from the CEO of Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council of New Zealand which was roughly the equivalent of the Australia Council. He told me that I would be receiving an invitation from the Australia-New Zealand Association for my wife and myself to visit their country. It was hoped to be the basis of a closer working relationship. I accepted the invitation and early in 1979 visited New Zealand.

Chapter Fifteen: AUSTRALIA COUNCIL - 1979

It was a bit of a shock to receive the itinerary. It was incredibly detailed, with meetings scheduled with the heads of almost every government department, and arts and educational bodies of all kinds. At 10 o’clock on the first day, I was briefed by the CEO on the background to tensions within the Q.E.II Arts Council which were relevant to the luncheon to be hosted that day by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A major change had occured in the Arts Council a couple of years previously when a Labour Government was in power. The principal architect of the change was an economist who was subsequently charged with treason for associating with communists. Although he was acquitted, it had been a stressful experience and he died shortly afterwards. The changes he introduced saw a shift from support of the “high” arts towards more community based activity. The former Chairman and Deputy Chairman would both be at the luncheon, and their loyalties were with the high arts of ballet, opera and chamber music. QE II Arts Council today was inclined to focus its operations on the support of individual excellence. With a shortage of funds, it was inclined to leave the support of arts organisations and broad community activities to other government departments and agencies. Unlike the Australia Council, their staff played a major role in determining who got funds and who did not. This may have resulted in better decisions, but it certainly engendered animosity in the arts community, as we found moving around the country.

While the broader community was quite well served by Government agencies, there was an absence of the kind of unconventional activity sponsored by the community arts programme of the Australia Council. Any community that could charge anyone with treason for associating with communists, seems to me to be in acute need of more unconventional behaviour.

In addition to sessions with one Government department after another, we were given an excellent overview of arts activities in a wide range of locations. Amongst some pretty dreadful amateur productions, we saw a very good professional production of Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide”. The highlight of the trip was contact with Maori culture. Although the Maoris were very conscious of their problems in a western society, an Australian could not fail to see a marked contrast with the position of the Aborigines in Australia. Maori’s art and culture are perhaps more readily accessible to westerners than that of Aborigines, and their degree of general acceptance in New Zealand in 1979 seemed about 20 years ahead of Australia.


One day we were driven to Otaki, some 50 kilometers north of Wellington, where we joined the Bishop of Wellington and the visiting Archbishop of Wales. We proceeded to the local Maori marae, which equates roughly to a church in a strongly Christian community. There the Archbisop of Wales and I were to be formally met by the community, and participate in a conference on the development of ethnic minorities, Welsh, Maori and Australian. It was a most impressive performance.

On arrival at the marae, the gate was found to be bolted and barred. A challenge and exchange took place between the women members of the visiting party and the inhabitants of the marae. These exchanges, as indeed most of what happened, were in Maori. Once the gate was opened, the visitors entered, led by the women with ritual exchanges continuing until the two parties were seated, facing eachother across a lawn some 30 meters wide. For the next halfhour there were speeches and singing from both sides, explaining the purpose of the visit, and paying due respect to the marae and its inhabitants. This done the two parties proceeded to physical welcome, involving all members of the visiting party filing past all members of the welcoming party, grasping them each warmly by the hands and pressing noses twice. It is a rather disconcerting experience for a dour Scot, but it certainly breaks down barriers.

We then repaired to an adjacent hall for a celebratory “feast”. On this occasion, it was a very lavish morning tea, with spirited and friendly exchanges between all concerned. Feasting over, we moved into the meeting house, decorated with elaborate wood-carving, and sat on seats on each side of the hall, the two groups facing eachother.

One of the residents of the marae had recently lost her husband. It was believed that his spirit was still in the hall, and the widow sang a beautiful Maori song of mourning to comfort him. After some introductory speeches, the meeting switched to English for more than an hour’s formal discussion of the respective situations of ethnic minorities in N.Z., Wales and Australia. Although I am a sceptic on spiritual things, I have to admit it was hard to deny the Maori contention that the meeting hall had a spirit of its own called a “mauri”. There was an extraordinary sense of warmth and fellowship embracing all the people in the building. This may have come through the nose rubbing, which is a singularly intimate relationship, and from the mixture of languages being bandied around. At all events, the whole occasion was most moving and strangely intimate. It left us as honourary Maoris.


Discussion over, the Archbishop of Wales pronounced a formal blessing on the gathering. We moved out of the hall, with more nose-pressing, into the oldest Anglican Maori church in New Zealand, some 120 years old, built of magnificent timber and decorated with traditional Maori weaving and carving.

In June of 1979, we had our first invitation to Yarralumla, Australia’s Government House, for the Governor General’s Queen’s Birthday dinner. It was a very grand occasion, made less daunting by Zelman Cowen as host. We had met on occasion in the early days of television when he had presented ABC television’s first foreign affairs programme, and was a regular panellist in “Any Questions”. He was a great Australian, and great company.

Shortly after Queen’s Birthday, I had to go to Darwin on Aboriginal Arts Board business. The communities serviced by the Aboriginal Arts Board had a culture of their own, and many things which were accepted as the norm in our culture were quite alien to theirs. The Chair of the Board was a full-blood with a tribal background, but most of the Board members were urban citizens with varying degrees of Aboriginal ancestry. The situation was complicated by the existence in Darwin of the Aboriginal Cultural Foundation. This body comprised the elders of the tribes living under tribal law. They tended to regard the Council’s Aboriginal Arts Board as a bunch of city slickers with no real right to represent the Aboriginal community. Their CEO was a dedicated and able operator but he might have been considered a city slicker along with our Board members had he not lived in Darwin. There was acute tension between the Board and the Foundation, and it was In an effort to broker a workable compromise that I visited Darwin and met with the Foundation. Betty came with me, and we stopped off at Alice Springs on the way to visited Ayer’s Rock, or Uluru.

The Aboriginal Cultural Foundation elders were a most impressive body, and it was hard to relate them to the aggression emanating from their CEO. Even the CEO proved to be a much more reasonable person than had seemed possible at a distance. To understand how things worked, it was suggested that I accompany a field officer on one of her rounds of the communities, collecting art works for sale. I agreed, and Betty and I set off on a remarkable journey.

The field officer was Dorothy Bennett, who was the mother of the CEO, Lance Bennett. Dorothy was part Aboriginal with a long and distinguished history of service to the communities. She made regular tours in a 4 wheel-drive truck, sleeping on the truck tray overnight.


We set out from Darwin heading for what was said to be an idyllic sandy beach on an inland lagoon in the Aboriginal reserve in Arnhem Land. Dorothy drove, Betty sat by the window, and I straddled the gear box between the two front seats. It was very hot. I wondered how long I could bear it, because my legs were burning. I asked if it was always as hot as this. Dorothy said it wasn’t. She thought it might be the new truck. With the visitor from Sydney, a new truck had been bought and this was its first outing. Inspection revealed that the central hump I straddled had a heating vent on each side, and the temperature was set for maximum heat. The truck did not have air-conditioning, but once the heater was turned off, life became bearable.

We drove through Kakadu National Park, and after fording East Alligator River, entered Arnhem Land Aboriginal Reserve. We called at several communities, and saw some wonderful rock painting. Late in the afternoon, Dorothy decided that we should make our way to our campsite. There wasn’t any map but Dorothy seemed to know where we were going, because she left the road, by then only wheel-ruts, and set off through the bush. Darkness fell and still we rolled on. Every so often great grey shapes lumbered through the beams of our headlights as water-buffaloes went about their business. Itinerant buffaloes did not seem to me to bode well for sleeping on the ground, and I raised this point with Dorothy. She brushed it aside, but she did display some anxiety at the lateness of the hour and our non-arrival at the beautiful sandy beach by the creek.

At last, when we saw what looked like sand ahead, we stopped. Dorothy asked if I would mind going ahead, and confirming it was indeed our campsite. She gave me a torch and I set off. So far as I could see, there was a nice stretch of sand and water of sorts beyond, but I had visions of buffaloes coming down to drink, and again raised this problem on my return to the truck. “No, no,” Dorothy said. “The buffaloes are no problem, it’s the death adders in the sand!” It was then that I realised that the creek which I had understood to be Defadder Creek, was in fact Death Adder Creek, and that my despatch on reconnaissance by Dorothy had sprung from her reluctance to expose herself to death adders in the sand in the dark. There was a three nil decision to pass on this campsite, and to return to East Alligator River, where there were at least signs of human habitation and no death adders. We re-traced our tracks with some difficulty and finally reached East Alligator River at about 10 p.m.

Before setting camp Dorothy said we had to make a fire to keep away any nasties, and to allow Dorothy to boil a billy and heat a stew for dinner. There was no fire wood in the chosen camp area by the river, so we drove off a short distance and set about collecting fuel by moonlight. With death adders still in mind, each piece of wood picked up in the dark was a potential serpent. There was some comfort in the fact that a bush fire had recently been through the area, but though this argued for an absence of snakes, we were quickly covered in charcoal. When enough timber had been loaded on the vehicle’s bull-bars, we returned to the campsite and made a fire. From the back of the truck Dorothy threw down three foam rubber sheets, which were to be our beds for the night, and serve initially as dining “chairs” for the welcome hot dinner.

By midnight, we were so tired that we just flopped down and fell asleep to the sweet music of running water, with occasional splashes. In the small hours, Betty and I woke to find Dorothy still sitting up with a torch. We asked if anything was amiss, and she said she was worried about the crocodiles which could be heard feeding on the barramundi in the river. This was disconcerting for a moment, but we were so tired that we told ourselves that, lying so flat on the ground, the crocs would be unable to pick us up, and went back to sleep. I was confident that Dorothy, experienced in the bush, must have slept there many times. It was only next morning that we learned that she was dead scared. This was the first time she hadn’t slept in the back of the truck !

Driving back to Darwin, Dorothy was so tired that she was falling asleep at the wheel, and I had to take over to give her a rest, and to get us home safely.

Our next trip away from Darwin was quite a tame affair by comparison. We flew over to Bathurst Island to the land of the Tiwi people who were great carvers and artists. With the crudest of tools they achieved the most appealing art works. In the hut of one bark painter I turned up a painting of a crocodile with no head, tail or feet. I asked why the artist had drawn it this way. He explained that he couldn’t complete it because the piece of bark wasn’t big enough.

I wish I could claim that my effort at brokering a peace was enduringly successful, but it wasn’t. Indigenous Australians face an appalling problem. Their culture sets small store by the rights of the individual, emphasising the rights of the group. Our culture is heavily, and increasingly, weighted towards the individual. Even in remote areas where Aboriginal tribal law still holds sway, our media and rapid transport result in infiltration of their culture, rendering traditional lore unacceptable to the new generations of their people. It is not that we wish to do this; it is an inevitable consequence of the juxtaposition of two dissimilar cultures.

While we were in Darwin, we met Nancy Giese who was a Crafts Board member and long-term Darwin resident. Her husband, Harry Giese, had been a senior member of the Northern Territory administration, and from him we obtained an informed view of the well-intentioned but disastrous attempts to solve the problems of the cultural divide.

Our first European settlers took the country as their own, and generally came to regard the indigenous people as a problem, which had to be eliminated, if it could not be ignored. When this proved to be both impracticable and unacceptable, the next attempt was assimilation. Aboriginality was to be stamped out, with aborigines gradually becoming European Australians. This seemed likely to take a long time, because tribal elders naturally felt obliged to educate the young in their cultural heritage. To speed up the assimilation process, it was decided to concentrate on the next generation, giving them the benefit of a Western education and up-bringing, and remove them from the tribal situation. “The Stolen Generation” was the result.

However good the intentions may have been, the execution generally left a lot to be desired, and present day Australians are shocked by stories of individual hardship of unacceptable proportions. It is ironic that it is the Stolen Generation who have given an effective voice to Aboriginals, and enabled them to shame us non-aboriginal Australians with the deeds of our forebears. The Stolen Generation includes university graduates who head government departments, sit on Boards and, through the media, change the national psyche, but they are viewed with suspicion by many tribal aborigines and by the Aboriginal Cultural Foundation who wish to preserve traditional ways, shunning Western culture for its many weaknesses. Back home at the Council, there was another continuing saga, in relations with the Elizabethan Theatre Trust. The Trust had been created before the Australia Council, and had been recognised by the Commonwealth government as a means whereby private funds could be donated to the Arts with federal tax exemption. Amongst many valuable initiatives of the Trust, were the establishment of the Elizabethan Theatre at Newtown, and support for early days of opera in Australia. When it was decided to create theatre orchestras in Sydney and Melbourne to service opera and ballet productions in those centres, Federal funding and administrative responsibility for them was given to the Trust. When I joined the Council, the Trust was suffering from the growth of the bodies it serviced.

The managements of both the Australian Opera based in Sydney, and the Australian Ballet based in Melbourne, considered that money for the orchestras should be paid directly to the respective companies. The members of the orchestras were not sure where their best interests lay : the Trust had its faults as a boss, particularly when money was tight, but would things be better if they were absorbed into the performing arts companies? While they remained outsiders, they could assert a degree of independence, and feel that they had a boss whose loyalty was to them personally. If the Sydney orchestra was absorbed in the Opera, and the Melbourne orchestra in the Ballet, there would be administrative problems when the opera was playing in Melbourne and the Ballet was playing in Sydney.

The problem was complicated by the fact that the appropriation of funds to the Council came in four specific lines in the budget papers: one general grant to the Australia Council, and a specific grant each to the Australian Opera, the Australian Ballet, and the Elizabethan Theatre Trust. While the Council could allocate its general grant as it saw fit, the funds for each of the others had to go entirely to the specified body. When the Government wanted to cut back on arts funding, as it did most of the time, the least troublesome cut was to the Australia Council’s general grant, because then the Government could rightly claim that all actual cuts were made by the Australia Council, not the Government. The Opera, Ballet and Trust all had heavyweight Boards, which lobbied the Government to ensure that their funds were at least indexed against inflation each year. The Council was left to bear all of the consequences of real term reduction in funding to the Arts.

The General Manager of the Elizabethan Trust was Geoff Joynton-Smith who had been a friend of mine for some years, but when it came to formal discussions over the orchestras, the Trust was represented by its real heavyweights: the Chairman, Sir Ian Potter, Board member, Sir David Griffin, and Music Director, John ( later Sir John) Lanchberry. More was at stake than the actual issue of orchestral funding. Orchestral funds were now by far the greater part of the Trust’s budget; if they were taken away the scale of Trust operations would be reduced to a level at which its very existence would be threatened.

The Australian Opera was having problems both with its funding and its role. To be really an Australian opera, it had to be viewable in centres other than Sydney, but playing away from home was more expensive. Economy dictated that “away” dates be kept to a minimum, but this increased calls for funds to be made available to local companies interstate. Melbourne had a long-standing opera company, and claimed that it should receive Commonwealth funding comparable to the Sydney company. The Commonwealth Government didn’t think there were too many votes in funding opera of any kind, and sheltered behind the Australia Council when any criticism arose. The Victorian State Government was in a jamb; the local electorate forced it to fund the local company, and it naturally demanded that the Commonwealth Government and/or its Australia Council should share the cost.

The director of the Victorian Arts Department was Eric Westbrook. He and I talked over the problem and we came to the conclusion that it was unrealistic to expect the public purse to cover two major opera companies. They should be a combined into a single company. If we were to sell this idea to our masters, we needed to be able to come up with a big name musical director to replace Richard Bonnyng who was locked into the existing operation, and was under a bit of a cloud because his biggest asset, his wife Joan Sutherland, was retiring from the stage. We decided that I would approach Sir Charles Mackerras on a forthcoming visit to England to see if he would be interested in the position of Musical Director for a combined company.

In 1979, I was appointed to the National Commission of UNESCO ( United Nations Educational & Scientific Organisation). As its name implies, UNESCO is that unit of the United Nations which fosters global cooperation in intellectual and cultural fields. There is a secretariat at its headquarters in Paris, and member states are called upon to establish national commissions made up of people with expertise in the fields of UNESCO’s competence. From time to time, representatives of the national commissions meet to determine overall policy and the expenditure of UNESCO’s allocated funds. I was appointed for a three year term as knowledgeable in cultural matters. I was subsequently reappointed for two further terms until 1988.

When Betty and I flew out of Sydney on business trip in October 1979, our first contact was in Los Angeles with a committee on Technology and Cultural Transformation, an associate of the America’s National Commission for UNESCO. Its concern was the impact on less advanced cultures of rapidly expanding technology in the more advanced cultures. The committee was based in the University of Southern California, and its Director was Herbert Shore. One of the committee members was Bill Fetter who was a specialist in computer graphics. Working for Boeing in Seattle, he had been instrumental in the design process for the B 52 bomber and its conversion to the B 747 Jumbo jet. When structural problems occured, these were solved on computer graphics of the plane, avoiding the necessity for costly physical mock-ups.


Australia was concerned with a number of their studies:

  .the phenomenon of cultural abundance created by technological 
   growth in communications 
  .the influence of media on the distribution of art, on audiences and      
   on artistic production
  .the community’s desire for art and arts facilities
  .the relationship between community, regional and urban forces on   
   arts production and distribution 
  .the influence of big city genre on the regional arts
  .the widespread tendency to imitate, reproduce and copy art

Our next stop was Washington where there had been a major change at the National Endowment for the Arts, with the former head Michael Straight gone, and Livingstone Biddle the new Chairman. His main change was to cut back on the autonomy of the various programme heads, and establish control by a gathering of all the heads in a central Council. Someone once said that any reorganisation involves either centralisation or decentralisation, depending on which you had last time. It is very true. On the entertainment side, we saw a pre-Broadway performance at the Kennedy Centre of Tom Stoppard’s “Night and Day” with a wonderful performance by Maggie Smith, and a strange assortment of accents in support. One totally unrecognisable accent was later identified in the programme as Australian (American version).

An interesting side-light on the Kennedy Centre was its windfall from musical theatre. “Annie” was on the try-out circuit prior to its Broadway opening when the production ran out of money. This forced the cancellation of the booking in Washington. To avoid disrupting its schedule, the Centre backed the Washington performance in return for a substantial interest in the show should it make it to Broadway. It did and the Centre collected thousands of dollars from its long Broadway run.

A particular focus of our stay in New York was opera, because the Metropolitan Opera’s Marketing Director, Patrick Veitch, was about to become the Director of the Australian Opera. The Australia Council’s new Chairman, Geoffrey Blainey, and his wife, Ann, had met us in Washington and together we travelled to New York. Betty and Ann spent the days shopping. They took in a matinee of “Carmen” at the Met, which they didn’t think much of, and we all went to an evening performance of Mozart’s “Abduction From The Seraglio”. Thanks to Patrick Veitch, we had house seats, fourth row centre in the stalls, for a superb production under the Met’s Music Director, James Levine. It would have to be one of the best opera performances I have ever seen with a great cast and an orchestra with all the bounce and verve of the best American musicals.

From New York we flew to Toronto to catch up on what had happened to the Canada Council since our last visit. Like the National Endowment in Washington, the Canada Council had a new Chairman who was concerned that funding decisions for organisations were made by staff members, often longterm employees. He was concerned also at relations with the Provinces, equivalent to our States. These were major funding partners, often with more money than the national Council, and he detected signs that the Provinces might work together to reduce the role and scale of the Canada Council. The Council’s original role was to serve the arts, science and the humanities, and it had been staffed accordingly. In the last two years, responsibility for science and the humanities had been transferred to a separate council, which was reluctant to take over any of the old council’s personnel, preferring to start from scratch. As a result, the Council was overstaffed to an embarrassing degree.

At the provincial level, the hot topic at the time of my last visit was deconditionalisation: local councils, receiving Provincial funds, wanted these to be for such puposes as the local council saw fit, instead of tied to specific arts projects of the Province’s selection. The last two years had seen this problem disappear. Cutbacks in funding for the arts from the Provincial governments had brought with it a reinforcement of conditions for such funding as remained.

When we arrived in London and had our first meeting with the British Council, it was to discover that yet again it was under a Government spotlight which threatened its continued existence. The Council feared that it would lose its regional offices in the UK, and suffer merger with the Foreign Office overseas. My own observations were that the British Council could easily shed a substantial number of UK based employees. It was very pleasant but quite unnecessary to be taken to one’s daily appointments in a car or taxi by a staff member of the British Council. The provision of personal guides as a matter of course related to times of greater visitor ignorance than now applies. It is of value to people who speak little or no English, but most Council visitors are not, in that category.

As Eric Westbrook and I had discussed, I rang Sir Charles Mackerras to raise his possible interest in returning to Australia as Music Director of a combined Sydney/Melbourne opera company, and we arranged to have lunch at the Garrick Club. I found him most enthusiastic, and I passed the good news on to Eric. On my return to Sydney I reported on the matter at the first Council meeting . To my horror, the Council was totally opposed to the idea of a merger. They could not see the unreality of expecting increased Government funding to sustain two opera companies at a workable level. We lost a great chance to do something worthwhile for Australian arts.

A highlight of our London stay was a trip to the English National Opera with Sir Roy Shaw, Secretary General of the Arts Council. The ENO’s home is the Coliseum Theatre, and we had a catered dinner in their Boardroom, before going down to the auditorium for the performance of Jonathan Miller’s production of Britten’s “The Turn Of The Screw”. Both the dinner and the show were first class. Another first class production was “Amadeus” by the National Theatre Company in the new Olivier Theatre. Peter Hall directed, with Simon Callow as Mozart, Felicity Kendal as his wife, and Paul Schofield quite superb as Salieri. In a meeting earlier with the National, I had learned that “Amadeus” was the first production in which they had been able to fly scenery in the Olivier because of problems stemming from the National Theatre’s construction being governed by an Act of Parliament.

At the time of our visit there were still two Boards responsible for the building. One, the Southbank Theatre Board, was set up by Parliament to be responsible for the money voted by Parliament to build the National Theatre. Three and a half years after the theatre opened, this Board was still in existence because the building was not yet finalised to everyone’s satisfaction. The other board, the National Theatre Board, was set up to run the theatrical company. This company, under Sir Laurence Olivier, had been given a short lease on the Old Vic Theatre pending the completion of the National Theatre, which was to be its permanent home. This ”short” lease ran for thirteen years. The fact that the gestation period was so long, explained many of the current problems.

Over this time, concepts of what a theatre should be, and the forms of theatrical performance changed markedly, and, with the advent of terrorism, security problems increased. Once the National Theatre Board signed the lease of the National Theatre, it would assume responsibility for the building and everything that went into it. At the time of our visit, they were yet to sign because the financial implications of signing were not clear. Substantial capital expenditure was still needed to fit out the theatres and to provide adequate security in the new age. The Government arranged for 700,000 pounds to be made available to the National Theatre Board through the Arts Council of Great Britain in recognition of such necessary capital expenditure and for building maintenance costs. It was not clear, however, whether this was to be a continuing annual grant or a once-only; logic said that it would need to be a continuing grant, but this had to be clarified before the lease could be signed.

The National Theatre complex housed three auditoria: the Olivier seating 1,160, the Lyttelton seating 890, and the Cottesloe seating 400. Before an actor stepped on any one of the three stages, running costs were 1.5 million pounds per year. This high figure was due to the unique nature of the building, which covered a very large acreage of prime real estate, with substantial foyer space and other public areas. The cost of cleaning and maintaining the carpets and the extensive window spaces was very high. Additionally, all the supporting manufacturing facilities were located under the same roof as the theatres instead of in a low cost factory area off site. The percentage of operating costs required for building maintenance had risen from 15% at the Old Vic to 30% for the new complex. As the building aged, it was probable that the maintenance percentage would rise even higher, and the National Theatre Board was apprehensive that any additional funds granted to operate the new complex would not be maintained.

At the time of our visit, unsatisfactory aspects of the complex were:

1. Many of the auditoria and servicing facilities were inappropriate for present needs. This was a reflection of the fact that theatre management had the least effective input into the building planning.

2. Certain areas of the building were simply not finished. This was particularly true of stage machinery of which less than half was yet in commission. In the main auditorium, the power-flying was used for the first time in “Amadeus”, the drum revolve was not operational, and the stage floor was inadequate and needed replacing.

3. Legal problems. The building was designed between 1965 and 1969. The Health and Safety Work Act was introduced as law in 1974, and reqired things that the existing building did not and could not provide. Additionally, security provisions in the era of terrorism demanded that all glass be shatterproof, and that restrictions be applied to the excessive number of exits and entrances provided for the complex.

In such circumstances, it was little wonder that the National Theatre Board was reluctant to sign a lease, and remarkable that they should have been able to mount such wonderful productions as “Amadeus”.

We saw a fair bit of theatre in London. Apart from those already mentioned, T. S. Eliot’s “The Family Reunion” starred Edward Fox with a good supporting cast. Although well received by the critics, I found it a disappointing production, due primarily to Edward Fox. His remote and rather flat delivery works well on film or TV, but on stage it sounded as if he had dropped in on something he didn’t understand and didn’t wish to know. The actual production was effective, but it remains for me a poorish play that works better on the printed page and in the head than in the theatre.

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of “Measure For Measure” did justice to one of the Bard’s lesser plays. Their presentation of “Piaf” was at their new Warehouse theatre, which was reminiscent of Nimrod’s Stables in Sydney’s Kings Cross. It was intimate and impactive, with no scenery and a cast sitting round the walls waiting for cues for entrances, or changing costumes. I found myself comparing it to a similar play on Piaf which I had seen in Sydney at Marian Street a year or so ago with Bunney Gibson in the title role. The comparison overall was in Marian Street’s favour. To start with the author of the London play, Pam Gems, seemed determined to drag in every possible crudity. In other days, the language would have been shocking, but today it simply bored. With simulated urination, copulation and defecation on stage, there was little doubt that Piaf came from the gutter, and the performance of Jane Lapotaire, much praised by critics, seemed vitally at home in this environment. Unlike Bunney Gibson she failed to project the quality which lifted Piaf from this environment and made her a star. It is a sad reflection that Lapotaire got the best actress award for the year. The cast generally was first class, and gave a very good performance of a patchy play. It was deeply moving at times, but at others equally tedious.

From London we went to Scotland and meetings with the Scottish Arts Council, and then to Paris. The United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is one of the U.N.’s major successes. It brings together the nations of the world to improve the life of mankind and protect its habitat. It has a central secretariat in Paris to implement the policies formulated by the National Commissions set up in each of its member countries involving their most knowledgeable citizens in the fields of UNESCO’s concern. Earlier in the year I had been appointed to Australia’s National Commission and was Chairman of its Culture Committee. As part of my overseas trip, I had arranged to visit the Secretariat in Paris and to explore with Dr Makaminan Makagiansar, its Assistant Director General for Culture and Communication, ways in which the Australia Council and Australia’s National Commission could cooperate to best advantage in UNESCO’S affairs. Makagiansar proved to be a pleasantly informal Indonesian and the meeting was the beginning of an association that stretched over my nine years on the Commission.

While in Paris, we had a most memorable visit to the Paris opera. Our ambassador to France at that time was John Rowland whom I got to know when we were at Dad’s school together. He invited us to dinner at the Embassy, with the opera to follow. Unfortunately his staff had the start time for the opera wrong, and we had to delay dinner till after the opera. While we were chatting before leaving for the theatre, the Embassy cat took offence at Betty’s fur coat, and attacked it vigorously. Fortunately, Betty had taken it off on arrival, and it had been placed on a divan which became a strange war zone for the living and the dead .

Paris Opera’s “Don Giovani” was a superb production. By chance we had seen the Australian Opera’s production just before leaving home, and also a lamentable production of the same opera by the Scottish Opera in Glasgow while in Scotland. The Paris production by August Everding did full justice to this masterpiece. The singing was excellent with Soyer in the title role, a most handsome, aristocratic and callous libertine. Gabriel Bacquier was an admirable Leporello in all respects, but Kiri Te Kanawa took the honours as Donna Elvira. She stopped the show in the second act, winning a standing ovation. The sets were stylish black grilles on a generally dark stage, a trifle murky for my taste. It was made worse by some inept lighting, with soloists occasionally opening an aria in the dark, their spotlight joining them some seconds later. Overall, a most rewarding experience in an incredible auditorium. The old Paris Opera building was the epitome of the grand style. It is staggering to think that it dated from the same time as the Sydney town hall.

We came home via Japan and Hong Kong. In Japan I conferred with our embassy on strengthening cultural relations with Japan. Life was made difficult by the First Assistant Secretary for Cultural Affairs, Don Dobinson, becoming a father for the first time on the day after we arrived. In Hong Kong on a brief visit, it was a change to find cultural organisations which were not strapped for cash. Their Arts Centre was in a building of 19 floors in which funds from the commercial letting of most of the floors financed cultural operations on the rest.


Chapter Sixteen: AUSTRALIA COUNCIL/UNESCO

By 1980 our two children, John and Cathy, had both finished school and reached the stage of independence where parents watch and pray. John had started an Engineering degree at Sydney University, but after a year decided that it was not for him and, with remarkable foresight, switched to Computer Science. Cathy had graduated with Honours in Dentistry from the same university, and was now in practice. Both were establishing relationships with people and the arts. John leant towards acting, and Cathy towards singing. We were delighted at the interest in the arts, so long as it was accompanied by a safe means of earning a living. I have always liked Elmer Rice’s definition of education as teaching you to appreciate all the things you cannot afford, and we were relieved to see that both our kids were managing to prove him wrong, as least in the matter of affordability. In the middle of the year, Cathy enrolled in a music school in Norway and headed overseas for a visit which was to extend into a three year absence from Australia.

UNESCO’s seventh regional conference for Asia was held in New Zealand in July 1980 and I was a member of Australia’s delegation. It was remarkable for me as my first experience of an international conference. “Asia” included the Middle East, and nations were seated alphabetically. We were next to Afghanistan which was a political hotspot, then as now, and there was a sense of drama just sitting next their delegation. A continuing problem was that all three of them were chain smokers, and we shared their self-created fog. I was amazed at the simultaneous translations of all exchanges, accessible via headphones and a language selection key on your desk. If you wanted to speak, or make “an intervention” in the UNESCO parlance, you pressed a button which registered up at the Chairman’s desk, and in due course he would call on the delegation from Australia.

1981 started off with John heading off overseas for an eight week visit to the UK, so Bet and I were home on our own. Later in the year we too were scheduled for an overseas trip, but before leaving there was a development of considerable significance. The Act establishing the Council had been at pains to give it independence from political interference. It should not receive, and had no obligation to act upon, any directive from the Minister to whom it reported or to the Government as a whole. Should there be directives, however, failure to follow them could have serious consequences. The most far-reaching consequence came in 1981 when the then Minister rang me to ask that I arrange for an eisteddfod in his electorate to receive a grant. I explained that such a grant would have to be approved by the Music Board, and that the Board had a policy of not funding competitions. The Minister said: “I want it funded.” I said that while I appreciated his wishes, the authority to approve such action rested with the Music Board. “Have Council approve it,” he said. I told him that I did not believe Council would go against the Board, but that I would speak to the Chairman about it. This I did and in due course he too advised the Minister that the funding requested was a departure from Council policy. It was some months before we became aware of the consequences of this refusal.

Meanwhile, Australia had a cultural co-operation agreement with China, which provided for a meeting every two years, alternately in Peking and Canberra, to formalise details of cultural exchange programs for the next two years. The first such meeting was scheduled to take place in Peking in October. Australia’s delegation was to consist of Ivor Bowden, from Foreign Affairs, Charles Beltz from the Dept. of Education, Jocelyn Chey from the Australia-China Foundation and myself. We set off for China in October.

Betty went ahead of me to spend a few days with Peg Franklin and her daughter, Jane, in the flat at the mid-levels of Hong Kong’s Peak where she and Rob Aldous, her husband lived. Rob was the manager for Theiss constructions in Hong Kong. Their flat had a wonderful view over the harbour, and they gave Betty a great time with their insider’s knowledge of the city. I got some taste of their pleasures when I arrived three days later, and they met me in the evening at a wharf in Theiss’s luxury launch. We went on a cruise of the waterways, sitting on deck drinking white wine and munching nibbles as the sun set. We finished up with dinner at Aberdeen. The launch pulled up alongside the floating restaurant, and Rob told his skipper to call back for us in a couple of hours time. We had a great meal. Bet came home with me to the palatial new Shangri-la Hotel for a couple of days before we flew out for Peking.

At Peking airport a delegation met us, collecting our passports and by-passing all customs and immigration procedures. We were driven to our hotel, the Yan Jing, previously the Fu-king but re-named to avoid Western embarrassment. It was quite comfortable but had odd features. Any time the toilet was flushed or the bath drained, the floor was flooded. In every room and corridor, tea was provided in mugs with lids. Also in the corridors was an official to take note of the guests’ comings and goings.

The staff generally were quite aggressive and reluctant to give service that might imply a state other than equality. The taste in contemporary decoration was shocking. The hotel foyer had a fawn terrazzo floor, a red carpet with mauvey-pink and silver threads, dark turquoise chairs, and long thin green vases with masses of plastic flowers in all the colours of the rainbow.

At the time China was not long out of the cultural revolution, and overall Peking had a very drab air. The buildings were squat and square. The streets, largely devoid of cars, were crowded with people and bicycles. There seemed to be no road rules or pedestrian crossings, and you took your life in your hands if you ventured out on the streets other than in a car. An earlier edict had declared grass to be an unnecessary intrusion in the city, so all gound that was not paved was bare earth. Dust rose from a myriad of pedestrian feet to join the brown smog of cooking smoke which blanketed the city. Traditional Mao garb was still the standard dress, so the throng of people did nothing to enhance the general drabness. Shopping however was a real joy if you knew where to look, with low prices and high quality. While I attended the formal meetings, Betty was taken on tours and shopping sprees by Lyn Maddocks, wife of the cultural attache at the Embassy, and made some wonderful purchases at bargain prices.

So far as my meetings were concerned, all the details had been finalised in advance, and our discussion was an exercise in rubber stamping. Our Ambassador to China, Hugh Dunne, lent dignity to more formal occasions, while the Cultural Attache, Ross Maddock, did most of the work, not merely as an excellent translator, but in helping to steer us past any stumbling blocks, real or imagined. In this he was ably assisted by Dr Chey.

With great good will on both sides, and effective prior informal consultations, the formal sessions were brief and trouble free. More time was spent on social occasions which always seemed to involve eating. Those of us who did not have the language could but smile and eat whatever was placed before us with a relish that was at times more apparent than real. At one banquet I consumed, in ignorance, a baked sparrow, minus feathers but otherwise intact.

It was wonderful to attend a performance of Peking Opera in Peking. It is definitely a popular art form and far from upper-class, with concrete floors and wooden seats. The audience filled every seat, looking very much a workers’ cross-section. Although the cognoscenti applauded the odd sustained note, the biggest applause was for the action. Magnificent fights and acrobatic stunts earned spontaneous and general acclaim. A local patron next me was fascinated by my opera glasses and finally plucked up courage to indicate that he would like to borrow them. I passed them over and his reaction was almost as good as anything on stage. At interval we withdrew to the foyer where our hosts regaled us, not with champagne, but with the latest delicacy, icy-poles on sticks. Visits to the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs and the Forbidden City provided welcome contrasts to the drabness and smog of current Peking. The final banquet was in The Hall Of The People in Tianamin Square, with formal seating, much shaking of hands and endless courses of food.

As a reward for our participation in the official business, we were taken to spend a holiday weekend in Shanghai. Before leaving Peking we had a 7am breakfast at the airport of rice gruel, eggs foo yong, vegetables, dumplings, meat, fish and sweet cakes. Our plane was Russian and seemed to incorporate a large number of castanets, for the flight had a disconcerting atmosphere of flamenco, but we made it to Shanghai at about 11am. The drive to our hotel was through a rich, ripe, dirty city teeming with life and vitality. The streets were lined with beautiful plane trees, which the Chinese call French trees, and indeed much of the city reminds one of Paris.

After lunch, we were taken on a stroll through the oldest part, which was thick with people, many of whom were tourists from the country-side who had not seen many foreigners and stared in wonder at Betty’s blonde hair. Some even wanted to touch it. Next day there were some new arrivals from Australia for another conference; Geoff and Ann Blainey, Stephen Fitzgerald and Tom Kenneally. We dined together and next day drove down to the Bund, and boarded a ferry to take us up the Huan Poo River to the junction with the Yellow River. We had a private room for a most interesting trip. On the way back we were treated to an excellent performance of conjurors, jugglers and magicians. After lunch back at the hotel, a car was provided to take Betty and Ann Blainey shopping. They discovered another difference from Chinese women when they tried to buy some canvas shoes. The largest size in the store was too small for Betty, much to the amusement of the crowded shoppers.

We visited the Peace Hotel, where a band of old gentlemen in the lounge played 1940’s jazz on instruments which had been exhumed after burial during the Cultural Revolution. Bet declared it appropriate to dance to the old tunes, so we all got up and shuffled round the floor. Another musical connection was the Shanghai Conservatorium, where, as usual, we sat around having a formal mug of tea and listened to a speech of welcome, followed by a history of the college. Dr Han was a frail looking aristocrat in his smartly tailored Western suit. He was a violinist and made violins as a hobby. During the Cultural Revolution, he and most of his staff had been sent to work in the fields, while former peasants took over the institution. The conservatorium was now once again a respected home of learning, both general and musical, taking children from the age of nine through to tertiary level. They also made instruments for their own use, and for sale. After an address by Dr Han, there was a short concert by students. A piano piece by Schubert was followed by two girls, playing beautifully, on traditional stringed instruments: one a cheng with 32 strings, reminiscent of a zither, and the other a pipa, with 2 strings, shaped liked an elongated guitar and played with much slapping of wood. They were followed by a quintet of young men on conventional instruments playing Hindemith. In some respects, the conservatorium resembled a factory, with performance areas packed together, but the quality of the product was most impressive. Back to the hotel for lunch and in the afternoon we flew to Tokyo where I was required to sit in on the biennial Culture and Information Conference of the North Asian posts of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

For three days, representatives from the Australian embassies in Japan, China, Hong Kong and Korea met in our Tokyo embassy under the chairmanship of Sir James Plimsoll. Besides the cultural and information officers of each post, there were representatives of the ABC, the Australia-Japan Foundation, the Australian Tourist Commission, Qantas, the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and the Department of Trade and Resources.

In the cultural area the meeting stressed the need to identify key entrepreneurs and decision makers and to focus endeavours on them. In China and Japan it was considered that a disproportionateiy large share of available resources was being applied to academic exchanges, while in Korea academic studies by Australians were totally neglected. Concern was expressed over projected Radio Australia broadcasts to teach English to Chinese. It was thought that inadequate resources were available to service the project, because a similar program for Indonesians had been aborted for the same reason.

Rather surprisingly Aboriginal matters were considered at that time to be inappropriate subjects for cultural exchange in this region, with the exception of Korea. Other countries did not wish to discuss their ethnic minority problems similar to ours. There was a general belief that Australia tended to give too much attention to Aboriginal affairs in its news reports, etc, for a region where minority groups were given far less consideration than in Australia.

We had been booked to stay in Tokyo at an incredible hotel - the New Otani. It was right in the centre of the city, surrounded by expressway interchanges and high density living, yet it had a huge Japanese garden with lakes and waterfalls. It would have been impressive anywhere but in the centre of Tokyo it was mind-blowing.

We went to the theatre one night to see a drama “Ondine”. As it was in Japanese, we were more interested in the production and the audience than the play itself. The audience was young and affluent. There were no jeans and sweat shirts, but excellently tailored formal suits for the men, and stylish gowns for the ladies. The staging was incredible. While the play offered little scope for spectacle, there was one brief scene where a sea god had to demonstrate his magic powers. With a couple of gestures, in an overall time of about three minutes, he caused the stage to open up, like the earthquake scene in “San Francisco”, and a giant Trojan horse to rise up with flashing lights and clouds of steam. It disappeared the way it came, and a second gesture created an erupting volcano upstage which blew itself apart and became a raging torrent of lava flowing towards the audience. Another gesture and it too disappeared. It may not have been necessary for the play, but it was undeniably theatrically effective and done with great style.

We left Tokyo on a Friday for Los Angeles where I had a series of meetings with the theatre community, and with Herbert Shore at the University of Southern California. He had been briefed by the American National Commission for UNESCO to prepare their paper for the World Cultural Conference to be held in Mexico next July. As Chairman of the Culture Committee of Australia’s National Commission, and a member of our delegation to the Conference, I wanted to check plans with Herbert.

Bet and I had decided to use the weekend between Tokyo and Los Angeles for a visit to the Grand Canyon. We were to change planes at LA, and fly on to the Canyon. Unfortunately, as we neared LA, we were advised that the airport was closed by smog, and we would be flying instead to Las Vegas to wait for the smog to lift. We sat on the ground at Las Vegas for some hours , and by the time we got to LA, we had missed our connecting flight. The only plane we could get out that night in the general direction we wanted to go was to Phoenix, Arizona. We decided to take it, and drive from there to the Grand Canyon. We arrived at Phoenix at about 11pm, picked up a car, and booked in at the airport hotel, intending an early start next morning.

We had a lovely drive through the desert, and arrived at the Canyon about lunch time. We spent the afternoon exploring the beauty spots of the rim, and next morning took a helicopter flight over the Canyon. That evening we flew back to LA to be ready for business on Monday morning.

We stayed at the Beverley Hilton and were fascinated by its parking problems. There was virtually no kerbside parking, and it seemed that everyone staying at the hotel was picked up or dropped off by a limousine. In the absence of parking, the limos formed a conga line forever circling the block, with occasional defections to pick up or set down a passenger. When Herbert Shore came to pick us up, he arrived in a Pajero recreation vehicle, which looked very out of place among the circling black sharks.

Our next stop was Washington, where we stayed at the Watergate Hotel, and savoured the echoes of the break-in which “did” for President Nixon. Most of my time was spent with the National Endowment For The Arts, which was getting another new Chairman, Frank Hodsoll. As Livingstone Biddle was still in the chair, Hodsoll had been given a temporary office in the White House, and it was quite a thrill to meet him there. His brief from the President was to raise money for the arts, and this he intended to do by providing expertise and other assistance to help States and arts organisations raise money for themselves.

In New York, apart from touching base with earlier contacts, I had extensive discussions with cable TV operators to see where it was going and what we could expect of it. The only stage show we saw was a production of “Tosca” at the Met. We had previously seen the Australian Opera’s production, and we saw Covent Garden’s later in the trip. Without doubt, the Met’s was the worst production. The production by Tito Gobbi had been around for a long time and had a lacklustre cast. Only the orchestra rose above the generally poor standard.

In Toronto I had interesting discussion with the head of Ontario’s Arts Council. Like most others, the Council was trying to cope with reduced funds, and was experimenting in devolving decisions on funding to third parties. In this way it was hoped to avoid the odium associated with giving to one, and alienating the many, but a problem with such an arrangement was that it tended to reinforce the existing arts establishment, and to stifle new initiatives.

An interesting new initiative was a joint exercise between the Arts Services Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Culture and Recreation and the Ontario Arts Council. Profits from the provincial lottery, Wintario, are ultimately the source of provincial funds for Ontario arts activities. A lump sum is devolved annually to the Arts Council to cover operating expenses for grantees, while the Ministry retains funds for distribution for capital works. Under a new scheme of challenge grants, the Ministry would match, on a two for one basis, new money an arts organisation raised for a specific new activity. There were some strings attached but generally it looked like a good move. Another lottery based scheme for arts support was a scheme called “Half-back”. Under the scheme, patrons could recoup half the money paid for admission to an arts attraction by presenting the used tickets to the Ministry.

After Canada, we went to Scotland and England. In Scotland, the new Director of the Arts Council was Tim Mason who had been Director of Western Australia’s Arts Council, and an old friend. He was concerned about the lack of local government support for the arts, and was pushing towards a concept where all Scottish Arts Council funding would require equivalent funding from Local Government. I wished him well.

The big change in London was the impending completion of the Barbican Centre. Work began in 1971 on a five and a half acre site in the centre of the City of London, as distinct from the West End, with a budget of 143 million pounds. A complex of high-density, quality accommodation, a concert hall, two theatres, three cinemas, a public library, an art gallery and sculpture court, restaurants, exhibitions halls etc, was to open on March 3 1982. The 1,100 seat theatre will be the London home of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the 2,000 seat concert hall, the home of the London Symphony Orchestra. While the venues are attractive, and doubtless efficient for the performers, the sizes of both auditoria were conceived in the days of more generous public funding than currently applies. Even if the venues are packed nightly, finances will remain a problem, and there is a real danger that they will not be so packed. It is a bold venture to provide such an amenity at such a distance from the established places of entertainment, and I doubt it will work. Although the building is impressive, there is a suggestion of Brasilia about it, and the theatres and concert hall have an oppressive feel from being largely subterranean, with massive buildings on top of them.

As usual London abounded in great arts attractions. Covent Garden offered a very fine production of “Tosca” with Domingo as Cavaradossi, the Royal Shakespeare Company presented “Educating Rita”, and Harold Pinter produced Simon Gray’s “Quartermaine’s Terms”, one of our best night’s in a theatre for a long time. At the Royal Academy the Great Japanese Exhibition, was a blockbuster of the Edo Period, covering Japanese art and life from the mid-sixteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries. It filled eleven galleries at the Royal Academy, and was the biggest exhibition they had handled to date.

On our way home, we stopped off in Paris to sort out several UNESCO matters relating to the forthcoming World Cultural Conference in Mexico, and in Singapore to sort out some Music Board matters relating to the local Symphony Orchestra.

Once home we discovered that the Minister had arranged for an amendment to the Australia Council Act to be passed by Parliament which allowed for the appointment of a full-time Chair, appointed by the Minister. There were also modifications to the structure of Council to reduce the power of the Boards.

When Geoffrey Blainey’s term as part-time Chairman concluded, Timothy Pascoe was appointed the first, and to date the last, full-time Chairman. With a Chairman who owed his livelihood to the Minister, and an all-powerful Council dominated by individual members each appointed by the Minister, there was little chance in future that the Minister’s wishes would ever take second place to the needs of the Arts community.

Fortunately, no subsequent Minister has seen fit to appoint a full-time Chairman, and I believe that Council and its staff have found ways to make the revised structure work for the arts community. For me personally, the amendment created real problems.

The original Act provided that the daily affairs of the Council would be run by the General Manager. This was unchanged, but while such an arrangement worked well with a part-time Chairman, it clearly could create problems with a full-time Chairman. I suggested to the new Chairman that a solution would be for him to takeover all policy matters, and leave me to run things on a daily basis. Tim Pascoe declined such an arrangement, saying that he wanted to be in charge of the daily operations as well as policy. This seemed to me an impossible situation, so I suggested that I take long-service leave. I had six months owing to me, twelve months if I took it on half pay, and this would give Timothy a clear year to run things as he wished. On my return, I would only have a few months of my contract to run, and could fit in to whatever seemed appropriate at that time. Tim welcomed this suggestion, and as things turned out, nothing could have been better for me. Betty and I spent a year touring the world when it was at its most idyllic, and when the Australian dollar was at an all-time high on the international exchange.

In April 1982, I was scheduled to attend a conference in Tokyo of the Asian Cultural Centre of UNESCO, and in July there was the World Cultural Conference of UNESCO in Mexico City, where I was to be Deputy Head of the Australian Delegation under Owen Harries, our Ambassador to UNESCO. On completion of this, it was agreed that I would start my year’s leave on half pay. Half pay had the double advantage of extending the leave period and reducing the income tax payable.

I arranged to take a couple of week’s leave in conjunction with the Tokyo conference, so Betty and I could indulge in a bit of sight-seeing. We flew to Tokyo and on arrival at the new Narita airport were very taken by one of the helpful notices in English. It read:

PREASE DO NOT REAVE RUGGAGE IN THE ROBBY

We dutifully took our ruggage with us in the bus to Tokyo’s main railway station and caught the bullet-train to Nagoya. There we changed trains to get to our destination, Toba. We had read about traditional inns called rickoyans, and booked into one in Toba. You sleep on tatami mats and eat local food. No-one speaks a word of English, but care and consideration are more than compension. Our room served as a living room, dining room and bed room. It had a miniscule bathroom and toilet and a little verandah overlooking fishing boats and a wharf. Our luggage and effects were discreetly stowed away behind sliding panels. We removed our shoes on the verandah before donning footwear suitable for the room’s tatami matting. Meals were served on the floor, and were wonderful to behold. Betty had to be satisfied with the appearance, but I found the food just as good to eat. When the evening meal was cleared away, the room was readied for sleep. The pillows were carved wood, and our expectations of sleeping on the floor with wooden pillows were not great, but in the event it proved very comfortable and we slept like babes.

Next day we took a trip to the nearby Mikimoto Islands where pearls are cultured, and sexy ladies dive for them in figure-hugging white sheets. They dive from launches with floating wooden tubs into which they put the oysters they have dived for. Mikimoto had a wonderful display of cultured pearls of various sizes, shapes and colours. On Monday we took the train back to Tokyo for the ACCU conference, and checked in at the Fairmont Hotel, overlooking the Imperial Gardens.

Japan is proud to maintain UNESCO’s Asian Cultural Centre, and as I discovered, goes to great pains to reinforce its regional dominance by giving conference members a great welcome. It was cherry-blossom time, and the countryside looked at its best. The cherry blossom, or sakura, acquired great emotional overtones during World War 2, when it became the symbol of the short life of young kamikazi pilots who bloomed beautifully for a brief moment before dying.

The actual conference was held in the Centre’s offices in Tokyo, but once that was over we all were carted off to Hakone for festivities which extended over several days of sight-seeing, feasting and sailing on local waterways in a replica Spanish galleon. The grand finale dinner found us all issued with traditional Japanese costumes to wear. This allowed the Japanese President to indulge a transvestite streak by dressing as a woman.

All representatives were advised in advance that after the dinner they would be called upon to present an aspect of their culture for the entertainment of the assembled company. This caused me considerable concern. I didn’t wish to sing “Crick go the shears”, and a recitation of “The Man from Snowy River” seemed over long for a multi-lingual audience even if I could remember it all. After deep thought, I came up with a solution which will long live in the diplomatic record as a bomb of atomic proportions. My presentation was to be in two parts: the first was a demonstration of boomerang throwing, made possible by my possession of an invisible boomerang which the audience could watch with me as it circuited the hall before I caught it as it came back to my hands. This was followed by my singing of “Waltzing Matilda” in what I explained was a special arrangement for people living in high density areas; you could see that I was singing the words, but in this arrangement the words were inaudible. After the performance, the transvestite President congratulated me, but expressed regret that my performance did not allow him to join in singing “Waltzing Matilda” which was a great favourite. Betty told me that she had never been so embarrassed, and that, for the first time, our marriage was at serious risk.

After the Conference, I had arranged to take a fortnight’s leave to allow us to take a conducted tour of Japan. By good luck, we had learned of a new tour from Tokyo over the alpine spine of the country to the west coast and the Sea of Japan, and then down to the old capital, Kyoto. Because it was the first trip, it had the company’s top guide as driver and there were only five couples in a ten passenger bus. We saw a Japan quite different from expectation. In place of crowded cities we saw villages. In place of flat plains we saw mountains and alpine huts. We saw peasants planting rice in paddy fields, artisan candle and lacquer makers, old villages with fish in flowing channels instead of drains. We split into two mixed groups of five to dine in small restaurants and single sex groups for bath-houses.

The bath-houses were a surprise. Once the sexes separated, you removed your clothes, picked up a bucket, some soap and a small towel, and repaired to what looked like a male urinal with multiple hot taps. There you soaped yourself, rinsed the soap, and, wet but clean, moved to a steaming area of hot pools fed and drained by a stream of warm water. You sat in the pool and relaxed for as long as you liked. From over an adjacent wall came the intriguing sound of the other sex enjoying themselves. When you had had enough you dried off, donned a gown and repaired to the dining-room where you sat around a slightly raised platform, and enjoyed your dinner apart from the cramps as your legs objected to the unaccustomed posture.

Kyoto was truly beautiful in the traditional style. We saw kabuki theatre, explored luscious old gardens, and sat for the prescribed time in silent contemplation of dark stones of various shapes and sizes in a sea of raked white gravel.

Back in Sydney, we set about finalising arrangements for my year’s long service leave. We had learned of a scheme in France whereby you could rent a brand new Renault for a low fee which decreased the longer you rented. We checked the details, and rented a medium sized Renault Sedan for an initial six months. We chose a manual transmission gear-box with a fourth forward gear to economise on petrol costs. We would pick up the car on arrival in Paris after UNESCO’s World Conference on Culture in Mexico, and visits to New York and Canada.

Chapter Seventeen : LONG SERVICE LEAVE

The first part of my leave involved attendance as deputy head of Australia’s delegation to UNESCO’s World Cultural Conference in Mexico City. The head was Australia’s Ambassador to UNESCO, Owen Harries, who, before his appointment to the Embassy in Paris, had been speech writer for the Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser. The other members of the delegation were Eric Wilmot, Director of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Andrea Hull, Director of the Community Arts Board, Marea Gazzard, President of the World Crafts Council, and John Watson, Counsellor in the Australian Permanent Delegation to UNESCO. Altogether there were delegations from 126 member States, with overall attendance of 960 participants including one prime minister, three vice-chairmen of councils of ministers, 77 ministers or secretaries of state, 31 deputy ministers and under-secretaries of state, and 21 ambassadors as heads of delegations. The purpose of the conference was, over ten days, to consider the fundamental problems of culture in the contemporary world and to formulate new guidelines for accentuating the cultural dimension in general development and for facilitating international cultural co-operation.

To the world, Mexico gave the tomato, avocado, chocolate, peanuts, squash, vanilla, turkey and syphilis. Mexico City, at the time of our visit, was the most populous city in the world, bigger than London or New York. Unlike other huge cities, there was an enormous disparity between its parts. The centre of the city, Zona Rosa, had been planned and built in the era of Spanish dominance in the 19th century with imposing buildings flanking wide boulevardes. Elegant trees and gardens graced the median areas, and there was an overall air of opulence. On the hillsides of the crater which houses the city were areas of incredible poverty, devoid of made roads, electricity, water supply and sanitation. The dirt roads were crammed with battered vehicles which occasionally found their way into the Zona Rosa, adding their foul-smelling exhausts to a stagnant atmosphere where pollution levels went off any normal scale.

The Australian delegation was housed on the thirtyninth floor of a luxury hotel of the El Presidente chain in the Zona Rosa sector of Chapultapec or “grass-hopper”. A huge statue of a grasshopper graced the hotel’s fore-court. Though we were not fans of Mexican cuisine beforehand, the food in the hotel was excellent. Each day we were collected by coach and driven to the conference site. We had a Kombi van and driver for any independent transport of our delegation. We were glad that the van came with a driver because there were traffic hazards at every stop light. Seeming brigands sloshed muck on your windscreen and cleaned it in anticipation of a tip, and, for entertainment, there were men and boys who blew a mouthful of petrol or some other volatile liquid over a cigarette lighter producing a cloud of fire, again with the expectation of a tip.

There was time between the meetings for sight-seeing and for occasional forays into the country-side. The police gave a dramatic air to any trip because they carried machine guns and resembled thugs in uniform, an impression reinforced by press reports of kidnappings and robberies by police. On one outing to the country-side, Betty contracted Montezuma’s Revenge, a virulent gastric wog which the Mexican hero inflicted on the Spanish conquerors, making death a seemingly attractive option. Local doctors did not enjoy a high reputation and we were advised to contact a resident Canadian who served the Canadian Embassy and was supposed to be hot stuff. He wasn’t much help to Betty, who had a longer run than many American musicals. Indeed she kept running until we saw a doctor in New York a week or so later.

One evening, before Montezuma struck we were at a reception at the French Embassy. It was quite a way from the city centre in a leafy suburb. Owen Harries and I with our respective wives had gone in the Kombi. When we decided that we had had enough, I looked around for Owen to see about leaving, only to discover that he had already left with the Kombi. We were in a pickle, because our chances of getting a cab to come for us at that time of night were practically nil. We decided that our best bet was to cadge a lift into the Zona Rosa and there pick up a cab to take us to the hotel. We loitered hopefully near the front door, and when we spotted a nice looking gentleman, asked if he spoke English. He did and we explained who we were and our plight. “We can’t have Aussies in trouble,” he said. “I was in your country several times during the War. I’m James Mitchener, by the way. Let’s see what we can do.” We had quite a chat and he took us to our hotel in his car. I had always thought that he must have been a member of the American delegation, but I have just checked the list of delegates and he wasn’t.

On another evening at a Mexican reception in one of their fabulous museums, we were chatting with a delegate from the Maldives. I confessed my ignorance of his country and asked how big it was. “At high or low tide?” he asked. As a group of islands in the Indian Ocean, their area doubles when the tide goes out. Indeed in the tsunami of Boxing Day 2004, the Maldives nearly went out for good.

In our delegation, Eric Wilmot was one of the most remarkable people I have ever met. An Australian aborigine he had no schooling as a child, and as an adult, when hospitalised as a result of an accident, was illiterare. While in hospital he taught himself to read and write, and, on discharge, matriculated and went to university, graduating in due course. He obtained senior jobs with the government, and as a sideline invented a variable gearing system. He patented it and was in the process of concluding international licensing arrangements at the time of the Conference. He was great company, and I hope we managed to give back some of the enjoyment he gave us. Last heard of, he was Director of Education for Queensland.

Of the other members of our delegation, Andrea Hull and Marea Gazzard were both Board members of the Australia Council, so were old friends. Marea was a well established craftswoman of international repute, but Andrea was a young star on the rise. When I joined the Council she was a staff member working for the Community Arts Board, and quite a fire brand. I was initially a bit scared of her, but respect quickly replaced fear, and when the founding Director of Community Arts, Ros Bower, retired, I appointed Andrea in her place. After leaving the Council, she became a department head for the Western Australian government, and later the Director of the Victorian College of the Arts. The other two members, not known to me personally at the time were both from Paris; Owen Harries, our Ambassador to UNESCO, and John Watson, a staff diplomat at the Embassy.

At any one time there would be a number of meetings or committees in operation, and the delegation would usually split into singles to cover activities of most interest to Australia. At daily group sessions we pooled information and confirmed collective positions. Opening and closing sessions were attended by the full delegation, and Owen, as leader, spoke for Australia. As at previous UNESCO meetings, it was enormously encouraging to see how much the various nations had in common. The violent political divisions between countries were dissolved by a common humanity, although there were signs of American’s bloody-mindedness over alien voices in the United Nations, and of their evolving strategy of making UNESCO the target of their frustration with the UN generally.

Usually I am not lucky in financial matters, but we struck it rich when Mexico devalued its currency. Most delegates had left before this happened, but we stayed on after the conference to visit a nearby Aztec site. This meant that we didn’t pay our hotel bill until after the devaluation. Our travel allowance had been worked out at the old rate, and we had been paid in advance. I offered to repay hundreds of dollars excess, but apparently government accounting didn’t allow for such eventualities.

In the Valley of the Pyramids, the structures bore no resemblance to their Egyptian namesakes, being altars rather than tombs, and flat-topped rather than pointed. Though mainly solid, there were sub-terranean passages linking the pyramids, and these had coloured decoration which seemed to have withstood the ravages of time to a remarkable extent. When they were all freshly painted and paved, they must have been a wonderful sight.Our enjoyment was inhibited by Bet’s continuing malady, and we were glad to catch our plane for New York, where we were to stay with our son, John, who was working there as a computer consultant for Mars, the world’s largest private company, manufacturing candy, pet food and a wide variety of Masterfoods. It was a three hour flight to Dallas, where we had to change planes and clear Customs, and then another three hours or so to New York. We got a cab from the airport to the apartment where we were met by both our children; our daughter, Catherine, having come over to meet us from England where she was practicing as a dentist to finance her musical studies in Den Hague.

Bet collapsed into bed, and with John’s aid we found a doctor who did home visits. He was a foreigner who had yet to conform to the established regime of “you come to me” which predominated in the Western world. The Canadian doctor in Mexico had concentrated on trying to stem the flow. Our New York medic rejected this, saying what wanted out, should be let out. He discontinued all medication, gave her an injection for the pain, and said to rest and eat as little as possible. Happily, this worked, and in a few days Bet was back to normal.

John’s apartment on the fifteenth floor of 24th Street had just a single bedroom and was a bit snug for the four of us, but it was great to be together. Both children had been overseas for some time, and the reunion was made all the sweeter by the realisation that we were now joining them for a whole year. From the roof of the apartment block, there was a beautiful view of the Manhattan skyline, including the Empire State and Chrysler buildings. With John’s advice, we set about “doing” New York. The Circle Line boat trip round the island of Manhattan was a marvellous introduction, with a “live” commentary that was a true work of art. We had meals in Greenwich Village, China Town and Little Italy, and Bet and Cathy indulged in shopping at Macys and Bloomingdales. We went to a concert in Lincoln Centre, and had the joy of a typical American musical in “Sugar Babies” starring an ageing Mickey Rooney and an even more ageing Ann Millar, who could still hoof it with the best of them at sixty. At the end of the week, we took Cathy out to JFK for her return flight to Europe.

John’s work obliged him to commute to New Jersey each day. One day Betty and I hired a car which John drove to work, and left us to explore New Jersey on our own. Once you get away from the part that borders the Hudson River and Manhattan, New Jersey is very green and rustic. We headed off on back roads around lakes in lush beech forests. After Mexico City and New York, the quiet tree-lined streets of little country towns were a great relief. The houses were white painted and stood, unfenced, in huge lawn areas. We had boned up on local history, and set about doing the historical sights. The first was Waterloo Village, dating back to the early 1800s. It had been bought as a whole by a private foundation and restored in situ. It had a particular charm which is lacking in artificial villages such as Greenfield Village in Detroit, which Henry Ford created by buying buildings in Europe, dismantling and shipping them to USA to be re-assembled as a quaint new “village’. A few of Waterloo’s homes were still lived in, and the old Methodist Church still had its Sunday service with a congregation of tourists plus about eight locals. The village owed most of its business life to a canal which was still there, but was no longer an avenue of commerce. However it still turned a waterwheel to cut wood and to grind corn for sale to tourists.

At each house or shop someone, dressed in the original period, took you through rooms which were just as they were all those years ago. The general store, the apothecary, the candle-maker and the blacksmith were all there and still working. You could handle household decorations, sit on the furniture and buy produce without any sense of being in a museum. We spent about three hours happily wandering through the quiet streets and gardens, before heading off to lunch at Chester, which John had told us was a typical American small town. It had an old town-mill which had been restored by the National Parks Commission, and ground flour as it did 150 years ago. It is extraordinary how efficient such old equipment can be. Thanks to gearing, the relatively stately turning of the waterwheel had things spinning quite fast. It produced 800 lbs of flour per hour, with the top mill-stone weighing over a ton. We bought some flour and some corncobs to have for dinner that night back in the apartment.

After lunch we drove to Jockey Hollow, a national site which goes back to the War of Independence. In 1779-80, Washington and his army sat out a bitter winter here. It was a hell of a time for 10,000 freezing troops, with dysentry and small-pox rife, little food or fuel, and only rough log huts for shelter while they waited for Spring. Most were camped on land of a prosperous farmer named Wick, and Wick’s farm has been preserved as it was, along with the log huts. It was odd to see it in the lush verdant summer, and to picture it as it was in that winter, 200 years ago, when so many soldiers starved, froze or died of disease. An excellent 10 minute film recreated the circumstances of the troops and gave a very present dimension to the distant tragedy.

Wick’s farmhouse was particularly fascinating because it had not merely the sights of the times, but the smells. The gardens and fields were still growing all the crops and herbs of the past, and these were stored in the farmhouse, and their smells were all about you. Fires burned in the grates under cooking pots, and you really felt you had gone back in time. You were free to wander through the house unrestricted. There were attendants, dressed in period clothes, but the only one who spoke to us was a girl scrubbing pots on the back lawn. Betty loved going through the kitchen garden and sampling all the herbs and spices. Apple, pear and quince trees were laden with fruit, and hollyhocks were full of bumble bees. We had intended to go on to Washington’s headquarters in Morristown, but had left it too late, as it was time to go and pick up John from work. To our horror we realised that we didn’t know where he worked. He had driven us there, and we had set off on our explorations without thinking of getting back. The town, we knew, was Dover, but his place of work was not in the town. We had neither the address nor the phone number to ring him. We were really up the creek, when I recognised a funeral home he had driven past in the morning, and, following that road, we mercifully found him.

Back in Manhattan we had the rare theatre experience of seeing a black American musical about a black pop group, “Dreamgirls”. The show itself was great but even more exciting was seeing it with a predominantly black audience. We now know the full meaning of audience participation. There was no sitting back and discreetly applauding what you approved of. There was audience/stage interaction all the time, and it generated a huge extra charge. It was like being at one of those black Baptist church services you see on films, where God is present in all but the flesh, and the congregation sings and dances with him.

All the time we were in New York, son John was having trouble with his eyes, and was working very hard. Betty worked magic on the limited cooking facilities of the apartment, and had a great meal ready for him whatever time he got home. When the doctors finally gave him the all-clear on his eyes, and Bet’s cooking had built him up, we took a reluctant leave of him and flew off for Canada.

Arriving in Toronto in Autumn, we planned to savour the wonderful colours of the forests of Algonquin National Park before heading east to Nova Scotia, where we were to visit my cousins, the Macdonalds, in Halifax. We hired a car in Toronto and visited our old friend and former landlady, Carolyn Barnes, before driving north to Algonquin. We had read that the best place to stay was Arowhon Pines in the centre of the park. The trees were in full Autumn colours, and we followed a winding dirt road through a painter’s palette of vegetation. Our lodge was on the shore of a lake miles from anywhere, and complete with that most remote sound-effect, the cry of loons in the evening. Walking through the woods was breath-taking, as was our discovery that the expensive accommodation did not accept credit cards or traveller’s cheques. There was no way we could pay cash. When I diffidently raised our problem with the management, they were unconcerned and said that they would be happy with a bank cheque. I explained that I only had an Australian cheque book and had made no arrangements to use it overseas. I was told that it didn’t matter, just write the cheque as so many Canadian dollars. This I did, and was amazed in due course to find that my bank duly paid the bill and debited my account. Back in Toronto, we returned the car and flew out to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where we were met at the airport by Kay Macdonald. Her husband, Bob, was out of town for a few days at a conference. He was a distant relative of mine. Betty explains the relationship as “second cousins twice removed”. I prefer the fact that our respective great, great, great maternal grandparents were half sisters. At all events, Bob and Kay had visited us in Sydney some years earlier, and they invited us to stay with them in Halifax.

They were spectacular hosts. Their beautiful home had a water frontage on an arm of the Atlantic. Bob had two sisters, Lilias and Helen, both of whom were widows at the time of our visit. Helen Rand’s summer home was in Indian Point, about 50 miles from Halifax. The house was straight out of “Anne Of Green Gables”, and looked out across lush fields to an island-studded Atlantic. We stayed with her for a few days, sampling the local product of dried cod. In Helen’s skilled hands, it was gorgeous. We also had our first experience of picking and eating blueberries in the wild, and also ate them cooked to perfection. In the winter months, Helen shared an apartment in Halifax with her sister, Lilias.

Lilias Toward was a judge and an author. Her summer home was in Baddeck on Cape Breton Island, about four hours’ drive from Halifax. We stayed there for a few days and were amazed to discover so much world history in so small a town. It was the home of Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone and many other things, including hydro-foil speedboats. He was stimulated in his accoustic work by the fact that his remarkable wife was deaf. Her biography was one of the books written by Lilias. The town was also the home of the Grosevenor family, founders of the National Geographic Society, and its world famous magazine, “The National Geographic”

Our visit to Baddeck was in the course of an extensive car tour of Nova Scotia with Bob and Kay. One of many highlights was the visit to Luneberg where an old fort had been restored and operated as a super theme park. It dated from the struggle between England and France for possession of Canada, and was a bit like Sovereign Hill at Ballarat, but with the added touch that the date of your visit was war time in 1748. You were challenged on arrival by sentries demanding to know your business and any attempt to refer to the present day was brushed aside as meaningless rubbish . Once admitted to the fort, 1748 applied to everything; the 20th century was something in the unimaginable future. We had a few days back in Halifax, returning hospitality, before flying to Paris, where we picked up our car for our European stay. It was a brand new grey-blue Renault 18 with four forward gears, to allow us to make the most of expensive petrol. It was spacious with a generous boot, and gave us no trouble during the eight months we had it. That was more than could be said for the traffic.

By the time we had completed the paperwork for the car, it was mid-afternoon and we struck the afternoon rush. In a strange car, in a strange town on an unfamiliar road out of a foreign city with signs in a language other than English, heading for a small town, Chateau Thierney, where we had never been before, I realized to the full Betty’s alienation from map-reading. However we had survived a motoring honeymoon when I couldn’t drive, and we managed to drive through a mist of tension and bad language (English), and ultimately reached our goal.

In the morning, we went shopping to buy picnic gear for the car so we could cater for ourselves as required, and headed off for Belgium and the Ardennes. Memories of World War 2 had phantom tanks looming out of the woods and over the hills. We also came to terms with the car in a couple of peaceful days, and when we finally headed off for Holland and Den Haag, where Cathy and Greg were studying music, Betty drove.

Cathy had booked a nice modern apartment for us in the seaside suburb of Scheveningen. It was in contrast to the grotty student digs where they were living, and where Greg had cooked us a welcoming lunch of potato soup. It was great to see them after so much travelling, and we took them out for dinner at an Indonesian restaurant. In the three weeks we spent there, we did all the sights of the Dutch capital. The highlight was the Reichs Museum with its fabulous collection of paintings.

One of Den Haag’s hazards is its trams. Sharing the road with the cars, they are likely to loom out of narrow side-streets, and often gave me and my passengers heart-attacks. Another feature of the roads was a strange yellow painting on the footpaths, with the letters “IN DEN GUT’. I assumed it was some political slogan until I raised the matter with Greg and learned that the strange yellow painting was of a dog relieving itself, and “IN DEN GUT’ was an exhortation to owners to ensure that their dog did it in the gutter rather than on the path.

When we finally headed off on our travels in mid October 1982, Cathy came with us. As it was the European autumn, the countryside was a wonderful blaze of colour. Our first stop was Han sur Lesse which has a remarkable mountain through which the river Lesse has cut a network of underground tunnels. A mini railway takes you inside the mountain, and there is an underground cafe at its heart. To entertain the patrons, music played on an amplifier sounds like hell, literally, with Old Nick conducting. Above ground on the banks of the Lesse, Bet discovered some chestnut trees, and she and Cathy insisted that we have roast chestnuts. Such wood as we could find was pretty damp, but with a lot of effort we got a fire going and set about roasting the chestnuts on a small piece of galvanised iron. It was only when we bit into our epicurean treat that we discovered that they were horse chestnuts and quite inedible.

Our next objective was Kaysersberg in Alsace, and when we reached it, we found it to be an ideal spot to which we would return many times in the months that followed. Our hotel was L’Abre Vert which overlooked the market square, and which, though small and intimate, had an excellent chef. It was a wine town and the little streets, boasting wineries along with the usual shops, were redolent with the smells of wine making. All around were vinyards, and beyond them an array of wonderfully preserved old villages like Riquewihr and fabulous old towns like Colmar. One of Kaysersberg’s claims to fame is as the birthplace of Albert Schweitzer, which was of particular relevance to Betty, as her mother was a descendant of the Schweitzers.

After a few days Cathy had to go back to Den Haag, so we put her on the train at Colmar, and made our leisurely way to Burgundy. With Beaune as a base, we sampled the local countryside and its produce. I recall purchasing a couple of tickets which secured entrance to a “cave” where you tasted 37 wines of the region. Then southwest to the Auvergne where we found a little gem of a place in Champs sur Tarantaine. The Auberge du Vieux Chene was the only hotel in the tiny village, and ideal for us, with comfortable accommodation in an intimate atmosphere, and great food. After a perfect week exploring the area, the weather changed and we had the real daddy of a storm. It was the day we were to set off on a trip to the Dordogne, and we had chosen a winding scenic valley road. With a howling gale, trees were down over the road, and we decided to return home. We stopped for lunch in Mauriac. Chimneys were being blown down, and at a rail crossing on our way home, we had the strange experience of a boom gate that was supposed to be up and open but the wind kept blowing it down and shut. Once down, it offered less wind resistance and rose again. We had to time our rail crossing very carefully or risk being guillotined. When we got home, the Auberge’s power was off and likely to be off for several days. That night part of the roof was blown off, and we decided to move on to Le Puy. On the way we drove through a pine plantation where most of the trees had been snapped off a metre or so above the ground, as the pines were not flexible enough to bend with the wind.

After a couple of days in Le Puy, we headed west to Mende and the gorges of the Tarn, the Lot and the Verdon. The rivers wind through steep erosion gulleys in quite desolate landscapes, climaxing in the gorges of the Verdon which rival the Grand Canyon in majesty, and are quite unlike anything else in Europe. At Sarlat la Caneda we were back in gourmet France, and the works of man not nature. The hotel and food were exceptional, with goose and its derivatives outstanding. We attended the goose market from which the town gets its name. With Sarlat as a base, we made a number of day trips; to Rocamadour, and into the valley of the Dordogne, which didn’t look capable of providing the wines for which it is famous. A bit like our own Barossa in that respect.

In late November I had to return to Paris where I was a member of the Australian delegation for a week’s review of UNESCO’s Five Year Plan. We were booked in at the Paris Hilton, and while I attended meetings, Betty did Paris and environs with Barbara Gates, the wife of our leader. The meeting ended on December 3rd, and the next day we drove to Calais and caught the ferry to Dover. After a couple days exploring Rye, we drove to stay with my cousin, Katherine, in London, and enjoyed a couple of week’s shopping and theatre. When Cathy and Greg arrived from Holland and John from America, we all drove up to Edinburgh for Xmas at the old family home of my other cousin, Margot.

Xmas 1982 was to be very special. Not only were there Margot and Katharine, Bet and I and our two children, but Catherine Adam with Alison and Donny, and Cathy’s future husband, Greg. Apart from wonderful company and food, Katharine had bought some remarkable Xmas crackers which contained not merely funny hats and unfunny jokes but whistles of different pitches and a music score to allow them to render Xmas carols. With Greg as conductor, the assembled players not only achieved great music, but had so much fun that the occasion lives on as one of life’s highlights.

It was a special year too for New Years Eve. We had the traditional Scottish celebration with a constant stream of visiting neighbours, even one in a kilt, and finally got to bed at 5am. Early in the New Year, Cathy and Greg returned to Holland, John returned to New York. Bet and I returned to Katharine’s flat at Hampstead and savoured more of London and its theatre.

We had made a booking for a package holiday with Holiday Fellowship in February. It was to be based in Albufiera in southern Spain, and we were to get there under our own steam in the car. We allowed just over two weeks for crossing to France, driving down the west coast and into Spain, crossing the Pyrenees, then west across northern Spain to Portugal and down Portugal’s Atlantic coast to Albufeira. In the process of getting our visas for the trip, one of the embassy staff told us about the Paradors of Spain and the Pousadas of Portugal. These were definitely the places to stay. They were old heritage buildings which had been restored to former grandeur and fitted out as five star hotels, but they retained the style of furniture and fittings for their period. We stayed in one at Santillana del Mar on our first night in Spain, and from then on stayed in paradors or pousadas for the rest of our time on the Iberian Peninsular. The juxtaposition of bygone elegance, 20th century plumbing and first class catering was an unbeatable mixture. It was main roads into Spain and along the coast to Santillana del Mar, but thereafter we stuck to minor roads with green edging on the Michelin maps indicating exceptional scenic value.

To help us cope with the diversity of languages, we had a multi-lingual phrase book. When we reached the foothills of the Picos De Europa, it seemed prudent to fill the petrol tank before the mountainous wilds. We came to a little villlage with a petrol bowser outside a small store. I told the attendant in my best French to fill the tank, but received only an uncomprehending stare. Realising we were now in Spain, I got out the phrase book, quickly turned to the Spanish section and, following the phonetic text, carefully told him, in Spanish, that we wanted a fill. He looked utterly perplexed, and I observed to Bet in English that we had struck the village idiot. I tried the phonetics again, this time a bit slower and louder, but still with no success. I tried mime, but this seemed only to complicate things. I decided to have one last try before driving off. In my miming, I had lost my place in the phrase book, and, trying to find it, realised that the phonetic phrase I had been using was “Please fill my tank” in Swedish, the language section alphabetically after Spanish in the phrasebook. The village idiot understood me perfectly when I tried him in Spanish.

Our next parador was in a snow-covered rocky valley, high up in the Picos De Europa at Fuente De. Next morning we took a cable car straight up another 3,000 feet to the top of the surrounding mountains, savouring the superb vistas over morning coffee before heading back through limestone gorges to the coast at Gijon and another parador.

Next day we followed the coast road west to La Coruna and Santiago De Compostela. For eleven centuries this had been the pilgrims’ route to Santiago. “Santiago” is the Spanish rendering of “St James” who, according to legend came there after the death of Jesus, and was reputedly buried there. Certainly James’ saintly influence received posthumous credit for the Christian success in driving the Moors out of Spain in 812 AD, giving rise to pilgrims from all over Europe making the journey to Santiago to worship at his tomb. A cockle-shell was adopted as their emblem because one of James’s posthumous miracles was reputed to be the restoration to a bride of her drowned husband, covered in cockle-shells but otherwise alive and well.

The cathedral was built early in the 11th century, and is still there today in all it glory. Many of the stones have worn smooth down the years from the touch of pilgrims’ hands. For us the greatest shock came from the enormous censer, about a metre in diameter, suspended from the ceiling and controlled by attendants with ropes. Starting from ground level, it swings in ever increasing arcs until it swoops down from the ceiling 90 feet above, skims the heads of the congregation and zooms up again to the ceiling with a comet’s tail of smoke and scent. There is a sense of truly grateful survival at its passing.

Leaving Santiago after a couple of days, we headed south through hilly country to Portugal, where we spent our first night in a lonely pousada, Sao Goncalo, high on the Alto do Espino Pass. Next day we entered Portugal’s great wine region, the valley of the Duoro. Grapes for the famous port wine are grown on the valley slopes near the Spanish border, and shipped at the river’s mouth from Portugal’s second largest city, Oporto, which gave the wine its name. We explored the city, sampled the wines, and headed south for the fabled Bucaco forest and its hotel which was once a royal hunting lodge and later a Carmelite monastery, until all religion was banned in Portugal in the early 19th century. Cathy had been impressed by Bucaco on her earlier visit, and it was on her recommendation that we went there. It is now a luxurious hotel in a beautiful park. The remains of the monastery boast cells which are insulated by cork, and wonderful candles in the shape of a woman’s breast with a nipple wick. It may well be that the lascivious memories of the monks led to the ban on religion in the moral 19th century.

Instead of staying in Lisbon, we opted for Cascais on the coast some 28 kilometres to the west. As it was out of season we got great accommodation at a nominal price, with great eating places thrown in. I distinguished myself at one of them. I ordered the Special which was crustaceans in a tomato and onion sauce. It came in a big bowl and diners were fitted with a neckerchief to protect from drips. I had some difficulty with a large crab claw, but finally used my two hands to break it. In the process I dug the claw deeply into the bowl, and managed to explode the sauce into a downpour all over myself and the table. We didn’t speak Portugese, but understood “Jesus Christ!” from the watching waiter. I had to leave the room, take off my coat and submit to collective cleaning by the kitchen staff.

Earlier that day, we had driven up the Sintra Range to the summit town that gave its name to the range, or vice versa. Betty had stayed there on a previous visit with Nance. Betty had wanted to stay at the government run pousada, but Nance had refused because she and Donald had always stayed at a commercial hotel of no less than two stars. The pousada would have rated four or five stars, had it been subjected to commercial listing; the only two star commercial hotel was lucky to achieve such a rating. We took relevant photos to show Nance when we got home, that it was clearly a case of a silk purse and a sow’s ear.

We headed south for Albufeira where we were to join up with the Holiday Fellowship party. The road wound down through gentle hills, planted with cork and almond trees. The almond trees were in blossom, and the remains of last year’s crop of almonds lay at their base. We had a glorious feed of the nuts in picturesque surroundings. Albufeira is a small coastal town with steep cliffs down to a sandy bay with a nice beach and a colourful fleet of fishing boats. Our hotel on the cliff top was pleasingly modern , and our room had all mod cons and a balcony looking out over the bay and ocean. The food was acceptable, but not as impacting as some of our Fellowship party. There was one girl who complained because, at home, she never ate anything but spaghetti !

This was to be a walking holiday. On our first walk Betty developed blisters and we got caught in the rain. Next day Betty bought a windcheater and some walking shoes. Although they helped, the damage had already been done to some extent, and the outings were not without pain. With a knowledgeable guide, the walks were agreeable, but after three days of hiking we were glad to have a spell looking at the local sights from the car. This included a trip to Cape St Vincente, Europe’s most southwesterly point. It was extraordinary to watch people fishing from perches hundreds of feet up on rocky cliffs.

Shopping resulted in two notable purchases: some first rate brandy for a couple of $A per litre, and a crochetted tomato bottle cap that looked just like one of Nance Cameron’s hats. It still graces our bottle of tomato sauce all these years later. Subsequent walks were much more enjoyable after our little break in the car, and because the weather was better. When the Fellowship tour ended, the rest of the party flew back to UK, and we set off in the car through orange groves to Seville. We stayed in the centre of this charming old city of streets lined with orange trees. We bought a lovely wrought-iron candelabra as a souvenir, and made a day trip south to Cadiz and the adjacent Jerez de la Frontera which gave its name to sherry. The area is very flat and swampy, and wine stored in the local bodegas has a distinctive salty taste. It is called Manzanilla, and we both vote it our favourite sherry. Apart from the wine, the food in the area was also excellent.

From Seville we headed north through the Extrema Dura to Merida with its wonderful Roman relics dating from 25 BC. Because of their isolation and the dry, hard climate they are in an incredible state of preservation. The theatre seats 6,000 with a beautiful portico behind the stage where the audience can stroll in the interval. Roman bridges span the two rivers of the town, and there are the remains of the two aqueducts that brought the town’s water supply. Further north lies the university town of Salamanca which is perhaps the most beautiful town in Spain. The buildings have a delicacy of carving in stone called Plateresque. The Plaza Mayor is the city’s heart with a wonderful diversity of shops, restaurants and taverns. In the evening the whole population, it seems, parades there in a gracious, convivial manner.

On the way to Madrid we stopped off at the Valley of the Fallen where General Franco built a grandiose but awe-inspiring memorial to all who died in the Civil War. A huge basilica has been carved inside the mountain, and Franco’s own tomb has pride of place therein. Even though it has been carved out of a mountain, the basilica’s nave is much bigger than either St Peter’s in Rome or St Paul’s in London. The whole is surmounted by a cross over 400 feet high.

El Escorial is near the Valley of the Fallen, and was the administrative capital of Spain for the brief period in the 16th Century when Spain was the dominant power of the western world. It has a spectacular beauty, unity and grandeur, but is also a sad and sobering reminder of the impermanence of power.

Madrid too has many echoes of Spain’s past, but is also a great and thriving city of the present. At over 2,000 feet above sea level, it is Europe’s highest capital. All the arts are celebrated and splendidly housed, with the Prado vying with the Louvre as the world’s most famous art gallery. Madrid’s layout reminded Betty of Melbourne, with neighbouring Toledo, Madrid’s Geelong. After Madrid, we headed northeast through a moonscape covered in an incredible assortments of herbs growing wild, and finally reached Barcelona.

The city is generally famous for Gaudi’s remarkably fluid architecture, but for us it was the home of Lilias and Magi Casanas, Lilias being the eldest daughter of my cousin Catherine Adam. Just north of Barcelona is the monastery of Montserrat, perched high on a mountain peak. We spent the day there attending a service in the basilica. The road northeast of Barcelona leads to the border with France and covers the dive of the Pyrenees into the Mediterranean. There is a main road, but we chose a secondary road along the coast, because Michelin gave it a green edge to signify scenic value. It is very narrow, and consists of a seemingly endless sequence of a steep climb to a sharp bend and a plunge down to the rocky beach of a narrow bay. I guess the scenery was pretty spectacular, but we were really too scared to take our eyes off the road.

Before we crossed the border into France, we stocked up on sherry. It is very hard to find sherry in France, but we weren’t worried with a boot full of Spain’s best fino. Collioure is the first French town you come to, and it is very pretty but it is also small. My first task was to get some French currency, and I needed to cash some Travellers’ Cheques. The only ones I had were $US 100, and no one wanted to cash them. Even the only local bank was reluctant, and I had the devil’s own job to shame the manager, with my halting French, into accepting them.

Cashed up, we drove through the Camargue to St Remy en Provence, where we stayed for five days, while we visited such nearby sights as Arles, Les Baux and Pont Du Garde. We then drove on to the mountainous area near the Italian border to spy out the land for the forthcoming visit by my cousin Katharine. She had had an operation which severely inhibited her movement and she needed cheering up. We had earlier found, at Fayence, a charming olive farm converted to a guest house, and we opted on it for our initial base. We met Katharine at Nice airport, and took her to Fayence. On one of our outings, Katharine and I went for a short walk to the top of a small hill. She was very apprehensive about the rocky path, but agreed to give it a go. She made it to the top, and the sense of achievement was a wonderful tonic, as she had been convinced that her walking days were over.

We spent a week with her doing such sights of the region as Vence, the Gorges of Verdon, Monte Carlo and St Tropez. When Katharine left, we were joined by our daughter, Catherine, who arrived in Cannes by train from Holland for a fortnight’s holiday with us. We decided to spend it at Lake Orta in Italy’s lake district. After five days we felt we had covered the best of a beautiful area and as it was expensive, and we decided to head south to the coast. We found a beautiful little village, Camogli, built into a cliff-face. Cars had to be left at the top, and you carried your luggage down to the hotel by the Mediterranean.

The road back to France was a series of tunnels through the cliffs, and bridges over the inlets. It was rather scary to score a blast of wind each time you emerged from the tunnels, but we made it safely, and spent the last few days in the lovely mountainous country around Sospel. After Cathy left, we made our way to Switzerland and found a wonderful hotel in the little village of Goldiwihl, high above Interlaken. The vistas were enhanced by occasional snowfalls, but most of the time the sun shone on lush greenery. There was more of the same at our next stop, which was planned to be Innsbruck, but on our way there we were advised to stay at Igls, a winter sportscentre not far from Innsbruck. It was a good hotel, with great walks. While there, we visited Ehrwald where Betty and Peg Franklin had stayed on a Holiday Fellowship outing some years previously.

After a few days at Igls, we headed off to Vienna, via Salzberg and Berchtesgarten. Bet had been to Vienna before, but it was my first time, and I loved it from the woods to the cafes, to the galleries and the music. One evening we were almost the only diners at the Rathauskeller, and we politely clapped the small orchestra at the end of a bracket. They left their stand and came over to our table and played just for us. Charming but most embarrassing!

The time had come for us to head for Den Haag, where Cathy and Greg were music students. We spent a leisurely fortnight driving through Germany back to our old stamping ground of Kaysersberg in Alsace, and in early May we reached Den Haag where Cathy and Greg had booked a flat for us for three weeks. It gave us plenty of time to revisit Den Haag and explore its surroundings. Highlights were the gardens of Keukenhof in their early spring glory, and a wonderful visit to the Kroller-Mueller art gallery at Otterloo, some distance in the country. It is set in a sculpture park with bikes provided to get around the exhibits. Despite our best efforts we were unable to keep Betty mobile on a bike for more than two wobbly yards at a time. In the end we accepted that she could not ride a bike and did our tour of the sculpture park on foot.

The gallery itself houses the world’s greatest collection of Van Gogh’s work, displayed in perfect conditions. The display had added attraction for us, coming after our extensive exploration of San Remy and Provence where Van Gogh lived for his last years and from which he drew his inspiration in his greatest period. We took our farewells of Cathy and Greg and set off on our long way home. On our way back to Paris to return the car, which had been a second home for eight months travelling all round Europe, we visited the battle-fields of the Somme, and marvelled at man’s inhumanity to man, before flying back to London and the warmth of Katharine’s flat at Hampstead. Margot came down from Scotland, and we had a week of farewells and theatre, before flying off to New York for three weeks with John.

Last time we were there, I had taken a phone call for “John Cameron” from an Alison Newlyn who had been referred to John by a mutual friend. In our absence, they had become tennis partners. When John’s car was stolen, Alison provided transport with her car, and the friendship blossomed. She was very much a part of his life on our return to New York, and certainly enhanced our visit with charm and sensitivity. We saw some great shows, visited John’s place of work in New Jersey, and went with him for a week in Chicago where he was involved in designing a new factory for Mars. Back in New York, Alison drove us out to the airport for our flight to Los Angeles and Tahiti, and with endearing consideration disappeared so we could make our private farewells with John.

In Tahiti, we had a few days at the Beachcomber Hotel about 12 miles from the capital, Papete. It was a beautiful place from which we explored the island, and relished the food, before flying back to Sydney on July 1st, a few days short of a year since we left.


Chapter Eighteen : RETIREMENT

My contract as General Manager of the Australia Council cut out on my 60th birthday, so I had a bit under eight months of working life left on our return from long service leave. After an initial flurry of change, Tim Pascoe had reverted to substantially the same structure and operations as I had left, but there was really no place for a General Manager with a full-time Chairman, so I was virtually free to create work for myself.

I had always considered that the Government regarded the Arts as a fringe activity for which assistance or finance was of very low priority. In late 1984, there was concern about rapid evolution in industries generally which made existing training inadequate. To address this problem, the Federal Government had established a program whereby industries were encouraged to review their labour needs, and establish taskforces to formulate ways in which these could be met most effectively. On recognition of an industry taskforce, Government funds would be made available to meet the taskforce’s costs. I decided to create such a taskforce for the Arts Industry, bringing together entrepreneurs and labour for national and commercial television and radio, film production, music, performing arts companies, museums, galleries, publishers, architects, artists, designers and writers. There was an enthusiastic response from the industry, and we formed the National Arts Industry Training Committee with myself as its Secretary, and a Chairman from commercial television.

When I approached the Government for the standard assistance on offer, the initial reaction was one of derision. There was no way the Arts could be regarded as an industry. Despite this reaction, we continued to meet and address our problems, and I kept impeccable minutes of our meetings, which I duly forwarded to the Government, and invited them to send representatives to our meetings. After a few months, we made the break-through and achieved formal recognition and funding which allowed us to recruit a full-time Executive Director. I continued to serve as unpaid Minute Secretary after I retired, and our committee came to be recognised as among the best of the industry committees, and ended up inheriting other industries which ran into trouble.

Another area of endeavour was an attempt to bring Local Government into a more general involvement in artistic matters. By tradition, Local Government was involved in libraries and a few art galleries, but that was about their scope. It seemed to me that increasing interest in so-called Community Arts warranted involvement of the branch of government closest to the community. I carried out an analysis of expenditure by Local Governments nationwide, which the Australia Council published and distributed. By promoting awareness of the endeavours of the more enlightened Councils, the more lethargic might be encouraged to do more. One side effect of this project was that I had to come to terms with computers, without which the data handling would have been overwhelming. My son John was my good angel, providing not only an old Apple computer, but also writing the necessary programs to handle the data, and patiently coaxing an apprehensive father in frequent moments of frustrated anguish. I continued this work for the Australia Council for some time after retiring.

I also carried out a study of the Wollongong area whose local government was well disposed to the Arts, and came up with what seemed like a good idea. There was very strong support for a wide variety of clubs in the area. These all offered some form of entertainment to go with the bar trade and the pokies. It seemed to me that there was a great chance to reach a large audience with a program to assist clubs to diversify their proffered entertainment from the current pop groups and stand-up comics. A modest financial encouragement could provide access to a large and enthusiastic audience. Unfortunately, Australia Council was battling to find funds to support its established clientele and there was no money for my proposal.

Involvement in the above activities, and my continuing work as the Chairman of the Culture Committee of the Australian National Commission for UNESCO, meant that retirement did not come as a sudden shock, but it did see a quite dramatic change in the pattern of my life. I retired at the end of February 1984. By the begining of 1985, my daughter, Cathy, was married and my son, John, engaged to be married. By the end of 1985, he too was married, and Cathy, with the birth of Lilian, had made me a grandfather.

At the time of my retirement, both our children had been overseas for some years. John was living in New York making his living as a computer consultant for the world’s largest private company, Mars, and was becoming increasingly attached to Alison Newlyn, an English girl, living in New York, also working in computers. Catherine, a dentist, was practicing in London to earn money to pay for her musical studies in Den Haag, where she was becoming increasingly attached to the Australian flautist, Greg Dikmans, who was a masterclass student of the world’s top baroque flautist, Bart Kuijken.

A few months after my retirement, Cathy and Greg decided to come back to Australia and get married. Betty and I flew over to London to help Cathy pack up and come home for a wedding in December. John and Alison flew home to Sydney from New York for the wedding, and on New Years Day 1985, before returning to New York, they announced their engagement, with a wedding planned for London at the end of September that year.

For a variety of reasons, Cathy and Greg decided to live and work in Melbourne and they rented a house in Fitzroy and later a nicer one in Kew. Betty and I were busy assisting their home-making and sorting out what sort of Australian delegation there would be to John’s wedding in London. To our surprise and delight my sister, Lilias, who was 73 and in indifferent health decided that she would make the trip. Betty’s sister, Dorothy and her husband, Max Bennett, were also starters, as were her sister-in-law, Phyllis Duncan and her son, John. As the year progressed it became clear that Cathy would be unable to attend her brother’s wedding; she was pregnant, with the baby due only a few weeks after the wedding.

As Alison would be leaving New York for London early in September, John would be on his own in New York, and it seemed a good idea for us to stay with him for a time before accompanying him to London. Dorothy and Max would be travelling with us, so we could build a more interesting trip for them around the wedding pilgrimage. We had a couple of days each in Honolulu and San Francisco, before 10 days in New York. During the New York stay, we hired a car for a four day trip to upper New York State and Niagara. After the wedding we flew to Paris and rented another car for just over a month, visiting Alsace, Switzerland, Provence and Spain. Max proved to have a remarkable, if limited, facility for linguistics, and knew the local word for “beer” before we had cleared any border post.

I had to leave them for a few days to fly to Bulgaria for a UNESCO meeting in Sofia. Our ambassador to the United Nations at that time was Gough Whitlam, and he led our delegation. Apart from working with Gough, the highlight of the meeting for me was my attack on the British delegation. The meeting was to confirm the medium term plan of operations for UNESCO. For some months the plan had been circulated for comment to UNESCO national commissions all round the world, and their suggestions had been incorporated in the revised document, as appropriate, before the meeting.

At the time, the USA under Reagan was trying to bring the United Nations to heel by disbanding USA’s national commission for UNESCO and withholding America’s financial dues for the organisation generally. Thatcher’s UK was at its cosiest with USA, and although it retained its national commission, it had refrained from providing any comments on the draft plan. At the meeting in Sofia a cabinet minister representing the UK, started delivering a long list of criticisms of the plan, along the lines desired by USA. I rose on a point of order objecting to the British delegation wasting our time. As they had made no comments at the appropriate time, they had no right to disrupt the meeting with belated suggestions now. Among the hundred odd countries present there was general support and a degree of amusement at what appeared to be a revolt within the British Commonwealth. When I was walking back to our hotel through the long underground passage which linked it to the conference centre, I heard the sound of someone running after me. It was one of the senior UNESCO staff responsible for preparing the plan, and she wanted to thank me for my speech. I suspect that UNESCO funding of a subsequent seminar in Australia may not have been unrelated.

I rejoined Betty and the Bennetts in Toulouse, and we did the Loire and Chartres before returning to Paris and flying home, where our first grandchild, Lilian, was born on December 12th. When mother and child were fit to travel, the doting grandparents drove them up to Sydney to show them off to relatives and friends.

Our visits to Victoria were becoming increasingly frequent, and we were in danger of wearing out our welcome in the homes of the relatives who put us up. We decided that we should buy a base in Victoria to eradicate the problem. A beachside house seemed a good idea, as Cathy and her family could use it as a weekender or holiday home. Torquay seemed the best choice, but investigation failed to produce anything we liked at a price we could afford.

In the 1950s the Torquay Golf Club had decided to enlarge its course from 9 to18 holes, and to finance this they held a raffle of extra land they owned. Tickets in the raffle were 25 pounds, and each holder of a ticket received one of the subdivided lots. The raffle determined who got which lot. Betty’s father, Os Duncan, bought tickets for each of his five children, and for over a quarter of a century Betty had owned a vacant block of land six minutes walk along Jan Juc Creek from the beach. It now seemed that our solution was to build our own house on our own land, and Betty set about preparing plans. She had done this once before, when we first came to Geelong. We bought some land at Highton, while staying with Betty’s parents in Pevensey Street, and Betty planned a beautiful home, but when her mother died, we stayed on in the family home with her father, and ultimately sold the Highton land. This time her plans were to be realised. No architect was involved, but a friend of Andy Rankin’s formally drew up Betty’s sketches, and Col Rankin suggested a local builder, who proved a winner.

For UNESCO in April 1986, I had to chair a meeting of South Pacific nations at Apia in Western Samoa. We were booked in at a most beautiful hotel, the Tusitala, named after the Samoan word for story-teller, by which the locals called Robert Louis Stevenson when he settled there to live out the last years of his life. Tuberculosis had dogged his life in Europe and America, but the Samoan climate eased his problems from that disease. He died in Samoa from a ruptured blood-vessel in the brain. His typical European home, with a fireplace, is preserved today as a shrine. The hotel named after him is built in a nice harmony of Western and Samoan cultures. Sleeping quarters are Western with Western plumbing and facilities, but the public areas are pure Samoan with no walls and high palm-leaf roofs. The balmy air flows through them, and you feel at one with the surroundings. Each day the bedrooms were decked out with fresh orchids and other flowers. I use the past tense because while we were there, work was beginning on the enlargement the air strip to take Jumbo jets. By now an idyllic local culture will have been subject to the pressures of global tourism.

With UNESCO’s work done, we stayed on to explore the island. A typical tour was in a Kombi for ourselves and a couple of other guests with a driver and a guide. Lunch was a barbecue on an isolated palm-fringed beach, with the guide doing the cooking and the driver weaving our plates out of fresh palm leaves. I was brought up on Stevenson’s writing, and there are so many echoes of him in Samoa, where he lived and died, that the words of his “Requiem” kept coming back:

          Under the wide and starry sky
          Dig the grave and let me lie.
          Glad did I live and gladly die,
             And I laid me down with a will.
          This be the verse you grave for me:
          “Here he lies where he longed to be;
          Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
            And the hunter home from the hill.”

We didn’t visit American Samoa which has all modern amenities, from TV down to Macdonalds. We did however fly to the kingdom of Tonga, a tiny domain with huge people. The latest king died only last week as I write, and he, like his mother Queen Salote, was a huge person. Queen Salote, was the subject of one of Noel Coward’s best cracks when driving with her ambassador in a formal procession of coaches in London. When asked “Who is that with Queen Salote?”, Coward is reputed to have replied “Her lunch!” There is no cannibalism in Tonga today (nor in Queen Salote’s time), and the general impression is of a very conservative and Christian society. Everyone goes to church on Sundays, dressed in Sunday-best whites, with hats to match. The king had his own little stall in the church, with a small electric fan to keep him cool and remind the sweating plebs who was boss. His ancient Rolls Royce was there to spirit him away after the service.

I think our hotel was the only one on the island. The international date line ran through it, and it was called the “Dateline”. You could go from Monday to Tuesday and back taking a shower in the bathroom. A German couple had built a small resort on a nearby island, and we decided for a day visit to it. We got a taxi to the wharf and boarded a small ketch which sailed across the few kilometres to the island. There was no wharf. The barefoot locals just waded ashore, but I had shoes and socks, and had to suffer the indignity of being carried ashore by a couple of huge natives. It took only 20 minutes to walk round the whole island . The seafood lunch was excellent, and I was spared the indignity of porterage on the way home because a small outboard boat took us from the beach to where the ketch was moored. By the time we got back to Tonga it was dusk and the tide had gone out. The deck of the wharf was some 20 feet above our boat. We had to scramble up a ladder, only to find the wharf totally deserted, with no form of transport or communication in sight. We set off to walk back to the hotel, and were most of the way there before managing to pick up a lift to complete the journey.

There is quite a religous tussle going on in the Pacific islands. The diminishing ranks of early Anglican, Methodist and Catholic converts are under siege from the Mormons who seem to be winning the battle. Mormons have cleverly adopted and adapted the local culture, financing education for the populace. The huge cultural centre in Hawaii is impressive and overpowering with its Mormon message now permeating much of the South Pacific. We visited the cultural centre to see a stage performance of the island’s history. This was in the evening, and before it, we took a rail tour of the whole area. The tour ended outside an impressive gateway to the Mormon centre itself. We were politely forced to enter, and received a Mormon brainwash, culminating in a session in an auditorium where a manikin gave us a history of their beliefs. When curtains parted on the stage, a life-sized figure was seated at a desk. The budget didn’t run to animation of the body, but the head turned, the lips moved and the eyebrows were eloquent. It was explained that an angel of God had shown one, Joseph Smith, where golden tablets were buried in Upper New York State. The tablets were inscribed with the true history of the creation of mankind and its purpose. With the angel’s help, Mr Smith had translated the text from its obscure language into 19th century English, and the resultant book became The Book of Mormon on which their religion is based. A display of the gold tablets would have been a valuable confirmation of the authenticity of the process, but Mr Smith chose to re-bury them on completion of his translating and they are now lost. The Mormons, however, are very much with us, and in the Pacific Islands are doing many good works which would earn unstinted approval were it not for their questionable motives.


In October 1986, to our delight, John and Alison came back to Australia to live, rented an apartment in Wollstonecraft, and began looking for a home to buy. The first months of1987 found Betty and myself shuttling between our children in Sydney and Melbourne, and the home we were building at Jan Juc. I had made a three dimensional model of the house Betty had designed, and it was exciting to see it becoming a reality. The biggest shock was the discovery that our land, which had always seemed relatively flat, actually fell away from front to back by about 2 metres. As the front of the house was on concrete stumps about 1 metre high, the back was about 3 metres above the ground and had to be supported by substantial wooden poles. From the back deck we had an unobstructed view of the unmade drain which, as Jan Juc Creek, flowed in rainy weather through Jan Juc Reserve to Jan Juc Surf Beach, some six minutes walk from our back gate. At that time we referred to the area as “the bomb site”, but time and a diligent Council have produced a pleasantly winding pathway with rustic bridges through trees and shrubs on a pretty green lawn.

On 17 July 1987 we slept in the house of our creation for the first time. It has proved to be of excellent design and very well built. The only real problem we had was in the driveway and paths. We chose an attractive beige gravel. It looked fine and was inexpensive, but we found that too much of our time on each visit was spent spraying or digging out weeds and grasses. After a few years, we coughed up about $5,000 and replaced the gravel with “exposed aggregate”, -- pale pink concrete mixed with beige coloured river stones. It looks good and involves no maintenance.

On 29 December 1987, in Sydney, our first and only grandson, Donald, was born. While we were living in London for the ABC, we had got to know and love my two cousins, Margot and Katharine Cameron. On subsequent visits to London, Betty and I had frequently stayed with Katharine in her flat at Highgate, and on any visit to Edinburgh we stayed with Margot in her old family home in Corstorphine. When Cathy was practicing dentistry in London she shared Katharine’s flat for much of the time. For years we had tried to persuade the girls to give us a chance to repay some of their hospitality by coming to Australia. In1983, Margot had flown out, and in March 1988 both she and Katharine came to see our grandchildren, the parents and us. In August 1988, John and Alison found the home of their choice on a steep hillside at Hornsby. Its woodsey setting was enhanced by a most attractive in-ground swimming pool, which was a magnet for the family on hot summer days, and the site for many great barbecues.

In October 1988, Eloise arrived to join her sister, Lilian, in the Dikman household. The joy of the event was clouded by the sudden death of Noel Heath, husband of Betty’s sister, Peggy. Noel had been the senior family member since the death of Bet’s brother, Alex, and all of us were indebted to him for his great hospitality and his erudition in the art of good living. Peggy was desolate, and died herself 18 months later in April 1984.

Although Betty and I had been travelling extensively between New South Wales and Victoria, it was some time since we had been overseas, so we decided on a trip including a motor tour of Ireland, visits to England and the relatives in Scotland and a safari in Zimbabwe.

I had been to Ireland a couple of times on business, but it was new territory for Bet. We learned that there was an organisation where you paid in advance for a car and a number of nights’ accommodation, and with this you got a booklet of approved ”bed and breakfasts” of a superior kind, allowing you to wander and meet the locals in comfortable surroundings. Overall it worked well, but we got off to a bad start because our flight from Melbourne arrived at Heathrow late, and we missed our connection to Dublin. Finally we got there an hour or so late, but still ahead of our luggage. We had intended to make an appropriate selection from the luggage, and leave the bulk of it at the airport to be picked up on completion of the tour. We couldn’t hang around all day hoping for the luggage to arrive, and we hadn’t planned to spend our first night in Dublin. In the circumstances, we decided to find a Dublin B&B and arrange for the luggage to be delivered there. We needed only to select a few items for our trip and could leave the rest till our return in ten days time. This should have been easy, but the European Union was meeting in Dublin that week and we had a hell of a job finding somewhere that wasn’t already fully booked. We finally found a nice place a fair way out in the country, and when our missing luggage was finally delivered that night, all was well.

The trip was a great success, south from Dublin, across the south to the west, then up the Atlantic coast, to the far north, and back south to Dublin. In Waterford we bought Cinderella’s crystal slipper and on the Atlantic coast we had wonderful scenery and seafood. At a fisherman’s co-operative we bought superb smoked salmon, and had it for lunch most days with local bread. In the evenings we dined at pubs, and stuck around for the music and company. We were wary of Northern Ireland and only put our nose in briefly at Ballyshannon to visit the famous pottery at Belleek. After visiting the wonderful wild country in the extreme north of Donegal, we came back south, skirting the border of Northern Ireland, and cross country back to Dublin. Probably the most enduring memory of the trip arose from my recollection that an old Geelong mate, John Doyle, came from Tralee. When we passed through that town, I bought him a postcard, and wrote on it what purported to be a letter from his bastard daughter, the celebrated Rose of Tralee. Unfortunately, we didn’t have John’s right address. In trying to effect delivery, the Post Office widely circulated in the Point Lonsdale area the postcard, with its overt text. John enjoyed the joke, but his wife, Dorothy, wasn’t at all pleased, and I’m not sure she ever really forgave me.

We flew from Dublin to Edinburgh, and stayed with Margot for three weeks, visiting all the relations, shopping, and doing research into Betty’s ancestors at the Records Office. The latter task was strange at first, but familiarity bred fascination, particularly when we were able to visit some of the locales from which Bet’s ancestors came. As an alternative to car or plane, we went back to London by rail on the Flying Scotsman. On arrival, we hired another car for ten days for a short trip to Oxford, Cambridge and Windsor, and for visits and theatres in London .

On our 42nd wedding anniversary, we flew out to Zimbabwe, where we had booked a ten day package game safari. When we had received our itinerary, we noticed that our stay at Lake Kariba was not on Spurwing Island, about which we had read most favourable comments. We asked why we weren’t going there and, when told that it would cost more, said it didn’t matter and asked for it to be changed. As a result we moved up into a luxury package, which proved to be a very shewd move.

On arrival at the airport at Harare, we were taken to a posh hotel to rest up overnight, and in the morning were driven to Lake Kariba. There we boarded a speedboat for the half-hour run to Spurwing Island. The resort consisted of about twenty double-bedded grass-roofed huts, with all mod cons, on the shore of the lake. There was a nice central dining area, and a drinks lounge built in a tree. After lunch, a boat took us to the mainland where a Jeep was parked to take us on our first game outing. We had only gone a short distance before our driver pulled up beside a lioness having a rest. She gave us a casual glance and went back to dozing beside our open-top Jeep. Our guide explained that the animals were quite disinterested in Jeeps, but on no account should we get out.

We drove amongst a herd of elephants happily pushing over trees to get at the fruit and foliage. Again we were close enough to touch them, but didn’t. Towards dusk we drove to a part of the lake where a finger of land reached out to a small island on which a herd of buffalo were feeding. Our driver got out nibbles and gin and tonics which we sipped appreciatively as the sun went down. While we watched seven lionesses approached the land bridge to the island. The buffalo were unaware of their approach. Six of the lionesses crept onto the island, while the seventh took up a blocking position on the land bridge. As the hunters drew nearer to the buffaloes, one of them registered their presence, gave the alarm, and the lionesses charged. The buffaloes bolted, making for the land bridge, unaware of the rear guard awaiting them. They approached at full gallop, some 20 or so buffaloes. The lioness rear-guard took one look at the advancing horde and turned tail and fled, determined to fight another day with better odds. It had been a spectacular introduction to our safari, and we returned to our island, drinks and dinner well satisfied.

The following day we went by boat up the Sanyati Gorge for crocodiles, elephants, hippos and birdlife. In the afternoon and evening another outing on the mainland produced a zooful of animals in the wild at close quarters, and gin and tonics to slake our thirst. After dinner we sat on our verandah looking over the moonlit lake with native singing in the background.

Next morning, the launch took us back to the mainland where a van was waiting for the 300 odd kilometer trip to Hwange National Park. Sable Valley Lodge was a collection of perhaps a dozen stone rondavels with grass roofs. The interiors had every comfort. The Lodge’s drinks lounge was up in a tree yet again, with a view over an open area. There was a waterhole at its centre, where all sorts of wildlife shared our tipple. The dining room was open to the air with tables spread around a big log fire on a circle of concrete. The kitchen was a grass-roofed hut at one end of the circle.

As we drove past the waterhole approaching the lodge, our driver pointed out a bull elephant with a dark stream flowing down its cheek, and explained that it was in musth, at which time a wide berth was advisable. We were just settling down to dinner under the stars beside the glowing log fire, when there was a rumpus behind the hedge backing our tables. We were surprised to see the kitchen staff drop their tools and flee. The crashing came closer, and we realised that it was the bull elephant. The manager ordered everyone to shelter in the nearest rondavel, which happened to be ours. We readily complied. The elephant came lumbering through the hedge, looking as if he too was heading for our rondavel. The camp manager and a few of his staff grabbed burning branches from the fire and tried to drive the elephant off. As the elephant charged past a large tree, a branch, at least a foot in diameter, was snapped off like a twig . Crowded in our rondavel we wondered why someone didn’t get a gun. Later we learned that the only people allowed to shoot elephants are park rangers, and the nearest one was some miles away.

Some of the staff manned a Jeep, and tried using it to drive the elephant out of the lodge area, but with no initial success. For about an hour there was trumpeting, burning branches and crashing of vegetation, before the elephant decided it was more trouble than we were worth, and left us for better pastures. Diners resumed their places. By the time the ranger arrived with his elephant gun, the culprit was nowhere to be seen. There was a fair bit of damage, but no one was hurt.

After a couple of days in jeeps consorting with lions, wild dogs, giraffes, zebras, wild boars and assorted antelopes, we drove 90 kilometetres to our next camp on the Zambesi. The location was notable for the profusion of hippopotami. To the casual observer they are engaging creatures, with what sounds like an infectious chuckle as they laze in the water, wiggling their tiny ears. They are however the most dangerous animals on the continent. Their enormous mouths, full of huge teeth, can bite through wood and steel boats on the river, and on land they can mangle anything that gets in their path. Treated with due knowledge and deference, you can approach them closely in the water and share with them whatever it is that makes them laugh.

Amongst our camp mates was a seemingly amiable tribe of baboons. The camp proprietors kept a quorum of large dogs for the protection of visitors, but it was sobering to learn that a number of the impressive dogs had been killed by the baboons. Fortunately they gave us no trouble. One day we hiked into the jungle with an armed guard, inspecting the wildlife at close quarters, and reached a point where the borders of Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia all meet.

As the finale to our visit, we moved to Victoria Falls and stayed at the legendary hotel. We visited a crocodile farm, took a flight over the Falls, and enjoyed singing and dancing by natives around campfires. The highlight was the walk from the hotel to the Falls at ground level. They lack Niagara’s wide vistas, but the sheer power and volume of water are breath-taking as the river, a mile wide plunges over a cliff into a narrow gorge and roars away at rightangles. The gorge is only about 100 yards wide, and to stand on its rim, so close to a wall of water a mile wide, as it plunges down twice the drop of Niagara is awesome in the fullest sense of the word. It is also pretty wet, as the spray rises over a thousand feet in the air.

When we got back to Australia, I discovered that I was missing a roll of colour film of our trip. I came to the conclusion that I must have left it at the back of one of the shelves in the wardrobe of our room at the Victoria Falls Hotel, so I rang them and asked them to look there. They did, found it, and mailed it to me.

It is hard now to look back on our Zimbabwe trip, and remember that the abiding impression was how well the switch to black rule was working. The country, under the benign leadership of Robert Mugabe, was affluent, at peace, and with no apparent racial tension. Less than 20 years, later under the same leader, the country is a basket case of corruption, murder and injustice.

Towards the end of 1990, we began spending more and more time in our Victorian home at Jan Juc. When John and Alison decided to try their luck in Europe, specifically France, and moved there at the end of 1992, we began to toy with the idea of selling up in Sydney and moving to Victoria to be near Cathy, Greg and the girls. In 1994 we flew to Paris to stay with the Camerons in their new abode, visit Margot and Katharine in Scotland, and to have a walking holiday with Holiday Fellowship on the Yorkshire Moors. During the latter Betty had a scary attack when her heart almost stopped. Her blood-pressure medication was too strong, and she quickly recovered, but a walking holiday was out. We hired a car and did the walks in comfort.

Our local council in Sydney decided to upgrade Arterial Road, and the process drew attention to our little off-shoot road rising over the lip of the cutting through which the main road passed. We had been living there for over 20 years and had never had any problems with intruders, but as people became aware of our little deviation, our isolation was broken. Within less than a year we had three break-ins. Problems of the locale precluded theft of large objects, but many small items were taken, most of great sentimental and some of real value. The sense of invasion and loss of privacy was worst of all.

My sister, Lilias, had moved to Mowll Village in Castle Hill when she retired, and she was joined there by sister-in-law, Nance, when she had a fall in 1997 and could no longer safely manage a home of her own. We decided to sell the house in Sydney and move to Melbourne. We would live at Jan Juc while we looked for a suitable place to buy. After some weeks when nothing seemed to suit us, we were in Jan Juc reviewing our lack of progress, and decided to look at the local paper for possible purchases in Geelong. We made a list of four possibles, and fell in love with 48 Challambra Crescent, Highton, which was the second place we looked at. By the Tuesday we had bought it. It needed substantial alterations and additions to meet our needs, but they were quickly achieved and we have never regretted the move for a moment.

On June 1st 1998 we celebrated our Golden Wedding in remarkably good condition for our years, but although the marriage remained in top condition we soon ran into physical trouble. Some years previously I had been accosted in the street by a Rotarian who gave me some papers for a bowel cancer test, and though I did not do anything about it, I always had a nagging feeling that I should have.

Some months after our Golden Wedding, I noticed some blood in my stool, and, though I was sure it was only piles, I went to my local GP and suggested that I should have the belated test for bowel cancer. My GP dismissed the suggestion as I seemed to be in good health. I accepted his advice, but when the bleeding recurred, I went to him again and asked for a referral to a gastro specialist.

When I saw the specialist, he agreed with the GP, but at my insistance, booked me in for a colonoscopy. After the test, he told me that I did have a bowel cancer and arranged for an urgent operation on 31 March,1999. The cancer had just perforated the bowel wall. It was believed that, after an operation to remove the cancer, radio and chemo-therapy could stop any further developments. This, happily, proved to be the case, but an unfortunate error in radio-therapy resulted in extensive scarring of what remained of my bowel. In consequence, I continue to suffer the inconvenience of daily medication which ameliorates but does not eliminate the problems. If any proof was needed of this, it was provided in June of 2000 when we decided to resume normal living with a trip to the Centre on the Ghan.

Early transport to Australia’s centre was provided by Afghans with camel teams. When a railway line was built from Adelaide to Alice Springs, the train was named the Ghan in their honour. The Ghan is quite a tourist treat, with elegant carriages for the overnight trip, and a great dining car; we thought it would be a good way to celebrate our new lease of life. We booked an overnight train trip from Melbourne to Adelaide, a morning tour of Adelaide with a gourmet lunch, before boarding the Ghan in the afternoon for the overnight run to Alice Springs. The trip from Melbourne to Adelaide was uneventful, but sleepless. We had forgotten how noisy and vibratory train travel can be. The bus tour of Adelaide was fine and the gourmet lunch right up to expectations, although, before its end, I was obliged to sample the conveniences a couple of times.

The trip on the Ghan started ominously, with excessive usage of our compartment’s en suite facilities, but I remained hopeful that I would do justice to pre-diiner drinks in the lounge car, and to the great meal that was scheduled to follow. I dressed for dinner and we made our way to the lounge car where we enjoyed a couple of Scotches as the countryside rolled by. Once in the dining car, I ordered a kangaroo steak as my main course. Before it arrived I had to return to our en suite for running repairs. I made it back to the dining car, but only to advise Bet that I was a non-starter for a meal, returning in disorder to our compartment. I spent the night in perpetual motion from my upper berth to the en suite. Initially it was to use the toilet, but, as the night wore on, the hand basin was pressed into service to launder my underpants, hanging them out to dry on such fittings as seemed appropriate. Well before dawn, I had emptied the water tank servicing our carriage and was forced to avail myself of the facilities of adjacent carriages. By the time we reached Alice, the water tanks and I were both empty. We managed to rent a car and sought the solace of the motel into which we were booked. Driving around Alice over the next few days, my gut settled down, and the flight back to Sydney and Melbourne was uneventful.

In October 2000 our big thrill was the return of John and Alison, not merely to live in Australia, but to live in Melbourne. Our family was all together in the same State for the first time in years. Initially they rented accommodation at Scotch Court later buying a home with a lovely pool in Lytton Street, Kew.

Undeterred by our Ghan experience, but wiser from it, we set off in September 2001 for a leisurely car trip to Robe in South Australia, and enjoyed a holiday with no problems. June 2002 was a sad month, for it saw the death of Peg Whiteside. She was Betty’s oldest friend, the matron of honour at our wedding, and a great hostess at her home in Ballarat, and in her holiday house at Torquay. After her husband, Dick, died she had come with us on a world tour. She was always great fun and we miss her still.

At the end of June our whole family booked accommodation in Bright, and we had our first holiday together as a unit. By October, Bet and I felt we could be more ambitious and we flew to Cairns, where we rented a car, driving north to Port Douglas for a week’s stay. We were disappointed in the Great Barrier Reef. Viewed from a glass-bottomed boat it lacks the colour of photographs, and we were not up to snorkelling, but we found the land area fascinating. Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation were terrific, and on the Atherton Tableland we were able to visit the site of a wartime camp where my unit prepared for the invasion of Borneo.

At the end of January 2003 my sister-in-law, Nance, died in Mowll Village. My brother-in-law, Col Rankin, who never had an ungenerous thought in his life, also died in that year, and my sister, Lilias, followed him in September 2004. Betty and I had made frequent voyages from Victoria to visit Lilias and Nance over the years, and we know the back roads between Melbourne and Sydney as intimately as any of the locals. Even today, it feels odd not to be heading off for Corryong, Tumut, Goulburn and Castle Hill. Nance always kept you at a bit of a distance, but Lilias, 11 years my senior, was a second mother to me. I miss the love and unquestioning devotion which characterised the 80 years of our shared existence.

Betty was having trouble with her eyes, and in July and August 2003 she had successful cataract operations. This was followed by an attempt to ease the increasing pain in her knees with a knee-replacement in October. Mechanically the operation was a success, but it did nothing to relieve the pain, and she declined an operation on the second knee. In the weeks following the knee operation, Betty felt very poorly, and her GP referred her to a specialist physician, who diagnosed her as suffering from multiple myeloma, a currently incurable but treatable cancer of the bone marrow. In subsequent years, the condition has been stabilised with a month of heavy medication followed a couple of months break. The medication takes a heavy toll on Bet’s energy, and it is well into the break period before she feels anything like her old self.

We had spent part of our honeymoon in Mildura, and after enjoying Stephano De Pieri on television, decided in October 2004 to visit his restaurant at Mildura’s Grand Hotel. His restaurant was table d’hote exclusively with a multi-course banquet. Neither of us could manage such consumption, but it turned out that Stephano, having married the daughter of the owner of the hotel, and was in charge of all the hotel’s catering. An a la carte menu in the main dining room allowed us to enjoy Stephano’s creations without bloating. Mildura itself was a very pleasant surprise. When we were there in the late forties, it was a very small town in a desert. Today it is a thriving centre, surrounded by vinyards and orchards. Although the Murray and Darling rivers may be depleted by excessive run-offs for farming, they are still mighty rivers at Mildura, and prove wonderful attractions for tourists. The local council has done a great job ordering the city as a place to live and to visit.

2004 ended on a sad note related my working life. From the start of television the Australian Broadcasting Commission had enjoyed a good reputation as the producer of quality television drama. The industry as a whole derived much of its expertise from ABC graduates. Much of my working life in the ABC had been in Drama’s service, and for the last five years of my time there it had been my specific responsibity. It had always been under financial pressure, and perhaps my proudest achievement was having moved drama production into the world market. Money from international co-production made up for financial deprivation at home. Such deprivation finally led the ABC to close its Drama Department in 2004. Former staff members held a wake for this sad death. My attendance in Sydney on November 21, 2004, brought back memories of so many good days and so many good people.

In August 2005, my sole remaining brother-in-law, Max Bennett, died. He was very much a man’s man, with a proud record as a bomber pilot in World War 2, a generous nature and a prodigous beer drinker. With his wife, Dorothy, he had accompanied Betty and myself on memorable tours of New Zealand, and of America and Europe. We had camped together at Torquay in the early days of our marriage, and Max had introduced me to Probus after I retired. He had always been a large part of our lives, and the huge crowd at his funeral was indicative of his high standing in the community.

We had heard praises for Blue Ridge Cottages near Mount Buller from John Duncan, who had stayed there when his son was attending Timbertop, and in October we put them to the test. They passed with flying colours. From the two beautifully equipped cottages, you look out between century-old bluegums to snow-capped Buller. On our next visit we will sample the open-air hot spa between the two cottages, with the starry sky above, and glasses of bubbly in our hands.

For many years, we had been trying to visit the Kimberleys. Our first attempt, a luxury camping tour, was booked, but had to be cancelled when I got cancer. Our next attempt was a self arranged package booked and paid for through Ansett, the only airline flying to Kununurra. A couple of weeks before we were due to depart, Ansett went broke. Thanks to prudent insurance we got our money back, though it took a year. In August 2006, older and wiser, we booked to fly to Broome; the flight on to Kununurra and the tour of the Ord River area seemed too ambitious. Broome, however, proved a great success, at least at the start.

We decided that we were too old and feeble to put up with Economy Class on the five hour flight, so told the travel agent to book us Business Class. When we learned that this cost more than three times Economy fare, we decided that, at over $2000 each extra, we were prepared to endure Economy one more time. We changed our orders accordingly but when our tickets arrived from the travel agent, I noticed that we were still shown as Business Class, although the cost was Economy. I rang the agent to point out the error, only to learn that my son, John, had contacted her, telling her to make it Business Class, and bill him with the difference. As it turned out we were to have more reason than we knew to be grateful for his generosity.

Cable Beach Club Resort, where we stayed, is some little distance out of the township of Broome, and it is quite remarkable. In the 1980’s Lord Alistair McAlpine became aware of Cable Beach and fell in love with it. He bought a large tract of land adjacent to it, and built a glorious resort in magnificent tropical gardens, which he studded with oriental sculptures, decking the office buildings with a great collection of modern Australian art. Swimming pools, restaurants and other amenities are distributed throughout the gardens, and one of life’s great pleasures is to sit at a table in the Sunset Bar, with a glass in hand, watching the red ball of the sun sink into the azure blue of the ocean. In summer, temperature and humidity make life unpleasant, but our winter days were perfect; not a cloud in the sky, no humidity and a daily maximum of 32 degrees. We did the usual tours of the town centre, a pearl farm and surrounding districts. For our last trip, we decided to go out for the day on a pearl lugger. It sounded attractive with food and drink promised, and no hint that ancients might experience problems. We were collected at the resort and driven some distance to the beach of embarkation, picking up the other trippers en route. As we neared the beach, the driver advised us to remove our shoes and socks and roll up our trousers. The bus drove onto the beach and we were told to make our way to the tender which would take us out to the lugger. Broome has a tidal variation of over 30 feet, so keeled boats have to anchor well out at sea. The tender was a tin punt with seats and a roof, powered by an outboard motor. It bucked about in a light surf as we waded out to it, and got aboard with some difficulty.

The lugger was about half a mile off shore, and its crew held our tinny by its bucking side, while the day trippers scrambled aboard. The tinny was then made fast to the lugger’s buoy, and we cast off. It was a real pearling lugger with no seating for the twenty odd trippers, who sat on hatches or the deck. There was partial screening from the sun by a tarpaulin amidships. We found a wooden bench right at the lugger’s stern; it had no sun screen and gave no quarter to our tender bottoms, but it was at least a seat. The day passed happily enough with abundant drinks and food being supplied, but the liquid intake in time posed a problem. The lugger had a flush toilet, but it was in the bow, and to get there you had to go below deck and negotiate a passage the length of the boat. Every 10 feet you encountered a cross brace for the hull. This required you to sqeeze though a hole a foot off the floor and about 3 feet high. As the ceiling was only a bit over 5 feet from the floor, you approached the hazard in a crouching position. For an agile single person in calm water, it would be no problem, but, under sail, in a choppy sail, it was a bit much for a couple of 80 year olds, one of whom walked with a stick. We made it, but thereafter went easier on the beer.

Sunset as usual was a lovely sight, but by the time we got back to the mooring, it was pitch dark. During the day the tender had become well and truly wet, and its tin decks were like glass. Independent responses to the sea-swell from the lugger and the tender made the transfer from one to the other a real hazard. It was realised that it was going to be a problem for Bet, and a host of willing hands, too many probably, were offered to help her. We got her onto the tender, but as her feet touched the floor, they shot from under her and she crashed down, banging one foot against a metal brace.

Relieved that she didn’t seem to have broken her back, we made it to the beach and waded through the surf. The tide had gone out and the beach was some hundred yards wider than when we left. As we trudged up the sand to the bus, Betty said her foot was pretty sore. When we got some light and could inspect the damage, it was clear that there was swelling and bad bruising. Back at the Resort, the medic did not think anything was broken. He provided some ice packs, and suggested that Bet rest her foot the next day, which she did. The day after that, we were heading home, and we made all necessary arrangements with the airline for a wheelchair and special boarding facilities. On arrival back in Geelong, Bet saw the doctor, had x-rays taken and found that two of her toes were broken. It was a sorry end to a good holiday. Bet was really starting to walk so much better, but our holiday in Broome provided two breaks too many.

Now we are in 2007. Betty’s breaks have healed, and the time has come to terminate this record of a long life. As a record it is misleading, for it has concentrated on that part of my life which has been off centre, as it were. My family has unquestionably been the centre of my existence, and I have focussed off-centre only because it is that part of my life that my family knows least. I have been very lucky in many ways; in my inheritance of such skills as I have, in my healthy constitution, in my loving and exceptionally trouble free descendants, and, luckiest of all, in my wife.

Next year it will be 60 years since we both said “I do”, and for all the rows and disagreements we have had over that time, our companionship and love for eachother has grown forever stronger. There can be no greater satisfaction than in living with someone who knows your worst features as well as your best and still wants to spend her life with you. Without Betty, life is unimaginable; without Betty the past would have been a dreary routine instead of the rich and varied life it was; without Betty the future would be unbearable. I hope that John, Cathy and their families are as lucky as I have been.

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