1970 to 1974 Australia

1970 to 1974 Australia


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Ellinis Chandris Lines

We put our Edinburgh apartment up for sale a few months prior to leaving for Australia but had very little interest. As the time came for our departure we had no option but to leave it unsold in the hands of our lawyer to sell in our absence.

We boarded the RHMS Ellinis in London in September 1970 and were allocated a good cabin up on the boat deck of this newly refurbished ocean liner.
Ellinis was owned by the Greek company Chandris Lines who were established in 1959 specifically to carry migrants from Europe to Australia. By the 1970's aircraft had taken over the service an Ellinis was taken off the run in 1973.

We were asked to join a meeting of passengers where the voyage details were explained. The ship would call in at Las Palmas, Cape Town, Freemantle and Adelaide before arriving at our destination Melbourne which would take approximately six weeks.

At the end of the meeting we were asked by the entertainments officer for volunteers to stay behind which I did. They gave me the job (unpaid) of playing the piano in one of the bars right at the stern of the ship. There was a grand piano which had been modified with a shelf right around it on which to place your drinks.
The regular ships newsletter contained a programme of events and there I was throughout the voyage; "Cocktails with Roger".

I acquired quite a fan club of young ladies who regularly sat around the piano with requests for the popular songs of the day, principally piano arrangements of the Beatles songs but I threw in a few George Shearing numbers for good measure.
Poor old 7 months pregnant wife Nicky I'm afraid was stuck in the cabin caring for Steven while I was enjoying myself.

Las Palmas

Arriving in Las Palmas we went ashore for a change of scenery while the ship bunkered and I purchased a radio cassette player. Our second stop saw us on top of table mountain via the cable car but the scenery so impressed me that I vowed to return one day and climb it properly.

Table Mouintain Cable Car, Cape Town

The long haul round the cape and across the Indian Ocean to Freemantle was calm and uneventful. Arriving in Melbourne we encountered one of those Pom hater immigration officers who gave me a hard time with my radio cassette player. I had met his sort before from my time at sea so told him to accept the radio as my gift to him as I was not going to pay duty on it.

He finally relented and let us through immigration where we were met by Terry Harrison from Hawker Siddeley Brush (HSB) who I would report too once I started work. He took us to a small unit they had hired for us for a few weeks until we found somewhere to live permanently.

We eventually bought a house in Bayswater which was 27 miles away from Victoria Parade where my office was, right on the edge of the city. Nowadays they have built a motorway but then it took over an hour to drive to work each day.
The trams went out as far as Vermont and you could put one of the cars front wheels in the tram lines for much of the way and go to sleep!

Our apartment in Edinburgh sold eventually after we had dropped the price to below that when we bought it three years earlier so that was a bad investment.

Hawker Siddeley Brush Pty.

HSB was a very successful company responsible for the sales and service of the Engines, Electrical equipment, Gas Turbines, Sewage Treatment and aluminium boats manufactured by the various Hawker Siddeley group companies world wide.
My job was the promotion of the marine diesel engines in the group. It involved generating enquiries by direct contact with ship owners and shipyards, requesting quotations from the various group companies, preparing quotations to the shipyard, following up quotations to resolve technical and commercial questions, hopefully resulting in an order.

Throughout the contract stages I would be involved in progressing the order during production, supplying torsional vibration calculations and technical drawings to the shipyard, keeping track of shipping and delivery to the yard and attending sea trials.

My clients were scattered all over Australia from Perth in the West to Brisbane in the East, a distance of over 2,200 miles so I was to do a lot of flying. HSB had offices in Perth and Sydney and the latter city was where most Marine business was done and where I should have ideally been based to reduce my travelling.

BHP House, Melbourne

HSB's main income was from base load power generation contracts with mining companies. They would tender for turnkey projects, sometimes including the building itself and it is fair to say were the most successful of all the companies involved in that market.
They also won the contact for a total energy system in the first Melbourne skyscraper built for BHP as their head office.
The basement was just like a ships engine room with a complete power station consisting of Mirrlees K Major engines running on BHP's own natural gas and generating electricity using all the excess heat to warm the 41 floors of office space, completely independent of the national electricity grid.

I was once showing a group of marine engineers around the installation from the Institute of Marine Engineers and took them up in the lift to see the view from the top of the building, then the tallest in Australia. The lift stopped half way up after a power failure much to my embarrassment!

The Brush in the HSB name came from the Brush Electrical Machines company which manufacture motors, generators, switchgear and transformers.

Another HS group company was Activated Sludge who designed and manufactured sewage treatment systems. The guy looking after this companies products was Brian Piper who, because of the sewage connection, we called 'Brown Paper'!

Finally we represented Hawker de Havilland in Sydney who manufactured small aluminium boats. I once borrowed one of their dory's for use on a holiday down at Wilsons Promontory Marine Park, the Southernmost point on the Australian mainland.
I was up to my oxters (my armpits) in the surf trying to drop the outboard motor down onto the transom when as I released the catch a wave hit the boat and the motor slammed down cutting off the end of my thumb.

Tidal River, Wilsons Promontory

Friends we were with drove me the 37 miles to Foster where there was a hospital and they put me to bed. The surgeon told me they could transfer me to Melbourne by ambulance or he could attempt surgery there. It was my choice but he recommended the former. My room mate who was off one of the Bass Straight oil rigs, told me one of his mates had shredded his fingers in a winch accident and that same surgeon had fixed them like new so I ignored the surgeons Melbourne advice. He did a good job on my thumb.

Lovely place though Wilsons Prom. Lots of parrots flying about and many mobs of emu's roaming the place. The camp site at Tidal River was right on the beach which as you can see from the above photo was pretty spectacular.

At HSB I reported to Terry Harrison who left me to my own devices as his time was taken up with the big business of base load power generation.
Terry employed a new Kiwi secretary called Sue Monk who was lightening fast at shorthand and typing. Terry could not keep her occupied so she often did work for Gary Walters in Industrial engine sales and for me.
Towards the end of my time at HSB Terry resigned and went to work for a consultant engineer. He was replaced by Bill Marsden who bought his secretary Dorothy with him so Gary and I had Sue to ourselves.

A new addition

On 6th January 1971 our daughter Rebecca was born. We were now settled into our 'designer' house in Bungalook Road, Bayswater which was built by a local chicken farmer and his wife with whom we became friends.
He was attracted to the native plants and the whole garden was full of different native species. It was also full of nasty poisonous snakes possibly attracted by the chicken farm.

Swimming in Bayswater
I rigged up an above ground swimming pool in the back garden and killed the odd brown snake which is highly venomous and grow up to 2 yards long so you can see in the adjacent photograph of me with the kids that we were taking a calculated risk. Snakes can swim!

The Australian Geographic Society describes them as "fast-moving, aggressive and known for their bad temper, eastern brown snakes, together with other browns are responsible for more deaths every year in Australia than any other group of snakes. Not only is their venom ranked as the second most toxic of any land snake in the world (based on tests on mice), they thrive in populated areas, particularly on farms in rural areas with mice".

The other danger was red back spiders who have a habit of lurking under the toilet seat and biting you on the bum! There was a hit song that came out at the time immortalising the spider:

There was a redback on the toilet seat
when I was there last night
I didn't see him in the dark
but boy I felt his bite
And now I'm here in hospital,
a sad and sorry plight
and I curse the redback spider
on the toilet seat last night

So you always lifted the toilet seat and checked before you sat down.
Australia holds the record for more venomous creatures than any other country on the planet. Melbourne sits beside Port Philip Bay which is landlocked apart from a small opening to the ocean at Port Phillip Heads called Victory Bight. In the rock pools around the bay you can find pretty little blue ringed octopus which kids see and pick up. Only problem is they are deadly poisonous and carry enough venom to kill 26 adult humans within minutes!

Both our kids managed to survive.

Melbourne Lifestyle

The city has a large and diverse European immigrant population in fact most of the local football teams were named after a European country. The most popular team game was Australian Rules (AFL) and the Victorian Football League (VFL) was the game I found the most interesting as a spectator sport.

Melbourne was where AFL all started back in the mid 19th century and I became a fan of the Essendon team. I don't know why I picked them but they were a bit like Bath Rugby in that they were full of hidden promise which rarely came to anything!
Des Tuddenham was their playing coach for the period I lived in Australia and 'Tuddy' was a bit of a legend having risen to stardom playing for Collingwood.

MCG

Most HSB staff were supporters of a VFL side and would meet up when their teams played each other. Richmond was the team that HSB MD Basil Vose supported who had the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) as their home ground. Basil, who was very straight and proper, could often be seen armed with his six pack of Carlton Bitter on his way to the game walking from the office.

Because the game was generally played on large cricket ovals I had increasing vision problems in seeing what was happening at the extremes of the grounds. Eventually I had to get spectacles as I found myself barracking for the wrong side too many times!
The VFL Grand Final was played at the MCG which held 100,000 spectators and would be full on that day. Even with good eyesight you would have difficulty seeing who was playing what at the other side of the ground.

Melbourne pubs and wine bars were where we socialised and it was very much male oriented as our wives were stuck out in some distant suburb. Long lunches were the norm followed by drinks in the pub opposite the office after we stopped work in the evening. It was rare that I drove home in a legal state of intoxication!

Traditionally the food in pubs was free as the money was made from the drinks but although a charge was introduced it was still remarkably cheap and very good quality.
Jimmy Watsons wine bar was the Friday lunchtime venue and Roger Pilmore from the Brush Electrical office had a table permanently reserved there. It was a treat to be invited to his table but they always finished the meal with coffee and port wine which was a sinker.

Maggie Fitzgibbon

Another wine bar was Smacker Fitzgibbon's who was a jazz vocalist and banjo player on the traditional jazz scene. His sister Maggie was an actress and singer who found fame in the UK in London's West End and in BBC dramas but during my time she was often seen at Smacka's place where the pair of them would get together to entertain the patrons.

Smacka's was where I first tasted sweetbreads which were deep fried in breadcrumbs and were lambs testicles. Smacka bought them to our table one day to share as a taster and was pleased with our reaction. The next time he bought what looked like the same thing and it tasted much the same but he told us afterwards that it was sheep's brains!

Our local pub across from the office was a regular stop after work especially when we had a big order to celebrate. It was owned by Mrs Witty and was known as Ma Witty's. I was reminded it was time to go home when a bloke would come in about 7pm selling Polish charcuterie. He had a very deep voice and would walk around the pub saying "Kabanos, Krakaowska, Salami..." and you felt hungry.

Graham Kennedy pet food sketch

Graham Kennedy was my favourite TV personality. He was an accomplished actor who appeared in several films but it was TV where he was best known. The Graham Kennedy Show was for me essential viewing and I loved the man's humour.
He would say "the Italian taxi driver said to me 'you very funny man Gram. Do the crow for me'" so he would 'squarck' like a crow but it sounded more like 'faaaark' or 'fuck' which in those days of censorship was highly controversial and he was forced to pre-record his shows for the censor.
Australians had a name for the sort of people that liked to spoil others immoral or sinful enjoyment. They were called 'wowsers'.

Food and Drink

Cooked yabbies with dill mayonnaise

In the summertime we used to travel out in the country to a farmers field for a yabbie boil. Yabbies are a freshwater crayfish and are delicious. They lived in farmers dams or pools and you all sat around holding your sticks with a length of string on the end on which you tied a piece of meat. When you felt a tug on the string you would hoik the stick upwards and out would come a yabbie. They were boiled in a pot on an open fire washed down with a few gallons of beer or white wine. You could also get them pickled in a jar.

Pickled yabbies

BBQ's were of course a national pastime made all the more interesting combined with a wine bottling. Someone would take a trip up to Brown Brothers winery and purchase a barrel of Shiraz. We would all gather at one of our houses with our empty bottles, decant the wine into the bottles and cork them, drinking much of the wine to ensure it was of acceptable quality!
I remember Sue Monk saying she thought it tasted of bananas so that Brown Brothers Shiraz was then forever known as banana wine!

Oz cuisine was never inspiring in those days but just like the UK the country eventually woke up to the fact that eating food could be a pleasurable experience and they had an abundance of raw materials to work with.

Dim Sim
When I left Oz my cobbers said to me "what will you miss most about Oz" and I listed Four and Twenty Pies and Dim Sims amongst the list. Not because of their taste but of the associations with pleasurable experiences like VFL games.
Dim Sims were really Cantonese Dim Sum but bigger, like a dumpling stuffed with a mixture of minced pork and cabbage. Sold in Fish and Chip shops it was a better alternative to the dreadful Shark they used to sell.

In Melbourne it was the European immigrant community like the Italians and Greeks that opened restaurants and offered a different eating experience to meat and two veg.

Brown Brothers Shiraz

If you drank wine you were considered by many as a "wino" and I can remember when a 'fourpenny dark' was a glass of exquisite 1935 Para vintage port. By the time I arrived to live in Melbourne the locals had woken up to the fact that they had a quality product that the rest of the world valued and began to take an interest.

I became a bit of a connoisseur of Oz wines and used to join a bunch of like minded blokes from all the engineering professions for lunch and a blind tasting on a regular basis.
It was amazing how accurate we became in naming the grape, the area it came from, the vintage and even the winemaker with constant practice.

Beer was drunk ice cold and almost universally of a higher alcohol lager style. It was drunk icy cold because of the high ambient temperatures in Oz and because it tasted awful warm, unlike a nice malty pint of IPA which would be ruined at such low temperatures.
It was usually drunk from 7oz glasses which had been pre-cooled in the freezer so that you could drink it all before it got warm.
A polystyrene chill pack for your tinnies at the VFL game was an essential requirement.

One food I still really miss are Sydney Rock Oysters. They have a taste like no other and it lingers on the palate long after you have crushed out the juices between your tongue and the roof of your mouth.
I also liked them cooked as Oysters Kilpatrick with bacon and Worcestershire sauce. The species does grow in New Zealand and is known as the Auckland Oyster but is not grown here commercially. Here they like Bluff Oysters which are far too strong tasting for me.

Travelling around Australia

Most of my time outside the office was spent in Sydney and Newcastle, NSW. The shipowners were in Sydney and the shipyards, State Dockyard and Carrington Slipway, on the Hunter River in Newcastle.

Oz was very unionised at the time and every branch of whatever trade or profession you were in had its own union. The domestic airlines were Trans Australia Airlines (Travel Ansett Always) and Ansett (Chance it with Ansett). They were supposed to compete so their services landed and took off within 10 minutes of each other rather than offering the convenience of flights at different times of day.

Chance it with Ansett

You had a separate union for pilots, hosties, ground crew, air traffic controllers, engineers, firemen et al and one of them were always in dispute with the result your flight was often cancelled.
You then queued up at Jack Brabham Airlines or the like to try and share a charter flight to wherever you were going and spend hours in something like a tiger moth at three times the cost! I used to insist that the plane had two donks!

To try and reduce the time I spent in the air I decided to return from Sydney to Melbourne once by overnight sleeper train. At first the trip was very pleasant and I had dinner then a few drinks in the bar before turning in for the night.
The bunks on those trains were arranged athwartships rather than fore and aft so the lateral springing of the carriage shifted you continually backwards and forwards and I found sleep impossible. You were kicked off the train at 6am in Melbourne so I crawled into the office more dead than alive. It was the first and last time I tried it.

Union disruption was endemic in the country at the time in particular the power generation industry. No business could be sure of a continuous power supply so HSB used to keep standby generator sets in stock. Whenever there was a threat of a strike we would sell them and reorder more. Drive-in Movies were one of our biggest customers.

I once shared a flight to Perth with Bob Hawke who was then the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and also shared a few beers with him. He had a reputation as a beer drinker and could certainly put a few away. He subsequently became the Australian Prime Minister.
Another impressive imbiber was Ross Smith our HSB marketing manager. He was employed for who he knew rather than what he knew which was nothing when it came to diesel engines.

Joke's 'wot I like:
"The Pope was giving his annual address from the balcony in St Peters Square flanked by his cardinals.
One Nun turned to another Nun and said 'who is that bloke standing next to Ross Smith'"

Ross knew a lot of senior people in the Australian Navy in Canberra and I was chasing a big order for the engine in a proposed fleet supply ship. After meetings and a boozy dinner in Canberra the previous day we would catch the first flight to Melbourne at 6am next morning and Ross would have pink gins served to our first class seat before breakfast which he called heart starters! He was always on Christian name terms with the pilots.
In a Sydney office block I was once in a lift with Ross. Each time the lift stopped and the doors opened someone would say "G'day Ross mate".

The end of my Marriage

I began an affair with my secretary, Sue Monk, who was from New Zealand. I first realised I was smitten with her on a sales trip over to Tasmania with Bill Marsden and for some reason could not get her out of my mind while I was away. Then I had to fly over to Perth and arranged to come back a day early, booking a room in a city hotel where Sue and I met for the night so it was a deliberate intention to commit adultery from both of us.
I knew then that this was not just a casual affair as I experienced that same deep feeling I had for Liz Worley all those years ago. I was not make the same mistake I made with Liz again.

My wife Nicky eventually discovered my adultery and confronted me. She told me that if I had these deep feelings for Sue then I should leave her and live with Sue.
I don't know why she acted the way she did as I would have thought she might have at least tried to save our marriage but she didn't. Maybe she had decided our marriage was at an end anyway because I was not a very good husband to her and was hardly ever home.

I left the family home that same day with a couple of suitcases and knocked unannounced on Sue's front door where she shared a house with some friends. Sue had no notion this was going to happen and was shocked at this sudden development as was I but took me in.
We eventually found ourselves an apartment to share, meanwhile Nicky decided to return with the kids to the UK and seeing them off at Melbourne airport was the only time I did wonder if I had done the right thing.

But the die was cast, the house was sold and I looked for ways to get back to the UK myself. An opportunity came when HSB took on an agency for the Norwegian company Ulstein and that is described in the next page of this record but in the meantime Sue and I were getting to know each other much better. She left HSB to avoid our personal life getting mixed up with business and worked as a temporary secretary.

My new life

Sue had arranged to go on holiday with one of her girl friends, Sue Constantine, on the Gold Coast so I was left alone for a couple of weeks. I took another of Sue's friends, Gilly, out to dinner one night and she asked how we were getting along.
I confessed that we were both a bit afraid of letting our hair down and behaving naturally. I had even stopped farting!! Gilly thought this very amusing especially when she told me that Sue had a big reputation for venting to atmosphere when she shared her house! On Sue's return home she quickly found herself trapped under the bed sheets as I let rip and the ice was broken with much merriment!!

I already knew that Sue loved parties and she had a record collection that was made for bopping. They ranged from The Beatles, Chicago, The Doors, ELO, Deep Purple to Jethro Tull. I learned to play the piano from classical music and later played traditional jazz at college but also grew up with Bill Haley and later the Beatles so had more catholic musical tastes.

I decided to try and broaden Sue's musical tastes so started taking her to the weekly concerts of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. She quickly added the classics to her musical lexicon and in particular the works of Beethoven who she called her Lovely Ludwig Van. Sacred choral music also hit the spot and she would listen to choirs singing the Masses of all the great composers.

Ulstein in Norway telexed me and said they would welcome a discussion about setting up a new subsidiary company in the UK if I returned. Neither of us wanted me to have to chose between staying in Oz or returning home but I would quickly lose touch with my kids if I stayed put and the prospect of setting up a new company for Ulstein was too good an opportunity to miss.

Sue could get a visa to work in the UK by virtue of her Grandmother being English so she said she would go with me to the UK if I decided to go which I did.
My plan was to return to Edinburgh which everyone I knew in Oz said was plain stupid. Why on earth leave nice warm Melbourne for the frozen North of Britain. I must be mad.
In fact I had more coughs and colds in Melbourne than I ever did in Scotland which I put down to the variable climate. One day it would be cold and wet and in the same day the North wind would blow and the temperature would rise 20 degrees.

Myer Music Bowl

The day before we left Melbourne we went to a concert at the Myer Music Bowl on Kings Domain beside the Yarra River. The Pipe Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards were performing their hit piece 'Amazing Grace' and thousands of ex-pat Scots in the audience (some in kilts) hummed along. Sue must have wondered exactly what Scotland had in store for her.

There is more about our time in Melbourne and our journey back to the UK on the next page.

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