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It was while relating stories of our life together to our neighbour in Tauranga, New Zealand and her interested reaction that I realised that some of our life and adventures together before we retired might be of interest to write about.
This web site was begun to record our lives after we retired and purchased our Dutch Barge Harmonie II in 2005 so our life together before then has not been recorded. Sue had been diagnosed with terminal bone cancer in 2019 and our neighbour, Kelly Cooke, spent many hours with us, caring for Sue and listening to us talk about our life together.
I was working on sales for Hawker Siddeley Brush (HSB) in Melbourne, Australia. Hawker Siddeley was the parent company of Lister Blackstone and Mirrlees engine builders plus Brush electrical generators. HSB represented these manufacturing companies in Australia and Fiji.
I was married then to Judith Nichols who had emigrated with me in 1970 with our first born child Steven. Judith who was known as Nicky from her surname was heavily pregnant with our second child and unable to fly so we went by sea. Our daughter Rebecca was born shortly after our arrival in Melbourne so is Australian as are her children, my grandchildren.
For many reasons our marriage did not survive but I was the main cause of its collapse. I was working hard, travelling all over Australia, commuting 18 miles from home to the city office so I saw very little of my family during the following three years.
One day my immediate boss, Terry Harrison, introduced me to his new secretary Susan Monk, a New Zealander. Sue was very brown having just returned from hitchhiking the odd 3,400km across Australia to Perth with her Australian friend Gilly and sleeping out at night in the Nullabore Plain amongst the deadly poisonous snakes and spiders they didn't know were there! Terry thought she might have been a Maori princess!
The social life at HSB was very lively to say the least. The company was hugely successful in securing multi million base load turnkey power station contracts principally in the burgeoning mining industry, in fact I had walked down Mirrlees test bed prior to leaving the UK and virtually every engine was going to Australia. Every HSB order was celebrated at the pub over the road known as Ma Witty's after the landlady who ran it.
I remember walking into Terry's office one Friday evening to find him waiting for an important phone call. It was I think from the Bechtel Corporation with the result of a $5 million tender for a power station at the Robe River mine site.
The phone rang and Terry listened for a few minutes and then said "thank you very much, it is a pleasure doing business with you".
Most of the rest of HSB were already in Ma Witty's and when Terry and me walked into the pub he announced we had won the Robe River contract. Everyone started ordering Champagne at the bar thinking that Terry would be getting the tab but Mrs Witty came over and told him she was keeping a note of who was ordering what and not to worry. A lot of people were treated to a large bill before they left!
Australian pubs used to close at 6pm so there used to be an hour each evening when everyone went for a drink after work known as the six-o-clock swill. I had spent some time as a seagoing marine engineer sailing round the Australian coast in the early sixties so was familiar with the custom. In places like Whyalla where the stevedores were loading bales of wool in hot conditions on deck, you had to get in the pub before they knocked off. Pints of beer were lined up in threes on the bar and everyone had an allotted place. Beers were consumed and replaced in rapid succession. If they worked overtime after six we had some pretty gruesome accidents as a result.
In those days Melbourne had a thriving Caledonian club where all our ships officers became members so we could drink after six. I used to play eightsome reels and the like for them on the piano and used to get regular letters to the ship asking me back when we were next in Melbourne. The only Scottish accents to be heard were from my shipmates!
Pubs had long since been allowed to open later for some years but old habits die hard and the six-o-clock swill continued except you didn't get thrown out of the pub at six so you continued drinking.
I would often drive my Holden car home being in an illegal state of intoxication, putting one of the front wheels in the tram lines to assist navigation, arriving home when the family had long been in bed. Then there was Jimmy Watsons!
Watsons wine bar was a happy hunting ground for Friday lunch with HSB employees and Roger Pilmore had a permanent table reserved. You were privileged to be invited to attend a Pilmore lunch and you each purchased a bottle of wine. After lunch a carafe of port would be consumed and sometimes everyone bought one such that I sometimes woke up on the back seat of my car and it was dark outside!
Then there was the Melbourne Engineers Wine Appreciation Society where a dozen or so people from the many different branches of engineering would meet for lunch and would each bring a bottle of wine with the label masked. We would then try to name the grape, region, vintage and vineyard. We all became experts on Oz wine but rarely arrived back at the office in a fit state for work. Basil, our esteemed Managing Director H.B.M Vose, known affectionately as His Bloody Master Vose (get it?), often came looking for Terry Harrison who would be asleep under his desk with a phone directory as a pillow hiding!
Terry left HSB to join a Melbourne engineering consultancy practice. Bill Marsden took his job over and bought with him his own secretary so Sue Monk was transferred for Industrial Sales Engineer Gary Walters and myself to share her secretarial services.
During a regular visit the superintendent engineer of Australian National Line (ANL) in Melbourne one day suggested we each take our secretary's for lunch at Jimmy Watsons. While we were away ordering food he told me that he thought Sue was a cracker and was obviously in love with me! Up until then I had rarely given her a thought apart from marvelling at her accurate shorthand, typing speed and office efficiency.
I don't think the ANL superintendent was quite correct in his observations of Sue's affections but it did cause me to view her in a different light and we eventually became lovers which put the final kaibosh on my marriage. Nicky and the kids flew home to England, our house was sold and Sue and I set up home together in the Melbourne suburb of Brighton.
Seeing Nicky and the kids off at Tullamarine was one of the worst experiences of my life as Steven burst into tears and clung to me. I knew then that I would sometime have to return to the UK myself to be within reach of my kids. Prozac was required to lift the resulting depression after that experience.
I introduced Sue to classical music and we regularly attended concerts of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Previously Jethro Tull's Bouree was as near as she had come to the classics but she eventually came to develop the fairly catholic erudite tastes in music that I have from pop, jazz to classics,
In 1973 Britain had joined the European Economic Community (EEC) known as the 'Common Market' and the forerunner of the European Union (EU). The effect in Australia was that we lost the Commonwealth Tariff Preference and overnight our engines increased in price by about 7%. Other engine companies saw the opportunity to cash in and we found selling our equipment hard going with the sudden price increase.
I had been chasing an order for engines in some new supply ships for Australian Offshore Services (AOS). The competition for the order became so tough that Sue and I lowered ourselves to helping the then superintendent engineer dig the garden of his new home. How low can you stoop to get an order?! Our efforts came to naught as we eventually lost the order to Daihatsu.
We both decided that it was not the best arrangement for Sue to continue working at HSB with our new relationship so she resigned and went off working as a temporary secretary.
I was having some continued success selling engines for a series of tugs which Carrington Slipways in Newcastle, NSW, were building for Sydney based shipowner Howard Smith.
I first visited Carrington when they were building tugs at an old coal berth on the Hunter River. It was a family firm owned by brothers Don and John Laverick with their respective wives Maureen and Margaret.
They gave me my first order in Australia and I introduced a ship trials procedure they had not experienced previously. Arnie Smailes, one of our service engineers with seagoing experience and myself would run speed and bollard pull trials recording all the engine performance data to compare with the factory test bed results and then present a report to the yard and the owners. This was much appreciated by all and was a factor in getting repeat business.
Carringtons were very efficient shipbuilders and operated a 'Just In Time' (JIT) supply chain. We would often arrange for containerised engines to be delivered early which were installed in the new ship the day after arrival in Australia. We sold over $8 million worth of engines to Carrington during those four years including engines for a series of double ended Sydney Harbour Ferries still operating the last time I was in Sydney after Carrington moved to a new green field shipyard further up the Hunter River.
Carrington side launched all their ships. On every occasion crowds of spectators used to stand on the opposite bank and despite warnings would be swamped by the wave of water from the launch.
Sue and I were always invited to ship launches and on one occasion they were launching two tugs at the same time. I was up in the drawing office talking to Don Laverick when there was a mighty crack and we looked down to the slipway to see one of the tugs leaning at a crazy angle. The launch cradle had snapped and the ship had tried to launch itself.
In typical Oz 'no worries mate' fashion, a temporary cradle was fabricated and the ship launched the following day so all the guests had a second dinner on the yard!
I made many visits to see top brass in the Australian Navy in Canberra who were working on a project for a fleet support vessel. The vessel was eventually ordered with Carrington Slipway long after I had left the country but HSB did obtain the order for two Mirrlees KDMR8 propulsion engines developing 4,800bhp each.
The photo above shows the vessel under construction and the side launch of HMAS Tobruk at Carrington.
The CEO of Mirrless Blackstone at that time was Mr Mackay James who we called 'Mucky Jim' and I took on him a tour around Oz with his wife which included a Carrington launch party. For some reason Mrs Mackay James had decided I was a Rudolph rather than a Roger. Travelling back to Sydney on a Twin Otter aircraft we had just ordered stiff gin and tonics when we hit severe turbulence, dropping thousands of feet but my drink remained at altitude where it hit the deckhead and ran down the curved surface until it dripped down onto Mrs Mackay Jame's head who was sitting in the seat in front. She turned round and said in her Scottish brogue; "Rudolph. I would 'na mind but that was a wicked waste of good gin"!
Our friendship with the Lavericks continued to this day and they often feature in the barge and travels section of this web site. The photographs below show us enjoying a bit of dune buggy racing with the Laverick clan on a beach just North of Newcastle NSW.
HBMV returned from his yearly visit to Hawker Siddely head office in London and gave me information about a Norwegian shipbuilding company who manufactured controllable pitch propellers and thrusters asking my advice on wether to take on the agency. The units were unsuitable for our own engine power range which meant we would have to sell them to other engine companies who we competed with so my advice was not to take on the agency. HBMV completely ignored my advice and one day plonked an agency agreement with Ulstein Propeller A/S on my desk.
Apart from issuing a press release about the new agency I did nothing with it until an enquiry came in from a shipyard in Perth for a gearbox and CP Propeller to connect with a Caterpillar engine in a new trawler. I shot off a quote and did nothing more until, much to my amazement an order landed on my desk. Ulstein became very excited at this development and despatched their sales manager, Per Svino, to Australia who I duly introduced to all my marine contacts.
During our travels around Australia I asked Per Svino about the volume of orders for transverse thrusters from the Offshore Supply Industry in the UK which I knew was booming at that time. Surprisingly he told me they had not received a single order and they were considering firing their London agent and setting up their own company. He asked me if I would be interested in returning to the UK. I predicted a limited future in Australia for HSB selling marine engines and told him I was considering moving back. He promised to discuss it with Ulstein on his return and subsequently telexed me to say they would be interested to discuss setting up a new company with me if I returned.
Sue and I had been living together for 8 or 9 months by this time. I told her that I would like to return to live in Edinburgh where I had been based previously as the Scottish sales representative for Lister Blackstone Mirrless Marine (the photo at the top of this page is of Sue and I on Edinburgh Castle ramparts in 1975) and explore the possibilities of a future career with Ulstein. Sue agreed to join me so the die was set. I telexed Ulstein to say I was returning to the UK and would visit them on my return. I handed in my notice to HBMV who tried to talk me out of it but understood my desire to return home to Scotland. I had worked for him for 4 years and he actually thought I was Scottish!
All my colleagues at HSB thought we were crazy to leave Oz and absolutely mental to go to the frozen North of Britain. They asked me what I would miss most and when I left presented me with a scroll which I have since lost based on the carol 'The 12 days of Christmas'. It began with 'On your last day in Oz your cobbers gave to you' and then listed all the things I would miss. I remember it included Four and Twenty Pies, Aussie Rules and cricket at the MCG, even Dim Sum which Ozzies called Dim Sims, among other strange items!
The Managing Director of Lister Blackstone Marine in the UK visited us who was a guy called Maurice Robinson and it was he who had me transferred to HSB in Australia from Scotland. In the UK business practice was much more formal and each person was addressed by his or her title if senior to you so to me he was Mr Robinson or even 'Sir' which I avoided. Someone junior to you was usually addressed by their surname but never their christian name.
Of course all my HSB colleagues called Mr Robinson 'Robbie' and one of my last duties at HSB was to take him on a Cooks tour of all our clients. I couldn't bring myself to call him Robbie and he couldn't call me Roger but neither of us could address each other informally until after our final meal together he clapped me on the shoulder and said "goodbye old son" and I said "goodbye Robbie".
When people from our UK principals visited us we usually took them over to Ma Witty's for the six-o-clock swill. We would usually drink beer out of 7oz glasses because Oz beer had to be drunk very cold as it was pretty dire otherwise but high in alcohol so drinking a pint would quickly be warm before you could finish it.
Visiting Poms would scoff at this practice as they were used to pints but containing much weaker beer. Mrs Witty kept a stock of 20oz glasses for these unsuspecting Poms with the result with each 'shout' they had to drink three times more than the rest of us so that they used to fall over quite quickly!
Another UK visitor during those final months in Oz was the Chief Engineer of Mirrless, a bloke called Roy Greenhalgh. He came out to fix a vibration problem we were having with a K Major engine in a dredger at State Dockyard in Newcastle NSW. The vibration arose when the clutch between the flexibly mounted propulsion engine and the gearbox was engaged. The clutch manufacturer who had designed the transmission system of a flexible coupling and clutch was also present and trying to duck his responsibility so that we ended up with the bill for fixing the problem. Roy briefed me in his broad Lancashire accent; "oreet cock 'e's got to admit 'e got it wrong lad. Owt to do but to fit a nose bearing but 'e's got to say it, not us".
So we had many days of meetings and trials with different possible solutions until they agreed to fit a nose bearing and it all worked but I learnt a lot about engine design and installation pitfalls from Roy in the process.
Roy was a fell walker and wanted to experience walking in the Oz bush. Down in Victoria I took him along an airy ridge which just manages to poke its rocky crest above the gum trees and arranged for Sue and some friends to meet us for a BBQ at the other end.
Walking along the ridge I warned Roy about a snake in our path who was curled up asleep in the hot sun. I turned round to see Roy half way up a gum tree! After that he kept so close in my footsteps that if I tripped up then so did he!
On my return to the UK some time later I visited Mirrless at Hazel Grove to say goodbye to all my ex-colleagues and thank them for supporting me in Australia. I then walked down the test bed. Unlike when I was last there 4 years previously, it was half empty of engines on test and not one single engine was going to Oz. The company was later bought by German company MAN who asset stripped it, closed the factory and moved all spares manufacture to Germany.
Finally the day came when Sue and I flew off in a DC8 of Thai International bound for London via Singapore and Bangkok. Lovely Thai girls as hosties while pilots in those days were provided by SAS. We had booked a bit of a tour which involved a stay in both places plus a side trip to Phuket or 'fuckit' as I had named it before our flight to London.
I had visited Singapore before when at sea and showed Sue around the town including the 'He She's' of Boogie Street recalling one of my shipmates having found himself in bed with one of these beautiful lady boys who had not had the operation much to his surprise! On this occasion Lee Kuan Yew was Prime Minister who ruled with an iron fist even down to the length of your hair. I remember I had to have a shorter hair cut for fear they might not have let me in.
The hotel also tried to put us in separate rooms until we explained we were living in sin! We purchased clothes made to measure within 24 hours. They do say a Singapore tailor has your measurements as soon as you walk in the door. I also bought new prescription glasses for a fraction of the Oz or UK price.
Bangkok was a city I had never visited before and was a really interesting place what with the beautiful temples, delicious street food, floating markets and exciting tail boat rides.
We had a little Thai guide to show us the Bangkok sights who kept saying to us at every site; "Bangkok alright for you?" Sue and I continued to repeat those words for years whenever we visited somewhere new for example; "Yosemite alright for you?"
We flew down to Phuket for a couple of days on the beach. It was just a little fishing village then with loads of inexpensive fish restaurants along the beach front cooking on open fires. We decided to come back one day.
Arriving in Heathrow on a hot June day we asked a porter to help us with our luggage and he saw us though immigration and customs to the double decker bus into the city. I tipped him half a crown which I thought was a reasonable tip, it being 4 years since I last tipped as Australians don't tip. We sat on the top deck of the bus and all the windows were open. Our porter was still standing on the kerb by the bus looking down at the coin in the palm of his hand and could be heard making phewing noises in astonishment at his meagre tip!!
After checking in to our hotel we found the nearest pub and I ordered half a pint of best bitter. The reason for only ordering a half pint was that after four years of cold Orstralian tasteless but high alcohol lager I was unsure how I would find relatively warm English beer you could taste but it was like I had never left and I quickly drained the glass and ordered a pint.
It was the day of the trooping of the colour so Sue was introduced to London in all its finery.
After a few days sightseeing we travelled down to Somerset to see my kids and my family and I guess I was not the most popular son with my mother after the break up of my marriage which was difficult for Sue. Then it was off up to Scotland and Edinburgh which will is the subject of another chapter.