I was born as most of us were. In my case, it was at the Royal North Shore Women’s Hospital. After this auspicious start, I grew up further south in Blakehurst about ten miles south-west of the Sydney CBD.
My dad worked at Marrickville Margarine where he kept the boilers going as an attendant. Most of the time he was employed doing shift work so his home life was varying.
Up till I was four and my brother Neil was still a baby; Dad’s transport was a small motorbike which as he entered the backyard those who could, helped him ride the bike up to the shed. I have several pictures of this as Mum was an avid photographer and snapped us at every opportunity.
Because of the growing family and rationing of petrol had ceased, Dad bought a Morris Z type van. Dad had to purchase the optional front passenger seat for Mum, and he then made wooden benches for the back. Today’s safety authorities would have kittens if you were to do that nowadays. Apparently the sight of five children piling out of the back when we stopped certainly drew some startled glances. This before Dad fitted side windows by himself, He being of the generation that felt that doing handyman and mechanical work was what everyone did.
By the time the youngest sister Sally was born, Dad traded the trusty van for a somewhat newer Hillman Minx. With Mum, Dad and baby Sally on Mum’s lap and the other five children sitting in the back seat we went on many trips on the weekends and holidays.
Most of my early life I remember from anecdotes and reminisce of my parents.
Such as when I was about 18 months, Dad had walked down to the newspaper shop across a busy highway and as he reached the other side horns blowing made him turn around to find me standing in the middle of the road in a distressed state. I had followed him the full length of the street and across three lanes of the Princes Highway.
Another time, obviously when I was just getting the hang of speaking, I apparently told my Uncle Gordon off. “Don’t talk baby talk to me.” I had said with some heat.
When I was about 3 and my older sister Lorna 4 1/2, we had been quite happy to play in the backyard; until Irene 18 months showed us how to open the gate by climbing and releasing the catch.
One of my earliest memories was when all the other kids were across the road and apparently Neil had lost his balance and grabbed at an older girl (neighbour) to steady himself but she shook him off, and he fell into a rubbish heap where he sliced his hand open on a tin can. Panic then set in with Lorna half carrying and dragging him across the road. I watched the commotion from the front yard. The result was sewing up his left hand which left him with a stiff little finger the rest of his life and ensured that he wouldn’t be a lefty. He did develop ambidexterity, very handy for a carpenter.
At school my first run in with a bully situation was at play lunch because I had the habit of exploring by myself; a classmate cornered me. I wasn’t having any of that and pushed back. The teacher saw this last action, and I had to sit out the rest of play lunch. The fact that the classmate missed out as well didn’t make me any happier.
After that, I kept away from corners and over the years wasn’t usually viewed as a victim. Later in primary, I acquired a nasty bruise on my knuckle when I nailed one boy who thought that it was Okay to niggle me from behind in lines at morning assembly. He left me alone for years after that.
Not all clear sailing as several had worked out that up to a point I wouldn’t retaliate and then if they kept further than about a metre; I wouldn’t chase.
The only time things became worse was when one of my classmates was harassing Neil and when I remonstrated, the smallest boy in my class got stuck into me. This failure spoilt my reputation with my brother. Later when we had both left school I ran into the classmate, he recognised me straight off, but he now towering over me (he worked as a truck tyre changer) and double my weight.
At high school there was little of this behaviour except once when I was marginally involved when several boys hassled Keith, I had my cake knocked onto the ground, lucky for him it wasn’t fruit cake or he would have learnt the lesson the hard way that there were consequences instead of being laughed off.
Another time some younger boys thought it was funny to squirt me with a bubbler this resulted in a sixpence (5 cents) sized wet spot then I stepped up and whacked him in the ear, the result a blood blister on his ear. I walked off around the assembly area and returned all cooled down then apologised; He was still standing there stunned.
The last time at high school I remember was when I had a pair of shorts for PT which had the elastic stretched. Several boys thought it was a great joke to pull them down. I managed to tackle one, but he calmed things by threatening violence which stopped the fun.
As an apprentice, I had two incidents one with two tradesmen trying to dunk me, but I was able to frustrate them by balancing one against the other.
The other time was more severe as about eight fellow apprentices decided to grease me. It took all of them to stick me on a bench, and when they let go, I still managed to nail one before the apprentice escaped. One of the older apprentices calmed me down before I tackled anyone else, he being a black belt in judo.
My classroom behaviour was confusing for my first teacher (Miss Dodd) as she would turn around and find me being more interested in the outside. Thinking to catch me out asked me a question as what she had been speaking about just then. I used to astound her with the correct answer most of the time; lucky for me as corporal punishment was the go in those days.
Most of my school life I cruised in the top 5, especially in maths, physics and history. Since I did well enough without trying, I didn’t work too hard as was often noted on my report cards as ‘could work harder’.
My favourite teacher was Mr Caruthers who seemed bring out the best of all his students. He was killed by a drunk driver when he was helping a taxi driver change a tyre in the rain.
The rest of that year was a write off as we had several temporary teachers, who filled in the day reading us books and other non-subjects. I suppose school life may have been different if that accident hadn’t happened.
At primary I had an avid interest in insects of all types, The teacher appointed me in charge of the nature table. So being a diligent student, I collected a great variety of all sorts. On one collecting expedition, I ran foul of the senior students. They insisted I return the jar of beetles back to the hole, where I had found them because their teacher said. We scientists have to put up with a lot of things in our quest for information.
Another time I ran afoul of the wildlife as I had inadvertently stood in the middle of a bull ant nest, stung on one ankle I jumped onto the other foot only to be stung again. I declared war; from then on many an innocent bull ant has paid for that vicious attack, p.s. I also am a bit more careful where I stand.
Mum must have been delighted when I became interested in cicadas, early morning trips to the park, followed by cicada shells on the bedroom curtains, cicadas flying and hanging off the furnishings. I must have tested Mum’s patience at times as the double drummers have the habit of dropping a dark stain after exiting its’ shell. Afterwards, the now dry adults were escorted to the trees at the rear of the yard hopefully to live a full life.
The largest that I collected was the double drummer with a body length of about 75 mm and the smallest about 4 mm or the size of a wheat grain. The song of the tiny one was about the sound of a ticking watch, the Double drummer a 100 cc motorbike.
High school came along, and I was assigned to Kogarah Boys high school while they were building my new school. This school was an old brick and asphalt edifice which catered the students from local as well as those living near the railway stations; this brought a whole lot of rougher types, including second generation Mediterranean migrants, all with a chip on their shoulders. Which they tended to take out on strangers who were just temporary; so that was not the best year of school. Past students such as John Hewson, Ken Rosewall and Jeanie Little (girl’s school) graced these halls, and I am sure many more infamous as well.
Due to the completion of Blakehurst High School, I ‘tearfully’ bade farewell to the old dump and started the New Year at a brand new school. Arriving at Blakehurst to start the new year, my new class 2B was smaller and the class teacher Mr Llewellyn. I kept a low profile, and the only hiccup was the Maths class run by Mr Webb who was a self-professed genius.
One day in the third year when homework was handed in, I loved homework (NOT), so had read the question and wrote the answer. Mr Webb then accused me of cheating by writing the answers from the list in the back. Blind Freddy would see that if I did that, it would seem more likely to be tidy and the required working out alongside.
Still, he insisted on embarrassing me in front of the class, vocalising a question and expecting an answer. Of course, I have difficulty with spoken problems combined with being embarrassed so I didn’t answer. He grabbed my neck which triggered a brush-off from me, which he then retaliated.
I paid him back by not working for the rest of the year, failing Maths 2 and barely passing Maths 1. Since maths had been my best subject and I was usually in the top 3 most of my school years; I ‘really showed’ him. Years later a CPOAI in the Navy pointed out what Mr Webb should have, that written working out was necessary to show up any minor stuff-ups.
I obtained my Intermediate certificate with only one subject missing (Maths 2). Not the last schooling as I started an apprenticeship the next year.
Childhood diseases and wounds
As a child growing up in the fifties, life at times was a series of illnesses, an early bout of the 'whooping-cough' transforming me from a chubby kid to a skinny one. Other diseases such as Measles (German and common), chicken pox and other joys that Mum treated at home with no lasting effects.
Accidents happened on a regular basis, while not as often as Neil did, once I came running down the back path full speed and found that Dad had newly concreted in front of the toilet, veering not quite quick enough bang into the pole supporting the roof. Have now a permanent reminder on my forehead.
A visit to my Uncle Alf’s oyster lease resulted in a scar on the base of my right thumb after a slip on the pier and finding an oyster shell.
Behind the house where we lived was a large area of bush, where all the junk was thrown over the back fences by lazy people, one visit by our mob resulted in a barbed wire scratch down the front of my shin and both of Lorna’s feet cut by glass. The combination of long grass and no shoes is not good for keeping out of trouble.
I found out the hard way that becoming too enthusiastic with the old pump action fly sprayer the piston knocks the end plug out when the pump is pushed forward again fingertips now align with the sharp edge of the barrel leaving an interesting pair of half-moon scars on R/h number four and five fingers.
Another accident all the mob was involved was Uncle Arthur's 'new' Ford Prefect utility; this had a narrow track and tall body.
Rounding a corner it tipped over and the three children (Lorna, Irene and me) were thrown out. Neil inside on Aunty Phil’s lap hit the windscreen resulting in a mirror image scar similar to mine. Lorna received cuts and bruises; Irene making the most noise had some bruises, and I had a cruciform cut to the knee and a graze to the foot.
This abrasion turned out to be the worst injury as it had been contaminated with battery acid. When we were in the emergency department, they missed the contamination resulting in infection. I was lucky that I didn’t lose my foot as amputation was contemplated. If a technicolour ulcer covering the top of a foot interests you, the result was quite colourful. The great part for me was a course of injections on a daily basis entailing Dad carrying me into the doctor’s to get a jab in the backside. Once the doctor thought it was funny when he jabbed a bit hard and hit the bone. Luckily for him, Dad held his temper as he didn’t share the humour. Eventually, it healed, and I have a talking point whenever I am bare footed.
Probably the worst accident I was in was when on the way to Cubs in the dark and rain, of course wearing high visibility dark grey raincoat over black cub uniform, I crossed a street near the scout hall and was hit by a Ford F100 utility. Next thing I knew, the cub master was calling my name next to an ambulance and then waking up in Saint George Hospital next morning.
I remained in the hospital for about two weeks; one clear memory was that I was drawing accurate jet planes with my left hand. I had a wonderfully swollen left cheek and afterwards found that the doctor had diagnosed me with a concussion.
One of the problems I had was that I was reluctant to use the bedpan, the nurses having noted that her patient had no number twos, was given a bomb (laxative). No dramas if the patient uses the bedpan, but not a good effect if he refuses.
Afterwards, the symptoms remained as neck pains the doctor had to realign on a regular basis. The current teacher Mr Austen incurred Dad’s wrath by grabbing me by the neck to make me pay attention to the blackboard; this was unfair to me as my concentration was still affected by the concussion and my neck was strained by his efforts resulting in further trips to the doctor.
Arriving at school the next day the teacher was surprised, if somewhat bemused when I announced that if he were to touch my neck again; My Dad would come and break his neck, adding to this that his middle name was Samson for an excellent reason. Surprisingly he did as he was requested and didn’t grab my neck again. I suspect that he contacted Dad and found out that I had a condition involving my neck, and this affected my concentration. I progressed back to normal quickly after that. Regrettably that still allowed him to cane me on the hand for other infringements, oh well can’t win all the time.
Because the policeman attending didn’t want to do more paperwork, he wrote down that I had slipped over and hit my head on the road, this despite the driver admitting that he had hit me. I suppose that didn’t help my father’s temper either as it left him with the full bill for my treatment.
Another incident involved a scooter that Dad had acquired from the tip, racing down the street I put my foot back to operate the brake. Instead, I found a peg sticking out of the wheel which sliced my ankle. Several stitches later and just healed, I ventured out again, and when the front wheel stalled on a rock, the back wheel swung around and neatly shaved the freshly healed scar from my ankle. Not being enough skin left to stitch it had to grow back without help. For some strange reason, that was the last time I saw that scooter.
Another time I was in a borrowed high-wheeled billycart, rounding the curve, I found that leaning out of the corner results in a parting company with the cart. I bit the tarmac and chipped my front teeth. Later when I built my billy carts, I used ball race bearings which result in a much lower centre of gravity, and I now lean into the bend, noisy though.
The rest of my childhood was relatively accident-free if you don’t count bruises, cuts and scratches.
As an adult the only serious injury was when I landed badly during a motocross race, squashing the medial cartilage and stretching the ACL resulting in a loose knee joint. The helpful Navy doctor said, "the cartilage was just bruised and take an aspirin if the pain persists."
Two years later on re-entry after having the knee joint let go on a regular basis, it was correctly diagnosed and treatment was given. My knee was opened up the remaining flakes of cartilage removed and the arthritic ulcer port and polished.
Afterwards, everyone marvelled what a small and tidy scar was left (only 3 inches, 7.5 cm). Note this was before arthroscopies done with only three tiny holes as was done in the second repair.
Previous it was common to have a foot long incision and being laid up in a hospital for at least six weeks and another six months recovery. Now little old ladies walk out on crutches that arvo, end of story.
The change being that in the meantime the Tracker hanger was burnt down due to meningitis induced mental illness of perpetrator and unrelated several painters had died from leukaemia due to the toxic paint. The poor prognosis all due to the policy of 'take an aspirin' and call back if it gets worse. After those incidents, no one complained of a headache if they didn’t have to as it was immediate hospitalisation for observation.
A day in my childhood
A bright sunny day in summer I would wake up at the first light pouring through the window.
As breakfast wasn’t for another hour, I would sometimes walk to the Carss Bush Park where I would wander amongst the trees, collecting cicadas if it was that season.
When I arrived back in time for breakfast, I would have ‘Wheatbix’ (4) followed by toast and a cup of tea.
School days would then see me walk off towards Blakehurst Primary School where I would spend the day. This task entailed a mile walk to the top of the hill situated in a bend in the Princes Highway, the last quarter mile up a steep road.
After school, I would water the gardens, feed the animals and hens plus any other outside jobs.
If it were Saturday, I would then walk about 2 miles (3 km) to the produce store to buy pollard and wheat for the chooks.
The said chooks would be fed a mixture of pollard and stale bread boiled up into porridge and dumped into a couple of containers in the chook run. At tea time after the chooks had been foraging in the garden, wheat would be scattered across the ground ensuring that all would an equal amount.
The chook run consisted of an all over chicken wire enclosure including a shelter made out of corrugated iron, complete with the regulation lemon tree.
Believe it or not, I walked for fun, covering miles on foot just to see what was there at the end of the road.
Up till 1956, we used to surround the radio to listen to all the dramas such as Tarzan, King of the Apes and Superman voice acted by Lenard Teale later to star on the TV show Homicide.
On Sundays, after the papers arrived, the comics were commandeered and spread out by the radio so that we could hear Charley Chuckles narate, and read the comics at the same time.
The year was 1956 and until we bought our Television; us kids used to troop across the road to watch the Mickey Mouse show on across road neighbour’s TV.
My friend's parents had bought a multi-console (turntable, radio) with a plastic blank to show where the TV would be placed when the channels started broadcasting. Good idea except when the TV chassis became available it cost more than a new separate Television set.
Our TV when we bought it was a 17-inch model black and white, with a wooden cabinet. The chassis was run on discrete valves instead of the modern transistors.
Every Friday night it was off to grandpa’s to watch BP Pick-a-Box, mandatory for us as he owned a BP service station.
Each year at Easter Dad would load everyone into the car and we went to the Royal Easter Show. Nowadays families find that exercise expensive, the parking fee alone would be more than what the whole day cost us even allowing for inflation. Mum, Dad and us six kids with our neighbour and her daughter, not a bad load for a six seater. Mum would load a picnic lunch of sandwiches and fruit for the hungry hoard.
My favourite haunts were the machinery, bee exhibits and of all the free samples. I wasn’t overly fond of the cattle pavilion as my sense of smell was excellent then as is my hearing. Apart from costing money, the side show alley was too crowded and noisy. Sample bags were just that, free samples with a few novelty bags that cost between one and two shillings (10 to 20 cents) with the fresh contents sold in the shop about the same price with a bonus of comics and games.
I would save up my pocket money for about two months before, and when carrying the spoils at the end of the day out to the car would be in pain from the weight. There were enough lollies to keep me going for a couple of weeks even with sharing some of the less favourite flavours such as musk sticks and strawberry flavours, with the less fortunate of my siblings. With the contents of the free samples, I was set with sauces, jams and cheeses for weeks. If that largesse happened now there would be heart attacks galore from the surprise.
Every Saturday afternoon we would walk up to South Hurstville Picture Theatre to watch the movies. We would take about two shillings each, 1 shilling for entry to watch first the ads, God Save the Queen, Newsreel, cartoons and the B-movie such as The Green Hornet with Bruce Lee as Kato or Tarzan starring Johnny Weissmuller. Then interval; where we would spend sixpence, which would get enough lollies to last the length of the feature movie. Some idiots would risk a flashlight shone in their face and ejection for rolling Jaffas down the floor. Myself when I bought something I didn’t waste them like that. The remaining sixpence would be saved for comic books and the Easter show.
Being in the 'polite days', everyone carried their rubbish out with them and placed them in the bins provided. The hawkeyed attendants would note those that didn’t follow the rules and these were banned from future shows, understandably as these attendants did the cleaning up afterwards. Also in those days what little rubbish people had were placed in the bins available.
Occasionally there would be a special movie at the Hurstville Theatre (big smoke) where the whole family would go in the car. The big attraction apart from the movie was the Wurlitzer organ which would rise on a lift before the feature movie, during the interval and at the closing credits. This organist would first play incidental music as everyone found their seats then a rousing “God Save the Queen” as the Flag was displayed followed by the Queen on a white horse before the newsreel. It also had velvet upholstered seats; therefore, very strict behaviour standards were enforced by uniformed attendants with torches; and no, Jaffas weren’t sold or any other anti-social or messy stuff. The interval was long enough to buy and consume refreshments as well as comfort breaks and bringing anything back afterwards was frowned upon. No, you couldn’t just get up, go to the toilet and then return to your seat at least until the interval. People had better bladders then and certainly far better manners.
As this was an all afternoon event, babies were left with relatives or Mother stayed at home, generally the refreshments at the kiosk were too expensive on top of the movie ticket, so usually one milkshake was shared between the kids, not too onerous as one was too much for a child to finish by themselves. The milkshake was served in the metal cup and empties were handed to the attendant for cleaning and reuse.
I started at about 14 working at Grandpa’s Garage pumping petrol, checking oil, tyre pressure and cleaning windscreens on the fuel bowser driveway. Drivers in those days expected full driveway service and never left their cars. I would fill the tank, collect the cash, run into the store, assemble the change and run back; all this for 1 pound for Saturday and 10 shillings for Sunday morning. After spending about six months in an old bib and brace uniform; then I was given a new shirt and trousers to really look the part. This went well until I dropped it off the back of my pushbike and someone picked it up before I could turn around and retrieve it. So it was back to the B & B until I finally spoilt my copybook by laughing at a scratch on a new car which I was helping polish up for the new owner.
I wasn’t too disappointed as I was starting the apprenticeship with QANTAS in the New Year.
I had decided to apply for the job by cycling over to the Sydney Airport to see the Qantas Apprentice Master. Now this would not happen nowadays that a 15-year-old could rock up to an executive, ask for an interview and then actually get it. I suppose the fact that Uncle Bob was a long time employee and well known was a help. I was advised to bring my father next time so that he could sign the paperwork, this I arranged and there I was all signed up as an apprentice. At the end of January, I mounted my trusty bicycle, rode over and joined my new class.
Apprentice Intake 17 started with the first 3-month course which covered all subjects. Concurrently I also commenced Ultimo Technical College going once a week doing exactly the same subjects with the only difference being slanted towards older light aircraft whereas Qantas was biassed towards newer big aircraft up to space, rocket and hypersonic; yes I know none of the latter has happened yet.
The Qantas training was in blocks whereas TAFE was either once a week or fortnightly for the whole 5 years. Part of the practical skills taught at TAFE was fabric covered aircraft, the actual aircraft was a Bleriot Monoplane, this aircraft did the first airmail delivery in Australia; a sister aircraft to the one which flew the English channel for the first time. Covering the wing entailed making a huge sock out of linen turning it inside out and pulling it over the wooden frame of the wing. It was then sewn into position with loops of cotton at each rib. Then the whole lot is painted quickly with ‘dope’ and the linen then shrinks tightly giving a smooth surface.
In teams we assembled a Gypsy Major Aero Engine, this is a 4 ½ litre, four Cyl air-cooled motor. When we ran it, all the automotive apprentices ran out below to find out what was running as it produced 125 hp at 1250 rpm for takeoff power it gave a real slow thump from the exhaust.
Later our class trooped down to Automotive to watch a ‘grey’ Holden motor run on an engine dynometer, at hitting 63 horse-power the number 6 cylinder started smoking on the outside; showing up the water flow weakness at that point.
Completed my apprenticeship by completing 5 years and passing the exam; being awarded the certificate stating that I was an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer.
With Qantas the first section was machinery maintenance, where I mainly did canteen runs, run errands and to fill in the spare time file a block of steel to fit a matchbox. This task was before my first actual training.
Because I had taken holidays to the West with Keith I missed out on the lectures on the DCA exams and consequently didn’t get the extra tuition to pass the same. Not being licensed meant I was a liability at Boeing Servicing and was transferred to Block Overhaul where the Boeing 707 was stripped to its component parts repainted then rebuilt. Boring so my attendance fell off and eventually it was suggested after I took a week off without sufficient notice, perhaps I should work elsewhere. As I was a union member I should have made them terminate my employment, but I had enough. Of course, the person suggesting this had the knack of putting the victim in a position of not wanting to work with this troglodyte.
After applying for several jobs I decided to make a second trip to Cairns, arriving there I applied and gained a job at Bush Pilots. The problem was that I didn’t have any clothes or tools so instead of having them sent to me, so I drove back, on arrival I received a phone call that the job had been filled.
On return, an unsuccessful application to the Army Pilot intake then followed by the successful direct entry into the RAN.
First the medical and written tests in Sydney Recruiting followed by two weeks practical at HMAS Nirimba. Despite a parade and Armstrong landing on the moon, I apparently passed and was told to come into Sydney and take the train to HMAS Cerberus near Melbourne.
After Recruit school, I was sent to HMAS Albatross to work as an Artificer Aircraft class 2 and then joined HS725 working on Wessex helicopters.
Completed six years and as I couldn’t think of a better reason returned to civvy life with the complication of Cheryl visiting and eventually marrying her.
Took a job at Grasslands Agricultural Machinery just north of Taree, Dad passed away just before I knew Sara was on the way, and then the job finished at Grasslands as I was last on, I was then among the first off.
To fill in employment, I did a little labouring with Neil and applied for dozens of local jobs. I applied for a Teaching job in Sydney at Ultimo Tech. Eventually, needs must and I applied for re-entry into the Navy.
Had to spend a month at Cerberus to allow paperwork to catch up and refresh on all the stuff I hadn’t needed in the last six years’ service. Then back to Albatross and the hydraulic workshop to re-join Barry (Cheryl’s ex).
Transferred to the Army doing much the same job before completing twenty years to receive service pension.'
Bought TV repair business, and when that became non-paying returned to Oakey Army as a civilian Aircraft mechanic. This job finished when the contract changed hands, and they shrank the workforce numbers. I had applied for a supervisor's role; I was told that someone had applied with more qualifications, funny he still isn't working there yet. The proverbial hit the fan some years later when a shortage of workers led to a serious shortfall in maintenance. By the fact that all successful applicants had been handed a sticky note well before; I have to assume that I was on the 'B' list, i.e. Be somewhere else.
Before my leave had finished I had taken up Taxi driving, as well as on call Tv repair and in shop TV repairer for Satelite Electronics, I was invited to work at Electronics Workshop full time.
Eventually, TV repair dried up, and I completed my Employment life as a taxi Driver.
Currently, I write full time though yet to make any money, so I suppose it doesn't count as Employment.
First was a pedal powered car, a Christmas present from Grandpa, for my age this was a large and heavy one and difficult to move. I was at this time the second grandson so was somewhat higher in status. When Uncle Doug had the twins, one being the one and only Stewart grandson I lost that status. Still, that car had a long life as the backyard transport for many a year with everyone taking turns pushing or riding.
Second was the ill-fated scooter which inflicted the ankle nips before returning to whence it came.
The third was a restored bicycle which had belonged to Mum’s cousin; Dad and I stripped it down and painted it blue after repacking the bearings and oiling the chain. It was a single speed ‘French’ frame and after a short time had to replace the rear rim and spokes.
Dad had offered his old pushbike, but I found it too tall in the frame to ride despite being longer in the leg than Dad. So it was passed onto Keith who had it for many years until his father had it stolen at the pub.
Once we were both equipped with wheels, Keith and I toured for many a mile, including down to the Royal National Park where we hired a rowboat to explore further. My bike was used to commute first to school via Keith’s place where I parked the bike and walked with Keith to school; also the commute to work at Grandpa’s garage.
The first car was a 1959 Lloyd Hartnett 600 bought for 75 pounds, a front wheel drive with an air-cooled 2 cylinder OHC engine, two ‘suicide’ doors. I only managed about 200 miles because of the unreliability, there were several teeth missing from the final drive gear making the start problematic, I managed to bend a valve and had to strip the motor to repair. The only spares in Sydney were held by Anthon Pangus whose garage was luckily near Ultimo TAFE. The column shift gear change also had a tendency to slip causing the gear changes to be of the lucky dip type.
The gear noise, missed gears and strange shape contributed to an overall ‘uncool’ result, not that I had a problem with that as it didn’t matter what I drove; the cool guys would find something wrong. When I traded it in for the next car it was the first time it actually went properly; though the trade didn’t start too well as I ran out of fuel when I pulled up. The nice salesman brought a small milk bottle full of fuel, started first go, surprise, then selected first gear, even bigger surprise when it went in the first go, then drove into the sales yard even chirping the front tyres. All this was the first time since I had bought the car. Mind you I received a glare every time I walked past for months afterwards.
Fifth a 1956 Morris Minor series 2 which I bought for 150 pounds, having traded the Lloyd for 75 pounds; it was somewhat more reliable but I certainly honed my mechanical skills , it had a propensity for breaking the clutch connecting rod, this being a 4 inch by ¼ Z bent which when it broke would dump the clutch. To get it home each time meant stalling the motor and restarting in gear, this being facilitated by a large battery and starter motor. The other problem was that the wheel rims weren’t really strong enough so one after the other, I replaced them with the stronger 1000 model wheels and did the same with the exhaust system. As Grandpa’s garage sold Morris parts I was a regular customer, not that I received any discounts. I did all my own mechanical repairs including stripping the gearbox down and replacing the first gear when a tooth was stripped missing a gear change, the first gear being straight cut and noisy.
The inadequate brakes and my reactions resulted in several minor prangs; those days it wasn’t hard to insure, and they didn’t penalise someone for being young or accident prone. The cars were tougher and didn't crumple.
As a result of the many repairs including one for Keith, I had just pulled onto the main road just ahead of Prince Philip when an almighty bang announced that my fan blade had parted company from the engine. The result was that since I couldn’t stop I had to continue on with the whole car shaking from the imbalance. I guessed that the repairer had just straightened the blade instead of replacing it.
At last, I bought my first new car #6, a 1965 Morris Mini Deluxe, for which I paid 833 pounds or 1666 dollars as we were coming up to decimalisation. I paid this one off on hire purchase, but as I had a steady job, this was no stress.
As you do when you are young, Keith and I ran it in by driving to Cairns; just completed the initial 500-mile service before leaving and having the second in Cairns.
As young mechanics do, I spent a lot of time and money changing it to something else with twin carbies, wider rims and lowered steering wheel. After yet another accident leaving Mount Panorama I fitted a fibreglass nose and a hot camshaft. Purnells did a very good job and it looked real smick; (so I thought). The bonnet was held down with leather straps and I fitted a mesh grill, never did get around to refitting the bumper bar but that was only there for decoration.
As it was coming up for insurance renewal, I told NRMA (the friendly motorist association), of the fibreglass alteration. Shock! Horror! Instant cancellation! Because under the ‘good guy’ policy, I should have informed them before modifying and NO they don’t insure fibreglass cars.
Okay, I got on the phone to GIO, no problem and cheaper.
Later because I still hadn’t learnt to leave enough room to brake I proved that the fibreglass nose was actually better as the only damage was that the headlight was pushed back into the mudguard and the other car cost me seven dollars to replace the centre bit of the bumper bar. The headlight was popped back to normal position and away we went looking no worse for wear.
Seven was a Honda 55 sports motorbike the commute to Mascot was quicker by 5 minutes as I used the ‘Honda’ lane. The fuel economy was great at 150 miles per gallon (35 kpl) and one week I don’t know what I did right but achieved 250 mpg (55 kpl).
After a couple of months driving everywhere in the car or motorbike, I was packing the weight on so I sold the motorbike and bought #Eight a pushbike? But it had 3 speeds and now the commute became the same as the car at 20 minutes as what I lost on the uphill, I regained on the Honda lane.
Nine was an abortive attempt to be involved in racing, I acquired a Morris Minor fitted with a Holden engine and suspension. Quick response, though when I found a rag stuck in the oil filler cap I found out that the motor was stuffed with 3 burnt pistons; this very obvious by the cloud of oil smoke following me. So I bought a hot motor to put in it, next mistake took a week off to start dismantling then rebuild. The more I dug the more rust and dangerous welding was discovered so by the end of the week I just gave up. Back to work Monday and since there was no record of me being granted leave that was the end of Qantas.
Later now unemployed I took another trip to Cairns I found that the headlights of the Mini needed adjusting as the trucks were complaining when I was on low beam and the tree tops lit up really well on high beam. A quick adjustment settled things; can’t have been too much night driving before the trip.
After joining the Navy and Neil had bought his Moke, this proved quicker than the Mini. Can’t have that so I traded up to a 1970 Morris Cooper S #10, cost $2540, trade of $900, paid the balance in cash; just the fun car to make the trip to Nowra easy. The road was very winding and went through Sydney and Wollongong.
About this time I became I became involved in Motorsport both 2 and 4 wheels.
#11 was a Honda SL100 trail bike, fun but a little gutless to commute between Sydney and Nowra, sold it to Neil and bought #12 a Honda SL175 good for the commute but too heavy and high revving for the off road.
#13 was a Honda 1975 XL 250, much better, good road manners and reasonable off-road. When I started racing and trail riding, the modification bug hit again and weight reduction commenced; headlight assembly, seat and tank together with a new reverse cone exhaust pipe and hot camshaft after worn bearings repaired in head. The only thing left was the frame and increasing the bore to take it to 305 ccs; as the head stem had to be machined for the new frame, it was found that it had an S-bend from an over the bars trip when I found a ditch in the middle of a road.
Because the Cooper S while competitive, I was getting it damaged after losing the exhaust and cracking the suspension tower during a rally.
When the S was off the road due to an accident, not my fault for once, I bought a Morris Minor 1000 with big tyres #14. Decided to do the rings and bearings, threw a piston and that was the end of that except for donating the carbies to Neil for his Moke as the S had been repaired.
#15 was a 1972 Leyland Californian Moke with flowers on the roof and all. Great torque but no top end and a gadget that stopped the throttle from closing too quick; quick hacksaw fixed that!
Big tyres and rollbar with the obligatory steering wheel lowered. Eventually located a set of twin one and a quarter Su carburettors to replace the single inch and a half Su carbie. Combined with free flow exhaust extractors, this gave some performance gains though mostly response improvement. Great little unit for motor khanas won several competitions with that combination.
With more serious motorcycle competition Honda CR125 racer #16 and acquired a trailer to carry the two bikes around. Plastic tank and guards motor fitted with reed valve and new transfer ports carved into the cylinder improved performance. This Honda was sold to a friend with all the upgrades that I had fitted when I bingled my knee.
After marriage and suddenly with a family, a mini was too small so the S was traded for #17 a 1975 Mazda 929 waggon.
The Moke promptly broke the crankshaft because of a head leak allowing water build-up in the cylinders. This was replaced and seemed to be going OK as long as the radiator cap was taken off before the motor cooled down. Eventually, the Mazda was sold to pay for the airline tickets to Tasmania for Cheryl and the kids.
I traded the Honda XL250/305 on a new #18 1980 Honda CB250RS, I could commute rather than depend on the pushbike. Great commute it had been riding a pushbike in the middle of the night when babysitting; the Moke with a broken gearbox selector and the Honda hybrid were not road runners. The Moke was sold for the value of the new head unregistered. EBay currently lists similar at $25,000 in very good condition.
When I ended up with the kids I borrowed a Ford Fairlane 300 from brother-in-law Peter but eventually bought #19 Datsun 1200 to carry the kids around.
When Wendy and I became an item, her Falcon and my Datsun being both too small were traded on #20 a new 1984 Toyota ‘happy wheels’ van with extra seats.
#21 was a Datsun Bluebird replacing the Toyota.
#22 a Mitsubishi Sigma as an extra car for Wendy.
#23 Toyota Tarago 8 seater for the new shop to carry television and other repairs.
#24 was a second-hand pushbike with 16 chain gears had a dicky motor though (ha-ha).
Separated from Wendy after a couple of years traded the Tarago in on #25 2005 Mazda 2; nice car.
Having reached my second childhood I bought a 1998 Honda 650 Dominator #26 apart from a propensity to fall over as it was a little tall in the saddle; it was an exciting ride.
Reunited with Wendy so her little Matiz and my Mazda were one too many so both were traded in on #27 2009 Kia Rio.
The Honda traded for #28 2009 Yamaha Jog scooter. Slightly better economy though not as good as the Honda 55 Sports. The scooter then sold when I retired from Taxi driving.
Apparently as a young fellow, I was a fast runner except that I kept turning my head to see where everyone else was, (they were overtaking as I lost my step rhythm).
I tried Soccer but the coach neglected to inform me that I had to pay fees and attend training.
At school, Keith talked me into a chess competition as it progressed most of the original applicants had dropped out leaving it half finished. The teacher in charge decided there should a playoff instead. I being the last challenger faced the top bloke who was getting tired by then and I beat him three straight games, therefore winning the comp and trophy. Keith still likes to prove that it was a fluke by beating me regularly.
In my late teens I bought a Scalextric set which started me on slot car racing, gradually upgrading to the big tracks, Rockdale slot car centre had a 175 foot and a 220-foot track upstairs.
I started competing and having some success bought kit cars then eventually graduated to building my own, while not the prettiest were very competitive.
One tactic which I didn’t plan was having the easiest car to see, White with bright Red stripes, this helps keep track of it, other drivers get distracted and the stripe helps the marshals put it back on the track straight. Fancy colours and patches on some cars meant that they disappeared into the background and didn’t give clues as to which direction it was pointing.
In my first team race, I was a junior running someone else’s car; we finished well down the list. Adjourning back to Rockdale, one member of the winning professional team(Testor) had a little run against our normal cars, Jim Donald my closest competitor and I were faster than this blokes’ sprint car; because this was our track. So he asked, "Why you don’t race those." After this Jim provided the chassis and I sometimes supplied the motors. At other times, we demonstrated that my motor rewinds and modified chassis out handled the hot thumbs.
I competed successfully in sprint races and long distance, winning the local track championship several times; covering a table with my trophies.
Our team were runners-up in two 24 hour races, the second race I set all types of records, averaging the current lap record for an hour and nearly matching that the other hour. While I was away taking the protégée home as he was only 14, I returned to find that we were languishing in the last place. So off I went, tuned-in against the top NSW hot sprint champions by setting these two hot hours took our car into first place. What had happened, while I was gone, was that one helpful team member had cleaned the motor brushes with lighter fluid then without waiting for it to dry put it back on the track, POOF, up in flames. This required a total rebuild. I broke 2 consecutive 1-hour records, the second averaging the current lap record taking us back to 1st.
Took the junior racer home for a sleep before returning with him after several hours; again back at the track, I found us languishing down the list, so back to the fray and I managed to get back to finish in second place.
The last race I was in was in Melbourne a sprint race, I had my trusty endurance car so was somewhat slow in qualifying, though I recorded three identical times qualifying 52nd out of 56, therefore starting in the lowest heat with all the junior boys. No worries, I just stayed on the track and as I didn’t suffer as much from the drop in voltage when all the cars were racing, was competitive.
So from about 14th heat I won all the way up to the semi-final where I came in 3rd to qualify for the final. This allowed me to finish 7th overall and was awarded a ribbon for the best sport of the day; sheer consistency being the key.
Because I raced all day for the entry fee I feel that I received a good return. Most of the hopefuls only did the three qualifying laps and one race.
Later after the knee bingle, I took up cross country running; as this was a handicap series I won. Of course, as you get fitter and faster you lose part of your handicap.
In the summer the competition was on a Saturday evening doing field and track, this was divided between A and B grades, with the B handicapped according to age to give the young competitors a chance.
For motorsports; first, the Minor with the Holden motor didn’t achieve much.
Next joined the Albatross Motor Sports Club where I found the Cooper S was quite competitive for Motorkhanas and reliability/ navigation trials. Rough road rallies were a bit hard on the suspension. So I bought the Moke for the rough stuff and when the fuel tank proved too small added a standard Moke tank to double the capacity with lines and tap acquired from the old bits bin at the hydraulic workshop.
With the Moke, I competed in motor khanas, winning many tests, one comp I came 3rd behind the two NSW class champions. I had hit a flag entering a garage and was docked 5 seconds otherwise I may have won.
At the base with the Albatross car club, I easily won every test because I had the best traction, only ‘beaten’ in one test by someone on foot wearing running spikes. The days comp was washed out but I was awarded First overall and Class A equals two cups to add to my collection.
Next into motorbikes, with the Nowra and Shoalhaven motorcycle club, started with enduros then had a couple of toe-dipping with motocross. I just kept out of trouble usually finishing near last only beating those who did more crashing than I did.
During enduros I had fun and usually joined a group just having fun, a pair consisting of a trials bike and the other with a registered motocross bike. In the tight stuff I would overtake the MX and then the trials would overtake me, coming into straight stuff I would overtake the trials then the MX would blast past me; this happened dozens of times great fun. That was until I met my nemesis a creek crossing, bike tracks lead in then out so in I went, blub blub, as I sank to my waist and the engine stopped. Drag out other side and now the track was evident going around the waterhole. So empty cylinder and restart after what seemed a long time.
The downside was that the oil breather sucked in water at the same time contaminating the oil. This mistake resulted eventually in the camshaft bearings wearing out. Next year same waterhole, guess what? Blub!
So to make it more competitive I replaced the headlight, the tail-light, exhaust system (Bassani reverse cone megaphone) and rear mudguard. Sent head away to recut the bearings, a bit annoyed as all they did was shave the gaps, then rough shape the bearings; I would have failed as an apprentice if I presented that as a test piece. I ensured reliability by replacing the cam chain and guides at the same time rebuilding with a new reground camshaft.
Knobblies, smaller front and larger rear sprockets, combined with the former mods gave a more competitive performance. Changing front suspension oil to OM15 (aircraft hydraulic fluid) and replacing the rear shocks and springs gave better handling. The replacement seat I made myself, from aluminium instead of steel, with a lower cushion so I could reach the ground better. With the plastic tank, it now looked nothing like the original. At this stage with about 10 kilos removed, all from the top. Later I bought a replacement frame which dropped the total weight by another 10 kilos effectively making it an XR competition bike. Now I could balance the bike at near zero speed and swing the handlebars against the stops without falling over. The head stem was found bent from an accident where I found a ditch cut through the old road and the edges helpfully cleaned off. Bent handlebars with thigh which strangely didn’t break though had painful dent for a couple of weeks.
I was then offered a CR125 MX bike which being much lighter and designed for the job and having the same power albeit closer to an on-off switch compared to the 4-stroke 305 c.c. I ran the bike standard for several months actually scoring a 5th place in a three leg Open Moto. The first four were A and B graders and I scored the place by not falling and finishing all three legs. One rider had his seat flip up, making him crash and break his leg. So all the winners donated their cheques to help him including yours truly’s five dollar prize.
Since I can't leave anything standard, so tank, mudguards and seat replaced with lighter items and the motor intake modified with reed valves and extra cylinder ports to give some extra poke. It was a bit naughty as it was already on the minimum weight for a 125 MX bike at 75 kilos.
Barry my friendly boss fixed the carboned up expansion chamber by first heating the interior with a blow torch then keeping the resultant fire running with a vacuum cleaner on blow till the last oily coke was burnt; quite spectacular with a foot of flame out the tailpipe. Certainly lightened it and wonder of wonders it was quieter because the baffles now worked.
In the last race day, I was involved in, it all came together now having bottom end torque and be able to take off without stall or wheel stand. Off the line spinning rear tyre and a little front wheel carry, arrived first into corner zipped through and over the jump and up the straight before the first bike went past. Most overtook as I was keeping out of trouble; then having just been lapped by the top rider of the club so I decided to get on the juice fully and started to catch him. I was on my second last lap as he was finishing, not that he let me retake the spot as he didn’t know who was catching.
Bad news in the next race as with new confidence I tried too hard, jumped too high, then landed with my knee straight and agony as my cartilage was squashed; end of my career. The Navy doctor insisted that it was just bruised and to take an aspirin and see him on Monday if not better. Ha!
I sold the MX bike to the young protégée to remove temptation, he promptly forgot to add oil to petrol and seized the motor; to top it off he replaced it with a 4-stroke 125 and him a qualified car mechanic.
In the Army at Oakey, I was involved in a ‘triathlon’ where I did the pushbike leg. One of the bosses loaned his bicycle and I tuned it up by adding a front hand brake, raising the seat and aligning everything. Apparently the swim leg guy became swamped as about thirty men jumped into the swimming pool together and the devil takes the undermost. This delay resulted in me being nearly the last away, so off I went at a steady pace; halfway through the first lap the tailender who was doing the whole run solo, (apparently waited till the last swimmer had cleared the pool), caught up and invited me to slipstream.
I managed to keep with him for a lap but run out of legs and he finished by himself. Still, with his help I had caught and passed most of the other cyclists and allowed the runner to finish right up the list at the finish.
While they were amazed, it still left me on the outer.
Another time for PT we had a touch football match Sergeants against WO; the ASM being six ft two and 90 kilos decided that the quickest way was over me. If I dodged to either side he would then swing the other and leave me flat footed, or if I didn’t move I would make good traction. I propped and he ran onto my hand and surprise, surprise flat on his back; stunned everyone as well him. No-one tried that again with me.