HOW I GOT HERE
I am Ken Hay, male, aged 80 years, (as at March 2021), born in Collie, Western Australia January 27 1941.
Attended Amaroo Primary School and Collie Junior High school. Left school aged 15; went to work in a bank in Collie and loathed every minute of it.
At age 18 was working in same bank in Busselton, Western Australia. Involved in car smash, the driver, a mate, was killed. Another mate escaped unscathed, I survived with a fractured left scapula (shoulder blade). Recuperating at home in Collie I informed family I was not going back to the bank and would join the army. Dad pursuaded me to, "... join the Navy and see the world..." I did and I didn't.
I did enlist for nine years in the Royal Australian Navy on 13th February 1960. Completed my engagement on 12 February 1969 having never been posted to a sea going ship. (More about that later.)
Accepted into Medical School at University of Western Australia starting March 1969. Passed final year exams 1974, graduation ceremony March 1975. First year residency at Fremantle Hospital, during which time I married Maureen, then three months at Royal Perth Hospital followed by nine months doing obstetrics at Mersey General Hospital in Devonport, Tasmania.
Returned to Western Australia and joined a general practice in Armadale - a suburb on the south-eastern perimeter of Perth. Three years later started my own solo general practice also in Armadale. Sold out ten years later and did locum work for a couple of years before making a big mistake and going into Occupational Medicine with Alcoa of Australia based at its Pinjarra alumina refinery. Fourteen years later retired for first time. After a year, during which wrote and self published The Nitty Gritty of Caravanning, returned to part time work doing exercising stress tests on cardiology patients. A few years later started doing part time work in Emergency Department at Peel Health Campus, Mandurah, Western Australia. Five years later retired for second, and so far, final time.
Breast cancer took Maureen from me 27 February 2014 (more about that later). Have since moved house and restructured my life to encompass much more social activity and developed my interests in gardening, cooking, photography, writing, caravanning, singing, music and, to date, fruitless pursuit of a new partner via social activity and on-line dating. Today, 30/03/2022 I have to say the social activity, singing, music and pursuit of a new partner have all fallen by the wayside due mainly, I think, to me being an introvert and my intolerance of stupidity and idiots (in the social groups groups I joined - and left. After several years of travelling around Australia, alone, in my Land Cruiser and Caravan I gave it up and sold them.
A few years ago I decided to make a blog to engage my love of writing and to display my better landscape photography.
Read on for details of my life from day one.
My birth certificate states that I was not born in hospital, but at 47 Prinsep Street, Collie, and was delivered by one Ellen Jones in the presence of Sarah Squance and ADS Hay. Ellen Jones, I later learned, was the town mid-wife and lived next door to the house in which I was born. I believe Prinsep Street was named after Henry Charles (Harry) Prinsep (1844-1922) who was the first Chief Protector of Aborigines in WA.
47 Prinsep Street was the family residence at that time. I do not know if Dad owned it then but I doubt it. I have no memory of living there but, later, it was the residence of Tom & Beatrice McGurk, (Beatrice was my mother’s sister), until they moved to Perth when, I think, I was in my early teens. It then became the residence of the Spencers. It is likely that Dad rented the place from Bill Spencer and so did the McGurks and that Uncle Bill owned it all along. I recall he was a canny sort of bloke and Dad occasionally discussed financial matters with him. He was a coal miner but seemed more astute than the average Collie coal miner. He was married to Mum’s sister, Rachael ( Aunty Rae). Before moving to Prinsep Street they lived in a damp and dingy sort of house in Johnson Street right next to the Amusu (?) Hall.
Anyway, my earliest memories are of living at 11 Lawley Street, Collie (left), which Dad acquired with a bank loan and paid off over quite a few years. I can remember him announcing to us all at dinner one night that the mortgage had been paid off, and we then owned the house. (Arthur LAWLEY, 6th Baronn Wenlock - was Governor of WA 1 May 1901 to 14 August 1902.)
Sarah Squance was Mum’s mother. I presume A D S Hay to be Dad’s mother. We always referred to these matriarchs as Nanna Squance and Nanna Hay respectively. I never knew either of my grand fathers. Dad’s father was killed when he crashed his car into a pile of rocks in Collie in 1916. (Dad was aged 4 years at that time.) Nanna Hay was married twice and Dad’s brothers Keith and, I think, George, were fathered by the first husband while Dad, Henry and Stella were fathered by the second. I have no idea of what happened to grand father Squance and, on reflection, I don’t recall Mum or Dad ever discussing him. Perhaps he was a dark horse – I do not know.
My birth date was 27 January 1941. This means I was most likely conceived in May 1940. I was the second born; Pat being the first and followed by June, Laurel and Leslie in that order. I understand Mum miscarried another boy between the births of Pat and me. Pity, that – it would have been nice to have a big brother and, perhaps, one less sister.
Initially the kids shared one bedroom of the two bed-roomed house in Lawley Street. This opened directly into the kitchen while the parents bed room opened into the lounge room. The two bedrooms were adjacent. Things became a bit cosy when it was our turn to have Nanna Squance for three months. This was the done thing in those days – the elderly were shared around among their adult children to look after for agreed periods of time. Nanna was given our bedroom. I don’t recall where we slept but I think the girls stayed in the bedroom with Nanna and I might have slept on a cane lounge somewhere.
Nanna Squance, skinny and with white hair, was descending into dementia and was quite troublesome especially when she wandered off. Fortunately, with six families to share her it didn’t come our turn too often. Eventually, though, her dementia became uncontrollable and she was shipped off to Claremont Mental Hospital. She disappeared from there one night and was found dead in the Swan River. There was no suspicion of foul play.
Nanna Hay lived in a weatherboard house in Wittenoom Street. The front steps were particularly high - from my diminutive perspective as a small boy. When I was at the Collie Primary School I would often go there at lunch time – it was only a few hundred metres from the school. I’d climb up the steps, cross the front veranda and knock on the door. Nanna Hay would come out and welcome me. Inside the front door was the lounge room, on the left was her bedroom and somewhere else was Aunty Stella’s bedroom. Stella was a spinster until late in life when she married a tradesman named Ted who worked at Alcoa at Kwinana. I never heard of her again after that.
The kitchen was at the back of the house, (and so was the toilet – up the back against the fence), The kitchen, as was the standard, had a Metters wood stove which always seemed to be blazing hot winter and summer. There was a small back veranda and against one wall was a large wooden crate which served as the wood box. Scrawled above the box in white chalk were the words, “Never fear. John’s been here!” The message was that it was Uncle John (Henry) who chopped most of Nanna’s wood even though the brothers all tried to do their bit at looking after their mother. There was a bathroom off one side of that veranda and a laundry, complete with a copper – something akin to a huge saucepan made of beaten copper, set in bricks and concrete with a fireplace underneath. Clothes were boiled therein before transfer to the concrete trough and glass washboard to be scrubbed. This arrangement was just about standard in those days.
Nanna Hay died within a few weeks of Nanna Squance. I don’t know why. Uncle Len Hoddell and Aunty Lil came to call one Sunday afternoon just after the event and I heard Uncle Len ask Dad if he needed any assistance with the funeral costs. Dad thanked him but said he was OK.
Mum had an ironing board in our wash-house. Not long after the electric iron was invented, Mum purchased one, she was hard at it one day and stood the iron on its end. When she turned her back younger sister Laurel reached up onto the ironing board, the iron fell flat on a finger producing a whole lot of screaming and shouting and a permanently deformed fingernail.
About this time it was decided that we needed a cat. I never understood why – didn’t like cats then and like them even less now. We acquired a black kitten and named it Nigger. Now, gazing back through the retrospectoscope, I know this is was an unthinkable thing to do but we didn’t have the guardians of political correctness to guide us in such matters as we have today. I think most people who owned a black cat, in those innocent times, named it Nigger. None of us made any racial connections with it and there was never any sense of discrimination about it.
It became my lot to feed the cat every evening before it would leave the home and prowl the neighbourhood to kill native birds and other fauna. But we parted company in unusual circumstances one summer. It was the annual migration of most of Collie to Bunbury or Busselton for the holidays. The damned cat was put in the back of Dad’s Vauxhall – along with three kids and off we went to Busselton. On arrival I opened the car door, the cat sprang out, took off into the camping ground and never again graced us with its presence. The sisters were distraught; I was smugly self satisfied and lost no sleep at all. Unfortunately, the Gods must have been displeased because I went down with some undiagnosed disease that kept me mostly bedridden but totally confined to the tent for the duration of our holiday.
There wasn’t an awful lot of family gatherings but they did occur from time to time. Only once or twice did we go to Keith and Grace’s place. They had a big grandfather clock in the hallway, (funny, the things that stick in one’s mind to the exclusion of many other, possible more important things). They had a son, Kevin, a few years older than me and lived in Coombe street towards the east end of town. The railway line to Narrogin ran right past their front door as it crossed the main road east out of town. I wondered how they slept at night with steam trains chuffing and screeching past as well as trucks and cars – although there was not a hell of a lot of them in those days.
George and Kath lived on the south side in “White City”. This was a State Housing Commission suburb built to accommodate returned servicemen and migrants in the early 1950’s. We went there on the occasional Sunday afternoon. There was a particular couple, Vern and Laura Haley, friends of both families, there one day. Vern was the Council health inspector. I distinctly recall them talking about me and Mrs Haley said that I should become a doctor. How scary is that?
I loved it when we went to the Hoddell’s farm three or four miles northeast of town. The rusty sheds were once the fruit packing shed and dairy.) They had a large orchard with apples, peaches, pears, plums, apricots, almonds and walnuts. We kids would gorge ourselves when the fruit was on the trees. At other times we would sneak among the trees with “gings” shooting “Titters”. “Gings” were made of two strips of rubber from old bike tubes attached to the forks of small bifid branches cut from saplings. We would place a stone in a small leather pouch attached to the rubber, draw it back as far as we could, aim at a bird and let go the pouch. The stone would hurtle into the air usually at a safe distance from the bird but occasionally one was unlucky enough to get in the way of a stone and get killed. “Titters” were small green birds the size of a budgerigar. They wreaked havoc with the fruit.
Uncle Len also had a dairy herd and it was immense fun watching cousins Lennie and Ernie, sometimes with Uncle Len, milking the cows. They had a semi-automated dairy in which the milking machine was powered by a single cylinder diesel engine. It had a big fly wheel on one side and to start it they had to wind this wheel furiously until the engine decided to kick in.
Our family were out there one weekend when Uncle Len showed us his Bren Gun Carrier. Yep. The real deal – purchased as post WW11 army disposal stuff. He wanted to use it as a bulldozer but it never happened because, I think, the petrol engine devoured too much juice. He did take us for a ride – thrilled me to bits. Roaring around the scrub up hill, down dale and splashing through river fords.
Several times I spent a week or so of the school holidays on the farm. That was wonderful. Auntie Lil would make fresh scones just about every day and they were eaten with home made butter and jam and lashings of cream fresh from the dairy. The cream separator, (It separated the cream from the milk in the dairy), was made up of dozens of stainless steel cones of varying sizes that had to be assembled in a particular sequence. One day cousin Bobby McGurk and I were playing around the dairy and he decided to give Uncle Len a hand and assemble the separator cones ready for milking that evening. Uncle Len had a fit when he arrived to start milking. I thought he would have apoplexy as he screamed and shouted and yelled while trying to correctly reassemble the dozens of separator cones. He was not a patient sort of bloke. Bob and I hid in the barn for hours. I didn’t waste any time in dobbing Bob in either. I didn’t want to bear the wrath of Uncle Len.
A river ran through the farm. It was permanently flowing and had quite large, deep pools in which we would swim in the summer. The only draw back was that it was infested with leaches. We would emerge from the water with the great big, fat, black things stuck all over us. We would frantically pull them off, throw them on the ground and jump on them. On other occasions Dad would take me out there and catch a feed of marron.
Sometime when I was at primary school Dad had the “sleep out” built by enclosing part of the front veranda? This became my bedroom. It contained two beds, a small wardrobe and a dressing table with drawers. After Nanna Hay died I inherited her old, wind-up gramophone and we installed it in my bedroom. After Laurel arrived Dad enclosed another, small veranda off the breakfast room and this became Pat’s bedroom.
We ate most meals in the breakfast room and used it as a common room most times, especially in winter as it had a fireplace. Dad always brought work home and he would set up his portable typewriter on the breakfast room table and tap away while we read or listened to the wireless. The “wireless” was situated in this room. It was a little black machine with a bakelite case with one tuning knob and one volume knob sticking out of it. It perched on a small cane table just outside the bathroom door. (The bathroom opened off the breakfast room.) Mum always had a small, white, lace cloth draped over it, under the wireless. We listened to the news and the occasional radio show – programs like Bob Dyer’s Pick A Box, Blue Hills and I loved The Goon Show when I was at high school but no one else in the family could bear it. I distinctly remember hearing the announcement, on the ABC news, that the war was over. (World War 11 that is.) I would have been four and we were all gathered around the radio in anticipation and Dad and Mum got very excited.
We rarely used the lounge room. This was reserved for visitors and special occasions. It, too, had a fire place. When I became physically capable it was my job to light fires and get wood in from the wood heap down the back. In the very early days Dad would go into the bush with axe and cross cut saw and cut up dead jarrah trees for fire wood. He would cut a big heap then get old “Bullocky” Smith down the road with his ancient truck to bring it in to the house. They would throw the blocks over the fence in to the back yard and Dad would stack it up neatly. The blocks were usually easy to split even for me. Of course I often reneged on my duty and Mum would rant and rave at me. Dad would sigh and go and do the job himself.
There was a great big, (from my diminutive perspective), jarrah stump standing in the back yard near the wood heap. One day Dad set fire to it to burn it out and thus get rid of it. He got the shock of his life when a bullet went off in the fire. Goodness knows how it got there. I have a vague recollection that it hit Dad in the leg and he had to go to the doctor but I’m not entirely sure.
I was something of a pyromaniac. I loved lighting the kitchen, breakfast and lounge room fires and stoking them up. Not only that, but I set fire to the side fence once and the bush behind the house more than once.
The 5th November was always interesting being Bomb Fire Night – as we called it – or Cracker Night or Guy Fawkes Night. (It was probably correctly called Bon Fire but Bomb Fire was more appropriate.) We prepared for it by building a huge pile of dead branches from the bush plus logs and sticks and anything else that would burn. For years we would pile this up on what was originally a huge old jarrah stump about fifty yards into the bush behind the house. After tea and when it got dark on Bomb Fire Night we would all troop up to the mountain of rubbish we, (mainly me), had piled up and I would ceremoniously light a match and set it ablaze. We would all have to retreat quite a distance as the heat became scorching and Mum would worry about the bush catching fire. It never did but I can’t explain why not because my conflagration was just the thing to do it. Flames would leap twenty or thirty meters into the air and billowing clouds of black smoke would carry burning cinders high into the air and for long distances. Dad would sigh and suggest I didn’t make it so big next year. When the flames died down enough we would bake potatoes in the red hot embers then try to eat them without suffering third degree burns to our gullets and fingers.
The most exciting thing about the night though was the crackers. These were fireworks that we would save pocket money to buy in the weeks approaching Bomb Fire Night. They consisted of skyrockets, which we would stand in an empty bottle, light the fuse a watch them hurtle into the night sky and go bang. There were also Roman Candles that spurted a shower of sparks out of one end; chains of small bangers that went off in sequence like machine gun fire and little bombs that went off with a hell of a bang. Spinning wheels were impaled by a pin on a tree or fence and they spun at a furious rate spitting fire until exhausted. Sparklers were a mass of grey stuff stuck on a wire that literally sparkled when set alight. They were safe enough to hold in the hand.
When I got to high school age a few of us would buy crackers and sneak down the back lanes of Collie at night. We would lift up the flaps of the back yard dunnies, light a cracker, throw it in and run like hell. There definitely was the odd occasion when screams or shouts would indicate that some one was on the throne at the time. When that happened we battled to run far or fast because we would be laughing too much. Luckily no one ever caught us.
On the day after Bomb Fire Night the West Australian would carry reports of kids admitted to Princess Margaret Hospital with burns from fires or crackers or damaged or destroyed eyes from the crackers. Eventually the sale and possession of crackers was banned and Bomb Fire Night died out.
47 Princep St, Collie
11 Lawley St, Collie
A back lane ran behind the houses every where in Collie – and most other places at that time. This gave access to the “dunny cart” to enable the removal of the pans from the toilets that were situated on the back fence of each house. Once a week the dunny cart would come along the lane manned by two men. They would prepare an empty pan and take it to each toilet, lift the flap in the rear wall which was flush with the fence, remove the used pan and place a lid on it, then put the new pan in its place. The new pans had a quantity of phenol in them. Each pan held about fifty litres.
The men would hoist the full pan onto their shoulder and load it onto the cart. They wore long leather aprons with a large leather flap over the shoulder to do the job. My earliest memories of the cart was that it was horse drawn but later it was a red truck with two tiers of pans in a covered steel enclosure on the back. We understood that when the truck was full they would drive out to a place off the main road near Allanson and each full pan was emptied into a trench then cleaned. Curiosity never got the better of us to want to find this place or to watch the proceedings.
When I was about ten it was decided that I should have a dog as a companion – I think. And so it came to pass – we acquired a Border Collie from a family who lived at Lyalls Mill – a few miles south of Collie. I named him Smokey! None of that racist stuff for me. We became good mates and were inseparable when I wasn’t at school. Regrettably, when I progressed into my teens, my interests focussed more on the other things that teenage boys get into. Poor old Smokey rarely got to leave the home. When I got a motor bike the best I could manage was to take him for a run while I rode sedately alongside on my Matchless 500 cc motorbike. Ultimately, and to my eternal shame, he became a real nuisance and Dad had him put down.
Dad was an active member of the Collie River Rowing Club. Many sunny, summer, Sunday mornings would find Dad and me on his bike, (with me sitting in extreme discomfort on the cross bar), heading off to Minninup Pool where rowing races were held. Photo shows me coxing a Fremantle crew – Guy Negus & Alan Salsbury(?).
I was remarkably successful coxing visiting crews on Minninup Pool because Collie rowers pointed out to me that the course was concave to the left and that I should always steer straight across this bend rather than follow the bank around – which all of the visiting coxswains did. Of course that meant they had to row a little further than us.
Every Easter the rowing club held a regatta which was attended by the Bunbury and all of the Perth rowing clubs. It was held Easter Sunday on Minninup Pool. It invariably heralded the first, heavy, rains of winter. I was in great demand by the visiting crews but, of course, Collie always had first choice of me. Won some; lost some. The river banks would be crowded with people and vehicles. Tarpaulin clad stalls lined up selling tea and scones, hot dogs, soft drinks and the like. I don’t think they were allowed to sell alcoholic drinks in those days. On Easter Monday everyone packed up and moved to Bunbury, Collie rowers, families and supporters included. The whole regatta process was repeated under the auspices of the Bunbury club. Again, I got lots of coxswain offers. Won some; lost some.
I think I was in my early teens when the sewage system was installed in the town. They dug a huge trench down the back lane to lay the pipes. Dad built a new toilet which opened off the wash house. It was situated where the rain water tank used to be. This was a 1000-gallon, corrugated iron, tank perched on a stand about four feet high made of heavy jarrah. I can remember Dad and a crowd of his mates rolling the tank around the house and lifting it up onto the stand. It collected water drained off the roof of the house and had a brass tap with a hinged handle from which the water was drawn. We didn’t seem to use it much – we did have “scheme water” as the town water was known. It would overflow every winter. Anyway, at some stage it made way for the new toilet connected to the sewage system.
On the other side of the back lane was, for many years, just bush. About 100 yards from the back fence there was a creek bed. It ran all through every winter but dried up in summer. Ever year I would build dams across it. Other kids would destroy them and I would build them again. I should have become an engineer. In fact one of my psychology tests indicated an engineers profile. I did want to become a chemical engineer when I was in early high school but “Sloppy” Wellman, the woodwork teacher, told me, in front of the whole class one day that I was hopeless at mathematics and therefore could not be a chemical engineer. In my youthful naïve state I was foolish enough to believe him.
Back to the bush. On the other side of the creek I built my underground cubbies. I would dig a trench, cover it with sheets of pine board Dad brought home from The Collie Mail, then cover the boards with sand. I would get down in there with other kids and candles and play out all sorts of fantasies about coal mines, castles and Superman and so on. It is a wonder we didn’t suffocate. I remember old Jim Gibbs from next door wrecking one of these cubbies once and taking the pine boards. Dad challenged the miserable old bastard about it and he ungraciously threw them back over our back fence.
In summer we would build cubbies of bush sticks covered with fresh green eucalypt bushes I would cut from saplings. I can still smell the strong eucalyptus that emanated from the leaves. These cubbies became a prime source of fuel for the fires on bomb fire night.
That bush was a wonderful place for kids to play in relative safety. Unfortunately it all got bulldozed and they built houses on it while I was still at primary school. The bulldozer was owned by my uncle Len Hoddell who was in partnership with Ritchy Palmer in earth moving. My cousin, Ernie Hoddell, drove the bulldozer that cleared the land. He was ten years or more older than me. One day he gave me a ride on the machine and for a while my life ambition was to become a bulldozer driver. Fortunately, that faded with the passage of time.
Friday nights were always fun. We kids would have our weekly bath, whether we needed it or not, and get into our pyjamas, slippers and dressing gowns, (in winter). Then we would jump into the car and Dad would drive down to the Mechanic’s Institute in Throssell Street. The institute had a public library and we would all take out a book or two. On the way home we would call into the Star Café – Joe Costa’s fish and chip shop and café. We would troop through the café and into the kitchen at the rear and order fish and chips then stand waiting while they cooked. They were wrapped in grease proof paper then newspaper and we would head off home to devour them. I can recall reading such books as The Dam Busters, A Town Like Alice, The Ascent of Everest and many others all courtesy of the Collie Mechanics Institute. Dad encouraged us to read.
On other Friday nights we would go to the pictures in the Theatre Royal in Forrest Street. This was a purpose built movie theatre with red painted concrete front steps, red carpet in the foyer, green steps from the foyer to “upstairs” and double doors on either side of the stairs leading to the main auditorium. The building had a distinctive odour. We always sat downstairs and considered the upstairs gallery somewhere only for hob-knobs – whoever they might have been in Collie. The program always began with a black and white newsreel – often heralded by a laughing jackass or kookaburra. That would be followed by a cartoon – Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Looney Tunes, Pepe Le Pewe, The Road Runner etc. As soon as the cartoon header appeared the kids would scream in delighted anticipation. After that there might be a travelogue or some other feature followed by the supporting movie. Then came interval when everyone would rush into the café next door or further down Forrest Street to Earle’s Café to buy drinks and lollies for the main show. Twenty minutes later the main feature would start. Quo Vardis, The Robe, Casablanca, some of the early post-World War Two waries and often the great western movies or mysteries. The place was managed by a bloke called Les Bickerton followed later by Harry King. Harry became one of the first people in Australia to have a coronary artery bypass graft.
The bath was an exercise in logistics. We did not have a hot water system, I don’t think anyone in Collie did, but we did have the very latest in modern conveniences – a bath heater. This tall, green contraption stood on a stand at the end of the bath. It was connected to the water pipe on one side and a spout came out the other and delivered hot water into the bath. In between there was a coil of copper piping inside the body of the heater. The heat came from the fire we would light in the base. It was amazingly efficient and usually it only took a small armful, (about my size), of chips, kindling or finely split jarrah to heat enough water to fill the bath. If it got too hot the water would cough and spurt, expelled by steam bubbles forming in the pipes. Of course we had to simultaneously run in cold water to get the right temperature. We didn’t have a shower until years later.
Ever year a fancy dress ball was held in the Mechanics Institute. I don’t know who organised it but I do know Mum would get us all done up in all sorts of funny gear using miles of brightly coloured crepe paper, tinsel, sequins and other such stuff. There would be hundreds of kids and their parents there. We would have to parade around and walk the length of the hall before the judges who finally announced the names of the various winners. I don’t recall ever being a winner in fancy dress.
Dad took up golf when I was still very young. That meant he would disappear on Saturday afternoons and all day Sundays. Mum would often go with him on Sunday and do the morning and afternoon teas and lunch thing with the other ladies. That meant I was pretty much left to my own devices on winter weekends. (They didn’t play golf in Collie during the summer – it was too hot and the fairways were overgrown with dry grass.)
I would tear around all over the place on my bike or build dams in the creek or dig underground cubbies in the bush. Sometimes I was with other kids; more often not. During the summer it was a different story. Dad would work in his garden – it was too hot to play golf. I was always down at the river swimming at the swinging bridge or even out at Minninup Pool. I suffered my first bee sting, on my right thumb, while swimming at Minninup.
Now and then Dad and Mum would throw a party. In the very early days the blokes would all turn up with a couple of “demijohns” of beer. A demijohn was a glass bottle about the size of a wine flagon of today. Dad would ride his bike down town to get his demijohns filled at one of the local pubs. Sometimes some ice would appear . This would be smashed up and thrown into the cement wash troughs in the wash house and the demijohns packed among it. We kids would be packed off early to bed and lie there listening to all the adults singing Roll Out The Barrel, Goodnight Irene, Lilly Marlana, The White Cliffs of Dover, I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts and many other hit songs of the day. I don’t recall that they ever held barbeques in those days.
Summer was the best time of year, especially Christmas. Every year, along with about half of the population of Collie, we went to Busselton for the Christmas holidays. The other half went to Bunbury. This was a major logistical exercise. In the early years it meant the camping gear was taken down on the train then transported from the Busselton station to the Number One camping ground by the local carrier. (There were three camping grounds.) I did that trip with Dad one year when I was very young. We got into a carriage at the end of a coal train, drawn by a steam locomotive, in the middle of the night and rattled through the Darling Ranges to Brunswick Junction. Here, the carriage and a goods van containing the camping gear was shunted onto another train which then took us down through Bunbury to Busselton. I must have taken ages to get there. I spent most of the journey asleep in his arms.
Dad would erect the camp which consisted of a hessian kitchen with a canvas fly cover supported by a prefabricated frame made of jarrah slats and round metal conduit for the ridge pole. At each end was a tent 12 feet long. The flap doors of the tents opened directly into the kitchen. One was rather old, flimsy and white in which we kids slept. The other, for Dad and Mum, was relatively new and had broad green stripes. Hessian sufficed for flooring throughout. I think it was liberated from the mines which used miles of it – don’t ask me what for – and all the campers had a generous supply.
Every year Dad would erect the camp at the same place under the same peppermint tree on the first sand ridge back from the road. It would take most of the day to put it up. I think we might have stayed the night then got back onto the train to return to Collie. It was all a huge adventure for me. In later years Dad hired Mick Vernon and his truck to transport us to Busselton. I always took pride of place on the back of the truck among the camping gear for the trip. We would stay for the three week duration of Dad’s holidays from the Collie Mail before packing up and putting it back on the truck for the trip home.
After Dad got his first car – the Vauxhall Velox – Mum and us kids would stay for six weeks. Dad would come down on the Friday night and stay the weekend before going back to work early Monday morning for the first three weeks. This photo is of the family in Busselton circa 1948. (Laurel is babe in Dad’s arms.)
The Busselton holidays were a dream come true every year. In the early years all activities were family focused. An annual trip to Margaret River and Augusta; days on the beach with Mum and Dad; walking into town at least twice a week to get groceries and bread. The local bakery produced wonderful stuff including fruit mince slice which I have always loved since. The recipe for it seems to have been lost by modern bakeries. We didn’t have mud cake then – and I see no need for it now – don’t like it.
Groups of Collie men would get together with a very long fishnet. One or two men would drag it out into the ocean to swimming depth then turn at right angles and drag it along parallel to the beach and back in. The catch was always impressive – herring, flat head, whiting, taylor, blow fish and trumpeters (inedible). On those nights the camping ground sizzled to the sound and smell of fish cooking.
One year I was swimming with my sisters and other kids on the beach near the camping ground. I got into difficulties and was being blown out into Geographe Bay by a strong off-shore breeze. A girl called Vallerie Bastow swam out and grabbed me and towed me back to shore. She was a couple of years older than me and also came from Collie. Her parents were friends of Mum and Dad. I’m pretty pleased she was there and knew a bit about life saving.
I brought a canoe from my older cousin, Peter Boyle. He had made it from a sheet of galvanised, corrugated iron, a few bits of wood and some tar. He had somehow flattened out the sheet of corrugated iron then curved it along its length. At the front he shaped it to form a rough sort of point. At the stern he had formed a transom from a piece of jarrah board and nailed it in place through the tin sheet. Both ends were sealed with liberal dollops of tar. There was a piece of 4 x 2 jarrah nailed across the gunwhales, about 50 cm from each end, and a wooden batten strip attached at the exposed edge of the tin to prevent lacerations to the body. These maintained the curve of the hull. It was as rough as guts but it was functional. It was a young boy’s dream come true. No other kid in Collie had a canoe.
I used it frequently in the Collie river for a couple of summers. I kept it at the Boyle’s place because they lived in Steere Street backing onto the river. We took it to Busselton one year and I would carry it on my back across the sand dunes and through the scrub to the beach. I had a heap of fun in it just paddling around and fishing for whiting, flathead and whatever else wanted to commit suicide at the end of my line.I don’t know what eventually became of the canoe. I seem to recall that it might have finished up at Schultz’ place out on Preston Road. The South Branch of the Collie River ran past their farm.
When I was about ten years old I learned how to use a rabbit trap and, somehow, scrounged two from I don’t know where. I do know I would ride my bike into the bush, with Smokey lolloping along side, find a rabbit warren, (there was an abundance of them before myxomatosis was introduced), and set the traps. I would scratch out a hole, big enough for the trap, at the entrance to the warren and set it by standing on the spring arm and flicking the plate catch up underneath the gaping jaws. I would then, gingerly, lay it in the hole, lay a small piece of newspaper across the jaws and sprinkle enough dry sand over the whole lot to conceal it. Unsuspecting rabbits would oblige by stepping on the newspaper, the jaws would snap shut and the rabbit was trapped until I returned next morning.
Sadly, the little animals would always be alive unless a fox had taken them during the night, and I had to despatch them quickly with an almighty blow to the head with a big stick. I would then gut them, stow them in a sugar bag and take them home. There I would skin them, wash them and give them to Mum to cook. We often had roast rabbit. Couldn’t bear the thought of eating it now even though it is available in the yuppy restaurants.
Occasionally, Dad would take me fishing for perch in the river pools. It usually entailed catching some minnows with a fine net and using them for bait. We were often successful but I didn’t enjoy eating them – they had a muddy taste about them – but Dad seemed to like them. It was rumoured that there were trout in the Collie River but we never caught any. Marron were plentiful and we never missed out on a feed.
Junior High School
At Collie High School there was a sports teacher by name of Gordon Trembath. He was balding, had a protruding, fat belly and smoked. He wasn’t exactly a great role model for any kid aspiring to becoming a sporting hero.
The main reason he has stuck in my memory is that he was the cause of my fear of cricket balls. It is not common knowledge but, I am afraid of them as a consequence of one of Trembath’s cricket “training” sessions. He had all the boys in the class arranged in a large semi-circle with him self at the centre. He proceeded to throw a cricket ball, underarm, to each lad in turn. When it came to my turn he grasped the ball in both hands then swung his left hand underarm and his right arm overarm. I was expecting the ball to come underarm as it had with each kid before me. Instead he bowled it over arm and I never saw it coming as it collected me on the forehead. It knocked me down and stunned me but drew no blood.
Trembath then proceeded to use the episode to educate us that we must expect the ball to come from any direction and be able to catch it etc, etc, etc. I think he was a bit shaken and was simply rationalising while trying to cover his own backside.
Many years later, in the Navy at Tarangau in New Guinea, it all came back to me. I was the “Kellick” of The Junior Sailor’s Mess. That is, I was the elected senior hand of all the junior sailors. We had to play a game of cricket – see that yarn in the HMAS Tarangau section of these memoirs.
But, back to Collie High School. I never really enjoyed high school except for the science classes. I was fascinated with science, especially chemistry. I liked wood work but detested the teacher – Sloppy Wellman – and he didn’t like me a lot. He humiliated me one day. He had the entire class lined up around one of the benches with a piece of pine clamped into the vice. He said to me, “Get me a plane, Kenny Hay.” I tried to ask which plane he wanted but he just shouted back at me to, “Get me a plane!” Looking at the piece of pine I reasoned that he would need a long jack plane so I got him one and put it on the bench. He then shouted, “I don’t want that plane.” And so it went on. We finished up with half a dozen different planes on the bench, me in tears and that fat slob still shouting at me. In the end he picked up the plane I had first got and told me it was the one he wanted and demanded to know why I hadn’t asked which plane he wanted. I saw a few similar antics from moronic non-commissioned and commissioned officers in the navy years later.
One day Wellman had us all stating, to the class, what we wanted to be, “when we grew up”. When my turn came I said I would like to be an industrial chemist, (now called chemical engineers.) “Don’t be stupid.” said Wellman. “ You must be good at mathematics for that and you are not good at mathematics!” And that was that. I believed him and never pursued that field of endeavour. When I worked for Alcoa I had contact with a lot of chemical engineers and came to the conclusion that I would not have enjoyed that job. Wellman was right but for the wrong reasons. Life’s lessons taught me to look upon such statements as challenges to be taken on and overcome.
In an odd sequel in about 1998 Mau and I were at a woodwork show at the Show Grounds in Perth and ran into John & Jenny McGeachie. John and I were chatting away about woodwork. It transpired that he did it as a hobby just as I did. When I told him that, he expressed surprise that I had that interest given the way Sloppy Wellman had humiliated me that day at high school many years ago. John had never forgotten the incident either.
Strangely enough I didn’t like metal work at all. It always seemed too hot – there were forges we had to use to heat and work metal – and I found it all too dirty and noisy compared to woodwork. The teacher, one Mr Chapman, was quite a nice bloke in comparison to Wellman. The poor bugger got killed though when he crashed his ute into a tree on the Mumballup Road one weekend. (Turns out one of his daughters, younger than me, was a member of Mau’s bridge club.)
I started to go off the rails a bit in high school. I wagged it a bit, usually along with others like Ken Schultz, Garry Peters, Maurice Waywood and others. We especially hated French lessons. They were run by Miss Smythe who seemed about ten feet tall from my perspective and was about fifteen ice cream containers across the backside but slim from the waist up. Anyway, she loved the French language, had been to France and couldn’t stop telling us about it, and tried to get us to pronounce French words with strong inflections and emphasis. We thought it was all just too bloody ridiculous for words and a complete and utter waste of our precious time so we would nick off into the bush or down to the river before French classes were due to start.
That was all very well until the headmaster, Mr Cedric Best, caught us one day and gave us a couple of whacks across the palm of the hand with his cane. Christ it hurt! And it deterred me from wagging again for a long while. Miss Smythe, however, seemed to take pity on a couple of us and threw us out of her classes. I was grateful for that. A subsequent visit to France at the end of third year medicine reinforced my negative feelings towards the French, as a nation, and to their language. I am told things are much different there now and they willingly speak English to those of us limited to that language.
I rode my bike the mile or two to Collie High School. I would hurtle down Lawley Street, through the narrow track across a vacant block all but overgrown with blackberry bushes, then another bush covered block and over a plank crossing a wooden drain. From there it was down a short street to Hughes Street then into Prinsep Street as far as the Recreation Ground where I would turn left into Ogden Street then across another large patch a bush which later became the cycle racetrack, and down to Steere Street. That was mostly down hill and I could crank the bike up to a cracking pace. Steere Street led to Patterson Street, across the railway line then left into Throssell Street up past the police station and post office and right into another street which led to the school yard.
I came a gutser one day while hurtling down Prinsep Street past the house of a, (rumoured), rather wealthy, earth moving and timber cutting contractor. He had a daughter who was my age and absolutely stunning. She went to private school in Perth before coming home and working for the local lawyer. (See First Job.) They had a dog, a little terrier, which was always on the street and always chased anyone on a bike. I usually managed to get past him before he knew I was coming but one day he spotted me coming down the hill and started running towards me barking and yapping something cruel. Suddenly he propped and turned as he appreciated that I was coming at him at pace. Unfortunately, he turned at just the wrong moment and went under my front wheel. I parted company with the bike, hurtled through the air and crashed down into the gravel ripping yards of skin off hands, arms and legs. The bike landed on top of me. The dog made a hell of a racket as it beat a hasty retreat in to the yard. I beat a sorrowful, painful retreat home and Mum patched me up.
When I was 16 I got a single shot .22inch rifle. This had a sliding bolt and fired a conventional bullet. Dad also had an old single shot .310 rifle which was left over from WW 11 when he was in the militia. Somehow we got bullets for that too. It had a lever action breach. I used both for shooting kangaroos and the .22 for parrots also. I became quite a good shot because I rarely got a second shot after the first bullet was fired. The noise would startle the targets and off they would go.
While I was still at high school a few of us joined the rifle club as juniors. This entitled us to get a .303 rifle and ammunition. We would attend the weekly shoots at the rifle range on Sunday mornings. There was no real limit on the ammunition we could buy at the club and we always got enough to perform the morning’s shoot and to go kangaroo shooting as well.
There was a “sports shop” in town – right next door but one from the Premier Hotel. Run by a bloke named Bill(?) Atkinson. He sold rifles, ammunition, fishing gear and similar stuff. We had no trouble buying .22 rifle ammunition from him and .310 too. We got our .303 ammo from the rifle club. I would often go into his shop and wishful think about one day buying a Sportomatic .22 semi-automatic rifle and other stuff. I managed to save up two or three pounds from my paper round and one day bought a bloody great big knife from him. He assured me it would be very handy when I got to go “up north” to hunt buffalo. The blade was about eighteen inches long, was made of a heavy steel alloy and had serrations down its spine. It had a u-beaut bone handle. I was as proud as Punch when I took it home and showed Dad. He sighed, gave me a wane smile and turned away. It came with a leather scabbard and I would attach it to my belt and drag it through the bush when hunting kangaroos on foot – as I often did. It was absolutely useless for gutting or skinning a kangaroo although, goodness knows, I tried hard enough. Eventually, a few years later, I came to the realization that the knife was as much use as an ash tray on my motorbike. I know not what became of it.
Ken Schultz’s dad had a sort of car wrecker’s yard out on Preston Road and Ken would often commandeer a ute or van and we would go spot light shooting on Saturday nights. Mum always worried herself sick about it but Dad took the philosophical view that the shooting and bush activities kept me off the streets.
On top of all that I joined the High School Cadet unit. This was a military set up and we were issued khaki uniforms complete with boots and webbed belt and gaiters and, would you believe it, a .303 rifle. We would have a parade once a week after school. The rifle had no bolt but that didn’t deter us from using it. We would simply use the bolt from our rifle club rifles. I really enjoyed the cadets stuff. (I didn’t like to use the rifle club .303 in the bush because it had been, “bedded down” - by Fred Howley’s dad who was a club member. In the original, Army issue, .303 the far end of the barrel rested upon a small spring – why I do not know. But, it was said among the rifle club members that to improve accuracy, that spring should be removed and the wood smoothed out so that the rifle barrel lay snugly on the wood for its full length.)
While at high school I applied for an army officer training course at Portsea in Victoria. I got through the medical and the preliminary examinations etc. However, I had to go to Perth for further testing including some practical stuff involving teamwork etc. I don’t know where I came undone but I didn’t make the grade. Looking at that through the retrospectoscope I think I was very fortunate because, had I become an army officer, I may well have been shot down, blown up or both in Vietnam, a few short years later.
At one stage while at high school the West Australian newspaper, I think, sponsored a trip to England for a group of boys from WA. I applied, along with heaps of other Collie kids and got into the final round of selections then missed out at the last hurdle. Barry Ireland was the only kid from Collie to succeed and off he went to the Old Dart.
I’m not sure how I found the time for all these activities at high school but, on top all of the above, I also had a paper round. I would deliver papers and magazines after school on Thursday and early Saturday mornings. I had a great big iron framed, basket affair bolted onto the front of my bike. A huge bundle of newspapers and magazines would be dropped into it and off I would go throwing the printed items over fences and blowing a whistle to alert the householders that their papers had arrived.
There were a few of us who did it. We worked for Peter McGurk, the brother of Uncle Tom McGurk, and he had the newsagent on the north side of the railway line. John McGeachie’s dad had the newsagency on the south side of the line. We were paid the princely sum of six shillings a week or three shillings a trip. It was fairly hard yacka given that most of my round was up hill serving Ogden Street, Regent Street and finishing in Lawley Street – home. It was a real bugger in winter because we had to go whether it rained or not and regardless of how cold it was at “O Dark Hundred” on Saturday mornings. The big bonus was that we got to read heaps of comics in the back room of the shop.
In summer we spent a lot of time in the Collie River. There was a weir across the river in the Soldiers Memorial Park in Steere Street and another one downstream from Minninup Pool. These formed big, deep pools in the river. The closest to home was the Swing Bridge pool behind Wallsend Street and a crowd of us would gather there after school most days. There were old logs and trees in the water and we would climb onto them to dive or just sit in the sun. The Swing Bridge was a suspension-type pedestrian bridge connecting Wallsend Street to Coombes Street. I think it was about fifty meters across with a wooden deck, ringlock-type wire mesh along each side to a height of about six feet and two heavy, steel hawsers suspended from large, jarrah poles at each end with the bridge suspended from these. We occasionally would climb up onto the top of the wire mesh and dive into the water.
Minninup pool was two or three kilometres south of the town which made it a fair distance from our place. Therefore, we tended to go swimming there only in school holidays and on weekends. It was also the location of the Collie River Rowing Club which had a weatherboard boathouse there, originally, replaced by a brick boathouse in the early fifties. That was demolished sometime after the club died and I had left town.
The weir downstream formed a huge, deep pool that extended back almost to the weir in town. What was described as Mininup Pool was, in fact, a bend in the river and the pool extended a further couple of kilometres to the weir. It was great for swimming. One year, 1956 I think, a tropical cyclone came down and flooded the south west. A couple of us jumped onto a floating log at the Swing Bridge pool – the river was flooded and a raging torrent that only the young and the foolhardy would enter – and stayed with it until we got to Minninup. A great adventure but then we had to walk all the way back to the Swing Bridge to get our bikes. I got home after dark which did not impress the oldies a great deal.
There was a mandatory sports afternoon every week at school – Friday. I hated it. I was never any good at sport being a bit of a weed, smaller than the average kid in my class and completely devoid of hand-eye co-ordination. I didn’t mind Aussie rules but wasn’t any good at it. Hated cricket. Bored stiff with tennis. Abhorred athletics - running races, long jump, hurdles etc. I remember one stinking hot summer day when we had to go to the Wallsend sport ground to play cricket. Fielding, half way through the afternoon me and another kid got really thirsty and, considering that no one ever hit a ball in our direction, we decided to go off the ground and have a drink of water. The umpire was Mr Buck, a science teacher and not a bad bloke, but he took a very dim view of our action, called us back, gave us an awful bollocking and sent us back to field. And still no one hit a ball in our direction.
The only other memory that has never left me is that of the bike racks at the school. They were covered with corrugated iron upon which water somehow collected after rain and lay in stagnant pools. Freezing cold days often followed periods of rain and the stagnant pool would freeze overnight. We would put the bikes away on arrival in the morning then prize sheets of ice off the bike rack roof and try to shove it down the back of anyone not alert to our intentions. The girls were usually easy targets and the bigger kids were usually avoided.
The bike racks were shaded by some non-native deciduous trees which bore a seed pod in autumn. The pods would split open to allow the seeds to fall but they also contained a powder-like substance that was intensely itchy when in contact with the skin. It was hilarious to empty a pod behind the collar of other kids.
So, apart from the following generous souls; Miss Smythe – who gave me diarrhoea – Mr Trembath who gave me a head injury - Mr Buck who gave me a bollocking (but also good science teaching) – Mr Best who gave me the cane and Sloppy Wellman who humiliated me - I don’t recall any other High School teacher.
I stuck it out at high school until the end of third year. I managed to pass the Junior Certificate which we had to get to go on to fourth year and subsequently fifth year. Unfortunately, I persuaded Dad to let me leave school and get a job. I had in mind something like being a kangaroo shooter but Dad talked to his mate Dolf Voigt – manager of the Commercial Bank – and I became a very reluctant bank johnie.
The story continues in the chapter “First Job”.
I started work in the Collie Branch of the Commercial Bank of Australia in March 1956. It was a huge mistake and I loathed it from day one. I loved the bush, open spaces and, like all fifteen year old kids, having fun. I didn’t like responsibility, detail or monotony – the very life blood of banks in those days.
The Manager, Dolf Voigt, was a fellow Rotarian of Dad’s – no doubt that’s how I got the job. He was big, flabby bloke who had a blue Hillman Linx car. He could not drive a red hot needle into a pound of butter. Every Wednesday and Friday I had to accompany one of the tellers, usually a bloke named Brian Barrow, who smoked like a chimney, to the branch office across the railway line in Forrest Street. We worked there for an hour or two. Mr Voigt would drive us over in the Hillman and pick us up later. We took the cash and required stationary with us in a big tin box. There was also a loaded, .32 calibre, automatic pistol in the tin box. If anyone had held us up they would have got not only the box, the cash and the stationary but a loaded pistol to boot.
At the appointed time Mr Voigt would leave the bank through the back door and get his Hillman from his house, which was immediately adjacent. He would do an often-squealing u-turn in Throssell Street in front of the bank and sit there revving the poor, suffering engine until we were aboard. Then he would roar out into whatever traffic was around, it didn’t much matter to him, hurtle down to the railway crossing, turn right into Forrest Street and screech to halt outside the branch office. The whole time he would rake the thing into and out of gear and crash change gears with the steering column-mounted gear stick. Every trip was a white knuckle affair.
The time at the branch office was usually excruciatingly boring. I helped to pass the time by playing with the pistol - as a rule. Whenever the rare customer came in I would throw it under the counter. By the grace of God it never went off and no one got their genitals blown to smithereens.
After an hour or two of boredom the Hillman would be outside being revved further into its inevitable oblivion and we would return to the main office.
During the first couple of years I would ride my bike to work. On the way I would collect the mail from the bank’s post office box. The post office was situated on the hill at the eastern end of Throssell Street. The bank was at the western end. I’d rock up to work, with the mail, park my bike on the veranda at the back of the bank then go in and give the mail to the accountant, Ross Williamson. He smoked like a chimney too.
Apart from Voigt, Williamson and Barrow there was a woman in her early twenties. Her name escapes me and her job was mainly typing. There were a couple of ledger keepers- Kevin McMahon – who got transferred to Melbourne Office and disappeared - I never heard of him again - and Bill Cole and a head teller Bob Brooke.
Bob was a good bloke. He didn’t smoke. He was a Pom who had spent the war in the Royal Navy, much of it aboard a submarine tender, HMS Mull of Kintyre, tied up alongside in Fremantle harbour. After the war he migrated to Perth with his wife and young kids. He finished up, years later, as the head teller of the Commercial Bank in the Perth office.
Brian Barrow set me up nicely one day. I had forgotten my lunch money, or perhaps I just didn’t have the money, and mentioned this to him. He told me to take it from the petty cash tin and leave an IOU in the tin. I accepted his advice. When I returned from lunch – usually a ham and tomato sandwich and a strawberry milk shake at the café next to Ed Riley’s bike shop in Throssell Street – Ross Williamson was waiting for me. He had the IOU in his hand and a scowl on his face. He proceeded to give me an awful bollocking and told me that what I had done was tantamount to stealing. In the end he confided that he would not tell Mr Voigt.
I started doing a correspondence course in banking. It didn’t excite me a lot – in fact it bored me to tears. But I persevered for a couple of years and managed to get some reasonably good marks. I managed to spend a lot of time in the bush camping out with other kids or just riding my bike into the scrub by myself but with a gun or two – of course.
I suspect I came very close to getting fired from the bank as a consequence of a bit of fun one weekend. We were out at Schultz’s place when Ken Schultz had a rush of blood to the brain and decided we should grab one of the old utes standing idle in the yard and go for a spin. This we did and finished up down near Mumballup, up a dirt track behind a farm where we loaded liberated watermelons into the back of the ute. On the return trip I was in the back of the ute, along with a couple of others, probably hopping into the watermelons, when we came around a bend on the track toward a bridge across a creek. Ken was driving and we wondered why he stopped. Standing up in the ute I was stunned to see a bloke standing in the middle of the bridge and holding a shot gun. Turned out he owned the farm and, by default, the water melons. He gave us the mother of all dressings down, got our names and informed us our parents would know about it before we got home. Then he shooed us off. Nothing more was heard about it but I have no doubt Dolf Voit would have sacked me had he been informed.
On one occasion the bank organised a social weekend on Rottnest Island. I went along and had a reasonable sort of time – as I recall. There was nothing rambunctious about it. No one else from Collie went and I met quite a few people from other branches. It is a funny thing but Ian Lorimer’s sister-in-law, Shirley, reckons I worked with her in the Commercial Bank in Fremantle. I never worked at Fremantle branch at all but I reckon it must have been on that Rottnest weekend that she remembers me from. The photo, below, was taken on that trip. I do not know the names of the girls but suspect one is Shirley but she denies that.
One of the bank customers was Foy and Gibson’s large department store in Forrest Street. The manager, Wally Rippen, was a Captain in what was then known as the CMF – Citizen’s Military Forces. Nowadays it is known as the army reserve. I nagged him incessantly to join the Collie unit – he was the officer in charge – but I couldn’t until I turned seventeen. Then he let me in and I enjoyed it immensely. Maurice Waywood also joined and my brother-in-law Les Udy was also in it. He was a sergeant. I got promoted to the dizzy rank of Lance Corporal in the minimum possible time.
We would parade in the local drill hall one night a week, spend the odd weekend in the bush on bivouacs and attend a two week camp at Northam once a year. Of course we fired a lot of guns including the perennial .303 rifle, the new FN Self Loading Rifle and Bren guns. That was bloody beaut as far as I was concerned.
At one stage I got my first car – a 1928 model Chevrolet six-cylinder tourer. It had a canvas top. I promptly painted the whole thing pink. We also made a cardboard template of Kaye Symmonds foot and used it to paint black footprints over the car’s body. I had a ball in that old car. I drove it to Perth at least once and gallivanted all over the city proudly sporting the pink body and black footprints. Dolf Voigt wasn’t all that thrilled about it being parked outside the bank. I reckon Mum & Dad were not a little embarrassed either about it being parked in front of the house in Lawley Street.
Fred Howley and I took it on a car rally one Sunday. In the course of the event we were hurtling down a bush track when we hit a slippery patch and skidded off the track and whacked a big jarrah log. The impact bent the right front axle back so that the right front wheel stuck out at a crazy angle. We limped back into town and didn’t get a gurnsey in the rally. I took the car out to Harry Schultz and he straightened the axle with an hydraulic jack and a length of chain.
Not long after that I got the motor bike bug and brought a 500 cc Matchless motor bike off Alan Hill’s sister – would you believe. That lasted a few months then I sold it and brought a 650 cc BSA Gold Flash off Maurice Waywood. That kept me mobile and Mum frantic until I joined the Navy when I sold it to a dealer in Perth. The pink Chevy finished up in Harry Schultz’s wreckers yard.
On weekends during the motorbike phase I often joined the likes of Maurice Waywood, Neil Pernich, Alan Shepherd, Graham Stafford and others. We would hurtle off to Bunbury for the day on Sundays or out to Noggerup on Saturday nights for the local dance. I was the first of the gang to get a crash helmet and drew quite a few laughs from the others. All in all we behaved ourselves and never got into any real trouble. This did not fit well with our reputations around the town. Just because we owned motor bikes and wore leather jackets we were regarded as undesirables if not criminals. Nothing has changed over the years. However, in those days there was no such thing as Hell’s Angels, God’s Garbage or The Bandidos. Neither was there drugs apart from nicotine and alcohol. I didn’t smoke and didn’t drink much either.
There was a stroppy kid named Alan Fisher in the crowd. He had an apprentice-ship at the Collie Powerhouse. I never got on with him at all well but we tolerated each other. One day he stole a motor bike wheel from the powerhouse workshop. He got caught, sacked and next day shot himself dead in his bedroom at home. Dolf Voigt was kind enough to give me an hour off to attend the funeral. It was the first funeral I ever attended.
I would often ride the motor bike out to the bush and shoot a kangaroo or two. Sometimes I would go alone, other times with one or more of the other blokes. I would sling the rile over my back. On the way home I would balance the butt of a kangaroo on the fuel tank of the motor bike. I came a gutser out on Mungallup Road one day when a stick flipped up into the front wheel spokes. Didn’t do a lot of harm to me or the motor bike – fortunately.
And on Monday mornings I would ride my motor bike to the post office, collect the mail and hand it over to Ross Williamson at the bank. I parked the motorbike on the veranda at the back of the bank and that impressed Dolf even less than the pink Chev with black foot prints.
Then, in the middle of 1959, things changed all of a sudden - as things often do. I was delighted to be advised I was transferred to the Busselton branch of the Commercial Bank of Australia. I would have much preferred a transfer to Perth or an Eastern State capital but had to be content with Busselton - and that move resulted in momentous changes to my life.
On the appointed day I rode to Busselton on the Gold Flash and met the manager and the other staff. The manager sent me around to the boarding house where I was given a small detached room out the back. It was made of sand stone and was quite comfortable although I had to go to the house to wash and use the toilet. Conversely, I could park my motor bike right outside the door.
The land-lady was an alcoholic. Sober, she wasn’t too flash a cook. Drunk, she could sometimes manage to open a tin of kippers without assistance. I hated and loathed kippers – still do – but they appeared on Gert’s menu with monotonous regularity. She had a son of about my age but, unfortunately, he was intellectually challenged. He worked in the local saw mill.
One weekend the boys came down from Collie and we arranged to have a keg in my room. We picked up the 5 gallon keg of beer from the pub and took it home to my place in Neil Pernich’s Ford Prefect. For some reason we had to go back down town and I jokingly asked Frank to guard the keg for us. When we returned he was sitting on the keg with a loaded .22 rifle in his hands.
We had quite a party that night. Next day, Sunday, the Collie boys went home and I was stuck with a keg with about a gallon of beer in it. Somehow, we got it down to Mrs House’s boarding house in the main drag of Busselton. A bloke named Murray Twells, who worked in the R & I bank, had a second floor room there and he, me and Derek Wilson, a Busselton guy, set about drinking the keg. It wasn’t long before there was a knock on the door and in walked Trevor McPhee. He worked in the R & I too but had been on holidays in Perth and had just arrived back. He, too, had partied the night before to the extent that he had a monumental hangover and had vomited while at speed on his motor bike on the way back to Busselton. He was not a pretty sight. He saw the keg as the answer to his hangover and hopped into it. That was the start of a friendship that continues to this day.
I was called up for national service and due to go into the army for two years in January 1960. Regrettably, the government decided to abolish national service and my call up was cancelled.
Busselton came to an end shortly after that. Trevor and I were in Derek Wilson’s car one night when he managed to roll it over on a corner near the Number One camping ground. Derek died. I got a fractured left scapular and Trevor escaped unharmed. I spent a few days in hospital with my arm in an aeroplane splint. Dad and Mum came to get me and took me back to Collie. I spent a lot of time thinking things through and decided I was not destined to work in a bank for the rest of my life.I told Dad I was going to quit and join the Army. He sighed, as he often did in difficult situations, then said that if I must join up then I should
join the Navy and see the world. On 13th February 1960, at about 1100, I and about thirty other guys, signed on the dotted line in the Navy recruiting office in ANA House, St George’s Terrace, Perth. At 1800 that evening Mum, Dad and the sisters waved goodbye on the platform at Perth railway station as I boarded the Westland train that would take me to Kalgoorlie overnight, then on to Melbourne. As one door closes, another opens.
Collie High School 2007
- a far cry from how it looked in the 1950's
On bivouac near Wellington Dam