Aeroplanes, Large and Small
The first air-flight I ever had was from Sydney to Brisbane on 26th September 1950. In those days the aircrew filled in a card called the “Flight Log” giving details of the flight progress. The card was handed from one passenger to another, but by some means I was able to “souvenir” it, and still have it stuck into one of my photo albums. The airline was Australian National Airways, the plane was a DC3, “Warana” VH-ANC, leaving Sydney at 6.30 pm and arriving Brisbane at 9.40 pm. Altitude was 9000 feet and ground speed 230 mph. The Captain was K. Virtue, First Officer A. Girsekowski, and the Hostesses Miss Smith and Miss Robinson. In my luggage was a very large tender that I was to submit to the Queensland State Electricity Commission the next day on behalf of Babcock & Wilcox.
Prior to this I had not travelled very much. I had never been out of New South Wales and only once, I think, taken the train to try to sell (successfully) a boiler to the Manning River Co-op Dairy at Wingham near Taree. It was before Jean and I had a car, and in our motorbike days we had never travelled further than would allow us to complete the return journey the same day. So the trip to Brisbane was quite an adventure. I recall staying overnight at the “National Hotel” where, at breakfast time I was joined by Mr. John J. Bowie, the Erecting Superintendent of Babcocks. He was something of a health fanatic (or perhaps his wife was!) and he was instrumental in introducing me to the delights of Queensland Papaws as an alternative to ham and eggs for breakfast. I recall the enjoyment with which I ate that delightful tropical delicacy, which is now a favourite of mine and which I still enjoy as part of my breakfast when we can get it. The effect, however, on that first morning was spoiled by John Bowie' s suggestion that I chew up a few papaw seeds as “they are so full of things good for you. “ Maybe, but I prefer to grow papaw seeds than eat them!
After breakfast I made my way down to Brisbane Office in Creek Street where I was very impressed with the Manager who I was to replace in that position after he retired twelve years later, although I didn't know it then. His name was Eric Hardy, an autocratic man (as most people in positions of authority in small offices-and some big ones too-were in those days) but an efficient one, with whom I became very friendly over the next few years. He had joined the Company in May 1923 not long after the Works had opened at Regents Park, transferred to Brisbane Office in July 1927, and became Queensland Manager in November 1946. I remember that after a brief discussion he pressed a button on his internal phone, which included a little loud speaker, and said to his Secretary, Beulah Zillman, “Put your bonnet on, and come in here.” In a moment she appeared complete with the “bonnet” that was more or less obligatory in those days (although the practice of all ladies and most men wearing hats in the street had started to break down after the war.) Beulah then accompanied me to the office of the State Electricity Commission where we submitted the tender and, at the appointed hour, tenders were opened and prices read out. The tender was for boilers for the Townsville, Rockhampton and Howard Regional Power Stations and we were delighted when it turned out that the B & W tender was the lowest.
The following morning I travelled back to Sydney on ANA Flight 21 R.M.A. “Irrigana” a DC3 VH-INM leaving Brisbane at 8.30 am, travelling at 170 mph groundspeed at 8000 feet and arriving at Sydney at Noon. The Captain was H. Moore, the First Officer P. Morris, and the Hostess Miss Fuller. (Only one on that flight because no meal was served.) As we were coming in to Sydney the plane flew along the Central Coast just out to sea and I was able to get some pretty fair pictures of Norah Head, Terrigal, Avoca, Manly and of the Harbour-my first attempt at aerial photography.
Soon afterwards I had a similar trip to Melbourne where I arose very early on a summer's morning to get some pictures of the Yarra with its Gardens and Bridges before breakfasting at the very fine Menzies Hotel and then spending a confusing morning in Melbourne Office. For some reason, I always found that office confusing and unsettling. Perhaps it was because there wasn't the same friendly welcome there as I always received in Brisbane. Later I had several trips to Adelaide as, by that time, I was handling most of the major tenders for Power Station projects, and I was treated very well by the Elder Smith engineer who looked after the Babcock Agency, Mr. John Shepherd. One of these trips to Adelaide also involved a flight to Whyalla and the worst case of air-sickness I ever experienced resulted from the turbulence over the agricultural land around Spencers Gulf. In due course air travel became more common and flights took me to Mount Isa, Perth, Hobart and most of the major cities in Australia, although I never had occasion to fly in to Darwin, which I rather regret.
I have never been one to remember the specifications or even the names of the various aircraft in which I have flown, but the earliest was the Douglas DC3. These were still flying around Queensland when I became Manager there and I had many local flights in them to the smaller towns such as Biloela, Innisfail, and Ingham. In the early to mid 1960s they were replaced by fascinating little planes that had “pusher” propellers that flew short runs up to Maryborough and Bundaberg. They were operated by Queensland Air Lines (QAL) but eventually were replaced with Fokker Friendships (“Please mind your head as you enter”) many of which are still flying the shorter runs in Queensland and elsewhere. By the 1960s the interstate flights were handled by much larger planes such as the DC6B, a very comfortable aircraft, and propeller driven. In those days the first class seats were at the back-away from the engines-whereas today they are at the front-away from the jet noise. Then there were turbo-prop planes like the Viscounts and, I think, the Electras until the turbo-jet planes such as the DC9 and the Boeings.
My first trip outside Australia was, appropriately I think, to New Zealand. I am not even sure when it was, but by 1962 I had been there twice. The first was in the days when John Chambers & Son were agents for Babcocks and the Manager of the Babcock business was a fine fellow called Frank Trewby. We had business at the Kinleath Paper Mill and Frank, his niece from U.K., who was a professional tennis player who happened to be in New Zealand at the time, Spen Shirtley who was my “Boss”, and I travelled down there by car. After attending to the business at hand we had a look around the district including Lake Taupo, staying overnight at a hotel near the Waikato River and the adjacent geothermal Power Station. The hotel had a hot swimming pool and was memorable for two reasons, first the dinner of fish, lamb and cheese-board and, secondly, the fact that I played table tennis with, and was soundly beaten by, the international tennis star Jenny Trewby! Next morning we headed for Rotorua where we lunched and the rest of the party headed back for Auckland where Jenny had some tennis to play while I stayed on to see the sights of the Geothermal area around Rotorua. What an experience that was. My camera worked overtime! It was probably 15 years before I visited Rotorua again with Jean, Lois and Mum, and, of course, the camera “ran hot” again during the three weeks and a bit we were there! I have visited New Zealand six times altogether, and every time was a happy experience.
While I was Queensland Manager of Babcock & Wilcox I made the acquaintance of an Indonesian Expatriate, George Greene, who had come to Australia during the war with the Royal Dutch Air Force, married an Australian girl and settled down in Brisbane. Following the coup d'Etat in Indonesia in 1965 with Suharto taking over from Soekarno, George re-established contact with his family and friends in Indonesia and commenced a trading operation between there and Australia. At first he worked with a company supplying equipment for drilling rigs but soon developed his own company which he called Indonesian Australian Trading Corporation. He had observed that equipment in the various industries, particularly sugar and palm oil, had fallen into disrepair during the period since the Dutch supervisors had been banished. So, one day he suggested to me that there was a good market developing there, as well as in Malaysia, for spare parts and, eventually, for new plant. After discussing this with Marshall Wilson, Managing Director of B & W, it was agreed that I should make a trip into Indonesia to see the situation for myself. It seemed appropriate that I should go because of the similarity of agriculture and industry in Indonesia and Queensland, especially the Indonesian sugar industry which at one time had been the biggest exporter and technically most advanced in the world but could not by the mid to late 1960s even supply Indonesia's own requirements because the Indonesians had let the industry run down so much during the Soekarno regime.
So, in February 1969 George Greene, myself and an American Drilling rig expert, set out for Indonesia. In fact, the other two had gone ahead a few days before me, so I embarked for Djakarta (the spelling was later changed to Jakarta) on a very large (for those days) Pan-Am plane. George met me at the Djakarta airport which was just as well, for I had never before, nor have I ever since, seen such chaos as reigned at that hot badly-lit, malodorous concrete jungle that served both the military and civil air needs of the Capital City of Indonesia. We stayed overnight at a hotel called “The Press Club” next door to what was then the only large international style hotel in the whole of Indonesia-the Hotel Indonesia, at which I have “put up” more than once since and is in fact a very impressive place. The next morning we visited the Australian Trade Commissioner and met several contacts of George's who were all as keen as mustard to get involved with any sort of trade with Australia-or anywhere else for that matter!
In the afternoon we took a Garuda Air Lines flight to Medan in North Sumatra where George's brother Theo and his family lived. I was booked into a rather primitive hotel while George stayed with his brother, who had quite a large house in Medan and another in the country (complete with a second family - Indonesian style) at a place called Tebingtinggi. George's brother had three teenage children, a boy and two girls, in the Medan house and a little child at the other home. The Medan family was obviously well educated and were used to a culture that was above the Indonesian average. They all spoke excellent English (not without a heavy accent) and made me feel very welcome indeed. They sent me a Christmas Card for many years and one of the daughters, Lisa the youngest, visited us at Aspley one time when she was in Brisbane having an operation to correct a cast in one eye. I spent two weeks there, and we visited quite a lot of palm oil and rubber mills and had a delightful time. The military were in evidence and occasionally stopped us on the road, but were not too obtrusive. One lovely spot we visited was Lake Toba, high in the mountains of North Sumatra. It is formed in an old volcanic crater and in the middle of it is a small island which has sacred connotations to the local inhabitants. The North Sumatra countryside is like the tropical fringes of Queensland, very fertile and not overpopulated. The plantations are beautiful, and although a bit run down at that time have been improved since.
From Medan we took a flight to Singapore where I did some duty-free shopping and took many photos. It was there I bought my first movie camera. Singapore was nothing like it is today, but nevertheless was a bit of an eye-opener regarding the housing of the populace and the marketing strategies they adopted. After two or three days we went back to Djakarta from whence we took flight to Surabaya. What a change from Medan! Hot, dusty, noisy and crowded. We stayed in a delightful old Dutch Hotel called the L.M.S. (I don't know what the letters stood for), which was spacious and very, very comfortable. But as soon as the street was entered chaos descended! From there we took a car to Malang which is the centre of the main Javanese sugar-growing area and, although I didn't know it at the time, the main operation of World Vision in Indonesia. Jean and I have since sponsored two small girls who live there. Compared to the Queensland Sugar Industry I found the Javanese very old-fashioned, but they managed to get their work done with large squads of labourers manhandling the cane and other products. I have some photos of cane being trundled along the rail tracks by an ox as the locomotives were all out of commission. Back to Djakarta and then home to Brisbane, laden with souvenirs and absolutely exhausted!
That was in early 1969. I returned to Indonesia in 1971, 1972, 1974, 1977 and 1982 and each time was astounded at the improvement in facilities such as telephone, water supply, and transport and the progressive reduction in the military presence, although it is still a military run country. Most of the people who head up the various companies and industries have military titles. I could write a book about my experiences in Indonesia, but won't unduly enlarge this one!
Each time I visited Indonesia I came home via Singapore and, since 1972 have also visited Malaysia on four separate occasions. I have had three trips to Thailand and three to Hong Kong, the last to visit our son Philip and his family in early 1983. My first trip to the Philippines was in 1972, when the curfew (imposed by Marcos when he assumed power) had just been lifted. I have been there four times since, three times in 1974 and once in 1977.
One of the trips took in all of these places as it was a travelling Trade Mission organised by the Metal Trades Industries Group of Queensland. It took place from March to May 1974 and was a wonderful experience. I won't say too much about it here because it is well documented in my photo albums and a report I prepared and is now in the archives of Babcock & Wilcox who I represented on that trip. There were nine members of the Mission of which I was appointed leader and, with the marvellous co-operation of the Trade Commissioners in the various countries, was an outstanding success as well as being an exhilarating experience. Health is always a problem on these extended trips (we were away for just over 6 weeks) but we were fortunate and didn't suffer too much although we were all very glad to be home again when it was over. The only time I really felt off-colour was while we were spending a week-end in Bali. It was there that several of us had strange experiences ranging from bad dreams to hallucinations and could only assume we had been drugged in some way. It is quite likely that it was caused by fish we had for dinner. Similar problems can be caused by eating some varieties of reef fish in North Queensland as has been recently reported in the press. But at that time we were nonplussed as to what had happened to us and we were off colour for the rest of the day. In other respects, though, we thought Bali extremely beautiful and, amongst other things, Frank Twigg and I took a bus trip away up into the mountains to a rather beautiful Hindu temple. Just one experience of very many we shared on that Trade Mission to South-East Asia.
In October 1976 Babcock & Wilcox Limited, London, arranged an International Symposium on the future of large grinding mills for coal and other minerals. It was to last for a week and was to be held in Crawley in the South of England. I was asked to represent the Australian Company and so, after working for the Company for just over 40 years (at that time) I got my first trip to Europe. There had been one or two opportunities earlier when I was Senior Sales Engineer of the Company before being appointed to Queensland Manager. But they were associated with the detailed preparation of tenders and as I felt it better for me to stay in Sydney and coordinate all the information, I had arranged for one or other of the Sales Engineers to go instead. So this was an opportunity that I was glad to have. At first I intended to simply travel there and back with a visit to the Works at Renfrew and perhaps look over the Company's interests in Germany. But while I was visiting the travel agent one day she casually said “Why aren't you taking Mrs Hunt?” So, after finding out how little extra it would cost, booked her along too, the Company paying my costs and Jean and I picking up the extra costs for her to accompany me.
Again, our trip is well documented in my photo albums and a scrapbook and so I shall not go into any detail here. But it was a wonderful opportunity and we are the wiser because of it. Besides more than a week in London where we stayed in “The President” at Russell Square, Jean took a train trip (while I was away in Belgium and Germany visiting our Company's associates there) to visit an old friend, Grandma Smith, at Gomersail near Leeds. She was the Mother of Rev. Perry Smith, our Minister at Drummoyne Methodist and we got to know her when she had visited Australia the year before. After the Company's Symposium was over and I had flown with a Colleague from London to see the fabulous works at Renfrew in Scotland, also our interests in Germany and Belgium, Jean and I set off on two bus tours. The first was around England and Southern Scotland. The second was through Europe, covering Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and France. The great regret was that, although we were able to see so much and enjoy so much, there was ever so much more that we would have liked to have seen. For instance, the bus travelled up the west coast of England and down the east coast. Twice we were within a few miles of the towns where Jean's parents had lived before coming to Australia, but we were unable to break our journey, and, by the evening when we could have perhaps taken a taxi from our hotel, it was too far away! One of the bonuses that we did enjoy while in London were a lot of complimentary tickets given to us as part of the British Airlines packaged tour. These covered theatre, cabaret, meals and excursions and got us to places we would not, perhaps, have otherwise visited.
Not all my travelling was in commercial airliners. Several times I have been forced to use smaller planes, and I must say, haven't particularly enjoyed the experience. Memorable amongst these flights was one from Townsville to Collinsville Power Station when, on the return journey, we had to fly low between two ranges of mountains because of an afternoon tropical storm coming up. It seemed to me that the wingtips were about to scrape against the rocky mountainsides, but we got through all right. Another time I was on a flight from Adelaide to Mount Gambier when, after about twenty minutes in the air, the pilot did a count and found there were only five passengers on board and there should have been six. So what did he do, but go back to Adelaide, pick up the rather worried defaulter, and set off again for our destination. Joan Casey (nee Rush) had been expecting me for dinner, but by the time I arrived, her husband Maurice, had gone off to do his shift in the Power Station and Joan had valiantly kept the hot dinner from spoiling!
The Secretary and Accountant of Babcock's New Zealand Company, the late Fred Ashton was a keen amateur pilot and one day while I was visiting Auckland he took me for a trip over that beautiful city in a small single-engined Aero Club plane that he had specially hired for the morning. Up until then I had always insisted on at least two engines when forced to fly in a small plane, but I was placed in a position, as Fred was being so kind to me, where I had no alternative but to make the most of it. First of all he went through the routine of checking the plane then getting in and talking to the air controllers. I was sitting beside him with a second set of earphones on. Have you ever noticed that these communications between the control tower and the pilot always seem to be carried on in a language that is completely undecipherable! I couldn't understand a word, but it must have been all right for Fred, because he soon taxied over to the grass strip beside the runway and revved up. He explained to me that they used the grass because it didn't wear out the tyres as quickly as the tarred strip and the grass wasn't too bad generally, although it gets bumpy at times. I was starting to feel airsick already and we hadn't left the ground! Of course, it wasn't too bad at all, and once we were airborne the flight was a delight. I took quite a few photos and continued to enjoy the experience until I was almost petrified when on his return journey to the small Aero Club airfield where non-commercial planes operated, he did a fly-past of the main Airport! I had visions of a collision with a large plane, but my fears again were quite groundless!
Probably the worst experience, though, was a return flight from Biloela to Brisbane not very long ago when the door at the side of the small chartered plane became unlatched in mid-air and the passenger sitting next to it had to yank it closed again! I wondered what had happened to the safety interlocks, but when I later mentioned it to the pilot he said “What would you want it to be interlocked to? Would you want it to turn off the engine?” I guess he had a point!
A happier experience was flying from Proserpine to South Mole Island in the big Ansett Sikorsky helicopter. It also operated for a while as a feeder plane from Proserpine to the Mackay Airfield to connect to the main airlines. The sensation I always had with that beautiful machine, which was quite large, was that instead of the machine lifting off the ground, the machine stayed still and the ground moved away-so smooth was its lift-off. The only other time I was in a helicopter was in Singapore when I travelled over to Batam Island with a small group of the people on the South-East Asia Trade Mission. That was a lovely flight and, although it wasn't a large machine (it was a Bell, but I don't know what size) I felt quite safe flying rather low over the waters surrounding Singapore. Frank Twigg was also on that flight, sitting next to the pilot, and he got some terrific movies of the flight, as he did with many of the places we travelled through together.
So, one way or another, both within Australia and outside it, I have travelled many miles and many times, sometimes on my own, but other times with Jean. It has been great fun and marvellous to look back on. When we took our young family to Parramatta to live with Grandpa Pegler we never imagined the things that were to be in store. We then had no car, had not travelled more than a half day's journey from home-and didn't have a penny to spare!