Knighted ferries

YHA Germany

I was sixteen when I made my first visit ‘abroad’ in 1960, (I do not count Wales).

I had been asked by a family friend, who was a teacher, to help look after a group of British school children while youth hosteling in Germany or DJH short for Deutschland Jugendherbergen

We were to stay at Youth Hostels as we made our way up the Rhine by rail and returned via paddle steamer Bismark.


Paddle steamer ‘Bismark’

Due to the long journey from Birkenhead to Ostend, the group leader had booked us in to the Zeebrugge youth hostel in Belgium, which was a short distance along the coast from Ostend. The one thing I do remember about Ostend was a particular coffee bar, which had a jukebox.
Jukeboxes were not new to us, but we had never seen a jukebox linked to a TV screen.
For one Belgium franc (well before the EEC and the Euro) we were able to play popular songs and watch the singer on the screen. This is the only memory I have about my first visit to a foreign city.

A few years ago, Maureen and I entered Zeebrugge harbour on a cruise ship and I found myself thinking of the Mersey ferry boats, Daffodil & Iris in WW1, on St George’s Day 1918.


Zeebruge Harbour at sunrise, pictures taken from our balcony.


The entrance to the harbour can be seen (beyond the immediate quay) where the British sank the two derelict vessels.


The two ferries took part in the commando raid to sink obsolete ships in the main channel at Zeebrugge, to prevent German U-boats leaving port.

Raid-diagramblogsize_1 Although severely damaged, and with many killed and wounded, the two ferryboats managed to return to England, and eventually made their way back to Mersey.


Daffodil arriving back in the Mersey after emergency repairs at Chatham.


Above is the Iris on her return – both ships carried the HMS prefix during the raid, and both had many shell holes. In addition, the superstructure had been riddled with machine gun fire.

The funnel of the Iris was kept as a ‘memorial’ for some time, but I am not sure where it is now.

Eight VCs (Victoria Cross – the highest award for bravery in the Commonwealth) were awarded after the raid, unfortunately two hundred and twenty-seven men were killed, and of those I think seventy are buried in the cemetery at Dover.

The whole operation called for volunteers and of the 1700 who volunteered eleven were Australian. Of the eleven, seven were decorated for bravery and some of their medals can be seen in Canberra.

Dover  – BBC News a centenary after the raid in 2018. The link is a short video.

In honour of their contribution to the raid HM King George V conferred the pre-fix ‘Royal’ on both Mersey ships, and they became the ‘Royal Iris’ & the ‘Royal Daffodil’.
The second descendant of the ‘Royal Iris’ came into service in 1951, and it was in 1965, on this ‘Royal Iris’, that I danced with a young girl who would later become my wife in 1969, fifty-two years ago.



Once alongside my daydreaming changed when I noticed Belgium navy ships berthed across from our berth.

I wonder if they think of the raid on St George’s Day (23rd April).

A train set, every child’s dream

!st train

The first train arrived in Parramatta on the 26th September 1855.

The first steam train in Australia ran in 1854 from Melbourne to Port Melbourne and by the time of federation in 1901 the network had grown to over 20,000 kms (12,500 miles).

Today in Thirlmere, about a thirty-minute drive from Mittagong is the largest collection of historical railway rolling stock in Australia.
A pensioner the entrance fee was $10, could not fault the value, because our visit was well over two hours.


0-6-0 steam engine, E 18, built in England in 1866 by the world’s first locomotive building firm Robert Stephenson & Sons, and was one of nine shipped to Australia for service in and around Sydney.
In 1897, E18 was sold to a coal company and not ‘retired’ until 1963, fortunately it was at the beginning of the railway preservation period, when this engine was ‘rescued’ and kept as one of the early examples of the railway era in NSW.


Close to E 18 is the carriage that was used by HM the Queen and Prince Philip in 1954 when they toured Australia. The carriage was the Governor- General’s carriage. As far as I know the Royal couple did not sleep on the train, but had meals and drinks onboard, which was prepared by the onboard staff.



It was difficult to capture the inside due to sunlight on the windows even though the carriages were inside a large building.

In addition to the ‘Royal’ carriage there were examples of


Postal sorting carriages


Transporting the dead carriages. . .


Prison carriages

The first government trains began in 1855 and one requirement was the transport of prisoners. They were gaols on wheels to move the city criminals to the isolated prisons in the country.
The carriage could accommodate five wardens, and in busy time up to fourteen male & eight female prisoners.
The prison vans had segregated cells based on gender.

The last rail prison van was withdrawn from service in 1975 when special road vehicles became the norm.
In 1947 in Melbourne the authorities were using electric prison trams to move prisoners.
Darcy Dugan, a prisoner, dug his way through the roof of a tram using a breadknife. The tram was the only purpose-built prison tram in the world and is now exhibited at the Sydney tram museum – which is not far from where I live and is now on my bucket list.


From inside the museum, we moved outside to play with the BIG toys . . .


The AD60 the last of its kind – a massive machine of two engines fed from one boiler and for train lovers the wheel configuration was 4-8-4+4-8-4


You can see the size of the engine compared to Maureen – this machine was big.

Conceived in England by Herbert William Garratt and the first Garratt’s were smaller built in 1909 for Tasmania. The concept was picked up globally.

Post WW2 freight traffic in NSW was booming and using the engines at the time was limiting the haul weight because the rails were not strong enough and the authorities did not have enough steel to rebuild the network, particularly over the Blue Mountains. 

The AD60 was the answer – 265 tons of power, (270,000 kgs) 108 feet (33 mtrs) long, built by Beyer-Garratt in the UK and came into service in NSW in 1952.
They began life in Australia just before the advent of diesel engines.
Fifty Garretts were ordered, but the last eight were cancelled in 1957. The last Garratt was withdrawn from service in 1973.

6040 was the last of this ‘breed’ of engine to run on the NSW rail network.


Follow the yellow brick road into the Great Train Hall.


1st Class of yesteryear 


Davis Palace Sleeping Car Company a US company sold two sleeping cars to NSW in 1882, they were carriages number 8 & 9. Number 8 was renamed Lady Parkes after the wife of the Premier Henry Parkes and number 9 was named Lady Robinson after the five times Premier of NSW John Robertson.
The carriage that I photographed was Number 9, Lady Robinson carriage.


The dining room


The bar . . .hic!

The two carriages in the museum are the only two Davis Sleeping Cars left in the world.


Built in 1877 by Beyer, Peacock and Company, of Gorton, Manchester, England.

This engine was used on the suburban passenger services around Sydney and NSW and became the longest serving locomotive in NSW history at 94 years and 9 months before being ‘retired’ in 1973 and placed in Enfield Transport Museum before being transferred to this museum in 1975.   



As the Australian railway network grew it became obvious that that we should have a common gauge across the country.
The problem was that the Sydney network was ‘standard’ gauge of 4 ft 8 1/2 inches (1435 mm), which was the gauge used in the UK & Europe, but Victoria and parts of S Australia had used the Irish gauge of 5ft 3 inches (1590 mm) so passengers and freight had to change trains at the border between NSW & Victoria, which very inefficient.

There was also a third system of 3ft 6 inches (1050 mm) in Queensland, Tasmania, and Western Australia. 
The Federal Government wanted a standard system across the country – Sydney & Brisbane were linked in 1930, but it was not until 1962 that Sydney and Melbourne were linked.
The train that linked the two largest cities became known as the Southern Aurora and it was on the 14th/15th April 1962 that the first train completed the journey without changing trains at the border.   


In 1966 Maureen travelled by the Southern Aurora from Sydney to Melbourne, it took 12 hours.


38 20 was built by the NSW Government in the Eveleigh Railway Workshops in 1947. This engine was the 20th of 30 38 class locomotives built to haul express trains.


Sorry to say, but 20 38 was looking her age.


The first Pullman Sleeping Cars were introduced in NSW in 1891. The first eight were shipped from the US flat packed (think IKEA).
ABX 1007 was built in Australia for NSW railways in 1899 in the Pullman style, it was a sleeping coach and later in 1944 became a medical carriage.
It was retired in 1975 and converted to a sitting coach to be used on heritage rail trips.

In addition to the skilled staff who maintain and restore the railway stock on display there is a support team of volunteers. While we were looking around the museum, we saw various cargo wagons were being repainted in traditional colours by some of the volunteers.


The above will give you an idea of the condition of some of the rolling stock when it arrives. I was in the historic part of the museum (left hand side of the fence) and across the fence I saw the above in the ‘waiting’ area.


The above coaches were in the historic area waiting to be refurbished.  


At the end of the museum building there was the Roundhouse, which is where the rollingstock would be reborn. Outside you could see a large turntable that was being used when I took these pictures.



I copied the above from the visitor guide to show that the Roundhouse was a large operation. 


On the outside of the Roundhouse visitors could look into the work area from a viewing platform and watch rollingstock being refurbished.


I found that over two hours had passed by the time I took the last photograph (see above) and the whole experience was well worth the money.


Finally, I thought you may be interested in how 60 40 looked before the skilled craftsmen of the museum became involved.     

During our visit to the museum Maureen stood alongside this engine to show just how large it is for a steam train. 

The piece of film below show a ‘double header’, which means two engines at the front of the train. These trains are pulling a very heavy load up hill.  

A blast from the past

Southern Highlands part 2

Waterfall & Potatoes

DSC07039clone dat

We decided to visit Fitzroy Falls because the last time were visited the falls was in 2006 and at that time the falls were covered in mist. The above is the river that feeds the falls and as you see it is not very ‘active’ due to it being the end of summer.


The river flows under a walkway towards the ‘falls’.


The falls during our visit in 2006.


The falls earlier this month (March 2021) the drop is 81 mt (266 feet).

The falls are in the Morton National Park, the traditional country of the Yuin people and the views are magnificent – my poor effort do not do the views justice.




The area is famous for the wildlife – kookaburras, black cockatoos, eagles & falcons as well as certain insect life.


Termite architecture. 


and of course the platypus.

In 1798 a platypus was sent to England for identification, because people had never seen such a creature.

The English at the time thought the animal was a hoax- because it had a muzzle like a duck – a tail like a beaver – webbed feet with claws – the back legs of the male have poisonous spurs, which can kill attackers as large as a dog – the platypus is an egg laying mammal – it suckles its young, but it does not have any nipples – is it any wonder the English thought it was a hoax?

They live in the quiet areas of eastern Australia in clean freshwater streams or lakes and the best time to see them is early morning or in the evening – they are very shy.

We were close to a small town (village) called Robertson (pop 1865 in 2016) which is famous for a particular type of potato.
Like every other town which is famous for something they have to a ‘big’ something from a sheep, or a prawn, or a bandanna, so of course this town had a large potato.


The Big Potato – Robertson the home of the Highland spud.


Next door was the local supermarket which sold bags of potatoes (in various sizes ) with The Big Potato logo on each bag of course.

Our next stop was a pie shop that had become famous and when I asked the location I was told to keep driving and it is well sign posted.
Pie shop

  So we were looking for something like the above . . . . . . . 

Pie shop2 But all we saw was a dilapidated building without any indication that this was the place we wanted. So, we kept going and ended up driving half way down a very winding Macquarie Pass with bends at a top speed of 15 km / hour (9 mph) before I was able to find a place where I could do a U turn. 


Traffic coming down hill with a trailer / caravan did not leave much room. 


On the way back we realised that what we thought was a dump was the pie shop being repainted.

We entered the shop to check out the pies, I was quite looking forward to a pie or two for our lunchtime picnic  –
I did not buy, because the prices were too expensive at $9 to $10 for a very small pie and around $25 for a ‘family’ size pie, if the family was not more than two adults. Suddenly, I had lost my appetite. So, we left.


On our return trip to Mittagong we passed the Wingecarribee Reservoir. The area is a picnic spots and lookout points that is only available for day visit –
overnight camping is not allowed. 
Upstream of the Wingecarribee River that feeds the reservoir, is an ancient peat swamp, home to many endangered species.
The reservoir supplies Bowral and Mittagong, and during drought times can top up Sydney’s water supplies.

In drought times Wingecarribee Reservoir water can be released into the Wingecarribee River – which flows via another river and a lake before entering into the Sydney supply system via Warragamba Dam.
The distance from Wingecarribee Reservoir to Sydney is about 130 km by road.

Sydney has eleven major dams (21 storage dams) to supply the city with water.

Remember the walkway at Fitzroy Falls just before the actual falls – the second photograph at the beginning of this blog?

The Falls after a drop of rain   

Southern Highlands – part 1


By late February  we, in NSW, had over 35 days free of Covid-19 so I thought it was time for a short holiday.

Not sure how clear the map is, but we decided to visit the Southern Highlands and we decided to stay in Mittagong (marked with the red line).

Grand We picked the Grand Country Lodge in Mittagong. 


We had booked before Christmas but had to cancel due to ill health, so I asked for the same room as I had originally booked, but it was not available.
We were given a larger room for the same price as compensation. Could not knock the customer service.

212224002  Queen bed and a single so we had plenty of room for just the two of us.

The price included breakfast, but due to Covid-19 the dining room was closed, and breakfast was delivered to your room the evening before and placed in the fridge.


The room was equipped with a kettle, toaster, cutlery & crockery for three. Each evening we would tick various items on the breakfast sheet, and this would be delivered. The above gives you an idea.

c4b9d58c_b Powerful shower over the bath and great drying towels.

Underground parking available, all in all we were pleased with the accommodation.
Except for the map the above, the pictures of the motel are all from the motel’s web site.
Welcome to Grand Country Lodge | 4 Star Mittagong Accommodation

They are better than mine.


Next door to the motel was the information centre, so we did not have to go far to find the information that we required.


Mittagong is a pleasant small town, the centre of which, is only about a ten- minute walk from the accommodation.


Not too far from where we stayed is an attractive park, which contained a children’s area.


Mittagong from Gibraltar Heights overlooking the town.

For my Australian readers Mittagong has a large Dan Murphy’s  . . . . and a good choice of restaurants.

We had five days, so we decided to try and visit two new places each day.

Bowral is a short drive from Mittagong so this town was our first trip for site seeing.


 The Grand Hotel 


The New Empire Cinema from 1915, still in use . . .


Shopping alleyway – the cinema is behind me, we found Bowral to be quite a pleasant town. 

From Bowral we moved on to Moss Vale – it looked nice in the pictures that we had seen –


but overall we found it to be an unattractive place  that had a large amount of transit traffic, and that crossing the road was a touch of Kamikaze crossing unless you were happy walk quite a distance to a controlled crossing. 

We moved on to our next stop which was Bundanoon.

I quote from the Bundanoon web site –
Bundanoon is the ‘Quintessential Southern Highlands Experience’ and the perfect village alternative to larger towns such as Bowral, Mittagong and Moss Vale.

In 2016 the population was 2729, quite a small town that you can walk around in about eight minutes. As you see in the above picture, the ‘traffic jam’ has not been invented in Bundanoon.
In April each year (we were too early) they have a Brigadoon festival, which is a Highland Festival to celebrate all that is Scottish. 


The railway station . . . 


153 years old and still working – although I did not see any trains or staff.


If you can read the short history of the town (more like a village) you will see that the area was explored in 1818.


A touch of yesterday – but it was closed when we visited.


As we drove out of town, I stopped to take the above picture – we were the only car around.
It was a beautiful day, and it was very quiet, and all I could hear were the birds. 

Next stop Berrima, for The Surveyor General Inn


The oldest continuously licensed inn in Australia.


 I ordered our drinks from this bar


Many of the local shops were aimed at the tourist, but they were different enough to make a visit enjoyable, and from the shop next door to the above, we bought Daffy.


We like to buy the odd souvenir during our travels so this time it was Daffy, and the boots will not allow him to sneak up on us . . .  

Do not try and do it all . . .


There were a few hectic weeks between the current manager planning his move to Sydney and me taking over his role.
When I was at sea, we were taught to delegate, so I advertised for an operations manager, while I tried to understand the full aspect of managing the office and the staff.

I hired an ex-air cargo man from a freight agent who I thought would have the wherewithal to grasp what we did for a living and to organise the warehouse operation and the delivery / pick-up drivers.

It did not work out all that well and after a few weeks he left to return to ‘normal’ air freight rather than fast pick up and shipping to be delivered overnight to London or Los Angeles.

His replacement was not much better and in both cases I had Helen show both new ‘boys’ the ropes and how things worked.

Life was hectic, so I shut my office door and thought of where I had gone wrong in training the two failed operational managers.
Then it dawned on me, so I went out to speak to Helen and told her that from this minute on she was the Operations Manager for Victoria .


She tried to change my mind because in her mind she was a secretary, but she was far more than a secretary, she already ran the operation and had tried her best to train the two failed operation’s managers. It was not her fault that they had failed, it was my fault for hiring them.

Eventually she came round to my way of thinking and she moved her desk to overlook the warehouse. The warehouse staff were mixed in their reaction to Helen’s new position, but they all knew that she knew the operation backwards, and she would not put up with any skiving or shirking.

Now I had a female operations manager and a female sales manager (who had joined Skypak before I arrived).
Now I could start learning about budgets, sales targets, and writing reports to head office. 

Since joining the company I had been concerned that there was something missing to gender pride, by the staff, in the company and how they saw themselves as Skypak employees. 

I then realised that they did not have a uniform – nobody in the company had a uniform.

In addition, although we had our vans painted in company colours, they did not have the company logo on the roof of the delivery vans – nor did any other courier company at that time have a roof logo.

First thing first, we had the logo painted on the roof because the people who made the decision to use a particular company would never see the logo on the side of the van from the 40th floor, but they would see the log on the roof of our vans. 

That was fixed quickly.

Uniforms – my problem was that I did not have a budget to uniform the staff, because none of the staff in Sydney had a uniform.

I wanted yellow shirts and blue badges and flashes.



so that the staff had a feeling of pride.


  Yellow shirts and blue trousers or shorts in summer.

Three shirts, trousers and shorts and how to hide the cost because I did not have a budget. The roof painting of the van was easy because I put the cost down to ‘repairs’ & touch ups for our new owner IPEC, see the rear door of the van below.


So, I spread the uniform cost over several weeks of ‘stationery’. I got away with it for some time even though Max, the head office accountant, wanted to know why we were using so much stationery. . . .

After some weeks of wearing the uniform there was an incident with one staff member (male) who arrived in work not wearing his yellow shirt. I asked him why he was not in uniform – he told me that his mother had failed to provide him with a clean shirt – she had not washed his previous day’s shirt. 

The staff member was in his early twenties, so the fact that he was incapable of washing his own clothes was unacceptable.
On pay day I had his weekly wage sent to his mother, so when he signed for his wages, he was surprised not to receive any.
When he asked where his money was . . . I told him to ask his mother.
From that day on he was always in a clean uniform shirt, as was everyone else who had witnessed our chat.

We had a small turnover of warehouse staff, but when we had a vacancy I would advertise and let the local government labour office know.
The first person to apply arrived in a singlet vest, shorts, flip flops, and he was unshaven. He had not made any effort dress accordingly for an interview, even if it was in a warehouse. 
We had a short chat and I told him that he was unsuitable, and I thanked him for his time. He then produced a government card that was his record of applying for a job so that he could keep drawing unemployment pay.

I refused to sign, because I considered that he had not made any effort to even try to fill the vacancy. He became quite upset and abusive. 
As I ordered him off the premises, I noticed his girlfriend sitting at the bottom of the office stairs. 


She was dressed in a mix of westerner clothes, a Bolivian native style shawl and a Bolivian lady’s style hat, but I could see that she was not Bolivian.

The next interviewee was dressed as if he wanted the job and he looked intelligent and I thought he would fit the required roll. 

We had a pleasant chat during which time I told him the area in which he would do pick-ups and delivery.
Once he knew of the area, he told me that because he was against tobacco, he would not be able to pick-up or deliver to/from Phillip Morse who had a cigarette factory in the area designated for the new driver.


This was the end of the interview because he had ruled himself out of the running. I was not going to hire anyone who had a problem with his job description. Also, Philip Morris was a major customer of Skypak.

I was then accused of discrimination and that he was going to report me to the authorities (which authorities??).

I reminded him that he had a problem with tobacco, and I required someone who did not have a problem with tobacco, which is why I was not offering him a job, but I did sign his record card for unemployment pay.  

He left, and I never did hear from the ‘authorities’.

I did find the right person for the job, and I did not have any problem with the pick-up & deliveries in that area. This driver stayed with the company for years.

The pleasurable part of the promotion was being invited to Sydney to be ‘appointed’ as the State Manager, but also to receive my own car.


The General manager gave me his car, which was a Ford Fairmont and all I had to do was drive it the thousand kilometers back to Melbourne, a job I was happy to accept.
Only six months or so earlier I was on top of the world to have the operational vehicle for my own use, now I had a Fairmont!

The New South Wales registration plates on the Fairmont spelt out ‘SKYPAK’ instead of the normal letters & numbers.
The car was now based in Victoria so I had to get it registered locally, (Victoria) but my personality would not allow me to keep the SKYPAK plates, so I just ordered the standard plates, BCN364 I think was the number issued.

Flamboyancy was not for me; I left that aspect of the job to the sales staff.


Time flies


Time just flew as I became involved with Skypak and the operation.

I was pleased to note that I could call on at least fifteen different languages amongst the staff, so if I had a problem with any shipment overseas, I could take advantage of our time zone and speak to a customer, airline or customs officer during their working hours.

The newspaper reading supervisor thought I was being unreasonable by asking him to supervise the processes that were happening in the warehouse.

He left soon after.

I was fortunate in having Helen, the Tongan lady, to help me understand various aspects of the operation. She was a fund of knowledge.

It was time to study the international cargo rates that Skypak was paying the airlines.


All the airlines were members of IATA (International Air Transport Association) and even when I worked for an airline,I found it odd that they supported an operation that was illegal in most countries i.e price fixing.
In 1980 there were 100 members from 85 nations in IATA.

All airlines charged the same rates on the same routes for passenger tickets and cargo rates. If they did offer a different rate and they were reported then they would be fined, so there was a lot of pressure on the airlines not to step out of line.
If you knew your product you could construct a rate that was ‘legal’ but cheaper than the rate for point to point. There was a system called intermediate point rule, which allowed a cheaper airfare to a further destination to be used for the route that you required.
For cargo the description of the goods might be ‘tweaked’ to generate a cheaper kilo rate between two points. For example, newspapers and periodicals are entitled to a 50% discount off the full cargo rate, but if the goods were classed as paper or stationery there might be a special commodity code number that allows for a cheaper rate again.
I had ten years’ experience of tweaking cargo rates to obtain the cheapest rate for the customer, so now I was the airline’s customer, and I knew to what length the airline would go to make a sale.

I loved my job at Skypak.


I requested a meeting with Qantas Cargo, and their sales representative arrived for the meeting. I asked for their best rate to London. The rep did not know my background, I was just the new boy on the block for Skypak.

Cargo at that time was offered as follows – a minimum rate, followed by a high rate per kilo for traffic up to 45 kilos and then a lower rate per kilo over 45 kilos to 100 kilos and then a reduction from 100 to 250 kilos and so on.

Once you knew the rates you could work out break points, for example if the under 45 kilo rate is $5 / kilo and the kilo rate over 45 kilos is $3 a kilo I would multiply the 45 x $3 to get $135, and divide this by the under 45 kilo rate i.e $5 , to obtain the break point, which is 27 kilos.
So, if I had a bag of documents over 27 kilos it was cheaper for me to call the shipment 45 kilos on the paperwork than the actual weight.   


In this picture you can see a standard courier bag, which when packed with documents could weigh over 25 kilos. At that time, you would expect a male to be able to lift and handle a 30 kilos bag without assistance. H&S was in its infancy. 

Being aware of the airlines ability to ‘bend’ the rules I asked for a simple kilo rate that was a lot lower than the historic high rates that Skypak had been paying. 
It was as if I had insulted his family, because he was so indignant that I had even suggested such action. IATA would not allow such rates!
Qantas would be fined!

He then told me, in a roundabout way, that I should support Qantas, because Qantas was the national airline. I then pointed out that it was Skypak International that paid me, and my job was to make a profit, not support the national carrier’s high airfreight rates.
He didn’t even stop for a cup of tea.

The next rep I invited in was from British Airways.


I knew that they carried cargo from Manchester to London by road, for major British & American air freight companies free of charge.
The amount of money that these major airfreight companies spent with various airlines dictated the level of overall service. 

The rep was not the BA cargo manager that I had contacted looking for job ideas, but a regular cargo rep. He knew that most of our shipments were being carried by Qantas so there was a big incentive to ‘do a deal’.

We did do a deal and came to an agreement that the paperwork would show the correct IATA rates, and an incentive fee would be paid once a month depending on volumes of kilos shipped.

Suddenly Qantas lost the Skypak International traffic to London, but they did keep the Los Angeles traffic – I did not wish to burn all my boats.

At the end of the first month the British Airways rep came in with a small package for me.
While he was drinking his tea, I opened the package just a little – it was the ‘incentive’ payment. I returned the package to him.

‘What’s the problem’ he asked.

‘It is cash’, I replied.

‘Isn’t that what you wanted?’

‘I wanted the incentive fee as a cheque made out to Skypak International’ I told him.
I knew how the game was played and accepting cash would leave me wide open to accusations of corruption.
Accepting a cheque I was a servant of the company and unable to take advantage of the incentive fee.  
Every month I would send a cheque to Max, the company accountant in Sydney, with a note that the enclosed amount was part of Melbourne’s sales revenue.



A few weeks after I started, I was invited to a lunchtime businessmen’s function by the Skypak manager to celebrate Australia winning the Bledisloe Cup.
My problem was that I did not have any idea what the Bledisloe Cup was, or even that it was linked to a rugby match.

My Manager was a Kiwi and was a bit down in the dumps as New Zealand had lost, but he thought it would be good for me to attend and meet people who were also our clients.
The lunch was very nice and the people I met were hospitable and pleasant, but I wonder what they thought of me being at such a function and did not have clue as to what was being celebrated other than Australia had won at rugby.
It was huge learning curve for me.

During my settling in period Skypak was sold to an Australian company called IPEC (Interstate Parcel Express Company).IPEC

IPEC had been in business since 1955, and had expanded internationally into Europe and Asia.
IPEC’s purchase of Skypak was followed by extraordinary growth for Skypak and we became the second largest international courier company in the world. 

Six months after joining Skypak the Melbourne manager was promoted to manage the Sydney office and I was promoted to the position of Melbourne’s Skypak manager.

Writing this blog, I thought of the Australian migration officer in Manchester who had told me that I was unemployable.

It would have been nice if he had said something like –

DSC05066 Do not look back, you are not going that way . . .

I took the photo on one of our earlier cruises.

Skypak International


I think that the background of Skypak makes quite an interesting story.

The seeds of the Company started in Japan, by two Australians.

One had arrived in Japan as a member of the Australian occupying forces after the defeat of Japan and had remained after the formal end of the occupation in 1952.

His command of the Japanese language was so good that he found work in the Japanese film industry playing the part of the ‘idiot’ westerner. Later he would be asked to read the news on television – in Japanese.

I understand that he met his future business partner at a function. His future business partner worked for the Australian Trade organisation in Tokyo.

In 1957 a Japanese company called Overseas Courier Services or OCS for short, was founded to offer speedy document delivery worldwide for Japanese businesses.

As part of this courier service OCS also offered newspaper subscriptions to Japanese businessmen living abroad, and one of their major destinations was Sydney in Australia.

Our ‘film star’ and Australian Trade official could see an opportunity, so they approached OCS and offered to be their agent in Sydney, because at that time the Japanese companies were expanding in Australia.

Their proposal was accepted, and they organised document deliveries in Sydney as well as Japanese newspapers.


Although the above picture is in English most of the newspapers were in Japanese.

Business was good and as the partners delivered inbound documents, they were asked to take documents back to Japan. Later they were asked to courier documents to the UK & the USA.

This new business would require a different name to OCS so Skypak International was born as an agent for OCS.

The idea of international newspapers took hold, so they started selling subscriptions to various newspaper such as the London Times & the Financial Times.



Demand for American papers generated the import of the New York Times. 

NYT They needed a name for this new product – and ‘Newsfast’ was born to compliment the ‘Document Courier’ service.

The company could not grow without opening an office in Melbourne, some might say the business capital of Australia, so Skypay International opened a Victorian office to service mainly the banking industry.

It was the banking industry that gave them their next idea. The ANZ Bank (Australia and New Zealand Bank) asked if Skypak could take their New Zealand share holder’s annual reports to New Zealand – and post them -Mailfast was born.

At that time (well before the internet) Australian companies had to issue an annual report of their business and each report would be posted to share holders who were located all over the world.
The postage cost was extremely high via Australia Post . . . .so Skypak Mailfast offered to ship the mail for the UK shareholders to London and post them all at local rates – they offered the ANZ Bank a package deal of airfreight and posting, which turned out to be below the price of Australia Post – sold, said the ANZ! 

There was a consideration that this might be illegal in Australia as the postal service was a Government controlled service.

It was illegal for anyone other than the post office to handle personal mail, but it was not illegal for business mail to be handled by anyone.
Mailfast had arrived and even managed to upset the UPU (Universal Postal Union) which is a UN organisation that coordinates postal policy across the world.

They could not fault the service because it was not illegal to airfreight business mail and to allow the destination post office to distribute the mail locally – all post offices currently offer this service and Skypak Mailfast was doing exactly that, by beating Australia Post rates for large volumes of the same type of mail – annual reports. 

This was the company that I had joined as their operations manager for Victoria.


I spent my first day at work in Australia working alongside the warehousemen who processed the courier traffic.
I made sure that I went out to the airport, which was about 20-to-30 minute drive to see exactly how the system worked i.e lodging out going courier traffic and collecting inbound documents.

Later in the afternoon I was with one of the drivers to do pick-ups in the city centre. Just to clarify the pick-ups were courier documents not a lady of the night.

As the day ended for me, which was around 6.00 pm, the manager gave me the keys to one of the operational vehicles and said that I could take it home for the weekend, and that it had become my ‘company car’ when the office was closed, but it was to be available for anyone to drive during business hours. 


I was over the moon, someone else was going to pay for the fuel, and Maureen could drive the second-hand car that I had bought for the family!
The two children in the picture are our son & daughter, my daughter is now 47 and my son 45, at least I would not have to say to them ‘if only’. The picture shows my ‘new’ (for me) company car.

With keys in my hand, it suddenly dawned on me that I did not know how to get home, and it was now dark and it was raining heavily. I had arrived by tram and train . . . 

I figured that as I had navigated around the world surely, I could find my way home without a map.
Sat-nav for cars had not been invented at that time and a street map was of little help in the dark while driving, so I headed for Port Philip Bay, because I reasoned that as soon as I got my feet wet, I would turn left and just follow the coast road until I recognised an area that I knew, such as the railways station.


The trip along the coast was about 40 km (25 miles) and in the rain it took me nearly two hours.

After the excitement of the day, driving an unfamiliar car in heavy rain and in darkness, and not being sure of where I was going or even where I was during the drive, it was great relief to reach home, eat a hot meal and fall exhausted into a comfortable bed. 

Welcome to Skypak and Australia.

I’ve been everywhere man

The leaving . . . .


Over the sea

We put the house with a Real Estate agent this time and on the 20th March 1980 we sold it again, but this time to another family.

The problem was that they would not sign the contract until they had sold their house – which was understandable when mortgage rates were at 15%.

We had six months left before we had to be in Australia, the pressure was mounting. 

Time passed quickly and the second buyer backed out. We had plenty of interested people, but no firm offers because of the interest rate.

Finally, a couple who were moving from London signed on the 22nd July 1980 to buy the house.
The husband was moving from London at his company’s expense, so he was in a better position than all of the others.

In early August I booked our flights to Australia – our flight was Manchester/ London/ Bahrain/Singapore/ Sydney/ Melbourne. 

Tatten Arms

12th August 1980, we attended our farewell ‘do’ at the Tatton Arms, and my friends at work presented us with some fine presents including a ship in a bottle and a cut-glass decanter. 


After the night in the pub I was unemployed.

The following week we did the rounds on Merseyside of saying goodbye to our friends and relatives, which include my Mother and Maureen’s Mum & Dad. An emotional time for all.

The legal side of the sale of our house was dragging on and on, and in the end, I had to leave power of attorney with our solicitor because I could not change the flight details, or allow a delay because we had to be in Australia by the 20th September 1980.


As it happened, we arrived safely on the 4th September and our visa was validated so we were now permanent residents of Australia, but with limited cash because the legal process had still to take its course. We took a few days to get over the trip and to settle the children.

Now I had to find a job.

By the 17 September I had been offered three jobs – so much for being unemployable.
Prior to flying out I had contacted the BOAC (now British Airways) cargo rep in Melbourne, and he was kind enough to check a few things for me, which helped me to gain interviews & a job offer from TAA (Trans-Australian Airlines) and Ansett Airlines, both in their cargo departments. 
I also spoke to the Manager of a company called Skypak International who were looking for an Operations Manager. 
I was invited for an interview at 88 Miller St. in West Melbourne, at 1145 am, a strange time I thought for an interview.
I duly arrived at the appointed time and the Manager and Administration Manager were waiting and asked if I had eaten lunch.

I said no, and they said come on then we will chat over lunch.

Lunch was a short drive from the office which was in a restaurant that was part of an old Australian pub.

The food was particularly good, as were the drinks.  . . . . .

It turned out that the manager was an ex Royal New Zealand navy officer, who on leaving the navy moved into car rental management and then to Skypak. The administration manager had been a bank manager for many years before running a newsagent and then becoming the Skypak’s administration manager for Victoria. 

The one thing that they had in common was a desire to expand the company, but they were unsure of the international process. They asked questions and I gave my answers, but I could tell that they were unsure of my answers because of their limited airline and transport background.

The lunch was great and when I arrived home Maureen asked how things had gone, and I said I was not at all that sure, but I did enjoy the interview, it was the best I’d ever had . . . fortunately I was not driving a car but had used the train. 

The next morning, which was a Thursday, I received a phone call from Skypak to offer me the job as their Operations Manager for Victoria, I accepted, because it sounded a lot more interesting than the other two jobs that I had been offered, and the salary was a lot better than my salary in the UK.

The land of opportunity had proved itself to me.

I asked when I should start, being a Thursday I expected them to say the following Monday, but they asked me to start the following day (Friday). I was very pleased to accept. 

To get to the office I went by train and then tram and arrived at 9.00 am to be shown into a small office where I met a supervisor reading a newspaper, and Helen, a Tongan lady, who was the office secretary.

The family and I felt at home very quickly, and soon became Australian.

I’d hate to say – if only . . to our children in the future.

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All ready for a wedding.

The flight from London to Melbourne was particularly good considering the last time Maureen & I flew to Australia, which was not long after we were married in 1970, we were also travelling ‘staff travel’, and we were ‘off-loaded’ in Hong Kong and we were stuck there for about four or five days.
As a couple it was inconvenient, but with two children an ‘off-load’ would have been a problem.

The wedding went well, and we all had a great time, and the children just loved the beach.

After the wedding we stayed with Maureen’s aunt & uncle who had emigrated from the UK in 1951.  They were very hospitable and during one visit to the city via the old ‘red rattler’ we thought we would check something out.


The above shows Chelsea station, although part of the Melbourne network living in Chelsea gave the feel that you were in a small town rather than a major city.
Note the level crossing to allow the train to pass through . . . it was quiet, and the beach just a couple of minutes’ walk from the station.


Red Rattler 


inside of a ‘red rattler – I think the red rattlers was discontinued in 1985.


We arrived at the terminus in Melbourne, which is in the heart of the city.

Walking around the city we passed the Migration Services centre (I am not sure what the exact name was in 1978), but this was what I wanted to check out. 
From memory this office could give you permission to stay in Australia permanently. 

I queued and when it was my turn an Italian-Australian asked

‘What de u vant’

I said ‘I’d like to stay in Australia, please.’

‘What skil av u ?

‘I work for an airline.’

‘We don-t-a need you.’

‘But I can fly a B747!’ said, I lying to my back teeth.

‘We plenty pilot we don-a-need you – NEXT!’

A Vietnamese chap behind me with limited English was smiled at, and asked to sit down – PC had not been invented in at that time . . . 

After our holiday we arrived home in November 1978, and now I had to settle back into the routine of shift work and selling frozen food, and it was cold after the beautiful beach weather of Australia. 
To add to the cold weather mortgage rates were about to go up in early 1979 to just under 12%, we could no longer afford to live in our house or even in Congleton because of the cost of petrol and the proposed mortgage hike.


In March of 1979 the Prime Minister, James Callaghan lost a vote of confidence in the House, and he was forced to call a general election.

As all this was happening Maureen and I were discussing our future and we both considered that since our last visit eight years earlier, Australia had change in a positive way.  The living standard of the average man had increased considerably, but Maureen & I had the feeling that we were going backwards in the UK, because we were being forced to move closer to work because of the high mortgage rate and the cost of petrol to get to work.
Discussion in Parliament anticipated that the mortgage rate in 1980 would reach 15%. 
By July 1979 petrol prices for 2-star petrol had jumped to £1.40 per gallon (£7.13 today). The fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979 caused oil prices to skyrocket.

Instead of moving closer to Manchester airport we decided sell up and migrate to Australia – if they would have us.
The decision was made easier for me than Maureen, because I woke up one morning and found myself looking forward to retiring, I was only 33! 
I had to do something!


We booked a meeting with the Australian High Commission branch office in Manchester and arrived at the appointed time.

Chatsworth House

Chatsworth House in Manchester, where the Australian Migration offices were located. 

The meeting started a little ‘coldly’ because the person that we were meeting did not like living in England and told us so.
He complained about the way the British park their cars on the wrong side of the road. In Australia one would not dream of parking a car facing the wrong way.
He then told us that he was being posted to Germany and he was looking forward to the Munich beer festival because he did not like English beer.

We did not feel as if the meeting was going well.

He then asked if I had a criminal record, and in a fit of trying to lighten the meeting I replied that I did not think that I still required one. There was a long, long silence.

At that time migration to Australia was based on a point system, the applicant had to reach a certain number of points in total.
Points were given for being able to speak English, the education level of the applicant, the number of children, the age of the applicant, job skills of the applicant, the amount of cash that we were taking and so on. 
He then told us that if it was up to him he would not allow us to migrate because I was unemployable and at the top end of the age group, and he expected me to go on the dole as soon as we arrived in Australia.
But, under the points rule he had to sanction our migration because we were paying our own way and did not require government support – at that time the £10 POM had finished, and it was now a £50 POM system, which was not available for us.

We had our interview on the 9th April 1979 and it was 15th October when we received permission to migrate. 

sheet three01012021

On the 24th October, our passports arrived, which contained the visa to live in Australia. We had until 20th September 1980 to arrive in Australia, any later and we would not be allowed to migrate.

On the same day we put the house up for sale. 


I took this picture in 2008, during a driving holiday in the UK.

When we lived in this house the front living room window was a picture window from ceiling to floor giving us spectacular views over the valley. The bow window must have been put in by the new owners.  

The house was sold in two days, on the 26th October 1979. We could start packing . . . Australia here we come!

The legal process began at the speed of a snail. 

Late November / early December the mortgage rate increased to 15% and our buyers withdrew their offer.  

BOAC to British Airways


I joined BOAC in 1969 and in 1971 an Act of Parliament merged BOAC with BEA to take affect from 31 March 1974, which would create British Airways.

The UK had joined the Common Market, as it was called then, in January 1973, so the merger of the two government-controlled airlines made sense.

BOAC was a small cargo unit at Manchester Airport so it was obvious that the dominant partner would be BEA, who were focused on Europe, as against the global focus of BOAC.

The writing was on the wall for the BOAC staff, so I started to look at my future and perhaps changing jobs, but my skills were limited, except in transport.

So, I decided to go back to school, or to be exact a college that was connected to Manchester University, to study transport. I did this while working shift work at BOAC.

During my time studying I considered going back to sea on short trips to perhaps the Mediterranean ports. The wine trade from Spain and Portugal looked interesting, but this would still require me to be away from my wife for several weeks, which was not an attractive idea.

One weekend I saw an advert for a deck officer to work on the supply boast to the oil rigs in the North Sea.

I had seen pictures of the oil and gas rigs and thought, not a problem, so I applied and was invited for an interview in Great Yarmouth, which is in Norfolk, UK.
To get to Great Yarmouth from where I lived near Manchester Airport would require a six-hour drive, which I did with great anticipation.

On arrival in Great Yarmouth, I met the manager (owner?) of the supply vessels that serviced the gas and oil rigs off Great Yarmouth. All went well and I was offered the job of 2nd Mate on one of the supply vessels. I was over the moon with happiness.

The Manager explained the details of the job and offered suggestions of whether to move to Great Yarmouth or remain in Manchester and commute when require.
Each ‘shift’ was about a week on and a week off, so I had the choice of commuting.
The phone rang, and the manager answered it and asked me to sit in the waiting room while he took the call.
When I had arrived, I did not spend any time in the waiting room but was shown straight in to the manager’s office.

I sat in the waiting room and looked at the framed photographs around the walls.

Note the flat deck at the stern. This picture is from the internet

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I then began to study the other photographs around the wall.


This was not what I had in mind when I thought of going back to sea . . . 


The money was good, but was it that good???

N sea

Would my stomach accept the violent movement??

The above pictures are from the internet to illustrate what I was looking at while the manager was on the phone.
Eventually he came out of his office and saw me looking at the pictures, ‘What do you think?’ he asked.
I assumed he was asking about the quality of the photographs, but I deliberately ‘misunderstood ‘, and said ‘Thank you, but I don’t want the job.’

He thanked me and commented that I was not unusual once people had seen the photographs, at least he was honest with the lifestyle that he offered. 

I drove six hours back home and collapsed into bed. It had been an awfully long day & I would go back to college to study transport.

I was still restless and felt that I wanted a change before the amalgamation took place. There were jobs going in the Middle East working for Gulf Air, which my direct manager applied for and gained the position of cargo manager Bahrain.


I did see an advert for a cargo manager Saudi Arabian Airlines based in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia.
Maureen thought I was tailor made for the job. The money was particularly good, and we would have a house in a compound.
I explained that Riyadh was not the place to be for foreign women, and that she would not be able to drive or go shopping without me . . . . plus, the weather in July and August was not for the faint hearted, we lost interest in Saudi Arabian Airlines.
At that time BOAC had engineering staff based in Riyadh, and they refused to fly home with Saudi Arabian Airlines because they were DRY!  and they still are as far as I know.


A Saudi B707 plane at Heathrow.

A few weeks later one of my BOAC friends left to work in Dubai, I was not the only one who was unsettled. It would be over forty years later before I met this friend again in Dubai – by this time he considered Dubai to be his home, and he had his own company. Maureen & I had arrived in Dubai off a cruise ship. 

In 1974 our first child was born, so I had to pull my head in and concentrate on cash flow.
We lived 32 km (20 miles) south of the airport and the trip to work was through the countryside which was mainly a pleasant drive. I did not have a company car so transport was at my own expense.CCI23122018_0002

In the winter getting to work could be a problem – Maureen outside our house wondering if we can get the car to start, or even if we should bother because more than likely the roads would be impassable. 

The town in which we lived was Congleton and was over 700 years old. It was a quiet country town of about 11,000 people.

Congleton The Motto is ‘Sit Tibi Sancta Cohors Comitum’ – To Thee be the band of comrades dedicated.
The town also had the nick name of ‘Bear town’ hence the bear at the top of the town crest, which is from an incident in Elizabethan times when bear baiting was popular (today we leave the baiting to the media).
It is said that the town bear died before an annual holiday period so the people decided to use the money that they had saved to buy a Bible, to buy a bear instead, so as not to spoil the holiday period.
Later a rhyme became popular, which can still be heard, even when we lived in the town – ‘Congelton rare, Congleton rare, sold the Bible to buy a bear.’

We loved the house and the views across the valley with the River Dane flowing through the farmland. (left picture)

CCI23122018_0001      CCI23122018

As we stepped out of the front door and looked to our right there was more countryside. (right picture).

By now I’d passed my exams and became a Graduate of the Institute of Transport – in other words a right ‘GIT’. 

Our mortgage at the time was £5000 or £71,000 (approx. today), and income was £30 / week or £422 / week today, and the mortgage rate was 8.9%.

In 1976 our second child arrived, and things were getting tight, mortgage rate had jumped to over 9%, and would soon reach 11.2%

In 1970 petrol was 33 p a gallon (£4.65 today), in 1975 it was £0.55 (£7.75 a gallon today), I needed more overtime or find a way of earning extra cash.

I worked a five-shift pattern –

Day shift 9am – 5pm / early shift 7 am – 3 pm/ late shift 2 pm-10 pm/ evening shift 6pm – 2 am the following day, and night shift 11pm to 7 am, we were never more than two days on the same shift, so I had daylight time to consider how to add to my income. 

The people that I worked with were mostly males, but there were a few females, so I started buying eggs from local farms and selling them to the staff on the airport. Later I branched out by selling potatoes from other farms.
I could see a demand because buying from me saved my work colleagues shopping time when off duty.
Fortunately I had what the English call an ‘estate’ car, which the US and Australians call a ‘station’ wagon so I could carry quite a lot of goods if I dropped down the back seats. 


                            The above was not my car just the same model.

As time went on people started to ask for other items and I found out where ‘end of line’ products went when after the production line changed in a factory. I was now selling frozen food, all branded names such as Birds Eye, it was just that Birds Eye had changed their product line and sold off the excess of the old product to a dealer, and I had found the dealer.

This became so popular that I rented a 20,000 cubic foot freezer chamber from a Congleton butcher, to be able to buy larger volumes at a better price. In addition, I had three chest freezers in my garage.

I then moved into Steak Canadien, which were one pound (in weight) frozen packs of ten slices of beef in single packs. I began selling this item to pubs as well as staff on the airport.
These packs went down very well in pubs because each slice with a little lettuce & sliced tomato on a roll were popular with the public. I sold the packs at £1.00 a pack of ten and the pub sold each slice with the bun and salad for at least £1.00. The profit to the pub was huge.

sheet three27122020I also sold packs of four lamb steaks, each steak being four ounces of pure meat, very popular with children, as well as the pubs because one lamb steak and chips was a lunch time meal, and of course everyone would buy a beer . . .   


One unusual product, that I have not seen since, was a large frozen custard tart (catering size), which was very popular with families, including mine!  
Similar to the above, but frozen so you did not have to eat it all on the same day.

By 1978 I had earned enough profit for the four of us to fly to Australia to attend Maureen’s cousin’s wedding. We would be the only members of the UK side of the family able to attend. Few people went to Australia for a holiday!

Because I worked for British Airways, I could take advantage of ‘staff travel’, the airline sold discount tickets to staff.

beach 78

Chelsea Beach in Victoria, Australia.
October 1978.
Which was a short walk from Maureen’s uncle’s house.