Gilbert Islands


In 1788 Thomas Gilbert was the Captain of the Charlotte, which had sailed to Australia as part of the first fleet carrying convicts.
After discharging his convict passengers Captain Gilbert sailed for China and passed through a group of islands that we now know as The Gilbert Islands.
He made sketches of the islands and named Tarawa (marked with green above), Mathew Island after the owner of his ship. He also named the large lagoon Charlotte Bay after his ship. Fortunately his sketches have survived.


The lagoon . . .a beautiful spot.

He did obtain a cargo for the East India Company and sailed back to England.


South of Nauru you can see an island called Kiribati, which is the new name for Gilbert Island. Kiribati (pro Ki-ri-bass), which is how they pronounced Gilbert in their own language (Gilbertese). 

Kiribati consists of a thirty-three islands with a land mass of 803 sq km (310 sq miles) but spread across 5,180,000 sq km (2million square miles) of ocean. Tarawa, the atoll where I landed, is 208 km (80 miles) north of the Equator, which was home to about 2000 people, or one third of the total population of Kiribati.
Of this total, about 300 were Europeans mainly British, Australian & Kiwis mostly employed as ‘advisors’.
The people were big in to ‘Manyana’, but done very politely.  

The height of the land above the sea was about 2.5 mtrs (8 feet), fortunately the weather was fine.   


Tarawa airport 001

arrival hall

Tarawa arrival Hall was quiet . . . 

The flight from Nauru was not a long flight but when I stepped out of the aircraft the heat hit me. Above is the passenger terminal and arrival hall, where I was met by our agent Kenton, who was the British Government advisor to the Kiribati Co-Op Wholesale Society, thankfully shortened to KCWS, but known locally as K-C.
He took me to a hotel in Batio, (pro Bay-she-oh), which is the capital on the main atoll of Tarawa.

Hotel 001

My hotel is the green building.



After the empty suite in Nauru my room in Batio was small . . . . the white door with the red knob was the bathroom door.

I switched on the air-conditioning unit in the hope that it would cool the place down – the agent and I had agreed that he would show me around in the morning – he said that it would be cooler. I only hoped that I would not fade away with heat stroke in the meantime.

I tried to cool off in the shower, but the water pressure was not all the at good, so I sat in the bar, which was the coolest place in the hotel. At that time, they did not have their own beer but imported Australian beer, I did not care as long as it was cold.

Reception 001

The drinks were cold, and the people were friendly, and the tuna fish was fresh.
During one conversation when ordering a beer I did ask about the strange patterns on the wooden floor. Apparently, they were ‘argument’ patterns – a few beers and a wrong word and it was fight time with bottles and knives.

They did not have TV and the radio only broadcast for three hours a day.

I went to bed early.

Next morning at breakfast I picked up the menu – it was the same one from the previous evening. I realised that the menu was not for choosing anything, but to read and be aware of what you might not receive, because the food was reliant on what had arrived from Australia or New Zealand in the last week or so. The one thing that was super fresh was the fish, all locally caught, but most other foods came from overseas.

I commented to the young lady who wanted to know what I wanted for breakfast, that the pattern had changed on the floorboards. She shrugged and said, ‘They fight’, and then asked what I would like for breakfast as if the blood stains were normal, which I suppose they were.

I asked for black coffee, toast, and marmalade.
‘Marmalade is Off’ she said.
‘What kind of jam do you have’, I asked.
‘We have jam jam and we have marmalade jam.’
‘I would like toast and marmalade jam, please.’
‘OK’ she said, everything was very proper and it was hard to keep a straight face.


Kenton arrived on time and I was given the Cook’s tour of the atoll.

Local bank in Batio 001

Tarawa 002

It was a mixture of traditional and modern, but interesting and as English is the national language I could ask as many questions as I liked.

Graves 001

Near the old WW2 airstrip, I was shown a local cemetery. The depth of the soil is very shallow and to mark a grave they would use old beer bottles.
beer bottlesAbove is a closeup of one of the graves. office

KC imported basic foods and general items, mainly by sea, and then they would supply the various shop who were members of the Co-Operative.  

I knew that our agent would not survive on our traffic alone – it was just a sideline for him – but it was a pleasure to see our company name SKYPAK displayed prominently, and he wanted more stickers & signs.
The people in the above picture worked for KC.

The main problem that I had was communicating with Kiribati from Sydney – Kiribati was not linked via ISD so if I wished to speak to Kenton I had to go through an operator. . . which sometimes was very time consuming. 


The flag of Kiribati

The flag of Kiribati is red in the upper half with a gold frigate flying over a gold rising sun, and the lower half is blue with three horizontal wavy white stripes to represent the ocean and the three island groups, Gilbert, Phoenix and Line Islands.
The 17 rays of the sun represent the 16 Gilbert Islands and Banaba Island, which used to be called Ocean Island.

Next stop Ellice Is. now called Tuvalu = Eight standing together . . . 




The red symbol is Nauru

Air Nauru

My next trip was to review our delivery agency in Nauru and two other Pacific Islands.

To get to the other two islands I had to travel via Nauru, which under normal circumstances would not be a problem except that the Air Nauru service from Australia to Nauru was ‘intermittent’.
One of the problems being that if the President of Nauru wished to visit another country he would ‘borrow’ an Air Nauru aircraft, which was a problem for the airline because they only had three B737/200’s with the capacity to fly to Australia. Allowing for maintenance and the service to Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney the removal of an aircraft to satisfy the President created a huge problem.
In 1983 they had two B727s and five B737/200’s so Air Nauru at that time, had enough seating capacity to carry 10% of the total population of Nauru.
The size of the population at the time was about 8000, living on an island that is 21 sq km (eight square miles).


The country of Nauru became the 187th member of the UN in 1999 and is the smallest island nation in the world and the third smallest country, after the Vatican & Monaco. Nauru is also in the Commonwealth.

The country has been inhabited for about 3000 years, the people arriving from Polynesia and Micronesia.


There are three main cultural areas in the Pacific – Micronesia, Polynesia, and Melanesia.  

Nauru’s first contact with Europeans was in 1798 when the British whaling vessel Hunter called at the island and the captain of the Hunter was so impressed with the natives and the island that he named the island Pleasant Island. The island retained this name for ninety years until the Germans arrived and annexed the island in 1888.


The flag of Nauru and the star has twelve points represent the original 12 tribes who lived on Pleasant Island.

The island was incorporated into German New Guinea and renamed Nawodo or Onawero. The island was a lush paradise at the time.

During a visit to the island by a cargo ship in 1896, the cargo officer found a strange looking rock that he thought was petrified wood. He picked up the rock and took it back to Sydney and used it as a door stop.


The actual door stop

In 1899 Albert Ellis, who worked for the phosphate division of the same
company as the cargo officer, was visiting the Sydney office and saw the door stop and commented that it was phosphate, but the cargo officer insisted that it was wood.

Some weeks later Albert Ellis tested the ‘wooden’ rock and found that it was high grade phosphate. The discovery generated great interest and a company called Pacific Phosphate was created.

In 1906 the right to mine was obtained and after WW1 the right to mine was obtained by the British Phosphate Commission, which was created by the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.

During WW1 Australia captured Nauru from Germany and mechanized the mining. 

The Japanese captured the island in WW2 and at the end of WW2 the UN put the island under trustee of the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.

In 1968 Nauru gained independence and by 1968 one third of Nauru had been stripped mined.
The mining of phosphate by 1975 made the Nauruan people extraordinarily rich and only the people of Saudi Arabia were richer. The Royalties Trust for the Nauru people was worth over one Billion USD.
The government did not levy income tax, education was free, as was the health care and most people worked for the government – immigrants worked the mines.

The profits from the mining went into a trust fund for the people and they did invest profitably at times. In 1988 the Trust bought 600 acres (2.4 sq km) of land near Portland, Oregon and sold allotments to the locals to build their homes, once 75% of the allotments had been sold the homeowners took over control.

In 1977 Nauru Trust built Nauru House in Melbourne, 52 floors and 183 mtrs (600 feet) tall.

800px-Nauru_house     Nauru House, or 80 Collins Street Melbourne, which is still owned by the people of Nauru. It was the tallest building in Melbourne at the time, but only for a year.

When I arrived in Nauru in the 1980’s I was met by our agent who had booked me in to the best hotel, or so he said, and I had a suite.


It was called Menen Hotel and at the time I think it was the only hotel, so the agent was not lying.


The above two pictures are off the internet and were taken recently, but I do not see any change than when I was there 35 years ago – the pool is still empty.

st 01

Part of my suite – the shirt over the stool is mine and the stools are at the bar.

st02The bar was dry as a bone, and you can just see the bedroom on the right.

During the night I was woken by a strange sound as if someone were scratching on the main door of the suite.
I went to investigate only to find large crabs in the hallway and a couple were scratching at my door trying to get in . . . I kicked them back from the door and saw quite a few ‘walking’ down the corridor. I shut the suite door quickly and tried to get back to sleep-crabs are not my favourite idea of a pet or as a meal. Continue reading “Nauru”

Coffee Country


Papua New Guinea’s flag.

After my trip to Singapore and the other Asian offices I was asked to visit our next-door neighbour Papua New Guinea, because TNT had offices in this country and we planned to use these inter-company connections as our agent for courier traffic.
This was the start of my Pacific Island-hopping time.


The map shows Australia and Papua New Guinea – the red dot on the Australia is Sydney and the red dot on the yellow area, which is PNG, is the capital Port Moresby.

It is thought that people have lived in PNG for over 60,000 years and it was not until the Portuguese and Spanish arrived in the 16th century that the first Europeans took notice of the area around PNG.

Jorge de Menezes, a Portuguese explorer arrived in about 1526 and is thought to have named the people ‘Papua’, which is a Malay word for frizzy hair of the local people.

Later, about 1545 the Spanish arrived and named the area New Guinea because they considered that the locals reminded them of the natives of West Africa around Guinea.

Over the years various Europeans have navigated around what we now know as PNG and in the 1870’s a Russian Nicholai Miklukho-Maklai arrived and lived with the locals for some years.


Nicholai Miklukho-Maklai

He does not look all that happy, perhaps he is thinking of returning to a Russian winter.

In 1883 the colony of Queensland tried to annex part of PNG, but the British Government did not approve until Germany took an interest and started settlements in the northern areas of PNG, at which time the British, in 1884, declared the southern area of Papua New Guinea a British protectorate.
It was called British New Guinea, which, in 1902 was placed under the control of Australia, and remained so until independent in 1975, except for four years when the northern part was under the control of the Japanese (1941 -45).

At the beginning of WW1 Australian troops took control of German New Guinea until the end of the war.
In 1921 the League of Nations gave Australia a mandate to govern the ex- German territory and Australia did so until independence.

I found PNG to be a fascinating place and the staff at the main TNT office in Port Moresby were very hospitable and full of local knowledge.

I love odd bits of trivia – such as – in PNG until 1933 seashells were used as the local currency.


PNG has the only poisonous bird in the world – the   Hooded Pitohui

Port Moresby_article

and on a brighter note – Port Moresby the capital, I know it has had troubles in the recent past but in the late 1980’s it was peaceful and a friendly place.

I was only in POM (the code for Port Moresby airport) for a couple of days and it was a ‘getting to know’ you trip, rather than a hard business trip of negotiations for maximising profit.

On leaving I was presented with a large carton of Papua New Guinea coffee. In the carton were small solid bricks of vacuumed packed ground coffee, and until I visited Papua New Guinea I had not tried PNG coffee.

From memory I am sure it was Goroka coffee, but the packaging was not as fancy in the late 80’s. Goroka is an area in the Eastern Highlands.


Try this link for Black Coffee if you like

Black coffee

 A blast from the past . .

Fly Me To The Moon



Life had become busy busy busy after I settled into working at Head Office in Sydney.

The onboard courier system had expanded greatly. Each courier was obliged to collect their courier bags on arrival at the destination airport, and the bags were getting heavier as business expanded. Bags used to be around 10 to 15 kilos each, so the bags could be handled – to a point. 

Company staff were not allowed into the arrival hall to help the courier, so we had to be creative.   

As the business grew so the weight of the courier bags grew to around 20 to 30 kilos each. The courier was only allowed hand baggage for their personal needs because the Company used all the weight allocated to the ticket, plus a great deal more, which was classed as excess baggage.
To travel as a courier the cost was of the ticket was about ten percent of the actual true cost – we were never short of couriers, particularly on the London or Los Angeles run.
In the above picture the lady in yellow is stowing a small courier satchel. This was everybody’s idea of an onboard courier. In the satchel would have been details of the courier bags in the aircraft hold. She would only have hand baggage.

The size of the courier bag was more like the one being handled in the above advert, and it would weigh between 25 to 30 kilos.

I represented the Company as a member of the International Courier Association, which was created to represent all Australian international courier companies when dealing with the State or Federal Governments, and of course Customs.  

The ICA (International Courier Association) had many meetings with Qantas Cargo to create an express system through Sydney Airport for courier material, and to end the requirement for a courier to be on the aircraft.

It was an interesting time as the international courier industry matured and the likes of DHL Couriers began a regular evening service to New Zealand using their own B 727.


Finally, Qantas agreed to our suggestion if we would move our courier traffic from British Airways to Qantas.
Qantas had to obtain the agreement from customs for an express clearance for the express traffic. 

In the 1980’s it was easy for Qantas to deal with customs and the various governmental departments because they were a government owned airline.

In 1993 the Australian Government sold 25% of Qantas to British Airways, and in 1995 they sold the remaining 75% to the public, and Qantas became a public company listed on the Australian stock exchange. 

Qantas obtained agreement from all parties and the EHU was born (Express Handling Unit) with its own General Manager.
At last we (as an industry) could stop using onboard couriers but maintain express customs clearance.
The EHU would save us money in the purchase of the passenger tickets and the screening of couriers. The couriers that we used were no longer employees going on holiday, but ‘outsiders’ who had to be screened to be acceptable as couriers.

The revenue loss of the passenger tickets to Qantas was redistributed from Qantas passenger to Qantas freight, because Qantas charged a fee for the use of the EHU – but it was not as high as their passenger ticket.

Life was changing as Qantas Airlines realised that they had to pay attention to the ‘new’ international courier industry.

Now that the EHU was running smoothly I wanted to implement an idea I had once we had rid ourselves of the requirement for a body in a seat to obtain fast customs clearance.    


The inbound aircraft from the UK stopped at Singapore and I wanted our courier traffic to be split amongst the various daily Qantas services from Singapore to Australian capital cities, during the time that the London to Sydney aircraft was in transit in Singapore.
This would increase our service standard for our Australian consignees and British shippers.

During the creation of the OBC service all the traffic would arrive in Sydney where it was sorted into major Australian destinations and forwarded by air each afternoon. Only Melbourne would receive their traffic in time for an afternoon delivery, and occasionally, to a lesser extent, Brisbane.

By breaking the shipment in Singapore this would allow each major station to receive their traffic on the same day rather than wait for an overnight service from Sydney.
In addition to the enhanced service this would save us domestic linehaul costs (domestic airfreight charges) and increase our profit line.

Later we added Adelaide once Qantas introduced the SIN/ADL service.   

I was invited by our regional office in Singapore to visit Singapore to discuss the transit splitting with Qantas Singapore and how Singapore traffic could be added to the re-directed London origin traffic.

Singapore added on another ‘little’ requirement – they wanted ideas as to how to refine the Singapore pick-up/delivery services. 

While I was in Singapore I visited Jakarta for a day, Kuala Lumpur for a day and two days in Bangkok. It was a tiring time collecting stamps in my passport.

On my return to Sydney, I received a phone call from Singapore requesting recommendations for a manager to develop and expand the pick-up and delivery drivers in Singapore. 
Sydney lost their courier driver manager – he and his wife moved to Singapore and from memory lived there for about ten years before moving to Tasmania to open an up-market B & B.

Not long after the loss of Sydney’s Manager of couriers I was asked to suggest the right man for a manager to be seconded to the New Delhi office for about three months to train their operational staff.

Sydney lost one of their operational shift managers.

I was not popular with the NSW State Manager . . . . . .  

dip bag


TNT Skypak handled all of the non-sensitive diplomatic mail for the Australian Government, which is why I think we were asked to handle a special job.

The General Manager dropped the fax on my desk and said ‘fix this for Canberra  . . . ‘

The fax was from the Australian Government with a request to arrange a chartered aircraft to carry humanitarian goods to Bangladesh during the 1987 floods.

I did wonder why the Government did not use the Royal Australian Air Force, perhaps because they did not wish to be seen flying RAAF planes in a sensitive (politically speaking) area.  

DC 8

Australia sent food, water purification tablets, medicines etc. 
The above is a DC8 freighter (cargo plane), which I chartered. I found the picture on the internet and removed the company logo. I cannot remember the freighter company that I used, but I do remember that it was a DC8.

From an operational aspect I found the exercise challenging and interesting to organise the charter, the loading of the aircraft and export customs clearance, and not make a profit.JL

I titled this post Fly Me To The Moon due to the number of times I saw the moon in and out of Singapore, but Julie London sings it a lot better than me. 


A shot in the dark?


The photograph was taken from within the Sydney building that I worked in the mid 1980’s.
On this particular day we were having a lunchtime BBQ, partly to farewell the person in the Arab costume, (he is at the BBQ), he was being transferred to the Middle East.

Between the building in which I worked, and the other building that can be seen was a public road – we were expanding fast.


The windows above the staff are part of the mezzanine floor, and this is where I worked. I was not responsible for the daily running of the Sydney operation, but I liked to watch the processing of the consignments. When the above was taken it was a presentation for a sales person’s birthday.

I had been working in Sydney for some months and had settled into my new position and was enjoying the whole experience and regional responsibility. 

I think it was a Thursday, which was pay day, that it happened. I was stretching my legs as I walked the length of the mezzanine floor and stopped in front of my desk.
I glanced down as the pay van was about to leave after handing over the staff wages to the paymaster. At that time, the nonmanagerial staff were paid in cash and the paymasters office was on the ground floor. All appeared in order, so I sat down at my desk. As soon as I sat down the robbery began.

To get everyone’s attention the robber fired a revolver, and the bullet went through the glass window in front of my desk, over my head and hit the air-conditioning pipes. The bullet drilled a hole through the glass window, which did not shatter.
The bullet bounced off the solid pipe and landed on my desk!
A few seconds earlier when I was looking down on to the operations floor the bullet would have hit me in the head.

Nobody was hurt during the robbery and the bandits escaped with the staff wages. 
The police arrived and took statements from everyone in the vicinity, including myself as the police removed the spent bullet. 
Some week later six or eight of us (I cannot remember the exact number) were required to attend court and testify against the accused – the police had caught the gunman and his accomplice. Of course, we made the newspapers, but the Company had already switched paying the staff via the banking system.  Paying in cash was a hangover from the origin of the Company when things were a lot smaller and easier to control.

 Sometime later I was asked to be in an advert for selling international newspapers – grey hair turning white opens a few doors.


I do not know how many newspapers they sold using the above advert, in any . .


Above is the reverse side of the advert explaining the details of Newsfast, basically whatever newspaper that you wished to receive Newsfast could supply.

This trip in to advertising caused a small demand. . . only from TNT Skypak of course . . . . 

advertadvertadvert01advert            advert02

Later the Company decided that they wanted a TV/cinema advert to illustrate transporting documents, via OBC, (On board courier) from London to Sydney.

There was a script of sorts, but the pleasant thing was that the Company had hired a professional film crew and we were out on the harbour in a large private ‘cruiser’, something like the one below, but not this one as it was about thirty years ago. 


There were four Company staff members, including myself and the film crew. I was to play the General Manager of the Sydney company, the Company’s financial controller played the finance man, and we had one of the female staff to play the secretary, but I cannot remember the fourth person’s position.
None of us had done any acting or film work in the past so to get us relaxed at 9.30 am the film ‘director’ opened a bottle of Champaign, and after a couple of glasses we were all relaxed!
We cruised around the harbour bridge area zig zagging in and out of the bridge’s shadow depending on the shot and the position of the sun.

As the General Manager I was obliged to use the latest piece of executive equipment to show how important I was – a mobile phone like the one shown above. How things have changed.

A few weeks later we had the ‘Premier’ of the advert, which obviously concentrated on how TNT Skypak could satisfy the London client’s requirements.
With shots of the Sydney courier driving to the client’s office and the ‘Manager’ (me) asking for more speed of our cruiser (shots of the harbour bridge) as I had just received a telephone call (see above picture) that the urgent document had arrived early . . . also in the advert were shots of planes, and the processing system within the Company’s Sydney premises.

The four new acting sensations were just a flash in the pan, but the Champaign was very welcome.

I have never seen the advert since that ‘Premier’ showing, nor could I find it on the Internet. Perhaps it has been censored for being too corny.

A Shot In The Dark  

Have passport will travel


As soon as we had the required time living in Australia we applied for Australian citizenship in Melbourne.
It was planned for us to take the oath and to attend a citizen ceremony until Skypak asked me to move to Sydney, which put an end to our citizenship plans in Melbourne.
We had to start all over again in Sydney once we were settled into our own house, rather than the rented accommodation in which we lived for about six months. 

Maureen & I were interviewed to make sure we were suitable citizens and after the interview we were asked to swear allegiance to Australia, and to Queen Elizabeth the second of Australia. 
Being pedantic I could not help myself and said that Queen Elizabeth was Queen Elizabeth the first of Australia, not Queen Elizabeth the second, because Australia had not been discovered during Queen Elizabeth the first’s reign.
Being a smart alec at such a time, was not my best move – 

‘Do you wish to become an Australian?’ I was asked, which I answered,


‘Then swear the oath’ – I swore the oath.

The above picture is just the top part of my certificate there is more, but I just wanted the coat of arms and my name. 

All new citizens were ‘processed’ as detailed above, but it is not until Australia Day, 26th January, do we attend a ceremony to be presented with our certificate. This takes place in the applicant’s local area and the dignitary who officiates at the presentation might be the local Federal or State politician or in our case was our local President of our local Council (Mayor).
There were a lot of us who were becoming Australian citizens, from a mix of races and backgrounds. The Shire President (Mayor), who had a Scottish accent, gave a speech of welcome and Maureen and I had a problem understanding some of the President’s speech and when I looked around there were several blank faces, particularly amongst the Asian and African new Australians. The President’s accent was quite strong.


The family with the President of Sutherland Shire.

After the ceremony our native-born Australian friends had a party for us and presented us with a box of Australian items considering that we were now Australian.
Australian beer, Vegemite, Arnot’s biscuits, Koon cheese etc.    


and of course, a homemade cake.

I had exchanged . . .

            UK passport



Oz passport

Oz stamped

nothing had changed because passport control love to use their stamps . . .

Both Australia and the UK have historically strong links so dual nationality is not a problem for both countries.
When I travel I always carry both passports because certain third countries favour Australia over the UK and visa-versa e.g a visa to visit Vietnam is free for a British passport holder, and about $70 to $90 for an Australian passport holder, so dual nationality has a cost benefit.
Before I became an Australian citizen I travelled around the Pacific Islands, Hong Kong & the United States on my British passport.
After I became an Australian I travelled as an Australian to the same destinations and many other destinations without a problem.
I must admit that arriving in the UK on a British is easier and quicker with a British passport than an Australian passport holder, all due to the UK being a member of the EEC. 
It will be interesting to see what happens now that the UK has left the EEC. 

I had hardly got my feet under the table at Skypak (now TNT Skypak) that I was offered the operations manager’s position running the UK.
I turned the job down because it had taken us two years to migrate, and I was happy with the Australian life style.



January 1986

Sydney time . . .

Before the sale of our house in Melbourne was finalised, I was required to fly to Sydney each Monday morning and stay in the airport until close of business on Friday evening, after which I would fly back to Melbourne.
At that time, the hotel near the airport was the Hilton, and I became so familiar with their menu that I was able to order an evening meal without studying the menu.
It sounds an exciting life, but laptops had not been invented, nor the mobile phone, and the city was an expensive taxi ride away because the rail link had not been built and buses did not stop anywhere near the hotel. I read a lot of books.

The above picture shows the current hotel which is the Novotel / Mecure Hotel, which is in the Accor Group of hotels.
The building has also been a Holiday Inn hotel, but the building is the same as I remember thirty-five years ago.

The area now known as Walli Creek was an industrial area in 1985 and was part of Arncliffe until redevelopment started and the area that was redeveloped became Walli Creek after the creek of the same name.


From industry to . . .


What a change of view from my stay in the Hilton.
The picture is from the current hotel’s web site.

As the time for moving from Melbourne became imminent the Company flew Maureen to Sydney for a long weekend, which we used to find a house to rent for about six months while we looked around for a house to buy.
I asked my colleagues for suggestions as to which suburb to consider living and perhaps buying in, the overwhelming suggestion was Sutherland Shire, because it was ‘beachy’, on a railway line, close to the airport, but not too close, and affordable. The river scene at the start of my blog is of the river about a hundred metres from my house. I cannot see it from the house, but the view is just around the corner.     plumber-sutherland-shire

The picture above is of Sutherland Shire beach in the suburb of Cronulla in Sutherland Shire, about thirty minutes from where I live. Cronulla is on the ocean, not Botany Bay and Sutherland Shire is known locally as just, ‘The Shire’.
It was called such well before J. R. R. Tolkien’s (1916-1971) fictional Middle-earth’s ‘Shire’, described in The Lord of the Rings.

Sutherland Shire is named after Forby Sutherland who was a member of the crew of HMS Endeavour, Captain James Cook in command.
Sutherland died of consumption on the 2nd of May 1770 and was the first British subject to die in Australia and the first European to die in New South Wales.

Captain Cook arrived in Australia on the 29th of April 1770, and after Sutherland’s death he named a point of land at the eastern end of Botany Bay, ‘Sutherland Point’.


Captain Cook’s monument at Kurnell, Sutherland Shire 

We found a house to rent in The Shire and later bought in The Shire, and still live in the house that we bought in 1985.  
The house we bought is smaller than the Melbourne house because Sydney prices are higher, so the dollar had to go further.

In 1985 the population of the Shire was about 170,000 and the drive to work took me about thirty minutes. Today with a population of around 230,000 the journey would be a lot longer.

My time at work had been taken up with ‘finding my feet’ and organising a standard procedure of operation in the six Australian offices and the three New Zealand Offices.
I also had to make myself known to our network of agents across the Pacific south of the Equator. My only communication facility with the agents was via fax or phone.  

Papua New Guinea, PNG  same time zone as Sydney

New Caledonia, New Cal  the flag in the 1980’s, time zone plus one hour 

Vanuatu, Vanuatu  time zone plus one hour

Solomon Islands, solomon time zone plus one hour

Nauru, Nauru time zone plus two hours

Kiribati,  Kiribati  (pronounced Kiri-bass) the old name was the Gilbert Islands – time zone plus two hours 

Tuvalu,  Tuvalu the old name was Ellis Is., time zone plus two hours

Cook Is, cook time zone minus twenty hours 

Fiji, fiji  time zone plus two hours

Western Samoa, Samoa time zone minus twenty-one hours in the 1980’s and 90’s. 
In 2011 on the 29th December Western Samoa cancelled the 30th December and ‘restarted’ on the 31 st December.
By doing this they ‘moved’ the date line because most of their business was with New Zealand, Australia and Asia and they wished to be in a similar time zone. Today W Samoa is plus three hours from Sydney.

American Samoa, A Samoa time zone minus twenty-one hours.
Can you imagine doing business between W. Samoa and American Samoa today, the flight between the two countries is about twenty minutes, but different days. 

Tonga, Tonga time zone plus three hours

Tahiti, Tahiti  in French Polynesia. Time zone minus twenty-hours

I had a small problem when I wanted to speak to our agent in W. Samoa, American Samoa, Cook Is. or Tahiti because when it was Monday in Sydney it was Sunday in their country, so our working week was a day short – unless I spoke to them from home on my Saturday, which was their Friday. 

In New Caledonia & Tahiti our agent had to be bi-lingual in English and French because I could not speak French – which is why the original title of my blog was to be ‘I’ll never go abroad’, being the answer, that I gave my French teacher when I was thirteen after failing a French exam.
She asked me how I proposed to speak to anyone when I went to France. I still cringe at my answer.   

On the move again. . .

Con note

It was 1982 and things were ticking over nicely, but I was unhappy with our consignment notes that we handed out to our customers. The above example was produced as continuous stationery, partly to make the production easier and partly to maximise the stowage of new consignment notes into neat piles once the box was opened. We would supply our larger customers with boxes of stationery so that they could share the blank consignments notes out to various departments.

It was in late 1982 that I was introduced to Alec who I met through a mutual friend. Alec was a computer programmer and had recently created a program for Melbourne transport system. He was ex RAF and trained in the field of electronics before migrating to Australia. 


I bought a TRS 80 for my son & I to play with, I liked the very primitive strategy games, and my son liked the ping pong games.
The above is not the exact model but it gives an idea of how ‘primitive’ computers were in the early 1980’s.
E-mail, as we know it today, had not been invented and the internet was still in the future. 

Within a short time, I came to realise what could be done with a ‘computer’ in Skypak.

On meeting Alec and speaking with him about the possibilities for computers I realised that I had met someone who understood completely some of my daft ideas.
I had been puzzling how to pre-print consignment notes with the customer’s details already completed in the shipper’s field of the consignment note.
To make life easier for our customer to use us would help retain that customer, even at a higher overall rate than our competitors.   

I had considered an electric typewriter, but this would require a staff member to insert a new consignment note to preprint a client’s address on each note, which was too labour intensive and uneconomical.

I bounced a few ideas off Alec and explained about the continuous run stationery and the positioning of the consignment note every time we wished to print. Alec made notes and took sample consignment notes away with him.  

At that time, we had a limited computer system in the office. It was used mainly for communicating with head office in Sydney via a dedicated telephone line.
It had a printer attached to print pre-alerts of inbound shipments so that our staff could meet the aircraft on arrival. The office was about a twenty-minute drive to the airport. The system was similar to an early fax machine. 

Alec returned a few days later with a machine and a 5 1/4-inch floppy disc.


For those who do not know what a 5 1/4-inch disk looks like , the above is an example.
Alec attached his small machine to the inhouse computer screen and inserted his floppy disk into his attachment and up popped a layout of a consignment note – he then typed in the detail of our address and inserted several consignment note in to the attached printer that usually typed out pre-alerts.
This time it typed out consignment notes with the same address on each . . .
This might seem a small thing to have created, but for us in the early 1980’s it was a huge step forward.
We began to produce pre-printed consignment notes for our major customers.

Within days I was receiving faxes from our overseas offices who wanted to know how the pre-printed consignment notes were produced.
Because I did not own the simple program (simple compared to today’s world) and had not yet come to agreement with Alec, I told our overseas offices that I would pre-print consignment notes on behalf of their customers for one Australian cent per consignment note. . . . 

Within days I had a steady revenue stream that went to the profit line of the Melbourne office.
It did not take long for head office to phone me and ask why I was using so many consignment notes from our stationery stock, yet our shipments had not increased . . . once again the accounts department had picked that something odd was going on in Melbourne!

The next system was to create a POD (proof of delivery) system that recorded the details of each shipment, and in particular the date & time of delivery and the person’s name who signed for the item. At that time, it was all completed manually, and we would file the delivery sheet in case it was required in the future.
Now I wanted Alec to create what we now call a data base so that it would be far faster to find the information that go through reams of paper files. I tried but could not find a way of making this system into a profit line.

While all this was going on we still had to sell our services, and for me it was an exciting and busy time.

In 1983 the sales manager obtained the forms to apply for the Governor of Victoria’s Export Award, which was an annual event. The award went to a company for outstanding international success in the professional business services including legal, accounting, administration, and support services.
We spent hours refining the ‘pitch’ of our application.

When the awards came out it was a great surprise to all of us that we had won the award and in addition we were the first service industry to win this award. Traditionally it was a manufacturing company that would win such an award. Perhaps it was because we were one hundred percent focused on the export market – we did not offer a domestic courier service, only international.


Being the State manager, I made the front cover of Business, but could not have done so if it had not been for the support of all the staff. The actual award was presented at Government House by His Excellency the Governor.

In March 1981 Maureen and I bought land in Sunbury on which we would build our house.


The day the first bricks arrived on site we drove to the site to make sure that the brisk were the bricks that we wanted. Our children in the above picture are now 47 (daughter) and 45 (son) how time flies. 

house 1

The house as it was in 1985 – we still had the Holden Station wagon, which can just be seen – this was Maureen’s car. The building behind the car is a ‘granny flat’ a complete unit for Maureen’s parents – completely independent from our house, but its position allowed us to keep an eye on her parents. Life was good and we were happy living in Sunbury.  

Sometimes success can be a trojan horse – creating short cuts in the operational area and forcing down our international transport costs caused the GM to ask me to move to Sydney and take over the Regional Operational job.

This meant that I would have the responsibility for the operation of the company from Perth in W. Australian to Tahiti in Polynesia.

I did not want the job because I was happy in Melbourne, as was Maureen and the children. 

I offered to do the job working from Melbourne, but this was rejected because I would be too close to my replacement and this might cause problems.
Plus, the position was a head office position, which required all the head office staff to be in proximity of each other. 

While I was in ‘limbo’ – the house was up for sale and the new manager had taken over my old position, and the Company opened a satellite office not far from the main Melbourne office to allow me to write an airfreight manual, because the Company was being offered larger and larger sized consignments that were too large for our onboard courier system and they required a standard system of operation.

Writing the manual was an interesting task because I did not have to worry about the day to day activities of the Melbourne office, I had other worries . .  

OIP (1)

Life revolved around research, coffee, cigarette’s and a keyboard

I did have a side trip to Hong Kong, because while I was still manager, we gained a large movement of annual reports from one of the major banks in Melbourne.
The banks were obliged by law to publish their annual report and to send a copy to every share holder however large or small – posting was expensive, because many of their shareholders lived overseas.
The reports would be printed in Hong Kong, so the Company sent me to oversee the procedure and arrange the global distribution for about 77,000 shareholders. The total weight was 6,600 kilos (6.5 tons).
It was an interesting exercise and I was there for about a week because the law required that the reports had to enter the postal system on the same day – we air freighted the reports to our offices in the UK, US, Singapore, Australia, N.Z, Japan, S. Africa to name just a few destinations, with instructions to post on a particular day so that we could prove the date of posting globally.
We invoiced the bank for a lot less than it would have cost to post the reports from a single origin place such as Australia or Hong Kong.
The service we offered was called Mailfast and I think it is still available, it used to be called Multi-mail, and thanks to the internet if you do a search on either name the result will show details of multi-e-mails, how time have changed.  


I first visited Hong Kong in 1963, it had that feel of excitement, and that feeling was still there in the mid 80’s. I took the above photograph and the one below during the business trip.



Hong Kong – in happier times, mid 1980’s

A few weeks later I was in London for a global meeting of ops managers.
Maureen rang me – she had sold the house – I could no longer drag my feet –
Sydney here we come. 


Christmas 1981 to Feb 1983.

It was getting close to Christmas 1981 so what to do about a staff Christmas party? Christmas in Australia is our summertime, so we would not be interested in a log fire, hot mead and Ho Ho Ho.
Ideas were bounced around from restaurants (very expensive) to a cash outlay to allow the staff to do their own thing . . . but I wanted something special.
It was the sales manager who came up with the answer – a Christmas picnic and a spot of water skiing at Bonnie Doon. The sales manager also had a speed boat, and she was happy for us to ski as long as the Company paid for the fuel – not a problem.
I had not heard of Bonnie Doon and had to look it up. It was about 170 kms (about 105 miles), North East of Melbourne.


The town of Doon was named after Doon in Ireland, but others say it is of Scottish origin, and was originally a central area for the local farms and over time the small town grew, so that in 1866 a post office was opened.
In 1869 six Chinese men bought the mining rights in the Dry Creek area for £45 (about £5,391 today or AUD $9672) and started to look for gold.
They found 19 oz (538 grams) of gold in one week.
Using the current price of gold this equates to AUD$43,358, about four and a half times times the value of the cost of the mining rights.

Hundreds of men followed, and a canvas town was created and they named this town Doon.

It was not until 1891 when the first steam train arrived in Doon that the town was renamed Bonnie Doon.

In 1915 Goulburn and Delatite rivers were dammed to construct Sugarloaf Reservoir.
The area expanded as a farming community, so it was decided to expand Sugarloaf Reservoir and raise the weir, now called Eildon weir. The population at this time was about 400.
In 1955 there was heavy rain in the catchment area and thousands of acres were flooded and much of the town disappeared as the water rose, the Eildon weir had become Eildon Lake.

I wanted a special cake for the occasion, so I gave my business card to Maureen and she arranged for the cake . . .



The cake was as colourful as the badge shown below, it is just that the only photograph I could find of the cake has faded over the years.

cake o3

All the plans were made and the date fixed, which was a Saturday, and then the General Manager rang me to ask what we were going to do for the staff Christmas party. He seemed quite pleased with the Bonnie Doon idea, so I felt obliged to ask him to join us.

The General Manager arrived in the office on the Friday before the party and this was the first time he had seen the staff in uniform. I was not sure how he would feel about the large ‘stationery’ bill.

Fortunately, he liked what he saw and told me that within a few weeks the new uniform would be worn by the warehouse staff in all Australian offices. Now I felt that I could enjoy Christmas.
Our Christmas a lunch was a large BBQ and those who wished to ski could do so.


Yours truly on real skies as against the hatch board attempt in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) during my time at sea.


Overall, the Christmas BBQ was a great success, particularly for the staff to meet the GM at a social occasion. 
During the following years I got to know the GM quite well, and always found him to be a great ‘boss’. 
Of course, being an Australian company, everyone was on first name terms, a culture change from the UK, which took me a little time to get used to when speaking to the GM – ‘Ron what do you think . . . ?’ 
In the UK it would be Mr.  . . . and perhaps first names at a social function.

The following year 1982, the area around Bonnie Doon suffered from a draught. 

The picture below shows that there is only about 29% of the water left in the lake in 1982 and the water level was falling every day.
Trees that had been covered by water years ago, once again saw daylight. Part of the original town that was flooded in the 1950’s started to reappear.



Within a very short time the area near where I skied a year earlier. . . . 

The drought lasted for many months, Christmas 1982 came and went, and the drought was recorded as the worst in the 20th century.  

I lived about 30 minutes outside the business area of Melbourne and once I left the freeway after a ten-minute drive, I was in a more bushy area for the rest of the drive home, and every day I watched the land dry out and the grass and trees die. 


On the 8th February 1983 I was at work when at 2.30 pm the temperature climbed to 43.2 c (109.8 F) and a dust storm could be seen approaching the city – it hit us at 3.00 pm with a sudden drop in temperature and very high winds that damaged homes and uprooted trees.
It was estimated that about 50,000 tons of topsoil was stripped from farms and a thousand tons of this soil (107,000 kilos) was dropped on the city in the hour of the storm.


This picture is of the dust storm was taken on the 8th February 1983 during the drought. Picture from the internet.


It looks like rain, but it is topsoil that reduced visibility to around 90 mtrs (100 yards). The large vehicle on the left is a tram. 

Eight days later the 16th February, the Ash Wednesday fires began – the drought had created ideal conditions. The large green mass in the top left-hand area of the above map is Mount Macedon Range – famous for the story of ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ which is a book & a movie.


Hanging Rock

Mount Macedon was an area that was easy for us to visit for picnics, and it was an area that we showed visitors, particularly overseas visitors, because we could see the Range from our house.
The temperatures were over 40 c (104 f) and the hot dry wind from the centre of Australia was making life uncomfortable.

bushfire The fires began and we could see the smoke and smell the fires as the Macedon Range burned. The wind brought burnt black leaves and branches and dropped them around Sunbury, some of the branches were still alight.

Friends of ours were visiting us from the UK and had arrived only a day or so earlier. Once the fire started and the news flashed around the world the phone rang hot with calls from the couple’s family in the UK. It was an unusual start to their holiday.

Seven lives were lost in the Macedon area and 295 square kilometres of land was burnt out with the loss of 628 buildings. 
Maureen and I were fortunate that all we suffered was the constant ‘rain’ of burnt offerings. 

cars   Homes in Mt Macedon after the fire had passed through.


A small part of Mt Macedon a few days after the fires.

Little did we know that we would experience another bushfire over the Christmas period of 1993/4 . . . .  there are times when a white Christmas had a great attraction.


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).

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