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.
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.
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.
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.
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.