David Coleman

Ship name / Flight number: QF732

Arrival date: 24/10/1963

Left: David Coleman, The Team – BBM

I was born an only child into a working-class family on 23 May 1945 in Stretford, now part of Greater Manchester. My father served in the British Army from 1930 until 1942 when he was medically discharged after being wounded in the Middle East in 1941. After the war he worked in various driving jobs including as a chauffeur. My mother worked part-time in the local government offices’ canteen.

I left school in 1960 aged 15 to begin full-time employment, no “Schoolies Week” or time to “Chill Out”. For most of us there would be no teenage years. We left school on Friday and commenced work the following Monday. However, in my case, I was permitted to have two weeks before I had to find a job. So, with a school friend Jack, we went to the Lake District (Ullswater) camping on the grounds of the Outward-Bound School where I had attended a four-week course a few months before leaving school.

I never really saw myself working in a factory as so many seemed to do in those days. But with only a secondary education it appeared I was also destined to a life on the factory floor. There was little or no discussion with my parents about what kind of job I would like. I was just expected to get a job, any job. It did not matter. The sooner I got a job, the sooner I could contribute to my upkeep.

Two days after returning from the Lake District I reluctantly went to Kellogg’s at Trafford Park, Manchester’s purpose-built industrial park to enquire about a job. This took only a minute to be told that there were no vacancies. There may have been, but not for a 15-year-old. My mother then suggested I try Colgate-Palmolive in Salford. Dressed appropriately, I went to Colgate- Palmolive the next day. After telling the personnel officer (human resources) my age, he informed me that the company did not employ men under 18 as they were not permitted by law to work overtime. As I turned to leave, he noticed my Outward-Bound merit badge on my lapel (my grandmother’s suggestion) saying, “You’ve been to the Outward Bound School”, which I confirmed. With the confirmation, he gave me an application form, told me to fill it out and said that if anything became available, he would let me know. I handed him the completed form thinking that was it. To my surprise, he told me I could start work on Monday in the yard roping & sheeting. I had no idea what roping & sheeting was, but I was thankful I had managed to secure a job on my second attempt.

Although the job is called roping & sheeting, it is the opposite, sheeting & roping. The sheet is a very large heavy tarpaulin which covers loads on trailers and tied down with ropes using “dolly” knots to stop the load from falling off in transit and to keep the weather out. Today ratchet and straps are mostly used.

The job was non-stop as trailers were lined up throughout the yard and drivers were always in a hurry to get away and would try to get their loads done first. After two or three days I was finding the job heavy going. My mother told my father that she would have to take me to the doctors because I was falling asleep as soon as I arrived home. Of course, I was falling asleep. I was exhausted. It was only three weeks before that I had been sitting in a classroom, and now I was doing heavy manual work with no concessions made because I was only 15 years old. It was expected that I keep up.  At the end of the week Friday, I was told I would start in the advertising department on Monday. At the end of the second week, I received my first pay packet, (which I handed to my mother unopened) £3.7s.6d. After National Insurance and tax, my take-home pay was £3.1s.1d. I was told I would be moved to the Palmolive Department on Monday where I would be on the bagging crew.

The bagging crew consisted of four, sometimes five men. Their job was to fill 65-pound (nearly 30kg) of soap flakes, tie them off and load them onto pallets, 20 bags to a pallet. I do not think I ever asked what happened to the bags afterwards.  I just did as I was told and again it was expected I pull my weight and keep up with the other men. After a few months of doing other jobs in the department, I was offered a job mixing the additives and perfumes to the soap products. It was an ideal job because I worked alone, it did not require the strength of a grown man, and I could also earn bonuses.

Now that I was not so exhausted at the end of every day, I decided to enrol in the local Technical Collage to do the GCE (General Certificate of Education). Unfortunately, as it would turn out, I allowed the interviewing officer to persuade me to do the Higher National Certificate and study Maths, Chemistry, and Physics, not my favourite subjects. As a result, Colgate gave me Mondays off to attend Tech. After a month or so I was really struggling. I told the Colgate management that I did not want to continue, which I suspected did not go down well with them, but I felt there was no point in me continuing something I did not like regardless of what the management thought.

Not long after, the Department boss, Alec Watson asked me to perform a task, which I now cannot remember, but I do remember that it appeared to me to be unsafe, even downright dangerous, so I refused. I was not prepared to even discuss the matter and gave a week’s notice there and then. To Alec’s credit two days later no doubt after we had both calmed down, he asked me if I had a job to go to, when I said, “No”, he asked me if I wanted to stay. Arrogantly I answered, “No!”. After, I realised, I’d been a bit impetuous. He had given me the opportunity to change my mind and I had thrown it back in his face.

It did not take long for me to find another job at a company that made margarine and lard, Southern Oil at Trafford Park, where I had promised myself I would never work. My job was to sit on the line as half pound (8oz) blocks of margarine or lard came down and intermittently removed one block and weighed it. If it was under or over the weight the machine shaping the blocks was adjusted to the correct weight. As well as working on the line, I was required to carry tins of egg yolks weighing about 5kg from one chiller to another and tip these onto a large vat. I was not sure if this operation was part of Southern Oil’s business, but I just did as I was told. We were not provided with any warm or protective clothing, and it was February which is the coldest month of the year. I was now paying the price for my youthful arrogance.

One of the conditions of employment at Colgate-Palmolive was that employees had to work “a week in hand”. They must work for two weeks before they receive their pay. The week in hand being paid after one week when an employee left their employment. During my time at Colgate-Palmolive, I was always, effectively, being paid a week in arears and owed a week’s pay throughout my employment. At the end of my first week at Southern Oil, I left work early to collect my outstanding pay from Colgate-Palmolive and had decided that I was going to swallow my pride and ask to be taken back. I collected my pay from reception and asked if I could see the Personnel Officer. I asked him if they would take me back. His answer was that it was not up to him, it would be up to Alec.

Entering Alec’s office, he smiled. It was not the smile of a victor or someone who is about to take great delight in someone who has come crawling back. He asked me where I was working saying, “David, I didn’t want you to leave”. He went on to say that he would make sure there was a clock card for me on Monday. I told him that I had to give a week’s notice at Southern Oil. “I’ll see you in a week”, he said. I was so relieved. But I would now have broken service which meant I would not be entitled to the extra two weeks’ pay at Christmas. Returning to the Personnel Officer I asked if they could make the two weeks my holidays, which was a bit cheeky. His answer, “This will teach you not to mess with the company – no!” The following Monday I returned to Colgate’s. However, even though Alec had taken me back, I was only given odd jobs around the department.

Much later on, when I returned to England for a holiday, I met one of the men I used to work with at Colgate-Palmolive. Alec Watson, he informed me had told two men to do a job a particular way causing one of these men to lose his fingers on a machine. Perhaps I was right to have refused to do a job the way he wanted. Alec I was told left Colgate and moved to New Zealand.

1962 was the era of “The Ten Pound Pom”. A school friend, Jack, suggested that we migrate to New Zealand. Craving adventure, I thought it had to be better than what I’d been doing since leaving school. I made enquiries about migration to New Zealand and at the same time to Australia as to be honest, I did not think New Zealand promised much in the way of adventure. I gave my friend all the information I had received on New Zealand only to be told by his mother that he was not going to New Zealand or Australia, and I should not have put the idea in his head. I decided that I preferred to go to Australia.

Included with the information sent to me by Australia House was an application to migrate under the auspices of the Big Brother Movement (BBM) which specialised in youth migration. My mother had never really tried to talk me out of going to Australia as she thought it would only be for two years and then I would get the need for adventure out of my system and come home. After reading the BBM literature she felt more comfortable about me leaving telling my grandmother, “He just can’t do what he wants until he’s 21” as the BBM and NSW Government child welfare would be my guardians.

Over a period of nine months, I supplied the BBM with a reference from my last school, had an interview with an Australian migration officer in Manchester, followed by a medical examination at the Manchester Royal Infirmary. Finally, the BBM letter came with a departure date, 22 October 1963. If this flight date was not convenient, I should let the BBM know so my departure could be rescheduled. I was somewhat disappointed as I was looking forward to the adventure of a six-week sea journey to Australia, but as there was no guarantee that the next departure date would be by ship, I confirmed that the date was convenient.

My parents and grandparents travelled to London by car the day before my departure. But I wanted to use the rail warrant I had been sent to travel to London. On the day of my departure, I knew that my mother and grandmother would be upset, so I asked them not to come to the airport with me – just my father, grandfather, and my school friend Jack came with me.  Now that I am a parent, I can understand the way my mother would have been feeling at the departure of her only child.

Left: David with his school friend, Jack, one day before he left for Australia, October 1963

Arriving at the airport my father asked me where I was supposed to go or who to see. I had no idea, but I cannot be the only young man traveling under the auspices of the BBM. I found a group of 10 boys about my age sitting in the lounge looking lost. In time a man approached, introduced himself (I do not remember his name) and said that he was from the BBM. I asked if he was coming with us. He answered, “No” and at the same time, he handed me a large manilla envelope saying that I “looked responsible” and asked me to hand the large manilla envelope to the BBM when we arrived in Sydney.

We boarded the plane at about 5.30pm. The ten of us were seated throughout the plane so the only time we got to mingle was when the plane, a Boeing 107 landed in Frankfurt, Athens, Cairo, Karachi, Calcutta, and Singapore before finally arriving in Sydney.

We were met at the airport by a tall man, John Fraser, and taken to the BBM office, which at that time was at Macquarie Square where I handed him the large manilla envelope. We were interviewed in turn.

Noticing that I had worked at Colgate-Palmolive in England, he told me that Colgate had a factory in Sydney. He proceeded to ring Colgate and organised an interview for me. I thought – I have come all this way to Australia…and I really do not want to work there again. The result of Fraser’s phone call was I had a job interview for the next day. But I had just had a very long flight and was tired, so I went along with it. During Fraser’s phone call to Colgate, he whispered to me that I would get away with saying I was 21 (I was 18) and wrote my new birthdate 1942 on a piece of paper and pushed it towards me indicating that if I said I was 21 I would receive adult, not junior’s pay when seeking work. After we have all been interviewed, we then travelled by train from Circular Quay to the BBM Hostel at Homebush.

The next day, Friday, I went to Colgate-Palmolive in Balmain. I got the job. I asked the personnel officer about the pay, his answer was, “You’ve just turned 21, £19 a week”. As an 18-year-old at Colgate’s in England my wage was £4.18s. I quadrupled my wage thanks to Fraser. I started work on Monday. I arrived in Australia on Thursday 24 October, had a job interview on Friday and started work on Monday, the first one of the group of lads to start work.

Despite the good pay packet, I decided that I did not want to stay at Colgate. I worked four days, collected my pay on the Thursday and left. For the last 60 years, my school friend Jack, who had suggested we go to New Zealand (he still lives in England) has never stopped reminding me that I went all the way to Australia to work at Colgate-Palmolive.

A few days later I got a job at Dairy Farmers milk distribution facility at Lidcombe which operated seven days a week. My job was to clean the inside of the huge stainless-steel tankers which were on railway bogies. First, I had to get inside the dark tanker through the manhole on top and then lower myself down; illumination was a single globe connected to an electric cable which hung down through the manhole. I had to hose the walls with hot water, then scrubbed the milk fat residue off the walls with steel wool, and then hosed it again with hot water; climbed out of the tank to connect the hose to the cold-water tap, climbed back into the tank and hosed it with cold water, the water draining via a valve outlet at the bottom of the tank.  Each tank was then inspected by the foreman. If any fat residue remained, we had to clean the tank again, so I made sure that I did the job properly as I did not want to do it again.

Many of the other men doing the same job were much shorter than me at 180cm. A contortionist would have found the job easier. We were given rubber non-slip boots, which were useless as they did not prevent us slipping on our backsides many times throughout the day. At the time, I did not think too much about Occupational Health & Safety in fact I do not think many people did. But now, on reflection, the combination of stainless steel, electricity, and water made for very dangerous working conditions. When there were no tankers to clean, we cleaned milk churns by hand with a scrubbing brush. It was whilst at Dairy Farmers that along with one of the other lads I left the hostel and moved into a boarding house in Ashfield where we paid six guineas (£6.6s) per week. I decided to leave Dairy Farmers as it was too hard to get to work on Saturday and Sunday by public transport and having two days off during the week was boring.

Next, I went to work for the Metropolitan Water Sewerage & Drainage Board – colloquially known back then as the Water Board the forerunner of today’s Sydney Water. I went to their depot at Holden Street, Ashfield. In those days you just turned up. I started work right away being taken to a big hole on Parramatta Road, Burwood where there was already a group of “New Australians” very few of whom spoke English just standing around looking at this large, deep hole when a truck dumped a load of sand on the road next to the hole. We were given long handled shovels and told to shovel the sand into the hole. After a while I heard, “smoko” for the first time. As the pile of sand disappeared down the hole another truck dumped another load of sand. This continued all day.

There may have been a reason the hole was being filled with sand this way, but why didn’t the truck just dump the sand straight into the hole?  At the end of the day, I decided I was going to quit. I went back to the depot the next day and was taken to another big hole in Lewisham. I was not given any instructions as what I was required to do, so I had to find things to do. Sand had spilt from the nature strip onto the road so, with a long handle shovel I shovelled the sand back onto the nature strip and saw another bloke shovelling the sand from the nature strip back onto the road! Obviously, no one has given him any instructions either. My afternoon was spent on the traffic control sign Halt (red side) Go (green). I used to stop the traffic just for something to do.

Talking to the landlady’s son at the end of another boring day, he told me that Woolworths where he worked were looking for section managers and storemen. He made a phone call and got me an interview for the next day. I managed to get a job as a storeman. On returning from the interview, I went to the Water Board’s depot and asked for my two days’ pay.

I started at Woolworths wearing a grey dust coat on the Fruit & Veg counter. Nothing was packaged like today; everything was sold lose and had to be weighed and the price/s written on a paper bag. This was the era of pounds, shillings, and pence. Monday nights after closing with some of the other staff I did overtime mopping the floors. I was paid “tea money” – six shillings.

The bloke who got me the job also took Woolworths’ takings to the bank each afternoon in a gallstone bag and had to be accompanied so I went with him. We used to dawdle back stopping off for a coffee. All up I worked at Woolworths for about ten months. They trained me to work in the warehouse in Ryde and I worked in several stores across Sydney as a storeman. Working at the Leichardt store was great. It was close to where I was living in Ashfield. I could leave home at 8.40am to be at work by 9am. However, one day whilst stocktaking I thought – I have had enough and gave a week’s notice – I had no job to go to.

Before I left Woolworths, I had an interview with Robinson’s Shoes in Leichardt. During the interview, I was asked to pick up things – like pieces of Lego – with my non-dominant hand and put them into a little box while being timed with a stopwatch. I decided this was ridiculous, so with a few choice words, I told the interviewer what he could do with his little boxes and stopwatch and got up and left!

In those days, if you wanted a job, you looked in the “Sydney Morning Herald” on Wednesdays and Saturdays where there were pages of job ads. I noticed a job at Morganite in Alexandria which made resistors that were used in the electrical industry. Although it was Saturday and Morganite’s would be closed I thought I would do a recce as I wanted to be early on Monday giving me an advantage over any other applicants. With one of the lads from the boarding house, I took a train from Ashfield to Redfern and then a taxi to Alexandria. I arrived at Morganite’s before 8am on Monday, had an interview which lasted a few minutes and was told I had the job. I was if asked if I could start tomorrow at 7am – of course I could.

I arrived at Morganite the next day to be told that they’d also taken one of the other applicants as they thought it may be too much for one and that we were to work week about, one doing one part of the process, the other doing the second part. The first part of the process was the preparing and then cooking the chemical compounds, which made the core, which was made of carbon and the shell of another material. The second part of the process was crushing the cooked chemicals. The crushed material was then made into resistors in another part of the factory.

Initially my working day was 7am – 3.30pm.  I was soon asked to work overtime to 4pm. This suited me because a bus did not leave until 4pm. With the five minutes “wash time” we got I could clock out right on 4pm and them sprint across the road to catch my bus. I was then asked to work overtime to 5pm which again suited me because my bus left at 5pm. I was now earning £23 a week after tax – thanks again to John Fraser. At Woolworths I was only clearing £16 a week.

I decided to leave Morganite when a bloke I met at Woolworths suggested I move from Ashfield and share a flat with him and his brother in Neutral Bay. Travelling from Neutral Bay to Alexandia would mean a ferry from Neutral Bay to Circular Quay, a train to St. Peters and then a bus to Morganite’s. With a 7am start I thought it would be difficult to be on time each day. However, I did not give the foreman the real reason I was leaving when he asked. I told him that “for 21 quid, I can get a job anywhere”. I was being an arrogant youth again!

I got a job at Kimberly-Clark in Lane Cove as a storeman, but all I did was stack boxes of women’s sanitary products onto pallets all day and paid less than what I earned at Morganite. The second day, I gave notice that I would leave at the end of the week. Reading Wednesday’s “Sydney Morning Herald” in the canteen, I saw a job for a storeman/driver in Chatswood. The next day I applied for the job. During the , I was asked “Are you working now?”. I knew if I said no what the next question would be. So, I said, “No”. And sure enough, I was asked to start the next day. I did not return to Kimberly-Clark, but they did send me a cheque for three days’ pay.

Apart from the weather, life in Australia so far had not been that much different from my life in England. I got up in the morning, went to work, came home, watched television in the evenings, went to bed and went to the movies on the weekend. Cleaning out milk tankers and scrubbing milk churns by hand, shovelling sand into big holes, and working in a factory was not adventurous.

I had been in Australia for over 12 months and had managed to save about £200 so I decided to quit my job and have a break over Christmas. One of the blokes I shared the flat with, Phil had worked in the bush and was only working in Sydney to spend some time with his parents in Crows Nest, after which, he would return to the bush. He asked me if I wanted to go with him when he left. I thought working in the bush would have to be better than what I had been doing so far. But the relationship between the three of us was becoming a little strained. Phil and his brother John had suggested I do the cooking and they would do the cleaning. I did not learn how to cook from my mother, but I said I would give it a go. I also did the shopping. It then became apparent that because I was not working, they expected me to also do the cleaning as well as the cooking. Phil would go to the pub after work and John would go “parking” both arriving home late and expecting a meal on the table. This was obviously what they did at home with their mother, but I was not their mother. I told them that from then on if they want anything to eat, they buy it and cook it themselves, which of course did not go down well.

Left: David on the Mosman Ferry, 1966

Phil’s employer Diversey wanted him to take over the factory in Melbourne after Christmas, which would now mean that it was highly unlikely that he would go back to the bush. If Phil went to Melbourne, I knew that John would then go back to his mother, and I could not afford to keep the flat on my own. Plus, I’d learnt a lesson and that was, I would think long and hard before I would ever again live in the same or similar situation.

Phil had spoken to his boss about me and told me that if I wanted to work for Diversey, which made industrial cleaners, there was a job for me in Melbourne. I had an interview with the manager and got a job. In the new year, Diversey paid our airfares to Melbourne and two weeks’ accommodation in the local pub. Phil no doubt wanted to impress the Sydney management by increasing production, so we worked a considerable amount of overtime to 10pm, including Saturday and Sunday, which I did not mind, so I cleared £70 in the first week.

At that time in early 1965, Melbourne still had 6 o’clock closing known as “the 6 o’clock swill”. Phil wanted to stop work at about 4.45pm, drink until 6 o’clock and have our meal at the pub. During this time Phil would consume a 750ml bottle of beer. He then wanted to go back to work. This was alright until he started to drink too much, which I thought was dangerous because we were working with machinery and chemicals late at night. I suggested that we work until 6 o’clock, have our meal and then work until 8pm, after all being residents of the pub, we could have a beer at any time. A rift developed between us, he blamed me for one of his mistakes that cost the company money. He told the boss in Sydney that I was at fault, and I was sacked.

My next job was in a factory that made electric heaters in Lilydale. I had to screw the name plates on the front of the heaters as they came along the production line. As I tried to work fast to keep up with the line, the holes got more skewwhiff and the name plates more crooked. The foreman noticed my poor work and told me to improve or quit. I knew I was not suited to the job, so I left. I did learn from this experience and 20 years later, when I was running my own business and recruiting staff, I would ask interviewees: “do you suit the job or does the job suit you?” Because there is no point in doing a job if either you cannot do it, or you do not want to do it. After Melbourne I moved back to Sydney’s Summer Hill close to Ashfield and went to Morganite – they told me the same as Colgate’s did in England – “Yes, we’ll take you back but not in the role you had before”. I did not like what I was doing making plaster moulds which were used to make graphite metal casting moulds, so I left. Not long after returning to Sydney I married a girl I’d met while living in Neutral Bay.

Pleasby Handkerchief Mills in Summer Hill was my next job as a storeman, but I did not really like that either. I left Summer Hill and moved to Croydon and started 3 to 4 jobs in about 4 to 5 days. One morning I turned up without an appointment at Nabisco makers of Weet-Bix and stood outside the factory gate with a group of men. The foreman came out looking at this motley group and told one man, “You’re too old” and asked me, “Do you speak English?”. Being smart I said in my English accent, “a little bit”. He told me, “You’ll do” and dismissed the other men. I now found myself back on the production line – I lasted about an hour before walking out. I did feel a little guilty because perhaps one of the other men may have needed the job more than me.

My next job was on the afternoon shift 3-11pm, at a wool dying factory in Forest Lodge. At the end of the shift, I was standing at the bus stop when one of the workers offered me a lift part the way home saying that the buses did not run at that time of the night. I did not bother going back the next day as there was no guarantee that I would be able to get home every night.

I found myself on the production line again, this time at RCA Records being taught the involved process of pressing the old plastic records. By morning tea, I thought, I am not interested in this, and I doubt I will be back tomorrow especially when the woman teaching me said that since I was getting the hang of it, she will speed the press up after lunch. The bell went for lunch, and I thought I might as well go home now. I lasted half a day at RCA Records.

Berger Paints at Rhodes was my next job where I worked in the varnish section, which again was somewhat hazardous. The varnish section was open on two sides. I supposed this was to give some sort of ventilation. The varnish was made from resin which was melted in large kettles. Once the resin had melted, thinners were added while the mixture was being stirred with a long-handled steel paddle. The cold thinners hitting the hot resin caused vapour to rise and this made breathing difficult, so we held our breath. We were not supplied with respirators or face masks and there were no extraction fans. I worked at Berger Paints for about a month before I got a job at Quickstrip in Alexandria making cleaning products. That lasted about three weeks.

Next, Balm Paints, makers of Dulux. I worked in the white lead section filling one-pound (1lb) tins of white lead paste by hand. When there were no tins to be filled, I did other jobs around the section. Like many of my jobs before, Balm Paints did not supply protective clothing overalls or gloves. Luckily, I had my own overalls, which I had purchased over time. A condition of employment was that I was required to wear steel capped footwear, which I had to purchase from the company. We were given a pint of milk every day supposedly to flush any lead out of our system.

In the 1960s lead was added to paint. It was illegal then and I was handling white lead daily. We had a blood test every month when a doctor visited and took a blood sample. One month I was informed that the previous month’s blood test detected lead in my system. But nothing was said about what would or should be done about it – I just carried on working. Obviously, the milk was not working. Once again, another hazardous job! And what of adventure? Things were about to change – the National Service Act would see to that.

The National Service Act 1964 was passed on 24 November. It required 20-year-old males, if selected, to serve in the Australian army for a period of 2 years continuous service followed by three years in the Reserve. Although registration was compulsory, the process of selection would be determined by a birth date ballot. Men born on the selected dates were to be conscripted. Indefinite deferments were granted to registrants who were married before call up, but those who married after they had registered were still subject to be called up, which was me, and my birth date was selected in the first ballot. I got married after my registration but went to the Court of Petty Sessions in Sydney and was granted a six-month deferment until the birth of my daughter.

Left: Kapooka, 1966

I was not the first “little brother” to pass through the gates of the army depot in Addison Avenue on 13 July 1966 and I was not the last. Walter Sim who came to Australia under the auspices of the Big Brother Movement in 1961 was the very first 20-year-old in 1965.

After a time, the obligatory “wait”, we were bused to Kapooka to the 1st Recruit Training Battalion in Wagga Wagga for basic training. A week or so before the conclusion of basic training, we were asked to give three preferences as to which corps we would prefer. At the time I thought I would only be in the army for two years and perhaps I should use the time to learn something which would benefit me after I left the army and get me out of the endless cycle of factory and storeman’s jobs. I chose the Medical Corps as at the time I thought the RAAMC had ambulance drivers and therefore I thought perhaps I would be cross trained as a paramedic/ambulance driver. I thought these would be good skills to have once I left the army. At the time the priority was the infantry, so I was lucky to get what I put in for. After Kapooka, I was sent to the School of Army Health in Healesville, Victoria for corps training where I discovered that the Medical Corps did not have its own ambulance drivers. Drivers were supplied by the Service Corps (RAASC). At the conclusion of corps training, I was posted to the Jungle Training Centre at Canungra in Queensland, which conducted the three-week Battle Efficiency Courses which every soldier had to go through before being posted to South Vietnam (SVN). I spent eighteen months at Jungle Training Centre at the Regimental Aid Post (RAP).

Above: David, second row left, School of Army Health,  Healesville, 1967

I had found my niche in the army and thought I would sign on for another three years. While awaiting discharge at Watsons Bay, I indicated I wished to re-engage. I was told if I signed on, I would not receive the $80 gratuity for completing the two years. When I asked why, there was no reason given, only that it is the way it is. I thought it was unreasonable, so decided not to reengage. I was discharged having attained the rank of corporal on 12 October 1968. I returned home to my wife and (now) two daughters. A few weeks later I received my discharge certificate and a cheque for $80.

Now, once again I needed a job. I attended the Commonwealth Employment Service (now Centrelink), which found me a job at Dista Pharmaceutical in Artarmon as a storeman, but it would only be for two weeks as the company was relocating, and I would not be needed after that. At the end of the two weeks, I started work at Bell-Bryant as a storeman. Bell-Bryant made stainless steel pipes for the food and brewing industries, most of which was made to specifications. It was my job to make and build wooden packing cases, some quite big to transport the finished product. Now the woodwork lessons we had learnt at school came in useful.

Personnel in the Australian army at that time were either being trained, serving in South Vietnam, or training others to serve in Vietnam. Having found my niche in the army, I started to think about reenlisting. It was not a difficult decision. At Dista Pharmaceutical and Bell-Bryant I was earning $40 – $42 per week, which was less than what I was paid in the army as a corporal where I got $60/week.

One of the conditions of the National Service Act was that if a “Nasho” reenlisted in the army within six months, they retained their rank and qualifications and did not have to do recruit or corps training again. I reenlisted in the army on 21 October 1968 after ninety-nine days as a civilian.

I was posted to 2 General Hospital (2GH) in Ingleburn. Despite the name, 2 Gen did not operate as a hospital. It was more of a holding unit. It did however have a compliment of ambulances. Over the following six months, I did several detachments to other units or went with the ambulances to the RAAF Base at Richmond to meet the medivac flights with the wounded diggers from Vietnam and transported them back to either 2 Military Hospital or Concord.

Talking with the Officer Commanding (OC) he asked why I was living in the lines (barracks) Sunday night to Friday afternoon when I was married. I told him because travelling from Mosman to Ingleburn by hitchhiking and public transport was not only difficult, but it was also almost impossible. He asked why I had not put in for a married quarter. I told him I did not know I could. He said to leave it with him. A couple of weeks later I was allocated a married quarter at Warwick Farm. I was even given a $1000 loan from the Australian Services Canteen Organisation (ASCO) to buy furniture.

In February 1969, I attended the three-week Battle Efficiency Course at JTC receiving whoops and hollers from the instructors – “We knew you’d be back”. Now on the double…! I arrived in Vietnam on 9th April and posted to an engineer unit, 17th Construction Squadron, which was located at Vung Tau. There was a small detachment of Engineers at Nui Dat sometimes referred to as “the sharp end”. For logistical reasons, the locations were reversed HQ (Head Quarter) Squadron was moved to Nui Dat and the Detachment to Vung Tau. After nine months, I took R&R in Australia. A week or so before I was due to return to Australia on 9 April 1970, I was informed that my posting was to the School of Military Engineering (SME) the home of the Engineers at Casula with promotion to Sergeant. On returning to Australia, I bought my first car, a VW Beetle.

During my time at SME, I did several education, trade, and promotional courses including all the subjects for Warrant Officer. I was advised to do a clerk’s course. I even managed to qualify for the Surf Bronze Medallion at Collaroy. For some time, I’d been thinking about a change, so I approached the SME Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) about transferring from the Medical Corps to the Engineers. There would not be a problem as such, but he pointed out that I would revert to a Private, which would be a big drop in pay from a Level 10 Sergeant to a Private, or Sapper as they are called in the Engineers. I now had three children, so it would need a great deal of thought. In total I was with the Engineers for six and a half years. When I left, they made me an Honorary Sapper.

In the 1950s and 60s, migrants did not just pop back home like they seem to be able to do nowadays – it was too expensive. However, with the advent of cheaper air fares in the 1970s, it became easier. In 1974 my wife and three children went to spend Christmas with my parents and to visit her parents in Austria. In August 1975 I went back to England, by then I had been in Australia for 12 years, 10 years longer than my mother had expected. But marriage, children, two years national service, and then reengaging in the regular army put paid to any chance to return.

Towards the end of 1975 I was posted to 2 Military Hospital in a clerical position, no doubt because of topping the army clerk’s course, which I’d been advised to do and achieving a good result in the Services General Certificate of Education, English exam. But it did not take long before I started to regret doing the clerks course as then I would not be here now doing another boring job. My time in the army would come to an end in October 1977. Many in the army thought I was a 20-year man and to a point, so did I. Apart from the three months I was out of the army in 1968, I was a medic from 1966-1975. Clerks appeared to be in short supply, and my days as a medic were over. I could not bear the thought of another nine years of the same, so I decided to take my discharge. We all returned to England, but I could not settle. At which point, my wife and I separated, and I came back to Australia. They stayed in England, the children attending school for the next 12 months before returning to Australia: not long after we divorced. On my return to Australia, I stayed with a mate and his wife who had been our neighbours at Warwick Farm.

Next, the CES. Dealing with the CES reminded me of the adage about a “chocolate tea pot”, totally useless. I was in Liverpool RSL one afternoon, after another disappointing visit to the CES when a bloke from 17 Construction walked in. During the conversation, he told me he was working for a security company as a casual. I was having no luck with the CES, so I asked for the name and number of the company.

I rang Roden Security Services in Bankstown the next day. I secured an interview where I was told I would need a Sub-Agents Licence to be able to work in the industry. Eventually, I received my licence and commenced work with Roden. I saw it as a temporary measure. Working at night, I thought I could look for other work in the daytime – but I took to it. I had a variety of roles at Roden doing guard work, sales, supervision, and armoured vans. I did the city run – driving around Sydney. I loved working on my own. I also obtained a Commercial Agent’s Licence working for solicitors serving summonses and subpoenas, and divorce papers etc. In 1984 I was offered the role of Operations Manager. As time went on, I realised I was good at the role, and might as well work for myself.

After eight years with Roden I started my own security business – Trojan Security Services in 1985 and ran it for 21 years, ceasing work only after I had a quadruple heart bypass in 2006.

I met my second wife Arlene in 1985 through a man who came to Roden for a job. He was married to a Filipina and his mother was a Filipina and his father, an Australian. At the interview I could see that he would not be suitable for any role within the company, but he tried very hard to convince me, so I gave him a night shift in the control room. The next morning the control room operator told me something I already knew and that was he would not make a control operator and I think he also realised he would not.

During the interview he asked if I wanted to meet a friend of his wife and I said, no. A few days later I rang him to say that the company would post him a cheque for his night’s work. But he insisted he wanted to come to the office to pick it up, which he did, and again asked me if I wanted to meet his wife’s friend. To get him off my back I said, yes and he gave me her name and number, perhaps I might ring her. Not long after I rang Arlene, and we had a long conversation. She worked as a corporate lawyer and an inhouse legal counsel for a security company in Manila. In Australia, she worked in intellectual property specialising in trademarks and as an insurance liability adjuster. Many times, she was sent interstate including Melbourne for two-to-five-week stints and so I was able to go with her. I like Melbourne and at certain times of the year with its blue stone building, grey skies, and misty rain – it reminds me of Manchester. But then you can have 40 degrees at times. Somehow, I feel at home in Victoria – despite its politics. Through her job we also went to Perth and Brisbane. Arlene retired in 2022.

Left: David at the old Colgate-Palmolive factory in Balmain, 2010

A lot of the jobs I did in the first three years after my arrival in Australia were repetitive, hazardous, and boring. I was doing jobs I tried to get away from in England until I joined the army. In fact, many of the jobs and industries we all worked in back then do not exist in Australia today. If I was to measure over all my more than 60 years in Australia, those three years were only a small part. I never got out to the “bush”. The nearest was visiting a few country towns in Victoria and New South Wales – like Corowa, where we’ve had several holidays.

For most of Little Brothers, our arrival in Australia was the first time we have been away from home, and we would have to learn very quickly to survive without any direct help from our families and take responsibility for ourselves, which I did not find difficult. In the early years, coming to Australia was not exactly the adventure I’d hoped for, but then I was forced to come to terms with situations and get through them the best way I could. From time to time over the 60 years I’ve been in Australia I’ve been nostalgic about my early life in England, but never homesick.




Left: David with partner Arlene at the BBM Legacy Celebration, June 2022



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