Sunday, December 21, 2008

Chapter 3 - Housing Commission of Victoria

I continued to work at the Housing Commission and enjoyed the company of my fellow workers in the House Sales Department. There was Brian Earnshaw, Bob Crosbie, Nick Hasiotis and Mark Koulouris in the Estimation Section and Carl and his brother Gerts Melcherts, Ian Thomas and Pat Whitehouse in another section and Jim Whelan, Ron Burmeister and the department’s typist Helen Wilson formed the rest of the staff who became good friends. One of my fondest memories was the games of cricket that we played in the corridor that led to the toilets and the stairs. We used rubber bands covered with cellotape as a ball and a two inch wide piece of wood as a bat. The games were played during our lunch break and this was a welcomed break from having lunch at the “Beaufort Hotel” and a few beers with a cigarette during lunch. The games started off as a bit of fun, but became serious as teams challenged each other and the ball became larger as did the size of the bat. These games continued until we broke a glass panel and Mr Laurie Symes, Chief Finance Officer, put an end to “Housing Commission Indoor Cricket”. During the cricket season we would head for the “Cecil Hotel”, at the corner of Queen and Lonsdale Streets, to have a counter lunch and watch the cricket on the television in the lounge. I used to park my car at the Springvale Station and catch the train to work. Sometimes I would walk to the station through the paddocks between 72 Gove Street and Springvale Road, but this was not very often as in the days before daylight saving one would have to walk home in the dark after work and this was not a very pleasant experience through an unmarked paddock. The other regular pastime was having a beer with my fellow workers at the “Fox & Hounds Hotel” and the corner of Queen and Flinders Streets. We finished work at 5.06pm and headed straight for the pub where a school of four to six persons would form for drinks before the 6 O’clock closing time. This was an experience that I had not encountered. Having four to six “pots” in the hour was not something that I could handle easily. This eventually resulted in my waking up one night in a darkened Harris Train that was parked in the stabling yards in Dandenong. When I woke up I was disoriented and obviously had no clue as to where I was. I found the door and had to jump down to the ground without hurting myself. Thank God, in those days the train stabling yards were not surrounded with chain wire fencing and gates and I was able to walk across the tracks to the lights of the station. The station staff were surprised to see this person appear on the platform at that time of night, but were very understanding and called me a taxi to take me home. I never repeated this experience again. Suburban Blue Harris Train The friends that I made at the Housing Commission would in some way guide my destiny. Brian Earshaw and Barry Madden shared a room in a boarding house in Kew and I was a regular visitor during the evenings for a beer and chat. When Barry married Brian’s sister I was honoured to be an invited guest at the church in Horsham and at the reception that followed. Ian Thomas and I became good friends and many a Saturday afternoon was spent at his parent’s house in Beaumaris drinking Crème de Menthe and eating oysters that we bought in South Melbourne. His friend Bruce whose surname I cannot recall also had a speed boat that we used to use for water skiing at Half Moon Bay in Sandringham. Some week-ends Ian would arrange to borrow his uncle’s speed boat that was kept at Caulfield. On a Friday evening after work I would meet Ian at his Uncle’s house, hitch the boat to Ian’ car and head off to Lake Boga, near Swan Hill. I include a brief description of the town and Catalina Flying Boat Museum from the internet. I was interested to know that these were the same planes that the Canadian Air Force was flying when the pilots spotted the Japanese Armada in the Indian Ocean and warned the Allied Forces of the Japanese attack on Ceylon and saved many war ships and lives in Colombo and elsewhere, when I was a youngster. Quote:- Lake Boga is situated within the Rural City of Swan Hill within the Mallee region of north-west Victoria. The town is located 325 kilometres (202 mi) north west of Melbourne and 17 kilometres (11 miles) south east of the regional centre Swan Hill. The town is located next to the lake of the same name which is popular with water sports, particularly water skiing. The surrounding area is used for agriculture including fruit and vegetable growing and grain production. There is a sizable wine grape industry in the area and one local winery. There is a PBY Catalina flying boat on display as Lake Boga was a Royal Australian Air Force flying boat maintenance facility during World War II, known as the Lake Boga Flying Boat Base. Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum, home of the historic Catalina Flying Boat and site of the secret RAAF Repair Depot. Lake Boga was an integral part of allied defence during World War II, with a facility that helped to keep Australia safe – the No.1 Flying Boat Repair and Service Depot. On the original site of the no.1 Flying Boat Repair Depot, stands an underground Communications Bunker which has been transformed into the Flying Boat Museum. The Australian Government had known the existence of Lake Boga as a potential site for flying boat activity as early as 1938. It was not until the Japanese attacks on Broome in 1942, resulting in the loss of 16 flying boats, that the establishment of a safe haven for flying boats and amphibians was deemed “Essential To The Defence Of Australia.” “South and inland” were prerequisites. The Lake Boga potential was revisited. Inspections of Lake Boga and Kangaroo Lake were made, Lake Boga being the preferred site. Lake Boga was an ideal stretch of water for the flying boats and amphibious aircraft as it was almost circular (offering unlimited choice of landing/take off direction) and free of obstructions. The required infrastructure was already in place. Vacant land around its foreshore, an adjacent railhead and highway, electricity from the Swan Hill power station and lines of communication. The repair depot itself with workshops and hangars (on the foreshore), a stores area (on railway land near the Depot), living quarters (west of the township), sick quarters (at Castle Donnington), first-aid and dental post (on the foreshore), a radio transmitting station (on the Depot site) and a VHF transmitting station (west of the township). June 28th, 1942 saw the arrival of the first RAAF personnel under the command of F/Lt. G.S. Moffatt. On July 12th, 1942, the first Catalina flying boat arrived when a quantity of stores and equipment was flown in from Rathmines, N.S.W. Compared to the Walrus that had alighted four months earlier on an inspection visit, the Catalina seemed enormous, with its graceful hull and huge wing span topped by two powerful Pratt & Whitney 1200hp 14 cylinder radial engines. Hangar construction had just begun. The design, an open-fronted, grandstand type hangar with a cantilevered canopy. Eight large steel-framed structures were erected, 120 feet wide by 58 feet deep. These were to be followed by structures to house activities such as administration, signals & cipher, airframe repair, electroplating, engine/hydraulics repair, draughting, metal work, photography, stores, armament repair, propeller testing, machining, crew rooms, control tower… The first Catalina to be serviced at Lake Boga was A24 -17, which carried a crew of 4, plus 12 personnel on posting from Rathmines in New South Wales, arriving August 5th, 1942. Squadrons 11 and 20 had flown this aircraft relentlessly against the Japanese since January of that year. During the Depot’s wartime life personnel undertook large volumes of work. 416 aircraft were serviced, repaired, restored, rebuilt or overhauled. These aircraft included Catalina, Dornier, Sikorsky Kingfisher, Sunderland, Walrus and Martin Mariner. In the over five years of Depot life, with more than 1050 aircraft arrivals/departures and an estimated 800 test flights (plus associated “unofficial aerobatics”), no aircraft met with major mishap. Quite remarkable. In addition to RAAF aircraft, many allied flying boats used the Lake Boga Depot for repairs, including those of the United States of America and the Netherlands. At peak operation 39 Officers, 802 Airmen and 102 WAAAFs staffed the depot. The base at Lake Boga closed in November of 1947”. We would park on the lake shore, where the current caravan park is situated, after a five hour non-stop drive from Melbourne. The other boys would already have arrived and a welcome beer was on hand at 11.00pm. After a good night rest we would launch the boats. At that time there was no boat launching ramp and the method used was to tie a rope to the trailer and the tow bar of the vehicle and manhandle the boat and trailer into the lake. When the boat slipped off the trailer, the vehicle would pull the trailer out of the water with the help of the rope. We skied all Saturday, with the occasional break for lunch and usually had a BBQ dinner with an adequate supply of beer. A that time Lake Boga Town consisted of a Service Station, General Store, Metal Work Shop and a Cafe where we bought our meals. There were some houses that obviously did not interest us as we were there to water ski. Once, I recall visiting an old European man who was running a salt extraction business on one of the salt lakes near Lake Boga and marveling at the salt encrusted machinery and piles of salt ready for transport. I had never seen anything like it before. We knew that Lake Boga had been a flying boat base during the war as only 15 years since the base was closed and there were still remains of the base to visit. At that time the Museum was not in existence. After more water skiing on Sunday morning we would head back to Melbourne, after lunch, exhausted and happy. In 1963, the Housing Commission installed an I.C.L 1500 Computer to process all rental and house sales accounts and transactions. A new department was created and I was transferred to the position of Data Controller with a “C” Class Classification and trained in the new procedures being adopted to process the 80 column punch cards. This was a very interesting time, learning the new technology and being in charge of a section under Mr Biro, a fellow migrant from Hungary and his assistant, an Australian named Bill (I cannot recall his surname). The computer was installed in a specially constructed, air conditioned room on the fifth floor and was one of the first computers in the Victorian Government. I trained to become a programmer, but found that I was not cut out to be programmer and continued in my role of data controller of a team that was reconciling the computer batches as they were processed. In the meantime, at the encouragement of Mr Laurie Symes, I started studying Finance and Accounting at the Swinburne College in Hawthorn and I continued my studies during the week. As I progressed in my studies and impressed my seniors as to knowledge and competence, in 1965 I was promoted to the position of Operations Controller of the Expenditure Branch with a “C1” Classsification. In this position I was responsible for all operating expenditure of the various maintenance programs of the Housing Commission. The Housing Commission was administered by a very competent Board of Directors who were mainly engineers and was run as a commercial enterprise with double entry accrual accounting and other reporting systems. I was privileged to be involved with an organization that encouraged excellence in all areas of its operations and this was to stand me in good stead for the rest of my working life.

No comments: