Bunbury in 1963 was a small and sleepy seaside holiday town 185km south of Perth on the Leschenault Inlet. The surrounding area was undeveloped, with many vacant blocks and quiet river inlets. Most of the holiday accommodation in the town was taken up by construction workers.

I arrived on a Saturday afternoon and headed straight to the Rising Sun Guest House on Clifton Street. I had been given the address from Alan, a friend from the migrant hostel. Alan was the man responsible for getting me a start at the Laporte Titanium construction site. The Rising Sun was where he stayed during the working week. Each weekend he travelled back to Perth to be with his family at the hostel. He boarded at the Rising Sun.

The buxom landlady showed me to a room on the first floor and introduced me to the other two occupants, Peter Van Aalten and Johannas Henrikus Van Der Zanden. The room was just large enough to hold two small wardrobes and three single beds. Peter was an electrician and John a trade’s assistant. I became quite friendly with John, who drove me to the site each day and taught me to drive at the weekends.

As you can gather by the name, John was a Dutchman and had been in Australia a number of years. He was short but well-built and his fiery red hair was starting to recede.

Shortly after, I bought my first real car, a Morris 750 Mini, on one of the trips to Perth. Although still not owning a licence, I drove the car back to Bunbury. The next week I went into the police station to enquire about a driving test. The desk sergeant handed over a form for me to fill, then asked me to read the wanted poster at the far end of the office. That was the eye test.

Gordon, Ray and the new car – Perth 1963

The driving test was arranged for the following Monday. All learners were required to be accompanied to the test by a licensed driver, so I asked John to take an hour off work to come with me. He shrugged the suggestion off.

“Don’t worry about that. Just park up the road a bit and tell the cop that I’ve gone to do a bit of shopping.”

When I walked into the police station, the first thing I was asked was “How did you get here?”

Following John’s instructions, I related the story. The policeman gave me a long hard stare. “OK let’s see what you can do”.

The test was over in ten minutes, finishing off with a three-point turn into a farm gateway. I was at last a legal driver!

Bunbury was a great place to live and work. We went swimming on warm nights in the river off a rickety jetty near town. Our exercise most mornings was a swim around the lifesavers’ marker buoys, finishing with a run along the beach to Hungry Hollow.

The work at La Porte was very specialized. PVC pipes were imported from Japan. No plastic fittings existed. Consequently, all of the pipework branches and flanges had to be fabricated by hot nitrogen welding after much experimentation. The engineers asked me and my fellow plumbers for advice on how to bend the pipework.

“My experience bending large diameter steel pipes is to pack them with sand to maintain the bore, heat then bend them by means of cable attached to a mechanical capstan. We could use the same system,” I replied.

The packing with sand was easy but how to heat the pipes? Water was not hot enough, so the engineers designed a heated trough of hot glycerine. The experiment worked!

Steel pipework was sent back to Perth to be glass lined after being fabricated, so it was essential that it was produced to very fine tolerances. Lead pipework was also fabricated in situ. Because I had been trained in the chemical industry, the work was familiar and I enjoyed the challenge of the day-to-day problem solving.

The Highway Hotel was the place to be on Saturday night in Bunbury. The town was full of construction workers living away from their families and most congregated at the Highway. I ended up at a table of a group of locals. On closing time, they invited me to ‘kick on’ at their place. I had only met them that night and had no idea where they lived but decided to join them. They all piled into a couple of cars and headed up the road. I started to get a bit concerned when the journey ended about 30km out of town when they pulled into the drive of a run-down weatherboard house.

I needn’t have worried. Everyone had a great night and I fell asleep on a sheetless bed with an old great coat as a blanket. The next morning, after a great breakfast of bacon and eggs, they drove me back to town. They were rough but great people. I never met them again.

At one of the entertainment venues I danced with a particular woman a number of times and thought nothing of it. A few weeks later at the hotel a friend invited me to join his group and she was with them. I ended up taking her for a drive before taking her home. I didn’t notice a car following with its headlights off.

Down near the beach, my mini got bogged on the sand-swept road and out of the blue, four guys emerged from the car that was trailing me with their headlights off. They were local lads and they obviously knew the girl. I thought that I was in big trouble. Luckily, they pushed me out and then left. The next day at work, two burly guys took me to one side and warned me off. I didn’t know that she was married! Her husband was a shift worker and she had two kids. I saw her at the beach a few times after that but gave her a wide berth.

La Porte Titanium Plant, Bunbury – 4th July 1963

The job was winding down and every pay day the workers wondered who would get paid off. Names and addresses were swapped and from the ‘construction grapevine’ I learned that the construction of a new oil refinery was to start in the near future on the Brisbane River. With this in mind, I planned to work my way across to Queensland. I managed to retain my position till near the end of the construction work, but eventually received my termination letter.

It was on the last trip back to Perth that Glenice gave me the inevitable letter from Ronnie to tell me that she had met someone else. Although I knew it was bound to happen, I was devastated and felt very homesick.

Ray Charles – ‘Hit the Road Jack’
Hit the road Jack and don’t you come back
No more, no more, no more, no more
Hit the road Jack and don’t you come back
No more

I soon found a fill-in job welding and fabricating box trays onto truck chassis. The first task they gave me was to make and erect a large sign at the front of the factory drive. Margaret from the paymaster’s office passed by a few times on her way to lunch while I was digging the post holes. I gave her a smile. At the end of the week, I took a chance and asked her out and she surprised me by accepting. I had a great time in Perth, but it was now mid-October. Time to start heading east.

Del Shannon – ‘Little Town Flirt’  1964
Yeah, I know she’s gonna treat you wrong
So your heart just better be strong
‘Cause you can hurt, h-h-hurt
Yeah, you can get h-h-h-h-hurt
Foolin’ around
With that little town flirt

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