I arrived in Portland for an early lunch and headed for Port Fairy. Floods were still in evidence on either side of the road but the way was clear and I was confident that I could proceed. Suddenly I became aware that there was water on the left side of the road. Before I could react, the front wheel hit the water and the car was dragged to the left. It aquaplaned off the road, hit the grassy bank, straightened up than slowly came to rest at a precarious angle, very close to the farm fence. I was shaken but unhurt. Unfortunately though, the car was flooded. A kind lady drove me into town to look for the tow truck operator. “Charlie will be either at the footy or in the pub.”

We found him in the pub. “Are we going to get a wet arse?” he asked.

“I think so.”

“Well, you’d better buy me another drink then.”

After two or three drinks we took off, found the car and towed it back to town. In no time at all, Charlie had dried out the engine and electronics with compressed air.

Along the Great Ocean Road, the views were spectacular. The sea was so wild that even away from the cliff edge the windscreen wipers had to be operating to clear the wet salt spray. There was a dirt track leading to the end of the London Bridge formation, with a small turning circle at the end.

I drove out to the end to view the spectacular wild sea. Each time a wave rolled in, it filled the huge openings of the arches and the whole area shuddered. Forty years later, one of the arches collapsed into the sea, stranding a number of sightseers at the end and leaving an isolated rock remaining.

London Bridge 1964
London Bridge 2010

When the city of Melbourne at last came into view I wondered what exciting new experiences I would encounter. The Astor Private Hotel, situated near the corner of Flinders and Punt Road, seemed to be a convenient spot to spend the night. Gordon and Glenice had also travelled to Melbourne while I was in Adelaide. The next day I called in on them in Wattletree Road, Malvern. They had a spare room so I moved in, which helped pay the rent.

Gordon, who was a boilermaker, suggested that I go along with him to pick up some casual work as a fill in until I could find work as a plumber. The foreman assumed I was also a boilermaker so was hired on full pay.

In 1964, 6:00pm was the closing time for pubs. This was termed ‘the six o’clock swill’. The workshop was next door to the Notting Hill Hotel. Every Friday night after work, the workforce retired to the bar next door. I was amazed when eight men ordered eight rounds of beer and proceeded to knock them back as quick as possible – the last few being consumed on the footpath after they were kicked out. Not being used to this method of drinking, I ended up a bit worse for wear.

Having worked in heavy steel situations at ICI in England, I had little trouble with the engineering drawings and fitted in quite well. I was assigned to fabricate the form work for huge pre-stressed steel concrete bridge components. The framework had hydraulic clamps at each end. These were to stretch and tension the reinforcement rods that ran through the centre of the concrete beams. At the completion of the job, I was sent to the manufacturer of the beams with two assistants to install the work and to make sure the set up was working satisfactorily.

Constantly on the lookout for a suitable plumbing job, I applied for a job with McAuley Brothers, a plumbing firm in Port Melbourne. When I told the foreman that I was leaving to take a position in my own trade, he was quite surprised to learn that I was a plumber and not a boilermaker.

McAuley Brothers hired out plumbers to various industries and they were involved with a great variety of work, fitting out boiler rooms in hotel basements and other businesses. I was sent to a premises on Canterbury Road to install pipework to new machinery.

McAuley Brothers Workshop – 24th August 1964

As soon as I saw the building, I knew it was an ICI subsidiary. All ICI buildings the world over were constructed in the same familiar style. Rows of new machines were being installed. Immediately  I knew that they were Terylene Spinning Machines, similar to the machines I worked on as an apprentice in 1960.

One of the workmen, kneeling with his back to me using a hydraulic pipe bender, looked familiar. He was a plumber that I had worked with at Wilton. We were very surprised to see each other.

“They brought me out to install these machines,” he informed me.

“The machines look like the ones that we worked on at Wilton,” I replied.

He laughed. “These are the machines from Wilton,” he responded.

Port Melbourne, drawn during my lunch hour – 20th August 1964

Shortly after that I landed a job with A E Smith, working on multi-storey buildings in the city. The tallest building in the city at that time was about 12 storeys. All tools and equipment (including gas welding cylinders) had to be carried by hand from the basement via a temporary staircase in the stairwell.

Righteous Brothers – ‘Unchained Melody’  1964
Lonely rivers sigh
Wait for me, wait for me
I’ll be coming home
Wait for me

Melbourne was a great place for young people to meet. There were many dance halls to choose from throughout the week and weekends, including the iconic Flinders Street Station Ballroom. I went dancing each Thursday and Saturday night.

On one particular night I went to one of the venues and having no luck in picking up a girl, decided to try Hawthorn Town Hall. It was close to the last dance and I asked a girl to dance. She refused, saying that she had to find her girlfriend before the dance finished.

“That’s OK – why don’t we dance around and look for her?”

She reluctantly agreed. We soon found the friend, who informed us that she had met someone and was being taken home. I offered to take my partner home and she agreed. After a few months Helen Frances Melville and I were engaged!

At that stage I had not met Helen’s family, so we travelled to Welshpool where Helen’s dad worked at the ANZ Bank. The family seemed very nice, although quite reserved. After the weekend, Helen told me that she’d asked her mum what she thought of me.

“Quite satisfactory,” was her brief reply.

This was not the first time that a mother of a girlfriend had disapproved of me, so I was getting used to it. It was obviously not a great start, but as she got to know me better, her opinion slowly changed and in the end we enjoyed a close and loving relationship.

We planned the wedding for six months’ time. Gordon was going to be the best man, but as Audrey and Tommy were due to arrive on the SS Orsova, he suggested that it would be more appropriate for Tom to step into the role. Nola Vardy, Helen’s best friend from Yarram, was bridesmaid and Glenice, matron of honour.

The day before I left work to get married, Smith’s Plumbers were installing huge lengths of steel air conditioning ducting into the false ceiling at 460 Burke Street, Melbourne. We were hoisting the duct by means of a pulley-operated lifter. I was winding the handle of the winch, when, halfway to the top, the steel cable stuck and would not budge.

“Come on you weak Pommy Bastard keep winding!” yelled Steve the foreman.

As I strained at the handle, the cable snapped and the whole lot dropped. Luckily I had my hard hat on and just received a glancing blow from the falling duct.

Dazed, I reeled back and bounced off a rail that was a makeshift safety barrier in front of the yawning lift shaft. When I recovered, I turned and thanked the single horizontal piece of timber that had saved me from plummeting 12 floors to the basement.

Helen and I were married on 8th May, 1965.

The Herman’s Hermits – ‘I’m Into Something Good’ 1965
I walked her home and she held my hand
I knew it couldn’t be just a one-night stand
So I asked to see her next week
And she told me I could
Something tells me I’m into something good

Helen and Ray, 8th May 1965


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