My first year - 1961
The Australian Broadcasting Commission opened its first Sydney television
station, ABN 2, in November 1956. It is true that Sir Robert Menzies launched
ABC television from the Woolworths Building in Kings Cross but the Station
was built across the harbour beside the Pacific Highway at Gore Hill.
The PMG run transmitter was on-site where its giant tower dwarfed 'Little
Toot', the small initial tower which was kept for things like microwave
At seventeen years of age, after highschool Leaving Certificate exams,
a Christmas job and a month's holiday, I started at the ABC as a television
Technician-in-Training early in February 1961. I turned up at a City building
for my induction. In a rushed ceremony in a dingy office, I and a beautiful
new office girl were told to promise to obey the Crimes Act and swear
on a Bible to make it stick. I was swiftly told to put my hand beside
the girl's hand on the Bible and not on top.
Next, I made my way over the Sydney Harbour Bridge by train to St. Leonards
Station and then I walked up to Gore Hill. I reported to the Engineering
Department secretary, Grace Harvey, who was a very efficient and valuable
person there. I can't remember what she did with me but Dave Arthur, an
older trainee, was appointed to show me around and find me a locker and
so on. He was very friendly and helpful. The impressive television factory
he showed me gave the impression it was built to last a lifetime. Next
morning I started work in Engineering Stores downstairs under the stern
eye of the ex-army storeman. I swept all of the gritty floor in the sloping
basement (under Studio 22) on my first work afternoon.
The stint in stores was six long weeks. I was full of curiosity about
what was going on upstairs and about people I saw in the canteen. With
colleague Steve Jago I reclaimed miles of 16mm sprocketed magnetic tape,
looking for damage, yellow pencil marks and hard-to-find splices. Also
I painted grid reference letters and numbers high on the walls of the
main storeroom and learned the quadruplicate requisition form paperwork
routines. Also where a lot of things were kept, from workshop tools to
valves, safety clothing (including the insidious asbestos gloves), electronic
components and tiny nuts and bolts and so on.
Stored under Studio 22 were some big boxes full of valves, still usable
but no longer managing 80% of peak performance due to age-diminished emission
readings. I was told they couldn't be given away or even sold because
of government regulations to do with taxes and the protection of makers'
markets. They would be smashed in the presence of a witness who was qualified
to sign for them all. They would be literally written off. There were
some universal valve testing machines in the station. They had impressive
Bakelite casings. I would soon learn how to operate them. The station
relied on many thousands of valves.
The traditions of sending a new arrival to the stores to ask for a 'long
stand', a tin of chequered or striped paint or left-handed twist drills
were alive and well. The storeman played along. Somebody tried to send
me for a 'long weight' but I woke up in time. I remember only one victim
being fooled ignominiously. (He wasn't in my group.)
During that time I met my colleagues, the other nine or so "Group
'61" T.i.T.s. (Technicians-in-Training.) We met every payday in the
Artists' Assembly Room near the front entrance to pick up a buff envelope
with our payslip and our cash. The pay was eight guineas ($16-80) a week
until my eighteenth birthday which was away off in August. I'd been getting
ten guineas per five-and-a-half day week working in a shop before Christmas.
The newly recruited Group '61 assembled to meet the man in charge of training
at Gore Hill, the quiet natured John Watson. I remember meeting Paul Ament,
tall, wearing a red jumper and I met Alan Boxsell who confirmed with me
that my fathers' family and his clan were well known to each other on
the South Coast of NSW. Steve Jago was there and Bob Dickinson, Dave Bentham
(a migrant from England), Howard Lilley, Bob Thomson, Alex Nicotin. Others
came later in the year, I think, Roy Jeffrey (also born in England), Graeme
Astridge and Brian 'Joe' Williamson from far off Young. That's all from
memory so there may be errors.
We would get tea money and car allowance cash when we started doing shift
work. This largesse was dispensed in "The Cottage" up past the
transmitter building where the ABC resident architect (Mr Green) and the
news film people were housed. Every penny was welcome. We had Staff Association
dues and tea money deducted from our pay. Some of us consumed more tea
than others during our careers.
Tech began. North Sydney Technical College gave T.i.T.s courses in English,
maths, workshop practices, electrical wiring, electronics and radio and
television techniques. 'Supertech' John Watson was the ABC TV training
chief and taught us some courses at Gore Hill but the bulk of our lectures
and practical lessons were done just down the Highway at the big Tech
complex which had recently added the TV and radio training studio.
The lecturers we had at NSTC were good men and one, Ron Eyles, had worked
at Marconi in England developing some of the very gear that was in use
in the studios. Another man was from the British Navy on Malta (a radio
and radar man) and the electrician was an old hand from the power supply
industry in NSW. For metalwork we had a tough but good man who'd been
work-hardened by years of rough-and-ready apprentices. For the one-year
course of English and report writing our tutor was an elderly retired
clergyman. He really liked my essay on motorcar designers.
My second six week stint was on lighting. In the studios at last. On
the Monday morning I went in through the north-western door to Studio
21 and heard two chaps working up above on the centre catwalk.
I stood there looking up, a bit awed, and asked "Are you Mr. Povey?"
One of them said "What's all this Mr. Povey business? I'm Jack. This
is Fred. What's your name?"
"Oh Fred! Not another Bob!"
So Jack Povey from England and Fred Bott from Holland changed my name
that morning and started teaching me lighting rigging. I met 'pups' (500W
lamps), 2Ks, 5Ks, 'barn doors', 'scoops', 'broads', Reyrolle plugs but
not the follow-spot or 'inkies' until later on. I think the show that
day was "Woman's World" in the home interior set with that huge
venetian blind. I met stage hands then. Frank Arnold, Nick Tate and so
on. They and most other stagehands of that time went on to have great
careers, acting and directing in TV and films.
Then, after our morning tea break, in came the floor manager and the crew,
camera, sound, CCU, technical producer, director and script assistant.
Those last four mostly stayed upstairs in the control room but the lighting
chief, John Hicks that day, I think, walked around the set pointing and
focusing the lights we'd put up and plugged in. The cameras were being
'lined up', pointing in turn at a big printed cardboard test chart on
an easel standing in the set.
The studio corridors had an unforgettable set of background sounds that
changed subtly through the day. They included the ever-whining floor polishing
machines on endless corridor vinyl tiles, hammering from the carpenters,
the semitone, climbing "cling-cling-cling" from the piano tuner,
the strident thousand-cycle test tone and the niggling line frequency
whistle (15,625 cycles) of anything that made pictures, the cups rattling
on the tealady's trolley and the very low frequency waft of air conditioning
which usually had to be switched off in a studio while it was "On-Air".
But walking into a sleeping studio would drown you in oppressive silence.
The clanking and squealing of lighting dimmer clutches was trapped in
the impressive, though now so primitive, brick and concrete dimmer bank
rooms. These days I collect movie projectors so I still enjoy their particular
clicking whir quite often. (I can't hear 15,625 cycles now that it's so
rarely used anyway but I have high frequency tinnitus to replace it!)
During that first year I went to different duties and slowly learned
how to contribute to the making of television programs and maintaining
the machinery. My pay increased on my birthday and I was driving myself
to work, saving three hours per day, in my first car. My fellow trainees
were doing much the same. At Gore Hill we parked in the carpark in front
of the main building if we were early enough otherwise by the road around
the building or down the hill from the Outside Broadcast Department. Cars
were a big thing to most of us then.
My six week turn in the workshop downstairs was an unanticipated highlight
for me because, apart from making hundreds of complex little brass components
for lighting pantographs and various punched, folded and welded sheet
metal items, with the staff's encouragement I made a model aeroplane engine
using mainly the Hercus six-inch lathe. The little diesel engine works
very well. I did riveting, I did welding, I did sewing. On padded drying
rollers for the impressive film developing machine upstairs, with calico
and needle and thread I obtained from the Wardrobe Department lady. All
useful new skills. For the ABC and for me.
There were four technicians in that workshop. Each had a specialty. One
favoured nuts and bolts and machined components, one was a welding fan,
one loved pop rivets and the last could do wonders with Araldite. So the
guys upstairs tended to choose who fixed each problem according to what
they thought was the best method for each case. The system worked quite
well in practice. Except when the 'Araldite King' was repairing a Variac
control handle and warmed it to make it set faster only to melt the whole
I worked on "Six O'clock Rock" dragging camera cables and wrangling
lights and microphones and I worked on the various children's programs.
I watched while Michael Charlton demolished unworthy politicians in his
calm interviews, leading them up the garden path and politely closing
the gate on them. There was classical music with the best orchestras and
artists in the country, and, more exciting for me, showbands, dance bands
and jazz. I began to get to know some of the 'musos'. There was ballet,
there were the dancing girls (who did not go unnoticed), popular singers,
personalities, authors and dramas with Australia's top actors and actresses
and some from overseas.
On the job and at tech we all wore similar clothes, cuffed trousers,
white shirt, a narrow tie and, as needed, the ABC grey dustcoat. Pullovers,
cardigans and jumpers appeared in colder weather. The Technical Producers
wore, almost as a uniform, houndstooth sportscoats, some with leather
elbow patches. For some very formal shows the visible crew wore dinner
suits. We all wore rubber soled shoes in the studios.
Towards the end of first year most of us had cars. They were all older,
cheaper, even pre-war models which were very high-maintenance things indeed
so we had to learn quickly how to keep them going. We had some tools and
plenty of incentive. Public transport was no luxury and very time consuming.
Practical jokes began to occur, mainly at the Tech College. A victim would
be distracted while his sparkplug leads were jumbled or his plugs were
given a lead pencil line from top to bottom, short circuiting them, or
a big firework bunger was wired up to the ignition circuit. At knock-off
time the jokers would surreptitiously gather to watch the results, ready
to laugh like drains.
These tricks taught me to do rapid under-bonnet checks of ignition components,
firing order, foreign objects and to find apple or potato blocking the
exhaust pipe. Good, useful training, I realize now. But one night at the
studios they really got me. I had a little pre-war Morris 8. A pathetic
thing, really, looking back, but my pride and joy then. I was working
on something that finished after midnight. The carpark lights were switched
off at midnight so I went to my car, or rather felt my way to it, in pitch
darkness. I got in and swung my left arm over to put my briefcase on the
back seat and hurt my wrist on something sharp. Something that certainly
shouldn't have been there. I investigated carefully. By feel.
There was no interior light in the roadster so I had to remove the seventy-odd
housebricks by touch alone. I stacked them all blindly on the edge of
the garden bed. At last I could feel no more bricks so I got in, started
the engine and attempted to drive off. No go. The poor car wouldn't move.
The studios and the transmitter were shut down and the place was dead
silent. In those days the whole City was pretty silent after midnight.
The nearest human was the commissionaire, some distance in behind the
locked front doors of the dormant main building, asleep over his desk,
his forehead on his forearms. A long tactile investigation found that
the car was anchored to a lamp pole by multiple strands of high-tensile
fencing wire round the rear bumper and the rear springs. It took me another
forty minutes to untie it all because I didn't have a tool that could
cut it and the tail light barely lit up part of the massive tangle.
Finally free, I drove off up the Pacific Highway towards home and my overdue
sleep. I never mentioned the prank to anyone and nobody asked me anything,
even obliquely, about it. Buggers!
First year duties included "cable dragging". The studio cameras
moved about a lot during some shows. Though the camera cables were an
inch thick they had to be helped along and kept from catching under the
metal guards around the wheels of the pedestals and the Vinten camera
crane. And of course they could never be allowed to trip the cameraman
or run out of slack, tug on the camera and spoil a shot. At the end of
a shift the cables were wound onto pairs of wall pegs in a figure-of-eight
pattern. The only spoiler was having to wash off all the squashed cake
and sticky icecream after all the children on Thursday Partyland had had
their messy fun.
When a camera was idle or unattended it had to be "capped up"
and "locked off" so it wouldn't be damaged by pointing at a
lamp or by tilting or swinging around dangerously. A lot of lore like
this was soaking into us.
For some shows we were only busy during setting up and striking so we
could sit in the viewing room to watch the proceedings. When a door was
left open we'd listen to the director's calls and learn more about the
business. I was doing that one day when Isaak Stern was playing violin
as only he could and he broke a string. Live. It sounded like a pistol
shot. The genius kept playing perfectly by compensating for pitch and
rearranging his fingering but the other interesting thing I heard was
the alarmed lamentation of his assistant who'd been sitting behind the
sound man. He calmed down a bit when he realised that the Maestro seemed
unfazed and he restrained himself from running past us and downstairs
with the spare string packet waving in his right hand. (I think it was
the A.) But only until the piece was almost over.
We weren't supposed to climb over the steel handrailings in the viewing
rooms but we were always doing it.
I passed all of my Tech exams, including maths in which I'd stumbled
badly at school during the previous year. I'd caught up. I topped in English
and in metalwork I'd made a very useful steel toolbox to keep forever.
(But seven years later someone stole it.) My circuit wiring was a bit
untidy although it always worked but my circuit diagram drawing was pretty
neat. I had a good idea how things worked, of the jargon, the culture
and the joys of making television by the time my first annual holidays
came around. And I liked my situation.
Learning More Ropes - 1962 to 1964
Australia's original rock-and-roller, Johnnie O'Keefe, came back to visit
the Saturday evening rock show. He hid behind the set where I handed him
an RCA BK 4 Starmaker microphone (ironic, I now see) and, on cue, he popped
out to surprise the audience with his ineluctable presence. Sir Charles
Moses rang the control room saying "Get him off. Immediately!"
because, in taunting his hecklers, yes, there were many, the fading rocker
had said "Oh, why don't you go home and eat your Kellogs' Cornflakes!"
The rumour was that J O'K was already banned from the ABC but it was the
"Kellogs' Cornflakes" that really upset Sir Charles.
Brand names were taboo on Auntie ABC and for the cooking show all the
ingredient packets and jars were painted in shades of matt grey by the
props guys to hide Mother's Choice, Saxa, Kraft, CSR, Norco, Allowrie
and the like from the susceptible housewives at home. I thought they went
a bit too far but Sir Charles was a man who made rules that outlasted
My second car was a 1934 Riley 9 Monaco saloon. Huh. A bit of a gamble,
old, quaint, slow as a wet week and no brakes. There were two tricks I
did with it outside the front doors of the Studios. One I did daily was
to pull up, rev the engine, switch off and stride through the big glass
front doors of the building before the engine came to rest. It had such
a big flywheel, tiny pistons and low compression that the feat was pretty
easy even if I parked half way to the gate. The other trick happened only
once. I'd removed a nut and bolt from the centre of the big shiny radiator
cap and driven to work with just a hole there. I pulled up sharply near
the front of the building in the presence of half the crew and an impressive
fountain, a thin stream of radiator water, spurted sparkling high into
the air. The crew laughed themselves silly, gathered round my crazy clown
There was a big fuss and ado when "Four Corners" began. People
making the show had rooms in "The Cottage" and in the separate
building out front where the canteen was housed. I think the program was
all done on film for a while but when videotape came along the show was
assembled in Studio 21 with the opening film, studio introduction, taped
studio interviews if any, filmed story, credits etc. and videotaped right
through on Friday nights to air on Saturdays. A full studio crew was provided
on the 1400 to 2230 hour (2 to 10.30 PM) shift.
But it didn't run that way. The edited film was seldom delivered to Telecine
before 2200 hrs so we always worked substantial extra time, involving
overtime, meal and travelling allowances. I remember us finishing later
than 0330 on Saturday morning more than once. We whiled away time in the
hushed building playing games, chatting and smoking for those hours. We
youngsters even took to taking our shoes off and sliding in our socks
like portents of future skateboarders on the persistently polished vinyl
tiles. The camera tube hours and the overtime bill ticked up relentlessly
and we trainees took turns at making big pots of tea in the kitchen along
the corridor and around the corner near the TPs' office. The big tea trolley
racked up a lot of miles and most of us learned to make jolly good ABC
quality tea. Award winning programs can be expensive, I suppose.
We had a dubbing suite. There was a theatrette, bio box, announcer's
booth and control room with its control desk for the director, his assistant
and the sound mixer. The newsreel companies would have had similar set-ups
for mixing sync sound, sound effects, music and commentary for their daily
news and for documentary films. The projector and the soundtrack players
and recorder up in telerecord were all run off a Selsyn synchronising
three-phase generator. (Original sound from quarter-inch Nagra recorders
was put onto 16mm tape, still synchronised, for the exercise.) Stock sound
effect and music discs were played on the turntables on the control room
desk. "Weekend Magazine" was made weekly using this facility.
The narrator's ("voice-over") script was typed in "grabs",
paragraphs which each began on a cue from the action on the film. A writer
stood behind the narrator and tapped his shoulder on cue to start him
reading each grab at the right time. In rehearsal, sometimes words were
changed to improve fluency or to change the length of a grab to make it
fit the picture better. The end results were always pretty smooth.
The theatrette was used for a while as a stop-motion animation film studio
to make a colour cartoon called "Wambidgee" with music by John
Antill. In a miniature bush scene, cute puppets and animals were bent
and moved by increments between double-frame shots. The colour film had
to be sent out for processing. There was great disappointment when in
the middle of a long scene one of the lamps blew and to prevent the obvious
drop in the background lighting from spoiling things the whole scene had
to be done again at the cost of much time and effort and some film stock.
Film editor Bill Copland was pleased to be back in his element, editing
colour film again as he'd done in England. I heard the series sold overseas.
The footage I saw looked brilliant in colour.
One day I was sent to the staging workshop where I was shown a huge shipping
crate. I was asked to demolish it carefully from around its contents.
I started out slowly, having no real skill at the job. It became apparent
I was unpacking our new, huge Mole-Richardson camera crane. Word got around
and soon I had many willing helpers. Eventually all that was left was
the floor of the monster's box. The next day someone rolled the crane
off the wooden base and pushed it to a spot outside Studio 22. There it
stayed for ages until the X-ray specialists turned up.
They were looking for a casting fault near the middle of the main boom.
They attached a large film plate to one side near the centre pivot and
clamped the end of a sort of hose on the other side. The hose ran to a
thing that looked like a three-phase welder. It was in fact a lead box
with a tiny radioactive pellet which was sent along the hose by compressed
air to sit for a certain number of seconds in the end of the hose, exposing
the film, before being returned to its box by reversing the air valves.
We weren't allowed anywhere near. I think they took several pictures.
Rumour had it that the operators wore lead underclothes.
Our crane got the all-clear after a couple of weeks and it moved into
the studio under its own special three-phase power to gain a camera and
willing volunteers to operate it. It took an extra
crewman to swing the boom. It was vastly more impressive than the "old"
Vinten crane next door. Of course, it wasn't long before its top speed
and braking capacity were explored over the length of the empty studio.
(Not by me.)
Videotape arrived and took up residence around the corner past the film
striping room in the west wing. Jack Lawler was one of the keepers and
Jim Wilkinson was a devotee. The first two machines took up a whole room
with their several cupboards-full each of supply and control gear that
ran on valves, pumps and relays. There were compressed air and vacuum
supplies. The 2 inch tape, with the transverse picture tracks laid and
read by four heads on a drum spinning at 21,000 odd revs-per-minute, gave
a good sharp picture as long as the correct 'penetration' was used to
avoid the dreaded 'venetian blind effect'. The tape had a mono sound track,
a timing ('magnetic sprocket hole') track and a cue track. Picture quality,
(resolution, grey scale and noise level,) was excellent as was the sound
(at over 15 inches a second). Pretty good. Except for the matter of editing
or dropping in inserts.
In 1962 the wide, thin tape had to be cut and taped together to do each
edit or splice. To keep the pictures stable the tape had to be painted
with 'Ediview', a magnetic particle emulsion, to show up the narrow transverse
vision tracks and the timing track signal under magnification so the super-accurate
splice edge cuts could be made and aligned. This was difficult, time consuming
and unreliable as well as rendering tape recycling very uneconomical.
I don't think splicing was ever a routine at Gore Hill and not just because
of the high cost of the tape. "Why can't we just switch from play
to record mode while the tape is running?" people asked.
Good question. Thinking caps were put on to solve the many problems. Jack
Lawler, Neville Thiele and others came up with many of the answers and
demonstrated switching, during field blanking, from play to record. We'd
built Jack a 10 millisecond delay box (using a valve!) to make a monitor
scan late vertically to display field blanking mid-screen so replays of
the mode transition could be studied. Jack's program was known as "Lawlertec".
Ampex Corporation were supplying the videotape machines which were evolving
so quickly that each of ours was different. (For instance, our first had
a start sequence logic board that used relays where our second one used
large TO-3 style transistors.) The ABC were big agitators for electronic
editing of tape. Ampex supplied us with an electronic editing set up,
serial number 2, and then by the end of 1963 they announced their "Editec"
which allowed accurately timed editing, inserting and even animation to
be done on tape, controlled via the cue track. That was, once program
directors knew what to ask for. One just had to "copy and paste"
to replace the sound track after vision only inserts or animation because
subsequently recorded vision ran unchecked across the longitudinal tracks
and added a harsh whining "buzz" to the sound.
The first special effect using videotape that I remember was in a light
music program featuring Isador Goodman. The great man had been with the
ABC on and off since the opening radio program and he was a brilliant
entertainer on a grand piano. During the show he played a duet with "his
brother George" using split screen and a pre-recorded tape. Of course
"George" wore a different suit and played the lower notes. The
effect was splendid and the act was very entertaining.
The coming of videotape was a watershed event in any television station.
It didn't replace film but things, particularly scheduling, were never
the same again. In many ways it was far more significant than the advents
of colour pictures and stereo sound.
We were let loose on vision mixing, under supervision at first, then
on our own, sitting near directors and instantly obeying or even anticipating
their snapping fingers or staccato barking and listening for the scriptos'
alerts. I remember a long sequence of still photographs I artily dissolved
my way through, pleasing myself and many viewers. As it got underway the
director saw it was working and just let me get on with it. Doubly satisfying.
I did make a couple of bloopers on other shows, though. They are still
heavy on my conscience but I hope I'm forgiven at this distance in time!
In Telecine we ran 16mm film in conventional projector pairs. We showed
slides in a double-barrelled changer. It could do dissolves, wipes and
other tricks. There was an EMI flying-spot scanner for 16 and 35mm which
ran very smoothly but had to run the film at 25 frames a second. I remember
Roy Bruce sitting at his control desk patiently for hours patting his
tummy with one hand and riding black levels with the other. Telecine was
on the north-western side of the building and had big windows furnished
with the thickest deep red velvet curtains. On hot summer afternoons even
those curtains were inadequate and the normally good air conditioning
couldn't keep up so the doors to the corridor were propped open.
We had a processing plant to handle black-and-white 16mm movie film.
There was a contact printer next door. That looked a bit like a projector
but with six reels and no projection lens. Negative film ran through the
gate and unexposed film stock ran through in contact with it and was exposed
by a lamp which could be varied in brightness. Obviously, raw, undeveloped
film stock was kept in lightproof cans and the room was lightproof and
fitted with a dim red worklamp. As many prints as were needed could be
made with the printer and the processing machine in the bigger darkroom
along the corridor. "Weekend Magazine", for example, was printed
at least five times.
The prints were developed, striped with magnetic emulsion, and synchronous
sound was recorded onto each copy. Telerecordings were made on two alternating
Arriflex cameras shooting a high quality picture tube that displayed only
every second field. That allowed plenty of pull-down time but needed "spot
wobble' of the electron beam to fill in the missing lines. Sound was recorded
on 16mm sprocketed tape, on up to half-hour reels. Telerecordings could
be made from a negative picture on the tube to give a direct positive
film and, further, if needed, Telecine could project negative film as
positive by reversing the polarity of the picture signal. And there was
a gamma (grey scale curve) adjustment provided.
Trainees didn't operate the printer but did help mix developing and fixing
chemicals and in the cleaning and servicing of the big Houston Fearless
processor with its myriad rollers, interruption stations, bath tanks,
air drying cabinets and padded rollers. In operation, only dim red light
could be used in this room. Once film was threaded through the machine
it was normal to keep stapling one reel after another end to end as the
processing marched on at a constant (but adjustable) speed and when the
last film for the day was entering the labyrinth some stock blank film
was stapled on to wind through to the other end, keeping the monster "threaded-up",
before the whole thing was shut down for the night or for servicing. Only
with just blank film in the machine could the white lights be switched
on. A procedure was carried out to recover the by-product, silver from
the tanks, a valuable part of the process.
When I arrived for my first six weeks in Processing, the man in charge
had a strong German accent and comically pronounced a chemical we mixed
as "devver-lopper". He was frequently intently busy taking densitometer
readings of test greyscales on developed film or analysing liquid samples
for conductivity and potassium bromide levels. Regularly we made new brews.
The powders and granules we weighed out or measured carefully went into
a big stainless steel tank with a removable lid, a pumping system and
hot and cold water taps to supply it. When the pump valves were set to
just pump out and straight back into the tank the circulation was sufficient
to mix everything well in a short enough time and then the valves could
be set to deliver the mix to the appropriate bath next door.
Some of the powders were very dusty and floated thickly in the air around
us. I often sneezed and blew my nose. Later I'd find holes burnt right
through my handkerchief by the corrosive
substance. I started wearing
a grocer's apron. It didn't make me sweat in the hot mixing room the way
the official issue grey dustcoats did.
One afternoon there was a sudden need for a batch of developer for a big
rush order of processing for something urgent. We started weighing out
the list of ingredients using the recipe that was printed and displayed
on the wall between the workbench and the tank. I kept getting packets
and jars one after the other and adding the magic stuff to the warm water
in the tank in the order indicated. Some of the ingredients were required
in very large quantities and big bags and bins of stuff were kept in another
room down the corridor. While the boss was out of the mixing room fetching
them I kept putting into the tank the things I had to hand. By the time
he got back something odd was happening in the tank. Little flecks were
appearing in the clear liquid and growing and multiplying on their round
trips through the pump and revolving majestically in the circular tank.
I pointed to them.
"It's flocculating!" he yelled in anguish. "What have you
I told him I'd reached nearly to the end of the recipe except that his
scoopfuls of the big quantities were still to go in. He ran his finger
down the printed sheet.
"So you put those in out of order!... No wonder!" He looked
at the modern artwork in the tank for a few seconds.
I said "Can we save it?"
He whispered "Nein.", hunched his shoulders and opened the valve
that fed the whole brew down the drain. He chased it when it was almost
gone with a lot of cold water and then started filling the tank again
with warm water in order to start all over again. I knew how much time
my error had cost but I could only guess how much money the wasted chemicals
were worth. That afternoon I stayed back late trying to make amends and
we mixed a proper batch of "devver-lopper" to keep the busy
rollers turning and I didn't put in for overtime.
One day John Watson cornered me in the corridor and told me very sternly
that white grocery aprons were a definite no-no. I should have asked him
about corrosion-proof handkerchiefs.
There was some spare room in the Engineering budget one year and because
it was the practice to try to spend all of each year's allocation, every
member of the department was issued with a hammertone green steel toolbox.
Each contained a rubber hammer (used on camera mount wedges), a cable
spanner, a soldering iron and a selection of other, mostly Swedish, useful
tools. Most of us added more tools because we could take the box home
overnight but we each had to have our box nearby whenever we were working.
Thank you Dave Tapp or whoever had the idea.
Dave Tapp called a meeting of all studio technical staff. We stood in
Studio 22 while Mr Tapp stood on the camera crane platform and berated
us. There had been a problem with the wheels on a (five-or six-year-old)
pedestal, he regretted, and it was caused by a lack of maintenance. He
told us all that none of us was "a technician's bootlace". I
thought that was a strange thing for him to say because he himself was
in overall charge of maintenance and he hadn't established a proper scheme
or schedule to cover the bulk of the studio gear. If he had, the work
would have been carried out willingly and with skill and care. And no
new schedules were established immediately following that meeting. Very
un-ABC, I thought, because at the ABC in those days, chains of command
and responsibility were usually very clear.
A couple of years later the Vinten crane was jacked up for chassis reconditioning.
The brakeshoes were badly worn. I'd observed that most drivers habitually
dragged the brakes. The Supertech said we would have to wait weeks while
replacement shoes were requisitioned, approved, ordered and imported from
the English makers. Big inconvenience indeed. Bob Clemesha took one look
and said they were the same as Morris 8/40 (car) shoes. He got approval
straight away to trot them up to Sam's Spares (on the Highway, opposite
ATN 7's tower) who replaced them quickly. And cheaply. The crane was back
in service next day. Very un-ABC but very effective, I thought.
Ravi Shankar paid us a visit. He brought a small band of musicians with
him to introduce to Australian audiences traditional Indian music featuring
the sitar and the tabla. Ravi was quietly friendly, a real gentleman,
and shook hands with every crew member. We spent a long time in the studio
recording a proper study of Ravi's music which he explained very clearly
and illustrated very ably. Under the spell of much constantly burning
incense we were entranced by time signatures such as thirteen/four and
jazz-like improvisations on various exotic instruments. The studio was
surrounded by black drapes and groundrow and several things like palm
pot stands to hold the incense burners chest-high. There was a pool of
light on the huge rich carpet in the middle where the musicians sat cross-legged
to play in their accustomed style of comfort and lay down their idle or
alternative instruments safely. This was fully two years before the Beatles
met Ravi and disrupted his career more than somewhat.
I was rostered to vision mix in Studio 23 on the occasion of Spike Milligan's
visit to Studio 22 for an interview. I think it was on "Bob Sanders'
People". It was straight after the News and Weather when the word
spread like a bushfire and all hands appeared on deck in the viewing room
or in the shadows in Studio 22. Most of the staff followed the BBC's groundbreaking
"Goonshow" on ABC radio on Sunday evenings. Spike wrote most
of the scripts and performed as a Goon. The interview was an anarchic
riot with everybody, including the despairing host of the show, all doubled-up
Lorrae Desmond's show was a popular one to watch and to work on. She
always started by singing the up-beat "I Feel a Song Comin' On"
and ended with the wistful "I'll be Seeing You". As the closing
song came near the end the camera slowly craned up and back while Lorrae
was lit, against black, by just the follow-spot which continued to iris
in on her, in her sparkling sequinned gown, until just her distant face
finally disappeared at the end of the last note. Proudly, I got to do
follow-spot duty on her show.
The memorable George Kennedy, the red headed genius tech teacher, didn't
appear till our third year. He'd come from Europe, changed his name, learnt
Oxford English and our culture rapidly and taught us superbly while amassing
lecture notes which he deftly assembled into textbooks for publishing
by McGraw-Hill. He taught with skill, knowledge, wisdom and humour. He
quoted Shakespeare in his notes on our report cards. "To work! Perchance
to pass!" (Or, rather, misquoted.)
One oppressively hot afternoon we were all half asleep silently drawing
circuit diagrams and slowly became annoyed by persistent slow banging
from a lone panelbeating apprentice across the road. After an age George
.Paranoid unwanted complex, eh?" Two beats
later we were all laughing our heads off. Towards the end of third year
I asked George, who drove a Volkswagen, if he'd give me higher exam marks
as I was about to buy a 'Beetle' like his. "Oh no." he said
"It's lower marks for someone about to destroy a Volkswagen!"
Note:- My Volkswagen was the first car I ever had that was in better condition
when I sold it than when I bought it. By fourth year I'd learned to cope
properly, doing most of the work myself including carpeting, improving
the radio, installing seat belts (an innovation at the time) and taking
the engine out and replacing vital parts.
I worked on Outside Broadcasts sometimes. Lonely link duties beside the
Greystanes BMG (Blue Metal and Gravel Co.) quarry helping the operator
pick up car races from Warwick farm and send them back to Gore Hill. I
was of most use to him for aiming the "dishes". I'd stand on
the roof of the van with headphones on, hearing "Down in the mud
Down in the mud
a signal arose out of the noise on his oscilloscope and peak strength
was found with the optimum horizontal and vertical aim of the receiver.
The process was repeated for our transmitter, guided by the distant receiver
operator's voice on the two-way radio.
Otherwise my duties were lugging and lifting the equipment, keeping an
eye on "the donk", (the diesel trailer-generator set) and, through
the long day at regular intervals, boiling the billy for tea. There were
quiet days on a hill in the bush of Holdsworthy Army area where it was
forbidden to go for a walk for fear of unexploded ordnance or unannounced
combat exercises. There were just some birds and the donk, droning away
in the middle distance. We had to engage four-wheel-drive to trek in and
out of there in the loaded six cylinder Jeep wagon with the donk in tow.
Sometimes we had to remove tree branches to keep signal paths clear.
It wasn't always lonely. I spent a day of comparative freedom in the pits
at Warwick Farm's Tasman Series car races. My idea of Heaven. The director-producer
was "The White Rat", Jim Allen and the TV commentators were
Bill Reynolds the gentleman racing driver and the young motoring writer,
Graham Howard. They were sitting on top of the scoreboard building and
had a nearly impossible job seeing anything on their 14 inch picture monitor
in the midsummer sunlight. I can't imagine how they covered races there
on three cameras, even with the tall scaffold tower near the pond and
the long lenses. Cars would have been out of sight so much of the time.
Running cables, I got to clamber around in the stratospheric, pitch dark
spooky rafters of the Ex-Elizabethan Theatre in Newtown and see odd nooks
and crannies, much pigeon guano and some fascinating sights around the
Sydney Town Hall.
In fresher air we covered an athletics day at E.S. Marks Field. I'd heard
of many of the competitors. Not being assigned a particular duty I was
asked to just look after the various ABC vehicles while the crew were
concentrating on televising the events. I was sitting in the "Inter",
an International van that carried cables and lights, when a cigarette
company rep asked me if he could stow his spare sample case in the cabin
for a couple of hours. I said he could. He said "Do you smoke?"
I said "No." No problem. Except when some of the crew came back
to the truck later. I told them what happened and that the man just picked
up his case. "Always tell them you smoke, Bob. They give us heaps
of free fags!" So much to learn.
My loneliest shift ever was a solo all-nighter guarding the Marconi OB
van which was all set up at the back of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
It was a last-minute posting so I hadn't been able to prepare by taking
any snacks, books or a radio so it was a testing experience indeed. The
dawn was very welcome. So was the extra pay.
I was intrigued when we and TCN 9 covered the same football match. We'd
laid all our cables early and neatly with cable-crossing ramps and geometric
precision all the way. Then I saw how the commercial guys did things.
They turned up in their famous white OB van while we were having a "crib
break" and hurriedly slung the ends of the camera cables, lasso style,
over the high stone wall and deployed all their cabling without a straight
line or right-angle in sight. Of course they were all set up well in time
for the kick-off.
Setting up to do sound for that OB, I was alarmed when the commentator
gave me a level test and his microphone sounded badly distorted. Of course,
but I couldn't see, he had it right under his nose, anticipating a very
noisy crowd around him during the game. The TP suggested, smiling, that
I might like to put a 30 Db pad in that mike circuit so I climbed outside
and found where to put it in the sound patch panel behind a flap on the
side of the van. Don't ask me who won the match. Even who played. But
our sound was just fine.
We were covering the Olympic swimming trials at North Sydney Pool which
has no roof. While we drank tea after setting up we saw a fierce squall
approaching across the Harbour. There was an urgent scramble to get all
the gear covered securely before it hit. It hit hard but everything was
saved. The whole crew had the spirit of a winning football team, I thought.
On other occasions, late at night the drivers of the various ABC vans
would race each other over the Harbour Bridge on the way home to Gore
Hill. "Put you fooken foot down!" the rigger would urge.
There were some rough diamonds in the Outside Broadcast department. That
rigger had a nickname everyone used but it took me thirty years to wake
up and realize what it meant. It really was quite rude. I was an innocent
during my Gore Hill days. It seemed anybody named Clark became "Nobby"
but I still don't know why. I did know, though, that "The Judge"
was so called because he was "always sitting on a case". Brian
Williamson of our group was always known by his nickname, "Joe".
He was from Young, way out in the country. He thought I was English, a
"Pom", such was the difference in our accents.
The likeable Joe and I were teamed with Dave "Blue" Whiteman
to man a link van. Blue was an old hand in the business. He and Joe were
both knockabout, down-to-earth men and got on like old mates. Blue was
surprised when Joe told him that all that stuff inside the Raytheon microwave
transmitters and receivers was just black magic as far as he could tell.
After we'd set up the repeater unit and aimed the big parabolic dishes,
Blue offered to try to explain the basics to his new friend. In the afternoon
sunshine he opened the side of the transmitter, revealing rows of glass
tube valves hard at work, and explained things this way to the attentive
"These here valves all have a heater in the middle. See, they're
all red hot! The thin tube round the heater is the cathode and the electrons
in it get all hot and bothered and want to jump out. But there's a wire
gate in their way, see. It's called the grid and it only takes a little
bit of a voltage change on it to make those electrons either stay put
or stampede through it to that metal wall round the outside. That's the
plate. We run that at a high positive voltage to give the negative electrons
plenty of incentive to have a bloody go. You know how a little kid can
open and shut a good farm gate? Well the signal to the gate, the grid,
is small compared to the signal all the escaped electrons make reaching
that plate. That's how we can amplify stuff."
I'd watched Joe's eyes light up. He nodded firmly and gratefully. What
are mates for? Blue, with his kindred language and view of things, taught
Joe heaps more stuff. Stuff he hadn't understood in the more formal language
of lecture rooms and studios. Joe qualified at the end of the four years
of training. He learned, too, how to live well in big cities and soon
enjoyed a long period in London among the real "Poms". Last
time I saw him, at a reunion, he'd just retired. He'd been back in Australia
running Young Shire Council's Aquatic Centre for some years.
There were only a few accidents and injuries while I worked at Gore Hill.
A chap had been hit under the chin, thrown into the air and injured badly
before I started there. The crew were removing a camera from a pedestal
whose column was supposed to be locked down against the upward force from
its counterweighting. When the man was leaning over it, handing the camera
off, it let go and rose at terrific speed with a bang. After much hospital
time, the poor man was back on the job when I joined up but he had a permanent
tic as a result of the trauma. We were hounded about pedestal safety.
Also we were warned not to drop rollers or pins when attaching lamps to
the scaffold tubes from the galleries above Studio 21. Someone did drop
a roller once, resulting in a near-miss and a heavy reprimand. We were
warned not to ride up on the electrically hoisted lighting battens in
Studio 22 for fear of "instant dismissal".
Bob Clemesha was either very lucky or very unlucky when a camera tower
scaffold toppled onto the audience seats in the Sydney Town Hall while
he was climbing it to remove a big Taylor Hobson zoom lens. Bob survived
landing on his back in the seating but received a glancing blow from the
camera which knocked him out. The camera assembly had remained anchored
to the falling tower by its sturdy turnbuckle but the heavy platform planks
speared down and pulverized several seats but missed Bob. He came-to on
a stretcher going down a steep, dark, narrow stairwell while his fellow
crewmembers complained loudly about his weight. Bob was slim, but he was
quite tall, after all. Still is. The crew had to make sure there was no
cover-up of that incident.
The other scaffolding failure caused a Marconi camera to fall into the
Nepean River while being struck after the Head of the River boat races.
It was repaired with the use of gallons of WD40 and lots of soldering
and insurance money. The WD40 melted the myriad wax capacitors so they
were all replaced with the new PVC type. To the credit of the chaps who
rebuilt them, the camera and the viewfinder saw out their full service
life. The scaffolding problem was identified, dealt with, and it never
There were insidious hazards. We were warned not to stand in a transmitter
beam and, luridly, what would happen to our
fertility. We were told
of some bizarre effects of electric shock and not to just laugh if we
ever saw them, but take instant appropriate action and hopefully save
a mate. Carbon tetrachloride was used as a general solvent, notably for
washing gunk out of projector gates including while the machine was running
and on the air. This useful but dangerous liquid was suddenly banned in
about 1963 and alcohol was supplied for most substitutions beside WD40
which was touted as the wonder-fluid. (It was very useful in some applications.)
There were the asbestos gloves and asbestos in the buildings and in some
of the equipment too.
Perhaps the worst hazard was smoking. It was allowed most of the time
in the studios but matches and butts had to be kept off the floor diligently
so that the cameras felt no bumps. In the control rooms nearly everybody
smoked. Cigarettes, cigars and pipes. The ceilings and light fittings
steadily turned brown over the years and sometimes the grey fug of smoke
was so thick that picture matching had to be done by reading the green
waveform monitors rather than the vague view of the bluish picture monitors.
Some people made more smoke than others, though I won't name names, Billy,
but anyway most of us took up the habit. After all, all the control desks
had ashtrays built-in! I'm sure smoking was so common because of the stop-start
nature of the job. I imagine there was a parallel situation in the armed
A TP, Les Weldon, lived one street from me in Northmead. Sometimes he
drove me to or from work when our shifts were the same and I was without-car.
He'd built himself an FM stereo radio receiver and listened to the test
broadcasts transmitted from Gore Hill. He liked classical music. He wasn't
very happy when the tests stopped. The FM classical music silence lasted
about fourteen years!
Another TP, Dick Cohen, owned a yacht which he enjoyed on free weekends.
Any hobby, sport or pastime was subject to the demands of the almighty
roster. The yacht was high and dry on a rented ramp in Woodford Bay. He
needed help to push the work along. He'd nearly finished replacing the
cabin roof and was anxious to get the rest ship-shape and painted and
off the ramp. He paid me to help him with sanding and other work on a
few Saturdays. For my last Saturday's work she was anchored in the bay
and we had to row out to her in the little dinghy. I sanded paint all
day, working from the dinghy in the afternoon without getting seasick
and at sunset we motored, with the little six-horsepower Seagull outboard,
very slowly and majestically to a new mooring. Thus ended that tiny chapter
of my sailing history.
About that time, after I'd turned 21, I made my first visit to the 729
Club, a club for people working in or on television. The address was in
Crows Nest. It moved over the Highway and into St Leonards while I was
still in the industry. I wasn't a regular visitor but I met some interesting
people and had some memorable times there. I was brought up a non-drinker
and non-gambler. I did drink a bit for a couple of years but I stopped
when I bought my first racing car. I never put more than a few dollars
into the "pokies" at a time, just treating them as a mild amusement.
I enjoyed visits to the Club for company and a way to wind down after
a high-pressure show.
It was hard for many of us to go straight home and to sleep, still hyped-up
in the middle of the night with not even test patterns on TV and the (now
vanished) silence in the suburbs. In the near future I'd listen to Howard
Craven on the midnight-to-dawn radio and ring him for requests. He always
played them for me, "Bob from Chatswood". I'd do some painting
or whatever while I listened. It did help me calm down to a point where
I could sleep. I'm sure others had their different ways of coping with
shift work and hype and "coming down".
A newly formed quartet turned up for an appearance in a variety show.
I was on the left-hand boom. Shortly before their rehearsal the Technical
Producer told the sound man and me "I'm told this group has perfect
internal balance. We can probably just use the boom." They started
rehearsing their first song. They all sang, three men and a girl, and
the men played instruments, a double bass and two guitars. The BK 5 seemed
to be giving the sound man what he wanted. When I lifted my headphones
the group sounded great live. Full-bodied and perfectly balanced. They
were "The Seekers".
At the end of 1964 we had our graduation night. We gathered in the big
perforated-stained-plywood-lined Studio 227 in the Woolworth Building
in Kings Cross, all dressed up and escorting elegant girlfriends to receive
our ABC Technicians' Certificates from Dr Clement Semmler. He made a speech
which I'm sure was very apt but which I just cannot remember after 53
years. The Chief Engineer made a speech assuring us we still weren't proper
technicians yet. I do remember that. Others there were Dave Tapp and many
other Engineering staff and wives along with our good shepherd, John Watson.
He had wisely designed our training to allow us to obtain several non-ABC
qualifications with not much extra work.
We all did the Broadcast Operator's Certificate of Proficiency test in
AWA's classic radio building in the City in mid-1964. We did a test for
our Television Operator's Certificate of Proficiency and our ABC Technician's
exams in late 1964. The BOCP and the TVOCP were issued by the Australian
Broadcasting Control Board. A couple of our group did some further study
and got Electronics and Communication Certificates. We could have passed
the Licensed Electricians' exam after adding the study of substations
to what we'd already done. A few of our group learned Morse code for another
qualification. DCA and the Navy, for instance, still used Morse. I thought
it was on the way out so I didn't bother. I think only one of us failed
to get our ABC Technician's ticket. He was offered an operational post
but left and became a musician.
Out of School - 1965 and 1966.
Straight after training I was made an Acting Senior Technician and because
I didn't nominate a preferred duty (camera, sound, telecine etc.), I was
given relieving duty, standing in for people who were on annual leave
or sick leave. That meant I eventually did every job an acting senior
did. I did make a few mistakes. A lens change on-air during Bob Sanders'
"People". Another one in a big avant-garde jazz program on Camera
I did some really good things though. I was on sound on Sunday Concert,
live on a Sunday afternoon, with a clarinet choir to mike. All the loose
microphones in the station were next door in Studio 21 for some huge project
like "Jazz Meets Folk". Just two RCA BK 5s hung from the ends
of our two Mole-Richardson tricycle platform microphone booms. The musos
in the ensemble were Sydney's best classical clarinettists and I managed
to find the sweet spot and send good sound to the transmitter that afternoon
with what I had. One mike for the announcer and just the other one over
the arc of standing musicians. I didn't need to use echo, reverb or move
a mike during the show.
I had some trouble doing sound on Thursday Partyland. Reg Quartley played
a panto dame called Auntie Flo. He was short and agile and a born clown.
He did the Marx Brothers' mirror act partnered by Ron Lee (who was soon
to invent "Owly's School" for TEN 10). The act was a smash,
wasted on little kids, I thought. But during the regular "Thursday
Partyland" party scene, which was a melee, really, Reg would suddenly
burst into song right underneath one or the other boom mike. "Around
the World" was always his choice of aria. He did it to me and the
TP told me the transmitter had shut down for a second, please be careful.
Unlike ATN 7, we of the ABC didn't use audio compression. (Weston Baker,
the famous sound man from ATN 7, loved it, he told me.) From then on I
rode the faders watching Reg like a hawk through the sloping double-glazed
window of the sound booth, standing up at my panel to keep a good view
of the little rascal.
There were so many wonderful music experiences at Channel 2. Music is
very important to me, as it was for many of the technical staff. We had
The Magic of Music, Make Ours Music, Four for the Show, Café Continental,
The Lorrae Desmond Show, The Brian Davies Show, evolved from Six O'Clock
Rock, Sunday Concert, Jazz Meets Folk, Christmas specials, programs of
German Lieder or arias, Lindley Evans or Henry Penn accompanying, the
Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Sydney Youth Orchestra, big choirs, jazz
quartets like Judy Bailey's. Operas. All kinds of visiting soloists from
Isaac Stern to Larry Adler and speed record ace Sir Donald Campbell's
lady, Tonia Bern, nightclub singing. I was spoilt rotten musically almost
the whole time. Jim Gussey's ABC Dance Band, Eric Jupp's Orchestra. Little
gems like hearing "Clair de Lune" on flute and harp. Hiding
on the centre catwalk in Studio 21 above a vast valley of massed choirs
and orchestras filling the studio tightly and making the most magnificent
sound anyone could ever hear. And I was the only person to hear it live
at its very focus. "Live" is an adjective and a noun. I mean
Master control was often manned by Kevin Tulk. I'll never forget him
for several reasons. One, he wanted to sell me his old Riley car. In pieces.
Well it did have the larger engine and brakes
. But I was only twenty
and my father forbade the deal. Kevin gave me a lift to Parramatta Station
once, just once, in his Messerschmitt three-wheel microcar and for the
only time in my life I became very afraid of the wheelnuts on buses in
afternoon peak traffic. He was famous for answering queries about signal
quality from his section with his instant, very loud "It's alright
leaving here!" His nickname was "40 Db". He was on the
board of the 729 Club.
University students were sent to the station for practical experience.
Master Control would often play host. One day a student became restless
and left his chair behind the operators and started wandering around amongst
the equipment banks. The transmitter chaps called up urgently about loss-of-signal.
It wasn't "leaving here" at all. The enterprising student had
found the patch panels and thought he'd tidy up. He unplugged and put
all of the cords back in a neat row on the wall, all hanging vertically
from their slots and leaving the video and sound boards empty and all
the video and audio signals with nowhere to go
. After that little
lesson, all students were told to sit on their two hands on pain of death
until the tea trolley arrived. Then sit on one hand.
After lunch one day I was called up to the electronics maintenance section
behind Master Control for a special job. Replacing the filterwheel string
in a Marconi Mk 4 camera. All of those early cameras weren't very sensitive
and needed a lot of light for studio work. (This called for a lot of electrical
energy indeed.) But for outside broadcasts, filters were used so normal
lens apertures, between f 5?6 and f 11, could be used so normal depth-of-field
was preserved. The filters were installed in a disc which was rotated
as needed to "cap up", select a filter or use the empty, no-filter
position. It was turned by a string like the one in an old-style radio
that moved the tuning pointer.
We could see where the string went and the Marconi workshop manual gave
a long set of instructions for what it said was a six-hour job involving
taking apart most of the front and half of the right hand side of the
camera. The side where the camera tube lives. And on the Mk 4, the lens
turret carried the geared iris drive motor. I looked at the thing from
both ends, didn't take the instructions too seriously and said "Okay.
I'll have a go." The camera was needed. We had no spare ones. They
left me with the partially stripped camera and a spool of the specified
string. I was a smoker by then. I smoked a Woodbine Export while I looked
at the problem.
I trotted off to the workshop down in the basement and borrowed from Merv
Somers some lengths 18 SWG steel oxy-welding wire. I trotted (literally)
back upstairs and started work. I had to remove a few bits. By that time
it was afternoon tea time so I went over to the canteen for my usual mug
of made-on-milk coffee. Back on the job I put little loops and hooks on
the ends of the welding wires and started to push the string through the
bowels of the precious camera without damaging anything and via the correct,
I had to anchor the string temporarily at various stages as I went until
I finally got it round the wheel. I attached both ends of the string using
the correct knots and tension. After some reassembly of components, adjustments,
testing and refitting of the outer casing, I reported that the camera
was finished. The Supertech was surprised and delighted. After I told
him how I did it in under two hours, he sent me back to my studio with
many thanks. I wondered if Merv's welding rods were assigned 'special
Marconi tool' numbers.
About 1965 we heard that the nightshift cleaner in the engineering areas
downstairs, a migrant from Europe, a nice quiet chap with not much English,
had been working for many years without claiming any penalty rates or
meal allowances. Somebody noticed at last and he was helped and brought
up to date with a huge lump sum of cash, like a lottery win.
About the same time we heard that the ex-army storeman had committed suicide.
He'd drilled a neat hole in his car's bodywork, driven to North Head,
connected a hose from the exhaust pipe to the special hole and gassed
himself. We were left stunned and puzzled by this news.
One of my most enjoyable duties was a lonely one. I manned a Siemens
projector in a small room between Telecine and Videotape and worked my
way through a big trolleyfull of cans of 16mm films of various lengths
and subjects. "Tech-checking". I would clean the gate in the
projector, lace-up a film, project it onto a screen and make notes on
a printed form about the qualities of the picture, sound, sprocket holes,
splices and so on, seeing if each film was good enough to "go to
air". I found some reels boring but the interesting ones more than
made up for that.
On one program, a documentary made by Gore Hill film people, I saw a really
good shot of my friend Kel Merz driving his classic Riley sportscar through
Surrey Hills. Later on I owned that car and it was also the last customer's
car I ever worked on in my Amaroo Park workshop fifty one years later.
Another series of films that I well remember featured Alice und Ellen
Kessler in their variety show from Germany. Oh, yes. Those telerecordings
were the best quality ones I ever saw. They got the gamma just right,
I thought. I was possibly the first person in Australia to see and hear
those talented twins in action.
I was able to adjust my breaks, my trips to the canteen, to best enjoy
watching the good stuff and I was sorry indeed when my month of solitary
confinement was over. What else was there still waiting in those cans
on the "in" trolley? What did I miss?
I was on camera for another four-camera show. (There were only three
cameras permanently assigned to each big studio, 21 and 22, and two to
the news studio, 23.) It was an in-depth interview of Sydney artist Brett
Whitely. It involved ultra-close-ups of lips, eyes, ears and hands lighting
cigarettes. We all had the longest lens sets we could fit to the turrets
of the cameras. I got a really good shot full of the Marlboro packet and
the taking-out and lighting of the Federal match and the cigarette which
I then tracked up and down faithfully while woolly-haired Mr Whitely cryptically
answered questions between puffs, shedding some light on his eccentricities.
The brand names certainly went to air that time!
Another thing happened which involved me being called away after lunch.
This time to Studio 22 where Henri Safran was doing tape inserts for some
avant-garde drama about which I knew nothing. Still know nothing. A full
crew was standing around. There was no action and little in the way of
sets. I was ushered to Camera 2 and urged to put on the cans (headset).
The Technical Producer was, unusually, down on the floor and he told me
they wanted a video feedback effect to videotape for use in the production.
On the talkback I asked the Director nervously what sort of movement,
patterns, what shape or style he wanted. Henri's English failed him so
the unseen Scripto upstairs ventured "Someone running along a street
'Streetlights.' I thought. I pointed the camera at the nearest floor monitor
and soon managed to get white spots forming in the centre and streaming
outwards to the viewer, expanding and flowing out to the top corners of
the screen. Billy Dayhew or whoever was on CCU upstairs was spot-on, helping
me with the right exposure and stretching black. I heard "Keep it
like that, Camera 2." and "Roll tape."
I never found out if or how they used the piece but the TP told me I'd
done splendidly. Apparently he'd noticed me playing around with video
feedback earlier in the year. I was back at whatever I'd been doing in
Studio 23, across the corridor, before it was time for afternoon tea.
Another unusual thing I did gave me a special satisfaction and relates
to my subsequent career. Some of the Senior and Supervising Technicians
knew that my good friend, Brian Rawlings, was building Bulant racing cars
with steel tube spaceframes and that I was helping him. The Outside Broadcast
Department was setting up a new six cylinder Jeep station wagon as a microwave
link repeater unit. This required, among many other things, a rack unit
with a benchtop to hold monitors and an oscilloscope and room for doing
running repairs, soldering and such, and means to accommodate tools, meters,
cables and spares.
They asked me to design a steel tube frame. I measured-up the back of
the wagon and the equipment and got hold of cartridge paper, pencils and
drawing instruments from the TPs' office. I drew up a frame. It had to
clear the wheel arch and fit neatly, not be too high, and accommodate
drawers and shelves with doors. I designed it in one-inch and half-inch
square steel tubing and printed neatly beside the drawings all the specifications
of the tube, the welding and the paint finish. The sheet was okayed and
sent out to a steel fabrication company, probably nearby in Artarmon.
A couple of weeks later I was called down to the Outside Broadcast Department
without explanation and there, in its beautiful new specified blue-grey
hammertone paint, was my frame, just arrived. It was duly installed with
its drawers, cupboards and benchtop made in-house and I was assured it
fitted the Jeep and all its purposes perfectly. I was a proud young man
We sometimes heard the phrase "instant dismissal". I don't
think it was ever implemented. But we heard that people could be demoted
to work on the mail desk in town helping to handle the ABC's plentiful
internal mail. I think that did happen on average once every couple of
years. There was a character called "Gym Boots" who slept on
a pile of sandbags and disused curtains under the stairs in the corner
of Studio 22. You could see his gym boots poking out and his glasses glinting.
Reliably every weekday for many months he was there, never causing trouble
but never doing any work. I think he was assigned to Staging. There must
have been a story behind Gym Boots. I still wonder what it was.
The ABC printer (he worked in town) was a happy character, a fellow called
Ian "Hutch" Hutchinson whom I ran into at the Sydney Jazz Club.
He had a band. I joined and we played New Orleans jazz on Saturday nights
(my shifts permitting) in the bar of the Brooklyn Hotel on lower George
St. He had a Commer (Hillman) panel van to which I successfully fitted
a downdraught SU carburettor one weekend. I didn't drink then so I was
popular with the others in the band because when we played riotously and
the punters lined up beers for us along the bar, I never claimed any.
A nice chap from New Zealand joined us to be an operator, alternating
with the memorable Michael Phelps on the vision mixer in Studio 23. His
name was Murray Hill. He asked me quietly where jazz was played around
Sydney. I was partial to the older styles of jazz and, after work, happily
drove Murray to the Sydney Jazz Club, the York Club and the Jazzmakers
Club in turn. Shy Murray didn't say anything but he was grateful. A mystery
was comprehensively solved one night when I arrived somewhere to see Murray
He was with a more modern outfit, starring on saxophone. He was in the
middle of a raging bebop solo about ten choruses long. He played like
John Coltrane all night. He'd found what he was looking for and his musical
life never looked back. He was a dark horse, so quiet at work but so expertly
expressive through his big tenor sax on stage.
Oh yes. Michael Phelps. He was reputed to have supered, during the evening
news, a caption. "Will not stand for election." over a picture
of HM the Queen.
After Easter in 1965 there was a call for volunteers to work in Kings
Cross in a new training studio. I thought it would be a useful experience
so I put my name down. The studio was at 50-52 Darlinghurst Road. The
multi-storey art deco Woolworth building still wears its pale green tiles.
In 1965 it housed a Woolworths Variety Store at street level. Above the
shop it was occupied by the ABC. Today there's a brass plaque on the footpath
pointing out that Sir Robert Menzies officially launched ABC television
there in 1956. The two floors directly over the shop had been the Sydney
Symphony Orchestra's rehearsal studio and called Radio 227. Floors above
housed the extensive ABC sheet music library and many offices and had
a separate entrance on Kellett Street. Stairwells had been blocked off
(dangerously, I thought) to segregate sections of the building. When we
arrived, the studio had been almost converted into a two-camera TV studio
and control rooms: main, sound, telecine and videotape. There was no sign
whatever of any remaining radio equipment.
We spent the first months finishing it all off with John Watson in attendance.
It needed some more wiring-up and some hardware work. Daily, one of us
would pop down the street with a chit and buy screws, conduit or brackets
and things from the hardware shop. We had a hard battle with loud hum
in the brand new AWA audio desk, which we overcame in the end. I devised
a line-up procedure for the all-important video standard "volt".
I used the reliable standard reference volt from the new Ampex 2 inch
videotape machine. Then we could do some test productions including the
taping of our own amateur efforts from the floor. I am ashamed to this
day of my wooden acting in a demonstration we made to illustrate sound
perspective. The videotape machine was operated by John Jarman. Quite
often I operated a camera. The cameras were a pair of lightweight Vidicon
ones with zoom lenses and horrid castor tripods. The microphone boom was
just a tripod type and lighting control was basic. We had a new man with
us fresh from BBC TV, Andrew Fraser, who left us later to help operate
radio telescopes for the moon landing projects.
At the time I was living in Crows Nest, sharing digs with Paul Ament and
Bruce Hardiman (a T.i.T. of Group 62). I drove my Citroen ID to work each
day over the Harbour Bridge, parked in the Forbes St ABC bare-earth parking
area opposite SCEGGS playground and walked to the Woolworth Building.
There was an ABC canteen in a William St. building and, once I found it,
I ate a huge salad there every lunch hour. And pretentiously smoked a
cigar. I remember the pop song "It's Good News Week" being a
big hit that summer.
The head of the school arrived. He was a livewire director-producer who
had worked all over the place especially New Zealand and Britain. His
assistant was a woman who'd been a script assistant at ATN 7. She'd worked
on Johnny O'Keefe's show and still worshipped him. They were soon followed
by the first group of television techniques trainees. These first were
about ten keen young Asian men, from as many different countries, training
under the Colombo Plan. They were taught about each part of making programs
and how to operate the equipment, at least in broad terms, how to write
a script with shot lists and directions, how to direct, floor manage,
mix sound, record a show and so on, as well as some still film camera
photography leading to photojournalism.
Near the end of the course each student gave a performance culturally
characteristic of his home country while the others made a program of
acts. The segments were assembled into a program by the students. If that
tape is still around it would be very interesting to see again. The head-of-school
and his assistant called us all one by one into the tea room to assist
with the assessment of each student with our observations of their performances
throughout the course and they made detailed reports on each one.
During the first part of 1966 a group of young Australian men went through
the course and among them were Albie Thoms and Bob Ellis. Both real eccentrics,
we found. They had some far-out ideas, some of them brilliant, some just
crazy. There were some very interesting comments about them in the assessment
sessions but I believe they passed the course. They went on to live interesting
I went back to Gore Hill and real television (and overtime, penalty rates
and allowances) during 1966. I was back to my roving duties that kept
me on my toes and interested. The original CPS Emitron cameras of Studio
23 were long gone. The last examples of those dear old things were still
being used somewhere in South America. No more danger of the ugly "peeling-off"
phenomenon they did when flashed by a chance reflection of excess light.
The Pye OB cameras were still going strong and Marconi Mk 4 cameras were
well established, the last main black-and-white type to serve. Autocue
had arrived in Studio 23 with its young lady controlling the roll from
out in the scenery runway by watching a split of Camera 1 and listening
I learnt the art of getting very good pictures out of the complex Image
Orthicon 4½ inch tubes, knowledge that would be invaluable for
my next five year career phase. Those Marconi 4½" Image Orthicon
camera tubes were indeed complex, delicate and expensive things at about
$1,400 in 1966. Each. As much as a luxury car. They were guaranteed to
do a certain number of hours, though, and if handled and operated carefully
the later ones would do many thousands of hours. Hours were carefully
logged for every tube.
When not installed in a camera, each tube was kept face-up in its own,
personal, vibration and shockproof Slingpak box with its clever suspension
system and no tube was ever allowed to face downwards for fear of any
stray debris in the tube, however minute, falling onto the incredibly
delicate target and screen. The target glass was so thin it had to be
made by blowing an enormous glass bubble and breaking it in a dustless
room and then ever so carefully picking up suitable looking pieces and
making sure each was absolutely flawless. That process was easy compared
with creating the perfect microscopic metal screen that made up each target.
They started by scribing
Look. Please take my word for it, okay?
We were a bit agitated by a visit to Studio 22 by some people trying
to sell CSF cameras. They set them going and invited us all to play with
them, shooting each other on the set we were using that day. The pictures
looked good in the viewfinders, particularly for such small and lightweight
cameras. But what impressed us most was the wonderful feel of the viscous-damped
zooms and pan-tilt heads. We underlings wanted these things now but it
was not to be. The ABC stuck with the big Marconis and Vinten pan-tilt
The big transmitter tower, the ineluctable symbol of our enterprise,
was hit so hard by a storm one evening that a film cameraman, who stood
at the front doors of the studio building, got a shot of the tip of the
mast swaying over metre. Another storm sent a lightning strike that exploded
an aircraft warning lamp. The big, broken red lens was found in the carpark
and brought into Studio 23 to feature on the late news. On my camera.
The tower was re-painted one week. Red and white. The colours of all the
spots on so many angry staffmembers' cars. Many of us were lucky and missed
out on spots. It didn't take much of a breeze to spread the spatters right
across the carpark, such was the height of the tower.
There was a "get well cupboard" in Telecine. Sometimes a component
would fail for no apparent reason. When examined carefully on the test
bench it would show no fault. Temperature? Humidity? Frustrating. The
part would be put in the Brownbuilt cupboard for a long spell. Every year
or so when things weren't busy a technician would take a part from the
cupboard and put it back in service, on probation, in the least critical
machine. If it worked it nearly always kept on working but if it didn't
work or soon failed it was written off forthwith.
There came a mystery to Maintenance. A "black box" device appeared
on a workbench. A plain box with no switch, gauge, socket or anything
on it but a three-core flex and a three-pin power plug. Some fool plugged
it in and switched on. The fuse to the bench blew. Measurement showed
a dead short circuit between the active and neutral pins of the plug.
It was agreed that the device must have been "a Mk 1 Fuse Tester".
There was no mystery about another phenomenon on a workbench. John Jarman
was known for many things including collecting Coke bottles and wire coathangers
assiduously. One day some wag (I was told his name recently) decided to
Araldite a Coke bottle invitingly to the new Masonite-surfaced benchtop
near John's work station. John never acknowledged the resulting huge crater
that appeared in the middle of the otherwise pristine benchtop.
Beverly Gledhill is probably best known for "The Inventors"
but she'd been around the ABC since before TV started and I first saw
her directing the weekday 5PM children's programs. I believe the lady
is a genius. She had Brian Brown and, I think, Jack Allen copy a marvellous
performance of "I Love a Piano" complete with the two concert
grands which glided off the set, left and right, at the end, Hollywood
style. Rich fare for children, I thought. But my main encounter was when
I was in training on Camera 3 doing a multi-set children's drama featuring
John Ewart and the gang. "The Gillypops". I missed a transition
to the next scene and was caught many yards out of position for my three-inch
I stopped shuffling my shot cards and got the shot alright, using my eight-inch
lens, but Beverly decided to teach me a lesson. "Dolly in, Camera
3." Pause. "I'm on an eight." I whimpered on the talkback.
"Dolly in, Camera 3." she insisted, not hearing me. I tried.
I tried hard not to let the camera wobble but though the camera and the
Houston Fearless pedestal weighed nearly half a ton (~400Kg), the long
eight-inch lens showed up every microbump on the studio's cork-and-resin
compound floor. Afterwards she never said anything about my lapse and
neither did the Technical Producer who'd probably had a good laugh along
with Bev, but I'd learnt a lesson. I instinctively liked her and I never
forgot Beverly Gledhill.
Joyce Belfrage migrated to Australia as a 'Ten Pound Pom' (her words)
from the BBC and came to my notice as the lady who'd thrown a typewriter
out of an ABC office window and been fined a hundred pounds for it by
a magistrate. The Station had made a Shakespeare play, "The Merchant
of Venice", and telerecorded it to send to "The BAPH States"
(Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Hobart) on film with magnetic sound. But
the middle 30 minute master reel of the soundtrack had been accidentally
erased. A disaster. Joyce was there to direct the re-recording of those
thirty minutes of sound in Studio 23.
Firstly, the actors spoke their lines again while watching the picture
on a monitor to get their words in synch. This was done in short bits
and the picture was from loops of film in telecine. Each loop played over
and over as the actors got their lines and their lip-synching better and
better until Joyce said "Cut!" when she thought they'd got it
right and the optimum version was saved for the final assembly. Watching
the process was fascinating to many of us. Joyce became less patient as
the exercise went on and when the actors were released we carried on with
the loops all over again recording synchronous sound effects, footsteps,
ambient sound and so on.
Joyce was the first person, male or female, I ever heard yell anything
like "Pull your bloody finger out, Telecine!"
I had to
ask a colleague what she meant! She swore very loudly too when the sound
operator sent a background sound out at low level. She pointed out, with
the agreement of the Technical Producer, that it should be sent at zero
Db and cut back only during final mixing. (for optimal signal-to-noise
ratio.) Anyway the reel of sound was finally replaced at great expense
but with noticeably imperfect matching to the others. We were never told
the name of the bulk-erasure culprit. And I never forgot the strident
Hudson Faucett arrived in Studio 23 to produce and direct "In Your
Garden". He was a really nice gentleman, an American, with good producing
credentials and endearing qualities. He was a laid-back character and
looked like a yacht club commodore replete with plimsolls and nautical
cap. He loved his "marrr-tinnies" and cheerfully admitted he
couldn't wait to finish each program to get back to them. The ABC used
producer-directors but he had never directed anything before so the can-do
script assistants, who affectionately called him "Huddy", didn't
hesitate to carry the man effortlessly through each show, aided by well-practised
vision mixers, cameramen and floor managers and so on. Huddy sat back
in awe and let it all happen around him and we all loved working with
him, or rather, for him.
He did many different shows at Gore Hill and they seemed to go well and
smoothly while Huddy, in his rich accent, kept us all amused and smiling
with him, anticipating "marrr-tinnies" at the 729 Club. I spotted
him again when he was an actor on "Spy Force" a few years later.
A memorable technical man from the Federal Laboratories was Neville Thiele.
Leonard (Superman and Homicide actor) Teale's brother. (Yes, different
spelling.) Neville is famous for his seminal work on loudspeaker crossover
network and enclosure technology and, to us, for burying speaker enclosures
face-up in a paddock out in rural Dural for super-accurate response pattern
testing. In the early sixties he was based in the Alderson Building at
St Leonards and worked on things like acceptance testing of new equipment
and he sometimes used the workshop and maintenance facilities at Gore
Hill to make his necessary gadgets.
On day I was introduced to the dapper man who gave me very detailed instructions
for building a sound filtering network box for use as a testing device
in the Station. I used the regulation requisition forms to get all the
materials and parts from the Store and started work. He specified 1% capacitors
(the most accurate available). The coils were specified to have exact
numbers of turns and half-turns of enamelled copper wire of specific SWG
sizes, my surprise coming when each coil spool was exactly filled by the
correct number of turns the design called for. Naturally, the finished
filters were all spot-on specification when I tested them.
I asked Mr Thiele how he did it, designed the coils so accurately for
number-of-turns and reactance value. He was unexpectedly vague and just
said "Oh, SWG sizes are all logarithmic, you know." As if it
should all have been second-nature to me too. But I admired the man and
judged him to be a genius.
We made a program called "Snowy" about the Snowy Mountains
Scheme. The first all-Australian ballet to appear on television. The studio
looked splendid with the whole 270 degree backcloth painted in a surreal
coloured sky effect like a dream sunrise and all of the floor painted
in brown and orange tones to blend with it. Margaret Barr's dancers told
the story to John Antill's special music. We were amused when the dancing
surveyor arrived with his theodolite tripod which was portrayed with personified
precision by a neat little folding ballerina he carried about on his shoulder.
The climax of the ballet concerns the coming of water to arid land. Camera
3 was carefully removed from its pedestal and put on a low platform with
a big metal tray of water in front of it to shoot the scene with its inverted
watery reflection as the bottom third of the picture. The effect was just
awful and all wrong. We tried adjusting everything with no success until
I precociously suggested removing the ugly metal tray and just putting
some water straight on the floor.
This worked like magic. The Marconi camera sat, looking out of place,
on just sandbags, (the big, stiff camera cable's downward angled attachment
position didn't allow the camera to sit flat). The lens was still about
a foot (300mm) above the floor but the reflection angle was low. So at
the end of the story 'raindrops' (from stage hands' hoses) are seen beginning
to spatter and to turn the 'dry ground' into a lake that becomes a mirror
when the shower stops, showing the dancers doubly in their celebrations
and making a spellbinding picture. I forget the music but not the visual
Stan Woolveridge, the stocky ex-BBC Staging Supervisor, was lividly angry
about the wet floor but we'd already finished recording and the program
we'd made soon won a prestigious international prize. There there, Stan.
Nobody slipped over and it was well worth it!
In each studio control room, from left to right, were the script assistant,
the director, vision mixer, technical producer, lighting man and the camera
control unit operator. In Studio 23 the sound mixer and two turntables
were on the director's left on the main desk. In the big studios the sound
booth was on the director's left with the sound operator and sometimes,
sitting behind him, a music expert to follow a score or a technician to
operate a Byer 77 tape recorder. Usually this used the full track of the
quarter-inch tape at the top speed of fifteen inches per second. With
that speed, the yellow cue marks were accurate to a fraction of a music
For many programs the sound man had a gram operator (from the Program
Department) sitting on his right. He had three three-speed turntables
on which he played mostly 78 RPM discs of theme music and sound effects.
Plug-in pickup-heads had to be correctly chosen, brown for 78s and red
for microgroove discs. He could cue-up a record and play an effect with
perfect timing by holding the record still with one finger at the chosen
spot with the felt covered turntable revolving under it and just lifting
his finger off on cue. The gram ops were all very good at that. This was
helped by the weight and speed of the 78s as compared with microgroove
discs. The effects discs with their music and sounds came from KPM and
Chapel (English music firms) and the station bought the rights to them
in bulk, so to speak.
The News theme was "Triumphal March". The Weather, "Poppleduffle".
Woman's World's theme was "Emeralds and Ermine" which ran exactly
30 seconds. We could hum that silently to use as a pretty accurate mental
timing device. I still can. I remember fellows testing each-other's skill
at it. There seemed to be only one car crash sound effect available, the
same one we'd been hearing on radio dramas all our lives. It's still around!
There were discs for peaceful pastoral scenes and rolling ocean waves,
taxis pulling up, brief links, dramatic short "stings" and most
other requirements for most kinds of productions. My favourite music disc
was the steamtrain-evoking "Twentieth Century Limited" (but,
so sadly, that's exactly what was playing outside the Sydney Luna Park
ghost train when the 1979 fatal fire took hold.)
The Gore Hill telephonists occupied the PABX room upstairs in the southern
corner of the building. My locker was right outside their door. One day
at knock-off time I came sauntering round the corner to find a stout stagehand
busily breaking into it. "What are you doing?" I yelled at him.
It was John Dunne "Just doing a favour." "What favour?"
I shouted. He said he was getting nuts and bolts to fix the locker beside
mine for one of the telephonists who came out, hearing the disturbance,
and backed up John's story. "For goodness' sake, pull some other
bugger's locker apart, then!" I told him while he helped put mine
back together. He mumbled "I thought it was empty." despite
my obvious personal padlock.
Gore Hill had a Staff Photography Club. Eddy Berlage, John Watson, John
Woods and several Technical Producers were keen members. One Saturday
morning we all gathered in John Woods' back yard in Artarmon to film and
photograph his pet bird and pup playing together. For an hour and a half
we circled the pair under the Hills Hoist, sitting or lying on the lush
buffalo turf while the animals refused to do their act. So all we had
were some animal portraits, a good camera comparison session and a chat.
I went back to John Woods' home at a later date to install a sound output
socket on his big TV set. John's job was making promos and teasers and
he needed to record off-air sound on his Grundig reel-to-reel tape recorder.
His work area was upstairs opposite Studio 22's viewing room on the south-eastern
side of the building, a bit isolated but right next door to the animation/rostrum
camera room. I talked with John about a vision special effect and he liked
the idea but we were forbidden even to experiment with it because anything
resembling strobing was absolutely forbidden by the all-powerful Australian
Broadcasting Control Board. The reason, I believe, was a danger of triggering
susceptible viewers' epileptic fits. My effect would be permissible now,
though. Rules have certainly changed. 'Gone by the Board'.
At the beginning of the sixties the ABC was maybe a bit "male-dominated"
and most women still had to leave when they married. To work anywhere
in the Children's Department (offices in the City) the minimum requirement
was still a Diploma of Education. But by the time I left, there were women
conspicuously working as journalists and directing and producing. Shifts
in attitudes had begun.
Engineering staff were, at first, fully trained to install, operate and
maintain all the equipment in the Station. This meant we learnt about
music and many and varied subjects such as make-up and a bit about wardrobe
because they concerned how we handled lighting and CCU. Later on, operators
were employed to specialise on things like camera operating or vision
mixing. The engineering people were still deferred to, however, and not
dismissed as second-ranked the way they were after only a decade or so
later when accountants, bureaucrats and then lawyers began to assert themselves
both in the ABC and in commercial television.
During my Gore Hill days I missed some of the operas such as 'The Pearl
Fishers' (Alan Boxsell worked on sound for that one) but I worked on 'The
Abduction from the Seraglio' and 'Samson and Delilah' which featured Saint-Sa?ns'
wonderful music. My job was to make the lightning flashes in the storm
scene. I had a naked 5kW carbon arc on top of a 12 foot aluminium ladder
with the heavy cables hanging down to the workshop's big three-phase arc
welding transformer below. I juggled, in asbestos gloves (!), the arc
handles, the thick script and a welding mask. So I wasn't even holding
on up there. The sound in my sweaty Bakelite headphones of the director
and the script assistant giving me conflicting directions was being drowned
out by the blaring PA music.
The building collapse scene at the end couldn't be rehearsed with all
of its elements, it being impossible for the staging people to do so much
re-setting in the limited time available. So when the cast finally saw
the complete and realistic catastrophe falling on top of them in the live
performance, many were really screaming, fearing for their lives.
For many following years I sometimes sat up suddenly in my sleep with
a haunting tune in my head, that expansive air from "Softly Awakes
my Heart" that accompanied the storm scene. Even Spike Jones' or
Bent Fabric's versions of it give me the willies today. You see, I was
not left entirely unaffected by my Gore Hill days.?
I have just now looked at a series of photographs of the Gore Hill studios
being demolished in 2007. An emotionally difficult thing for me to see
after the six formative years I spent there. The people, the music, the
dramas, operas, plays, children's shows, News, Four Corners, fellow technical
chaps and the 'characters'. The memories just flooded back. Looking at
the wall with the half of it in rubble where our roster sheet was pinned
up each week. The spot where I stood when my name was changed. So much
being obliterated forever. Better men built this than those who pull it
down. I saw the piece of floor where our girls' trio (girls from my highschool)
had stood singing and places where Professor Julius Sumner-Miller and
Sir Mark Oliphant once pontificated. The big soundproof doors stove in,
lighting battens felled and their winch motors scrap metal. Master Control
gone forever. A broken film spool. The news studio stripped naked. I could
Bob Winley. 2016.