I enjoyed my stay in Bendigo, sort of. I certainly made some good friends, although boarding so far out of town, at Kangaroo Flat, made it an exciting bike ride to work, especially in wet weather.
I remember I boarded with Mr and Mrs Small who were extremely kind to me.
But after a while I thought it was time to move on in my constant attempt to get into big city radio so I started to send off the requisite audition tapes. One ended up at 7EX, Launceston, and I suddenly found myself facing a tough decision when I got the job. We thought about it and in the end decided, what the heck, go for it, take the trip over to Tassie. So I resigned and then got a phone call to tell me that the guy who was leaving had decided to stay on, but not to worry, the Manager had found me a position at 7HO in Hobart if I wanted it. So, that’s how things were done in those days and off we went to Hobart where we settled in Lenah Valley and finally in a house at Howrah over on the other side of the river. Allan Brown was the manager at HO, Keith Graham was Chief Announcer and I recall John Loughlin (the breakfast star who was the King of Hobart radio), Allan Maney (My cricketing mate), Peter Sharp (who later moved on to Channel 10, Melbourne), Don Bridgen, Tom Paine, Rod Muir, Mike Webb, Sam Anglesea, John Vincent, John Vertigan (Vertie), the McCarthy Brothers, Doug Fry, Bernard Carr, Ray James and Roger Diakovsky.
Brian Hodgman was at the adjoining TVT 6, along with Ray Sherry (ex Stratford actor and later to be labor MP), Ian Woodward (the beloved Woody, another cricket tragic), Shelagh Keating, Tom Warne, Graeme Smith, Gordon Bell, Bill Lee, Tony Kendrick and the wonderful Mrs Wylie in the canteen.
As a matter of fact, my first memories of Hobart relate to Channel 6. My first Sunday night in Hobart was taken up watching the channel 6 movie and, in those days, the end of transmission for the day was marked by the playing of the national anthem. On this occasion the vision was of the Queen at the Trooping of the Colour ceremony. This night, I watched with interest as the Queen, mounted on her trusty steed, was shown upside down and going backwards.
Then there was the wonderful night when they showed the British historical piece, Scott of Antarctica. You know the story, where Scott battles his way to the south pole only to find that he’s been beaten by the Norwegian explorer Amundsen. His party is then virtually wiped out trying to get back home to base. Pretty rugged material.
Anyway, the movie went on and on and on and finally way after midnight, long after the channel’s licence allowed it to stay open, the director decided to send everyone to bed.
There was Scott and his party slogging their way through the snow to the pole and suddenly one of the actors looks up, points off screen and says, "Look!"
At this point, the director pulled the plug and we never found out what they were looking at, or indeed what happened to Scott and his band of adventurers.
What we were supposed to see of course was the Norwegian flag flying at the south pole signifying that Scott had been beaten to the pole and that all of their courageous efforts were in vain.
For weeks afterwards, you’d be walking down the main street of Hobart and suddenly somebody would point their finger and yell out "Look" and everyone walking down the street would fall over laughing.
But my favorite story was the night I was doing the voice-overs from the booth for a Friday night movie.
Now the general idea for the director and his crew was to turn the sound down while they listened to music or told stories or whatever, and then to turn up the audio every couple of minutes just to make sure everything was operating normally.
But no one told us this night that the movie was a murder mystery set in a radio station. At one point the leading actors are in a studio having a heated argument which the witnesses outside can’t hear because the sound is turned off. This is apparently a central part of the plot.
As it happened the director chose this moment to turn up his audio to make sure all was well. Not a sound. He yells out to his team, "The sound’s gone," which is accompanied by several people yelling out "oh shit". When did it go, they’re asking. What happened to the sound? They quickly stop the show and order yours truly to make an announcement along the lines of, "We apologise for the interruption. The movie will continue just as soon as we can restore the soundtrack."
After about 60 seconds a listener rings in and says, "There’s nothing wrong with the sound you bloody boofheads. It’s SUPPOSED to be off. That’s what the movie’s about, if you’d take the time to watch it."
We quickly restored the movie and got back to the important job at hand. Playing poker as I recall.
I started doing a few night shifts and stuff 'til Keith had the brainwave to extend Locko’s breakfast by one hour, putting the two of us together from 9-to 10 for the Good morning Club. Whatever was he thinking? It went totally bananas. Somebody did a survey at one point in the 60s and we had 76% of the available audience. We were virtually allowed to do whatever we wanted, which often involved insulting our audience and the rest of the community. We crossed to Parliament house where the Premier Eric Reece, played by yours truly–the thespian returns–made a series of highly defamatory speeches. We even crossed to the Queen at one stage where her Majesty–again played by you know who–uttered the immortal words on Tasmanian radio.
"My husband and I (long pause) want to… Go home."
Locko and I had an elephant race through the city. We rode a tandem bike from the station to Glenorchy.
I quickly joined Woody as a devout follower of the Sandy Bay football club, something which caused great merriment on air (until we won a Premiership. That shut 'em up.
I even did some work on the original "In Hobart Tonight" with Tom, Graeme, Shelagh, John Sidney at the piano and Bill Lee in the director’s chair.
I personally thought it went ok but it was pretty basic stuff in the 60s, as you can imagine.
One night Shelagh sang "You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun" from is it "Annie Get Your Gun"? Anyway I was supposed to stand in the background, alongside a bale of hay, looking suitably anonymous.
For some reason I decided to chew on this piece of hay and pretend to start choking.
Poor Shelagh could see me out of the corner of her eye and it took all of her professionalism to complete the song without breaking out in hysterical laughter. Let’s see 'em try that on law and Order.
I also managed to start a BA at the beautiful University of Tasmania, Sandy Bay, where I played B grade district cricket for a season or two.
Sadly, while things looked to be going well on the outside, it turned out to be much different inside.
My wife was tragically dying from a severe kidney disease and this had a dreadful impact on us all, triggering early morning asthmatic attacks in yours truly which had a disastrous impact on my work.
In the end, the staff was wonderfully supportive and I quit Hobart to have my wife transferred to Royal Melbourne Hospital. She had a kidney transplant, the 13th in Australia, which eventually failed after some 12 months. I only mention this personal stuff because it may explain why my work in this period tended to be a bit volatile as I was under massive pressure with a wife critically ill, two little children being looked after by my 60 year old parents-in-law in Bendigo and me working six days a week.
I was lucky to have good friend Woody looking after me in those days. Well, enough of that.
Before we leave Hobart and head north again it’s time to relate another very strange story which, just like the Yowie, I’ll recount exactly as it happened. Only in this case I am not a witness, just a messenger carrying a very unusual message.
Since the UFO sighting in Bendigo I’d been taking a close interest in these strange encounters and imagine my surprise when I read that one of the U.S authors I’d been reading in recent years was coming to Hobart for a lecture, complete with slideshow, summarising the latest work on UFO’s.
I turned up for the lecture only to find the front seats filled up with forecasters from the local Weather Bureau, most of whom I knew personally through interviewing them about the weather from time to time.
I exchanged pleasantries and asked what they were doing at the lecture, to which they responded by shifting in their seats, looking a little embarrassed and talking about how "it was a slow night and they were looking for something different to do, etc, etc."
At the end of the evening, when we were sitting around talking with the author I sidled over to one of the last of the forecasters who’d stayed behind and said, "Now come on Pete, what ARE you doing here?"
He swore if I ever told this story he’d deny every knowing me, but enough time has surely passed to allow me to summarise his response.
Basically, the forecasters were keen to see what they were finding flying in and out of their radar screens virtually every day. Peter said these objects would often move across the screen at speeds of over 3,000 miles an hour. Sometimes they appeared to stop dead and make a right hand turn.
I was truly astonished. Here where two incidents where I trusted the witnesses totally.
So I was given the go ahead to do a special on UFOs, using my interview with the visiting expert as the basis for the show.
There were quite a few interesting phone calls after the programme went to air but the most mysterious was from a man who said he had been working at a lighthouse in recent years and that he wondered if he could come to see me. The conversation was so peculiar that I arranged to meet him the following afternoon in the 7HO-TVT canteen. I was met by a man and woman ,both in their 60s,who claimed to have been recently retired after serving for many years as lighthouse keepers. They told me they had signed Commonwealth papers which prohibited them from making any comment on anything that happened there, but they were desperate to find someone who could record their story for posterity.
They never confirmed this but I think they had worked at the Maatsuyker Lighthouse in southern Tasmania before it became fully automatic.
The woman told me one afternoon, at 4 o’clock, she looked out the window and saw a circular object hovering over the water. She yelled to her husband and both of them witnessed the object, hovering some 20 metres above the water. It sent down a beam of light and remained there for over an hour.
The husband was able to take several photos of the object and immediately dispatched them to his superiors. The next afternoon the UFO returned at exactly the same time and did the same thing.
The couple sent off urgent despatches to the authorities alerting them of the incident.
The following morning, a team of Government officials manned with cameras and various scientific gear, arrived at the lighthouse. The couple were told they were not to discuss any matters with the visiting scientists and were then told to sign a document in which they were informed all information about the incident was classified and covered under the official Secrets Act. Heady stuff.
At 4 o’clock that afternoon the UFO returned and did the same thing, all of which was witnessed and photographed by the scientists. And it did the same again the following afternoon.
After that the UFO disappeared. It never returned during the last 12 months of the couples’ tenure on the Island.
Nothing was said by the scientists. They simply packed up, said a courteous farewell and disappeared just the same as the object of their visit, never to be seen again.
In the end, the only person left was a young Government information officer who was basically there as the gofer for the visitors. He was packing up, preparing to leave when the Lighthouse keeper looked at him and said, "Someone’s got to tell us… What in God’s name have we been looking at?"
The young man wasn’t keen to get into a long conversation but basically told them that the thing they’d seen was almost certainly "not of this world". He said the scientists, at their nightly meetings, were positive it came from beyond the Earth.
They hypothesised that the "beam of light" the craft sent down every afternoon may well have been extracting something from the water, probably hydrogen, which was converted into a power source.
From what he’d picked up, the sighting married in with several other incidents reported in the USA and Europe where these objects were seen hovering on a beam of light, over water.
I did my best to check these stories but as far as I can ascertain there is no record of such a visit to Maatsuyker Island and certainly no file containing footage of such an extraordinary incident.
Who were these two people? "Method" actors getting in some rehearsal time at my expense?
Two people with serious psychological problems? I can tell you this, if they were actors, they were bloody good. They’ve still got me enthralled. Even more than 40 years later.
Hopefully, my technical support team of John, Janie and Darleen will be able to include a couple of photos, covering the Hobart years, which have been provided by radio historian Wayne Mac. [Support team: photos included]
I know Wayne already has his time pretty well filled with work on his own publications covering the radio industry so it’s especially nice of him to take the time and interest in my rambling memoirs.
I owe you one, pal.
Next time we meet, it’ll be back north to the mainland as my radio career continues.