A Trainee Geological Draftsman
With schooling finished I really had no idea where my life would take me. I knew I wanted to do something with geology. My problem was that my academic results were not high enough to further my education at University and I had no interest in full time study. My father was involved with Legacy (An organization that gives support to ex servicemen and their families) One of his co legacy members (Eric Morgan) was the chief draftsman of the geological mapping section at the Bureau of Mineral Resources. He suggested to my father that I come and see him and discuss possible employment. I arrived at his office feeling very nervous and without any preconceived idea of what to expect or even any idea what geological mapping entailed. Geological mapping is the depiction by maps of the surface rock types and structures. Geophysical maps depict what lies below the surface. He explained the job details of a new trainee scheme aimed at producing competent Geological Draftsman in a four year period. It would involve doing a certificate course at the Canberra Technical College and working stints at National Mapping and the Geophysical section of the Bureau of Mineral Resources. After completion of the certificate I would be fully qualified and able to go on ‘Field Excursions’ during the winter months. I thought I could handle part time study and the promise of field work in geologically interesting areas was the carrot that enticed me to make my decision instantly. In January 1968 I joined the workforce as one of only four trainee geological draftsman.
Maths for Surveyors
The certificate was called Land and Engineering Survey Drafting Certificate. It was not a perfect course for geological drafting but did cover many of the basic problems that are common to drafting. I attended Tech three nights and two afternoons a week. The certificate had quite a high content of mathematics and computations. It contained interesting components such as report writing, road and sewage design and other subjects not directly related to mapping. I found study at tech easier than school. The teachers were all professionals in their field and somehow managed to convey their subject in a manner I could get a grasp on. I did however get lost in the subject of Maths for Surveyors. This was a three year subject and as it became more complicated I became totally lost in its intricacies, particularly those involving three dimensional trigonometry. In the final year I had become so confused that I stood little chance of successfully completing it. David Walton was a fellow trainee who was brilliant at maths and understood the subject. He agreed to give me some extra help and quite soon realized how absolutely useless I was at it. He suggested that I would need to learn some of the most often asked questions at the exams parrot fashion and just fill in the gaps……don’t even try to understand it. We managed to get previous examination papers going back for many years and found that there were about 6 generic questions that seemed to pop up regularly. So with many nights tuition I simply learnt to put A there and B here, divide by the number I first thought of and the result would be X metric tons of landfill. On the final exam paper three out of the four questions were ones I had learnt. Without understanding a single part of any question I passed Math’s for Surveyors 3. When the results were released I was ecstatic!
Master of the Pen
As a prerequisite to drafting I had to learn to use the basic tools. Before computers the ‘crow quill’ pen was one of the most used tools that transferred ink onto a matte plastic base. For two hours every morning we were placed under the instruction of an old Swiss ‘Master of the Pen,’ to teach us the art of Calligraphy and control of the ink. Over the next two years I wrote ‘The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’ thousands of times and drew miles of ink lines of various thickness. The master was a perfectionist and drummed into us the importance of ‘attention to detail’, ‘virtues of patience’ and ‘pride in our work’. He certainly taught me all of these and in hindsight I appreciate his knowledge and ability particularly in a field where expertise of his standard has become a dying art. I would take these lessons with me as knowledge of life more than lessons in cartography.
I took to the geology aspect like a duck to water. I understood most of it and enjoyed the challenge of trying to put it onto a two dimensional median. Initially I was given simple geological maps to draw for reports. I was given the responsibility of drawing the maps for various geologists. Our task was to work with these geologists and compile the geology into readable map form. As my drafting ability and geological knowledge improved I was given more complicated work.
My Spare Time
Being young and single my spare time was spent with my new work mates either fishing, chasing girls or cutting gemstones. I was also playing first grade football for Ainslie on Saturday afternoons. One of our favorite places to meet girls was the Police Citizen Boys Club old time dance. Although not the most hip place for young men to attend we soon found out there was an abundance of eligible young willing ladies and little competition.
My mother made incredible ginger beer. It was an old family recipe and literally made the most explosive brew. After bottling it and securely tying down the corks it was stored in the shed. Often in the middle of the night there would be a loud explosion emanating from the shed. Invariably we would find an exploded bottle. When any cork was removed there was so much potency in the brew that over half would be lost instantly. But Ah! the rest was heaven in a bottle. After my football match I liked nothing better than to soak my battered bones in a nice warm bath with a couple of bottles of my mother’s special elixir.
My friend Geoff and I still attended the Gemboree every Easter. The first year I started work it was held at Gundagai only just over an hours drive from Canberra. We took our guitars and at night would lead campfire sing-alongs. Geoff was a very accomplished finger picking guitarist with an intense interest in folk songs. He knew many humorous songs both plain and a little naughty. I would just strum along with him and enjoy his talent. The campfire sing-along was very popular and well attended. At one of these campfires I met Jenny, a cute little blue eyed blonde who collected rocks and lived in Sydney. I only mention this as Jenny owned a mini and people of this era often wanted to know if it was possible to do ‘IT’ in the confines of a mini. Well to satisfy those curious baby boomers, yes it is possible; and in several positions- none of them terribly comfortable.
The Hot Potato
The Bureau of Mineral Resources apart from mapping had a lot of scientists doing research. A few months after joining an open day was held. The general public was invited along to see the day to day operations I took the opportunity to walk around the building and meet some of the scientists. I walked into one room filled with complicated apparatus and a wall of ovens. I asked what was happening in one of these. The scientist looked at his watch and suggested that I return at exactly 12.33 and he would show me I returned with my curiosity aroused. He told me that this particular operation required exact temperature control along with precise timing or the whole experiment would be lost and there would be a major disaster. He carefully turned off all the dials and after waiting an extra few seconds, opened the oven. There before us was a perfectly cooked potato in its jacket ready for his lunch! This was typical of Zolton Horvath’s humor and over the years we became good friends. He has seen many of the twists and turmoil’s in my life and we still remain in contact.
The Game of Squash
Often to be accepted in a network of professionals, interest has to be shown in the social activities of the group. At the Bureau most of the geologists and draftsmen played squash. Every lunch time there would be a mass exodus, all headed for the various squash centers located close by. These centers were totally booked out as most players had permanent bookings and played several times a week. There was a squash ladder on the main notice board and you could challenge those above you and work your way up. Teams competed at night in the Canberra squash competition at most levels of competency. I started to play and found it a most enjoyable sport that tested your fitness as well as providing a mental challenge. I played several times a week at lunchtime and once a week in the competition. I worked my way up the ladder and at one stage was playing the director (Norm Fisher) on a regular basis. He was in his sixties and a very proficient cagey player. He would tell me he enjoyed playing whipper snappers like me. With his years of experience he dominated the centre court with precise placement and had me running from corner to corner like a mad man. If you play a fox eventually you learn to think like one and some of his expertise rubbed off and eventually I could beat him. I still play squash regularly with Murray Hardy the son of our next door neighbors at Dickson. We started playing regularly around 1980, so have spent many hours in fierce competition and I thoroughly enjoy our weekly bouts.
One weekend I went by train to Sydney to visit Jenny. On the way back the carriages were very full so I sat on the floor in the aisle with my guitar and played a few songs. A very attractive dark haired young lady sat down beside me and we passed the time. Her name was Kristine and to my surprise was the secretary of Lyn Noakes the assistant director of the Bureau of Mineral resources. I was very attracted to her so made a point of letting her know I would like to see more of her. The interest must have been mutual because she agreed and within a short time we had became romantically and sexually involved. I was so besotted that I stopped seeing all other girls and concentrated all my time on Kris.
To say we were careless with contraception is an understatement. We simply just didn’t consider it. The inevitable result was that Kris became pregnant. Telling our parents was really difficult. We had decided to have the baby and marry. I don’t recall much discussion on any course other then this. Years later Pam Hardy, our next door neighbor and great friend of my mother, told me that my mother was absolutely shattered. My sister told me this….” Mum and Dad were down staying with us for the weekend and Richard and I went shopping while Mum stayed with Tim (their first baby) – Dad decided to come with us (I thought that was a bit odd). It wasn’t until we were on our way home from Epping shops (in our old VW), that Dad said “I suppose you know Peter is getting married” (It’s one of those “snapshot memories” for me – casual words but the tension in his voice – I was in the back of the VW and Rich was driving). Richard nearly ran off the road and I said “Our Peter??” Then he told us the whole story. When we got back, he told Mum he had told us. Mum didn’t say much about it at the time – apart from the fact that she didn’t approve of Kris’s family and the amount of drinking they did (this might have been after you were married)”.
Mum believed that Kris was not the girl for me and that I would be awfully hurt down the line. She never talked to me about it and supported our decision. With the wonderful gift of hindsight I can agree that the marriage had no chance and was doomed for failure before it started. I prefer to take the positives from it as I have two wonderful supportive daughters and the love we share more than compensates for the ill fated union. So in 1969 at the church of the good Shepard in Curtin at the age of 17 and 19 we were married with the responsibility of a child on the way. Initially everything was fine. It was an adventure and a period of quick growing up all rolled into one. At first we lived with Kris’s parents and younger sister but that was not to work out I did not form any type of quality relationship with Kris’s parents. Her father was aloof and I fear both parents might have liked a little too much alcohol. I felt like an intruder into their world so after a few months we moved in with my parents. We stayed with them until after the baby was born and our government rented house that we had applied for became available.
Michelle, named after the Beatle’s song, was the highlight of my early adult life. I found it amazing to feel her little kicks inside her mother’s tummy. At this stage we did not know the sex of the baby but never the less I was totally captivated with her growth in the womb. I could not wait to see this new life and as the time became closer I could not have been more excited. Michelle was born on the 26th September 1969 in the old Canberra hospital that was imploded with disastrous results in July 1997 (A public spectacle was made of the event and whatever went wrong, debris was thrown hundreds of meters with pieces landing in the crowd. A young girl, Katie Bender, was killed by a piece of shrapnel) In those days men were generally not allowed to be present at the birth of their children. When Kris went into labor the nurse told me to go home and come back in the morning. I found sleep very difficult as I could just not shut my eyes with the anticipation of finding out what sex the baby would be. My very first thought when I was told that I had a 7 pound 5 ounce pound baby girl was “Gee that is a good size trout!” As with most first time parents I believed we had the most beautiful baby ever born to mankind. It is funny thing that I felt the same way with every other child I had. A new human life is a wonderful gift, their exquisite perfect form is amazing and I have always felt bonded from the very first sight.
My mother, of course, loved Michelle and had she had lived longer would have been a perfect grandmother. Unfortunately she already had that most awful disease, cancer. I remember I would hold her and ask if she was O.K. She would answer “I’m fine mate” but I always felt something was not quite right and her demeanor had begun to subtlety change. Again it is only in hindsight that I realize something was wrong. My parents were of an era where visits to medical practioners were only taken as a last resort and had my mother gone earlier the cancer may well have been able to be beaten or at least controlled. When it was eventually diagnosed it was too late. Mother would cuddle Michelle as often as she could and I recall when she was a toddler how they used to play ‘ball’ in the back yard and that lovely childhood laugh of pure innocent joy as they came together for a cuddle.
It was about this stage our house finally became available and we became a family dependant on our own means for the first time. Before we moved in I spent many nights varnishing the floorboards as we could not afford carpets. The cheapest curtains were put around the windows and the furnishings were the most basic. None of this worried me as we were a family and it was all new and exciting. We spent weeks working on the front and back yards, planting grass seeds to establish a lawn for Michelle to play on. The government had an allocation of shrubs and trees that we made full use of so our yards would not be entirely bare. As a trainee geological draftsman my salary was not big but I managed to supplement this with occasional sales of gemstones and rocks.