My time with Adastra
was only about 15 months (1968-1970) but in that time there was
a lot of work, adventure and excitement but no boredom.
On leaving the RAAF after twelve years, I landed in Melbourne as
a non-licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineer (AME) with Brain and
Brown, servicing their DC-3s at Essendon Airport. I was holding
a Maintenance Authority for both the DC-3 Engine and Airframe. I
passed my LAME examinations and had submitted an application for
the issue of a Pratt & Whitney R1830 Licence. This would have been
mid November 1968. Just prior to that I had applied to Jack McDonald
for a position of Field Engineer with Adastra.
Within a few days I had a letter saying that I was now employed,
and that there was a ticket to Derby waiting for me at the Ansett
terminal and to advise Jack when I would be leaving, but it had
to be within a few days. As I left Melbourne within a few days of
applying for the LAME Licence to work for a firm based In NSW, another
saga began as NSW Region had to issue the Licence.
I flew from Melbourne to Perth, then on to Derby on the late evening
milk run F27. It was half cargo and half passenger and seemingly
it stopped at every aerodrome between Perth and Derby. When I arrived
at Derby in the early morning I got a taxi to the motel. I didn't
know the name of the captain until I arrived at the motel.
The next day, after a refreshing sleep, I went out to the airport
to meet the crew; Dave Brennan (pilot), Colin Henshall (I think)
co-pilot, John Messenger, navigator and a very nice English gent
who operated the magnetometer. I have forgotten his name even though
I did meet up with him some years later in England.
After about a week in Derby we moved the base of operations to Halls
Creek where we stayed in the pub for two nights and then moved to
the Met Officers house which we rented while he moved into the Met
Office. He was not stupid. The house was not air-conditioned but
the Met Office was.
After a few days, the fan in the lounge of the pub fell on to John
Messenger's head putting him in hospital. We were joined by Peter
Shute as John's replacement. Shortly after that, we had a change
of English gents and I think his name was David Closier.
I had to do a magneto change on the port engine and while waiting
for a new magneto to arrive I started to remove the unserviceable
magneto and discovered it had a cracked distributor block. So all
that had to be changed was the block which is part of the ignition
harness. We were lucky we got the magneto overnight.
One day I was working on the aircraft when my face and eyes got
drenched with fuel. I was alone so I started to crawl in what I
thought was the direction of the terminal. Someone saw me and guided
me in. I had been heading in the wrong direction towards the runway.
I was taken up to the hospital to have my eyes bathed. I spent Christmas
in Halls Creek and I think it was late March 1969 when I headed
back to Sydney via Longreach and Mudgee.
I spent some time in the hangar working on DC-3 VH-AGU and also
on a Hudson that was having its fuel tanks resealed.
Then I went to Brisbane with Brian Costello, Peter Shute and Lionel
Van Praag. We were based at Archerfield for about a week where I
had to change the sheer pin in the tail wheel lock and adjust the
brakes. (Hudson VH-AGX was photographed at Archerfield on 27 April
After returning to Sydney I was sent to Tennant Creek via Brisbane
and Mt Isa to meet up with Big Daddy, John Hampshire. We worked
on a series of runs at Newcastle Waters, Daly Waters and Tennant
Creek, staying overnight at either Daly Waters or Tennant Creek.
Then we moved over to Halls Creek for a few days then back to the
Wherever John Hampshire had been in the Territory there would be
a garden full of salad vegies so we always had plenty of lettuces,
radishes, tomatoes and spring onions on the drome. John arranged
for the groundsman to look after them when he was away in return
for any ripe produce.
Then I got a message from Jack McDonald to meet AGU at Adelaide.
I left the next morning and arrived to find AGU with fuel overflowing
from the starboard auxiliary tank and with firemen everywhere. I
stopped the leak, cleaned up the fuel and away we went and over-nighted
at Kalgoorlie. We refueled the aircraft from a regular petrol station
bowser. At 60 gallons an hour it took a long time to fill before
we were on our way to Carnavon.
AGU was on a Raydist contract and was away for about 6-8 hours each
day. On the rest day, with the unpaid help of the locally based
LAME, we replaced the faulty fuel selector that was allowing fuel
from the starboard main fuel tank into the auxiliary tank which
would then overflow. To do this we had to defuel the aircraft and
jack up the wings and remove the starboard stress plates in the
centre section to gain access to the selector valve. Fortunately
there was a set of aircraft jacks that supported the wings while
the stress plates were off the aircraft.
From Carnarvon we went to Port Hedland where we lived in the shearers'
quarters on a property that an Adastra land survey party had been
through many years previously. While there they had wired the place
for 32V electricity and setup a generator. We had our main meals
in the homestead. While there, Jack McDonald arrived and so did
a Hudson requiring a 100 hourly and a cylinder change. Due to a
misunderstanding, an engineer whose name I cannot recall, let the
master rod flop to one side and popped the piston rings in some
of the bottom cylinders. This required locking the master rod, removing
two of the bottom cylinders while avoiding an oil bath on their
removal. Then Jack and I very carefully compressed the bottom rings
of the two remaining popped cylinders and carefully moved the prop
in the correct direction which was successful. We then fitted the
remaining cylinders and then the new one on the master rod position.
From Port Hedland we went to Geraldton where we rented a three bedroom
holiday unit. I was the main cook and we lived rather cheaply on
less than the weekly allowance. Our stay was unremarkable.
From there we spent about four weeks in Perth where we rented a
unit before returning to Sydney.
After a few weeks in the hangar I went up to Weipa with Brian Costello,
Peter Shute and Fred Ellis. We caught a lot of fish, enough to feed
us and to pay for the beer. One day I lost control of our rented
car in the bauxite on the road, the owner who was the local school
teacher, was making all sorts of noises about legal action but the
local copper reminded him that if he proceeded he would book him
for renting a vehicle without a licence and that is where the matter
ended. I received a cut head where I hit the window frame and this
required lots of stitches. While there we made two trips to Horn
Island and Thursday Island but I don't remember the purpose. One
day someone was shooting and I found a bullet hole in one blade
of the prop about two inches from the tip. I was given instructions
to make a template of the exact shape of the blade, and cut the
same amount off each blade and then file it smooth. We did a test
flight to check for any out-of-balance vibration but fortunately
there was none. From there we returned to Sydney.
My last trip was from early January to the beginning of February
1970 in a Hudson with Brian Costello as pilot. I met them in Griffith
where we stayed for about a week before flying on to Mildura where
we stayed for a few days before returning to Sydney.
I spent two weeks in the hangar after which I left the company to
marry Rita the former Matron of the Halls Creek Hospital. I have
been in Brisbane ever since except for a short stay with Helicopter
Utilities as a Field Engineer on an Indonesian registered DC-3.
I was at Tamworth for some months overseeing the overhaul and configuring
the aircraft to take oil workers up to West Irian. It was not fitted
with an autopilot so I got some unofficial flying time.