Chapter 5

Australia in brief

It was a whirlwind two weeks between arriving back in Australia and the wedding. My contribution to the event was fairly minimal, as all the arrangements – wedding invitations, reception at Northgate house, booking of Memorial Hospital Chapel, flowers and even the honeymoon, had all been made by Sadie in my absence and with the much appreciated financial help of Eric, her father.

The day itself remains somewhat of a blur and was over in a flash.

Wedding, 5 August 1961

I do remember Eric commenting on the price tag of my shoes, purchased in London a few weeks before, being visible to the congregation when Sadie and I knelt at the Chapel altar!

I remember little about the reception apart from my so-called friends pinning me down by weight of numbers and lipsticking some obscenity on my abdomen.

Our honeymoon at Surfers Paradise was remarkable for the cold weather with snow on the hinterland mountains.

The drive was slightly marred by a collision with a kangaroo and, a little later, with a stray sheep.

Honeymoon at Surfers Paradise

Back in Adelaide, it was back to work. Sadie had a midwife job at Thebarton Community Hospital and I was doing a prolonged locum in a general practice owned by Arthur and Tom Goode at Prospect. We rented a flat in Ward Street, North Adelaide, later converted into consulting rooms and used by urologist Noel Bonnin.

My job proved to be hard work in an eight-man practice where the locum routinely did every second weekend on call, every one of which proved to be very busy. In addition, one of the partners had a heart problem and paid me to do his weekends as well, so at times I would work three weekends in a row – a month without a day off. A hard start to married life.

One of the features of this locum tenens was that the appointee was designated as anaesthetist for the practice. So I was given the old kit bag containing the practice anaesthetic gear. It comprised of a Schimmelbusch mask with rag, an ethyl chloride bottle and ether bottle and some pentothal. Fancying myself as a competent anaesthetist I rather turned up my nose at this collection of primitive gear as I felt I belonged to the more modern anaesthetists using pentothal, scolene, an endotracheal tube and gas and oxygen.

Being the designated practice anaesthetist I was called upon to give dental anaesthetics in the dentist’s surgery at the corner of Torrens Road and South Road (Government Road in those days). Although it was normal practice in the 1960s, it was highly dangerous. I was given the anaesthetic ‘kitbag’ and sent on my way. The patients came into the dentist’s surgery one by one and climbed into the chair. I presumed that they had fasted, probably asked them, mixed the pentothal, injected the back of the wrist, and while they were unconscious (and not breathing by the way) the dentist pinged out their teeth into a kidney dish. If they gave any trouble I ratted into the kitbag for the Schimmulbusch mask and dropped on some ether. No oxygen available, no suction available, apart from miniature dental suction. All highly dangerous and risky. Presumably that’s why the poor old expendable locum was despatched! I was favoured by the anaesthetic gods and had no deaths in the chair but a colleague from my year was not so lucky and had a child die in a dentist’s chair. The subsequent Coroner’s inquest was rather ugly.

Arthur Goode, the senior partner, was the self-appointed surgeon of the group (no qualifications) and I gave the anaesthetics for his regular lists. The most major procedure he performed was removing gall bladders and he seemed to perform this procedure competently enough and we had no problems.

The only other incident I remember was when I was booked to do an anaesthetic list at Calvary Hospital for a specialist ENT surgeon, Robert Glynn. When I rocked up with my kit bag he presented me with a mouth gag which had a built in line for the anaesthetic gas. I had never seen this implement before and was nonplussed. Without batting an eyelid he said, ‘Never mind, I’ll give my own anaesthetics’ and so I was made redundant for the afternoon.

During this period I arranged another ship’s surgeon job to take us back to London to have another go at the wretched Primary exam. I was offered a job with the Blue Star Line on a cargo ship, Townsville Star, sailing from Melbourne in November, 1961. In exchange for one shilling in wages I was offered a free passage for Sadie and myself if I looked after all the medical needs of the officers and Chinese crew.

Our departure from Melbourne was delayed two or three times because of wharfie labour disputes so Sadie’s parents had several anticlimactic trips down to Port Mellbourne to bid us farewell. 

Eventually, we pulled away from the dockside and one ship’s surgeon was very seasick as we sailed across the Bight. Our cabin was wood-panelled and spacious and we were allocated a sort of batman to look after our needs – a Chinese named Foo who brought us icecreams every morning. There were only two other passengers on the voyage.

Square cut into the Indian Ocean by Sadie

As ship’s surgeon I was not unduly busy, the most frequent malady amongst the Chinese crew being the morning headache and hangover after a night of mah-jong and opium. Their pin-point pupils gave away the diagnosis. Many of the poor devils had not been back to see their families in China for years, working on the Brazil/Australia/England refrigerated beef run for Vestey, the owner of the Blue Star Line. Lord William Vestey and his younger brother Sir Edmund Vestey were ruthless in their business manipulations and built fortunes with cattle runs in Brazil and Australia and food chains in the UK. They only called at Aden because of cheap bunkering.

Coming ashore at Aden with the Townsville Star and ‘bumboats’ in the background

Sadie had the misfortune to be asked to partner the captain and first mate in a game of Scrabble every evening. She found the captain particularly boring and prone to make the same comments every night: ‘Oh, it looks as though I will have to go to bed with the ‘Q’ again!’                         

I spent most days with my head in the anatomy books and revising the other basic medical sciences.

Going through the Suez Canal, we were made aware of the Egyptian displeasure with the British flag, as the Arabs gesticulated from the shore and took pleasure in baring their backsides or urinating towards us. Nassar was in his heyday in 1961.

Christmas Day was spent in the Bitters Lakes in Egypt and the chef put on a special menu. Unfortunately, the weevils in the Christmas pudding escaped his notice but we didn’t make a fuss. After lunch, Sadie, normally a much better sailor than me, had to retire hurt to the cabin as we encountered a severe storm entering the Mediterranean from Port Said. She maintained it was the weevils.

Our second port of call was Dunkirk sometime between Christmas and New Year.  While bales of wool were being off-loaded by derrick we took the opportunity to go ashore. How romantic it was. There was a carousel close to the dockside which played Let’s twist again like we did last summer. Light snow began to fall but not before we noted the still-visible bullet holes in the adjacent church from World War II. We took shelter in a café close to the ship and had coffee and cognac, a first for both of us.

Our midwinter day in Dunkirk

Our final stop was Hull, across the Channel in Yorkshire. No, this was a cargo ship and did not have priority, so we sat in the mouth of the Humber River for three days, which included New Year’s Day, 1962, whilst the wharfies decided whether or not they would unload our cargo. I don’t think they had any love for the Vesteys. The crew spent the time fishing as we rocked to and fro with the tide, watching the sea traffic passing us inward and outward bound. 

Finally, we docked and I was paid my one shilling as per contract and honourably discharged with an appropriate certificate to confirm satisfactory employment.

We made our way to the Hull Railway Station with our luggage (all our earthly possessions) and travelled through the bleak, bare, snow-covered countryside to London. No feelings of apprehension, no misgivings, no fear of failure, just excitement at the prospect of the adventure that lay ahead. At least that was on my part; whether or not Sadie shared my feelings, I am not sure. If she had any negative thoughts, they were certainly not expressed –apart from some anxiety at the prospect of meeting her sister-in-law and brother-in-law for the first time.

The train trip took three hours and the carriage as I remember was full. We arrived at Kings Cross Station and were met by John and young Stephen in their little Thames van. Lesley had the newly-arrived baby Sarah to look after so did not make the trip up to London from Southend. In any case, the van only had two seats, so it was squeezy to say the least.

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