Brian Murphy- Founder and former Director Grey Skills NZ
Introduction In 2010 the first of the Babyboomers in USA, Canada, Australia and NZ reached retirement age and have started to withdraw their investments thus effectively changing world markets as more retire. There are 5 million in Australia, 1 million in NZ and many millions in USA and Canada. Those who have no investments or superannuation/pension entitlements and who cannot find a cash flow as they retire will rely on a government to give them a benefit to live on.
Our health will also deteriorate as we age and governments that will be already be struggling to pay us a benefit will have that extra burden as well with some economists predicting that some governments will go broke footing the bill. Finally, all that grow old will eventually need age care As a born optimist I am ill at ease painting such a negative picture but it is reality. As a nation we need to plan now.
So what can the over 50s do to prepare for this likely scenario? What are we going to do also with a growing band of middle class, middle-aged people who have little hope for the future employment considering that this age group will be almost one-third of the population by then? What do we do with the under employed and unemployed in that age group who have lost their jobs through redundancy, computer age job decay, economic decision making of companies who can only see profit levels and are culling their staff of greys and a modern society that thinks they can still give up their jobs and get another when real jobs are disappearing at an alarming rate?
Grey Skills was formed to highlight these problems and to do something practical to help. This is the story of its establishment and development and was written as it happened so is in present tense as such. Our success can be attributed to our service providers who grasped the chance we gave them to work for themselves in their own business and gain a cash-flow. My wife and I spent three years in NZ developing the systems that made this concept work and it was a labour of love. We can now tell the world that the Babyboomers can be helped and we created a system that gave some Boomers a future and perhaps a reason for governments to be optimistic that others in private enterprise will also develop ideas to address the problem.
In April 1998 I called a public meeting in Christchurch New Zealand to address the problem of unemployment for mature age people and 170 people attended. They listened intently to the idea of data basing our skills and professionally marketing them to the public. Twelve brave individuals joined us as members the next day and Grey Skills was born. We had over 170 working as service providers in the home service industry in Canterbury and over 300 registered with our employment services waiting for work or working in the commercial field.
Our service providers, franchisees and associated industries injected millions of dollars into the NZ economy and were paying taxes rather than taking benefit from the government. It may have be part time work in the main but if that is all that is on offer for mature age then no doubt it will equate to their income over twelve months and many did well enough to be GST registered. It really assisted the under-employed as our jobs topped them up to full time.
It is important to me as founder that everyone takes the issue seriously. I have written this article to explain why I did it, how I did it and what Grey Skills is, so that others can become passionate about it as I am. As a chronic idealist- by definition, ‘one who holds firm beliefs that there is a perfect way of doing things’- I explain my thinking so that others can become true believers and indeed join the crusade to establish that grey is experience and should not be ignored.
The article also highlights the lack of government support and general difficulties and success when we were establishing the business as new arrivals to that country.
I met many positive people who were supportive of the idea and some who were already advocates. None more so than Professor David Thomson from Massey University, who, I believe, was way ahead of his time in his identification and understanding of the problem and was one of the few proactive mentors in presenting the issue to the nation.
The other would be John Veitch a graduate of Lincoln University Business School who is so aware of “old world thinking’- banks that won’t lend to mature age who don’t have a salary even though they can earn $40 000 per annum part time or government agencies that cannot accept part time work as a legitimate job search alternative.
Finally, the purpose of this article was fundamentally to record the process of establishing Grey Skills, to highlight what worked and what didn’t so others may learn and gather support so that many more can benefit from our innovation. We were exhausted when we finally left that country but we had given it our all and many Kiwis were grateful for our efforts.
This is the story written whilst I established the business.
BACKGROUNDto establishing Grey Skills in NZ
In March 1998 I left family and friends in Australia and flew to Christchurch to start a business that I believe can help thousands of Babyboomers regain a cash flow through part time employment and thus restore their dignity. Only people who are unemployed can explain how soul destroying it is as family lose respect for you, your self esteem and health suffer and you feel cut off from the real world.
I had no idea what to expect when I arrived in this country. There was no one to meet me at the airport and no friends for support and I wanted to start a new business based on a concept.
In hindsight it was a move that not many could make and there would be some that deem me crazy but I had a vision of what could be to help my fellow Babyboomers and I also love to meet people who believe like I do that anything can be achieved if you are prepared to work hard enough. I believed it would work and it did.
As it turned out, within 2 weeks I had established the business and within three months made many in NZ sit up and think about the future of the over 40s in the employment field and what could be done to help. As well as being a chronic idealist I am also a pragmatist and now we know how our system can work, we want New Zealand to duplicate it in every city and town and benefit from our system.
Can more be done by average Kiwis and government to support our efforts? That is an interesting question but I will let you be the judge but after reading the book if you want to help before it is too late then do something. Why? Because now is the time not in ten years when it is too late. Political parties need to appoint committees to address the problem and each of us that is 35 or over needs to be saving something in case we lose our jobs or if we keep an income going until we want to retire. We need some passion from Babyboomers to express their concern and we need some ‘new age’ thinking from employers who are currently culling greys. Less profit more jobs should be the catch cry until the bubble of Babyboomers pass through history.
I want this country to accept that the over 40s are in trouble with employment and cash-flow and that if something meaningful is not done before 2015 when we are beyond work then we will be a terrible burden on society and family. We will have no money left for our health problems and living. We are living for today and our savings that would normally be inherited, are disappearing as we try to live a modern life but no real income to support this pretense.
So where did this all begin and why did I end up in New Zealand pursuing this dream?
In 1951 when I was born the world was a simpler place to live or at least so it seemed. Dad worked, mum stayed at home and we had Xmas and Easter and birthdays to celebrate. Lazy days were spent playing in the back yard and kids were seen but not heard. By 1957 or so, there may have been one television in the street and on Saturday afternoons we played sport or went to the movie matinee.
We all went through the school years as such, and caused little disruption but if we did we were punished and probably copped the belt again when we arrived home for getting into trouble. We left at 15 to be a hands-on apprentice or retail or we stayed at school to study because we were academically inclined. We then entered adolescence around 18, had our 21st, got married and had a family. Jobs were plentiful and we swapped them at will. Everyone seemed to understand their lot and our expectations were not high – live a simple life and try not to disgrace your family in any way. How things have changed.
Kids today do what they want in the main and say what they want. They are adolescents at 12 and no longer leave home until they have saved for a trip OE and do not think about marriage until they are almost 30. Things have changed and we have to change but it wasn’t that way when I left school in 1967.
The next 40 years after school went in a flash for me- police cadet, government worker, teacher, consultant, manager, editor and numerous other jobs- well over 30 in fact. Many of them were during the study years when every cent counted. Times were good. The 60s certainly changed things- a new liberalism, new thinking, and new society. I had long hair, an opinion, became a conscientious objector over the Vietnam War and wore clothes that my parents thought were weird. We challenged the thinking of the day believing that it was okay to be an individual. I was proud of our efforts and feel quite strongly that we, more than any other generation that century, made peace with each other and the world.
What that period taught me was that things could change if you believe in them enough and want it badly enough after all, we willed a war to stop in the 70s. It is also important though that you stand up and be counted for your beliefs not just discuss them over dinner. Such is my passion for change if change is needed. We should question why and if the answer is negative ask why not? Things can happen when you look at the task with passion – a never say die attitude. Winston Churchill did not win the war for Great Britain- his attitude of never give up became infectious and the people responded accordingly.
My life has been driven by passion- for my family, my work and my beliefs. I take life seriously and I am now blessed with a great family, four children who are achievers and focused on life and a wife who believes in me and still loves me. My son Isaac has been accepted into the Australian Federal Treasury as an Analyst. My daughter Kate is studying Business Communication with journalism in mind and my youngest daughter Laura is finishing high school on a positive note and will look to Law or the Media.
We have extended family and friends who are always helpful and encouraging even when the passion is not enough to make things happen. Letters and emails of support keep us on task.
We need to visit some of my life though to realise why I have been able to cope with coming by myself to NZ to set up a business and why I did it and what keeps the passion fueled.
In 1997 I was working on the Gold Coast as manager/owner of the first Grey Army franchise in Australia based at Kirra. The Grey Army is our counterpart in Australia but we have no affiliation. There were no systems at that stage so as first franchisees so my wife Vicki and I developed them successfully and many potential franchisee were knocking on the owner and director of the Grey Army’s door. A deal was then made with him to move us into head office so I would be the CEO and Vicki do the administration.
One week after selling our franchise, he and I found we could not agree on our positions in his company so we joined the fast growing ranks of the unemployed Babyboomers after I quit. But we loved the concept of mobilising the mature age and from the day we became involved we gave one hundred percent to make it work. So why didn’t it work out?
I had answered a newspaper ad that Vicki had spotted one Sunday morning as she read the paper for people to join the Grey Army. I knew what it meant instinctively and phoned him that Sunday for an interview that afternoon. The director of Grey Army Brandon Charlesworth told me that he believed that Greys could have a future if they banded together. He wanted to take the idea around Australia but needed for it to work locally first so was selling franchises.
We bought the first franchise and he told us that it MUST work or we would be letting down a lot of people. I was committed from day one and although she saw it as my thing, my wife Vicki gave whatever time she could. She is an X generationer so it is difficult for her to relate to the issues involved. Her expertise is info tech so I needed her input with computer systems badly and she gave it.
Success came quickly and not only did we make our franchise work but he sold 7 others in those three months with my help. The Grey Army Director then wanted me to help him sell franchises around Australia. I didn’t see my role as a salesman but more in head office supporting the franchises and using my consultancy skills so that the franchises had back up. It was not right in my mind to sell a franchise system without a model that all could follow and I really wanted to see thousands find work not become wealthy myself. It was only after we had sold our franchise to join him at head office that he announced that there would be no office as such and he was only interested in the sale. We had lost our income and we found he did not have a role for us other than sales. I was unemployed again.
Three months later I established the fact that it was not going to be easy to find ANY work and indeed we were in some financial trouble. Luckily we had no outstanding bills and no credit cards so we survived but it was embedded in my mind that being unemployed was a source of misery, low self-esteem, depression and a feeling of doom. You become cut off from the real world and see little future for yourself and slowly depression takes over.
Fate was to play a hand though as it always seems to do for those who don’t give up. One of the franchisees who had been trained by me to start his business rang me in December 1997 to see what I was doing.
He was interested in taking the Grey Army concept to NZ as he had family there and wanted to know if I was interested. A friend of his was the partner of a former service provider of ours from the Kirra franchise. His name was Wayne O’Keefe and we had a good relationship built on respect. He was a painter with our office and was quite reliable.
It transpired that he had been to a dinner party with Wayne’s partner and she was impressed with our efforts in establishing the Kirra franchise on the Gold Coast and was blessed with a few million dollars. She was prepared, I was told, to finance the deal of establishing the concept in New Zealand if I was interested. After about 2 minutes of assessing our situation I agreed to listen.
My next move was to write a Business Plan so that the many positive aspects of our franchise could be noted and some long term planning done as well. We needed to learn from the mistakes of our counterparts the Grey Army and make it a Kiwi version.
I spent many hours mapping out a Business Plan to show how it would work and the short and long-term plans for establishing the business in NZ. Vicki and I had spent many hours developing systems in OZ, a fact that the Grey Army director had not appreciated during our discussions about our future roles, so we had material to draw on as it was our intellectual property. I was determined to develop a separate identity in NZ so that it was not seen as linked to the Australian group and the business plan reflected this from the start.
After a few weeks I still had not heard from our alleged benefactor so I rang her. She was somewhat surprised that I had been told about the idea as it was just idle conversation at the dinner party but she was going to NZ that month I was informed and she would indeed talk to her solicitor in Christchurch about the feasibility of establishing the concept in NZ.
I was somewhat deflated by this turn of events because my ego had been caressed slightly by the franchise owner who had relayed the dinner party conversation. It went along the lines that our benefactor was keen to establish the concept in NZ and how she would only do so if I was involved because I had been responsible for the Grey Army initial success in OZ in her opinion.
I guess this is a good a time as any to introduce myself. I am the fourth child of Irish immigrant John Murphy who travelled to Australia on his own at the age of 16. He had left the hardship and despairs of his native land and wanted a better life. After initial rejection in Canada, he arrived in Australia and went to the country areas north of Brisbane. He worked as a farm hand until he met and married my mother Joyce Daniels who was the daughter of a farmer where he worked.
After marrying 1n 1939, he went to the Second World War for 5 years and on return tried several jobs before securing a steady job as a brewery worker. Fifteen years later he was a union rep at the brewery and then an organiser, state secretary and national president of the Liquor Trades Union. He built a rundown union into a million-dollar organization that owned their own building and they named it John Murphy House in his honour- an honour few of us will achieve.
This part of my life is a story in itself so I won’t get carried away but my point is that my father has had a great influence on me as a role model. His’ never say die’ attitude was inspiring and he taught me to never give up. Whenever times got tough he would just keep at it. After all, he had six children to keep and bills to pay but food was always on the table. We were not spoilt and like all fathers of that era he was physical with his discipline although I bear no scars physically or mentally but we never wanted for anything. With the support and love of my beautiful mother Joyce, I was nurtured in a cocoon until I was 14 or so, locked away from the real world and all its faults. Television was only one set per street and there was little violence on it. Books and matinee movies all had happy endings.
Dad always did what he had to do to get the job done. It was interesting that he was named a union ‘godfather’ many years later when the ABC in Australia did some research into the era. They had it wrong though. Sure he was a strong man and admired by his union members but he never broke the law and was not responsible for anyone being killed. He was a true believer when it was not fashionable to be so. In fact the former Premier of Qld Peter Beattie handed him life membership of the Labor party for his efforts a few months before he died of cancer in 1984. I had played football with Peter a decade before and I was aware that dad had been responsible for his Labor party membership and had indeed nominated him. Peter acknowledged this in a letter to me in 2002. Dad knew people and he taught me well.
Let’s get back to the Grey Skills story. The saying goes that you can’t start the journey of life until you know who you are. I was never sure who I was- not in the early years anyway but I knew I had inherited dad’s attribute for loving hard work. At last count I have had over 30 jobs in my life and have never been asked to work harder in any of them. I had many hard bosses but I never clashed with them because they were in charge and I did my job.
As well as a strong work ethic I have excellent people skills, presentation skills that have been honed through a teaching career and I never give up on things unless forced to. All this was to help me as I journeyed through life.
My working life started at an early age. I was working part-time at 12 years of age delivering fliers to letterboxes around my neighbourhood and even then I fully expected to work all my life, as there always was plenty of work. I liked work and the independence that cash flow gave me.
As a teenager I worked in a brewery during the holidays and saved enough money to build a room under the family home. You would learn so much from the older workers around you as they would not suffer fools. A workplace needs grey so that the younger workers are nurtured. The independence that work and my own room offered was immeasurable as I came and went as I pleased and entertained my friends. I had no idea in those idyllic days how the world was to change in 40 years.
Remember in the 50s men worked until 65 and died on average at 65.5. This was proof enough for me that men die if they don’t work- more so than women as we don’t like to hang around the nest for too long.
We had our adolescence from 17 to 21 and then left home to marry. Families followed and we spent 20 years raising them. At 40 we were middle-aged and at 65 we left work with a gold watch. By the 90s adolescence was from 12 to 30- no self-respecting adolescent left home before they had saved their OE money. Families came at 30 and middle age at 50. Gold watches at 60 and we are now living until the mid 80s. A whole new ball game and definitely not the game we started.
I was no different- I went to school to year 12 but unfortunately was expelled over a lunch time drinks at a friend’s house. We would have been fine if only we had not decided to go back to school that day. My father said little but asked the question- ‘so what now?’ leaving little time to dwell on the subject. I got a job and finished my schooling at night school.
After trying the police force as a cadet photographer and some time underground as a miner in Mt Isa, I looked to the security of the public service but found it boring. I then trained to be a teacher. I was married at 23 and my first son Isaac was born when I was 27. Kate and Laura quickly followed. I studied for a Bachelor of Education at nights and carried my son to teachers training college during the day, changed nappies during lectures and generally got on with my education. There was a driving force in that after I had been expelled from high school I had a point to prove. The never give up attitude was already apparent.
The other interesting aspect of my life was being part of the BabyBoomer generation. There are so many of us. In Australia they had to build numerous new schools to cope and then of course we had to be given a free university education and jobs were so plentiful that we changed them at will. In some ways we were spoilt in that it all came so easy and maybe we still expect to get things the easy way.
After leaving high school I had no trouble in working full or part time. I went from underground miner to public servant to bar manager at will. As I studied I worked in numerous part time jobs from waiter to labourer. There was always a cash flow. All very cosy, very secure but time was to run out for us because once the industrial age of plenty disappeared and we entered the info age, redundancy, economic decisions and the computer age were to wreak havoc on our lives but more of that later.
I would have to say though that I am a born entrepreneur- even as a child of ten years of age I was organizing the local neighbour kids with my mate Ted Shepherd who later became a Councillor on the Gold Coast City Council and my local council representative. We decided to present a puppet show- he and I wrote, produced, directed, sold tickets, marketed the show and eventually sold lollies and drinks at interval. It was a roaring success in our eyes with some 2 pounds being made from memory, which was spent on fireworks. But once again I digress.
The entrepreneur in me means that I have followed a certain pattern all my life. If I hook on to a good idea and it has substance to it then I give it 100%- I am the true professional.
Work is work and although I have been criticised for simple reasons like the quality of my handwriting, no one can criticise my commitment. Colleagues in the past have been left far behind as I generate hundreds of ideas to make things work. My mind works night and day until something is established and then I rest and review. A good example would be P to 10 education in the Queensland Education Department. The concept was introduced in 1987 in that state of Australia, which, I might add, was the last state to do so.
P-10 is the concept of following the individual through their school life and being aware of their level of achievement- not expecting everyone in Year 4 to be at that level in reading and maths and therefore coping for their individualism. This system can only work if individual records are passed between primary and secondary and each child was to have a record of achievement passed on from year one until they completed school.
For the concept to work, it had to be marketed well first so that all key players- the students, teachers, the school community and employers- were made aware of the process. There were ten consultants appointed to market the concept to the community and a team of writers who were producing the classroom support material essential for its successful introduction also supported us. It was during this period that I met Mike Middleton who became my mentor. Mike was a Tasmanian who was invited to Queensland as an adviser to support the development of P-10. He is a truly inspirational speaker who can communicate with his audience because you believe he is passionate about the topic and he makes you believe it can happen when many cynics believe otherwise. I learned a lot from his method of presentation and will be forever grateful to him. ed
My P-10 cluster, as they were called, had developed within a year to an extent where we had motivated cluster groups working within high schools and they were meeting with their colleagues in primary feeder schools on a regular basis and planning changes. A newsletter was being produced to inform people, meetings of key players were being organized at all levels, two supporting documents were written by me to explain P-10 and I travelled interstate to gather current resource material so that we could develop resource material based on what had worked elsewhere.
Even the disenchanted were being won around so I did my job and did it well. Principals of schools would ring me and ask me to come to their school and explain what the P-10 concept was all about. They had little idea, as most are pragmatists that are overwhelmed by daily events. We were the front-runners though and proud of it. A change of government changed the direction of education and a good idea was mothballed within months, much to my dismay.
More chronic ideals had been shattered but my life changed direction quickly and I chose private enterprise to achieve my dreams. I applied for and was accepted as Operations Manager for St John Ambulance and sixteen years with the Education Dept ended because I could be involved with non-believers.
The other aspect of my life that should be mentioned also is my belief in fate. So many obstacles have been placed in my path that a less committed person would give up. Look at the Grey Skills story- it would never have happened if I could not come up with alternatives when the going got tough. Even, for example, when our potential benefactor returned from NZ back in 1987, she informed me that her solicitor had advised her not to proceed until summer as Christchurch hibernated in winter, I could not accept it. People still work in winter I figured and business still functions even if on a smaller scale. Whatever the problem I would seek an alternative so I was not prepared to accept her decision. My wife calls it arrogance.
On top of that she said that she would not fund it all as I had been led to believe but if I were to cost out the establishment costs then she would pay half. The Brisbane franchise owner who relayed the dinner conversation to me decided he was not going to be involved under those circumstances, as he did not want to return to NZ to live and did not want to invest any money.
So things looked decisively gloomy. His version was that she would fund everything and she would pay for him and I to fly back and forward to set it up and sell franchises. You know, make millions and live happily ever after at other people’s expense. I would never have agreed anyway but I was keen to have another attempt at achieving something for the Babyboomers.
It really worries me when people think you can sell an idea through franchising and not be responsible for the outcomes. I had run across the problem in Australia and I disagree strongly There has to be head office back up or it will not work and people get burned. So that was part of the plan for NZ from day one. So it looked like at this stage that the planning had been for nothing. But fate took a hand.
My beautiful and supportive wife Vicki decided that we could not let all our work be wasted so she encouraged me to think about doing it ourselves and plan simply so that we could try and finance it even though we were still recovering from another business venture-the demise of my footie club magazine BOOTS AND ALL. Once again that is another story but briefly the Rupert Murdock’s Super League war had closed down the South Queensland Crushers Rugby League club and I was editor of their magazine. I should tell you more I suppose.
In 1994 I had put a submission to the new Brisbane RL club to produce a football magazine at my expense. An old school mate Keith Blake who I had known since our form class in Year 9 and a friend who had shared many years of Beatles music with me. He had agreed to go into a partnership with me as he was already producing a Junior Rugby League newspaper. Keith and I wrote a proposal to them to produce a magazine, which is always an essential part of marketing a professional sporting club.
We were given 3 weeks by the Crushers to produce the first issue of their magazine, which in hindsight was a ridiculous time frame. We had no staff and it was a very daunting task to say the least but it was a challenge to me and I could not contain myself. With the support of my wife and some hard work and long hours by Keith and I, we produced it in exactly three weeks from nothing. Keith took the photos, wrote articles and drew competitions using his creative genius and I wrote articles and generally organized production. I was the editor of a footie magazine- every blokes dream.
We lost heavily on that deal though as the club had written contracts with all major sponsors for free full page colour ads so our income was limited from the start. Super League eventually closed the club anyway and I was out of a job again. Vicki and I had to sell our house to stay afloat as I had little income for that period. Delivering alcohol at night was my soul source of income as the magazine was only in its infancy and to top it all off my wife Vicki was pregnant. Life was never dull. The magazine was well received though and helped the club’s initial development enormously and we enjoyed the experience immensely.
After the birth of our boy Beau in June 1995, I found myself once again unemployed. I decided to join the Police Force for the second time and entered the Police Academy for 6 months full time training but decided after the first week that Vicki needed me more at home to support her with the new baby so I left the Police Academy and accepted a teaching job at Charters Towers in Northern Queensland.
The temperature in this neck of the woods hovers on 40 most days and we discovered quickly that it is also somewhat isolated. Our only source of entertainment was a trip to Townsville each month to see the water. I would take Beau for a ride on the back of my bike each Sunday around town to break the monotony and he would fall asleep and bang his head on my back as I pedalled.
The job was at the School of the Air and I taught kids in outback Queensland over the radio and travelled to Townsville once a month to teach prisoners who were studying by correspondence at Stuart prison. It was rewarding work and you have no better students than homestead kids who are on the other end of the microphone and prisoners who have nothing else to do.
Unfortunately though just as we were feeling like we were part of the community, I suffered depression from being so far from my teenage children who had decided to stay at their high schools in Brisbane after my divorce in 1992 which was to have a profound effect on me. Their mother had also decided due to the politics of separation that they could not visit us. As a loving father who had seen all his children born and who I had shared all aspects of their nurturing, I just could not live without them in my life. So I decided to return to SE Queensland and be closer to them. Vicki was disappointed as she had set up an office support business and had a job as parent liaison officer at the school but she reluctantly agreed. She of course wanted to see the children as well but felt very strongly that they should have been allowed to come north.
I then received a transfer to Gold Coast High School, which I appreciated but decided after six months of classroom teaching to leave the Education Dept for the last time, as I could not come to terms with the modern teenagers lack of respect for others in the classroom- one big generation gap so to speak. Every day in teaching became a fight for survival and I was not prepared to accept it.
Fate once again took a hand and Vicki spotted the Grey Army advertisement for franchisees in a Saturday paper and asked me what I thought it was about. My interest and passion was aroused so I rang the number and changed our lives again. Would my partner be supportive I wondered after all that had happened?
She is a wonderful lady though and even after all the setbacks, Vicki still wanted me to do whatever I decided would be in our best interests and to her credit put the magazine and Nth Queensland in the past and we planned our move to NZ together. I am very aware that only a very special person could do this.
Out of the blue came another real surprise. The benefactor who let us down had a partner Wayne O ’Keefe, who worked for us as a Service Provider at Kirra, telephoned and offered to form a partnership-50/50 for the NZ venture. His son had died of meningitis on the Gold Coast that year at 20 years of age and I think he was keen to leave the place. I agreed to meet with him and discuss the business plan that I had prepared and I needed to know how he would fit in, as I was really not aware of his skills other than as a painter.
We arranged to meet at North Kirra surf club and discuss it over a beer but after 4 months of unemployment I had no money. Sure enough the very day I was to meet him fate took a hand once again. As I walked through a Coolangatta shopping mall, I found $50 lying on the floor and there was no one within 100 metres. We spent the afternoon sorting out the details of the partnership and typed up an agreement the next day.
So it was on. We were to put in $10 000 each and we would fly to Christchurch as soon as possible to implement the plan. He could not go until the 2nd April due to family commitments but I was determined not to waste time so I decided to go on my own.
We borrowed a copy of the Christchurch Yellow Pages from the post office and started to book accommodation and fax accountants, solicitors and newspapers for appointments. We contacted the Mayor of Christchurch Vicki Buck and other government departments that we thought might help. No one offered to help with our move though and I feel quite strongly now that there should be a process to welcome and establish new business in NZ. Not one of the people I contacted offered to meet me or help me in any way. I honestly had some doubt about it all because of this but there was no turning back now, as I was even more determined for it to work.
The other problem that would raise its ugly head after we arrived was the lack of acceptance into the local business network. Everyone knew everyone and you were either in or out. Since we have never been invited to any functions other than the odd pay your own way seminar then I assumed that we have been not accepted. The Chamber of Commerce for instance never answered our correspondence or calls and the future Mayor Gary Moore ignored my faxes requesting help until we offered to have the media take a photo of him and our 60th member’s presentation of his uniform that they all had to wear on the job. Not a word has been heard since although he is involved in many relevant projects e.g. he is currently on a committee of Sth Island Mayors meeting to plan the creation of jobs. You might think that with our success in job creation he might include us in their plans.
Canterbury Development also ignored us over a long period although I suppose they now might argue- what do we expect from us? Nothing really but as recent business arrivals who were making a name around town then help from some or all of them would have been nice. Even after several years on the scene, a recent forum organized by them to discuss the future of employment and other issues for mature age did not produce an invitation. Networking is non- existent for us due to petty jealousy and a distrust of Australians.
Back to the diary
Vicki decided to let me go to NZ alone, set the business up and she would follow when the cash flow allowed it. This was proven to be a wise decision as it allowed me the freedom to spend endless hours planning and working and to remain focused on the task even if it meant we had to be apart as a family. I would miss her and Beau, my three teenage children Isaac, Kate and Laura and indeed all my family tremendously.
My brother Mike worried that I would miss them all too much and expressed his concern to me. I told him that I was doing it for them all as success would be a great role model for them all and recent events with my divorce had damaged my role and my perceived image as a successful father. Chronic idealists put a ton of pressure on themselves, believe me.
I was watching my children grow but could do little for them as an unemployed father in Australia. It is terribly stressful to be an absentee parent over here in NZ but I have tried to be a good email dad or phone as the need arises. My daughter Laura is not on email so we talk every fortnight without fail. At least I could pay maintenance to help with their upbringing by doing this. I also believe that all the hard work that I put into their earlier development has been successful. My son has visited for a couple of days and my youngest daughter was here for six wonderful weeks when we tramped the Port Hills above Christchurch and generally caught up. Chronic idealists miss a lot though in pursuing dreams and there will always be a twinge of sadness about these lost years.
There were many positives though about the move over. The secretarial support that my wife does so professionally would still be there in New Zealand as we already owned a fax machine and computer from the Grey Army days so they were put to good use immediately. We were grateful that at least something positive was to come from our efforts with the Grey Army and not be wasted. If I had to leave behind everyone and everything I had known then we wanted it to work so the plan would be followed carefully. So let’s get on with the story as it unfolded.
Day one came with little fuss. After 2 weeks of farewells from friends and family at picnics and bar-b-ques (and to their credit none of them tried to talk me out of it), I flew out of Brisbane on the 19 March 1998. Little did I know that it would be 2 years before I saw them all again but no time limit had been set as I was superbly confident.
As the Qantas plane touched down onto the tarmac at Christchurch airport I made myself a promise to keep busy and focused at all times. I was not here for a good time but to establish a business, which would benefit thousands. So what needed to be done?
The business plan allowed me to have an overall picture of what we wanted to achieve and that was to data base the skills of over 45s and offer them to the community. I knew the concept worked as the Gold Coast community had got right behind it, as did the Brisbane people. Now I needed the support of the citizens of Christchurch a city of 300,000 on the South Island of NZ. This city is old fashioned in its values and so am I, so I was confident that I would get along with local people.
I had previously booked a room at a small B&B in Armagh Street called the Devon. It was an old English style house with a ton of character. Many backpackers stay there so conversation is always interesting. I rushed through customs into a cab and in no time I was at the hotel. The owner Gloria greeted me and showed me to my room. She was apologetic that there was no phone in the room as I had requested in my fax and she had confirmed it but Telecom was supposed to come that week to install them. I suspect though that I had been misled and that she is still waiting, as I now know that few B&B’s in NZ have telephones in rooms.
This was somewhat of an inconvenience because I did not have the privacy of my room to make business calls or for people to phone. I realized immediately that establishing a business in NZ would be more challenging than I had imagined. Poor Gloria, after a week on the premises and numerous calls from her office, I am sure she was more than glad to see me go.
Anyway, I unpacked the bags grabbed my diary and headed down town which was some 100 metres down the road to start things moving. It was lonely taking that walk as it dawned on me then that I knew no one in this city and even though I had contacted so many people prior to coming, I was well and truly on my own. ‘Phone me when you are in town’ was the normal reply but right there and then I wished someone had taken an interest.
Not being one to feel sorry for myself though, I got on with it.
That afternoon I managed to register the company name but that was to change within 24 hours as I had called it Grey Army NZ LTD. I also looked at the local banks and decided that ANZ offered the best deal, as there were no fees if you kept a certain amount in your account and I knew this would please Vicki. You see, my wife is and will always be an expert in saving money. Her diligence in hunting a good deal is now legendary in Grey Skills and she had given me strict instructions on what to look for in establishing a banking link. She was the reason I was at the Devon in the first place and not an up-market motel with phones but she believes that ever dollar should and is watched. She is the original scrooge but she would be an asset to any modern company that had financial difficulties as not a dollar is wasted. It is a real gift.
As I had not arrived at the hotel until 2 pm, time ran out to do any more business on that first afternoon but I was to have my initial introduction to the Kiwi sense of humour. I was walking down an alley off Cathedral Square in the centre of Christchurch and I saw a barbershop with a $6 dollar haircut sign. Being well aware of my budget, the price appealed and I opened the door to a shop no bigger that a pantry.
“You do haircuts?” I asked innocently.
“You're quick,” said John the barber sarcastically. ‘Take a seat.”
He continued to snip away at a client’s hair and added, "What’s that accent?”
“Australian,” I answered even more innocently. He slowly stopped turned towards the door and said in an oh so serious voice, “Get out!”
My nervous laugh soon brought a huge grin to his face and he began to question me about my intentions. I now realise that this country has a love- hate relationship with those of us from across the ditch but in the main we will always be good mates. I left his shop with an excellent haircut, sound advice and a good feeling about Kiwis in general.
I must add here that it has not been hard to adjust to living here. I had no idea what to expect about the culture of the country. Only what I had learned in Social Studies in primary school. I knew your geography, as we had to draw a map and place the towns every year. Your agriculture, your famous All Blacks, Anzac Cove and the Land of the Long White Cloud just about summed it up. I found after arriving that not only are Kiwis easy to live with, they are very accepting of foreigners. Also the beauty of your country is the world’s best-kept secret.
Day two was extremely busy. I had engaged a taxi driver ironically also by the name of Gloria and she escorted me around town as I talked to newspaper people, a solicitor, an accountant, printer, clothing manufacturer and then two days of hunting for a house. I spent 450 dollars on cab fares over the next few days but the only complaint I have is that locals told me later that she did not have to run by the meter as she could have saved me money by quoting an hourly rate. That would have saved a little no doubt and she would be a friend with Vicki.
Anyway, after touring around looking at 8 or so homes, I now believe that house hunting is the most stressful thing you can do. I eventually choose or should I say that Marie my landlord choose me as a tenant at a great house on Hills Road, Shirley. Fate must have taken a hand here too as she has been the perfect landlord.
Being on a main road meant that we had good exposure and the house had also been recently renovated so the cab fare proved expensive but productive.
In twelve hours in town I had achieved a great deal. I met with the newspaper and placed an ad for a public meeting to discuss unemployment for over 45s, ordered some 50 uniforms and chosen a colour for them. I also ordered some quote books for the service providers from a printer so the Business Plan was working.
The meeting with my solicitor produced the most dramatic event as she suggested a name change for the company to establish the fact that this was a Kiwi registered company with no ties to Australia. This was good advice I thought and after some discussion with my accountant who suggested the ‘Grey Brigade’ which sounds awfully like the Gay Brigade when you say it quickly, I settled on Grey Skills, as that was what we were offering.
A quick phone call to OZ confirmed that the name was acceptable to my business partner and the name that will become folk law in NZ was born. They say you seldom realize when you are at the beginning of something that will change your life but I felt good about that name.
The accountant also managed to raise the first doubts I was to have about the concept when he could not picture where the jobs would come from. His negativity raised some doubts in my mind. Luckily I accepted that his expertise was number crunching and Athol Hutton, the ex CEO of Waitaki Meats, was later to tell me that accountants were the second reason businesses go broke in the first five years after taxes because of the excessive fees they charge in the first few years businesses are establishing.
I continued with the plan. We now had a registered company, an office, Grey Skills to be our trade mark and a date set for the meeting. I chose the Centra on Avon, known then as the Travelodge, as it was exactly that- central. We were to have many a meeting there over the next twelve months but this first one was crucial. If I could not convince the Kiwis that it was worth data basing their skills and marketing them then I might as well have come for a holiday. The pressure mounted.
That Friday afternoon after my first week I returned to the Devon with a feeling of accomplishment but I was fully aware that there was a lot more to do. Telecom still hadn’t put on the phone at the B&B by then (surprise, surprise) but I found a take-away kebab shop, bought some dinner and settled into telly in my room although I was still constantly making notes of what was to be done over the coming weeks.
If you have an idea during the night, write it down then, as it will be gone by the morning. I have always done this and the light was often on during the night as I scribbled down some thought. It was a very lonely and isolated time and I was missing everyone but I was being productive.
That weekend was quickly filled in, mainly with taxi trips, as I scanned the Press newspaper for homes to rent and we drove around town looking at them. By Saturday night I was exhausted and still hadn’t found a house. I was ready to do the rounds again on Sunday morning and double the cab fare when I rang Marie to check if anyone had taken Hills Rd which I had seen on the previous day and she gave me the good news that it was mine.
So far so good as the company was established and home office secured. What was the next week to bring in the way of surprises I thought?
Monday was to be the beginning of many a battle I have had to be accepted in this country but it started out simply enough. The temperature was 32 degrees outside the phone box and it was hot by NZ standards but inside it must have been 40. I was in Cathedral Square talking to your friendly business consultant from Telecom and was informed that we had to do everything over the phone, as there were no business offices for Telecom, a situation they have since rectified thank god.
After one hour of talking and sweating I had established how the telephone system worked in this country and had been allocated two numbers- an 0800 and a local business number. I felt like superman as I stripped off clothes to deal with the heat and God knows what the locals thought as the clothes came off.
The helpful business line consultant assured me that everything would be okay. ‘Are you happy with Telecom sir?” he asked when he had finished? Little did I know how wrong I was when I answered in the affirmative.
I put the 0800 number in the advertisement and was told that it would be connected in a couple of days. The ad for the meeting was coming out that week in the Star newspaper which is a free delivery to your home community paper that are very popular now and I had paid some $1500 to make sure it was big enough to be noticed. I highlighted that the skills of the over 45s were being wasted and if anyone was concerned about that then they should come to the meeting.
Everything, I was told by Telecom, would be fine but I gave them the Devon's number in case there was a problem arises about connection. I must have had a premonition.
The rest of that Monday was spent securing a PO BOX, buying office equipment and second hand furniture for the house to last me until Vicki arrived with our own gear. All the time as I moved about town I talked to people I met about my plan and everyone was supportive which was very reassuring. The second hand dealer who supplied the furniture even joined us within six months as a gardener.
This day was also my first meeting with the Canterbury Development Corporation at the suggestion of Mayor Buck as she was too busy to see me. The meeting did not get past first base though, as the consultant was unavailable as she was going on a holiday but she had some concerns she told me on the phone about what we were doing anyway as it might take jobs away from current workers. I was somewhat taken back by this statement as I really had not explained what we were about other than we wanted to represent the interests of the over 45 unemployed people.
This was the first of several fruitless meetings with them and I feel to this day that we have not been given a fair go by this organization. Nor do I fully understand their purpose but I was to learn as time went on how the local network functioned and if you were off side with them then you were not accepted in the network.
The final meeting that day was with the IRD and we were given our GST number, a tax completely foreign to an Australian then. We were to pay tens of thousands of dollars over the next two years though, so luckily I did some reading on it. Vicki was to become the expert in this area and with the help of MYOB software has little trouble with it.
I was feeling pretty good about things at this stage and the rest of the week was spent setting up the office and bedrooms at Hills Road, and filling in the missing bits. Things like stationery for the office, office phones and a private one connected, company stamp, insurance for house and contents and talking to the media about the meeting.
Everyone in the media locally was very supportive and articles appeared in the local newspapers as well as the main newspaper. John Dunn from Newstalk ZB was the first to interview me after I sent the first of hundreds of media releases and the ball was rolling. Brian Tucker, Robin Harrison and George Balani are local media personalities in Christchurch and all helped with further television and radio interviews.
Kirsty Gillespie, the General Manager of CTV in Christchurch, eventually gave us a regular spot on her station and we built their studio set in payment and even painted their building in the famous red and black of the Canterbury Crusaders Rugby side. It all helped to market Grey Skills at a time when we had to watch every cent. I am grateful to them all for without their help we would not be here.
Financially we survived in the long term but I was finding it extremely expensive though in those early days to move around the city without a car. By a stroke of luck though as I was saying my goodbyes to Gloria at the Devon after that busy first week, her partner Grant was there and he sold me a Mitsubishi sedan for $2000 which would have been a great deal in Australia but was probably about $800 more than it was worth I discovered later.
Not too worry though as it never let me down in the 18 months I had it and it went to the West Coast and back through Lewis Pass (or Wally Lewis Pass as we call it after the King of rugby league) at least two times without missing a beat.
It was on one of those trips that I became aware of the 50 speed limits in this country rather than the 60 I was used to. A small adjustment became necessary to my driving after a $120 fine.
There are few differences to Australia overall- the driving laws, Saturday morning post delivery, gutters a metre deep in places but in general we share the same life styles and problems. Time will no doubt draw us closer. I am sure that the Aussies are not as perplexed about sports losses as you lot. You give your sporting teams a torrid time when they lose and destroy their confidence in doing so. The key to success, in anything you do, is to stay confident at all times even after BAD days.
So where were we? Oh yes, everything was going swimmingly. I had arranged the ad for the public meeting with the 0800 number, had a venue and media support. We were ready for the concept to be introduced to NZ.
Now in life they say that when things are going well then the next catastrophe usually is around the corner or some people call it Murphy’s Law. Whatever- the bottom line is always be prepared for things to go wrong, as you will cope better. What happened next was extremely frustrating, to say the least.
The Christchurch Star ad was published with the 0800 number as arranged but Telecom had not installed it. Well, all hell broke loose as people tried to find me through the venue site and the newspaper office. Hundreds of people were genuinely interested in the concept but could not contact me on the advertised number. I did not receive my first calls until two days after Telecom said it would be installed.
I actually thought that we were not going to get any interest, as the phone was not ringing. On top of this frustration, I was not aware of the extra bits that were attached to the Centrex system installed at the office and the Telecom man who installed the phone did not tell me about the mail box or call minder and nor did they have our number on the 018 directory. People could not find us and calls were seating in mailbox unanswered.
So for the first week it was damage control and I was furious that our new business should start on such a negative note because of the ‘phone box’ mentality from Telecom. I should have been able to talk to someone face to face in the first place.
After reading the small print on our contract with Telecom, I wrote to the national business manager and mentioned the $50 000 compensation offered if they stuffed up. It was probably my best move because I received a phone call from him almost immediately and he appointed one of his senior team to look after us.
I was relieved that they were taking us seriously and Sally Wood became our Telecom contact. She did a marvellous job in making sure nothing else went wrong and I was sad when after 12 months of good service, she was head hunted by another company and left her job. To this day though Telecom has kept up good service and they have many dedicated staff if you are lucky enough to know who they are..
By Monday the 30th March when my business partner arrived from OZ, I had set up our office, furnished Hills Road with second hand furniture, bought a company car and generally put Grey Skills Group Ltd on the map.
There was an immense feeling of satisfaction about our achievements but little time to dwell on it. I made sure though that each Saturday I would walk along the beach at Brighton for 10 km or so as a reward for my hard work and contemplate what was to be done during the next week. As people passed me, they probably wondered why I was scribbling notes on a book but it was a great way of relieving the stress and planning the next move.
I had spent the previous 20 years running like Forrest Gump with my good mate Rob Sutherland, another old school chum, and we talked about anything and everything and solved the problems of the world. I was used to this method of relaxing the mind after the traumas of divorce and life in general and he taught me how to relax through exercise. I missed his wisdom though as we all need a mentor and friend in life at all times.
The scenery in this country is truly amazing. I grew to love my time on the Port Hills discovering all the walks and the wind blowing in my face as I strode along the beach at Brighton. Scenes from the movie Piano crossed my mind many times as I stared at the cliffs of Sumner and the surf crashing on to the rocks. The coast can be so wild on any given day.
Hagley Park is another favourite and the walk around takes some 90 minutes to circumnavigate both north and south parks This park is remarkable for its variety of plants, trees and sporting options. We have spent many an hour feeding ducks, watching performers in the park at the many organised functions or just relaxing. Where else in the world would such pollution free river as the Avon flow through a major city? It is a credit to the city founders.
I must explain here that I continue to digress from the diary because it is important that the reader understand that in establishing a business you need time out to think and plan. So much happened to me over this short period of time that I have to go off on a tangent now and then.
Without the reflection I achieved during these excursions you could easily be distracted from your objective and I was determined not to be. The walks keep me focused and I recommend to anyone that stints in the pub don’t solve problems nor does stressing out mentally. You need time out on a regular basis and I could not have achieved what I have without that quiet time.
The final blow came from Telecom when a representative told me the day before the public meeting and after hundreds of calls that the 0800 number was indeed free as I had been told in the original phone box call but only to the public. A business had to pay for all their calls.
The Telecom consultant in the phone box had told me that it is a free service. You may think I am naive but when you come from a country where you pay for all calls and you are told that over here the calls are free, you assume they are talking about all calls. I had really reached the end of my tether with them after that but Sally Wood changed all that.
April 2 1998 was the night of the public meeting and we were really worried about the numbers that would turn up due to the difficulties with Telecom. It was a relief to see 170 people crammed into our venue waiting to hear our plan. A few hours later we had 12 people ready to sign up as our first members of Grey Skills. The audience had listened intently as I explained to them the reasons for our predicament, the multi skills we possessed and what we could do in data basing our skills and offering them to the community in general.
I heard a lot of people speak that night and many questions were asked and answered. They were all positive accept for one man who walked out when he heard there were fees involved. I explained to the group for the first time of what was to become a daily event that the only way we could survive is to compete with private enterprise. I had no other source to draw on at that stage but my knowledge of the process we used and had worked at Kirra. We had to work out an hourly rate and charge out our skills or we would not generate an income.
Mature Employment ( NZ Government group) also spoke for the first time that night and I was pleased to hear that the government had a funded agency for mature workers even if they relied on volunteers to answer the phones. I was to allow them the opportunity to speak at several of our meetings. That ended abruptly after I was invited into their premises some months later and verbally abused by one of their leaders- ironically an Australian. She accused us of ripping people off because we asked for a joining fee and she reminded me that she was from Australia and was used to smooth talkers like me.
After that I was glad to sever ties with them although I still give people their phone number if we cannot help them for any reason. She was so wrong in her assessment of me though as she had never met me before in her life and the criticism was hard to take. This was a private enterprise effort to do something for mature age workers and there was room for both camps I believed.
The less said in that area the better but I question the wisdom of them being a separate group as the support from government is not there with their current structure. People are so critical of them as being amateurish. They would be better off working in a WINZ office networking with other age groups and receiving professional advice but I had my focus and it was not them.
It is true though that the 20% commission on service providers labour as our fee did cause some solid debate. I explained to the meeting that night that it was tax deductible as a fee for work and GST was included. We were giving them a uniform, ID, a business record book and our back up if they needed advice or help. We were to do their advertising, which costs a lot in business, and we would be responsible for their marketing. They were to form their own business for just $120.
In time many mature workers made statements to me that it was better to get 80% of something than nothing at all. That night though it was left to them to decide- join us if you want or wait to see what happens. Many did just that and waited months before they joined but I am forever indebted to those 12 brave souls who joined that night and signed up over the next few days. They were the nucleus and future of our business and the hopes of the over 45s.
Hills Road became a revolving door over the next month as our numbers grew steadily. Some made it as far as the office before they panicked and decided not to join. It was far too daunting for them to form their own business even though we offered them back up.
The media releases continued and I was interviewed on all radio stations, the Breakfast show on TV One and many local TV news and current affair programs. They were exciting times as every interview meant more exposure, more calls and more jobs. Only a few hundred in the first couple of weeks but many thousands as the weeks passed.
We had settled into a routine in the office. My business partner would answer the calls and I would interview Service Providers and talk to the media. He was reluctant to speak even at functions, as he was never trained in communication. But he could handle the phones and did a good job talking to the customers.
Every time we placed an ad in a local paper, and we tried them all to see what people were reading, we were given editorial. This was a good move, as it made sure that the community was talking about us in different places. Hotels, clubs, interest magazines, life style, community papers, neighbourhood newsletters and groups-we ploughed all our remaining money of the initial $20 000 investment plus most of the money we generated through the business. It paid dividends as a lot of potential service providers were now registering as they had read about us and homeowners were accessing our services for the same reason.
I continually spoke to talk-back radio and I am indebted once again to Chris Carter of Newstalk because he understood from day one what we were trying to do and was always receptive to my calls. He encouraged his listeners to be part of it and the airwaves are a sadder place without him now he has left the airwaves. We made him number one supporter within 18 months by sending him a printed cap with that statement on it. If only I could have the support of other national media figures like him all the time. We could have this set up across the nation by now if they helped but more of that later.
As mentioned, we now had lots of calls from over 45s who wanted to join. They were in trouble financially as they were unable to receive a benefit because their spouses were working, could not get work because of their age, had been made redundant because of their age, had been sacked for economic reasons in the new workplace culling process or were generally in trouble because of their age.
It was quite remarkable how many were living in their homes but away from support and felt alone. They were not aware that it was a common practice to sack or make Grey’s redundant. They were lacking a network.
Everyone took this age rejection personally though and I had to be careful not to allow them to talk about it too much. On the phone or at meetings, I cut them off if they started to tell me their stories and told them that we all had stories about how we were let down but we needed to forget what happened and get on with our lives. This was never easy to do and my conscience suffered accordingly.
Effectively, at this point Grey Skills had become a focal point for the plight of over 45s and I took it upon myself to become a spokesperson for all these people. It was obviously a key issue because of the support we received but it was still being ignored officially.
During the next 2 years until I wrote this story, I spoke to thousands of ordinary people from Probus, Greypower, Lions, Rotary and other community groups about the issue of unemployment for the over 45s. I explained who they are, how they became unemployed and what we are doing to find them work.
The scholars like John Veitch and his ‘old world- new age thinking’ research and David Thomson from Massey uni who wrote an article in Sept 1999 in the Listener Magazine about the future of work. He outlined the problems of the Babyboomers and our sheer numbers making full time work in our mature years as impossible for most. He advocated part-time work as our future and without condoning it, asked that all accept it.
Other authors, particularly on Internet, worry about the impact Babyboomers will have on the share market when they turn 65 and withdraw their investments to live on. A worldwide reaction as shares drop dramatically in value is their scenario.
Worst than this in my opinion is the fact that we are living longer and the problems our aging group will bring society when only one tax payer will have to provide for two or so of us. In 1950 we died at 65.5 on average, men that is and women at 75 but today you can add twenty years for men and ten for women. We will need extra funds to survive those years and not only will we be a burden on governments for benefit but can you imagine the health bills they will have to cover as we grow older and more fragile.
Grey Skills soon became more than just a job creation company when I realised all of this as we are now advocates for BabyBoomer saving, marketing the problems that only careful planning will eliminate and looking after the employment interests of the over 40s. Political parties have to formulate policies now so that we address them now. Proactive thinking is the way to go rather than reactive thinking when the problem becomes too big.
‘As soon as Grey appears watch your back’ seems to be the new workplace cry and we have to change that mentality. Our people need to start saving now for the future because it is not rosy. Imagine losing your job at 40 and having no income other than benefit until 80. We will become a dreadful burden on our families and society.
It is about here that I should explain the significance of me being a chronic idealist. By definition and idealist wants and believes that everything will and should go well. You have a vision of the perfect world-Utopia so to speak- and you want to live it. It allows you to always view that world perfectly and you live by it, you want your family to live by it and you want friends, acquaintances and any associated workers to live by it.
Now there is a lot of pressure on a chronic idealist because the reality is that the world doesn’t live by those rules. People really have a perceived self and a real self and when I established Grey Skills I had high expectations of everyone. Unfortunately it did not pan out that way.
Everyone believes you are in it for monetary reasons only and few will share your idealism. None seem to want to get enthused about success and what Grey Skills can do for the country. You are virtually on your own. Now that is difficult for a chronic idealist because you are doing it for recognition- you want to be noticed because that is how you keep it going. Getting people involved and people who believe.
Another attribute of a chronic idealist is that we seldom become negative. Therefore I am not going to dwell on the subject here but I will contribute more about that later. I just wanted to make the point that the thing that drives me is my innate passion and my idealism. I am also a pragmatist and I believe that with cooperation any problems can be solved if you keep it simple at all levels.
Anyway, back to the diary and the first few hectic months. We were not sure which way things would go in NZ, as you have to remember that the system developed at Kirra was only 3 months old when we sold. There was little to go on but at least we knew it worked so we were positive in our thinking. The rest would have to evolve and it was to be a devil of a job.
My wife Vicki was still in Australia at this stage and every piece of paper had to be faxed to her and developed, as she is the technician, and faxed back. As cumbersome as the process was it worked as I was identifying our needs and she was producing the forms to accompany that need.
My wife is a gem and came into my life only recently. She has, don’t forget, about a decade to go before she is eligible to be a Grey Skills member. I met her when I was Operations Manager for St John Ambulance in Queensland and she also worked there in the sales section. I had been dumped by my wife of 17 years who decided her life was not exciting enough with me.
As a chronic idealist this sort of rejection cuts to the bone as it equates to parent rejection. We tend to put all family and close friends on a pedestal- you know, a group of trusted people that would never do the wrong thing by you- and when she did I was in a bit of a mess emotionally.
I won’t dwell on the subject as we males tend not too but I met and fell in love with Vicki a year after my divorce and she became a member of my trusted group. She is a very talented lady and as well as becoming a loving partner, she has trained in info tech.
Now this was a Godsend for Grey Skills because from March to July in 1998 we communicated via fax. All parts of our system had to be changed from the Aussie version to NZ and new forms had to be created. Daily office forms, Service Provider forms, all types of forms as I said had to be produced and she did it and faxed it back.
My son Beau was with her on the Gold Coast and I admire her because she never gave up on me. She had to live on our savings, look after Beau during the day and work at nights when he went to bed to produce what I needed to function each day. She did all this in the belief that I would succeed and I thank her for that because our initial success and our long-term success would not have been possible without her.
Our son is a gem too. He was only 2 when I left. I missed his third birthday but I sent him a message every Friday night on the fax that was just for him. I would put a smiley face on it and he would get all excited as it came through. Vicki would read it to him before he went to bed and I did that without fail because that is what chronic idealists' do- we never let people down.
Even when they arrived in NZ some 5 long months later, he quickly settled into Grey Skills routine and became part of the daily scene with the service providers and a host of other people coming and going. He would stand there sucking his bottle and say hello to all. After 2 years and as we get ready to send him to Maireheau Primary school, his daily routine still revolves around Grey Skills. My only worry at this stage is that he announced he wants to be an All Black one day. It will be a bit hard to explain to the one eyed Wallaby supporters I know.
Once again I have derailed myself somewhat but it is important to the diary. I want to make the point that skills are everything. You see my business partner and I could have worked 24 hours a day and not been successful. I was aware of my skills and his skills and I believe I am a bit of an entrepreneur in that if you don't have certain skills then you find them. We needed Vicki’s skills here.
We were able to take the telephone calls that by the third week were coming in steadily and the related calls from agents, advertisers and inquisitive public but we did not have a computer or the knowledge of them that only people of the information age understand. Our future relied on our ability to upgrade our skills.We were still in the industrial age doing everything on paper but things were to change dramatically in that area.
Here I am 2 years later banging out this document, emailing my children in OZ, surfing the web and generally using all sorts of technical apparatus to support our business. It is truly amazing what you can do if you put your mind to it but my business partner would not try. This was soon to create a problem.
Anyway, we had reached week three in NZ and things were looking good. We were placing ads for work and listing the skills of the members who had joined and they were joining at the rate of two per day.
Telecom was on side and performing, our members were looking very professional in their uniforms and accompanying business record books and the media were interested in what we were trying to achieve. John Banks from Radio Pacific for instance, gave us a ‘bouquet of the day’ for our achievements, Kim Hill rang from Radio National, Susan Wood interviewed me on the breakfast show on television and the local media was brilliant -radio, newspapers and television.
One local newspaper, the Star, put a colour photo of six of the guys in uniform with the heading ‘Experienced workers on Job Hunt’. This was truly a turning point because they were all well known locals who had come to us for help so we had won the trust of the community. The phones were ringing all day and the jobs increased dramatically, so much so that we were sending the wrong guys to jobs just to try and meet the demand. The first negatives began as a result of this- we were receiving phone calls from clients who were not happy with the service or the quality of workmanship in some cases. The honeymoon was over and we now had to think about issues such as standards and quality control.
Let me emphasise here what we had created. In four short weeks we had national exposure for our efforts to obtain work for the over 45s. Hundreds of jobs were coming in each week and we were trying to meet the demand by signing new members up and matching their skills with the jobs coming in.
The phone would start ringing at 6 in the morning and still be going at ten that night. The only day when there was some respite was Sunday when I made sure I walked Brighton beach or Hagley Park or the Port Hills for my sanity.
Twenty, thirty, forty service providers- our membership grew daily but still we could not meet the demand. People therefore rang and complained-not a great deal compared to the jobs being completed but twenty a week and we knew that there were many who just did not phone and had decided not to use us again.
As a Chronic Idealist this situation was intolerable but all I could do was deal with each complaint individually and assure them that we would fix any problems. One thing that was highlighted during this process was that we had to have high standards. We decided very quickly that we would never be able to help all the over 45s only those who were still motivated and keen to work.
We had also inadvertently entered the home service industry as the jobs were coming from homeowners and not employers as we had hoped. In fact less than one percent were from employers so we changed our name to Grey Skills Home Services and decided to become a credible group that people would use because we had honesty, integrity and trust.
It was a smart move because people in this country were fed–up with service providers, who would not turn up for appointments, not take pride in their work and not clean up after them. We promised all that and more.
Over the next 2 to 3 months we changed our thinking completely as we decided to make a fist of the home service side. It was confusing to the public at first because they just wanted to ring up and be given the name of someone with the skill they wanted. Because we were giving out the names, the onus was on us if things went wrong so our systems had to be upgraded to match the right service provider to the right job. They were independent contractors though and we made them responsible for their own work. We worked 20 hours a day for the next six months producing what was needed for a quality home service.
Firstly, a contract was produced which each member signed that they would abide by certain rules and standards. Our flyer for letterbox distribution actually listed our experience we were offering, our reasonable costs and our trust in doing the right thing. As a chronic idealist I was determined to stop the complaints and have people trust Grey.
We then started to terminate the contracts of those who could or would not reach those standards. I have found that is the hardest thing to do- to actually give people hope in that they have a new life and take it away from them but that is where private enterprise differs from government run and funded schemes. We have to be competitive. If all the members who join want to have a future we have to do it better than our competitors and we are. We have all these skills- tradesmen, handymen, technical, domestics and gardeners that people can assess on one phone number. Things were really starting to take shape.
The first politician appeared on the scene in May 1998. It was the result of our mail out to all local politicians informing them of our existence. We received the standard letters from most of them in reply wishing us the best.
Even Jenny Shipley, the then PM, acknowledged us a couple of times over different issues but Tim Barnett, the Labour member for Central Christchurch, took most interest. He came to our office and listened to what we were doing, made suggestions and followed up over the next two years. He was the only politician to do so I might add.
We eventually had visits from David Carter, National Minister for Senior Citizens who listened, left and never followed up and some jobs from some local members but never a visit from them.
Local Government Councillors were much more supportive. Carole Anderton was to make a visit during 1999 and she arranged a meeting with the Mayor Gary Moore and the Canterbury Development Corporation after I mentioned their lack of interest but that was also to be a waste of time. More about that later.
As a chronic idealist I must comment at this stage about the help I did not receive to establish our business. I am mindful of what Gary Moore, the Christchurch Mayor said to me at the meeting with him when he became Mayor. When asked by Carole Anderton if he was aware of Grey Skills he commented in the affirmative. He added, ‘What I like about Grey Skills is that they did not have to produce a paper about what they were going to do, they just got on and did it”
At the time I took it as a compliment as it was intended but I can’t help but feel that there should be a process in place to help people who want to establish a business. From all the initial calls made from Australia to government agencies and the Commerce Department to the Mayor to the Canterbury Development Board, no one gave me any idea of whom I should talk to, to help establish and develop the business. Everyone wanted to ask’ How will it work? They could not accept that I had a business plan but I had no idea of the local business culture.
It is my passion that keeps driving it and for every negative that was thrown at me I came up with two positives. Negatives like the reporter who would not run a story in the Press newspaper in Christchurch during our first month because for all he knows ‘I might be an Aussie shonky’. Thanks heavens the editor Tim Pankhurst had a broader mind and has been so supportive. The Press newspaper company is a credit to Canterbury for their support.
But for all their support, the Canterbury Development Board’s lack of interest and support was a negative although John Hamilton, one of their consultants, did try. He came to visit and at least listened and encouraged us.
The Chamber of Commerce was a negative because they never answered any of our letters and ignored my attempts to join for 2 years. We are members now though after we insisted but that is all. They could do so much more to help us promote grey skills to employers.
TVNZ who have an obligation to report positive news to the nation, particularly community based and supported news are a negative as they still continue to ignore all correspondence to them about this social justice question and our efforts to address the problem. Why shouldn’t the nation know about our success?
It can be so heart breaking to be so switched on by what you are doing in improving the lot of the over 40s and be ignored. They report on so many negative things or sensational things or what is wrong with the world. None of it worried me for more than a few seconds though as life goes on and CI’s don’t worry much or at least for too long.
I have watched the All Blacks confidence destroyed in a 2-year period because the media and the public want to dwell on the negatives. From the first doubts printed about their ability against England in 1999 to the debacle of the World Cup later that year. We convinced them that they weren’t champions, which they are. Everyone has an off day or two and the world of professional rugby is catching up to them. They will never be the dominating force they were while countries are training fulltime.
Establish what is good about something and build on it, is the philosophy of a chronic idealist. So much more gets done that way.
How much easier our task of getting thousands back to work would be if these negative people would only take an interest. Even the Prime Minister Helen Clarke has ignored us and does not answer correspondence and Carole Anderton’s attempts to get Jim Anderton, the Deputy Prime Minister, interested were positive at first but eventually amounted to nothing.
I was to stand in his Spreydon office in Christchurch for the third time in May 2000 and listen to him, the Economic Development Minister, tell me that he could not endorse what we were doing even after he said he would support it in the same room six months previously. The reason- he had received a number of negative calls from tradesmen who said that they MIGHT lose their jobs because we were undercutting them. No thought for the 170 odd members of the home services who at that stage were injecting millions of dollars into the economy and the potential of millions more if we were helped in setting up the business around the country.
We are not undercutting- we had set up a home service business through sheer demand. Thirty thousand calls from homeowners who were sick of being let down by service providers and we offered a better service at reasonable prices.
I was a shattered man that evening after my discussion with him and I faxed him immediately outlining why I was disappointed in him. Even a media release brought little reaction.
Even though I was gutted, I have decided to keep going for the sake of what we are trying to achieve. But the question still lingers- what have you got to do in this country for people to accept you as genuine? Which leaders actually have the ability to identify and support those who are successful and achieving and not drive them away?
Thank heavens for true believers like Carole Anderton and Tim Barnett, who as politicians have the ability to see who are functioning and those who are not. I believe quite strongly that a support mechanism for identifying successful community based projects also needs to be established in this country and an acceptance also that business can be compassionate. The US has built their current successful economy on small business and this country can attract similar business. But it must be seen to be supportive. I could not honestly say that that is the case.
Maybe it is our role that is confusing people- they are used to government taking the lead with social justice crusades but private enterprise can have compassion to do it and still be business like. Maybe people don’t understand what we are trying to achieve but I will never get the message across without help from government and private enterprise groups.
Others say they will not help because we cannot help all of the Greys. That is true as there are so many but we can be used as a role model but support is necessary if we are to be taken seriously. I have heard all sorts of negative comments about us and yet we survive. Why? The answer is in the community recognition and support.
During those first hectic months, we received a phone call from a Probus group that wanted to hear more about us. It was so stimulating to stand in front of a group and tell them about the Greys- our reasons for being unemployed, what we have done about it and why we must do something before we become a burden on society. I did it as often as possible.
Over the next 2 years thousands of people listened and supported. I have a very professional presentation thanks to Mike Middleton my mentor of a decade before and I take pride in representing the skills of the Greys. I feel quite strongly that this is the reason for our survival- grass root support.
Everywhere I went in those days someone had a story to tell me about this concept being tried in the past but it did not last and by innuendo they wondered about our future. From what I heard it was bad management rather than the concept that had caused previous failure and I was determined not to let that happen. It hardened my resolve for Grey Skills to work rather than turn me off.
Community groups are also very good at feedback too. They will tell you what works and what does not or more importantly who works and who does not. As mangers we are the gatekeepers of Grey Skills and take the role seriously for the sake of all members. The name is protected for its future’s sake so I welcomed this feedback.
We had a few problems with service providers in those first few months because we had interviewed and checked them out so quickly to try and meet the demand so a few duds got through. Not everyone can do home services as you need people skills for a start. By June I had terminated ten or so but we were now attracting some very genuine people who could see what we are trying to create. Yes it was a job creation system but we were determined to stick to standards.
My father had always trusted everyone until they betrayed that trust. I have treated Grey Skills members the same way. No matter how much they promised at the interview I would give them a chance but I watched them closely.
I spoke also to quite a few what was then Income and Support groups at their invitation during those early months and it was obvious that there are many people who may never leave the benefit as they are so reliant on it. I did my best to encourage them anyway and they seemed to listen. Some of the managers of the centres even talked about having me back to speak to case managers and area managers but nothing happened. For some reason they stopped inviting us after 6 months and they nor the new set-up WINZ haven’t invited us since.
I am disappointed about that but it’s the CI in me shining through again. I can’t really fathom it, as they don’t even draw on our experiences and what worked and what didn’t. Considering our success that comes as a bit of a surprise also but as I said earlier I am too busy to wonder why? I am disappointed that’s all because we are ignored.
I should make a point here though. Could someone please tell me that after 2 years since establishment and getting 200 or more unemployed, under-employed and redundant recipients into a business, why this country cannot get excited about what we have achieved? I feel like shouting it from the rooftops as chronic idealists do.
Is it the word franchise that causes negativity - our way of insuring that we have those professional managers we need to run an office SUCCESSFULLY? Why does the word franchise turn people off as if you have a successful anything then the best way of making sure it continues working is franchising.
Franchising allows a working business system to be duplicated by others, as they know it works. It also introduces the other ingredient needed in a successful operation- commitment. People are far more committed to something if they have invested their money in it and they work much harder because of these factors.
Why not use volunteers I am asked? There are many good people who would give up their time to help such a worthy cause. Mature Employment is a good example of what happens when volunteers are involved. These people are the salt of the earth and I worked with many of the same type with St John Ambulance but they can and will only give the time they have to spare to any given cause. There is no passion to drive the cause.
With Franchising, people commit themselves to what they are doing because they PAY for it. We are all a lot more motivated when our money is involved and it is the same reason people pay us to become members- we want their commitment.
The people who we want to buy into Grey Skills at the franchise level must be managers. We are not selling franchises to the members-God knows they are doing it hard enough without using all their life savings or redundancy money.
I could have made many thousands of dollars had we sold an area to each of our service providers but it wasn’t necessary or part of the concept. We want their skills and commitment and good managers to market them.
We want managers who have people skills, presentation skills and organisational skills so that in every town and city we can set up Grey Skills and give the over 40s a chance to start a business and generate income. If the media can do their bit in promoting the positives of such a system and the manager has some marketing skills to inform the community of our presence then Grey Skills will work.
Part of the vision is to see this nationwide- to be part of the culture of the country. Something that works and the community are proud of and with some enthusiasm from everyone in the country that will happen. Trouble is that there are too few chronic idealists and a lot of knockers and disbelievers.
We recently announced that Placemakers, Fletchers building and hardware company, would help us spread the word and there was some immediate negative reaction from some members of the community. Some verbal comments were made to the service providers and phone calls were received accusing us of selling out.
What a lot of nonsense. We cannot possibly do what has to be done to organize this vision by ourselves. We need the support of government, corporate bodies, business and the community. I am so pleased that a company with the community presence and good name that Placemakers has achieved, has become involved. They will help us become more established across the nation by making local communities more aware of our existence, help us with advertising and marketing and generally make Grey Skills members feel welcome in their stores.
I am well aware that the two million odd dollars we purchased in materials in Canterbury might also have been an attraction but that is business. You can still do it and have compassion for a cause.
As well as the material turnover, we produced over a million dollars in income for our members in the 99-2000 financial year. I am so proud of these figures as they prove what we are doing is working. The government is winning through taxes and less benefit; the economy is winning as we are injecting huge amounts into it through related materials, uniforms and printing. The Grey Skills members are winning because they have an income and the community is winning as we have some very multi skilled people available to do work for them in an old fashioned way.
We are all winners and yet I still have to keep beating the drum. Embrace us New Zealand as we can make a difference.
Back to my diary and the story of Grey Skills establishment, although I am sure you have already noticed that chronic idealists also love a soapbox.
The pages of my diaries for the years 1998, 1999 and 2000 are full of names and appointments. I spoke to so many people over the first few months and since. Some names that are still on our books as members and some that have disappeared.
I apologise to any member or person that believes I was unfair to them. It got to a stage during these hectic times that I made some decisions I regret. There were some who wanted to just talk about their troubles and I did not have the time to listen. This hurt me somewhat as among the ‘paper achievements’ of my life that hang on my wall, Diplomas and a Bachelor, is a Diploma of Professional Counselling. I wanted to listen to them but it was a different hat I was wearing.
This thing had become a crusade (very appropriate for Canterbury) and I was the driver. There was no time for other issues. I did suggest to some that they receive professional help but others would have just received their registration money back in the mail.
When someone arrives at the office, has no transport and no tools and wants to join Grey Skills then you have to make a decision. For the sake of all those who were joining because of the future we were offering them I had to think about our professional image and reject people, I had to say no. Someone turning up to do a job on a bike and borrowing your tools to work is hardly professional. I had to decline their application to join. Anyway that is the reason why but I was not happy about the situation.
It was interesting about this time that Hire a Hubby came to town. This home service had a dream run. The name caused such great interest around the country and they made every paper and TVNZ news because of the connotations of hiring a hubby. The couple that owned the master franchise for New Zealand sold heaps of franchises. Telecom did an advertisement for them and a national garden show took them on and nobody minded.
Maybe 50 franchises were sold before Fletchers bought them out this year and I wish them the very best because that is free enterprise. Their marketing was brilliant and worked. Interesting though that our genuine efforts to help the country should be somewhat ignored at the same time by television.
I used the media releases that are reproduced throughout this diary as marketing and in Canterbury unashamedly and it worked. Remember we had no money so we relied on the media and word of mouth. The media releases tell the story from the start also and show how we progressed. We have not been able though to achieve half the publicity of Hire a Hubby and yet we will be 50 times as good for the country with jobs and income. That is why I am writing this book- to tell the whole story of Grey Skills and ask for New Zealand to embrace it- to make it yours and help get as many over 40s back to work as we can.
Interestingly enough, others have tried to duplicate our success. During the first year I had many come or phone and talk to me about what we have achieved or what we were trying to achieve.
A corporate lawyer from Wellington and his business partner from Auckland would be a good example. They rang and asked to visit us at Hills Rd as they had heard about it on the radio. We spent a full day with them and they asked all sorts of questions, as they wanted to set up in the capital and Auckland. They would ask as many questions as possible they said and then send us a proposal.
Two weeks later the proposal arrived which offered virtually nothing to buy both cities. We refused so they went and started anyway under the name of Silver Force. Another chap from Wellington went within one week of opening and decided he could not raise the finance. I was forced to attend the opening meeting and explain to 80 people what we were about but we would not be opening in Wellington.
Hundreds of others came to look and talk over the first twelve months. We were riding on a high because it was obvious that people needed and wanted Grey Skills but we were not ready for them.
A couple from Hawkes Bay finally did open an office in October 1998 but it didn’t help. Too many had looked and said no for varying reasons. ‘We will wait to see how you go’, some said. Others found it all too daunting. No one had the passion or drive to match mine.
It was quite obvious to us that even though the idea was good, our systems weren’t good enough yet. When someone asked for information we would send them a sheet of paper outlining what we were doing. I mean we knew it worked- the phones were running hot, people were joining, income was being produced but they could or would not believe it.
Why wouldn’t they believe us? The question has crossed my mind a hundred times. I have been over and over things that have happened. I have learned very quickly how careful Kiwis are. On the Gold Coast and Brisbane area, eight franchises sold in the first three months. In 6 months in New Zealand we had sold one.
So to a degree it was Kiwi caution. But we also decided the systems were not attractive enough and not professionally presented. Vicki and I had to do more work to make them more appealing- more corporate looking.
This was not a major problem because we had a logo but the stationery needed that logo and so did all our paperwork. Vicki and Beau had finally arrived in July and she was now available to upgrade the systems. Some of the paperwork was amateurish, as we had been faxing to and fro from Oz just to survive. Picture me at night deciding what was needed for the next day or week. I would fax a rough to Vicki, she would type it up on the computer and fax it back and I would run 100 copies off at the local photocopy shop.
We reacted to the demands of the day and little planning could be done, as we were too busy. We had 60 odd service providers now and thousands of jobs coming in and just her and I to deal with it all.
We coped but in hindsight anyone who received information about our franchise would not have been aware of the difficulties of evolving such a business. They would have been turned off by the simplicity of it all but that is the backbone of the business. It is a simple process.
Many of the ex corporate managers told me during our interviews that we would have to achieve the corporate look i.e. logo, letterheads, cards- an image. We didn’t have the time, money or staff at first.
I need to remind you here of how difficult it was for the first 6 months. We had no wage, little income and we were flying by the seat of our pants daily. Ideas came at three in the morning and I would write them on a book beside my bed then get up at five and put pen to paper. Most problems had to be solved immediately and we refused to let anything beat us. There is always a way around a problem.
My business partner was a doer rather than a thinker and few if any ideas came from him but he tried. He just lacked confidence in himself. Unfortunately he was not pulling his weight and after one discussion in March 1999, he walked out and we have not seen or heard from him again. His lawyer sent us a ridiculous list of demands that we negotiated and we worked out a realistic sum to part the ways.
Vicki deservedly became a director of the company in his place at that stage and justifiably so since her input had been invaluable. Somehow we survived those months though but it was certainly touch and go on occasions.
One of my decisions caused a few headaches at the end of 1998. Because of the reaction around the country, I could see us opening everywhere within 12 months. Chronic idealists all think this way. I mean the concept worked didn’t it. Our system worked and we were receiving hundreds of phone calls from people congratulating us.
So I put our name in the yellow pages in every major town at a cost of around $8000 dollars thinking we could easily cover that amount. Unfortunately Murphy’s Law stepped in and our overheads increased as we upgraded our systems. On top of that we could not sell a franchise and our income would never cover that amount at that time. Things looked grim.
Talk about stress. I can remember on one occasion I had returned from the bank and realised that we had no money. I had spent our allocated amount of $20 000 and there were bills coming in left, right and centre and no money was in the bank. My head was spinning and everything was a blur but the phones were still ringing and that is what has saved us. I could not give up.
The community has never stopped supporting us. Thousands upon thousands of jobs for Grey Skills and they ring up after we have finished and tell us what great people we are. It kept the cash-flow going through those hard times but it was the effort of the members that made the difference. Their service to homeowners was becoming legendary just as I had envisaged. I am so proud of what they have produced- confidence within the community that we are legitimate, that we will do what we say we will. A remarkable group of trusted independent contractors who were available to the public, we had created something special here.
Let me tell you more about them. We have attracted many talented members to Grey Skills. We can literally do most anything. We have trained our gardeners to know as much as they can about gardening. They have attended courses to upgrade. One of our electricians has been helped by Fisher and Paykel to service their appliances. Our handymen are very skilled and do major carpentry and painting work. Our computer guys have fixed them and tutored those who don’t know how to use them. We have carpet layers and cleaners, panel beaters and glaziers and every conceivable trade covered. They are unique in that we can offer the homeowner all those skills and the list grows as different ideas come. We are home services.
We even have the ability to design manufacture and install kitchens- all done from home. That is where my pride comes from- the experience, ability and dedication from the Greys. We won’t give up.
Guys like Dennis Ward or number one as he is called affectionately. He came from benefit to us and could not get help from WINZ to do so. He works hard and with pride in his trade. He protects the name and is so loyal to us.
Les Gardener our appliance man who came from Dunedin to join us as an electrician and Ian Wright who came from Workbridge after a shoulder accident 2 years before. All are quality service providers and good citizens and we have many more like them. Les won the Service Provider of the Year award last year for his service to customers and his loyalty to us. No business could go wrong with his standards being injected into it.
Their wives were also a part of the success of our business. Some did accounts, some organized appointments but in general all were supportive of the concept and encouraged their partners to run a tight ship.
There were also a few nutters in the first months. Every Tom, Dick and Harry with ideas about what we could do to produce work. Once again I had to be ruthless with some as income had to be real not potential. No commission jobs were accepted and engine additives and network products were also not accepted. It was a relief when we changed to home services exclusively as I only had to talk to homeowners and their needs.
EXPANSION But what of the commercial field?
In June 1998 I received a fax late one night from a chap who wanted me to phone and talk about the commercial side of our business. His idea was to produce a system that catered for the employer but based on our proven system. We liked him and his idea and funded another public meeting to discuss his concept with over 40s who still wanted to be involved with the workforce. We were the first to admit that we had not had a lot of luck in this area.
Our Home Services you see were asking people to do a ‘mind switch’ and forget their past. Managers becoming handymen or technicians becoming gardeners so to speak- we have bank managers and school principals who have become handymen.
What he was advocating though was what we thought would happen initially. That the skills of the Greys could still be marketed to the employer by offering them on a part-time basis to be used on an ‘as needed’ basis. There were other benefits such as no fees and our people paying their own taxes, which effectively was our system but he would be available for the commercial world. That they start their own business and be independent was not new but he would market the availability of their skills for busy times only and an age balance in the workplace.
After all, most of us learned from a Grey when we were younger and a balanced staff would have to be more productive with the younger members of staff being advised by older members.
I was aware at that stage that some employers were confused about Grey Skills and what we were offering as our advertising emphasized home services by this stage of our evolution. So it made good sense to diversify in this manner and concentrate on the commercial arena- two distinct separate groups.
After many meetings, an enormous amount of planning on his part including uniform design, tax books and a profile that included logos and corporate image, he was ready to launch in July 1998.
He had a middle management background and was a superb organizer and I had no hesitation in backing him financially. We had after all decided to churn our income back into the business from the start so after a memorable walk with him around my beloved Hagley Park one Saturday, discussing the issues involved, I decided to back him.
During the one and a half hours of walking and talking, he chaffed his legs so badly that day that he could hardly walk for a week. I found him to be a likeable guy, very honest and upfront and the first Kiwi I thought I could call a friend as he gave his time and his thoughts freely without an agenda attached. Don’t get me wrong, we had many people up to this stage that wanted to be friendly but about Grey Skills. A friendship wasn’t to be though as the story goes.
Anyway, we had organized a public launch for the GREY SKILLS PROFESSIONALS as it was to be called and once again through good media coverage locally, we had a good roll up of 140 interested bodies and leaders of community groups and after a combined presentation by him and I, many over 45s signed up under his leadership.
The written agreement we had with him was for a 3-month period and then we would review his position financially. No service fees were required, no directorships offered and no other financial commitment was made other than we paid for all the pre-opening costs.
The three months flew by and at the end of that period he had achieved a great deal. Over 100 members had registered with him and he had a significant number working and paying him a fee, which equated to several thousand dollars per month. For those of us who have attempted to establish or have successfully established a business from day one, you will realize that any income is important in the early days. We were sure that he had a viable business and that we were on track to help thousands in the commercial field.
On top of that he had the loyalty and respect of his members and the employers with whom he was dealing with as they realized that this was a genuine attempt to establish an employment agency for mature age people that was run professionally. He had all the ingredients to make it a success.
Perhaps too, it didn’t work out because I had broken my golden business rule - if they don’t put up some gold then there is no commitment. So no money invested then we don’t start a business. When things get really tough in business it is only commitment that keeps you going when it would be easy to walk away.
Unfortunately also, our manager of the professionals had a background of middle management within NZ Post and life can be very comfortable and secure there. His network included one close adviser who constantly questioned where he was going with the agency particularly as he had no ownership and this worried him to a degree.
As an old fashioned chap myself, there was never any question that he could have bought the agency for a very reasonable price after the qualifying period but to my surprise and disappointment, he chose to opt out after the trial period was up.
We faced the prospect of wasting our investment of several thousand dollars on his idea as well as seeing his members let down as he had promised them so much but didn’t really deliver.
I think I probably offended him too when I pointed out a few of his weaknesses at the review stage of our agreement but I was concerned over the lack of marketing and his lack of real passion. I knew what my passion had produced and it can easily be duplicated but he was bogged down with the negatives. What if this happens? What if that happens? You do not have a crystal ball in life so you just get on with it.
This was a very frustrating period for a chronic idealist as we had just met Athol Hutton from Company Rebuilders and he was one dynamic Kiwi. In fact he is the only one I have met so far who was not embarrassed to show his enthusiasm. You would enter a room with him and his voice would go up ten decibels as he questioned you about your business and your intentions.
His background was CEO with Waitaki Meats and he was very enthusiastic about what we were doing. Many years before he had been involved in the formation of Mature Employment and his comment to us was that we were doing what he wanted them to do. He shared the vision immediately with the Director of the Professionals and myself and we set about building our network through using his.
After leaving Waitaki Meats he formed Company Rebuilders to ‘do his penance’ as he put it, for all the workers he had to put off over the years while cost cutting. It was such a thrill to meet him, as he was an achiever and keen to help.
He had suggested that we set up committees around the country made up of high profile locals who could advise us as mentors. When he took the idea to his network it met the same stonewall I had encountered in Canterbury and after several months he retired to the Nth Island for good. His network disappeared with him. Shame really because I thought we had reached a turning point in our progress as chronic idealists do when they meet positive people.
It was very frustrating because he and my friend the Director of Grey Skills Professionals were the first executive level supporters I had attracted and for them both to disappear within months was a real blow. But the words of my father stuck with me-‘Never give up Brian because if you fall down someone will only kick you. Get up and fight’. It was the Irish in him I think but we Murphy’s don’t give up easily because of his influence and a few good fighting genes.
I said goodbye to our Director of Grey Skills Professionals and he disappeared and so did the friendship. Luckily one of the members of the Professionals rang shortly after and offered to run it until someone purchased the business. Fate I guess.
I advertised it and interviewed some very able managers but none would part with their money, as I was not going to break my ‘golden rule’ twice. They could all see the potential and wanted it to work for their own sakes and believed it was necessary but it was too much work for them to establish it or they perceived that they were lacking a skill such as marketing. There was the odd nibble and one chap in particular who had recently lost his company when staff tipped him out, would have been ideal. Unfortunately I could not find referees who were able to paint the right picture of him.
Earlier lessons had taught me to be stringent in checking people out. Several years before this as Operations Manager for St John Ambulance and I had caught out two registered nurses who wanted to join the organization. They did not have a copy of their nursing registration and had given hospitals as referees. I had rung the Nursing Directors at the hospitals and was told that they were indeed working there in intensive care.
I asked if they had copies of their registrations and was told- ‘of course, they would not be working here otherwise.’ I insisted they check their files and sure enough no registrations. Both had attended uni classes and picked up enough medical jargon to survive. I never believe resumes, as people tend to exaggerate or even lie. It is better to talk to people who know the applicant as you can question them about their history.
Even with this prior knowledge I still put on a former nurse in Grey Skills home services who wanted to join us as a housekeeper. I had spoken to her neighbour of ten years and to a nursing director in Auckland who knew her some 10 years before. She looked fine but an alleged heart problem was really a booze problem and it was only that the homeowner checked the level of the gin bottle before and after a cleanup that we caught her. We let her go immediately.
We became the central topic of a few dinner conversations around Christchurch for a time after that but homeowners appreciate that I am giving them a genuine article to the best of my ability. With their help and cooperation we will cull any problem people. The homeowner wants genuine service providers as much as I do. So with their cooperation we will be world-beaters?
Oh yes, the Professionals- so what happened to them? Neal Sales was our Home Service computer service provider in February 1999. Fate took a hand once again when I woke up one morning with his name in my head as a replacement for the Professionals.
I was looking for someone who was not frightened to speak out and tell the commercial world about the skills of the over 45s and Neal Sales is by name and background a salesman. He is also a very sincere person who has a close relationship with his pastor Mike Butler. Together they spent 3 months looking at the concept and bought it in July 2000. They changed the name to GREY SKILLS EMPLOYMENT SERVICES and are working very hard to establish their business.
They also had a launch in September 1999, which once again attracted a good audience of concerned mature age. They have seen the business grow in one year beyond its previous level and over three hundred members are registered with them. They have done it with little capital but plenty of passion. We have not had to give them a cent and some weeks they are filling 5 full time jobs as well as part-time jobs. I believe quite strongly that if given national exposure thousands of over 40s will obtain work through their professional approach to marketing our skills to the employer. Getting them recognition is the problem.
They are currently planning an opening in Auckland when their systems are completed.
MORE FROM THE DIARY
Back to the diary - by July 1998 Vicki and Beau had arrived. The business had become viable enough to support having them here. It had been a long and lonely 5 months without them but my work, my walks, movies and the success of the business had kept me going.
I also had joined the gym. No words can describe the importance of exercise to de-stress the mind. I still go at least once if not twice a week and do circuit training- a round of exercises and weight lifting to music. I recommend it to anyone.
On her arrival, Vicki immediately set about bringing our office into the 21st century. We were doing everything on paper or white board before she arrived so computers were purchased immediately and she began the process of writing software programs to suit our NZ systems. All forms were upgraded and our corporate logo and stationery were also introduced. It was a transformation and we were now looking and performing in a professional manner.
We were still sending out hundreds of sheets of paper remember to interested franchise buyers around the country but none were interested, because, I now believe, we had not proven ourselves and it just wasn’t professional looking enough. The questions flowed back- How do we know it works? What income can we expect? We like the concept but !!…. - they wanted to do it but were not prepared to commit themselves yet. You see, everyone will jump on board if you have the track record but they don’t want to do the hard yards or pay for the privilege.
I must mention here that finding suitable managers was not the only problem we were having. Life was not all that easy dealing with the large numbers of service providers as well. One gentleman in particular is worth a mention as we were still dealing with his case at the Disputes Tribunal fifteen months after the event, which drove us there.
We have a contract with our service providers that in essence states that they will do the right thing by the homeowner and us at all times. After all, we advertise for the work, we take the initial call; we give them business back-up, system support and generally make sure they keep a standard. For that they pay a fee for work that is built into their hourly rate so that the homeowner pays no more than the normal rate to them, as they are independent contractors. The fee is tax deductible.
If there is a dispute over the fee then we take the service provider to the Disputes Tribunal where an independent arbitrator can sort out the problem. To date this has only happened three times. I am very happy by the way with the work of the arbitrators at the Tribunal who are very balanced in their decision-making.
One devious chap though swore we would never get our commission after we had to terminate him for letting customers down. I have been to the Tribunal seven times over the matter and he has never turned up. In the end I was awarded the money by the tribunal for immediate payment, which he promptly put into his solicitor’s bank account and told the bailiff that it had been paid. The money sat in the account because he supposedly was going to make a counter claim. It was eventually paid after a solicitor’s letter to him from us.
The majority of our service providers are ‘salt of the earth’ types who are loyal to the concept. As in life a percentage will always let you down but we have checks on our system to catch these people out and in doing so, we earn the respect of the genuine ones.
People are going to respect GREY SKILLS because that’s what the majority of us in the age group have. The experience of life that is, which should be respected just as they do in Eastern culture where elderly persons teach history in schools and are used as mentors for the young. We tend to lock our Greys away in homes rather than use their vast experience.
So by September 1998 I was pulling my hair out trying to get this established across the nation. What looked to be a winner in our first dizzy few months was losing pace slightly but we kept the passion going.
There were some glimmers of hope on the way though. Tower Insurance, for instance, had offered to run a seminar in Auckland to create interest in the concept in that city and we accepted their financial input. The Professionals manager (who was later to dump us) and I travelled to Auckland and presented our concept to a room full of interested people. We had advertised in the NZ Herald Business Opportunities section and Chris Carter had given us airtime on his show on Auckland Newstalk.
We gave them a very professional presentation and two couples signed up immediately after the seminar and 15 others were keen enough to take the information package that we had prepared for the occasion, home.
Chris Carter was still telling everyone on air what a great idea we had and urging them to be part of it so I was understandably optimistic. One by one though they disappeared until they were all gone and we had no starters in Auckland.
Back came the self doubt- what were we doing wrong? We decided again that it was just too early. Even though we knew how far the systems had come in those seven months, we just had not been around long enough for people to accept us. It was a hard pill to take when you are a CI and you have the best intentions for everyone
We needed to get a track record so that confidence in Grey Skills would grow. Once again it became obvious that Kiwis were not risk takers. This was not going to be easy and even though the country liked the idea we would have to convince them that it was economically viable first. So be it I thought.
By Xmas 1998, we had at least proven that we were here to stay. Vicki had got us over our financial scare by paying Yellow Pages off over a few months- she also taught me the value of being up front when you owe money. By telling them what the problem was and what she wanted to do about it made them very cooperative with us.
She always phoned if an account could not be paid on time in those early days. One business stated that she was one of the few that phoned them as they usually had to chase people and they really appreciated her call.
Luck finally went our way financially when we sold our first franchise in Hawkes Bay in October 1998 .An ex butcher and his wife decided that they wanted to help the over 45s in that area. We followed the same pattern of calling a public meeting and asking people to join us. Eighteen people did so in Hawkes Bay and by January 1999 some good cash flow was being generated by all players in that area.
This was such a positive fuzzy as we had reproduced our system for the first time. It made you feel like a father with a newborn baby. We were on a high but it was short lived.
Murphy’s Law soon took over again and the manager at Hawkes Bay had a breakdown. He had never really come to terms with losing his butcher’s shop to the big supermarkets and on top of that his wife found it very hard to cope because of her race. She was the first evidence I had seen of racism in NZ but as a Maori she complained that they would actually turn up to do jobs and the people would cancel them. I found it hard to believe at first because the Maori race here do not have the negative public face that aboriginals do in OZ where they are heavily criticized for over drinking and wasting public money.
So I believed at the time that she may be exaggerating but later, after having Maori service providers in Christchurch, I soon changed my mind. They have also received negative comments and we also have people commenting on the phone to us at the office. ‘ What do you expect he is a Maori” type comments.
There will always be people though who can’t be normal and look at others with a normal attitude of ‘I’m okay, your okay’, which has been one of my philosophies of life. The other one I always remember is related to my dad’s version of life- we all sit on the throne.
I have never found a person that is better than me, just people who have read and learned more in another field. I have never met a person who was wrong only those who have been misled or ill informed.
Such thinking really helps you cope with life as you quickly get over the disappointing aspects of people letting you down. My father had another gem about people- it would be a great world if there were no people. It all boils down to our individual skills- we all have them and they are suitable for certain fields, it’s just that some go into fields that they are not good at and become negative about life.
Hawkes Bay was a great learning curve for us as we once again had to self-evaluate the situation and find out what we did wrong. They stumbled on for another 12 months before eventually withdrawing but to their credit had established the business and had an income. The service providers got plenty of work and to this day we are still receiving eight calls a week on average from people who want Grey Skills in that area. We have closed it now until we find a new manager.
We knew now that the selection criteria had to be more rigid. The manager’s role was the most important role of all in our company because it is based on mutual respect. If they do not have marketing, presentation and organisational skills as a manager then they would not attract a good team of professional people who believed in their ability to create work for them..
Don’t forget, this was all about a database of over 40s skills in each area and selling those skills to the public by following a proven marketing method. That’s what you pay for in franchising- following the bouncing ball as it has been bounced before. The only difference is that you have to be aware of the local community culture and know where to go and who to speak to. There would not be too many Kiwis that don’t want to see the Greys working as we are all forty eventually. We just need some genuine Kiwis, who care about this problem of lack of employment, as managers. So we knew after Hawkes Bay that our job would be easier if we were more selective of our managers.
I cannot let 1998 go without mentioning Peter Thomson as he represents the problem perfectly. He came to me as many do, asking to be a part of what we were doing so he could have more work. He already did odd jobs but wanted more income. He was sweating profusely the day he came but I put it down to nerves. Within a week he had died in his sleep. Heart attacks can happen to anyone but the worry of unemployment sure helps things along a lot quicker.
I attended his funeral and listened to family and friends talk about a remarkable man and ex-serviceman who had stayed on in Europe after World War 2 and toured 35 countries I believe it was before he returned to marry and start his family. He had lost his job at an early stage in his career and tried to keep busy while he looked for permanent work. Another very well educated chap whose skills were being wasted and it worried him to death. His death made me even more determined to keep advocating why grey skills should not be ignored.
Tower Financial Services continued their support into 1999 and were keen to be part of our message that grey is experience. No doubt they were also aware that over 60% of the wealth of the nation is in this age group. We did appreciate their support though and I had several meetings with their managers and national support personnel. We could not find common ground though and their financial backing over twelve months did little to help our cause but it was appreciated.
I was determined to press on though and seek the help of proven performers. I had meetings with Smith City DIY in Christchurch at their invitation but they never bothered to follow up on a proposal to work in partnership that they were putting together for us and I tried on several occasions to talk or meet with Stephen Tindall of Warehouse fame but nothing came of that either.
The frustration continued through trying to maintain my enthusiasm for a cause that everyone said was a great idea and how needed it was but no one would commit themselves to support it.
My wife reminded me on many occasions that the fact we were doing so well in Christchurch and so many were benefiting at the grass roots that it made it all worthwhile but this was not enough for a chronic idealist. I wanted all the country to benefit not just a few and I was becoming impatient about the delay.
Perhaps it is a grey crusade as The Press newspaper in Christchurch so aptly described in one media release and I am too one eyed about it but if something is a proven success and good for the country why do you still need to shout it from the rooftops. Why can’t everyone be a chronic idealist too because a lot more would be achieved I am sure?
In April 1999, two positive things happened. We were one year old and a full-page feature in the Star newspaper told the story of our success and it was supported financially by ten businesses that effectively paid for the ad. We were very proud to have a picture of fifty or so members celebrating our birthday and the accompanying well wishes of supporting businesses.
Secondly, Brian and Erin Wilson bought our second franchise in North West Christchurch. Brian is one of our real success stories as mentioned earlier. He had come to us in February 1999 and asked if he could open a franchise. He had been a service provider since June 1998 and was a good operator. Many homeowners had given us feedback on his ability to provide an excellent service.
My business partner was not happy with the idea as he felt that would reduce our income but I saw it as expansion so parting with him and North West’s opening was no coincidence. We needed this extra office in Christchurch as the workload had increased significantly and I was having trouble finding time for everything. Answer phones, take jobs, deal with customer complaints, recruitment and office work as well as the national picture was our daily routine. Brian and Erin eased the workload immediately.
Our numbers had been growing steadily over the first 12 months with little active recruitment and we had nearly 100 working in Christchurch. It was so satisfying that we were making a difference for these people and they had income, some for the first time in months. The idealist in me saw 600 in Auckland and over 1000 around the country in Home Services alone and even that is conservative.
The employment group was struggling though and it was obvious that the new manager, who had offered to fill in, was not attracting the numbers and the jobs that would make that business a success. The eventual director and owner of Grey Skills Employment Services as it is now known was then still working steadily as our computer service provider. The professionals unfortunately would continue to struggle until I approached him the next year with our offer.
We were now not only on the map but consolidating what had been achieved in those first hectic months.
By 1999 the business was booming but our social lives had not picked up- all we had was sport. Vicki was playing netball and I had circuit training at the gym. Beau had started at kindy so we did have some other interests through kindy related activities. Any other social life was non-existent as work was our life.
We had one invitation out for a social event in the first 12 months and three in the second 12 months. It was no one’s fault but ours as we chose to live the business. We did not want to socialize with the service providers, as you would tend to talk business all the time. Thank heavens Vicki and I get on well as we were stuck in the office all day and talked shop at night.
I did feel guilty on many occasions though as Vicki is a very hands on mum and she wants to be involved as an interested parent in all Beau’s school interests. At that stage she was unable to do so but we eventually enlisted the help of Brian Wilson’s daughter Sue Amtman who now capable fills in whenever needed. She was the first person we delegated duties to as contracted secretarial support and it is a relief to know we have quality back up if the occasion arises.
The Wellington fiasco passed in Feb 1999 when an entrepreneur strung us along for 6 months before deciding one week before opening that he could not raise the money. We had some good media coverage in that city as well so I did not enjoy talking to the crowd at the pseudo opening. I was later to get my revenge on him when I won a Disputes Tribunal hearing via telephone and we were allowed to keep his deposit.
To negotiate for the franchise over six months and wait until the last week for finance approval is unforgivable and we let down a lot of potential service providers in that city. No wonder we have tightened our procedures up so much. Mistakes are fine if you learn from them and we did.
We learned another giant lesson from that debacle as well. Don’t trust people with financial transactions. The money must be up front- the golden rule of business.
People needed to know that I was serious in our desire for them to do the right thing by each other. The right thing is a chronic idealist’s philosophy of life and it leaves everyone with the correct impression that I will not suffer fools gladly.
The community meetings also continued in earnest in 1999 and I was talking to two Probus groups a week as well as a variety of others like the wine club and the Christchurch Property Investors group.
As well as good public recognition through speaking to community groups, we had introduced compulsory car signs. Each service provider put signs on their car or trailer and it had the desired result. Our service providers were being stopped in the street and asked for details about us because of these signs and inquisitive people have even approached me in car parks.
I will never cease to be amazed by the support Christchurch gave and has continued to give us. Well-wishers stopping us in the street, businesses displaying our fliers and people phoning the office on a daily basis to congratulate us are just a few examples of the support. There was no doubt now in my idealistic mind that we were here to stay and that people in the street saw it for what it was- a self help group.
We were no closer though to the dream of national recognition. Chronic idealists do not give up and the words of my father will always be in my ears- never lie down. I needed a break though as the workload was still full on so I went to Dunedin in July 1999 to see the All Blacks play Sth Africa at ‘the house of pain’- Carisbrook. I shared costs with the local garage owner and he introduced me to good old-fashioned kiwi hospitality.
It was a great match and the atmosphere was awesome. The hairs stood up on my neck as two pipe bands blasted out ‘mull of kintyre’ before the game. The Kiwis certainly love their sport. I have grown to be Canterbury supporter as their brand of rugby is entertaining and they are so effective at what they do- I respect them. They remind me a lot of the Brisbane Broncos who I have supported since their first game in 1988.
Back to work though as there was still much to do. We were keen to open some offices in Auckland as the population is there so we paid to have a stand at the Franchise Expo in August 1999. After 3 days of talking and a dozen prospects, nothing eventuated. I was becoming concerned with the public’s perception of us once more, as our record in Christchurch was so good. At this stage we had well over 100 members in Canterbury who were producing up to one million per annum in income alone and generating as much in material sales.
We appointed an agent in Auckland and advertised in the Herald but after 30 or so enquiries only one more franchise sold in Bay of Plenty. Our agent tried to explain that few businesses were selling but a chronic idealist cannot accept such glib. I wanted action.
You have no idea how puzzled I was. Where had all the initial interest gone? How was I going to get managers across the country? It works, I would say to myself- why won’t people buy? Everyone is a winner- the government because we were looking after unemployed, under-employed and redundant and they were not looking for benefits. They were also paying taxes. The homeowner was happy because they had a real home service now that they can trust and are continually using us for that reason. The service providers are happy because they have work and in many cases have started their own business with our back up.
What were we doing wrong then? Why can’t people be as enthusiastic as me about this? Where is the passion in this country? The questions were coming thick and fast and it was hard to look Vicki in the face because I saw marketing as my role and I had to find the answer. She had done so much to upgrade the systems so I felt I was letting the team down.
By October 1999, Vicki and I decided we needed some professional input and enlisted the services of David McCone from Sparks Erskine Accountants and Maurice Walker from Anthony Harper Lawyers, two of Christchurchs top firms. These two guys were dynamic to say the least. We sat in front of a white board with them and listed what was needed short term and long term. We all had input and everything was listed. We then prioritised and set dates for completion. It was decided that everything we needed was there among our work but it needed streamlining.
Manuals and systems mainly were given priority but we now had professional advice on what had to be changed across the board. Although I had been involved in this process many times as a consultant in previous life, I would judge this session as being the most productive and satisfying I had ever had. Vicki and I left that room with a feeling of accomplishment in that what we had done to date was fine and we could be proud of it but it just needed upgrading. A web site was also planned and needed designing to market the concept in the info age.
Vicki worked for three months from that day in November 1999 to again produce the new manuals and accompanying systems and we even spent our week’s holiday in Dunedin, the first in two years, as a working session. She became very ill during this period but being a task person she pushed on regardless.
At midnight on Xmas eve I took her to the doctor to be checked, as her throat was extremely painful. She stayed in bed Xmas day accept for an hour to watch our boy open his presents and she struggled to eat dinner. Within 24 hours she was in hospital on a drip for dehydration. A quick recovery and she was back to the computer and I realized just how committed she is to this business. By Jan 2000 she had completed the upgrade and the new manuals were ready.
Maurice and David played their part by upgrading the legal contracts and analysing the income flow so we had proof of viability in our minds and on paper. I was determined not to sell something that would put people’s money/investment in jeopardy. Maurice made sure that the contracts were indeed legal and looked after our interests as well as Grey Skills members and franchisees. We will be forever grateful for their part in our development.
We had some success in selling franchises in 1999- three in fact but two were sold to ex service providers who could see that the system worked and decided to take the next step and manage service providers and one in Auckland who had seen an ad in the NZ Herald. We expected to sell a lot more now we had achieved our professional upgrade.
What had become clear through all this process is the type of franchisee we wanted. A certain discipline was needed also because the service providers need leadership. They need to know that the office is professional in their systems and approach and every effort is being made to find work for them. This, after all, is the last throw of the dice for some as their financial future.
We are now advertising for ex police who we believe have those attributes and would make good franchisees and good managers for our service providers. But they do not necessarily have to come from that field, as tradesmen with an office manager spouse would also fit the bill.
Our franchisee in North West Christchurch is a good example. Brian Wilson had been made redundant by the army at Burnham Military camp near Christchurch and was not sure where to go. He was suffering bad health and had a lot of anxiety about his future. One of his daughters Sue, who also works so diligently in our head office part time, has said to me that Grey Skills saved his life in that we gave him hope and a future at a time when he thought he had been deserted.
By graduating from a service provider to franchisee he has obtained a good cash flow, which puts him in the top 10% of money earners in the country in fact. It is people like him that I want to attract to Grey Skills so that they have some dignity in their later employment years and are grateful for the chance Brian often accompanies me when we open a franchise or at expos because he wants to tell the nation what our company is all about.
The show has just kept getting better as we evolve. I have met some politicians who share my dream of Grey Skills providing thousands with work and eventually being able to train apprentices. We have a steady flow of quality service providers who share the dream joining us and enhancing our reputation. National maintenance companies have expressed interest in us when the job is complete and we have 20 offices around the nation. They want access to trusted service providers that can look after their interests. The public continues to support us despite a lack of genuine recognition from mainstream press and despite a perception that it is JUST a commercial venture.
In August 2000 we reduced the membership age to 40 as so many had rung and asked could we help them. This has caused the best media interest since we started as the people in their 30s now realize that the problem is just not an oldies one that you can ignore. I look forward to media debate over the coming months and years and to political parties formulating policy to deal with the issue.
I know now that we are here to stay and that no matter what happens to the chronic idealist who wanted to do something for his fellow Babyboomers and to get NZ back to work, Grey Skills is a reality because you can’t ignore all that experience. Grey Skills is not me it is everyone over 40.
So where do we go from here? As mentioned earlier if nothing else then we can restore the pride and dignity of over 40s. Many have left us and taken full-time jobs with companies again. We gave them hope and the knowledge that they are still part of the bigger picture- their skills are wanted. We have a team of people who will grow as we spread across the nation and their skills will be available and accessed through our unique system. We will stimulate debate and identification and perhaps solutions for future problems.
The ball is in your court NZ. I know it works, my service providers know it works and they have a cash flow, the government are getting taxes instead of paying benefit with millions of dollars injected into the economy and home owners and employers have access to experience that offers quality and pride of work. Make Grey Skills part of your life and NZ culture.
When I leave this earth in 20 years or so God willing, I am no different to the graffiti kids in that I want to leave my mark. My mark will be a lot more useful and permanent though in that Grey Skills will still be helping others and will be part of New Zealand culture. What a wonderful thought that is for a chronic idealist”.
Back to OZ
So that was the NZ story and what a stressful chapter of my life it was. Vicki and I returned to Oz with a healthier bank account but very unhealthy physically and mentally. It had taken everything we could give it to make it successful but it was to take some years before we recovered from the experience.
One important thing we achieved from Grey Skills is that we were able to sell it as a viable business when we left NZ. I am very proud of what we achieved, as there were times in the last six months in NZ, as we tried to sell it, that Vicki thought the sale would never happen. I was always positive that it could be sold as every franchise was making a profit and in some cases a very handsome one but we were only getting nibbles from our newspaper advertisements. Brian Wilson was taking $90 000 a year from his home office which is nothing to be sneezed at.
We decided to have the business valued and once the National Bank valued the business then we could not help but sell it. I found some good Kiwis who had worked for Grey Skills (the guys who had purchased Grey Skills Professionals actually– Neal Sales, Michael Butler and their friend Nigel) and who understood why it had to continue as a going concern for the sake of the over 40s. I suggested to them that they may be able to raise the cash for the business as the National Bank were obviously impressed so it would not be hard to borrow the money. They applied for a loan, were successful, and we had sold the business.
The most important thing we achieved was to establish an ongoing concern that would continue to highlight the plight of the boomers and do it without relying on government. We won a lot of respect from those who mattered, the over 40s. When the time came to leave and the loyal members of Grey Skills bid us farewell at Christchurch airport, it was almost surreal. Here was this grateful group who were genuinely sad that we were going and they appreciated what we had done to improve their lives. We had conquered NZ and introduced a very worthwhile business that had a heart. Many over 40s will benefit from it and as of this date 2006, there are now twenty-two Franchises covering the country.
The Wilson’s (our first Franchisee’s) and the Amtmans (their daughter Sues family), were such a huge part of our life there that they are like real family. Brian and Erin Wilson were Beau’s Kiwi grandparents and the Sue and Rod Amtman gave us a social life. They have all stayed with Grey Skills, which will enhance the future of the business because they are valuable parts and have a lot to contribute. Sue is now the Franchise Support Manager and regularly travels around New Zealand to support the Franchisees. We are grateful to them all for making our stay so enjoyable and will always have a soft spot for our neighbours across the ditch.
Finally, as a postscript in 2012, the earthquakes of Christchurch in recent times have all but destroyed the city we knew but the memories will always be there for us. Our walks around the Port Hills, Xmas and walks at Hagley Park, summer at Sumner, French Akorora, batches at Little Akorora, Nth Canterbury, the train trip to Greymouth in winter, walking to Boulder Bay from Taylor's Mistake, Hamner Springs, the beauty of Marlborough Sound and Nelson, Kikoira and Port Levy. Thank you Grey Skills and all those who were involved and are still today and thank you NZ for your support.
Mates- An Aussie Way of Life
The encyclopaedia describes an Australian mate as a friend, usually of the same sex: a word often used between males in direct address.
Mateship in Australia is unique. It is the practice of men looking out for each other and is the backbone of the nation as our history shows through the Eureka Stockade, the western front in World War I to the many wars we have fought bravely in as a nation since. The ability to never let your mates down in any tight situations and to support them at all times. It is the core of the Anzac tradition and perhaps the core of the national male psyche.
I have been privileged over my life to have many good mates. They seem to come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. Many I would best describe as short term acquaintances that came into my life journey for a reason, many came for a season through sport, school and jobs and some have stayed for a lifetime but all were important to me.
This story is written as a tribute to mateship and is my life story but I know most males could change the names of my mates to theirs and appreciate this unique friendship we Aussie males have in our journey of life.
The first group of mates came during my childhood in the 1950s and they were neighbourhood friends who I spent all my spare time with playing and having some genuine fun and adventures.
The next group came at high school and they had an enormous influence in my life and the direction I took at the time. I accredit them with shaping me physically and mentally and enhancing my life through music, surfing, football, socialising and partying and a couple stayed for a lifetime.
In my parenting years I met many other male parents who were good mates and we learnt the difficult job of child raising together and more importantly, how to deal with PMT in our partners. We taught each other how to survive as most males understand that we are not pin-ups during menstruation and we need to understand it is not personal but their natural cycle and not a time to discuss major issues between partners. Mates talk all things male.
Good mates had influence in all aspects of my life; childhood development years when we learnt how to socialise; through my teens when they were there for me in those turbulent years when you are trying to work out the meaning of life; young adulthood years when I was trying to work out what made the opposite sex tick; parenting years when I needed a hand at home with working bees or a shoulder to cry on during an unfortunate divorce, career advice, legal advice or sporting event company. Mates were always there for me.
In my golden years now, I am finding it more difficult to make new mates and I now enjoy the company mostly of those who survived my journey of life but I am very grateful to still have other males ‘to chew the fat with’.
Over the years I have been accused by female partners of borderline homosexuality because of mateship and my closeness to other males but Aussie mateship has nothing to do with sexuality. It is more a camaraderie with your own gender and when times are tough with many of the daily problems life throws at us, mates are there for you and you feel supported by them.
We males find it very difficult to talk about our issues. Women are so lucky to be able to talk for hours about their issues in life and they vent their problems without really needing a solution. They want to rid themselves of their negative thoughts, vent about their partners and work and then move on. We males unfortunately tend to hold issues within and they slowly eat away at us.
I am taking the time here to journal my thoughts on my many mates and how they influenced my life. It is a story of good mates and I appreciated each and every one of them, grateful and thankful for their efforts in shaping my life. Mateship is worth cultivating and I pay tribute to all my mates.
I was born Brian Murphy at Royal Women’s Hospital in Brisbane in 1951. My memories of the 50s are of a dreadfully boring and colourless world although very snug and secure because of the safe environment our parents had set up for us through hard work. Our family was typical for the post war era- LARGE- six children actually and we were labelled the BabyBoomers because it was the first time in history that such large numbers were born in such a defined period from 1946-1964.
Michael John was born in 1945 as a result of dad returning from World War 2, Rodney William in 1947, Pamela Anne in 1948, myself in 1951, Peter in 1955 and Noel Anthony, who was the last in 1957. Peter and I missed out on second names because by then our parents Joyce and John were too busy looking after children I believe to even think about it.
We lived at 29 Lima Street, Auchenflower in Brisbane. Our neighbourhood was an interesting place and looked much like a valley which was surrounded by hills on three sides– the Auchenflower to Milton railway line in Brisbane (Eagle Terrace), the Brisbane River (Dunmore Terrace), Moorland’s Park, (which is now the Wesley hospital) and Schultz’s canal, which flows into the river and divides Milton and Auchenflower, bordered our world.
The canal is on the flat end of the valley and caused havoc with flooding over the years, especially in the 1974 flood, which had dirty floodwater in our back yard for the first time and later the 2011 flood. Many houses in our neighbourhood went under in both floods, even the shop on Lang Parade, but our house 29 Lima Street thankfully was on a hill and out of harm’s way.
I remember vividly the oil covering the grass when the water receded and the pallets, wooden boxes, bottles and junk that was left in our yard. The stench of the mud was overwhelming but we cleaned it up and our neighbours houses that were covered in mud and life went on. All this was repeated 37 years later but Auchenflower had few houses this time as it is mostly units now.
Within those neighbourhood boundaries was our house and the family homes of dozens of kids we knew, who, on numerous occasions, made our yard theirs. In the valley between those boundaries is Dunmore Park and it was the centre of our world in the 50s and 60s- a human ecosystem.
I learned how to ride a bike there when I trusted my brothers to hold onto the back of my bicycle seat as I was propelled forward around the park. That trust enables you to keep pedalling without being afraid of the consequences even when the bike wobbles in preparing for a crash and I only took a tumble when I realised that they were no longer holding onto the seat. A situation which is much like life really when you feel secure until you are let go by those you trust.
The park was originally a rubbish dump pre World War Two and was covered in long grass around the perimeter which made for great cubbies and hiding games. I saw it transformed over the years from wasteland into a picturesque soccer ground for the Toowong Soccer Club and games are still played there today.
But to us at the time it was our Dreamworld in comparison and my brothers, my friends and I spent countless hours in that park playing daily until dads shrill whistle called us home around dark. We also played football there, we trained there and we drank stolen soft drinks there after raiding the trucks that Kirks (now owned by Coca-Cola) parked along Lang Parade beside it after they loaded them for the next day’s deliveries. The neighbourhood bully, Gary Allen, menacingly rode his horse around the park and we all scattered like frightened chooks when he was around and hid in the long grass until he was gone. I never spoke to the guy but his reputation, after being discussed by siblings at the family table, preceded him.
Suburbia was alive and well and the Boomer children were everywhere as Brisbane grew but Auchenflower was old school suburbia, close to town, and no more room to build or expand. The Boomer suburbs spread to the west, north and south of Brisbane in the late 50s and 60s. Holland Park to the South, Kenmore to the west, Chermside to the north and Wynnum to the east are examples. Many new schools had to be built to accommodate 5 million boomer children.
The families in our valley all knew each other because the children were outside playing and interacting. Our parents did not read Dr Seuss and nor did they panter to our needs. We were to be seen but not heard and you definitely did not hang around the house. If you played up in any way and did not follow directions then you were belted with a strap or the dreaded ironing cord.
"Wait till your father comes home!" was mum's favourite line and boy oh boy, didn't we know what that meant. I can remember hiding under my bed as dad looked for me with his strap in hand ready to administer justice for my daily sins.
Neighbourhood families included the Sampi's five houses down; the Shepherds on the corner (Ted Shepherd was a Councillor on the Gold Coast City Council); the Pearns (John is a Professor with the Brisbane Children’s Hospital); the Gipps (Howard became a reporter on A Current Affair on Channel Nine); the Stokers (Peter is a Psychologist at Toowong); the Ledgerwood's who owned the little store on Lang Parade; the Gays over the road and a host of other identities that were ‘Our Neighbourhood’. There were other players who did not have children and they were also part of the big picture.
Athol King, our homosexual neighbour (who lost his letterbox each cracker night); Mrs Chapman and Miss Brown, our neighbours on the other side, (sisters who lived for cats and always needed small jobs around the yard done for them); the flats at the back that had a host of tenants (but a stand-out was Mrs Reeves who knew everything that happened because she lived her day staring out her window, that faced Lang Parade and the shop, all day long); Mrs Foxlee over the road (who lost her husband when he fell under the train at Auchenflower Railway Station and whose cottage I would eventually own); Mr Pickwell up the road ( the most modern house in the street); Old Woodsy flats down the road and the one armed Mr Toombes diagonally opposite who amazed us by being able to drive a car with his disability.
You knew them all and they knew you. You would do jobs for them on ‘Bob a Job’ day for the Boy Scouts when you would do work for neighbours for a ten penny coin known then as a bob or you did it just for extra pocket money. You would also meet them at the local shop and shopping centre on Milton Road or at Auchenflower train station as you travelled to town or school because no one had a car in the early days and we used trams or trains to move around and everyone greeted each other in those days.
Dad counted twenty-six kids on one such day playing an assortment of games from cricket to war games in our yard before he scattered them with one of his mean looks.
"Haven’t these kids got a home of their own?" he would often ask. He was a shift worker and it was a hard life working a night shift and then coming home to six kids plus the neighbourhood so you could hardly blame him for voicing his concerns.
Neighbourhood mates were your life and you played relentlessly. Go-karts were built using pram wheels and left over wood bits from around the neighbourhood and they were raced down the steep hill on Lang Parade. There were some great spills and injuries to add to the excitement. I can remember numerous skinned knees and bleeding toes in those years and we were always having wounds bathed by mum.
There were not too many cars in those days to worry about them but someone was always on look-out for them because you could hear them coming. “Car!" would be the cry and everyone would move en-mass to the footpath like a well rehearsed movie scene.
All these neighbours were a part of our lives and they came into and left our lives frequently but their kids were mates while they lived there. Many migrant families entered Australia in the fifties. It was multiculturalism before it was labelled as such with Italian, Greek, Finnish and British cultures leading the way.
The Sampi’s (older sister Pirio, Purdi and Sajo) were one family who came from Finland and they grew up with our family going to Sunday and State school together (Mrs Sampi only died in 2010 and Purdi is still in their house in Lima Street) and I recall a Dutch family who had a large home opposite ours with views to Brisbane city. Most kids had access to spiritual education then through our weekly visits to Sunday School at the local church for 2 hours on a Sunday morning.
They had the first TV in the street and it was so exciting to be invited to watch something like the ‘Thin Man’, with Peter Lawford of the American Rat Pack fame, or one of the afternoon kid’s shows with Jim Illiffe who ran the Channel Niners Show or Beanpole on Cottees Happy Hour on Channel Seven. Jim only died in 2005 but you realise that time is getting on when your childhood heroes pass on.
The Dutch immigrants were more aware of business opportunity than we were and they sold in the early sixties to allow the first block of units to be built in Lima Street. Another Italian family moved into rental accommodation opposite the shop in Lang Parade in the 50’s and their son, Dino, played with us for a while but they quickly moved on. Nobody seemed to be unemployed in those days and everyone was expected to work so you had little trouble finding a job.
My first neighbourhood mate was Roy Barrett who later moved to Sydney with his family early in the sixties and later became a radiologist at the Royal Sydney Hospital where I was to meet him in the 70s in unusual circumstances when I was injured in a brawl in Sydney.
The Shepherds moved into their house soon after and Ted and I played for the next two years flat out. We just hit it off as mates and we could play any game using our fertile imaginations in those days before television took over and entertained us but even then we went to Cottees Happy Hour one Saturday morning at the Channel Seven studios on Mt Cootha in Brisbane and won some great prizes.
We were required to wait for some music to start and you were given a bag to fill with prizes that were on a table some 10 metres from the starting line. When the music began you could run to the table and take as many prizes as you like but you had to be back to the starting line before the music stopped or you would forfeit all you had taken. It was tough for a kid because you are naturally greedy or at least I was but Ted and I managed to bring some Cottees products and games home.
During that brief period we played in Dunmore Park or in our yards mostly though, playing soldiers in the main as anything to do with the army was popular since it was only a decade since WW2. We had absolutely epic war battles under my house in the dirt with the landings at Dunkirk, the fall of Singapore and other World War 2 battles relived over and over.
If it wasn’t plastic toy soldiers and army resources such as plastic tanks, trucks and field guns, that fought these epic battles under our generalship, then we would use soft drink bottle tops as substitutes to create the numbers needed or blocks of wood for landing craft. Coke bottle tops were the good guys and the rest were the bad guys. Even then we knew that, ‘Things Go Better with Coke’.
Everyone knew we were playing ’bottle tops’ as they named it but no one could imagine how much fun Ted and I had in those days doing something that cost nothing. Few could compete with our imaginations and our ability to live out these battle scenes.
We also became entrepreneurs one year when we had a neighbourhood puppet show. Ted and I wrote, directed and acted in it with puppets we had bought, and we made two pounds from memory, which was a fair sum in those days.
It was great fun because as soon as we collected the money at the door of our little theatre under his house, we would race around the back of a sheet we had hanging up so we were back stage. Then we would manipulate the hand puppets as we talked our way through the performance script until interval when we would race back out to the audience to sell lollies and drinks before returning for the second act.
The other big event we shared was Cracker Night or Guy Fawkes Night, named after the British terrorist who was the one of the main conspirators in the failed 17th Century attempt to blow up the British Parliament. Each suburb around Brisbane would have a bonfire in the local park so that families could celebrate together and ignite their fireworks.
Ted and I would organise our neighbourhood to give us material that we could burn on the bonfire in Dunmore Park. It was a huge bonfire made up of wood, old furniture, garden clippings and tree branches that we would spend a whole day dragging to the park from all over the neighbourhood, but someone would always light it up before we raced to the park after our dinner. We all had our box of fireworks that each neighbourhood child had purchased and assembled in the preceding weeks.
The park was alive with families setting off their Roman candles or skyrockets and throwing bungers which would explode with a nerve-shattering bang or tom thumbs which were very small and tied together with string and definitely less loud and destructive.
Every year different ones were invented and they were more sophisticated and more spectacular in what they did, once alight. It was difficult to know who was who in the dark of the park and where the fireworks were being ignited and many a box exploded accidentally. Within an hour it was over and the families returned to their homes.
The next day, at the crack of dawn, whoever woke up first between Ted and I would wake the other by calling at our bedroom window or throwing a small rock at the window and we would race down to the park to gather the crackers that didn’t go off, due to wet wicks or being dropped in the dark. You would be amazed at the collection we gathered and they would last us another week.
The night was eventually banned in Qld as kids were injured when fireworks were thrown without thought or skyrockets pointed at people. The odd cat lost a tail and letter boxes were blown apart all over the neighbourhood as well, which caused some negative feedback in the media.
Our neighbour Athol King would be at our fence the morning after, red faced and demanding to know who blew up his letter-box and we had to lie to protect mates.
“Do you know who blew up my letterbox last night?” he would ask
“No Mr King”, we would innocently reply knowing all too well that it was Michael Ledgerwood and Max Stoker.
During those long hours of play with my neighbourhood mates, I was the ‘Sergeant Major’ as my brothers labelled me and Steven Stoker, Peter and Noel my loyal brothers, Ted Sheppard and Max Ledgerwood were my troops. They had to do what I commanded but we played for hours and I would be disappointed if they hadn’t enjoyed those years as much as I did. We had a lot of fun in our neighbourhood and there was always something to look forward to.
Families celebrated every holiday; Xmas presents were proudly displayed to friends; dramas like letterboxes being blown up on cracker night and candy eggs exchanged at Easter as only the rich received chocolate eggs. There was probably only eight years in it but I have fond memories of this time in my life as a happy and adventurous time, in the spirit of ‘Huckleberry Finn’ or ‘Smiley’ I guess. Ted and I would go on long bike rides to the Brisbane River to fish at Toowong or to Mt Cootha where we fished for yabbies in the creeks there, tantalising the yabbies with bread on the end of some string.
We walked to the Elite theatre on Saturday afternoon and watched many exciting movies about cowboys and Indians and soldiers at war which we then reinacted during the trip home and into the next week whilst the memories lingered. No doubt other Boomer kids were playing with mates all over Australia but you stayed in ‘your world’ and made the most of it.
We did our jobs around the house, had lots of fun, played our games, talked about neighbourhood events and families around the dinner table, went to school and grew up with a fantastic group of people who were our childhood mates. Strangely, the mates of those years moved on and friendships never lasted for me until the next stage of mateship- high school friends -who became long term mates.
Making mates was not easy for me at Primary School. It didn’t help that I was a year younger than my classmates, particularly socially. My parents had sent me to school at four years of age by lying about my age as I was a big kid for that age but probably as an early child minding service. Poor old mum had five children when I went to school and one on the way. She was under enormous pressure in a period when no one recognised that fact and there was little help for the struggling housewife.
Due to this early start to school, mates were always hard to make because I was younger, so I spent a lot of time on my own at school wandering aimlessly around the playground and therefore didn’t think much of the place. The school playground followed fads. Marbles would have a place each year before red rover on the oval and then soccer. It was in Year Eight, which was still in primary school then, that I finally decided to take matters into my own hands and wag school for the first time so I could be alone.
I would take off at lunchtime on sports day, as no one picked me in their team, and walked to the hill on Eagle Terrace overlooking Dunmore Park near our home where I would climb a large fern tree. I could see my dad leave home for his afternoon shift-work from my eagles nest and he would walk briskly across the park and disappear towards the XXXX brewery where he was a brewer. Then I would climb down and head off home.
It was a lonely life without any schoolmates so I really appreciated them when I went to high school and things became more tolerable. I did have my younger neighbourhood mates back then and I would walk to and from school with, but you never played with kids from younger grades at primary school, as it was an unwritten law of the playground that you played with your year.
The first sniff of a different world came in the early sixties. I had just completed primary school and had enrolled at Indooroopilly High School as my siblings had done and the journey from my home to school could no longer be walked as in primary school. It required a twenty- minute train trip from Auchenflower to Indooroopilly station each day and a thirty-minute walk to the school along Lambert Road.
My first year there was as rigid as primary school in the initial stages as many teachers were ex army personnel and tough men who had no trouble belting you or intimidating you. Jack Wetzel was a standout at Indooroopilly High and would be remembered by all who attended that school in the 50s and 60s. He was prepared to put on boxing gloves if any student thought he was tough enough and some had a go but Jack only enhanced his reputation through these bouts and he ruled the roust for the time he was there.
He would stand looking you in the eye and say little for awhile just intimidating you. It was very unnerving and you dared not move. Eventually he would ask your name and tell you that you would be spending your time picking up papers for your lunchtime and report back to him when you had done so. If you forgot to do your punishment then someone would knock on your classroom door and interrupt the lesson with, ‘Mr Wetzel would like to see Brian Murphy’. Terrifying stuff to have to face him again and explain how you managed to forget his instructions as he visually abused you. My knees would shake at the thought of what he could do to me.
But ‘the times were a changing’ as Bob Dylan was singing on radio and we were prepared to stand up for ourselves and our rights. The changes came in the early sixties through the efforts of musicians and the wording of their songs and the likes of Dylan sold us messages through his songs.
The Beatles had their first hit late in 1962, and were a huge influence on the Boomers because we wanted to be just like them. They were the worldwide role models of my generation and we watched, learned and changed as they evolved. They were witty, rebellious and different. the world had never sen anything like it and they were mobbed wherever they went. My mate Keith Blake was a fan from day one and he soon influenced me.
I had met Keith soon after I started at High School as he was in my form class and I liked his easy-going nature. We both liked football and music although he had more knowledge of both and still has. He had the records, the Beatle Fan Club news and easy-going ‘ten pound pom’ parents and all of these appealed to me as more fun than Lima Street at that time.
I was a teenager and I wanted some excitement in my life and the Beatles provided that. My world started to change as I listened to this exciting music that made you feel that life had to be better than what we were being asked to accept. I started to rebel against the old Brian thanks to my new mate and it felt good. I wanted to be different like them.
Every Friday night I would put on my black Beatles skivvy, cheap King-Gee jeans and black Beatle boots and catch the bus to Keith’s place. It was quite a journey and required a walk to Coronation Drive, a bus trip to St Lucia and a walk to Keith’s home near the Taringa five ways on Swann Road but it was worth every minute as it opened a new world for me.
His parents were pommy immigrants who had come to Australia after WW2 looking for a new life and they were different in that they allowed him freedom. We were allowed to stay in his room in our Beatle gear and play our music on the old HMV record player- singles and LP’s. We would listen to Tony McArthur on 4BC radio and he would have a half-hour show of the Beatles music every week night and we would listen together each Friday night. I cannot explain how different and excited it made us feel to be part of this era but different we were.
Keith is an artist and his creativity produced some remarkable work that won him in radio competitions some of the first albums the Beatles released and we would hear their music before millions of others. How privileged was that!!!
In 1964, the Beatles came to town and Keith and I wagged school to stand in front of Lennon’s Hotel in George Street with hundreds of other teenagers and shout their names. there was no way we were going to miss such an event in our home town. Paul was my favourite and George was Keith’s.
‘I love you Paul’ was the cry as I shouted at the balcony where they were supposedly staying. What was I thinking but hysteria spreads easily among hundreds of fans so that is my excuse.
There were other bands but all were influenced by the Beatles in some way during this era and probably for a couple of decades.I can still listen to the Bee Gees music and remember Sunday afternoons listening to the same tune as a teenager and contemplating life as defined by these songs.
The Easybeats- ‘Friday on my Mind’; ‘Grooving on a Sunday afternoon’; go to ‘San Francisco’ and wear a flower in your hair like the hippies did and many other songs all had a message for me. There is a song for many parts of my life in those years and my children often make fun of me for my choice of music still but they are great mate memories and I love reliving them.
Memories of the first dance I had with one Jan Jeffries in her parent’s house in Taringa. Jan was a girlfriend who I had met on the train travelling to school. She went to St Aidan's at Corinda so she caught the old steam train at Taringa to travel to Corinda station. The carriages were made up of eight single rows and she would look for the one I was in so we could talk.
I owned a copy of Billy Thorpe’s single record ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ and we danced to it in her lounge room, cheek to cheek, with her parents watching TV in the next room. Her dad was the famous sports reporter, Harry Jeffries, with the now defunct Brisbane Telegraph newspaper, and although I was not intimidated by his presence, I did keep my hands to myself that night.
The Bee Gees ‘World’, was another single record that I gave to Linda Clare Harper, my first real girl friend, to let her know my feelings, as I could not express them to her myself. Sixties songs had love messages, war messages and emotional messages that expressed the way we felt. In the end you did use parts of these songs when writing love letters as they said it all and you couldn’t.
She loved one letter when I wrote ‘How do I love thee, Let me count the ways; I love thee from the length and depth of my heart’ or words similar to those which I stole from a poem I had read at school. I forget the poet (Coleridge I think) but loved the words and the assistance in winning her over.
Change was the key to this wonderful world we had discovered. Actually, there were so many changes in so many fields that it was hard to keep up with. Our hair grew longer, we questioned the rules of school, our parents and society and we wanted a different world for our children than the stifling cocoon in which we were raised.
We had not fought in a war and we were not aware of the perils of Communism and Fascism. We wanted freedom of thought, freedom of love and recognition of the rights of the individual. We wanted to change jobs if we were not happy, read what we wanted, say what we wanted, drink at a younger age, wear what we wanted and see what we wanted. So we challenged things- parents’ rules, school rules and societal rules. So much fun to be had and I indulged.
It was during this period that I felt I was different from my siblings in that they were very much part of the old world that I had lost confidence in and I wanted to be different. They weren’t into my music or my love of the pop culture initially but they eventually succumbed and became part of it as did most of the under 50 population. They probably thought I was weird but that was the idea.
Thoughts of achieving something for the world ‘for the greater good’, which were the roots of BONZA in later years or just general thoughts of my saving the world, first came to mind during this period. We were S.N.A.G’s (sensitive new age men) before the word was invented in the 90s and we allowed our female partners all the liberalisation they wanted in a partnership where we shared the load equally. We were all great soul mates sharing this wonderful time together.
Change affected all aspects of our society. Everyone went to the movie theatres for instance before all households had television. The Elite Theatre at Toowong was typical of the suburban theatres of the time that were scattered across the suburbs of Australia. They were huge buildings with row after row of canvas seats for the plebs and ten rows or so of first class lounge seats for the few who had money.
In the early days there were vendors selling food from trays that they carried around their necks and they would walk to the front of the theatre during interval and sell their product as patron numbers were high. Numbers were down by the 60s you had to make your way to the canteens for assistance and the ticket sellers would be multi skilled and move to the canteen at interval to sell food and then have to clean the theatre afterwards.
This great theatre where I watched matinee movies with mates as a kid changed too now when I was growing up and with high school mates. It had Mods in the aisle, with their long hair and colourful clothes, and the Rockers and Widgies disappeared with their motor bikes, but not before we had Mods versus Rockers gang fights outside on Milton Road after the movie sessions. Eventually the theatre itself disappeared as most did to make way for the new world of television and my world became even more exciting.
However, I will never forget the pleasures and excitement of the Elite such as watching those westerns and war movies in the early days as a child with Ted Shepherd; the first smoke which made us feel sick; rolling Jaffa lollies down the aisles to annoy the torch man who wandered the theatre during sessions to look for trouble makers.
In later years hugging my girlfriend Linda Clare Harper while sitting on the canvas seats in front of the big screen at the Indooroopilly High movie night with the added excitement of touching her breast which was a big deal for a young male at the time. It required a lengthy process of somehow getting your arm around your girlfriend’s head and slowly moving fingers towards the target of a handful of breast.
Commonly called ‘titing off’, it was the highlight of the date if you could accomplish it and a good tale to tell the mates and enough to satisfy the urges of most lustful teenage boys at the time. Add to that the draw of the lucky prize ticket number at interval which was displayed on the screen and winning something from the canteen or watching the gangs eyeball each other across the theatre or being marched out by the theatre usher for fighting and you had an entertaining day or night out. You could make a movie about the picture theatres of old and the carry-on inside.
The theatre site on Milton Road near the corner of Sylvan Road eventually became a shopping centre in the 80’s but by 1970 I had already moved on into the city and left this part of my life behind.
I wanted to be a Mod and wear clothes such as bell-bottom trousers, colourful shirts and double-breasted coats that would turn people’s heads with a statement ’ Look at me I am different’ and there were a small group doing that in the city.
My school mates did just that too as we met in Queen Street on a Saturday morning as the last of the Rock and Rollers, Rock and Roll George, circled the block in his hot FJ. I can still remember a Japanese tourist following me with his camera taking shots of my long hair blowing in the wind as I paraded down the street. ‘Give me a length of hair, long beautiful hair’ were the lyrics of the main song from the popular musical Hair and that’s what we wanted basically to be different from our parents and the generations above us who we saw as authoritarian.
We had mod shops to buy the clothes like those from Carnaby Street in London, which were replicas of the ones our pop idols wore. Westminster Boutique above Wallace Bishop’s on the corner of Queen and Edward Streets was the very first shop to cater for our clothing needs and Saturday mornings would mean a trip to the shop to see the latest offerings.
Keith was by far the snappiest dresser of our group and if he had been transported to London, would have had no problem fitting into the trendy set. He had immaculate dress sense and looked the part with his Beatle style hair and dress. I call him the fifth Beatle because no one else got close to their look as he did.
We had our music to dance to at our discothèques like Prince Alfred’s in Queen Street at Petrie Bight or Snoopy’s in Upper Edward Street at the old YMCA. We were anti-war and demonstrated against Vietnam; we supported our liberated women and we loved our new found freedom. Our efforts have changed the world and it is a better place because of our stand. I am proud of that and proud to be a Baby boomer and to have grown up with such a wonderful group of mates.
By now, I could see the difference in having teenager mates and how exciting it was compared to my childhood mates. Keith Blake was my first real mate and is still in my life today, which is something I am proud of. Our relationship centred on music, clothes and football. He played for West’s Rugby League Club, as everyone in the western suburbs backed the ‘Paddo Panthers’ as they were known.
Blokes like Ian Robson, Ritchie Twist, Errol Stock, Yogi Thompson and Ron Raper their coach, were household names in later years, but Hughie Kelly, Col Weir and Barry Muir were the stars of the sixties. They played at Lang Park and we would venture there Saturdays and Sundays to watch them play and cheer our idols. We worshipped them. I also sold 'hot chips' there and made some good money walking around the grounds with my chip box.
Keith played hooker for West’s juniors as a teenager and in a remarkable career, that covered Wests FC, Public Service and District football, was still playing in his fifties in Master’s football and refereeing the junior matches. He is foundation committee member of West’s Centenary Football Club at Jindalee where he lives and has devoted his life to football and his wish for rugby league to be as George Lovejoy used to say on radio after a game broadcast, ‘The greatest game of all’.
This junior club has their own web site and Keith has, over the years, assisted in establishing their home ground, club house and a proactive working committee. In February 2004, he was appointed full time Executive Officer of the Queensland Junior Rugby League in recognition of his outstanding contribution to League and the Ross Livermore from the QRL sent him a message, which I read out at his 60th birthday celebrations, thanking him for his contribution.
Keith is currently the Treasurer of Normanby Football Club and they have purchased the old Ithaca Bowls Club next to the Broncos club as their club house and turned it into the Red Hill Community Club to serve the local community. Keith was behind that decision with his fellow committee members and is currently trying to establish a Rugby league Museum under Suncorp stadium as a separate venture.
Both of us never really showed an interest in girls as young teenagers and neither he nor I had a lot of confidence in that area in those early years although we were more than interested. By Year 10 though, I had met Rob Venus (appropriate name Venus the God of Love) and he became a mate who opened that door for me. Rob was already dating girls and had started to grow his hair long so he was in great demand at school because of his unique looks and savvy. He was a real ladies man and admired by many of his classmates.
I had been grossly overweight in grades 9 and 10 as a result of changing hormones, twelve soft drinks a day at Kirk’s factory while I worked in the hot sun loading trucks over Xmas break and a love of white bread, peanut paste and jam while watching our new telly but after meeting Rob and realising what a great life he had with girlfriends, I started to get into shape by running around the block at home and up that huge hill beside Wesley Hospital in Chasely Street, Auchenflower, eating less food and applying Clearasil for my pimples that blotted my face.
Rob played Aussie Rules for the West’s Bulldogs at Chelmer and I would spend my Saturday watching him play before we would go back to his home to work out where to go that night. He was also a good all round cricket player playing for the Indooroopilly Rangers for years so we were unlikely mates as I am not a sportsman and for good reason.
I did not walk until I was two and I dragged myself around the house on my bum as a toddler. The problem with that is that the finer motor skills do not develop and my coordination did not kick in until my late teens so I was useless to any sporting team at that stage. Rob and I just seemed to gel as we communicated so well and we could talk about anything and everything.
Keith faded out of my life at this time for awhile and I spent every conceivable minute with Rob. He was a wealth of information about the opposite gender and he taught me how to have sex (by demonstrating on a pillow); what to say to girls when I was on my own with them and he shared his great wardrobe with me because my parents could not afford to buy me modern clothes.
He would share all his thoughts with me and mine with him and he had the ideal set-up at home which was his own room under the house. We were inseparable mates because I wanted it that way and he didn’t say no. I learned so much from him in those early years.
His dad had served as a British soldier in the Indian continent independence clashes, and who, after coming to Australia, married Rob’s mum Jean who was a nurse at the Royal Brisbane hospital. The family lived at Scarborough initially before moving to Frederick Street, Taringa where he attended Taringa Primary and then Indooroopilly High.
His mum was so easy going and I had my first adult conversations with her as I practically lived there all weekend. She would often say, ‘You are leading my son astray!’ and I would laugh and joke with her. When I slept over on weekends, Sunday mornings were always sausages and eggs in their old kitchen, with his dad sitting at the table with a tea towel over his head breathing in some vapour to relieve his bronchitis.
The house had such character with old brick chimney-stacks and darkened rooms and was Spanish in style. It could almost be called Tuscan today and is still there in Frederick Street, Taringa but has been renovated. The paint was peeling off the walls in his room but it was our home for those couple of years, and we talked, laughed, shared stories, had sex with girls, listened to music and generally prepared ourselves for adulthood there.
It was a metamorphosis for me from naive teenager to young man as we Boomers were the first generation to be given real freedom from our parents. Why I am not sure but I suspect that they were just blown away by the rapid changes in the world around them and could not cope as well as their parents did in their more restricted environment of those earlier years before the sixties so they let go and we craved and enjoyed the independence.
I loved the room under the family house concept so much that in grade 10 I worked throughout the Xmas holidays at the Kirk’s soft drink factory and saved enough to have Ted Shepherd’s dad, who was a builder, build my own room under our house. Keith Blake was still around at school as a mate to both of us and he did the same thing under his house the next year. It was the catalyst for some real fun and games over the coming years as we were basically no longer under the family roof and the parental rules that are attached to that. It offered real freedom.
This room also opened up my home life at Lima Street and once the novelty of Rob’s place wore off, I lived a very independent life at home. Girls were regular visitors which were a tremendous boost to my confidence but I was no longer in a room with my brothers or sister and had some privacy.
My father was impressed enough with my new macho male image to start joking with me about it. ‘What were those strange noises and panting I heard downstairs last night?’ he would ask at the breakfast table.
My first girl contact with the opposite sex after I graduated from the ‘Rob Venus School of Sex Education’ was Jan Jeffery, who I had met on the train coming home from school. She was a St Aidan’s girl and asked for my phone number. Then it was Loreen Williams who I saw on the Taringa bus on occasions coming home from school but she was not interested after my initial awkward attempts to show her I was ready for the dating game.
I managed to finish Year 12 without any sexual intercourse, but was still only 16 due to my early start at school all those years before so I was not too put out. Most guys at the time had late sexual experiences as girls did not chase you in most cases as they do today and liberation had not become a given in this area so they had to like you and it all took time and effort. The pill of course was to make a huge difference in female attitude to sex but was only just becoming part of our lives.
Good mates were important to me at that stage and Rob Venus gets first mention for mateship above and beyond the call of friendship. Rob was and is, my lifelong mate. I could not count the number of good times we have had, the sights we have shared, the help we have been to each other from those days through two marriages and numerous jobs and the many laughs and good times we have had up to now.
We are not as close today unfortunately due to the pressures of raising families, but he will always be a like a brother to me for the effort he put into me and the difference he made to my life in those early years. Rob is what I would call an emotional mate.
Keith will always be in held in high regard by me as well for his friendship, but he did not have the same influence as emotional mate due to his shy nature and he never shared his thoughts as much as Rob. He mainly mixed with his public servant friends after school playing footie and partying, although we got together with his lovely family on many occasions and enjoyed their company over a meal. Our kids mixed well together and the Blake children Emma, Sarah and JB will always remain part of Murphy folk law.
Keith is my creative mate. The list of things we have done together is impressive. In the early teens it was footie and music, in our parenting years it was family photography and albums, State of Origin footie, working bees and dinner parties and in between we have approached Coles and Woolworths with the Internet HomeShop concept (that Woolworths have recently established), established a footie magazine ‘Boots& All” for an NRL club, developed BONZA as a web site for Boomers and he has illustrated and contributed to many Murphy funding submissions to government and companies to develop community programs for the greater good.
It seems that every time we communicate with each other there is a new idea. He is such a talented man and very honest with me. If I stuff up and do the wrong thing he goes silent for some time until he has forgiven me and then it is business as usual. I let him down a couple of times over the years by misreading situations but he lets me know.
At high school we had a couple of fist fights because I overstepped the mark but we dealt with it and moved on. He is a truly remarkable man and will leave a legacy to footie that few of us could dream of through his work with Junior Rugby League and Normanby Football Club.
My teen years as a Boomer were interesting enough and I am sure I was a normal teenager. I listened to the music of the day while lying on my bed pretending to be doing schoolwork every Sunday afternoon as popular music was only played at certain times on the radio then.
Dad would creep down the backstairs in the hope that he would catch me out not studying but I always had a book handy on the bed so when he pulled the sliding door open and greet me with, ' How is the study going?", I would have the book in my hand with in two seconds
I worshiped the Beatles and everything they did, put their pin-ups on my wall, watched football at Lang Park, did little school work, kept up my jobs for Mum and became closer to Dad as he liked the more mature me and I had learned how to humour him. He loved a laugh and when he cracked a joke I always laughed with him so we ended up very close.
My brothers started to listen to modern music after a while but they were heavily involved in the church fellowship and played cards and tennis, where as I wanted girls and good times. They were not interested initially in this modern pop music and the entire circus that went with it. Mike had grown up with Rock and Roll and at one stage had a Teddy Boy curl at the front of his forehead until Dad loped it off with the scissors. Rod was a jock and loved all things sport and was more than a handy sportsman himself and he and Mike were very competitive in all things.
At High school during my teen years, the mates played inter-house football, talked all lunch hour about life, had some great times joking around and generally had a fantastic social life on weekends. We looked for parties every Friday night and the older mates eventually got cars so we started to travel from one party to the next, usually ending up at a café on Coronation Drive for a hamburger around midnight.
The mates at this time always stuck together as few of us had a girl friend who could spoil the good times we were having while drinking numerous stubbies and partying. Bill Fox and Maurie Hand came to our school to repeat Grade 11 and, as they were older, they were handy blokes to know because they had cars and therefore became everyone’s chauffeurs.
We would meet at Keith’s or Rob’s place and jump into the cars and drive off to some dance or uni event. The Qld uni parties were good because they always had grog and the oldest looking guy would buy some for us.
One night I recall us all walking home after a uni party, along Hawken Drive, under the influence and Rob walked straight into a lamp post. The collision poleaxed him but he hardly blinked as he stood up and started walking again without missing a beat while we rolled around laughing.
There was always something to go to and we would end up back at Rob’s or Keith’s for a party in their room later in the night. Poor old Denis and Pat Blake bore the brunt of those drinking years and many were the times that we would be up at one in the morning (which was late at the time because everything shut at 12) drinking and singing to our favourite music.
They never complained, until one night when one of the girls who were there dropped a carton of cream on their kitchen floor, while getting some more stubbies out of the fridge, and did not clean it up. Poor Keith was confronted by two angry parents demanding an explanation. They were upset somewhat and rightly so and the venue was not used as much after that.
Those parties were never short of girls and grog and considering the legal drinking age was still 21, you wonder how we did it, but the hotels were pretty slack at checking ID. The police were never a problem and I can only recall one night in Toowong Memorial Park when we were seating drinking stubbies in the car and they pulled up beside us and gave us a lecture about drinking under-age.
“So what’s going on here?” we were asked. “We are having a drink”, we cheekily replied. They took the beer with them.
Unlike Keith’s place, Lima Street only saw one party while my parents were in Melbourne for a weekend with one of dad’s conferences. We managed to wreck a lounge chair when Kevin Surman leaped in the air and landed full force onto the three seater section. Mates tried to mend the legs the next morning to save me confrontation but it was a beer bottle top left under the lounge that gave the game away and that house never saw another party.
It was somewhat out of our area of interest because most high school mates lived around Indooroopilly High or at Kenmore as they did not have a high school out there then so they bused in. Auchenflower is closer to the city and not a Boomer suburb. The second reason for no parties at my place was dad. Everyone was afraid of him as he was unfriendly so we stayed in the western suburbs and enjoyed relative freedom. He was a good man and he loved his family but he had no patience for the young.
We attended a party or dance on Friday night, party on Saturday night, football on Sunday afternoon and, as the years went by, Trades Hall in the city on Sunday night had a dance as did most footy clubs. The socialisation never stopped and we grew together as a group of mates. A lot of alcohol was consumed in those days and yet interestingly none of us ever became alcoholics.
Music was really the global focus of the young. We all loved it and had our favourites. Some were into heavy music like the Rolling Stones or Cream while others liked the more popular Beatles, or Australian groups like Groove, Twilights and the Easybeats. We also wanted to be pop stars and lots of the guys played guitar or drums.
Around 1970 we formed a band made up of Keith on bass, Bruce Murray on drums, Kim Brown on lead, Dave Reid on rhythm guitar and myself as the singer. My brother Pete mentioned to me recently, how proud he was to have seen me singing at the old Toowong RSL one Friday night when we did a gig for the Uni Staff Social Club. It was great fun but it was our one and only appearance with a selection of 8 songs. I regret that, as I would have liked to have made more of it as I rate myself as a singer.
It is amazing the influence your school mates have on your life in your teens and they are such an important part of your ‘evolution’ as such. However, I think, in hindsight, that I left it very late to cut that cord from those days because, as late as my forties, I still yearned for their company and the friendships that had such an influence on my young mind. I wanted those days to last forever and, especially, to stay close to my friends.
It is probably why I choose a picture of them for the front page of the BONZA web site because they were truly remarkable mates. Rob Venus, Keith Blake, Bruce Murray, Kim Brown, Dave Reid, Ian Campbell and Greg Ditchburn are in that photo on the BONZA home page and will always remain there in my life as good mates.
The end of high school had a dramatic negative effect on me and really changed my life, as I realised that I had let my parents and myself down by not achieving scholastically with very average grade 10 or Junior results (as they were known). I had to ask my dad to send me back to school for grade 11. He thought the apprentice printers job I applied for, and was accepted into, sounded reasonable especially after the Career Guidance Officer at school had suggested I would make a good Garbo with the results I was achieving.
It wasn’t a complete disaster though, as with minimal work I had received one B and seven C’s for my Junior Public Examination (one credit and 7 Passes in modern terms) and they were published in the Brisbane Courier Mail under your name for the world to see. How embarrassing that was.
In the meantime, my brothers had done well with university entry results at grade 12 and I had embarrassed the family with mine. It is hard to explain why but I never found my academic feet at high school but I guess being a year younger meant that I was constantly playing the fool all the time to be accepted by my peers. My lack of maturity meant that I focused on an informal education with Rob and Keith and lapped up everything he told me but ignored a formal education much to the displeasure of my teachers and father.
I remember the two months before our Senior Public Exams, which were run as a state-wide exercise and Rob and I skipped classes and sun-baked near the basketball courts at school. The teachers were only too glad we were not in the classroom and we would be laughing at attempts to get us to ‘Knuckle down and shape up’ as we had been instructed to our version of ‘Knuckle up and ship out’. We didn’t give a damn though and had some of our happiest moments talking about life while our classmates sweated about exams in the classrooms above us.
These were important mate times to me and I was like a sponge soaking up information and developing a personality. My self esteem was the focus and I was determined to build mine into something worthwhile and that’s what good mates do for you.
Therefore, I dominated Rob’s time so much in these years, whether after school at the cafe in Taringa with Heather Addie and her mate Lorraine or at his place. I never arrived home from school until 5.30 and then I would ring him after dinner (or tea as we called it). If I was not talking to him, it was one of his girlfriends, particularly Liz Gowdie, who was the school honey and she was Rob’s girl. She had long blonde hair, terrific figure and lovely personality. He was in love.
She would ring me to find out what he was thinking, as Rob was the quiet shy type and I was his big-mouth friend and we would talk for two hours. Heather Addie was another who rang about him and wanted to know more about the way he thought and his interests and I was only to glad to accommodate them.
Bad grade 12 results when published meant that his mother’s prediction of me ‘leading him astray’ became true but he was so easy-going that it did not worry him. He found work as a clerk with a company near the old Custom’s House building in Queen Street and started his working life without fanfare. His humility is one of his greatest assets.
The mateship grew even further after school was completed. Rob and I had discovered surfing after grade 12 and were now regular surfies with panel vans but not all the school mates choose that direction. Bruce Murray and Kim Brown were the only two that joined us for weekends at the surf and the rest followed the party circuit in Brisbane.
We were now surfies so the hair had gone blond with the help of salt water, sunshine and Ajax. Yes Ajax, the cleaning product, was used as it had bleach. It’s a wonder we still have hair. We were now surf mates.
Surfies were cool. We were not aggressive and wore the brightest clothes. Pink, white, three tone shirts and t- shirts and had our surfboards with names like San Juan from Bryon Bay or Col Smith from the Gold Coast. We would travel anywhere from Cabarita in NSW to Noosa for a surf. It was a cult thing so there were plenty of guys to talk to about surfing, an image to live up to and the music was special with the likes of the Beach Boys belting out the tunes.
You had a piece of board wax to rub on your board and longer shorts (which we tied to the board racks on top of the car to dry on the way home from the coast to Brissie). Your hair was seldom combed and you would only go to places to socialise where other surfies congregated. They were magic years and we were never lonely with the surfie girls looking for partners. It was a lifestyle.
Cars have been a part of my life with mates since turning 18 and getting a licence to drive through the Ace Driving School. Dad tried to teach me but would lose his temper as we drove and punch me on the leg. I was far happier with a professional driver and still remember the many points he made such as listening to the engine revs to know when to change gear and holding the steering wheel in a 10 o’clock, 2 o’clock position
The first car was a Austin A40 which was sold to me by one of the Police photographers when I was a police cadet, but Al Higgs our boss of the CIB Photographic Section made him take it back when he realised I had been sold a lemon. That car did a 360-degree turn one night in the wet on Moggill Road. How it didn’t turn over I will never know because it was top heavy. I needed transport for my new life as a surfie and it was not going to be that car.
So in 1969 Rob and I decided to buy a car between us. It was a Hillman Imp, which brother Rod had checked out for us in the days when I thought he knew a few things about cars. We found out soon after that it was not a good model for Hillman and it was always going to be expensive to run as parts had to be imported, but we thought it was great at the time. We actually took it surfing in the early days with huge boards sticking out each end. It only took one or two trips to the coast to realise we looked like dickheads in it and that was not cool.
Soon after, Maurie Hand was driving through Kenmore and he wrote it off for us.
“I didn’t see him coming!” he lamented after the crash.
I will always remember driving the remains of that car through the city on the way to the panel beaters and turning people’s heads as they stared at this wreck which was written off by the insurance assessors later. Half the car was gone, he had done a good job on it when he came over a rise on the wrong side of the road and collected another car.
Next car I had was a HK Holden panel van with curtains and board racks on top and I was a real surfie then or at least in appearance.
I was very disappointed in myself over those school results though, so disappointed in fact that I wanted to get out of Brisbane for a while so I applied to work in Mt Isa as a miner. The company were so impressed with my results when I sat for their ability test that they offered me a scholarship to Uni if I passed grade 12. They said that I had an extremely high IQ but I have never had it tested since so I will take their word for it. Maybe I just guessed the right answers but I did find it easy.
University seemed beyond me after failing grade 12 (schools have a lot to answer for the way you were labelled for life with these public exams and years later I heard people describe others as an A’s man or a C’s man) and, after my poor academic record in the past, I did not take up the offer but I did go to Mt Isa. I wonder what could have been if I had applied myself more when given that opportunity.
My time in the mining town was short lived as I managed a severe case of conjunctivitis from all the dust around when drilling. I was a Contract Driller and we were required to go a couple of miles down the shaft each day with our mining hats on with the lamp in front. You were taught how to use the drilling equipment and place explosives in the holes you drilled.
At the end of each shift the mine would shake with the explosives going off and the next day you would be back drilling. You were supposed to clear out the holes with water for any explosives left over but we were paid by the metres drilled each day, so some guys would start drilling without clearing the holes and when the drill hit the explosives- bang! A few guys lost their lives that way.
I sort of enjoyed myself in the single mens barracks at Star Gully but I missed my surf mates. My mining mates would go to the movies at the drive-in or drink at the Barkly Hotel and there were women, but mostly aborigines or ‘gins’, as they were known. Some mates would bring them in after dark and have them out before dawn. I never bothered as it seemed unethical as it wasn’t even prostitution, they were just being used and I am not a user.
One funny episode in Mt Isa included Charlie Stefan who was my school girlfriend Linda Clare’s boyfriend after me. She broke it off with him and as fate has it he ended up in Mt Isa as a mining mate. I had to talk him out of suicide one morning over breakfast. He took a packet of headache pills to do him in and when he told me, I gave him my usual lack of compassion by suggesting he would have been better to have thrown himself down the mine shaft as it would be quicker.
This was by the way a long time before I studied counselling and realised how damaging an approach that was. Anyway, my eyes were a real infected mess so I was shipped back to the capital by the medical staff for specialist attention, much to my relief. The job was interesting enough in that I was a contract miner earning good money, but I really missed my mates and a social life so I said goodbye to mining for the while (I was to return to it years later).
On return from Mt Isa, I then moved into a flat on Moggill Rd around the corner from Rob’s place at Frederick Street Taringa, so the good times kept rolling and old school mates partied on again. Boomers must have partied so much harder than our parents because we could. They had so many restrictions in just trying to survive as teenagers but we had real freedom and we abused it. I had plenty of money from the mining stint and we spent it quickly.
After a boring stint at XXXX brewery watching the stubby bottles on a conveyer belt all day and where I would spend my daily overtime hours drinking with the men (we would crack open a keg when the foreman wasn’t watching and hide it behind the thousands of wooden kegs on the floor and take turns to have a glass) while on over-time and singing Beatle songs over the din created by the bottles clanging together, I decided Brian needed educating because this was not for me long term.
I convinced my father (how I must have disappointed that man!) to allow me to return to Indooroopilly High for another crack at Year 12 but after 6 months of more parties and no study, I was expelled for drinking during the lunch hour (we went in dad’s green Ford Falcon, that he let me drive to school, to someone’s house close by the school and had a party) after returning in a somewhat inebriated state.
The teachers became suspicious of our odd behaviour and suspected drugs and called in the police. It was purely XXXX and I was shown the door much to my embarrassment and eternal regret in having to explain it to my dear father. He looked at me with those steely blue Irish eyes and simply said,” You are on your own now mate so get on with it.”
The other real regret is that some school mates also got the chop. Ray Cole, Colin Lockley, Paul Cottrell and Peter Head had to find a new journey in life as well due to my poor judgement. I should have known better because I had had some experience of life and was aware of the importance of education. Once again, the rebel in me shone through.
It was now 1970 and I started to feel like I needed a bit more security in my life, as I was not entirely happy with this lifestyle. I still had a strong sense of destiny and being put here for a purpose but not sure what was the meaning of life.
Educating Brian therefore continued with night school at Kelvin Grove, where I studied two subjects per semester at night after work and realised it only took four subjects to graduate as an a mature age graduate. I had been admitted to the Commonwealth Public Service that year as a Clerical Assistant Grade 4. I had picked the Public Service as it was a secure job but mainly because my brother Rod had a job in Tax and Keith Blake was at the Postmaster General’s Department.
Both of them loved their work places at the time, and their social life was top of the range. Ironically, both were to be badly let down in later years though when after 70 years of combined service, they were forced out of their jobs. They both felt disappointed and let down by their managers when it happened which seems to me to be a very uncaring way to treat loyal workers but that is the current and recent treatment being dealt out to Boomers by employers.
I was placed in the War Service Homes section for returned servicemen as a Forth Division Officer. The servicemen would take loans to build houses and pay them back through our department. I too then realised how much fun you could have in the public service with new work mates and good times after work and why Keith and Rod loved their work so much. The focus was on celebrating anything at the Victory pub, which was right next door to my office, and my new workmates and I spent an awful lot of time there.
Keith Blake had been one of the few guys who really knuckled down at High School in 1967 and graduated with good results. He entered the Public Service in Third Division. I did not see a lot of him after school for a while as he had great mates in the Postmaster General’s Department and they did everything together (as you do in the Public Service) and he enjoyed their company. He partied with them, played football with them and he lived a very contented lifestyle there. My new work environment offered the same and I knew Rod had the same lifestyle at Taxation with his footie and socials so I looked forward to my new job.
Rob Venus was still a clerk in an office in Queen Street and he and I were still always at the coast on weekends surfing. It was our recreational life at that stage. He had lost Liz Gowdie as a girlfriend in the previous year when he went to a party and found her in the bedroom with another guy. She married the same bloke a few years later, and her bank manager father was happy at last that she had hooked a chemist and not a surfie. Poor Rob was shook up about it for ages as he really loved her.
But life went on and our week consisted of work Monday to Friday, a dance or party Friday night and then off to the coast where we would sleep in our cars and wait for the sun to rise. Then surf all day Saturday until four and then off to the Blue Dolphin Hotel on the Tweed for drinks and dancing until 11 trying to pick-up a surfie girl for the night.
Back to the beach for more sleep and up at the crack of dawn for more surfing. We would return home Sunday arvo and maybe to Trades Hall for a dance Sunday night. Every dance and every party meant a different girl.
Life was always exciting with surfing mates and during one of our earlier trips to the beach (before we had the Hillman Imp) with Charlie Walker an old school mate, Charlie collapsed on the beach and turned blue after eating a pie. He lost his vital functions as well but my resuscitation training at police cadets (where I spent 8 months after failing grade 12) came in handy and I saved a good mate. He was grateful and I was ‘stoked’ as we said then.
During winter it was too cold to surf so we would watch football on Saturday and Sunday at Lang Park and go to dances at Kenmore, Indooroopilly or Taringa, wherever they were being held, that night. We were a close bunch of mates and we knew each other’s families and were always welcome wherever we went.
In hindsight it was only a snippet of our life lasting just 8 years but it felt like a lifetime in the scheme of things we did, the skills we learned, the closeness of our mateship and the absolute unbelievable fun we had. We always had something to do, someone to talk to, win on to, or listen to. We moved into all sorts of accommodation and back home in between.
Rob and I decided to take a surfing trip in 1971 to Bells Beach in Victoria, which by surf legend had the biggest waves in the world. We used our holidays and drove down the NSW coast in my panel van from beach to beach. Byron Bay, Angourie Point, Evans Head, Crescent Head outside Kempsey, Newcastle and Sydney where we stayed with Rob’s brother Jim.
We would cook our meals on a little gas burner and sleep in the back of the panel van, telling jokes until sleep claimed us. After Sydney we went south to Wollongong but we ran out of time and had to head back to Queensland.
We met a couple of runaway girls from Qld in Sydney and after only three weeks they already had secured jobs in the Fox nite club at Coogee although they were only 16. Sydney sure was different and these girls showed us a good time with Rob in action in the back of the van and me on the front seat. Boy, life was good and we returned to renew our Brisbane contacts and routine.
Just as it seemed that life was perfect in 1971 and we were living this incredible lifestyle, the mates then decided we needed to move to Sydney to have more fun. So we all quit our jobs and off we went in ‘safari’ down the coast, surfing all the way. Leaving work was sad as I had made some genuine mates in the Public Service but I was to find in life that workmates seldom last forever. They are in your life for a reason or a season but not a lifetime.
One of those work mates I left behind was Arch McDonald who later became an Inspector of Police and Officer in Charge of the Gold Coast and he helped me re-enter the force in 1995. He used to have me over to his place for dinner at this time with his lovely wife Judy. We were good workmates and had a lot of fun at work.
Our job was taking files around on a cart and giving them to the Third Division officers, who had passed Year 12 exams so had more demanding roles. Australia’s only class system I would think. It was so boring in the Fourth Division that Arch and I would go to the pub at lunch often and sure enough there we would stay. We would be paraded in front of the Executive Officer, Mr Thompson, on return much, to the angst of Mr Wallace our immediate boss, and he could give us a stern warning then we would do it again the very next week. We both knew we were better than that job.
Our parents were also sorry to see us leave for Sydney as we had been living in each others lives for years and they were very supportive of us with food, advice and concern for our welfare on occasions.
Bruce’s mum called Rob, Bruce and I the ‘three musketeers’ because we were seemingly always together- all for one and one for all- and I have a beaut photo of us celebrating his 20th birthday in Sydney that will always remain one of my favourites. Anyway, leave we did and one Sunday that year, Arch and Jude bid me farewell at the Blue Dolphin Hotel on the Tweed and we were off.
After the long journey down to Sydney, we quickly found a flat on Bondi Road opposite the Bondi Royal Hotel where we set up house. We all got jobs without a problem which is how it was in those days. I worked with Grace Bros Removals as a clerk taking calls from homeowners and arranging quotes. It was a good job and the Pommy boss at the time was very professional and helpful. Rob worked for a Chinese Importer from memory, and Bruce was still with the Tax office as he got a transfer from Brisbane.
The flat was ideally placed as we were upstairs over a shop and we were able to sit on the awning over the footpath drinking stubbies and watching Sydney go by most nights. The pub had a rock band a few nights a week and we partied hard. Surfing down the road at Bondi Beach was great but we travelled to the northern beaches mainly.
Bruce arranged our social life around his work because the Public Service was no different in Sydney to Brisbane, just more people to party with. So we drove all over Sydney for parties, even to Parramatta for a party once which took us almost 2 hours to get there.
Life was good there and we would sit and talk and listen to music. There was lots of laughter and we all got on very well and we even experimented a bit in drugs. I am not really proud of this one, but we were ignorant of the real harm of drugs at the time because it was all so new and we thought we were bullet proof.
The reader should not forget that the world of drugs in the 50’s and 60’s was mainly opium smokers in the Asian countries. It was only in the late sixties that rumours of pop groups taking drugs filtered through and teenagers started to take notice.
Bruce got hold of some speed or LSD as it was known, and we took a tab before we went to the Sydney Show that Easter. We had tried some drugs previously. I had smoked some pot, as you did in those days, under the influence of music and the changing world image created by numerous out of control pop stars.
I ate a drug mushroom once which was the first time I had felt a total loss of control and I was not impressed, but I had tried nothing like speed before. The speed trip was another issue all together and Bruce, Rob, Kim and myself, really were not prepared for the outcome.
How I got through the day I will never know but I could not speak to the attendant at the gate as I paid my way in to the Royal Show, wandered around in a daze and when I spoke it was all in slow motion. I hated it. I felt frightened, vulnerable, lonely and panicky. It suddenly dawned on me that I always wanted to be in control of my body and my thinking so that was the last time I took drugs.
I got out of those grounds as quickly as I could and walked miles home by myself. I was again confused and disappointed in myself as drugs were not something our family was into and I had known better than to take them.
Thankfully, soon after, we went to a party at Coogee one Friday night and for some reason I got into a fight. In the resulting melee, I hit the cement and cracked my head open above the eye. Kim held my hand as the ambulance took me to the Eastern Suburbs hospital for tests as good mates thought I was dying with all the blood that covered me.
The radiographer on duty turned out to be Roy Barrett, who lived in the corner house in Lima Street before Ted Shepherd did during my childhood and he was a good friend at the time. He left in 1961 with his family for Sydney and choose radiology as a profession after school.
I had consumed a bit too much to drink that night and didn’t talk much but through dazed eyes and slurry speech I bid him a warm farewell, as the x-rays had shown no real damage. I cannot believe how people can re-enter your life at different stages and in different roles. Twelve stitches later and a head bandage and I was back at the flat, much to the amusement of the guys.
Keith Blake came to visit us around this time as he wanted to marry Sally, his 17-year-old girlfriend, but he had to ask her parents’ permission first and they lived in Sydney so here he was.
Sally had run away from home at 16 and travelled to Brisbane where she found work in the Gresham Hotel, which was close to where he worked. He first saw her on a Friday lunch time and went back each day the next week. She asked him to join her at a work party that Thursday, and less than a week later he asked her to marry him.
The rest, as they say, is history. Keith and Sally married in Brisbane soon after and after all those years and three children later he is still with her. His visit made me realise that the mates were breaking up as a group and getting older. It made you feel more responsible. Poor Sally washed ten loads of clothes for us that day while we had a buck’s party at the Bondi Royal.
I left Sydney soon after the fight and this was definitely a turning point in my life. I was sore and sorry and very disillusioned with my lifestyle. Through adversity I had discovered who I didn’t want to be and how I did not want to live so this was the close of my teenage years and of this chapter. It was an excellent learning period where mates, parents and events had moulded a more steady young man who was now prepared to challenge the world. I had broken out of the cocoon of Lima Street and the hopelessness of sharing a house with mates and was ready for another life.
My father met me at South Brisbane station when I returned to Brisbane and was somewhat taken back at the sight of the bandage around my head. Rob, Bruce and Kim stayed on in Sydney but I had quit my job at Grace Brothers with the blessing of my boss (I have never been fired from a job- all 50 of them) and returned to Brisbane.
I was not sure what I wanted to do but Dad made some phone calls to TAA- one of the now defunct airline groups- and organised an interview as an Industrial Advocate. As I sat and listened to him talking to the HR Manager, I could not help but feel sorry for him as he still hadn’t realised that I was always going to make my own decisions, but I did appreciate his support. I was flattered that he felt so highly of me to even suggest I could do the job but I was not trained or ready for such a demanding role.
The only experience I had with unions was being a member in the Public Service and watching his dealings with employers and strikes over the years. There was many a time that a strike at Milton Brewery had put him in the newspaper headlines as spokesman for the workers but I was only an observer. He never shared his thoughts so I had no experience so I did not want this job. Once again he accepted my decision to reject his offer without any drama and left my life to me.
Soon after that, Rob returned from Sydney and we settled into Brisbane life once more but with a new enthusiasm for girls and good times. This liberated world was a lot of fun. We found some part time work as labourers with SEQEB, the electricity company now called Energex, and they offered us jobs as storeman at their Bowen Hill’s depot. I found the job too boring as we were dragging little trolleys around a warehouse and filling orders for all the SEQEB branches around Brisbane, but Rob had more vision and decided to stay.
More than thirty years later he is still there as Supply Manager and will retire with over half a million dollars in superannuation which very few Boomers will do especially if we swapped and changed jobs frequently as I did. Superannuation was nothing then as it was not introduced into industry until 1991.
As young blokes, a few jealous people from the old world stated that we were ‘poofters’ as they termed it those days because we were so close, but that was far from the truth. I love him like a brother and I respect him for his achievements and I thank him for his friendship because he probably deserved better, but he got stuck with me.
He was the finest person who I had met in my life at that time and without his input, it would have nowhere near as interesting as it has been. He helped mould what I am today. I have caused him a little hardship but in reality I have given him mateship and I hope with some interest added.
Anyway, it was 1972 and we were in new jobs, his with SEQEB and mine with the Commonwealth Public Service again. This time I was with the Department of Social Security and the times were a changing.
My social life was still incredible with footie, clubs, dances, and a new interest in acting. A couple at work asked me to read for a part in a play called ‘Two Foot Six Inch above the Ground World’ which was being directed by the legendary Rickie Burke, of Brisbane La Boite theatre fame. I got the role and spent two nights a week for several months of 1972 rehearsing. It was great performing there, for two weeks each night from memory, as it was a theatre in the round so the audience actually sat in a circle.
I had to dye my hair blond, as I was a Swede. “It is delightful of you to have me here,” was my opening line as I was introduced as the boyfriend of the daughter of an Australian couple. All went well on opening night and several nights that followed. I was feeling good because Rickie had caressed my ego and said I was breaking hearts in the audience with the ‘Swede’ look.
I recall that as I strolled on to stage for the first time there were lots of gasps from female members of the audience, which was rather flattering. I had never had an ego though as it was not until my late teens that the opposite sex took any interest in me at all, due to my extra weight and low self esteem in my early teens, but I was happy that the pendulum was swinging my way.
On the Saturday night of performance week though, I played football that afternoon and as was tradition I had a few stubbies with the team mates after the match. By the time I got to the theatre I was not too steady on my feet and, as luck has it, Rob and girlfriend Brenda were in the audience.
The cue was given and into the theatre I strode to deliver my opening line only to trip over the carpet and stumble as I blurted them out. Rob thought it was quite amusing but in hindsight it was not a good move to drink before a performance and Rickie did not ask me to read for another part again.
Football mates should be mentioned here as I enjoyed my years playing the ‘greatest game of all’ and watching it played at all levels.
The first games were with our House teams at High School and I played for Kendall during the lunch hours against Patterson and Lawson Houses. We had lots of fun and enjoyed the spirit they were played in.
Later, I loved the routine that football created when I joined West seniors who then trained at Lang Park beside the famous grounds. That field is now a car park but it was big enough then for three grades to train on. As soon as the Xmas break was over the Wests teams would be training around Victoria Park under the watchful eye of club medicos Dr Frank Hobson, Peter Dornan and Col O’Brien who were leaders in Sports Medicine which had just been accepted at local football level.
They had us super fit with a combination of running, sprints and exercise and for the first time introduced compulsory ankle strapping which saved 70% of ankle injuries less than the previous year from memory. They are the reason that the West teams of the 70s were some of the best ever.
A good schoolmate, Ray Cole, asked me to join him when he signed with the senior club. Ray and I used to kick the footie around on Milton State School’s oval on a Saturday afternoon playing force-em-back. You kick the ball as far as you can and from where you gather it is where you kicked it back from.
We had met at Indooroopilly High and he would come with me on a Sunday to watch Wets play at Lang park. We would have too much to drink and would end up running 4 miles home to my place pretending we were A grade footballers. I spent many a weekend staying at Ray's and his good wife Gayle's house and we loved the footie lifestyle of playing and watching it. I was best man at Ray's wedding during that time and I really enjoyed their company..
We often pretended we were playing A grade on Lang Park when we skylarked around the park tackling each other and eventually he did. I only made it to Reserve Grade but I did score three tries on Purtell Park one match when the seniors finally moved to new grounds at Bardon.
I played my first game for Wests Toowong on Sylvan Rd (home of Wests Rugby now) in the early sixties and my last for that club in 1972. After that it was a mixture of Public Service League and Church League that was played on the huge playing fields at Kalinga. It was there that I would play with schoolmates like Keith, Ray and Rob ( back to the fun days of High School) and then have a bar-b-que after it before going to Lang park to watch the three o’clock game on a Sunday afternoon.
When my playing days were over in the 80’s, I joined brother in law then Peter Tavener and his mates on a yearly football trip to Sydney for a few years and we took in the Grand Final. I was there when the Broncos won their first Grand Final against the St George Dragons. It was very exciting as we stood on our seats with our faces painted in Bronco colours cheering them on as the Dragon fans dreamed of our demise as they stared in envy at us.
I was the unofficial minder for the lads as they were all younger than me and on that day we had to be real careful as Peter decided to dance on the bar in the Captain Cook hotel in St George fans area after the match. Chairs and phone books came flying at him and I grabbed them all and made a run for it.
Peter is so fit though that each year he would climb like a monkey up the flag pole and souvenir a grand final flag for each of us before we headed for the Rocks area near the Harbour for some real celebrating. I still have my flag and group shirt as a memory of some great trips with football mates.
On the weekends at night, we would seek entertainment and early in 1971, Rob and I went to Lennon’s Hotel on a Sunday night to a piano bar. I don’t know why we picked that bar as we had never been there before but destiny was to have her way. There were a couple of girls at a table and as it always is for some reason, one was a stunner and one was average.
“Which one do you want?” he would ask but, as it always had been since I met him, Rob asked the stunner and I asked the average one. Her name was Brenda and she was to become his first wife and I was to become best man. She said years later she wanted me to ask her for a dance that night but fate would have it that Rob did.
It didn’t happen for them straight away but after a year or so of ‘girlfriend’ stuff, when all of the guys finally would not go anywhere without a partner, they announced their engagement. It was not all smooth sailing though and, as a sign of things to come, I must tell the outcome of one interesting night that had Rob ducking for cover.
In those days males had decided that women’s liberation was a good thing. You see, our fathers never allowed women equality and in fact, no generation had before us that I am aware of, so the changing times of our generation were significant ones. You would not dare do something without your partner’s permission (from the 60’s on) and they were at your side most of the time.
My dad had sat in his chair after work for years and did not move until Mum called him for dinner. Then he would return to the TV and wait for supper before retiring to bed, where I guess he demanded sex. He lived his life as he wanted to in the main and certainly our lives were dominated by his wishes. I have no doubt his dad also ruled the house.
We Boomers wanted to be more respectful of our partners and would go to great lengths to make them happy and be different from our fathers. I am not so sure that we needed to go to the extremes that we did, as men seem to have lost their identity a bit due to our efforts, but it made sense at the time.
One night, Brenda was with some friends from her school days so Rob decided to have a ‘few drinks’ with the ‘boys’, as the saying goes. He had consumed quite a few drinks when she rang to ask his whereabouts and for him to come over to her place as she was now home. He didn’t go but instead stayed with the mates to drink more and have a few laughs as he was really enjoying himself.
Very early the next morning, he rang me at Lima Street begging me not to tell Brenda where he was, as he had made up a good story about a car breakdown from memory. She really had his measure at the time.
Anyway, they were the second couple to marry from our group of mates after Keith and I was his best man. The pressure was on the rest of us to find partners as most people were married in their early twenties.
I was still working at Social Security in Anzac Square when I spotted a young blonde lady by the name of Leanne Tavener who really caught my eye. She was a breaststroker with the Yeronga Swimming Club and had a perfect figure. She was in the Third Division as a clerk and I would deliver her files.
She would wear the tightest of clothes that extenuated her figure and had smooth olive skin that highlighted her large brown eyes. I was hooked and after a few coffees together, she had decided to leave her boyfriend at the time and move into a house with other Social Security staff members at Windsor.
Her family home was at Prior Street Tarragindi but she wanted to move on from family. I assisted her in moving into her under house bedroom and as she was concerned about security, I stayed with her the first few nights which then turned into months. We were in love and shared everything together.
I was constantly by her side and we holidayed and socialised together and talked incessantly. Our next move was to a house at Taringa beside the railway and Dave Reid from my school mates moved in the room downstairs and a Chinese student took the upstairs spare room. Even though she was a constant part of my life, it became uncomfortable as I could not move without her there. She was great friends with Brenda which suited Rob and I as we could continue our mateship as well.
As with all relationships, the time came when she wanted something that I did not and it involved mates. I had shed most mates during this period as we had no room for other people, accept Rob and Brenda, in our lives. She tired of them quickly as she had no history with them and I foolishly stopped seeing them. It all came to a head when she asked me to move Dave Reid out because she thought he was uncouth and a bogan as he treated females badly.
I moved him on but I felt tremendous guilt that all my mates were disappearing and we had nasty words so I decided to move back to Lima Street. I tried to mend the damage with Dave 40 years later but he told me where to go in the most colourful terms but who could blame him. I let a mate down that day.
A couple of weeks later she appeared at my door at Lima Street and wanted to talk. She told me I was a weak man and she wanted nothing to do with me which I was happy to accept. I dropped in a few days later to pick up my gear at Taringa and she was on the back verandah crying so I came to the rescue.
Years later she was to tell me that she was merely grieving for a lost relationship but I felt a great responsibility to her and some guilt for her predicament. I don’t like to hurt people. I asked her to marry me as I was in love and wanted to make sure that if I had to give up my single life, it was under a marriage banner and not just a casual relationship. I was and still am old- fashioned in that way.
So I followed my mates into marriage. We had our engagement party under a tent in the back yard of Lima Street on a cold July night in 1973. All of her family where there, her sister Angie and little brothers Peter and Graham, her mother Nell and father Len as were all my family. We had guys from Wests and schoolmates from her Brisbane State High days but only Rob from my school days as the rest had moved or been moved on. What you give up for partners. On the 29th November 1974 we were married at JC Slaughter Falls at Mt Cootha.
Reverend Ray Cooper from the Anne Street Uniting Church did the honours as the Toowong Uniting minister Reverend Crowe had originally knocked us back because we were not churchgoers, so we phoned Ray and he agreed to do it, even out in the open rather than in the church which was the accepted version at the time.
It was a great day under the trees and with no hick-ups accept for best man Rob’s shoes not matching mine because he forgot his and we had our celebrations in the kiosk/cafe on top of the mountain with its magnificent views of the city at night.
Life went very smoothly for a while and married mates came to dinner often or we would go to the footie and have a few beers. Rob came in handy a few times as removalist mate as we moved fairly frequently.
It was a process of hiring a 10 tonne truck and we would load the items, tie them down and unload at the new premises. This was followed by a pizza or two and a carton of stubbies. It was always good fun as we joked our way through the day as we worked.
Our first place in married life was a room with Leanne’s schoolmate Rosemary Payne and her boyfriend Peter Carne on Huessler Terrace Milton. Leanne did not take to Rosemary’s guy and there was tension immediately as he had little respect for women.
One day she and Peter argued over a TV show when she turned to another channel when he was watching a show. He was a gruff sort of character and she was liberated so they met head-on. I arrived home and the argument had become very loud because it was between two strong-willed people. Eventually, we had to lock ourselves in our room because Peter was really losing it but he continued to bang on the door.
It seemed she had told him to ‘get f..ked’ and he wanted an apology. The next thing we knew he had put his shoulder into the door and came through it, knocking the door of its hinges. We were so shocked that we took off to Rob and Brenda’s unit at Auchenflower and never went back.
I met at the house later on with Rosemary’s Dad, Roy Payne, who had been a Science teacher at Indooroopilly High School during my years there, and Peter Carne’s father, to discuss repairs. Peter was a budding solicitor and his father was worried that I would call the police and risk Peter’s future career.
We agreed to let Roy Payne fix and pay for the damage and Leanne and I moved on with the assistance of removalist mate Rob. Now, as I see Peter Carne sit at the footie watching the Broncos with good mate Wayne Goss, who is his legal firm partner and an ex Premier of Queensland, I wonder what would have happened if I had dobbed him in.
One of Wayne Goss’s future Ministers in Parliament, Pat Coomben, also lived behind us at Milton. He was training to be a Minister of Religion but ended up a Minister of Parliament instead. He was a very nice bloke and we got on very well at the time and I would often see him at uni with his girlfriend and stop to have a chat. He is now heavily involved in the ‘green movement’ trying to save the environment and is a Minister of the church. These guys were only acquaintances though not mates.
Our next home was a flat at Rosalie on Baroona Rd and we decided to stay there by ourselves because we were sick of the demands of boarders and housemates. It was a happy time and we played host to our friends Rob and Brenda and Keith and Sally who had come back into my life again. The Blakes had already had their first child Emma at this stage and maybe Sarah as well.
It was here one afternoon that I left my keys in the ignition of the car and, sure enough, it disappeared. I called Rob and we decided to do a tour around to see if we could find it, but it was a long shot because it could have been taken anywhere. Amazingly, it was only two streets away so we parked opposite it and waited. What happened next was highly illegal, as you cannot pretend you are a policeman, but we couldn’t help ourselves.
This young bloke strode up to the car as if he owned it and took the keys out of his pocket. We quickly raced over to him and told him to step out of the car and spread himself against it with feet apart. We never said we were police but I have no doubt he thought we were by our actions. We frisked him for weapons and told him to come over to Rob’s car and I hopped in the back seat with him while Rob drove us to the Police Headquarters in Matheson Street in the City.
On the way the young bloke thanked us for apprehending him as he was sick of stealing and was glad he had been caught. After a quick word to the police sergeant in charge, we handed him over and never heard another thing about it. At least I got the car back undamaged.
We only stayed a year or so at Rosalie before moving to a flat at Red Hill on Waterworks Road, opposite the now demolished Skate Arena, as it was cheaper. We were students now with Leanne studying Human Movements at Qld Uni and I was studying to be a teacher.and there was never a lot of money to spend especially at Xmas break.
Our Red Hill days were eventful, as where we lived was close to Kelvin Grove Teachers College so lots of my student friends came around to keep us company and Leanne had made friends in her course who dropped in as well.
One Xmas at this time, I was asked to be Santa Claus at the Pre-school where Rob’s wife Brenda worked. Rob had changed his name to Sutherland for her by this time, as Brenda was worried that Venus would be used as a tease- ‘Venus- Penis’ by the kids she worked with. Giving up your name for a woman has to be one of life’s great sacrifices but that is Rob. He will always be Rob Venus to me.
Anyway, she was the head of the Pre–school and needed a Santa. I was given the outfit and put a lot of work into red cheeks, white spray on the eyebrows and generally looked the part. I turned lots of heads on Ipswich Road as I drove to her Pre-school near Ipswich. After handing out presents to the grateful children, she informed me that they needed to return the suit to the hire company. I had not brought any change of clothes so I drove off wearing nothing but my undies.
As I drove down Ipswich Road back to Brisbane in my car, I ran out of petrol. You have no idea how embarrassed I was as I glided into a petrol station and sat in the car wondering what I was going to do. Eventually an attendant came to the window and asked “Can I help you?” as he surveyed the redden cheeks, cotton wool eyebrows and no clothes scenario. I explained why I could not get out, much to his amusement. Things you do for mates.
Life went on including the birth of our first child and the beginning of parenting mates. I carried our first born Isaac John to Teachers College, for the next six months, in a carrier on my chest. He was a good baby and would sit through lectures at college in his harness without a problem. I will never forget changing his nappies at the back of the lecturer theatre with the fresh aroma filling the air.
We had a ‘celebration of birth’ that year, where we recognised Rob as godfather and I read a poem from Gilbrand, the philosopher, which I eventually gave to Zac for his 18th birthday. The verse meant a lot to me because it outlined that our children are not ours, we are lent them to nurture and then to let them go when they are ready for life. All our relatives and many friends were there and we were seen as the modern young couple doing trendy things. Yuppies had not been invented at this stage so we were well before our time.
Rob and Brenda had started a trend visiting us in Mackay when we were transferred there as teachers in 1977. Wherever we went in the coming years, that trend continued and I appreciate that they took the time to seek out our company. Later, it was to be Rob and Anne when he remarried but my good mate kept coming to visit whether we roamed in the coming years.
Mackay was a great place to work and we had many workmates there. A standout is Geoff Johnston who I struck up a good friendship with at the time and played football with in Mackay. Geoff is a very supportive mate who will help you in any way he can.
There were lots of very memorable nights with him and his lovely wife Kaye whilst we were in that town. We followed him around for a few years after Mackay as he was appointed Principal of a few country schools and stayed over so the dinner parties were more interesting and memorable. I lost contact with him after my divorce in 1990 but he has re-entered my life in the last few years and once again we are enjoying quality time discussing world and family issues and I am drawing on his immense management skills as I journey through the remainder of my life.
During one vacation from teaching in Mackay, old neighbour Mrs Foxlee’s colonial home at 27 Lima Street became available for $30 000 and we moved in as neighbours to mum and dad. Rob and Keith both assisted me with working bees and we did the place up before it became fashionable to do so and our family had a few happy years there.
‘Lima Cottage’ as it was named is still there today standing defiantly between two towering units as a reminder yesteryear as the street is now 80% unit blocks
Rob continued his support as a mate and he was there for any setbacks as well. We lost a business in 1983 after taking on a Mitre 10 hardware store at Middlemount in 1981. I had quit teaching and taken a position as Office Manager for Strata Drilling in Brisbane when the hardware store became available. We became good friends with the owners of Strata Norm and Joyce Blanche as they had owned the Red Hill flat we rented. They were lovely people and treated us well.
They originally had the store but could not afford to stock it at the time so I offered to take it on.
Leanne and I used the collateral in our new home to buy it but Bob Hawke was PM and he changed the mineral exploration subsidies so Middlemount stopped growing and so did the business. The local mining company who had encouraged its establishment built their own store section and purchased directly from suppliers so survival was impossible.
We lost everything on the deal including Lima Cottage and our car and moved back to Brisbane and into a rental at St Lucia. We set up house but I could not shake Leanne out of her depression over losing the house and I am grateful for the support of Rob during this dark period as he came around every Saturday with a bottle of wine and tried to cheer her up.
We had three children at this stage with the birth of Kate Claire in 1981 and Laura Rose in 1983 so being at St Lucia meant they could go to the excellent Ironside State School in that suburb. We wanted them to mix with kids who were ambitious and well parented.
In September 1984, we celebrated Laura’s first birthday at Mt Cootha and Keith Blake took photos and presented them to us in a lovely album which reflected his amazing creativity. She will have it for life as a reminder of that wonderful event.
The years went by quickly with a stint at Prior Street Tarragindi, when Leanne’s dad rented us the house while we saved for a new house, and Wishart Rd Mt Gravatt and Rob helped us move each time as we hired a small truck to do it ourselves. We were like gypsies for awhile but I worked three jobs to save a deposit and we eventually built a home at Tangmere Street Chapel Hill and moved in.
It was a lovely tree-lined brand new estate surrounded by hills and Mt Cootha itself. Quite an idyllic life really as we grew with local families and I quickly made new neighbourhood mates. Peter Trigell was the stand out and he would wander down the street with his lovely wife Janette when we had the only homes that were completed and they would join us for a wine on balmy summer nights.
Some events that happened at Chapel Hill that stay in my memory are the walks around Mt Cootha along the bush paths from our home, the 60’s party we had when friends got drunk and kicked in our lounge room wall, working bees with Keith, Rob and Pete Tavener, my brother in law, again when we laid turf, did landscaping and built a deck, and the happiness of the kids as they played every day around the house and the neighbourhood. I loved it.
We had sold Tangmere Street in 1988 (when interest rates under PM Paul Keating reached 18% and we couldn’t meet repayments) for $160 000 which was twice what we paid for it, so we had done well in that transaction. Once again for the seventh or eighth time, Rob and I loaded up the hire truck and moved the family. Thank God for that man.
Disaster struck in 1990 when we had moved in to a colonial house at Hamel Road Holland Park and Leanne met another man. She moved out and I was shattered. I talked with her brother Pete and his wife Irene and generally was counselled by my good mate Rob but nothing stopped the grieving. Nothing lasts forever so we moved on to new lives but I was upset.
So much so that Rob then became my running mate and like Tom Hanks, in the movie Forrest Gump, I started to run to forget my grief. I would spend hours running around Mt Cootha every Saturday morning or along Coronation Drive, through Southbank across the Story Bridge and back through town and back out to the unit in Warren Street, St Lucia where I had moved.
Sometimes I would arrive at our regular meeting place to start one of our runs crying and Rob would make me laugh and off we would go. He and I ran for 10 years like that and we have six half-marathon medals each to our credit for our efforts.
I had a position in 1990 with St John Ambulance as State Operations Manager and it was here two years later that I finally met another woman. Vicki Penrose came sweeping up the stairs one day going to the Sales Section for a job interview and I spotted her. She was beautiful in a long white dress with dark skin and big brown eyes. I was in love again and I asked her out. We were in dialogue most days from then on and felt very comfortable with each other.
On February 12, 1994, we were married at the Ship Inn Tavern at Southbank. It was meant to be in the Southbank Parklands but rain meant a change of venue to the balcony of the pub at the last moment. It would not be the last time the weather ruined the occasion somewhat. Rob was my best man for the second time, as I was at his second wedding a few years before, and he and Anne were the last to leave us on the balcony that night after our wedding ceremony.
St John Ambulance First-Aiders formed a guard of honour at the door of the pub and my girls were our beautiful flower girls. Vicki looked superb in a short white dress and floppy hat and we really enjoyed our wedding day. Her mother Margaret, sisters Karen and Kim and brother Dean all attended as well.
We have a lovely video of the event and my good mate Keith Blake came through as photographer again and did a marvellous job. That has always been Keith. He may not be a sentimental or emotional man but he is very practical and loves to help in that way. His creativity is boundless and he always is genuinely glad to see you.
We eventually bought a house at Camp Hill so we could set-up home and it had room for the kids. Zac had a room under the house and settled into a full life for a teenager. We also choose the house because it had a swimming pool with a Bali hut with thatched roof, four bedrooms and three bathrooms and it was in our price range.
Once again Rob was there with the moving truck and this time we did it by ourselves. It was only him and I now because everyone else had tired of helping with the moves. I have always been able to enjoy his company because we share the same quirky sense of humour and we tend to laugh all day during these events. This job was finished with pizza and a few beers and I miss those moves and the accompanying camaraderie today.
Luckily, I maintained my incredible friendship with Rob and Anne as Vicki got on well with them, but the only other couple that survived the break up and remarriage was Keith and Sally Blake so our mateships continued into a new phase.
I had often ran into my old mate Keith Blake during my life as our enduring love of 60/70’s music meant that we got together on occasions and had a sing-a-long over a few beers just as we did at high school or I would see him at the State of Origin as well. Our get togethers would start out as dinner but by three in the morning, we were in full cry and singing our lungs out as Keith has an extensive music collection. How his neighbours ever stood it I will never know but it was quality fun and I loved it.
Keith’s friendship is hard to explain. I am very sentimental about the early days when he rescued me from my dull and boring self at high school and took me under his wing. He has been in and out of my life so many times and yet when I see him we are still close. He has been extremely supportive of my many, and varied ideas, and thinks nothing of giving his time and his tremendous creative talents in trying to fulfill those dreams.
Whether it is a shoulder to cry on, help in the physical sense at my many working bees, as a photographer, as a business partner or just as a friend, then he has been there. I am humbly grateful that he thinks that I am worthy of such attention as he has many friends but he still finds the time. How could anyone not admire a man who has been married for decades and still is the devoted family man.
I was with him on one such musical evening around this time that I quit St John Ambulance in 1993 and he told me about a Junior Rugby League paper he was publishing and he was editor. He had KR Darling Downs and McDonald's paying for it through sponsorship and he did all the photos, stories and articles himself.
I was very impressed but during the conversation the Sth Qld Crushers and their needs became the topic. The Australian Rugby League had decided that the competition should expand and new clubs were formed in Brisbane, Gold Coast, Adelaide and Perth. The Crushers were struggling for market share against the Broncos in Brisbane and Keith and I decided they needed a magazine to market themselves.
We responded to an advertisement to edit and produce the Crushers club magazine and prepared a submission for Daryl Van De Veldt, who was their Chief Executive, and submitted it. We received a phone call within a week because of the quality of the submission which we had prepared.
He asked us to come in for a chat and was impressed enough to give us the work ahead of established publishers. After giving us the go ahead, he told us the bad news that we had three weeks to complete the job.
We did it much to everyone’s surprise and Boots & All became the club’s magazine. We did everything from interviews to photos, to planning the layout, getting advertisers and even picking up the completed magazines from the printers and selling it at Lang Park!
Things were on track for a while but unfortunately the Crushers found themselves in financial difficulty and cut the issues from monthly to bi-monthly and finally down to quarterly. As well as this, the Crushers had deals with sponsors that entitled them to prime free advertising in the magazine which cut our ability to make profit from the venture..
In the end the magazine could not support one, let alone two wages as a quarterly and I left to try to find other work early in 1995. Keith sold the publishing rights at the end of that year. Unfortunately, we lost money overall, but the quality and content of the magazine was something we are both very proud of. The new publisher produced a glossy style magazine but with very little content and history records that the Crushers folded in 1997.
We kept going though on other ideas such as internet shopping. I wrote a submission to Coles and Woolworth’s with the idea of training young people to deliver home shopping that would be ordered on the Internet. My research had highlighted that over 80, 000 Queenslanders were house bound due to their circumstances.
Keith was at his creative best in producing some beaut images for the HOME SHOP concept and I presented to the State Manager of Coles in his office at Mt Gravatt. He was obviously impressed and offered me some work as a consultant with Coles but I was too disappointed that he had rejected the concept with this statement- “It had been tried in the USA before but did not work.”
“Would you consider training my executive staff?” he asked but I was focused on this task and declined that role. We then sent it to Woolworths but never received a reply. I note with interest that Woolworths now have a HOMESHOP on Internet so we were ten years before our time. I wonder where they found that name.
Without securing an income with the magazine and HomeShop rejection, Vicki and I could not afford to pay the mortgage on our house at Camp Hill we had purchased the year before. So for a second time in my life the house was sold and we moved on as you have to in life when the going gets tough. I really hadn’t had any gainful employment since St John and things were getting tight financially so it was time to rent.
This time it was the Gap we choose to live in and good friend Rob was summoned to help with the removal. We moved into a two-storey home about a kilometre from his house and settled into this tranquil, leafy suburb and prayed for a more peaceful lifestyle.
Life at The Gap was good and the girls came and went and Vicki and I became even closer through our walks around the quiet suburban streets. We celebrated Zac’s 18th birthday at the Gap with Rob and Anne and the family at a little restaurant near our house. Rob and Anne were frequent callers and we enjoyed their company.
It was so nice to spend some time with their son Paul who was born around 1988. After receiving an OP 4 in his Year 12, he has gone on to work at a boarding school in Scotland and is now a journalist with Channel Nine in Brisbane.
I was working as a cleaner at this time in an apartment at Kelvin Grove while I decided what to do with my life after the failure of the magazine. There was an ex-police sergeant mowing the lawns at the apartments and we got talking about the force. I decided to rejoin the police force at the ripe old age of 45.
Rob got me fit with some long runs around the Gap and I passed the demanding physical entrance exam as well as the typing and a face-to-face interview. It was touch and go though as I was definitely slowing down compared to the top fitness levels of a few years previously when I was running half-marathons. Perhaps the anger of the divorce had subdued and I was not as committed.
Our son Beau Jackson was born on June 15, 1995 and he was only six months old when I was accepted back into the police force. My previous stint was as a police cadet in 1968 when I rubbed shoulders with the likes of Rugby League coach Wayne Bennett who was also a cadet at the Petrie Terrace barracks at the time.
After four weeks of training at Oxley Police Academy, Vicki phoned me with the news that I had been accepted as a teacher at the School of the Air in Charters Towers, a position I had applied for before acceptance in the police force.
“Which way would you want me to go?” I asked and she answered that she needed me at home to assist with Beau. I resigned the police force without question as she needed me but I would have loved to have become a police officer to fulfill a dream.
After a lonely year in Charters Towers without mates, although we had a few workmates that we socialised with and even though I loved the job of talking to the homestead kids daily, we decided to move to Kirra on the Gold Coast to be closer to family. I missed my daughters Kate and Laura terribly and a messy relationship with my ex meant they could not come and visit me so we moved south.
I taught for six months at the local high school Palm Beach Currumbin and then decided to join the Grey Army and establish the first franchise on the Gold Coast. The Grey Army was a focus on Over 50s and employment for them.
This was an awkward time for mates as we were apart since 1996 when I moved the family north and no one followed this time. It became even harder to sustain friendships when I moved to Christchurch a few years later to be the founding director of Grey Skills which was a huge hit in NZ.
Vicki and I had taken a gamble in 1998 when the Grey Army director I was working closely with decided to go in a different direction to that he had indicated to us he would so I sold my interest in the Grey Army.
“I am not interested in setting up a Head Office for all the Franchisees as it is too costly,” he surprised me with. I wanted support for the many people who were investing in the concept of mobilising the Over 50s so with that statement I quit.
A Kiwi who was working for the Grey Army suggested that my skills would make it work in NZ so we decided to send me over on my own while I established it and Vicki and Beau would join me later.
Vicki reluctantly agreed when she realised I had a business plan and I was convinced it would work. “We have $10 000 to our name so take it and don’t fail,” she said.
The business became a Home Service for Over 45s and we had hundreds of Kiwi mates in our lives with all sorts of skills but a few that really were supportive and demand a mention. The Wilson’s (our first Franchisee’s) and the Amtman’s (their daughter Sue’s family), were such a huge part of our life there that they are like real family.
Brian and Erin Wilson were Beau’s Kiwi grandparents and the Sue and Rod Amtman gave us a social life. They were what made Grey Skills an outstanding success and a wonderful time of our lives.
Our HO on Hills Road Shirley was full of people daily and we travelled that great South Island with Kiwi mates Brian and Erin Wilson and saw some magnificent sights. My good mate Brian still visits and was over in 2011 for my 60th birthday. Without his support, Grey Skills would never have been as successful and we continue the ANZAC tradition today.
Good mate Rob and Anne visited in 1999 and Rod Murphy in 2000 just to remind us we were Aussies. But by 2001, Beau was talking about being an All Black so we decided to return here and sold the business.
We should have called our home Kiwi House as they paid for it but I found the Kiwi culture almost the same as ours and they also have mates. I found work for hundreds of Kiwis so I think we earned our money.
What to do next came to mind. I was now fully aware of the plight of the Over 50s, in that we would be a burden to governments over the coming decades because we were living longer but had no real savings to look after ourselves. Superannuation was introduced in 1991 but we did not have enough to last us through those golden years and I wanted to inform my generation of those facts. We could live 30 years after retirement so to look forward to 65 and age pension is not the ideal situation as we need more superannuation.
I explained to good mates Rob and Keith that it would be good if we could work together to do something for Boomers. Creative mate Keith came up with the name for a web site I had proposed as a tool to educate others. We called it BONZA.
So on return to Australia, we had enough money to purchase a home at Mudgeeraba outright and I was free to look for work again. I originally concentrated on BONZA (Babyboomers of NZ and Australia) a web site which I had started before I came home.
The idea was that Keith, Rob and I would have something to do together in our golden years but Rob did not want to be involved, as he was worried that a business relationship would spoil our great friendship. It is so hard to find things for him and I to do now, as we seem to have grown apart. I always thought it would be sporting events like cricket tests or football finals.
Even fishing would be relaxing or golf but we never seem to find the right event. Rob has always been a fairly relaxed guy and laid back and he does not need people like I do. I am sentimental and romantic with my partner whereas he is the original pragmatist. I was not surprised he said no to BONZA but I was keen to stay with my generation.
So Keith and I, for the second time after our NRL stint, took the plunge into a business partnership without Rob. Our first BONZA idea was to organise a Music Festival at Parklands on the Gold Coast.
The idea was to create a family picnic Music Festival with boomers drinking wine and eating while listening to the music of our generation. As an added bonus we were going to have a market where people could access information about hobbies, investment, health issues and Boomer topics and it would be held annually.
We did a magnificent job in preparing a submission to Peter Beattie’s government’s Queensland Events, organising the music through local 70’s star Brian Cadd and gaining support within the community from politicians and support groups.
We spent hours walking the grounds at Parklands, meeting at my house or at Brian Cadd’s house (he lived in Mudgeeraba but has since moved to Melbourne), and writing the submission. The Festival would have included input from schools and local buskers, and generally have lots of information for Boomers as well as the entertainment.
The State Government grant was not approved because it was the ‘Year of the Outback’ and the government wanted money to go to non-regional centres that year. The Pumpkin Festival in Emerald scored funding but not baby boomers.
We were asked by Qld Events CEO, David Lloyd, to resubmit it the following year but after twelve months without a wage up to that point, I had no choice but to look for paid work and decline that request. Brian Cadd and his mates went on to do shows around Australia called “It’s a Long Way to the Top” and made millions of dollars from another Blake/Murphy innovative idea.
I filled in the next couple of years organising a school reunion at Indooroopilly High for the years 1951 to 1970. It appealed to me to see what had become of the students who were schoolmates to my brothers and sister Pam and of course my schoolmates from the first and second stint at educating Brian.
Through BONZA, the P&C Committee at Indooroopilly High, newspaper articles and ex schoolmates like John Bray (who managed to contact all of his classmates from his year through the electoral roll and his network), we had activities and displays for a whole weekend for anyone of them to enjoy. The P& C committee did the lunches for them all and we had displays of old uniforms and school magazines and Tony Bischoff entertained us with some music from that era. He was an old mate of brother Rod's and we have kept in touch since that great weekend. I ended up with a few thousand dollars in the kitty and donated it to the school.
Six hundred turned up and talked up a storm reminiscing and we had a fantastic time meeting some great schoolmates again. It is amazing how you instantly revert to school talk when you see them and the years in between don’t count.
Ironically, I made a speech to thank them all and some of the teachers and the school principal who expelled me where in the audience that day but time heals all. I was proud of my efforts and pleased that I had reunited such a great bunch of people from those fascinating school days.
I tried again for a Boomer Music Festival in 2005 based on the success of the school reunion but without Keith as he had a role with the Junior Rugby League. I setup a committee of two, Denise Payne who was doing country music festivals at the time and me and we convinced Burleigh Bears Rugby Leagues Club on the Gold Coast to form a business partnership to hold a Bonza Boomer Music Festival. With the support of Vicki’s family and Denise’s group the event was planned for October as we thought we would have no rain problems as it was to be an outdoor event.
I watched a front come across Australia on the BOM weather radar site on the Internet and sure enough it arrived as we lay in bed the day before the festival. We had flown in performers from around Australia (Little Patti, Johnny Young and Normie Rowe to name a few) and people had indicated from Toowoomba and Brisbane that they would be there by the busload for the event.
It was heartbreaking to be there and watch the performers do their thing in front of a few hundred people. Vendors left early in the pouring rain and Vicki walked around the ground and paid our creditors. We lost $60 000 of our money on the day, but mates tried to help and Rob was there once again to assist as were my brothers-in-law, Allen Gelley and John Hynes who have become family mates.
“They’ll come mate!!” my family mate Allen kept saying and I prayed he was right but Murphy’s Law really had a field day that day but there are things beyond your control in life and that was one of them.
I will continue to explore BONZA and see where it leads me and how it can help my generation for the ‘greater good’ and enjoy my family who are the greatest people on this earth. I am not saying mates replace family as nothing replaces that love of my wife, daughters, and sons and now a grandchild but we males can live such a balanced life with the support of good mates.
My current job allows me access to many struggling Baby Boomers and my workshops on how to Move Forward and plan for your future after 50 are very successful. I am helping my generation and that feels good.
So that is the story of a lifetime of mates and how I meet them and why I could not have lived without them. Mates at school, mates at sport (loved those State of Origin nights and football trips plus the Sheffield Shield cricket at the Gabba), mates as parents, mates at work, family mates and good mates.
I currently still have all sorts of mates who make my life worth living and are great support.
Emotional mates like Geoff Johnston who recently tried to assist me to establish Bush Skills (Grey Nomads training Bush job seekers and youth to fill the void of missing local skills while they were travelling Australia- read about it on the BONZA site) but was ambushed by the Queensland floods of 2010 just as we were preparing to launch the concept and, of course, Peter Tavener my ex- bro in law who still uses his trade skills to help me out whenever I need him while we chew the fat.
Both good mates who I meet for coffee and talk about issues regularly. Geoff is also exercise mate and we walk for 15 kms at a time on the Gold Coast and can talk about any issue openly and honestly on the journey. We are off to Sydney to walk from Coogee to Watson’s Bay and will do the Mt O’Reilly to Binna Burra walk on Lamington Plateau as well.
I have professional mates like Peter Kentwell (ex-boss at Centrelink) who advises me on management issues and Dean Graham my current boss who is becoming a good mate. Peter believed in MatureLink and was very supportive and protective of me in Centrelink in covering my back as I inadvertently upset the system with my honesty and idealism in attempting to change lives. Some people just don’t understand me and what I am about but mates don’t judge they just support.
I have creative mate Keith Blake who is still talking ideas with me and is a legend to me with his skills and never say die attitude to life.
Even my bros are mates. Rod who still visits and emails on a regular basis. He was there with a car when I was down earlier in my life when the hardware store in Middlemount closed and I lost my house and car. What an outstanding effort and never forgotten!
Hopefully, if you are a male reading this story then, you can relate to it and appreciate your own mates a little more. Perhaps some of you need more mates in your life. I surround myself with mates because they make life worthwhile and I encourage all males to do so.
We need each other in a world where we struggle to identify our new role.
WHEN THE TIMES THEY WERE A-CHANGING... Once I Was a Teenager: Growing up in the 50s and 60s by Jonquil Graham
If you remember those long-ago days of fatty Sunday roasts, junket, climbing mulberry trees, hula hoops, mini-skirts and rock ‘n’ roll you were a teenager in the 50s and 60s. So was writer Jonquil Graham and she has recorded a fascinating memoir of what growing up in Australia was like back then. Rebellious adolescents were controlled with threats of “Wait ‘til your father gets home!” and young ladies were instructed to ‘wear clean knickers in case you’re in an accident.’ Mothers worried about their teenager daughter’s pimples, posture and puppy fat. Would she be ‘left on the shelf’ or worse, marry a foreign lavatory attendant? Dads were aghast when long-haired sons challenged their carefully considered opinions. They’d rap out a sharp enquiry: “Are you studying to be a half-wit, son?” Jonquil Graham tells her story affectionately, peppering it with amusing anecdotes and lively commentary on that ‘new age’ when conservative post-war society and the attitudes of the older generation were constantly challenged and eroded by sons and daughters not only in Europe and America but also in the Antipodes. Jonquil’s family spent those years in a coastal Sydney suburb where the surf dashed a mother’s dreams for her son when he refused to conform to her expectation and become an admiral like his Kiwi uncle or fight in Vietnam. Surfing was the only way to live, he told her. Join Jonquil as she recalls that past era: the music, fashion, wild parties and crazy dances and the typical attitude of parents as they struggled to cope with change and tried to sum up proper behaviour with a plethora of pithy sayings. She also tells us of sea voyages to UK and New Zealand relatives, being a child model and making a movie, Contiki trips and following the hippie trail across Asia and hitch-hiking around Europe. Little Pattie (Pattie Amphlett) was a teenage singing sensation in Australia then, signed up by EMI. She says in her foreword, “I remember the times with great affection and I know you will love this book as much as I did.” Jonquil now lives in an historic house in Golden Bay, New Zealand, on what was once the kiwifruit orchard she ran with her husband Bryan. The couple have adopted and fostered many children over the years, including two sets of twins from Russia and Romania. She has told this story in her first book, How Many Planes to Get Me? which was published by Cape Catley, 2006 and will soon be re-issued as an eBook with Oceanbooks who will also publish Once I Was a Teenager in October 2013. CONTACT FOR INTERVIEWS: Jonquil Graham Tel 03 525 9581, txt 027 369 0028 Email: email@example.com Oceanbooks Limited www.oceanbooks.