I have always had an interest in things electronic and technical from a quite early age. By the time I was about 7 or 8 I was building make-believe spaceships under the bed and starting to use electronics. I said to my parents “One day I am going to fly a spaceship” In later life, only about 20 years later, I actually did this by remote control! (I made another prediction as a young boy, that I would fly an aeroplane. In later life, not only did I fly one, but I owned it as well!)
I read books about space adventures and travel such as ‘Stand by For Mars’, ‘Laurie’s Space Annual’ ‘By Spaceship To The Moon, ‘The Adventures Of Captain “Space” Kingsley’ and ‘Mariners of Space’ before I was about 10 years old.
I was still quite young when I found out that amateur radio was a more specialist side to electronics. I suspect my interest in it may have been partly due to one of my teachers, at Largs Bay Primary School. I think it was my grade seven teacher at the time.
However, it was not too long before my interest in things electronic started to grow further. Before I was 11 years old I was already building electronic equipment. At age 12 I had been given a junior ‘teach yourself’ book called ‘Radio for Boys’. Before I reached the age of 13 years I was building radios from this book.
In the early 1950’s germanium semiconductor diodes became available. These could be used in crystal radio receivers without the tiresome fiddling with a ‘cat’s whisker’. In 1954 while I was in grade seven at primary school I managed to buy one of these devices. It cost the princely sum of nine shillings and six pence. This was a lot of money for a boy who was only getting two and six per week pocket money. After some experimenting with this device I eventually managed to construct a crystal set in a match box. Most of the parts were in the sliding tray of the box. The tray that had a coil of wire around it. There was another coil of wire on the outside of the box. This arrangement meant that the radio could be tuned by sliding the tray in or out.
When I had successfully made this, I took it to school and offered it for sale at the enormous price of 19 shillings and six pence, just six pence less than one pound. This price was well outside of the finances of most students but as I recall I did sell two of them during the year. Some time later I was able to purchase my first transistor. These first transistors could only be used for quite simple applications and were exceedingly easy to damage or destroy if wrongly used. Because of the cost I had to be very careful experimenting with them.
When I went to secondary school I managed to put my electronic knowledge to good use. Even before I was in second year I had somehow arranged for myself to take over the setting up of the sound system for school assemblies and most other functions. Before the assembly I would get the amplifier, microphone and all of the necessary connecting cables and accessories from the store room and set up the system. I would test it and make sure that everything was ready and working for the assembly. I became very proficient at this. In my intermediate year, the third year, of secondary school in 1957, I was presented with a prize for services to the school for m
y skill and ability in setting up the amplifier at the school assemblies. At the time of the presentation it was said that the amplifier system had never worked so well as when I was setting it up. I was very pleased about this. The prize that I was awarded was a book called ‘The Boy Electrician’. I still have this book.
After leaving secondary school I joined the Commonwealth Government Post Master General’s Department (The forerunner of Telstra) and trained as a radio communications technician. After successfully passing the examinations to qualify as a Senior Technician I later left the PMG and became the Foreman of the Adelaide mobile radio section of Telecommunications Company of Australia (TCA). It was during this time I saw an advertisement for technicians to work at a new space tracking station being established in the Australia Capital Territory. I applied for a position and was accepted. I moved to Queanbeyan (near the ACT) in 1966 and commenced work at Orroral Valley Spacetracking Station. It was an amazing place! The equipment and technology was well ahead of anything I had previously seen.
I remained at Orroral tracking station until it closed in 1985. In hindsight, it was absolutely the best job I ever had! I advanced through all grades of technician into supervisory positions, eventually becoming the Senior Operations Supervisor in charge of all the actual operational tracking shifts. At one time during this period I was the senior technician in Australia for all voice communications to the Space Shuttle.
After Orroral tracking station closed I formed my own company designing and manufacturing specialist electronic equipment for the security industry in Canberra. I was headhunted away from this to join an electronic security company as their Technical Manager. I later left this company to become a senior technician in the computer science department of the Australian Defence Force Academy. While here I undertook studies to gain a Master of Science degree.
I later joined the commonwealth Defence Science and Technology Organisation as research scientist working on classified military communication systems until my retirement in 2005. After retiring I spent a considerable time travelling overseas.
I have authored a number of technical manuals and articles.
- the cover story for Electronics Today International in March 1984 – ‘Shuttle to Houston via Amateur Radio’,
- The laser tracking system operations manual for Orroral tracking station,
- Several technical articles for Amateur Radio magazine.
My books include
- ‘Discovering a Family History’
- ‘Acquisition – The Story of Orroral Valley Space Tracking Station’
- ‘Spaceships Under the Bed’ (My personal memories but restricted distribution)
Awards and certifications
I hold a technician certificate from the PMG
A certificate IV in workplace assessment and training.
A broadcast station operator certificate of Proficiency
An unrestricted amateur radio operator’s certificate of proficiency
A network management certificate from the Australian Defence Force Academy
Unix Tools and Shell Programming certificate from Australian Defence Force Academy
Project Planning and Contract Management from DKS Australia.
DDPS file Processor certificate from Goddard Spaceflight Centre, USA.
DDPS System maintenance and Operations Certificate from Goddard Spaceflight Centre, USA
Senior First Aid Medallion from St John Ambulance Australia
Australian Private Pilot Licence
United States Private Pilot Licence
Reading Method Tutor from CCAE,
National Medal of Australia for Service
Long Service Award from the NSW SES
Space Shuttle Medallion
Confirmation Certificate for amateur radio contact from my car to the Soviet Space Station MIR
Confirmation Certificate for amateur radio contact from my car to the US Space Shuttle ‘Columbia’
Confirmation Certificate for amateur radio contact with the Space Shuttle Flight 9.