Location: New South Wales, Australia
Date: 1976-1977

Posted November 2010.

I resigned from 2KY in September 1976. Some months previously, I'd moved out of the Queenscliffe penthouse and back to an apartment in Kings Cross. Remember Terry from EMI Records who wrote that letter thanking me for plugging Mike McClellan's album? He and I drove south to Bega for a bit of a holiday on the coast, and stayed at a Tathra caravan park. I didn't have a car at the time. I used to get a free Valiant every month courtesy of a Chrysler dealer who was a sponsor of mine. Of course, that went bye-byes when I quit. It was an interesting arrangement. He bought the dealership cheap because it was at the bottom of the heap. After about six months with me doing his ads and promotions, his dealership rose to be No.2 in Sydney.

So, while Terry and I were in Bega, I visited the local radio station 2BE, owned by Ray Rumble. With a name like Rumble, you'd expect him to be in the radio biz hehe. He offered me the job of Operations Manager, which was a flash title for all-round dog's body. Terry and I returned to Sydney and I took a train to visit my folks who had sold their house in Terrigal and moved to an apartment in Parramatta. I checked the local paper and saw that a used car lot in Parramatta had a sale... used cars for $299. My dad drove me there and the salesman tried to flog me an old Holden with noisy tappets. But I rather liked the old AP5 Valiant. "No mate, you're better off with the Holden. The Valiant's got a crook auto gearbox." "So where's the nearest mechanic?" I bought the Valiant and headed to the mechanic. He drove to a wrecker's yard, picked up a used Torque-Flite gearbox, and installed it in my Valiant for $80. Cool.

This is a pic from the web. Mine was gray with a white top. It was a 1964 model made in Oz with a push-button auto mounted on the dash. In those days, Holden, Ford and Chrysler were the "Big Three" and the Valiant was the posh one. In the blue collar suburb of Marrickville they were known as the Marrickville Mercedes hehe, which became a common phrase used all over Sydney. Mine was fitted with a slant-six, a Dodge truck engine too big to fit under the hood, so they tilted it sideways.

I went back to Kings Cross, loaded up the Valiant with my few meager possessions, including a heavy HMV TV set, and drove to Bega. The TV set had been a gift from the Chrysler dealer. Little did I realize at the time that he'd only rented it! I discovered that later. But the TV was too heavy for me to lift on my own, so I asked a passer-by for help. He and I carried the TV to the Valiant and put it on the back seat. I could have been robbing the apartment for all he knew but he was most obliging. Hehe.

It rained like hell all night. I slept in the Valiant in a parking lot. Early next morning - it was a Saturday - I called into the radio station to announce my arrival. The on-air announcer was the only person in the building, Greg Toohey. He lived out of town in a farm house, and had trudged through flooded fields to get to the station that morning, which explained why he was doing the program in his undies, and all his clothes were drying in front of an old-fashioned cone-type radiator. Welcome to Bega.

That's Greg sitting at the broadcast desk. Some years later he was at 2ST Nowra as the morning announcer when he died of cancer. He was probably in his mid to late 30s - a lovely bloke who enjoyed the simple things of life. That's me standing, and Phil Bowden with her kids Simon and Rachel. They had won a Christmas Wish competition. And the baseball cap? I'd bought a new denim one because I thought it would give me instant 'character' hehe. But one day I was having a beer in a pub when I spotted a young bloke wearing a battered, torn, cap that was considerably worse for wear. It was oil-stained as well because he was a mechanic. So I offered to swap my new one for his (the one I'm wearing above). He was delighted, and I wore that old battered cap everywhere for months afterwards. It was my trademark. Silly me.

For a while I lived at a Bega caravan park. So I put an ad on air asking for share accommodation and got a response from a young bloke at nearby Tathra, a beachside town. He was paying off his mortgage and could use the extra income. Besides, he would also get an HMV color TV! Color had only just been introduced in Oz.

2BE studios were in the Bega Cooperative Society building in town, a dairy-farming cooperative famous for its Bega cheese, which is a national brand in Oz. No air conditioning, a side window that opened directly onto a laneway used by trucks to deliver goods to the co-op store, and very basic. But it worked. Shortly after I first arrived, our paychecks were late. Ray Rumble had to get on bended knee to the local bank manager to increase his overdraft. Hehe. Pretty hairy days back then.

Tathra was a good place to live. One morning as I headed into town I stopped to pick up a hitchhiker, my next door neighbor. He was a high school kid and offered to "show me around and introduce me to people". I was new in town. We became great friends. He and his mates used to regularly camp overnight on the old, dilapidated Tathra Wharf, and soon convinced me to do likewise. In the early days, before the introduction of the railway, south coast towns like Tathra and Bega were serviced by coastal shipping. Anyway, when I was there the old wharf was a wreck... missing floorboards, timber rot, you name it. It's been completely renovated and refurbished since. But we had a lotta fun in our sleeping bags overnight, listening to the waves crashing below the holes in the floorboards, and telling stories embellished with lots of poetic license.

One time the boys grabbed a young mate and tied his hands to a rafter. Then they stripped him naked and left his pants around his ankles while they went outside the building. I was still inside, watching the poor kid trying desperately to lift his pants with his foot but failing miserably. I was tempted to go to his aid but I also didn't wanna spoil the boys' fun. Anyway, not long afterwards, they returned and freed him. The things boys do!

One of the more interesting stories about my time at 2BE was when Ray Rumble asked me to visit a local shopkeeper who refused to advertise on the station. The 2BE sales manager had had no luck either. The shopkeeper operated a toy and hobby shop in one of the side streets. I went to the shop and wandered around for a while. It was a mess, with stuff strewn everywhere and nothing organized. But it had charm, and invited you to investigate the nooks and crannies, with the promise of finding something wonderful. "Can I help you?" he asked. So I told him I was just looking around and that I was from 2BE. "2BE? Nobody listens to 2BE. Everyone listens to the ABC, so if you're trying to sell me advertising, forget it." "Well, if nobody listens to 2BE, you won't mind if I get on air tomorrow morning and say that you're cheating on your wife and running around with loose women."

I went back to the station, wrote and produced a few ads, phoned him to say that I'd play them on air as freebies so he could hear them, and then waited for his response. He bought a package of ads for the Christmas season. Later he told me he'd had his most successful Christmas ever, with people coming from miles around to see the toy and hobby shop "that wasn't even in the main street!"

I was on air one day when I heard on the national news from Sydney that a young bloke had crashed his hang glider and suffered severe head injuries. He was in a coma at Royal North Shore Hospital. That was my best mate Kurt from Gosford. His father phoned 2BE shortly thereafter to confirm the bad news. Kurt was in deep trouble.

I quit the house in Tathra and moved back to Bega where I stayed at the Grand Hotel. It was a nice room with its own bathroom, and the ladies in the kitchen were fabulous... keeping a hot breakfast for me when I got off air at 9am. The hotel was just across the road from the radio station.

For the next several weeks, I drove the old Valiant every weekend to Royal North Shore in Sydney to visit Kurt. He was still in a coma. While there, I spoke to his girlfriend and her mother. Kurt's brother was there too, but he didn't like me. He was a cop. On the third week, I arrived at the hospital but was stopped by Kurt's girlfriend's mother who warned me not to be disappointed. Kurt had regained consciousness but was not able to recognize anyone. I poked my head around the ward doorway and saw Kurt, sitting up in bed. He spotted me right away and smiled, "Gary!" Then he asked me about the old Benz. He'd forgotten about the Superbug and things that had happened since, but he was slowly regaining his memory. Kurt's copper bro liked me even less after that hehe.

I returned to 2BE and quit, but told the boss not to panic. I would stick around until he found a replacement. That turned out to be several months during which time Kurt had recovered sufficiently to return to the north coast where he lived with his girlfriend in her mother's house at Nambucca Heads. I felt that my place was to be with him during his rehabilitation. I had no job to go to but what the hell. I'd figure something out.

My months living at the Grand Hotel turned out to be quite eventful, especially in a country town. Suffice to say that I got to know a couple of footballers rather well... certainly much better than I could ever have anticipated.

The morning I left Bega suffering from a dreadful hangover, I drove all the way north to Nambucca Heads and was invited to stay with Kurt, his girlfriend and her mother in a lovely house opposite the river, not far from the beach. The mother was a teacher at the local high school and a bright lady.

That's a pic of Kurt looking all very surfer-like and demure. I took it shortly before his hang glider accident. One day when I was getting a little concerned about being unemployed, Kurt's girlfriend suggested I contact the Nambucca Tourist Association. She'd heard they were having a meeting to decide whether or not to disband. So I attended the meeting and talked them into keeping the organization going, and hiring me as their publicity officer. After the meeting, I wrote a press release to the local paper.

The local paper printed the press release verbatim, including my misspelling of "independant". Hehe. Anyway, bullshit or not, it did the trick and I had a job. My office was an old caravan parked on the side of the road into town. But at least it had a phone which I used one day to call the local ABC radio station. "Funny you should call," the manager Steve Oliver said, "we happen to have Saturday morning breakfast free." So I went to the station in Kempsey, about an hour's drive south, for an interview with the boss. By the time I arrived for the appointment, the weekday breakfast announcer had resigned and I got the full time job instead. Hehe. Luck of the Irish. Later the boss told me he hired me because I had "charisma".

Oh. Did I really say that? But working for the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) was a culture shock. It was commercial free, so it was just me and the music and the news. I was accustomed to a much more frantic pace with lots of ads and jingles. Now I had to be a "proper" announcer and sound intelligent! Scary stuff. Meanwhile, living with Kurt and his girlfriend was getting a bit tricky. She was madly in love with me and I was madly in love with him while he was madly in love with her. So I got a little flat in Kempsey and moved there.

Two of the many things I remember about Kempsey are 1) Elvis Presley died August 16, '77, and 2) it was the year of the 7th day of the 7th month '77. I recorded myself singing seven, seven, seven, seven, seven, seven, seven, seven, seven 3 times in a different octave, and then overlayed each track with the others so that the end result sounded like a choir. I played it on air next morning and the boss arrived at 9am. "Where did you get that 7 thing?" he asked. "I made it," I replied. Hehe.

Life in Kempsey wasn't without its interesting experiences. I used to drink at the old Royal hotel on the edge of town. It was a dump, with holes in the floor (marked with chalk so you wouldn't suddenly disappear without trace). The guy behind the bar was as camp as all getup, limp wristed and very effeminate, and yet he was married and lived with his wife. The drinkers, by contrast, were all rough-as-bags Aussies. Look at them sideways and you risked getting your face rearranged. Quite a few local Aboriginal guys were regulars as well and I befriended them. One time they invited me to go walkabout. "Don't bring anything... no food or nothin'. We'll live off the land for 2 weeks." I visualized eating witchetty grubs and goanna and sleeping under the stars, and declined the offer. Ew!

I used to ride my bicycle to the pub and park it inside. I was a sucker for the charity raffles and occasionally won a case of beer, which I had to carry back home on the bicycle. It was a pretty hairy ride I can tell you. But amazingly I never fell over.

Once again, lots of stories but they'd take forever to relate. Toward the end of my time in Kempsey, I traded the old Valiant on another. I was actually looking at a Holden but then spotted the Valiant which was a few hundred dollars cheaper. Later, I met the guy who bought my old one and he said, "Bit fumey but she goes really well."

I was tired of Kempsey and decided to go back to Sydney. The Kurt thing had gotten too complicated so there was no point in staying. I read in a newspaper that one of the announcers at 2GB had left. Actually, he was fired because he was advertising his shirt shop on air without paying for air time. So I put together a demo tape of my stuff at the ABC. Problem was, the ABC had no commercials and 2GB was a commercial station, so I made some "pretend" ads and used them on the audition tape which I mailed to Barry Augustus, manager of 2GB.


Scrapbook Part 9
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