A huge part of Adastra's
corporate memory was lost on 8 February 2012 with the passing
of former Adastra Assistant General Manager, Mike Wood.
Mike's nephew, Paul Girdler delivered the following eulogy at
a farewell function at the Gladesville RSL on 8 May 2012.
Thank you all for coming today. I wish to acknowledge particularly
the efforts of Hal McKinley who has travelled from Tasmania, Bill
Mitchell and Mick Magee, coming from Victoria, John and Judy Collins
coming from Queensland and of course Tanya travelling all the
way from Vancouver. We have also received an apology from Ted
McKenzie who is in WA and not in good health. Dean Darcy's family
and the Adastra webmaster Ron Cuskelly also expressed their sympathy.
The catalyst for our gathering today is of course Mike's recent
death. As he wished, there was no service or farewell at the time
of his death and nor would there be one now if he had any say
in the matter. But he was loved by many and his life is worthy
of recognition. Allow me to speak of Mike from a family perspective.
Tanya, as Mike's surviving daughter, will offer her personal perspective.
And Jim Hilferty has generously offered to give us an insight
into Mike's career with Adastra which was such an important part
of his life.
Mike was born 1st of October 1924 to Beryl and Ern Wood. He was
their second child after my own mother Shirley. Ern was a butcher
who had served with the Australian Light Horse in Palestine and
Gallipoli. By the time the Depression hit they had a third child
Tony and at this time Ern's business failed. There followed some
years of turmoil as the family, through economic necessity, was
split up. The three children lived with relatives in the St George
area. His mother and father lived with friends in Darlinghurst
with Ern picking up whatever casual work he could. Eventually
the family was re-united and moved to Kogarah. Another brother,
Robbie, was born in 1939 just before Michael left school.
Michael attended Canterbury Boys High School, one of the few Selective
high schools in Sydney at that time and completed the leaving
Certificate in 1940. He joined Sydney County Council the following
year as a clerk but found the work boring. World War 2 was well
underway and as soon as he turned 18 he joined the RAAF in 1942.
After training in Australia, he was shipped to the UK early in
1944 for further training. The UK training was interspersed with
Rugby matches in a services rep team which featured many international,
state and 1st grade players. Interestingly this mirrored his father's
experience. I read in Ern's service record how he was injured
playing Rugby in Palestine and returned to Cairo for treatment.
Mike was shipped to Canada late in I944 for training in Mosquitos
and it is here that he met Tanya's mother Louise, a Liaison Officer
with the Canadian Air Force. The war in the Pacific ended in August
1945 and the trainees were later shipped back to Australia. Mike
was discharged from the Air Force in December 1945.
He enrolled in Dentistry at Sydney Uni the following year and
completed 3rd Year before leaving Uni in 1949. I asked about this
change of mind and he responded "I realised I did not want to
be looking down people's throats for the rest of my life."
In the meantime he had met Moyra through his old friend Eddy McFadden.
He was friendly with Eddy before the war and they had met up in
both the UK and Canada. They married in 1947 and their first child
Michele was born in 1949. Michael rejoined the Air Force in 1950
and served until 1955. This included a posting to Malaya during
the communist emergency. He left as a Flight Lieutenant, Category
A Navigator. Their second child Tony was born in August 1954 and
they moved to Gymea. Shortly after leaving the Air Force, Mike
joined Adastra, initially as Senior Navigator. He stayed with
the company for the next 20 years becoming Assistant General Manager.
He looked back on those years with great fondness.
The Adastra work kept him away from home for long periods but
when the children were a bit older he organised an annual camping
holiday to the South Coast. At different times various cousins,
his brothers and father would come. As in his later life, fishing
was a feature of these trips. Mike honed his woodworking skills
at Gymea and did a lot of work improving the old weatherboard
house. They moved to a new house in St Ives in the mid sixties.
Michele finished school and completed an Arts Degree at Sydney
University in 1972. She was a talented and intelligent girl with
a keen interest in art and she did well at university. It was
a busy time for the family. Moyra went into a partnership with
my mother to run a donut shop in the new Chatswood Chase. Simultaneously
Mike returned to University and completed a Business Studies degree
in 1975 and a Diploma in Management. It was just prior to this
that he left Adastra. He applied for and gained a teaching post
at Queensland Agricultural College Gatton and they lived on a
rural block close to the campus. He enjoyed the work and was much
involved with campus life. Unfortunately this rural idyll was
shattered by Tony's diagnosis with schizophrenia. As if things
could not get worse, in 1977 Michele died tragically and suddenly.
She was only 27. Michael and Moyra moved back to Sydney with Tony,
to Ryde in 1984.
His enforced early retirement enabled him to pursue his woodworking
skills and he produced some remarkable pieces of fine furniture.
It was at this time that the legendary (Adastra) fishing trips,
which Mike enjoyed so much, began. While going through his photos
I found a picture of a poor flathead being landed on the boat.
I am sure it was the only fish ever caught on any of these trips.
When Mike returned I'd say "How was the trip? Did you catch anything?"
No matter the location it was always "fished out". It was also
at this time that Tanya was able to re-establish contact with
her father. This was a great joy to Michael particularly in later
years when Tanya's visits became more regular.
A final move to a new unit in Ryde and now completely retired
saw Mike deeply involved in the affairs of the Body Corporate
and the snooker club at the RSL. He continued his interest in
Scrabble and played chess by correspondence. Things were pretty
settled but then Tony was diagnosed with lung cancer. His psychosis
precluded any treatment, he moved back home and died within months
of diagnosis in January 2005. Soon after, Moyra's health deteriorated
with signs of dementia and Michael devoted all his energies to
her care. His own health was more than adequate for the task until
the morning he was hit by a car on his usual trip to buy the Herald.
Inexplicably it was not immediately reported to the police and
they failed to pursue the matter with any vigour. This was December
2008. Tragically Michael and Moyra were in separate hospitals
simultaneously. He suffered a fractured skull but the serious
outcome was a loss of balance. Moyra had to be placed in a nursing
home. Michael was devastated by her death 6 months later. Despite
initial efforts at rehabilitation, his condition worsened and
he suffered a series of falls. Uncharacteristically he became
increasingly depressed. His last fall led to another hospital
admission. Unfortunately complications set in and he died peacefully
on February 8th 2012.
Reading this you would be forgiven for thinking what a terrible
series of tragedies. But it is how one responds to such events
that matters and unless you knew the family very well you would
probably not even be aware of the background. Despite all of this
Mike remained gentle, caring and dignified. He was stoic and of
that generation that despite what was thrown at them, they just
got on with it, without complaint or rancour. He was intelligent,
well read and informed. He had a fascination for words and would
practice his French with other Francophiles if given the opportunity.
He took an interest in others and was generous with his time.
He was outgoing and enjoyed company on one hand but was also reserved
and not demonstrative. To end I will quote a small excerpt from
something he wrote several years ago. It is more characteristic
of the Michael we all remember.
Disposal of Personal Effects:
1. Gently work your way through the collection of wine.
2. Use one bottle of home brew to wash my ashes down the dunny.
3. Donate the remainder to anyone who'll drink them.
Jim Hilferty and Elmo
Phipps on Mike's time at Adastra:
May I take you back to your schooldays and 44BC and another funeral
oration: “the evil men do lives after them, the good is oft interred
with their bones”
We are here today to prevent that happening to our old friend.
So let us continue to tell the funny stories, and the not-so-funny
ones, and enjoy the occasional Bulli mullet - grilled with chips
- in memory of Michael Henry Wood.
Working for Adastra was a life changing experience, especially
for us once-young blokes that are here today. There were some
great traditions that we grew to know, and if not to love, then
to be very wary of. One of which was the practice of creating
cloudless photographic weather. This consisted of the crew's partaking
of excessive amounts of hangover-producing beverages, which logically,
always generated perfect, all-day flying conditions for the following
On that legendary fine-photographic-weather morning in western
Queensland, when Mike had consumed some the local water (a bad
move as we all knew), and consequently was afflicted by a savage
attack of diarrhoea, rather than lose a day's good weather, he
armed himself with an empty film can and a number of the hotel's
towels fashioned into man-sized nappies, then bravely climbed
into the nose of the Hudson to do the job that he did best. Ignoring
the turbulence and the inconvenience of the oxygen mask, he got
through the day by employing the raw-edged-steel film can and
the nappies, which could be changed only between photograph runs.
Where did we get such men?
In a hotel room in Queanbeyan he once famously re-enacted his
father's contribution to that historic charge of the Light Horse
at the Wells of Beersheba. Running around the room, leaping the
horse from bed to bed as, armed with nothing but a 12 inch ruler,
he fearlessly bayoneted every Turk within range.
Based in Wynyard, Tasmania with the Percival Prince, Mike navigating
from the right hand seat, pilot Ted MacKenzie and/or Ken Rowlands,
Bugeyes Kellaway up the back of the Prince, manning the electronics,
and me on the tracking camera and radio altimeter graph, we were
doing low level magnetic survey on the west coast. Contour flying
over hilly country is not much fun, but can be rewarded with magnificent
scenery and occasionally, the unexpected. On this particular day,
Mike excitedly called our attention to a Tasmanian Tiger, which
we could all then watch as it ran across a bare plateau until
it disappeared into the trees. Nobody will ever again see such
Another memorable spectacle was the birth of a Pacific island.
Between Wewak and Manus Island, we saw an erupting volcano emerge
from the boiling ocean.
Incidents like these went a little way to compensating for the
lousy Adastra pay, but if you were lucky enough to have this job,
working and living with men like Michael Henry Wood, you wouldn't
have been anywhere else. Even the other illustrious Henry, Henry
V at Agincourt, might envy us our good fortune and modest victories.
Back in 2003 when the
late Kevin Pavlich encouraged me to develop this website, one
of our earliest contributors, apart from Kevin himself, was Mike
Wood. You wouldn't say that Mike was a prolific contributor but
when he did contribute it was chapter and verse on something important
that Adastra did, always delivered with authority and humility
in his immaculate handwriting. It is a matter of great regret
to me that the website came along too late for the likes of Frank
Follett, Bunny Hammond, Jack McDonald and Lionel Van Praag. Fortunately
though, we had Mike on our team. Having served for so long and
reached the upper echelons of the company, he was the last remaining
repository of the Adastra corporate memory. Mike was always too
modest to contribute his own biography to the site so it is sad
that we have had to wait until his passing to learn more about
the man. Nevertheless, Mike the scholarly gentleman has provided
for us most handsomely with his first hand recollections of what
Adastra achieved for this nation. With Australia currently being
so dependent on a mining boom, it is timely to remember that it
was people like Mike who mapped this nation and found much of
our mineral wealth.
of Mike Wood's contributions to the Adastra website:
wrote the manual
Incident with Lionel
Keg of Honour
to right) Kevin Pavlich, Ron Cuskelly and Mike Wood
at the Adastra luncheon on 25 January 2007.