leaving school in England I joined Hunting Surveys, who were at
that time probably the largest airborne survey company in the world,
as a Data Compiler in their airborne geophysics department. After
nine months training I was sent to Angola on a five month long survey,
learning about the joys of flight path recovery and data QC. The
work came to an abrupt end when our DC-3 was machine gunned by rebel
forces whilst flying at 500 feet and limped back at base with 23
holes through it and one hole in the co-pilot, who fortunately survived.
Life back in the UK seemed a little dull after that and as my next
overseas field trip might be years away, I resigned, packed a rucksack
and travelled overland to India with some friends and then on to
Australia to seek our fortunes! We had landed in Darwin with empty
pockets and looked for work. I was hired by a ground geophysics
crew who needed an extra hand for a few weeks out near the East
Alligator River, it was ideal with food and a tent provided.
Afterwards I travelled on to Brisbane to catch up with the others.
Work was difficult to find and although I contacted all the survey
companies I could find, and had interviews with QASCO and CGG nothing
came of it. We were fortunate and found work for several months
with Rheems, manufacturing 44 gallon drums. When our finances had
recovered we bought a car and headed for Sydney, found a flat at
North Bondi and looked for work again.
I had heard of Adastra while working for Hunting and so they were
amongst the companies contacted and I was invited for an interview.
Adastra were currently after two airborne geophysics jobs and, if
they succeeded with either, agreed they would take me on for the
duration. I was prepared to wait and spend a month or two on the
beach, exploring Sydney and visiting friends. Eventually word came
that they had been awarded a contact although flying would not start
for some weeks.
For some time I had been feeling quite unwell, headaches and 'flu
like symptoms came and went until I was in bed most of the time
and getting very weak- well, dying to be accurate! Eventually we
got the local doctor to visit and I was taken straight into hospital.
Malaria was soon diagnosed - presumably contracted months previously
during my travels. I was worried that I would lose this opportunity
with Adastra and left hospital as soon as possible, thin, pale and
weak and just in time to start work on the survey preparation in
the office at Mascot.
My work with Adastra got off to a bad start when, on the first day,
my manager approached me and said we should talk about my salary.
He claimed to have no knowledge that we had agreed during my interview
that I should be paid $80 per week in fact denied that this had
happened. Eventually I had to agree to $70 per week instead! As
I had committed myself to this work for so long I had little choice
but to accept but it did leave me feeling somewhat resentful. I
settled down to work, using a corner of Kevin Murrey's room. He
was a great guy and very skilled at photo mosaic assembly. The three
Hunting personnel arrived (Dave Richards-Geophysicist, Bob Taylor-Electronics,
Tony Putman-Data Compiler) to complete the team and the next day
we all set off for Halls Creek in the DC-3, Dave Brennan flying
and John Cousins standing in as navigator until John Messenger could
join us later. Our first night was spent at Bathurst - we had only
left that afternoon so the client could be told we had started -
it was too late to go far! The next day after a delayed start due
to mist we flew to Broken Hill. The following day it was on to Alice
Springs for fuel, and then to Halls Creek.
The Hotel Kimberley was great, clean rooms, good food and helpful
people who found us a small room to use as an office. I set up a
darkroom at the airport and we started to fly.
Halls Creek was different to any town I had stayed in before, I
remember the Met. man also drove the towns only taxi, rented out
rooms in has house, helped behind the bar and hoped to retire after
this posting! My hair was getting very long (even for those days)
- [see the photo of me sitting on the steps of VH-AGU with long
hair and still very thin from malaria] and as there was no barber
in town, Ruth, the lovely barmaid, cut it for me sitting there in
We worked hard and the days passed. Mine started with an early morning
film developing session at about 6am (the chemicals were too warm
during the rest of the day) and then most of the day working on
flight path recovery onto photo mosaics which was pretty tricky
in places. When the magnetic and spectrometer records that arrived
back from the sortie, we checked them and also produced flight path
overlays - often working late into the night. This had the 'advantage'
of limiting the amount of time spent in the bar!
About ten weeks passed and we gradually finished the job and a few
extensions to the area. Operationally all went smoothly with no
aircraft and only one electronic breakdown that I recall. On the
rare days that I wasn't busy a day out in the plane was about all
the entertainment available. In the evening we played pool in the
bar and went weekly to the open air cinema, it always seemed to
be cowboy films.
The day came to leave Halls Creek and as I made my way to the DC-3
for the transit back to Sydney I discovered that the crew had an
extra 3 members. The aircraft engineer had a small dingo puppy under
his arm, apparently someone had shot the mother and this kind hearted
guy had agreed to adopt it. On the tarmac beside the aircraft was
a large metal cage and inside were two baby donkeys. Dave Brennan
had arranged for these to be captured so that he could fly them
back to Sydney for his children! Oh joy of joys we were going to
spent many hours shut in the plane in the company of these wild
(Photos by Dave Richards)
The moment came when the cage and its cargo had to be lifted in
through the open cargo doors of the DC-3. A few volunteers came
forward and we all lifted, it was quite heavy but up came the cage
off the tarmac. Of course the donkeys, already pretty stressed,
just empted the contents of their bowels (and very full they must
have been!) all over the tarmac and us below in the lifting party…
we were all covered in green manure which of course is much the
best way to begin a flight across Australia!
Eventually all was stowed away and we left Halls Creek with all
manner of God's own creatures aboard. The flight remained uneventful
if somewhat smelly until were getting near NSW and Dave radioed
ahead to air traffic control to tell them the good news - we were
on our way back and had some delightful pets on board. Soon a message
came back telling him that if we landed in NSW with the donkeys
on board they would be shot and the aircraft impounded! It was decided
that we would divert to Oodnadatta (the donkeys could be taken into
SA without problem, or maybe he just didn't tell them!) and we would
spend the night there while a new plan was formulated.
We checked into the hotel and the couple who ran the place agreed
to take the donkeys off our hands. I guess they must have taken
the dog as well as the next morning we flew back to Mascot a little
less like Noah's Ark!
The Hunting personnel departed for the UK and I spent the next couple
of weeks finishing off the work, back in Kevin Murray's office,
uncertain of what my future might hold. Eventually my boss came
to talk to me and asked if I would be interested in staying on with
Adastra, working on the geophysics side when that work was available
and helping Kevin with his mosaics when geophysics was slack. This
was exactly what I had hoped for until he told me that they couldn't
pay me so much if I became a full time, and could only justify $60
per week! When I would not agree to another reduction in money he
asked if I would return and work on future geophysics contacts when
and if they were awarded them, I agreed, of course!! I left the
Looking back - I had had a good time, enjoyed the work and the guys
I worked with were great. Less sure about the management but ain't
that the same the whole world over…
Within a week I had departed Australia and after a holiday in SE
Asia I returned to London. I visited my friends at Hunting to be
met with great surprise - Adastra had been looking for me for some
weeks, they had had another small job in South Australia and as
I was away Hunting had sent Chris Rowlands (who had been in the
same intake of trainees as myself) to Australia to do 10 days work.
His airfare alone was the equivalent of about two years of the $10
that I had been denied!
Hunting very generously offered me my old job back but I declined
and went to work for Fairey Surveys of Maidenhead, where I still
live, they who ran a small airborne geophysics department at that
time. I worked on projects in Egypt and Nigeria for them. In 1975
I joined GeoMetrics, an American company located in San Jose CA
and spent the next two years in Zambia in charge of the data QC
of their largest ever project. They used a US registered Navajo
and an Oz registered Islander for this work. I met and married Kate
who was a VSO working in Zambia in 1976. In 1977 we were transferred
to the USA and worked on a series of local projects including helicopter
work over the Rockies using a Lama and fixed wing work using an
ex-military Grumman Tracker.
Our first child was born in 1978 and we returned to the UK where
I worked as a photogrammetrist at Fairey (later Clyde) Surveys for
seven years. In 1985 I joined Exploration Consultants Limited (ECL),
a large hydrocarbon and minerals consultancy group, where I currently
run the Maps and Graphics department.
6th October 2004:
to Dave Richards for providing photos of the animal passengers referred
to in Derek's account.