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1 October 1924 — 8 February 2012


Mike with his dog Mandy in the cockpit
of Hudson VH-AGS at Perth in 1959.


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 day.

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 a sight.

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.



Webmaster's Tribute:

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.



Some of Mike Wood's contributions to the Adastra website:

The 707 Project

The Ikara Missile

The Westinghouse DC-6

Mike wrote the manual

An Incident with Lionel

The Keg of Honour


(left to right) Kevin Pavlich, Ron Cuskelly and Mike Wood
at the Adastra luncheon on 25 January 2007.