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My time with Adastra was only about 15 months (1968-1970) but in that time there was a lot of work, adventure and excitement but no boredom.

On leaving the RAAF after twelve years, I landed in Melbourne as a non-licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineer (AME) with Brain and Brown, servicing their DC-3s at Essendon Airport. I was holding a Maintenance Authority for both the DC-3 Engine and Airframe. I passed my LAME examinations and had submitted an application for the issue of a Pratt & Whitney R1830 Licence. This would have been mid November 1968. Just prior to that I had applied to Jack McDonald for a position of Field Engineer with Adastra.

Within a few days I had a letter saying that I was now employed, and that there was a ticket to Derby waiting for me at the Ansett terminal and to advise Jack when I would be leaving, but it had to be within a few days. As I left Melbourne within a few days of applying for the LAME Licence to work for a firm based In NSW, another saga began as NSW Region had to issue the Licence.

I flew from Melbourne to Perth, then on to Derby on the late evening milk run F27. It was half cargo and half passenger and seemingly it stopped at every aerodrome between Perth and Derby. When I arrived at Derby in the early morning I got a taxi to the motel. I didn't know the name of the captain until I arrived at the motel.

The next day, after a refreshing sleep, I went out to the airport to meet the crew; Dave Brennan (pilot), Colin Henshall (I think) co-pilot, John Messenger, navigator and a very nice English gent who operated the magnetometer. I have forgotten his name even though I did meet up with him some years later in England.

After about a week in Derby we moved the base of operations to Halls Creek where we stayed in the pub for two nights and then moved to the Met Officers house which we rented while he moved into the Met Office. He was not stupid. The house was not air-conditioned but the Met Office was.

After a few days, the fan in the lounge of the pub fell on to John Messenger's head putting him in hospital. We were joined by Peter Shute as John's replacement. Shortly after that, we had a change of English gents and I think his name was David Closier.

I had to do a magneto change on the port engine and while waiting for a new magneto to arrive I started to remove the unserviceable magneto and discovered it had a cracked distributor block. So all that had to be changed was the block which is part of the ignition harness. We were lucky we got the magneto overnight.

One day I was working on the aircraft when my face and eyes got drenched with fuel. I was alone so I started to crawl in what I thought was the direction of the terminal. Someone saw me and guided me in. I had been heading in the wrong direction towards the runway. I was taken up to the hospital to have my eyes bathed. I spent Christmas in Halls Creek and I think it was late March 1969 when I headed back to Sydney via Longreach and Mudgee.

I spent some time in the hangar working on DC-3 VH-AGU and also on a Hudson that was having its fuel tanks resealed.

Then I went to Brisbane with Brian Costello, Peter Shute and Lionel Van Praag. We were based at Archerfield for about a week where I had to change the sheer pin in the tail wheel lock and adjust the brakes. (Hudson VH-AGX was photographed at Archerfield on 27 April 1969. Ed)

After returning to Sydney I was sent to Tennant Creek via Brisbane and Mt Isa to meet up with Big Daddy, John Hampshire. We worked on a series of runs at Newcastle Waters, Daly Waters and Tennant Creek, staying overnight at either Daly Waters or Tennant Creek. Then we moved over to Halls Creek for a few days then back to the NT runs.

Wherever John Hampshire had been in the Territory there would be a garden full of salad vegies so we always had plenty of lettuces, radishes, tomatoes and spring onions on the drome. John arranged for the groundsman to look after them when he was away in return for any ripe produce.

Then I got a message from Jack McDonald to meet AGU at Adelaide. I left the next morning and arrived to find AGU with fuel overflowing from the starboard auxiliary tank and with firemen everywhere. I stopped the leak, cleaned up the fuel and away we went and over-nighted at Kalgoorlie. We refueled the aircraft from a regular petrol station bowser. At 60 gallons an hour it took a long time to fill before we were on our way to Carnavon.

AGU was on a Raydist contract and was away for about 6-8 hours each day. On the rest day, with the unpaid help of the locally based LAME, we replaced the faulty fuel selector that was allowing fuel from the starboard main fuel tank into the auxiliary tank which would then overflow. To do this we had to defuel the aircraft and jack up the wings and remove the starboard stress plates in the centre section to gain access to the selector valve. Fortunately there was a set of aircraft jacks that supported the wings while the stress plates were off the aircraft.

From Carnarvon we went to Port Hedland where we lived in the shearers' quarters on a property that an Adastra land survey party had been through many years previously. While there they had wired the place for 32V electricity and setup a generator. We had our main meals in the homestead. While there, Jack McDonald arrived and so did a Hudson requiring a 100 hourly and a cylinder change. Due to a misunderstanding, an engineer whose name I cannot recall, let the master rod flop to one side and popped the piston rings in some of the bottom cylinders. This required locking the master rod, removing two of the bottom cylinders while avoiding an oil bath on their removal. Then Jack and I very carefully compressed the bottom rings of the two remaining popped cylinders and carefully moved the prop in the correct direction which was successful. We then fitted the remaining cylinders and then the new one on the master rod position.

From Port Hedland we went to Geraldton where we rented a three bedroom holiday unit. I was the main cook and we lived rather cheaply on less than the weekly allowance. Our stay was unremarkable.

From there we spent about four weeks in Perth where we rented a unit before returning to Sydney.

After a few weeks in the hangar I went up to Weipa with Brian Costello, Peter Shute and Fred Ellis. We caught a lot of fish, enough to feed us and to pay for the beer. One day I lost control of our rented car in the bauxite on the road, the owner who was the local school teacher, was making all sorts of noises about legal action but the local copper reminded him that if he proceeded he would book him for renting a vehicle without a licence and that is where the matter ended. I received a cut head where I hit the window frame and this required lots of stitches. While there we made two trips to Horn Island and Thursday Island but I don't remember the purpose. One day someone was shooting and I found a bullet hole in one blade of the prop about two inches from the tip. I was given instructions to make a template of the exact shape of the blade, and cut the same amount off each blade and then file it smooth. We did a test flight to check for any out-of-balance vibration but fortunately there was none. From there we returned to Sydney.

My last trip was from early January to the beginning of February 1970 in a Hudson with Brian Costello as pilot. I met them in Griffith where we stayed for about a week before flying on to Mildura where we stayed for a few days before returning to Sydney.

I spent two weeks in the hangar after which I left the company to marry Rita the former Matron of the Halls Creek Hospital. I have been in Brisbane ever since except for a short stay with Helicopter Utilities as a Field Engineer on an Indonesian registered DC-3. I was at Tamworth for some months overseeing the overhaul and configuring the aircraft to take oil workers up to West Irian. It was not fitted with an autopilot so I got some unofficial flying time.

Nev Williams

April 2016