Canberra - Townsville 1984-91

Transiting South Western Australia on return from Cocos

Rather than return airline tickets from Perth to Canberra, we opted for cash in lieu - based on a mileage formula.

This gave us the opportunity to:

  • hire a car and explore the Perth, the Bumbury, Albany and Kalgoorlie regions

  • take a train across the Nullabor to Port Pirie; Bus to Adelaide and hire car to Canberra via Gundagai.

I had accumulated three month leave while on secondment and we consumed most of it living in Talbingo at the foot of the Snowy Mountains.

Marie and Barry were the Principal and Assistant Principal at the local primary school and they organised a short term rental in a nearby fully furnished cottage where we had a lovely times in a new climate (Autumn), playing golf every day, going to school concerts, trivia & poker nights and re-establishing family links.

Talbingo NSW - Katie-Emma (on bikes)

Our Home in the ACT - Flynn

Home at Flynn ACT

Rear Yard


Two Floosies - Emma and Kath

Emma - Dressed Up

Tea Party

First Tooth Extraction


I was placed in the Desk Officer position for the Indian Ocean Island States of

  • Mauritius

  • Seychelles

  • Comoros and

  • Maldives.

Bill Hayden, the Minister for Foreign Affairs had recently hit on the importance of the Indian Ocean to Australia's foreign policy. A White Paper was produced and promises were made of an expanded aid program.

For the first 18 months there was a hive of activity, organising Investigative Missions, cranking up aid projects etc.

Then came the crunch after Paul Keating's Banana Republic comment about the fragility of Australia's economy.

There was a review of the aid program; the IOIS was "wiped" and became a back water in which I was caught.

Life in Canberra


Yuriere was a young Japanese girl who came to Australia to study English.

We organised a Home Stay whereby she could live downstairs and pay a nominal amount for rent.

We reasoned she would be a big sister for Emma who was an only child.

It also helped me as I was teaching myself Japanese and I wanted practice in Conversational Japanese.

Yuriere (Middle) in Downstairs flat - hosting a Japanese meal

The downstairs flat was big enough for Yuriere to entertain her friends.

They delighted sharing the costs and putting on Japanese meals complete with Sake for the main guest.

We ate sitting on the floor. Raw fish ‘n all.

Yuriere went “walkabout” with us. To Gundagai for Xmas 1986 and Sydney then Port Macquarie.

One year we drove to Gold Coast and dropped her off at Port Macquarie where she had organised to stay for a few weeks.

These were the early days of Home Stays. I do recall going into a restaurant in an RSL in some town along the way whereupon a hundred eyes looked at her curiously as if to ponder Who What and Why .


Mauritius, Seychelles, Madagascar, Comoros - 1985


Sri Langka, Maldives, Mauritius, Rodrigues


The Golden Handshake

In the late 80's, Desk Top computers gave the government an opportunity to restructure its labour force. Fewer typist and clerical support staff for filing and hard copy management offered savings that could be directed to offering retrenchment packages.

It was the era of Peter Wilenski (see Saigon) who was now head of the Commonwealth Public Service.

The conditions for a redundancy package were that you had to have severed for over 20 years. You were offered inducements that consisted of a cash payout of (a) 2.5 times your superannuation contributions and (b) an incentive of the equivalent of one week’s leave for every year of service.

It was called the golden handshake.

Some departments culled in a cruel manner. Foreign Affairs (AIDAB) no so... If you wanted to leave you could. No recriminations, no judgments. There was a farewell function for the first tranche of retrenchments in which I was included. There were about 20 of us. I thought How stupid to let us go.

Another thought crossed my mind about a gesture for my last day there. It involved bringing in a musical tape and playing at full volume, Celine Dion's rendition of "I'm Alive" as I walked out the door.

In financial terms, leaving the security of the Public Service was a wrong move.

But I no longer kept looking at myself in the mirror each morning and hating to have to go to work as I had done so for the past few years.

I drove a taxi for 12 months and eventually found a job at James Cook(ing) University in Far North Queensland that looked like I might enjoy.

Broken Hill by the Sea

Lindsay Street

Xmas 1989

Tour of Daitree River - No Croc Spotted

Sue Lisa Peter Hine

Townsville 1989-91

Moving to Far North Queensland was the result of a job advertisement in the Australian Newspaper.

James Cook University in Townsville created a position of Co ordinator, International Students for which I applied and was flown up from Canberra for an interview.

The interview was on a Friday. I spent the weekend with my sister Sue and family -Peter Hine (RIP), Lisa and Renai. Most of the time was spent on Magnetic Island - which encapsulates all you read about a tropical paradise. Peter was head of the Queensland Tourism Bureau and spruiked the virtues of living in the tropics.

Peter sold me. I sold Carmel. It was mid winter in Canberra. We remembered the balmy nights of Thailand and Cocos.

I was also keen about the job. Australia had a lot of comparative technical advantages in the commercialisation of tropical agriculture including livestock; dryland farming; marine science and marine park management; tropical medicine.

I was still relatively young and there could have been opportunities.

It did not matter if I was starting out on a very low salary. We had no debt and the job offer was a permanent appointment.

So, we sold up our townhouse at the Canberra suburb of Cook as well as most of our furniture and downsized to a small three bedroom unit in the suburb of Rosslea.

The unit was in Lindsay Street opposite the golf course. The view from our top floor was great. With a drink on the balcony you would chat as you looked over the tree tops watching the sun fade behind Mount Stuart. It was nice to go for regular walks within the manicured grounds of the course resplendid with it very old and established giant trees. One was careful, however, to avoid getting too close to the Ross River due to crocodiles.

Detractors referred to Townsville as "Brownsville. I gave it a more upmarket name Broken Hill by the Sea.

The sprawling city, no more than a country town, was on a flood plain and located in a rain shadow. I remember water restrictions limited the degree to which landscaping could take the harshness of this dust bowl. The houses were either the older wooden Queenslander style or the cheap and ugly looking Besser block construction.

I rode a motorbike to and from work every day and was drenched in sweat by the time I had traveled the 8 kms.

If a local asked you the time, you would reply "Twenty years behind the rest of Australia".

If you ventured twenty kilometers either side of Townsville you would be in and out the tropical rainforest which was interspersed with vast plains of cane plantations.

A lot of my time was spent overseas on university business. So our visits to the region were both disjointed and short.

We did, however, take charter trips to coral reefs; go on road trips to the Atherland Tablelands; Cairns and the Daintree River/Cape Tribulation as well as visit the historical gold field townships. We went on picnics and swam in inland national parks - where there were only fresh water crocodiles.

Most of our social life was spent with Sue and family. They lived in the same complex.

Emma, cousin Lisa and Carmel went to Thailand via Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Many international students had returned home for university vacations. They went out of their way to give the girls a memorable experience.

James Cook University

Most the southern university campuses project an image of an ivy league establishment complete with ornate sandstone buildings, manicured grounds and gardens.

Not so James Cook University campus. Concrete bunkers with thin narrow windows was the general decore. This was because it was a new facility built post 1974 Cyclone Tracey and water restrictions.

The campus was not located not in the CBD but 11 kilometers away. Far from cafes, takeaways, movie theaters etc. Public transport was by bus - via a circuitous route.

My Job

The position was created in anticipation of the start up of Full Fee Paying Program for Overseas Student (FFPOS) beginning in February 1990.

I was selected largely on the basis of my proficiency in Indonesian, Thai, Japanese and French and knowledge of induction programs for AIDAB's indentured scholarship students. FFPPOS was private sector activity. It contributed significantly to Australia's foreign exchange earnings. It generated a multiplier effect in terms of accommodation and other goods and services. I thought I was now doing something productive.

We were starting the program from a zero base and a staff of one - me.

I was allocated a space in an alcove in the general Admissions Department.

I had to compete with the more established southern universities for market share; modify the standard promotional literature to suit; attend international Road Shows; process applications; align overseas qualifications with academic prerequisites; liaise with Heads of Faculty regarding approval for exemptions and credits; make offers of a place; accept and record application fees; deposits and balance of payments; prepare documentation for visas; organise accommodation & billeting, reception induction and finally pastoral care.

There were no interface system for Finance and Admissions which had access to computer mainframes and an IT department. I had to run the program on a standalone Desk Top computer which I had to fight tooth and nail to get.

I threatened to walk out if I did not get one - The Golden Handshake together with the process of downsizing gave me that freedom to make such a demand.

I used an excel spreadsheet system underpinned by a knowledge of macros to configure management and progress reports; word processing/mail merge to make offers and a fax machine communicate. It was not yet the era of the internet.

Liaison with the overseas agents was a core component.

One memory stays with me:

There was an incident involving four students attending the university - they walked too far out on an exposed reef; mistimed the incoming tide and somehow drowned. Initially, no names were published.

A soon as I ascertained there were no international students involved, I sent out a fax to all our agents.

I scribed that they may have read syndicated reports in local papers that four students had drowned but not to concern yourselves.

Our Hong Kong Agent responded.

"Yes I did see a newspaper report but was not alarmed as none of our students can swim"

She should have added " ... hence they would not go anywhere near water".

Results could be measured. At orientation Week Year One, 120 FFPOS students were on campus.

The following year there 300 extra bums on beds.

Yet still there was no centralised IT system to manage this complex program.

My temporary system was unsustainable.

The workload vs remuneration was taking its toll.

Academia has its fair share of elitists, egotists, prima donnas and internecine rivalry.

Each department benefited financially from the FFPPOS.

It was offered a percentage share of any "recruit" - which was supplementary to government funding. The more the spoils the greater the rivalry and tension.

Many objected to the use of "their" funds to send me on overseas trips where they thought they could do a more professional job of counselling students.

It irked many that I was merely a low paid administrative clerk. I became a target.

I also got caught up in the politics of maintaining academic standards vs forgoing extra funds turning a blind eye to English and academic standards.

Furthermore there was loop hole that international students exploited a "Back Door Strategy":

  • Getting a place at JCU (cheaper courses);

  • After Year One, provided the student achieved a pass, transferring to a more prestigious university in the southern states (in a cosmopolitan environment where you could buy a bowl of noodles 24/7).

Let’s do the maths. After a three to four year program which university gets a better ROI.

After two years, despite developing strong bonds with the international student cadre, I was getting nowhere professionally, so I decided to resign and head south to Gold Coast.

2001 Sept 11

Everybody remembers where they were at this momentous time.

I was our home at Villas Monte Carlo (Surfers Paradise).

It was just past midnight. I was still up - watching TV.

There was an historical documentary about the Rumble in the Jungle where Muhammad Ali was boxing against George Foreman in the Republic of Congo (Africa). I was a big M. Ali fan.

There was footage showing Ali fooling around (as he usually did) in the interior of an aircraft that was flying to the Congo. Sub titles began to flow across the bottom of the screen. ... Planes crashes into World Trade Centre Tower in New York... I took little notice thinking it was part of the script and Ali would do or say something outrageous to put the sub titles in context.

For the next 10 minutes or so this message appeared again and again until the ABC patched into the American network.

Then we got pictures followed shortly by sound. One building was smouldering. The commentator was winging it. The second aircraft had not appeared.

I watched and watched - mesmerised.

I do not know what time I awoke Carmel. Part of me suggested I spare her anguish. Part of me said otherwise.

The next day I broke down when I saw replays of firemen rushing in while others were rushing out of the building.

Offer of Assistance

We were now in the internet age.

Unlike "a walk on the wild side " in my letter to Paul Keating, I was serious when I emailed theUS Ambassador in Canberra.

I expressed my personal sympathy about September 11.

I went on to state that desperate times need desperate methods.

I pointed out my experience in SE Asia and personal concerns of underground cells of ratbags operating in regional affiliated cells. I suggested that over the years I have developed a network of some really true Muslims (the likes of Budi) who have studied in Australia and would be appalled at the actions of these nationals who killed in the name of Allah. This cadre should be recruited clandestinely to identify and ferret out such cells.

No response!

Ten months latter, we had the start of the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist attacks.