A Different Era
In an extract from Col Hobson’s wonderful book, ‘Bogey Beauforts’, Col discharges from the RAAF as peace breaks out and reflects upon an eventful life and the unsettling changes he witnesses in the modern world.
I greeted the news that the war had ended with mixed feelings. Like many thousands of service men and women who returned from war service, I found the transition back to civilian life very difficult. Even though I now had the qualifications and experience to move into civilian flying, I chose not to. I had become engaged a few months before the end of the war and with the responsibility of providing for a family looming, the limited opportunities for pilots at the time did not seem to offer much future. Also with the memories of nearly five years flying Air Force planes with a disadvantage of a partial memory deficit, something which, while it might not have been noticed by other people who had to fly with me, there were a number of areas where the problem I had could have resulted in disaster. Every time I took a plane off the ground I had to include precautions to cope with this situation. While this had been successful in my time flying Beauforts, flying as an Airline Pilot with passengers may have been a vastly different proposition. I briefly thought about the Flying Doctor Service which I could have joined immediately had there been any positions as pilots available, but this I believed would have been very unlikely.
So although I had loved flying, and regarded the opportunity to serve in the Air Force as a privilege, I decided not to pursue a flying career. I made up my mind not to return to the land, but to try my luck in the big city instead, seeing I had decided to marry a ‘city girl’. My experience gained pre-war working on the land for more than a decade, was not going to be much help in my quest for an occupation that would give me the life I had in mind. My original idea of joining the Air Force had not produced the professional status I had hoped it would to prepare me for post war life.
An Uncertain Future
Fears about the future began soon after peace was declared. Having survived, I now found myself with very little distraction on our “Desert” Island and the thinking process tended to get a bit out of hand. With memories drifting back to my early difficulties and leaving school at the age of eleven, I became quite concerned when one day the potential problems of post war life assumed enormous proportions, causing thoughts of “not again”.
Walking round the beach this particular day, I found myself wrestling with thoughts about starting married life as a former farmer, rabbit trapper, labourer and as a “Country Boy turned City Boy”. I had very little money, no trade or academic qualifications and had by some miracle survived (among other things) the disadvantage of coping with a learning difficulty, something which would probably once again affect most things I would be attempting to do. On that beach, I looked out to sea and thought how easy it would be to go for a swim and ‘accidentally’ get caught in a current or something and just be carried away to obscurity and the end of my perceived problems. Thankfully I did not take this option.
So I discharged from the Air Force in 1946 with the rank of Flying Officer. Having been a person of some importance in the Air Force as a Captain and Pilot of a Beaufort Bomber, I now had to face the future as a City Boy looking for employment, unable to present a potential employer any evidence of education qualifications beyond Sixth Class Primary School.
After exploring the possible employment options, I rejected all on account of my learning difficulty which made it hard to commit words, events etc to memory. In retrospect, looking back, the forebodings and fears I had about life post-war, proved to be not only a reality, but also a major underestimate of what I had to face. If I had been blessed with the vision to look ahead and realize exactly how difficult it was going to be, I am sure I would have seriously re- thought my decision to choose life in the city as opposed to life in the country…
Initially, my backyard contained vans, cars and lawn mowers in that order and a never ending routine of not only repairing my own machines but also jobs for relatives and friends right up until thirty years later, until a heart operation forced me to look for less strenuous activities when I was unable to crawl under vehicles any more.
Having entered into retirement with little savings, it was difficult to save more than a few thousand dollars to supplement the pension and provide a little more than subsistence living. Therefore, more and more my VERY big backyard began to dominate my thoughts and this was to play a very important part in the finale of this narration.
In eleven years as a farmer pre-World War II, out of necessity I learnt many things about the delicate art of being a “Mr Fixit”. Working on properties sometimes twenty or thirty miles from a major town, much thought had to be given to the expense of getting a tradesman to travel a return journey of twenty or thirty miles or so to repair a car or whatever. Imagine a farmer desperately trying to get an important crop in, needing to take advantage of the good weather, finding the clutch on his tractor has developed major problems. He rings the appropriate firm in the nearest town thirty miles away and is given a quote for the job of say 1,000 pounds.
The farmer, taking into account the weather situation and being a bush mechanic, fairly proficient with a spanner and a piece of wire, knows that the parts involved, according to the quote, would be about 300 pounds. He then ‘‘turns the shilling over ten times’’ trying to decide whether or not to have the tradesman come out to handle the job. If the decision was for him to do the job himself and he had done so successfully, he would have saved 700 pounds. Seven hundred pounds saved is seven hundred pounds made!
The main source of income in my retirement period was always the lawn mowing run, and this was conducted in other people’s backyards sometimes many miles from home base. Looking back on nearly thirty years of backyard activities, I can claim at least ninety percent of all work I was involved in was performed on a basis of the only charge being the cost of any parts etc.
I was never happier than out in the fresh air in my ‘‘very big backyard’’, with a spanner or saw in my hand, building or repairing something; helping relatives and friends, never short of ‘‘customers’’. Another philosophy important to my view on life is that it is more blessed to give than receive and my experiences with helping people bear this out.
As a long time resident of my suburb, my wife and I have made many good friends and included amongst these were some of the business owners of the area. One, the local fruit shop where we bought our veggies for many years, was run by three brothers who each owned their own homes (and consequently, lawn mowers). When one of these mowers decided, ‘‘Nuff was Nuff’’, Mr Fixit got it going again and this evolved into a similar situation when the other two brothers faced the same problem. Without fail, when the respective mowers were delivered every time there would be a box of fruit and vegetables on our door step although no charge for service had been requested. Again, ‘‘money saved was money made’’ and on more than one occasion the value of the box of groceries exceeded the cost of the labour involved in fixing the mower.
A second example of this philosophy at work was how odd jobs done for a local butcher friend would always result in additions to our order, which over the years far exceeded what the cost to me would have been. A final example was when our ‘‘white ant inspection man’’ (now also a friend) was checking and treating our house. I was fortunate to be able to do a good turn which resulted in him saving a thousand dollars on a little motor that was essential for his business. At the next and subsequent inspections he gave me a discount of a hundred dollars. This hundred dollars saved was a hundred dollars made!
I quote these three examples but over the thirty years referred to, there would have been literally many hundreds more. Some little old ladies where the payment frequently would be just a thank you and, ‘God bless you,’ but more valuable than if I had been able to record the situation as a dollar or two saved.
With finally no financial problems, I was at last able to concentrate on a few activities I liked to do as opposed to doing a lot of things I had to do and my thoughts turned again to photography, good music, painting and a new found interest in computers. Not forgetting the most precious things anyone, including an old ‘geriatric’ ex-rabbit trapper from way back in the dark dim past could have: a loving, loyal and supportive wife who has fulfilled all the expectations and hopes I was looking for when still flying ‘‘Bogey Beauforts’’, and two lovely daughter and six grandchildren, all of whom we love, with this love being returned in double measure. I can find comfort in the satisfaction of following the right road for me (even if, as my mate Tim put it, I did encounter a few ‘‘rocks’’ along the track).
Nance and I have a comfortable home, debt free in a respectable and much sought after suburb, and an investment portfolio while definitely not numbered in the millions of dollars, one which has allowed us to enjoy retirement without having to wait for that pension cheque to arrive every pension day.
Thanks to the contributions made by a personal philosophy of turning a dollar over ten times before spending it; ‘money saved is money made’; lawn mowers; coils of wire; a very big backyard and a good deal of hard work, to which I was never a stranger.
I do sometimes wonder, however, about the values of many in Australia today as they seem so different from mine. I have often speculated what my mates who did not share my good fortune to survive would think, were they able to see the direction this freedom they fought and died for is taking.
They died thinking they were fighting for a better world, but I have to wonder. Recently, standing at the foot of two flights of stairs at Museum Station, I saw a young lady with a heavy stroller and baby unsuccessfully attempting to get the stroller up on to the first step. I was amazed to see three able-bodied young men walk past and up the steps ignoring the lady.
Without thinking, force of habit took over and foolishly completely forgetting that I had a sixty percent blockage of a main artery to the heart and a major heart operation scheduled, I picked up the heaviest end of the stroller and between us, with great difficulty, we managed to get to the top.
Standing there puffing just a little, I had to explain to a very concerned young lady, that at age 85, I was not quite as active as I had been when my hair was not as white! I could never have stood there, and watched that young lady attempting to get that stroller up two flights of stairs without making some effort to help.
A big smile and wishes for a good day and ‘‘God bless you’’ were all I needed as I went on my way, ruminating what my mates would be thinking about the world of today, had they still been around to witness the incident.