Stories



Prime Minister Gorton’s unscheduled visit to Honeysuckle Creek – Saturday 26 July 1969

The Saturday after the Apollo 11 mission, I was working some overtime in the Technical Support Section. As I was alone it was very quiet. Suddenly the phone rang. It was Danny Twomey, the security guard at the front gate.

Let’s turn the story over to Danny, to tell his side of the story –

the guardhouse in 1969

The Guardhouse and boomgate – the previous Monday – 21st July 1969.

(Frame from TV coverage of Prime Minister Gorton’s ‘official’ visit. The antenna is at top left.)

“It was about 1540, and close to shift change from day shift, to afternoon shift, and the shift car carrying the new Security Guard, Power House Operator, Comms Operator, and the cleaners was due at any minute.

Just before the actual gate there is a long left hand bend, slightly uphill, and on weekends the driver was always expecting the boom gate to be up, as he was usually flat out on the accelerator pedal – especially if they were late.

Then out of the blue this yellow Toyota, I think it was a Crown, appeared and stopped at the gate. I expected the driver to come and ask for details, as they usually did, but the driver stayed in the car. The time for the shift car to arrive was now getting closer, and still no movement.

I walked up to the car and noticed a lady driver, and the conversation went some thing like this, ‘Excuse me, could you move your car please, there will be a shift car arriving at any minute now and you are blocking the road.’

The driver replied ‘Look we were wondering if it was possible to go up to the station and have a look around ..........’

I said, ‘I'm sorry, the station’s not open to the public, but there are conducted tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays. NOW would you please, please, move your car........’

‘But we..........’

‘LOOK, WOULD YOU PLEASE MOVE THE CAR!’

She then decided to move the car to the side of the road opposite the guard room – just as the shift car came around the bend, practically ‘flat out,’ with a little tap on the horn as it passed, and throwing out small stones behind it.

The lady called me over, and she said that if they could just see the station, when a deep voice came from the passenger informing me that he had seen the station earlier in the week but was unable to see what he wanted to see. I was now leaning down past the driver in order to see him, and we continued to talk in this way, until I walked around the other side of the car and we continued our conversation – me calling him mate...

I said to him ‘I've seen you somewhere before – your face rings a bell.’
He replied, ‘Maybe on TV or in the newspapers.’

I asked him his name, and these were his exact words, ‘I'm John Gorton. I'm the Prime Minister.’

I felt as if I had been struck dumb, and in shock replied ‘So you are,’ and then I said, ‘I'll see what I can do about you taking a look around the tracking station.’It was then that I rang Hamish, and once again the conversation went like this, ‘Hello.’

‘Hamish, this is the guard room. You had better get down here, I've got the Prime Minister and his wife at the gate and he wants to see the station.’

Hamish then said, ‘Yeah, and has he got the Queen with him?’ (Hamish – I was being sarcastic, as I didn’t believe the Prime Minister would just turn up unannounced on a weekend. These visits were always arranged through the Station Director).

Hamish also said that I would get into trouble if it was a joke. It took a lot of persuasion but I convinced Hamish that it was definitely no joke. He said that he would be right down.

I invited Mr Gorton to sign the Security Visitors Book which he did, and then he said to me, ‘I see what you meant about that car, do they usually drive that fast ?'

I said, ‘Yes that's about the speed, especially on weekends when it's quiet.’

I must admit I was tempted to say ‘Oh, no they are usually faster.’ It was a good job it was a slow driver that day!

While we waited he asked me where I was from originally, and I told him that I came from Wales and had only been in Australia for about 3 to 4 weeks. It was nearly a Danny/John relationship when Hamish arrived in the shift car accompanied by the new guard, and I did the introductions. Hamish then asked Mr Gorton to follow him to the main building.”

..................................................................

Hamish Lindsay:

As we entered the building the PM explained the reason for his visit to me, “My wife didn’t make it to visit the station the other day, and said she would like to see it, so I thought we would come up and have a look around.”

I showed him and his wife, Bettina, around the station explaining all the sections, their equipment and their functions, with some anecdotes of the mission from our point of view. They both showed a general interest and at the end, as we stood at the front door, I asked if they had any questions.

“Yes,” said the PM, “Can you tell me about the Mills Cross?”

He was referring to the CSIRO’s radio telescope at Fleurs which flourished from 1954 to 1963, a predecessor of the Parkes dish made up of a cross of half wave dipole elements. I had to confess all I knew was it was an antenna used by the CSIRO for radio astronomy.

So I got the impression after all the wonders of Apollo landing on the Moon he had just seen, he seemed to be more interested in the Australian Mills Cross.

– Hamish Lindsay with Danny Twomey