Stories – The Linney Files


Mike Linney

The Linney Files


A
collection of interesting anecdotes and stories as recalled by Michael Linney (pictured right) who worked at Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station for ten years from 1966. He was an equipment operator and worked in most sections of the station from USB to Computers. Mike is known for his unique sense of humour and his amazing talent in capturing the moment with a quick pencil sketch. If there was any funny incident, frivolity or a practical joke, then Mike was always nearby or right amongst it. I’ve collected and edited these stories over recent years and have added only a few embellishments.

Bryan Sullivan
(photo: John Saxon.)




Tourists in Bus Loads

A lot of local interest was gathering in the construction of a new Australian tracking station at Honeysuckle Creek near Canberra, specifically for the coverage of the upcoming Apollo moon missions.

With the opening of the new sealed access road some of the local bus tour operators were beginning to include Honeysuckle Creek in their schedules. This gradually built up from the time that Honeysuckle became operational to twice-a-week, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Bus loads of tourists and interested spectators would arrive at Honeysuckle for a look-see.

It was the job of the equipment operators to split the groups up and show them around. When I first started showing people around I was absolutely terrified since public speaking was definitely not my bag. There had been times when large groups of about twenty or more people would be looking at me, expecting wonderful information about all this electronic wizardry, only to be guided around by someone who was reluctant to say very much.

However, over time that changed as I got used to it. I could tell early by speaking to the groups in a tour who was technically orientated, and most of the time they were just ordinary people in a tour group, there to have a sticky beak at what was going on. That gave me a license to talk about something that probably wasn’t technically correct, but it always sounded good with a bit of science fiction thrown in. I would always start the tour up on the antenna pad as you could get a good view from there and they could take pictures. We would then move into the operations building where one of the tricks I used was to get Paul Mullen to point the antenna at the moon if it was visible. I would then lock-up a receiver to the transponder and hand a member of the group a microphone while explaining that a TV camera in the antenna was displaying a picture of the moon on a nearby TV monitor.

I would then explain that this person was going to bounce speech of the moon and it would be received back in a time delay due to the vast distance and the return trip, but of course in reality it didn’t go anywhere. The transponder would have a short time delay set and out of the servo speakers we would hear the delayed reply. This demonstration was always a winner with the tourists, with most of the group requesting a turn at bouncing their own voice off the moon.

In the Telemetry area, the Decoms and Recorders we would have a tape mounted, just replaying square wave pulses on the Decom oscilloscopes. Such simple things always impressed visitors. We had a little program that could be loaded into the Decoms that would show the ‘Saint’ stick-man figure walking across the oscilloscope screen among the pulses about every 20 seconds, but we would not say anything about it until someone spotted him, and then we would deny it, saying “you must have imagined it”. This demo would really entertain the kids.

The Saint

Here he is!

Photo: Bruce Withey.


For background noise and realism, a voice recorder would be replaying the last mission’s voice loops, chatting away with operational tracking jargon.

If the group was small enough we would shuffle through the Operations Room or Communications Area and get John Saxon to call up Goddard Ops and talk to someone with an American accent about their local weather. After a successful tour, I would take then down to the canteen and give them free coffee. I could always tell if the tour went well when they would thank me a number of times and in some cases offer to pay me.

(See also Milton Turner’s notes for the tour guides.)

 

The Bus Crash

In 1965 Honeysuckle Creek tracking station was being built in a remote mountain valley, in the foothills on the west side of what is now the Namagee National Park. Getting building materials and workmen up to the site had been a task in itself. The only original access was via a small vehicular track that passed through a farm and up into the wilderness on the shaded side of the mountain. The track itself had to be bulldozed and widened to accept large trucks with heavy materials. The construction workers either stayed on the site for the week or went home every night. It was considered too rough on private cars to tackle the mountain road, so the contractor provided an old Bedford bus.

The bus was used as a shuttle vehicle to carry the workers as well as materials up the mountain. The bus had been modified at the back to accept large amounts of materials. The old warhorse Bedford, sadly, received little maintenance, and on its last trip down the mountain the brakes failed and it went over the edge. It is not known if anyone was injured but the bus suffered extensive damage after hitting a number of trees on the way down. It wasn’t considered recoverable. The poor old Bedford bus is still there to this day in its wilderness graveyard – a monument to the station’s construction phase.

 

The Chair Pecking Order

By the end of 1966, the installation of technical equipment in the operations building was almost complete. The next exciting event was the delivery and allocation of new office furniture to add a bit of home comfort by replacing the makeshift desks and chairs fashioned from packing crates and boxes. Whatever was left in the way of space around and behind the equipment racks had to accommodate new filing cabinets, desks, bookshelves and chairs. Each of the operations areas, USB, Telemetry, Computers, and Communications were allocated operator’s chairs that swivelled and tilted and had wheels and comfortable arm rests with high backs in durable black vinyl.

Some technicians were allocated a desk and a suitable office chair according to their rank. Supervising technicians and technicians grade-C each received office chairs with arm rests that swivelled and had wheels. Technicians grade-B each received office chairs with no arms that swivelled only. Technicians grade A, if they had a desk at all, only had a basic metal and vinyl chair.

It was at this time that a certain Telemetry technician didn’t get the chair he had expected. I remember a great argument that broke out with Jack Midgley, the logistics officer from the Storeroom. Jack checked what had been ordered and what had been received and, yes, it had all checked out, and there would be no changes. Consequently the disgruntled technician refused to come to work the next day, instead he resigned. I guess that if you are further down the pecking order than you expect to be, the wrong chair just doesn’t sit right!!

 

The Collimation Fry-up

During my time as a USB Operator, part of my rouse-about duties was to help out with maintenance tasks as a technician’s offsider. That usually required me to carry tools, chase up parts from the store, or help Paul Mullen with greasing the bull gears on the antenna and occasionally drive the cherry picker or four-wheel drive vehicle for someone.

One day I was required to drive Colin Cochran to the collimation tower on the nearby western hill. While there the following interesting incident happened.

We went to the tower to carry out a routine power supply check and some other maintenance. While Colin worked away in the blockhouse and spoke to someone about the adjustments on the phone, I decided that since this was the first time I had been there, I would climb to the top of the tower and look at the view. I set off to the top, up the ladders to each platform until I reached the top. What a magnificent view, you can see forever from up there.

I looked towards the station and I could see the antenna had moved and was pointing right at me on the tower. A few moments later Colin appeared at the bottom of the tower and called to me, “Hey, unless you don’t want to have any more kids, you better come down from there, they are going to transmit some power”.

Not knowing how much power it takes to cook you, and knowing that the transmitters could radiate 10 kilowatts, I was out of there. I made the tower shake all the way down, taking much less time to descend than it would normally take. I worried that it might have been too late. Colin smiled all the way back to the station.


The Coll tower

The Collimation (Coll) Tower.

Photo: Hamish Lindsay.



Snow and Ice in the Antenna

In conversations with my friends and interested people at social functions now days, I am often asked what I did during my time at Honeysuckle Creek. Inevitably the conversation comes around to the movie “The Dish”. I always try to tell the true story of what really did happen during Apollo 11.

“They played cricket in their Dish, did you ever do the that?”

I now reply “No, but we did ice skate in it” – much to the amazement of all. I explain that during the Honeysuckle winters, the site, being 1100 metres up a mountain, encounters plenty of snow and sleet. The surface of our dish would freeze over and we were able to skate around the inside. This usually broke everyone up laughing but it’s amazing the number of people that would take you seriously. I do remember a number of times when it had been snowing and the antenna had been in the stow position (parked straight up), hence it naturally accumulated plenty of snow.

The antenna would then have to be tilted right over periodically to dump the snow out, leaving mounds of snow around the antenna base. There had been occasions during the winter when we had been tracking ALSEP through a near antenna stow position and we had to seek permission to break track to dump out the snow.

Piles of snow at HSK
Photo: Hamish Lindsay.



(See this story by Hamish Lindsay.)


The Apollo Road Collapse

This story could be a collection of inputs from others but I know Hamish Lindsay has pictures of most of the road problems that we had during our time.

My experiences are more of a “When I arrived at the road problem”.

Living the furthest in Canberra’s north, I usually ended up driving the car to work. You could always count on some sort of problem after a lot of heavy persistent rain that went on for days. We saw many rock slides, wash-outs and the big one that washed away a whole section of the mountain road, which made front page in the Canberra Times. We always accepted that as part of getting past any obstruction on the mountain road, the on-coming shift would swap cars with the off-going shift, on either side, as the daily work routine had to go on.

I remember when I first started in July 1966, Bruce Neich (senior storeman), picked me up from home in a brand new Ford Falcon. He lived at Downer and I lived at Watson, but he insisted on keeping the car as he liked to think that it was ‘his’ car. We would arrive at the base of the mountain, having driven across the private access tracks of a small farm, and park the cars in a dry paddock. We would then wait in a group for the next four-wheel drive to take us up the old mountain track. The mountain track had been badly eroded by the builder’s vehicles and was usually wet and boggy, too boggy for brand new Falcons.

This procedure went on all winter until the track dried out enough to be graded. This frustrating routine continued until the new all-weather sealed Apollo Road on the other side of the mountain was completed, just in time for the station’s official opening.

 

The Parliament House Demonstration

On a recent trip to the Tidbinbilla Tracking Station Visitors Centre, my visitors were impressed with some of the interesting displays depicting Honeysuckle Creek and the APOLLO era.

It was one of those displays that took my eye and brought back memories of a situation that had happened on 14 January 1970.

The then US president, Richard Nixon, had presented the Australian Government with small samples of moon rock and a small Australian flag that had been carried on the Apollo 11 moon mission. The presentation was in appreciation for the efforts of the Australian Government and the staff of the Honeysuckle Creek tracking station. The Honeysuckle staff were invited to attend a ceremony at the Old Parliament House to see Prime Minister John Gorton receive a plaque from visiting US Vice President, Spiro Agnew.

The ceremony itself had been quite good from my point of view, rubbing shoulders with all the politician heavies, but it was the goings-on outside the building that were a bit unnerving.

On that particular day a large public demonstration was in progress against the US Vice President over the Vietnam war. The crowd was held back from the Parliament House steps by barriers and large numbers of police. When my wife Jean and I, along with other HSK people started to arrive we were abused by hoards of screaming demonstrators who probably thought that we were Government V.I.Ps. We all hurried up the red carpet that lead to the main entrance where federal police officers opened the doors for us and we quickly disappeared inside and up to Kings Hall.

The ceremony itself took only about an hour and after it was over, it became obvious that there would be no drinks or nibblies, so having stood around for a little while chatting with fellow HSK’ers, Jean and I decided we would go home. We left with Rex Hoffmeier and his wife, Judy. As we started down toward the entrance again, the doors were opened by the same federal police.

Unbeknown to us, Rex and Judy had disappeared down the side steps leaving Jean and I all on our own in the same spot that Gough Whitlam a few years later would made his now famous speech, “Well may he say ‘God save the Queen’ ...... etc”. There we were, on the top steps of Parliament House on the red carpet facing the screaming hoards. Jean had a quick look over her shoulder and said “Who are they yelling at?” I looked at her and said ‘us’. We quickly descended the steps and hurried towards the rear car park, escaping any more embarrassment.

 

Drag Racing along the Lanyon Straight

In the 1960s, driving a new car was quite a novelty, especially when it was a company car where you didn’t have to worry about maintenance or fuel costs. That attitude flowed through to some of the HSK drivers who had the responsibility of taking the company car home, dropping off three other passengers usually in your area and picking them up again the next day for work. Some drivers absolutely abused their company car while others lovingly treated it as their very own.

I can proudly say that in my eight years at Honeysuckle as a driver, I never had an accident, a broken windscreen or even a puncture, and mostly I arrived at work on time.

But there had been some amazing stories of accidents with the Station cars.

The worst accident was caused by a cleaner travelling to HSK along the Monaro Highway who ran off the road, hit a tree and was killed. Other accidents, particularly at the intersection of Hindmarsh Drive and Jerrabomberra Av. before the installation of traffic lights, had been a real accident dark spot. Stories of mishaps – rolling cars, hitting kangaroos, crashing through farm fences and running down sheep, and, I like this one, suspending a car over a large rock after leaving the dirt road.

I often wondered what weekend tourists thought when driving through the Tharwa countryside after being over-taken by four or five Falcons, practically bumper to bumper, traveling at excessively high speed. Lanyon Strait was what we called the stretch along Tharwa road where one could wind up those Falcons to a 100 miles per hour or more. There were some drivers that tried to do it on a regular work trips.

One technician, can’t remember his name, was so alarmed by the attitudes of drivers that he refused to travel with them instead, he used his own motorbike.

I remember a car race challenge between two drivers in their private cars. Gary Sykes, a HSK Recorder Operator, had a brand new Datsun 1100 and he bragged to all that it could go really fast. He was immediately challenged by an STC apprentice who had been sent to HSK for work experience. He reckoned his Torana could go even faster still. The cars lined up on the Lanyon Strait and were flagged off only to rapidly disappear into the distance. I don’t know who won but some time later Gary traded-in his Datsun on a new Torana.

 

Fistycuffs

Like most tight knit communities there had been times when even your closest friends begin to get on your nerves. I must admit that there had been times at HSK when I had been close to ‘shouting’ at someone. I can’t remember specific events but I do remember being upset at the attitude of some people. Maybe it was the pressure of work and doing things right during mission times, or just jealousy of the importance of others.

I remember helping to break up a donnybrook between a certain bloke from Telemetry and another store character, whose name escapes me at the moment. I don’t remember what it was about, but it was on for young and old. Bruce Neich, Dick Bamford and I had to hold them apart until they calmed down and eventually, after the cleaning up of a bloody nose and a cut ear they shook hands, probably under the threat of dismissal.

Big John Mitchell was a feisty character and many a time spoke his mind – usually at the people on the Operations Console!

 

Tharwa Village

The Tharwa village was home to a number of famous HSK’ers like big John Mitchell – the unofficial Mayor of Tharwa. He and his family had lived in a large caravan on one of the village vacant blocks, until he sold it (the van not the block) and moved to Queanbeyan.

And of course there was our very own Miss Tharwa, Jane Wheeler (That Wheela Sheila).

The Tharwa Pub – Oh what a feeling !! There had been a number of times especially during the summer months, after a long mission or a strenuous SRT when we would stop-off at the Tharwa ‘safe house’ (Pub), and have a cold one. There was just enough space to park a few of the station cars out the front. We would all sit around the old wooden veranda steps and enjoy a laugh at ‘what ever’, much to the amusement of the few locals.


HSK troops at Tharwa pub

Some of the Honeysuckle team at the Tharwa Post Office / store in 1972.

Back Row
Albert Finney, Frank Hain?, Paul Elkerbout talking to Lisa Jensen, Peter Cohn and Len Litherland

Front from Left
Eric Way, Les Hughes
(crouching), Fred Hill, Paul Hutchinson, John Berry (leaning on the shovel), Peter Smith (just), Tony Jurd, Gary Sykes, Graham Fraser (sitting).

plus various kids belonging to the P.O.

Scan: John Berry. With thanks to John Saxon and Ian Edgar for help with the names.

(Also on the People at Work 3 page)


Union Strike Action

By the end of the sixties and early seventies staff unrest was quite understandable due to dismal basic wages and conditions. In many cases only employee personal dedication to the Apollo project kept them at HSK. Word of salaries and conditions at other comparable establishments eventually precipitated industrial action by HSK union members.

In those days tracking station employees had no defined award structure or conditions for the type of work they were undertaking. Many technical employees had negotiated their own salaries at the time of their interview along with working conditions offered by the then Contactor, STC (Standard Telephones and Cables). Such conditions were based on what was typical for the Contractor’s own staff in Sydney. Technical staff that had been recruited from other states or overseas were given resettlement allowances and other benefits.

In general the salaries and conditions had been applied on an adhoc basis. One of the things that most employees never talked about was their particular salary and allowances.

All this didn’t worry me personally as I was way down the staff tree structure. As I recall, the salary for a storeman, for which I was initially employed, was $45.00 per week plus a site allowance of $12.00. That, plus a travelling allowance made it the highest paid job that I had ever had, and I didn’t have the worry of transport which was a big saving.

There had been a report of clerks in the Public Service having salaries in excess of $10,000 a year, and thus the term ‘fatcat’ was coined. I remember that during mission times at HSK you could treble your annual salary with all the overtime added in. I clocked up $10,000 one financial year and thought I had finally made the big time by becoming the equivalent of a ‘fatcat’.

The conditions and remunerations between the Public Service and Space Tracking Industry continued to diverge, so a move to be covered by a specific award was needed. I became the union rep. for the PREI (Professional Radio Employees Institute) which covered the equipment operators and other non-engineering employees. Technician grades were covered by AAESDA (Association of Architects Engineers Surveyors & Draftsmen of Aust.), often referred to as the alphabet union, under the leadership of the affable Charlie McDonald, who had a little office upstairs above the Kingston shops. For the Apollo 14 and 15 period, Bryan Sullivan was the on-site HSK rep. for AAESDA.

Resistance by the Contractor and by the Department of Supply to the determination by Australian tracking station union members, supported by a few stop-work meetings and a strike soon resulted in a Space Tracking Industry Award. During those times of unrest we made occasional news in the Canberra Times and even a cartoon about a certain strike.

Yes, the industrial award was a great achievement but it was those shift allowances, the overtime and penalty rates that really boosted the taxable income. What about that housing allowance? A ‘fixed’ $16:00 per week! A few of us early starters in 1966 were very lucky eh!

We were always careful though not to put any of the Apollo missions in jeopardy by reckless or irresponsible action. There was only one occasion, on 3rd October 1972, when tracking data was interrupted from both ALSEP and the Particle & Fields lunar sub-satellite support. The PSRM’s (Post Summary Report Msg TWX) to Houston Network simply stated: ‘……. track not supported due to industrial action’. It just about broke John Saxon’s heart to have to send it.

(See also this account by Bryan Sullivan.)

 

The Blueprint Credit Union

One of the down sides to working in a beautiful environment like Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station was its isolation from the business districts of Canberra, thus making it difficult to do simple things like banking and loan transactions.

In those days there was no phone banking or internet access, no weekend trading and most businesses had closed well before one arrived home. Building Societies and Credit Unions were becoming a very popular alternative to the banks. The AAESDA union took advice from a lot of its members in isolated workplaces in the Canberra area, and so decided to resolve this dilemma by setting up its own credit union. They named it after the Union’s magazine, BLUEPRINT. The Blueprint Credit Union services were available to all of its members and affiliated groups. An office was opened in Lonsdale Street Braddon, and local workplace union reps. suddenly became ‘bankers’.

In those days salaries were paid in cash, so local reps. would collect monies, give receipts, sometimes pay out money and arrange small loans. John Mitchell, our local rep. at that time, became a ‘handler of monies’. Is that when the term ‘mitchell money’ originated?

I joined the Credit Union and did all my banking that way, much to the dismay of my regular Commonwealth Bank, who tried to talk me out of closing our account. The Blueprint Credit Union became very popular and successful, eventually taking over some other smaller credit unions. They built up a very good reputation, eventually being taken-over by the Australian National University Credit Union.

 

The Fickle Finger of Fate

One of the HSK notable operational icons, along with the Config. Board and the H.O.D, was a huge cardboard cut-out of a hand with an extended index finger which became known as the Fickle Finger of Fate. It was used to indicate just who had ‘stuffed up’ during a mission, an SRT or a simulation.

I got the idea came from a popular 1970s US TV show called LAUGH IN, where the Finger Award would be presented to a US politician or celebrity that had done something stupid. I made the hand double sided, about one metre square, padded in the middle and mounted on a microphone stand on wheels. It would be wheeled into the particular operational area of concern and pointed at the unfortunate supervisor or person who did the deed. Peter Cohn asked me to make it up, as I generally made all the silly sketches and cartoons for noticeboards.

The Finger was also used to indicate at what stage the Apollo mission was at. For instance if it pointed straight up we were close to lift-off, if it was pointing down we were close to lunar impact or splash down, if it was pointing at a balloon hanging from the ceiling we were on the way to the moon and if it was upside down pointing away from the balloon we were on the way back to Earth.

The Finger provided us all with endless amusement as it tended to dispel some of the operational tensions and relieve boredom on long night shifts.

 

Fickle Finger of Fate

The Fickle Finger of Fate indicating LM IMPACT during the Apollo 14 mission.

Bryan Sullivan (standing) with John McLeod seated at the computer control console.

(See The Bryan Sullivan files for Bryan’s story on The Fickle Finger.)

Photo scanned by Ed von Renouard.


 

The Very Last SRT

SRT’s .... Station Readiness Tests, oh what a pain !!! – but they had to be done, with military precision, by the book, yes the H.O.D. (Honeysuckle Operations Directive), and during every mission there would be endless HOD updates and changes, and if there was a problem or a conflict the reply would usually be ‘what revision have you got ??’.

Phase one SRT.. Comms check: (I can still hear Fred Hill’s voice) “Comms on Alpha”..... OPS 1,… OPS 2 ,… SB 1,… etc… etc….

With hours and hours of SRT testing and printing of graph charts, why wouldn’t we go a little crazy on the very last SRT? I think it was the last day before splash down of the Apollo 17 mission, that last SRT shift when most of us dressed up for the occasion. T-shirts were worn with hand drawn messages – ‘help stamp out SRT’s’ and other silly messages. I remember dressing in shorts, gum boots, my wife’s hair wig and an appropriately distasteful T-shirt.

I was working in the Recorder Section on that shift and we had planned a little surprise for the SRT phase one Comms. testing. I set up the output of the recorder that recorded all the voice loops with a replay delay of about one and a half seconds. I patched it back to the Wire Room where the wire tech was ready to patch it into the alpha loop.

We waited until Fred had finished his introduction and then we switched it over. Everyone tried to continue, but the whole Comms test slowly ground to a halt. Everyone’s voice was heard like an echo and we all ended up in stitches. Several phantom positions popped up like ‘wheelhouse’, ‘canteen’, ‘powerhouse’ and ‘stores’. When the Wing Site (Tidbinbilla) receiver group responded with ‘RE Krishna’, that was the last straw. After everyone had settled down we had to back up and do the whole thing again, properly. The remainder of the SRT went normally but it put a smile on all of us for the rest of the shift.

 

(To hear an Apollo 16 SRT, click here.)

 

Bread and Butter Tracking

ALSEPs (Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package), were scientific packages left behind after each lunar landing mission to record and relay surface temperatures, seismic measurements and a number of other interesting telemetry parameters. This was bread and butter tracking at its best. Some HSK staff found these tracks boring with not much to do after the ALSEP SRT. The antenna would lock on at moon rise and we would track all night and sometimes all day until moon set, including weekends.

It was one of these weekend tracks that the then Prime Minister, John Gorton with some visitors were stopped at the main gate by the SUREGUARD security person who didn’t recognise the PM. I just can’t recall who was on duty at the Ops Console. Most of us didn’t hear of the incident until the shift had almost finished.

Read the story by Hamish Lindsay and Danny Twomey.

ALSEP tracking was an ideal time to catch up on letter writing or finishing a good book or just veging out listening to some music. When it came meal time, one would go down to the canteen and get a delicious meal, even have a little kip afterwards. As Laurie Turner would always say “It’s money for old rope” – wow!, we just loved those sleepy-time ALSEP tracks.

The Honeysuckle Canteen

Horrie and Betty Clissold

Horrie and Betty Clissold.
(From Hamish Lindsay’s July 1969 staff photo. Scan: Ken Sheridan.)

When all else failed we would go down to the canteen and get a cup of coffee and something to eat. Horrie and Betty Clissold were absolutely splendid canteen managers. I think a three-course meal in those days was about 40 cents. It wouldn’t have been easy to satisfy all of the hundred or so HSK staff, but they did. I can’t remember any complaints about the running of the canteen or the quality of the food.

Some of the chefs (whoops! that can’t be right), cooks probably came from sheering sheds but all seemed to have a great sense of humour. A few rough heads in amongst them but they did their job well if you liked good food, and that probably was the start of my weight problem. When I did night shifts, I could have a meal before I left home, then have a snack in the canteen about 2:00am and then breakfast about 5am. Then, when I got home about 9:30am, I would have another breakfast. Then, …….. to bed.

Vic Heath, who was one of our shift cooks always used to work with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, or one smouldering on the benchtop somewhere. In between meal times he would be out the back of the kitchen shooting feral cats.

On special days like Christmas and Easter or a mission ‘splash down’ dinner we could count on a great meal. Betty would decorate the tables and make you feel right at home. On each 4th July we could expect the roast turkey and real cranberry sauce.

On days when you needed to be solemn, contemplate the world or solve a problem, you could order sandwiches, go outside and sit on a big rock and get in tune with nature. I did this a couple of times (only in summer though).

coffee break

Paul Mullen, servo technician (left), reaches for another styrofoam cup for coffee, while Mike Linney, telemetry operator fills his for another fix of caffeine during the Apollo 15 mission.

As you can see, we were expected to drink lots of tea and coffee to keep awake and alert during the night shifts.

Photo and notes: Hamish Lindsay.

 


Security Guards

We have mentioned SUREGUARD a few times, a small private Canberra security business with great expectations in the new and emerging security industry. In the early sixties they had already secured a contract to guard the Orroral Valley Tracking Station and when Honeysuckle was established they won the contract for it as well, obviously they must have been the cheapest bidder.

The guards wore a grey uniform, blue shirt with shoulder patches, black tie and cap complete with a shiny badge. They looked quite smart, but their pay rates probably didn’t get the same management attention as their uniforms. Many of them were light weights, measuring medium to short, not quite what you’d expect a security guard to look like. Among their tasks was the movement of shift cars to various residential addresses, delivering the Station cash payroll, in addition to keeping ‘unfriendlies’ (tourists) on the other side of the boom gate.

The Station main boom gate and guard house had been located a short walking distance of about 100 metres down the hill, away from the operations building, in a pleasant bush setting.


Honeysuckle main gate 1971

The Honeysuckle main gate and guard house, 1971.
Photo: Colin Mackellar.



A certain guard was an Englishman who obviously was not comfortable in such a wild and isolated outpost. He could not cope with possums, snakes and other creepy crawlies that came to visit him through the night. During the evenings kangaroos would come in close to graze on the lush grass. The poor man was often seen at the guard house doorway waving his arms and yelling “shoo away, shoo away”. (One would have to be able to say that with the appropriate pommy accent).

When it was time to do his rounds or go for a meal he would ring the Powerhouse operator to come and get him in the four-wheel drive and take him up to the main building and then later drive him back again. It was fortunate that with that standard of excellence we had only one payroll robbery.

 

Travel Tales

Here are a few tales of adventure from technicians who had travelled overseas as told over a cup of coffee in the HSK canteen.

Ed Von Renouard once told us that when he was in the US he took a lot of photos of interesting places. On one occasion he had been driving past the LA International Airport and decided to pull off the freeway, park near the security fence and take some close-up pictures of planes landing and taking off.

He had been quite busy with his camera when he heard someone call out to him to put his hands up. When he turned around, to his amazement there were four police cars with their lights flashing and a number of police with there guns drawn and pointing at him demanding to know, what he was doing. They asked, “Don’t you know this is a restricted area”.

After Ed had explained who he was, where he came from and what he was doing, they took his details and, fortunately, let him go.

John Mitchell once told us that when he was in the US he wanted to travel a bit and see as much as possible. To save money, he bought a cheap second-hand car that he could use without worrying about clocking up too many miles. When it was time to return to Australia, he drove it to the airport and just left it in the carpark.

John Saxon told us of an experience he once had when he arrived at a foreign destination. He had a problem with his foot and had been limping and carrying his bag. While looking for a taxi to take him to his hotel, he was approached by a little black boy who had offered to help him. When John explained that he wanted to go to his hotel, the boy replied that it was just up road about a block away. He took one of John’s bags and proceeded to show John the way. They had walked the block with John still limping, turned down a street and eventually arrived back at the spot where they had started. The little boy then demanded money for the effort, but when John tried to reason with him he was approached by an adult accomplice who insisted John pay up.

 

A Watch with no Moving Parts

Nowdays when I think about advances in technology, I think back to a conversation we had at Honeysuckle years ago. We were gathered in the canteen one lunchtime in the very early 1970s talking about new inventions brought about by the space age. Hewlett Packard hand calculators were mentioned as they had become a much sought after device for technicians and engineers. An electronics apprentice from STC Sydney attending HSK on an industry work experience program talked about his father who was a traveller in jewellery and watches. He said that he had information that the Japanese had perfected a wrist watch with no moving parts – astounding! That remark brought the house down, we all laughed and made fun of him. ‘What is it, a sundial?’ someone said. Nobody took it very seriously.

Within a few years digital watches came onto the market and, yes, they had no moving parts.

I was so impressed that I bought one. It had a dark glass face with a small red LED display – very futuristic I thought. The problem was it was very difficult to read in bright daylight and needed to have its button pressed in order to maintain the display. The next generation of digital watches had liquid crystal displays, permanently on, and they consumed far less power than LEDs.

The Ettamogah Pub

At one of the early Apollo simulation exercises with the NASA 421 aircraft, it was said during the sim debrief that Honeysuckle operations had been performed like a bunch of ‘Hillbillies’.

I presume that remark was supposed to encourage us to take a more professional approach to our work.

Well to cut a long story short, it did and we quickly became very focussed and proficient with simulations.

It was shortly after that remark that I noticed a cartoon in the Australian POST magazine featuring the Ettamoga Pub, which depicted Australian outback characters resembling hillbillies. With a little bit of imagination I could see a connection between the Ettamoga Pub and the Honeysuckle Creek Tacking Station, so I created the sketch and then added in the dish and set it into the local HSK scenery.

I did a large print and mounted it in a frame and called it APOLLO PEOPLE and had all the staff put their autograph on it. Each time we had a special visitor to the station I would get them to add there name to it. I accumulated many special names including Alan Shepard and a many other Astronauts and NASA dignitaries. It became a HSK Station icon and still is to this day.

One Christmas we reproduced it on a HSK Christmas card and sent them all over the world. It was a great success and received very favourable remarks from overseas, some even requested extra copies.

The only problem now is that the original HSK Ettamoga Pub image blue dye copy is starting to fade leaving only the autographs. At the 25th anniversary reunion the organisers made copies for everybody which will probably save the day and provide everyone with a keepsake.

Honeysuckle People

Mike Linney drew this cartoon of Honeysuckle Creek in 1966.

It was modelled after the popular ‘Ettamogah Pub’ cartoons by Ken Maynard in the Australasian Post magazine. Many Honeysuckle staff and visitors, including several Apollo astronauts, signed it – up until the end of the lunar landing missions in 1972.

(Here’s Apollo 17 LMP Jack Schmitt signing it.)

This copy from Stu Burton, scan Colin Mackellar.

Large, Larger.

 


Honeysuckle Final LOS

For as long as I can remember the Honeysuckle days, the one thing I missed most was the camaraderie that we had as a team, a group or just as party animals.

From the first few months that I had worked at HSK there had been barbecues and parties and social club events to go to, and that went on for the next ten years until I left. We celebrated my wife’s 21st birthday in 1968 at my parents home in Watson and everyone from Honeysuckle came along. A favourite party to have was a house warming, when a new home was purchased or someone just moved to another place, or to welcome a new baby into a family.

The end of mission celebrations, end of site testing by NASA, or even the Social Cub would put on a party for Christmas or any other excuse to celebrate. My wife and I must have been to a lot of them over the years and I am ashamed to say that I would be driving home well over the limit, but in those days the police didn’t have breathalyzers, so as long as I didn’t do anything stupid, and I didn’t.

 

Memorable moments –

* At John Mitchell’s party at his home at Queanbeyan and throwing a television off his first floor balcony.
* At a party at our home at Higgins when the police came because someone complained about the noise.
* At a garden party at the American Embassy, ......... but that’s another story.
* At the HSK opening ceremony under the dish, rubbing shoulders with the politicians and the American Secret Service people.
* At a number of parties put on by Paul Mullen and Bruce Cameron at that establishment in Red Hill.
* At Christmas functions in the canteen put on by Horrie and Betty Clissold for all the staff.
* At Social Club functions when the ‘Honeysuckle Honeys’ would play their sweet music and be joined by an all-in sing-along.
* At the Tharwa Store Pub on hot summer afternoons.
* At the Statesman Hotel (Curtin) on Friday evenings drinks with Bryan Sullivan, Don Loughhead, Len Jacob, Jim Hoyland, Les Hughes and Co.
* At the Station on the last Apollo mission – (we hate SRT’s). I remember the havoc that we caused on the voice loops, and the party afterwards.
* And of course when the Astronauts mentioned drinking Swan beer on one of the missions, we received a crate of Swan beer. I think we all went to Pine Island, had a barbecue and toasted the mission in the usual manner.


Good memories, of good times, ..... I miss them all. {:-(

These are just some of my memories over a long period and if I thought about it, I could probably come up with some more from that period of interesting times.

– Mike Linney