The Post-Apollo 8 Party

Some notes from John Saxon

After the huge relief of the successful re-entry and landing, the US Ambassador decided that a splash-down party for the troops was definitely in order. So the invitation went out via the Department of Supply for 30 – 60 people. The end result was that by the time a fair allocation had been made to Gov departmental staff, the PMG, NASA switching centre, Tidbinbilla and Orroral tracking stations, there were a whole TWO invitations left for HSK staff, and we probably had 100 plus on-site at that time!

So the powers that be decided to hold a lottery draw for the two tickets.

By this point “the HSK workers” decided that a boycott was definitely in order, and all were warned that if they won they should refuse to accept {:-))

Anyhow the winning tickets were won by two Ops people, the first was Bruce Withey, and he dutifully declined to accept to maintain solidarity! The other winner was a large man (who shall remain reasonably anonymous) who was mad about the USA and everything American. Used to wear big hats, big belt buckles, string ties etc. The stories about Big John are endless. Of course John was torn between his loyalty to the troops, and his desperate wish to visit the US Embassy in style. The latter wish won, and he announced that he would go as the sole representative, much to everyone else’s disgust!

But we need not have worried because by this time the poor Ambassador was under siege by numerous wives who constantly rang the Embassy complaining that their husbands had “played a major role in support of Apollo 8” and “why were all those other people taking all the invitations etc.”!

The problem was that the Embassy’s entertainment budget wouldn’t stretch to everyone who had an involvement with NASA and the Space program in Canberra.

After all – we were lucky to work at the coalface – there were many others directly and indirectly involved. Fortunately NASA HQ (after considerable lobbying by Bob Leslie and others) came to the rescue with extra funds to invite all personnel from all three tracking stations as well all the NASCOM, PMG, other Gov departmental staff, and their wives and significant others – anyone who had even heard of Apollo 8 I think!


Hamish Lindsay found his copy of the invitation.


Eventually it was a rather magnificent bash, mostly in the Embassy grounds with several marquees, the Duntroon Band, reception lines, visits around the main areas etc. The weather was great as well.

I do remember my first drink in one of the marquee bars – a huge immaculately turned out U.S. Marine in dress uniform, asked me very politely what I would prefer to drink. “A Gin and Tonic” I replied (had grown out of my James Bond phase by then). “Yuss Sir”, he replied and produced a tall glass somewhere between a Midi and Schooner size, put in a few ice cubes and filled the glass to within an inch of the top with Tanqueray gin followed by a splash of tonic.

“These guys really know how to live”, I thought. Somehow I survived that first drink – it was a great party.


Ron Hicks recalls (in a December 2003 e-mail),

“It was indeed a great party. Somehow I ended up playing the US Ambassador’s piano.”


US Ambassadors party

At the Ambassador’s party

Left to right in front row, NASA Rep to Australia Willson Hunter, Margaret Reid, Win Turner, Margaret Gerada, American Ambassador Edward Crook and Ivy Hill.

Second row: John and Joan Heath (behind Win Turner and Margaret Gerada respectively)

Photo: Tony Gerada.

US Ambassadors party

Goddard News of April 14, 1969, featured this photo taken at the party.

Preserved by Mike Dinn, scanned by Colin Mackellar.