The Mini and the Irishman

A story from Danny Twomey

Danny Twomey

Danny Twomey with the Gemini X spacecraft brought for display at the opening ceremony.

Scan: Danny Twomey.

In the early days of Honeysuckle, the permanent shift workers such as the security guard, comms operator, powerhouse operator, and cleaning staff all arrived at the site in a little Mini sedan which was owned by the sub contractor for security and cleaning services this company was then called Sureguard Security Services P/L.

We had tried on many occasions to use a much larger vehicle such as an STC Ford Falcon but it was all in vain, the mini that we used was a vehicle not suitable for the job of transporting up to 5 people and chemicals in the boot, sometimes with about 2 or 3 plastic 10 litre containers of very expensive liquid cleaning supplies, polish, etc, which was extra weight but legal.

As I said we never had the comfort of a STC, XP Falcon (Although we often dreamt of it, and STC and Sureguard Staff travelled together in those extremely rough conditions, and may I say thank you to the STC staff who forever complained and eventually got the Falcons for the shift workers, They know who they are, Once again lads, Cheers.)

Now to the story –

I remember one particular afternoon leaving home (Downer) for work for the afternoon shift commencing at 1545 hrs. After picking up various passengers on the way. My next and last passenger was a new cleaner just starting that afternoon. On arrival at his home I blew the car horn as normal and he came out, and when I saw him my face just fell, he was huge, in fact, super huge, and I thought how is he going to fit in the back?

I got out of the car in order to let him in (if you remember the minis only had two doors and the people in the front had to get out and pull the front seat forward for the rear passengers to get in or out, and I thought at the time this was a great example for our request for Falcons) So as I got out pulling the seat forward, he got in, with a great deal of shoving. It took ages to get ourselves organised so I introduced everyone and he turned out to be Irish and spoke with a broad accent, and he was the new foreman/cleaner.

After the introductions we then set off. We had not gone 100 meters when I noticed through the rear view mirror that he didn’t have his seat belt on, and I told him of this. Then we had to stop again for him to find the buckle, which had completely disappeared underneath him, he was sitting on it. So out I go, and the strap was then adjusted to suit. We were now about 5 minutes late.

So we eventually got going again, and it was all nice and quiet from the back for a while as we neared the Queanbeyan turn off, and a low sounding snore came from the front passenger who we shall call “Sleepy”, when from the back came “look could you move your leg its leaning on mine and I cant stand it any longer”…then came the thick Irish accent... “Oy can’t really as me udder one is in der way ..... Well move that one then.... Oy can’t do dat either because so and sos foot is in der way, an if yer wants more room slide it under der front seat, so der‘s nootin oy cun do abowt it now so der.

We had now turned right off the Cooma road and was heading towards Tharwa, and it started again... “Look Mick, I’ve had enough of your bloody leg and I’m going to put mine under yours..... Fer a start me name’s not Mick it’s Seamus and yer won’t be able to dat because deres no room . Then the front seat woke up (Sleepy) “Why don’t you two sort some thing out that’s all I’ve heard is you two BLOODY ARGUING.” Then again a short quiet spell.

Having left the sealed road surface at Tharwa we were now on the dirt road, towards Naas. The engine sump without a guard is occasionally banging on the rocks in the road as we drove along, and now and again there is a larger than normal thump, the clearance between the bare engine sump and the road surface was probably only millimetres.

Halfway between Tharwa and Naas was a very dangerous dog leg with a sudden drop down to the left and very a short stretch of extremely rough surface similar to cobblestones and then a sharp turn to the right something like a letter J.

We had gone down the first turn and nearly reached the bottom. When we hit a rock which was partly embedded in the road. I thought I’d better stop and see if there is any damage. I pulled over to the side of the road and every body got out to stretch their legs, we then continued on as every thing seemed ok.

About three kilometres before the right hand turn to the station (Apollo Road) we caught up and passed the big Red International Diesel tanker which supply diesel and petrol to the Station for the cars and Caterpillar Diesel engines that power the Antenna.

All was quiet from the back, except from the Irish man, who was complaining how far out of town the Station was, then we turned right into Apollo Road, and passed the construction of the new road, and entered the dirt track and started the climb up Dead Man’s Hill.

Ina Hahn’s photos of the road
The dirt track up Dead Man’s Hill.
Click to see Ian Hahn’s photographs.

We had got about three quarters of the way up the mountain, and were in dense forest, with very sharp bends which followed the contour of he mountainside, the road condition was of a rocky dirt and on occasions the track was the actual rock itself, as the road wandered around the trees the passengers on the left side of the car could see the bottom of the valley a long way down.

We approached a very bad bend the car came to a screaming stop at the side of the road, this was a serious breakdown, and we thought how are we going to get word to the station regarding the breakdown, there was no mobile phones in those days.

Then someone said “Let’s get the petrol tanker driver to tell them that we have broken down.”

Then all ten eyes looked at each other and we all said in unison, “THE PETROL TANKER”, and the front seat Sleepy, and myself was out like a shot leaving the doors open for the back seat passengers to get out the other side without changing down, then he would see the Mini, and it would be too late to avoid it there was no place for the tanker to go except to destroy the mini. The tanker driver would drive over it leaving it like a broken eggshell with the precious white polish and cleaning fluid oozing through what was the boot (I can see the cleaning manager now “The Polish, The Polish”, like the Doctor Smith in that old TV series “Lost in Space”).


The Caltex petrol tanker on the Honeysuckle Road, 1966
from this Caltex magazine.


But back to the mini.

As I said Sleepy, and myself got out together and made our way to the top of the embankment to try and stop the tanker driver from having a bad day. Sleepy said, “I’m going further down the road to flag down the driver” so off he went.

There was a great deal of shouting and swearing coming from the car. Then panic set in. For some reason the left door handle on the car snapped off from the force, so this door is out of action. and the right hand door opened without trouble, but Seamus couldn’t get out because he was too big. And in spite of him trying to crash his way out using his weight to his advantage it was of no use then somebody said “Undo your seatbelt yer dill”, said an Australian accent, the people sitting on the outside seats got out with a bit of a struggle, leaving more room for Seamus.

Sleepy came back and said there was no sign of the truck and we both agreed that he should be here by now if he was coming at all, but he must have realised that the truck had stopped at Tharwa, and he turned to Seamus and for a joke shouted, “Hurry up I can hear the truck now, move it!” then Seamus went berserk calling the Mini, us, the seat belt, all the names in the world, and he was serious, and we thought we had better help him, we were about 30 mins late by now. Then Sleepy said “Quiet, Sharrup a minute” and we did all was quiet and then Sleepy said “The Truck! The Truck, it’s just about here”... Then the mini started to shake as if there was a wild bear inside it, it wasn’t much different, and then a long loud wail with an Irish accent came from the one, he had stuffed some of the material of his shirt into the belt buckle device and was unable to get at it.

The Petrol Takner
View from the cab
Illustrations by Danny Twomey.

Then the Honeysuckle courier driver returning to the Station stopped and we pushed the mini off the road loaded the polish into his car and then left for the station in the luxury of the Ford XP Falcon, we arrived about 40 mins late but we arrived in one piece.

Some good came out of this adventure as we used the Ford Falcons from then on.

As a footnote, Seamus didn’t last long as the foreman cleaner, while on night shift a few weeks later he was found asleep in one of the offices at day break by one of the staff who had arrived extra early.

This story is a bit exaggerated here and there but most of it is true.