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Part Four: P&O Events and Parties

April 28, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email
The P&O team during the sixties were somewhat famous for their parties – they were a combination of industry lunches, staff parties, bucks turns, wedding parties and  pretty simple (almost daily) drinking events – and some of them became legend.

Lanseair Lunches:
The Lanseair Club of Victoria was the Victorian travel industry luncheon club (for junior staff) and was the focus of attention for the ticketing, berthing, passenger sales and agency sales team every month.  The hierarchy went like this – SKAL (new to Melbourne in 1959) was for THE bosses and there could only be one member from any one company – ‘Bill Mowle” was the P&O member and was a founder of SKAL Melbourne.  Traveleague was for middle management – or perhaps senior staff who could not get into SKAL but Lanseair was for the rank and file.  That was us.
Once a month a Melbourne Hotel – like the Southern Cross or the Australia or the London – would host lunch for club members at a greatly reduced cost.  Beer and wine were provided – the food was served to be eaten standing up and lunch ran from 12.00pm – until last out (officially 2.30pm – but often closer to 5.00pm).  There was great competition in the ticketing team on Lanseair days for the right to an extended lunch – the late lunch team (1.00pm – 2.00pm) always had an advantage over the first lunch team – but sometimes an ‘arrangement was made where times were swapped.  Occasionally team members forgot about the time and the department was basically deserted between 1.30pm and 2.30pm as said team members wandered back in their own good time and in various stages of intoxication.
Lanseair was the place I first (ever) tasted champagne, it was at the old Southern Cross Hotel and the occasion was an Air India celebration of a new service to Melbourne. Les Zellner (GM) and Bhupinder Singh (Sales Manager) provided the champers and I – along with the rest of the P&O team enjoyed more than our fair share.  Champagne never became a love of mine but on this day – because it was free – I enjoyed it no end.
So Lanseair was a monthly event that was eagerly awaited by all and attended by many, the after effects of a Lanseair Lunch included such things as incorrect fare quotes, bad ticketing batches, mislaid files and general stuff-ups all of which caused ‘issues’ but were in the end tolerated as all part of the industry process.
Fridays at “Connells”
Friday lunches were always important – for the rest for the week (at least in my case) lunches were at various sandwich bars (The Lattice was my favourite) and restaurants like The Charcoal Grill in Little Collins Street – but Friday was Pub Lunch day – and it was almost always (at least early on) at Connells for a steak.
Connells was in Elizabeth Street downstairs – in a basement – next to Port Phillip Arcade and not far from Hosies Hotel on the corner of Elizabeth and Flinders.  The attraction was the huge T Bone steaks cooked on a BBQ Grill by a chef who dripped perspiration onto the meat as he cooked – and added to the flavour at the same time. The T Bone was served with chips – and for an extra 10/20 cents one could get double chips and have a really decent feed.
Te steak was always accompanied by (of course) beer – in this case 10 ounce pots of beer – consumed in copious quantities, depending on bow many were at lunch on that day.  You had to complete at least one round – that was the rule – so if there were (say) six of you then it was a minimum of six pots.  That was a heavy lunch.
Fridays was another of those days when late back from lunch was more the rule than the exception – and (of course) lunch was always followed by a Friday evening pub session before one headed home for the weekend.
The Queenscliff Train Ride
Graeme (Tex) Carr organised his bucks turn by booking train to Queenscliff – where we were to enjoy a BBQ dinner at the Queenscliff Hotel followed by a return train journey.  The whole P&O team were invited as well as his ‘strange collection’ of mates that I mentioned in the narrative – and (of course) we all went.
Everything was fine on the trip down -the beer supply held up – the two groups stayed separated and all was well.  The feed at the Queenscliff Hotel was fine and enjoyed by all and additional supplies – for the trip home – were purchased.  Sadly the supplies only lasted the well fuelled group halfway home and that is when the trouble began.
One of ‘the other’ team an untidy lad named Robert Fulton took exception to the fact that beer supplies were non existent and started an argument which sadly for me I was involved in.  The next thing I knew I was on the floor with blood pouring from my mouth and there was an all in brawl going on above me.  Punches came from all directions – bodies were flying about everywhere and when someone broke a window all of the smoke (these were the days when everybody smoked) poured out the window.  The train driver who had been praised of the brawl immediately thought the train was on fire and as we barrelled through one station on the line (nearing the city) he got the message out to “call the police – I will stop the train at Newport”.
The brawl itself ran out of impetus before the law arrived but they duly came aboard at Newport – the first thing they asked was how many people were actually on the train – 60 they were told – count again they said as there were only 35 actually on the train in the station. Yes folks – 25 people (including one who became  future National President of SKAL Australia) had jumped off between stations at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour.
The police on surveying the scene actually identified the starter of the brawl – without help from anyone else – it seems he was well known to them – but chose not to intervene.  One police officer rode with the train into the terminus at Spencer Street and made sure we dispersed quietly – which we did – and the incident was deemed to be over.
Unfortunately the tale was picked up somehow by the press and there was a story in the paper a day or so later – which came to the attention of management and caused more than a few questions to be asked.  There was also an aftermath as the railway people wanted money for damage to the train – to which the P&O boys all kicked in but (of course) the other group simply ignored.
The end result for me was an emergency visit to the dentist Saturday morning – the morning after – for emergency dental treatment – and the start of fitting a replacement tooth onto a plate.  All in all it was a very expensive bucks party.
Trans Travel Social Group (Almost a Party)
P&O – like a number of companies in those days, had a football team (of sorts) and of course I played in it.  At first we might play one/two games per year against other shipping companies – and they were pretty rough and ready affairs – but in 1967 we joined a league; in fact we were founder members of the Trans Travel Social Group – Football League.  The other members – in the early days at least – were Associated Steam, John Sanderson & Co, BHP, Qantas and Ansett – I think in later years others joined but I am pretty sure these six companies were all founder members.
We played on Sundays at Tooronga oval – near Tooronga Station – and we played two matches per week (early game/late game) so that each side played 2/3 weeks and w played each otherwise then had a final series.  Now this was serious stuff as some of these teams had some pretty good players.  BHP had Ross Oakley – ex StKilda player and eventually head of the VFL – plus a couple of pretty high up reserve players who were just past there best.  Qantas had a solid team with some high level ex VFA/VFL players in the high 30’s and Ansett could call on some pretty good starters as well.  At P&O we had one ex Melbourne player and one ex Carlton player plus a couple of good country footballers as well – so it was not amateur stuff.
Each week saw quite willing battles between teams and strong vocal support from the boundary line from a good crow of spectators.  We had professional field umpires – who actually got paid to umpire – a food and grog supply system (barely – if even that legal I should add) and we were well organised and managed.  In year two I was elected as one of two P&O representatives on the committee for the year and what a year it was.
The previous year P&O had finished runners up to a Ross Oakley lead BHP – who simply blew us away in the final after we had been competitive all year.  But there was a bit of flack flying about them including players who did not actually work there.
So that became a hotly debated topic each week at the organising committee meeting – along with the accuracy of the take from the (illegal) grog sales and the standard of umpiring.  From my memory these topics were always high on the agenda each week.
The grog sales were run by a guy called “Cubby” who had a food truck – all nice and legal – where he dispensed pies/hot dogs/chips and donuts – you know the usual footy fare.  However at the back he had a seemingly endless supply go booze – mainly beer but some spirits – and the idea was that you went to one spot on the ground where you bought (raffle) tickets – that you then slipped to Cubby and his off sider in return for a beer.  No funds changed hands for booze at the van – only for food.  It was a simple system, fraught course with danger if the police (who came around occasionally) had bother to look hard enough, but one that was open to widespread abuse.
Cubby always seemed to have more tickets in his hands at the end of the day – than the raffle ticket seller thought that he had sold – not a lot of tickets, and not every week, but often enough to make it an issue.  We were pretty sure that “Cubby” had a deal with the law to (shall we say) ‘look the other way’ when they did bother to come calling but he always charged us a premium – for the risk (you understand).
Umpiring was also an issue – there were always charges of conflict of interest – because (inevitably) the umpires also worked in the business.  Therefore three of them and they – like the teams – worked 2/3 weeks each, but they they also were employed by three of the companies in the comp – so suspicion of bias was always prevalent – despite the fact that we tried to keep umpires away from there own companies as often as was possible.
The ‘ring in players’ issues was basically sorted after the clubs reached agreement that anyone who had worked for one of the companies for two years or more could continue to play out the season in which he resigned but not beyond that.  That stopped most but not all of the sorting because the definition of working for a company occasionally got stretched quite wide – and in fact debates about subsidiary companies sometimes became quite heated when the qualification of someone to play came up.
P&O were winners of the comp in year two – beating their main rival BHP in a final – but only because Ross Oakley was out injured and we had our absolute best team on the field.  I left P&O during year three and finished out the season under the newly installed ‘ex-player rule’ mentioned above – but we had lost a lot of players and finished well down the ladder that year.  After that I lost interest and the league had disbanded by the time I returned two years later.
The highlight of the Trans Travel Social Group was that we grew it to a successful and profitable social competition that actually made a profit – the lowlight was that the profit disappeared in year three when it (around $45,000.00) was embezzled by the then President – whose name I do remember – but who I choose not to out – ‘just in case’.  The companies involved – including his own – bailed out the league by injecting the funds to cover the shortfall – but it was never the same which (I guess) it was why it folded in year four.
Delivering the Mail
One of the great gigs we juniors enjoyed during my early years with P&O was delivering the ships mail on arrival in Melbourne.  This involved an early morning (our ships usually arrived between 0700 and 0900) taxi ride – we always used Arrow Taxis – from my home in Murrumbeena to Gem Pier in Williamstown, via the office to collect the mail, from just inside the main door.  There I would board the customs launch and we would depart Gem Pier and head out to the ship.  When we caught up with it – my job was to climb up the Jacobs Ladder (OH&S would have a fit today) – while the mail was hauled up by rope.  I would then solemnly deliver the mail to the Bureau (Pursers office) and that was that.  I stayed on the ship – enjoying an on board breakfast – until it docked and then went in to work – a great diversion.
One night (early morning really) – after a few years on the job, still in my dinner suit and fairly well refreshed after a function and an after party I caught an Arrow Taxi (old habits) from Malvern to Murrumbeena – looking forward to bed.  As we turned the corner into Perth Street the cab driver answered a radio job – I was not really listening – but as he dropped me off he said; “hey I have to pick up a Peter Watson at this address in 15 minutes and take him to Gem Pier, do you know him”?.  Yes folks I had the mail run and had forgotten it completely.
I kept my – head said something like stay here he will be out in a few minutes I am sure.  I did a quick and hurried APC – changed my clothes and went outside and got back into the cab.  The driver looked at me quite strangely – but made no comment and we headed for Gem Pier and the mail run.  The mail was safely delivered – I did not fall off the ladder – but it was a very long and painful day at work after the events of the night before.
Legend has it that one staff member John Montague – doing something similar to me after a particularly good P&O Ball, followed by an equally good after party – actually delivered the mail in his dinner suit and then spent the day in the office in his evening clobber without making any comment at all.  That was before my time.
Delivering the ships mail was one of the perks that I enjoyed most – except for that one memorable morning.
We did actually do some work as well – but the events, the activities and the characters in the room are what stick in my mind to this day.
Next instalment: The Bits in the Middle – I lose my way a little in my travel journey.
Written by: Peter Watson

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