2. New Land
The first few weeks in Australia were the most exciting in my life. I did not mind the simple amenities of the army hut of the Villawood Migrant Hostel. The sun was blazing without a cloud in the sky for three weeks. Every day I took the train into the world renowned metropolis of Sydney. I bathed in the knowledge of being right amongst some of the most famous buildings in the world. I soaked up the atmosphere of the Opera House, the beautiful Sydney harbour while watching container ships from many exotic destinations. I would feel a touch of homesickness when I read “Hamburg” written on the hull. Between playing tourist I was looking for a job.
Eventually, after a few weeks I found employment with the Australian agent of the company I worked for in Germany. I rented a room in a private house on Sydney’s North Shore. After the initial euphoria of the new surroundings I felt increasingly lonely. My knowledge of English helped me a lot when mixing with people. I had joined a church in Neutral Bay, a suburb just beyond the Harbour Bridge, close to where I worked. When I had left Germany I was qualified as Industrie-Kaufmann (Commercial Clerk) earning good money. It was a bit of a disappointment to start again at the bottom as junior clerk. But I was content to just have a job, and happy that I even could work in an office with just my school English.
At the church I attended, an Assemblies of God Church, I was attracted to a girl named Isobel. To everyone’s surprise she did not reject my affection either. She was very pretty, and still is, and showed all the eligible boys of the youth group the cold shoulder. Years later she admitted to me how she once sat behind me in church and admired my hands. The first person, I suppose, to have fallen in love with someone’s hands.
We were married on July 24th, 1971, almost exactly two years after I had arrived from Germany. The year leading up to our marriage I took on a well paid factory job at the Unilever factory in Balmain. Because I did shift work and many hours overtime, we could afford an extensive honeymoon, traveling via Mexico, the US, Canada and England on our way to Germany. How proud was I of my wife! She was a star attraction with all my friends in Germany. They realized I was not the young silly boy anymore that was crazy enough to just pack his bags and migrate to Australia.
We both worked and lived in two rooms at my parent's rented council flat. During long weekends and holidays we took short trips to famous destinations; Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Berlin and other places around Europe. On the way home to Australia we took the opportunity to visit countries I had previously only dreamed about: Greece, Israel, Kenya, the Seychelles Islands, Sri Lanka, Bangkok and Singapore.
Traveling gave us many memories but kept us poor. It did not take us long to find jobs back in Sydney. We were able to live with Isobel’s parents in the sunroom of a large flat in the suburb of Mosman. We soon realized, however, that Sydney was not the place to start a family. In June 1974 we moved to Hobart, Tasmania, arriving with very little luggage and an old 1954 Wolseley 444 we had bought in Sydney.
We spent a wonderful 8 ½ years in Tasmania. Our first son Benjamin was born there in Feb. 1975. Michelle arrived two years later in Jan. 1977. Again I had little trouble finding a job, but was soon discontent with office work. There was a creative streak in me that lay dormant. I used to clash with superiors for suggesting to stream line procedures or for trying to improve something. I always like doing things my way, creating ideas on the way. In late 1977 I left my job and we took another trip to Germany, this time for 2 months. I was even more proud than on the first trip, showing off not just my wife but my gorgeous two children.
Back in Tasmania I had difficulty for the first time getting work. After a few months of unemployment a friend arranged an interview with the Electrolytic Zinc Company in Risdon. I got a job as shift operator which was well paid. I suggested an improvement to stop a feed pipe from blocking up as it fed raw copper concentrate into a dryer. I was happy to receive a fifteen dollar reward for the suggestion.
The shift work gave me a lot of time to spend with the children during the day. While living in Hobart I took up cycling again, which I had enjoyed in my teenage years. One edition of the "Tasmanian Mail," a statewide newspaper, featured my children and I on a bicycle. Michelle was on the front on a seat attached to the handlebar, Ben at the back. We were quite a spectacle around Glenorchy.
Isobel and I were very active at the local Assemblies of God Church, a faithful little flock located in the working class suburb of Goodwood. I serve as treasurer, musician (trumpet) and youth worker. Having gained experience in Sydney with 'Royal Rangers', a scout type youth program, I was instrumental in starting the first outpost in Tasmania.
After a year or so the shift work (three shifts on a rotating basis) affected Isobel’s health. I started looking for something else. Both Isobel and I spotted the advertisement as driving instructor in a Saturday edition of the Hobart Mercury. It was with VIP Driving School, one of the largest in Hobart at the time. I landed the job and obtained my driving instructor’s licence after a very basic training session and passing a theoretical exam. Little did I know that this career move would affect my future profoundly.
After nearly nine years, the cold weather, the isolation from family and the work conditions at VIP Driving School all played a part in our decision to relocate to the mainland. Sydney, in the meantime, had had a huge increase in real estate prices and became out of reach financially. As an alternative we opted to move to Adelaide, South Australia in 1983. It was still a long way from Isobel’s family in Sydney, but we would not have to catch an expensive ferry every time we wanted to travel interstate.
My qualifications as a driving instructor, with now almost 2 years of experience, did not count in South Australia. I had to start from scratch. The first step was a police investigation into my character and police records, which alone took five weeks (all while on unemployment benefits) from the date of my application. To try to speed up the bureaucratic process and to be off unemployment, I visited the local Member of Parliament. “Laws are not easily changed”, he told me. Years later I found out from a government officer that by simply looking for help from the Member of Parliament I had already drawn attention to authorities.
It is also worth mentioning that I failed my first driving exam with an officer of the Department of Transport. I lost concentration and traveled briefly at 67 km/h without realizing it was a 60 km/h zone. The use of the f…word during debriefing shocked me; as if I had upset the gentleman personally. I filed a written complained about this.
Eventually I obtained my licence to teach learners and registered L to P Driving School. I had the roof sign written as L-Top Driving School. Later this kind of play with words and letters would be one of my specialties and sources of amazing revelations. The L represented the letter displayed by learners before obtaining their licence and the letter P, for probationary licence, after passing a driving test. When another instructor stopped teaching, I also took over the name of his business, Better Driving School. Now I was not just Top, I was Better.
Within weeks of arriving in Adelaide, we joined the Assemblies of God Church in Paradise, now called Paradise Community Church. In stark contrast to Hobart this congregation was huge, up to 3500 when filled to capacity. I had played trumpet since my German days and joined the orchestra of the church after a few months. I was also active again in Royal Rangers. It took only six months and I was working full time, having gained a reputation as driving instructor in church circles.
We had lived in a rented flat in Evandale for 18 months. It was time to buy our own house. Isobel picked one that people from church were selling in 24 Goodall Road, Para Hills. She tells people that as she walked through the lounge of the house for the first time, she had a strange sensation of being home. I was more concerned that business was going to continue smoothly after the change of location, approx. 15 kilometers to the north. Unfortunately, changing telephone numbers was bad for business.
Having just bought a house, cash flow was important. A job advertisement appeared in the Adelaide Advertiser for a driving instructor with a large organization I shall call MCA. Again both Isobel and I agreed that I should apply for it. I did and got the job. There was another motive behind this move. I had at this stage already invented a visual aid for driving instructors. It was a tool, consisting of a board with roads, traffic signs and cars to teach traffic situations inside the car, since no blackboard driver education was available anywhere. Isobel and I were both hoping that perhaps with the backing of the MCA this idea could be developed into something useful for Driving Schools.
Little did I know what a roller coaster ride the pursuit of this, my first invention, would lead to!