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Long Distance Blind Dating Courtesy of OTC – Steve Gray

31 Jul 12
Peter Bull
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I was talking to my Aerobics instructor a little while ago at the YMCA in Alice Springs and she told me of her story about finding her future husband (living in Canada) on the Internet. Happily, several years and a couple of kids later they are still together.
This made me think of my own experience in the area of long distance blind dating courtesy of OTC. It started in 1974 when I was doing a stint of field training at the Paddington Telephone exchange.

Paddington ARM Exchange
It was late February, 1974 and I had my field training orders to report to Jim Hulme on the Third floor at Paddington OTT. I was one of those trainees that got my Technical course over in the first two years so that the final two years were left over to field training and system courses.
I soon got into the swing of things learning the ropes as to what a trainee technician was supposed to do – apart from the obvious smoko and lunch boy duties. I learned that if I had someone to ring I could make long distance phone calls. As it happened my parents were overseas at that time – in England on a holiday. I had the phone number for the hotel they were staying at in London so I asked if I could make a call.

Calling England
I think the tech that helped me was a guy named Cliff Varcoe – I gave him the number and he dialled on an FDR tester then left me alone. The operator at the hotel answered and I asked if this was the Eaton House Hotel. Apparently I had the wrong hotel but in the next breath she exclaimed ‘ Your Australian aren’t you’ and so began what seemed like a long conversation.
The operator’s name was Eileen, an Irish girl living and working in London. I told her my name and then we exchanged phone numbers.

London calling
I had almost forgotten about the incident – although initially I did have some qualms about whether the ‘phone police’ would have me for making a ‘bodgie call’. One Saturday afternoon I was at home when a call came – my brother said it was somebody calling from England.

Long Distance Blind date
Eileen started calling on a regular basis – she was working as a night telephonist at a hotel so it wasn’t too hard to get the timing right. I couldn’t return the calls easily because I had moved on from the exchange but I did write regularly – I even sent her a photo of myself. Eileen was supposed to send one back of herself but never did get round to this.
I had been planning a trip overseas for a little while (it was supposed to be to the U.S) but eventually my focus turned to the U.K. It was now the middle of 1974 and decided to take the trip in early 1975 to ensure that it would fit in with the final year of my training program.
Interestingly Eileen’s wrong number was not the only one that occurred that year and lead me to a meeting with another woman courtesy of OTC.

Another Wrong Number
I had been sent to Operations branch – Head Office in early 1974 and sat next to a gentleman that I often thought was an interesting character (some might say other words) named Bill Breeze.
Bill had a frantic way of dialling on the PABX handset which eventually rubbed off on me – I happened to be using the Breeze method one day when (as often happened ) I got a wrong number. A young lady answered and it turned out to be George Maltby’s personal secretary.
I started up a conversation with her and she told me her name was Janice – we even met for coffee once where she told me she was engaged – we agreed to stay friends and I would see her at Christmas parties and other staff functions whenever I was based in town over the next few years.
Several years later we would even go out together for a while but that is a story for another time. Looking back I was probably lucky that I didn’t dial George Maltby direct.

The rest of 1974
The remainder of 1974 was a mixture of field training postings and courses. I was down to do a Satellite course with Roy Docherty and had various postings at Broadway and Paddington.
I can remember doing my time with Tony (buddy) Bertoni at Paddington in the back of ISTC listening to him talking about building his boat. I ended up with a group of apprentices making relay sets for the upgrade to the ARM exchange under the control of Bill Kay. One of the most interesting visits to Paddington that year happened after dark.

Television servicing course
At the start of 1974 I decided to do a night course on Television receiver servicing. The course was run over a year two nights per week – Thursday and Friday. There were several other OTC personnel on the course – one of them I recall was Carlo Vigiliante.
Often we would make a night of it after the lectures – particularly on Friday nights and I remember one night Carlo said he just had to duck back to work to pick up something. At that time Carlo worked on the first floor at Paddo in the ITMC.
It was very interesting see how Paddo ran after hours – the guys from the various floors contributed to a veritable banquet – I think I heard that they even had the only Chines Ju (Peter on the third floor) in OTC helping with the cooking effort – I don’t think it happened every week but I certainly thought it might be a good place to work when I finished my training.

The trip
In 1975 I went on my great adventure arriving in London in mid January. I still didn’t know what I Eileen looked like because she had not sent the promised photo. We agreed to meet in front of a Sports Store outside Liverpool St Station (I was coming in on a train from the Cross channel ferry).
I stood in front of that sports store for about two hours when I decided to walk around a little and found at least two other similar stores close by. Taking matters into my own hands I made my way to the address I had for her in Hammersmith. We had a tearful meeting on her front door and the rest was everything a young relatively inexperienced bloke could ask for – she was a little older than me (one of the original cougars) but it didn’t worry me in the least.

Going home
I had only scheduled a trip of about 5 weeks due to training commitments that were scheduled for the rest of 1975. In late February I was on the way back to Australia – it probably would have been the end of the story but we agreed to keep in touch – we even looked at the possibility of her emigrating or at least coming out for a holiday.
Meanwhile training had to go on which included several course including another satellite based course under Roy Docherty and longer field trips to Moree and Carnarvon.

Moree, Carnarvon and Ceduna
I was sitting in the tearoom at Moree Earth Station in early 1975 when the secretary came in and said I had a call from England. It was Eileen and she had found me before I had a chance to write and tell her my telephone number.
I talked to her for a while and later went back to the Pub I was staying at in town. The publican told me that one of her staff members (an English backpacker) had come up to her and asked where was “ London – Nothern NSW “ because he had a call for one of the guests from there.
This started a pattern that would continue for the rest of the year and into 1976 where I would be posted to places such as Carnarvon and Ceduna but Eileen would always manage to find me by phone.
Leo Mahoney was the king of Carnarvon (or should I say station manager) and his deputy was Stan Perry – my time over there corresponded with the sacking of Gough Whitlam which I recall was a hot topic of debate in the tearoom.
Late in 1975 I got a call from Barry Stockbridge who was the works supervisor at the time asking me whether I would be able to go to Ceduna for 6 months as leave relief for one of the technicians. I wasn’t too keen on the idea but eventually decided to go ending up there in early 1976.

London calling Ceduna
I hadn’t settled into work at the earth station very long when one morning I was called to the main control desk to take a phone call. Of course it was Eileen and we talked for a short while. It was later after I hung up that the technician manning the shift desk – Bob Pearson – told me something interesting.
To set the scene it needs to be remembered that although I was working at this state of the art Earth Station in Ceduna – the town itself was still using a manual exchange with magneto ringers on the telephones.
When Bob answered the phone and said that I would answer he heard several go aheads down the line as various operators linked up the call.

Back to Sydney
I eventually escaped to Sydney (6 months later) – away from the clutches of Austin Houseman and Kerry Adams. I returned to my original posting in Engineering branch and after doing a few courses ended up in Building services under Wal Donald.
I kept corresponding with Eileen for and she kept ringing – but after a while the calls gradually dropped off – I believe she eventually found someone closer to home and closer to her own age. However over the next few years I would occasionally get a call and I could tell it was international but the person would never speak.

Going 12,000 miles for it
I continued on my time in Building services for the next few years working on the redevelopment of Paddington and La Perouse. Eventually I was sent to Paddington in the late 70s where I initially worked under Dave Alder. Later I worked under Bill Dunne doing battery room jobs on the ground and second floors.
I looked back on that wonderful adventure that I had experienced because of a wrong number (courtesy of OTC). I was never a great one with the ladies and some of my mates would often say that they knew a bloke that
“ Had to go 12,000 miles for it”

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