Martin Coles

 
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How do you compress forty years into forty lines? This task has daunted me for several months but I am encouraged by reading the bios of many brethren who have packed much more living into that period than I have, so here goes.

I arrived in Sydney as a pommie immigrant late in 1957 and started at NSBH the next year. I had done two and a half years of secondary education in South Wales at a "comprehensive school", a sort of combined high school and technical school which offered a huge range of subjects. At first they put me in third year but soon twigged that I had only done one year of Latin. Latin seemed very important to them so they put me in second year (2B). I was a thin, rather shy kid in those days (neither of these are true today) and I found it hard at first to adapt to a new country, culture and school. I found the choice of subjects at NSBH rather restrictive and boring and missed subjects like metalwork, woodwork, music and art & craft. I even learnt the welsh language for a year and quite enjoyed it. I soon settled down at NSBH as the guys were fairly friendly and a lot of the teachers were very helpful.

I guess we all remember Nancy Deans. She was a very professional teacher who gave everyone individual attention and made them feel important. I think she was my French teacher in second year and under her I started to get reasonable results. She had a cute habit that I remember. In summer she would often wear low-cut dresses. When addressing the class, she would often cross her arms across her chest and lean on the back of an upright chair. She must have wondered on these occasions why a whole class of 14-15 year-old boys would suddenly lose interest in the French language. "Banjo" Patterson tried to teach me Latin. He tried very hard. He was a big man with short white hair and he even gave me extra coaching after hours to bring me up to speed. I never got out of first gear. He must have been quite disappointed when I came second last in the state for Latin in the intermediate.

Following the Intermediate I asked the School if I could study geology by private study, instead of doing history. I had been studying geology as a hobby since I was eleven and in South Wales attended a Geology Club every Saturday morning run by the then Curator of Geology at the Cardiff Museum. I could probably have passed the LC Geology exam there and then. The Schoolís response was NO; I had to do either Ancient or Modern History. I chose Modern History but was so disappointed at their decision that I never attended a class or sat the final exam. Who knows, I could have been a geologist today.

My life took on another change in fourth year when I started working backstage at the Independent Theatre, just down the road from the school. They paid me, but not very much. Soon I was doing the lighting for some productions. I also did the lighting for the 1960 Fifth Year Review while I was in fourth year. This gave me the key to the "lighting loft", a small room up a ladder to the left of the assembly hall stage. My own pad at last! This made me slightly popular with a small group of desparates looking for a safe place for a smoke.

At about this time I also pursued an interest in chemistry. That branch of chemistry that produces large quantities of smoke or very large bangs. I managed to create some quite large holes in the home garden as well as in several gardens of friends and neighbours. This activity may have extended to certain areas of the school grounds but my memory is very hazy in this area and I am hesitant to put such speculation into print.

At the end of fourth year I got my drivers licence and a holiday job sorting mail at the GPO. This gave me enough money to buy my first car, a Singer 9 Sports for the princely sum of 50 Pounds. I could now drive to school and park near the back gate. This was useful occasionally when I and a few others would decide we had enough school for the day and would nick off out the back gate. Our destination was often Newport Beach and the beer garden of the Newport Arms Hotel. I co-produced the Fifth Year Review that year with Bob Connell. Bob did the lionís share of the work directing and rehearsing the acts, while I organised sound, lighting, the sets and that sort of stuff. I was also co-opted to appear on stage in a jazz quartet with John Archer, Paddy Dawson and someone else. They had me plunking away on a tea-chest bass. Not being a muso, I had no idea what I was doing, but it all seemed to go alright. Shortly after the Review I began stage managing productions at the Independent, the first being the Australian Premier of "The Caretaker" by Harold Pinter. With all these distractions, and the fact I only sat four subjects, it is a bloody miracle I passed the Leaving Certificate.

On leaving school I could find no tertiary course that interested me, yet I got a great buzz out of working in live theatre. So I continued with this, augmenting the part-time wage with a succession of dreary day jobs. I was a clerk in the Taxation Department, tried to sell office equipment for Olivetti and was a photographic salesman in a department store. In about four years the closest I got to full time work in the theatre was a six months stint as stage manager at the Music Hall Theatre Restaurant in Neutral Bay. Television was the way to go, I figured. In 1965 I finally got a temporary job with ABC Television at Gore Hill as a studio hand, the lowest form of life in a TV studio. I did this for a while but never made it to floor manager where I was hoping to go. Instead I was coopted to the Presentation Department. This was a rather stressful job which involved sitting in a control room in front of rows of monitors and putting to air the on-air program from the various sources, live studio, videotape, film, outside broadcast, etc. It was interesting work and an exciting time in television. I put the first international live broadcast to air in Australia Ė Expo í67 from Canada. This was followed by a number of global programs, live moon walks, etc. It was also good training in television directing.

Eventually I was sent to a TV directors course and then for a stint as one to Perth. While in this great city, I took up gliding which I had been introduced to some years earlier by one of our brethren, John Jackson. After 18 months I returned to Sydney where I rented a renovated terrace house in Blues Point with a magnificent view of the harbour. Two doors up the road a young English psychologist called Liz moved in for what she thought was the start of a two year working holiday. She eventually moved in with me. We moved to Melbourne a year or so later when I got a more senior position with ABC there. We didnít like Melbourne much and were pretty sick of cities so after a while in suburbia we bought an 1858 heritage bluestone two-storey house in Kyneton in 1974. Kyneton is a pleasant town 85Km out of Melbourne to the northwest, about halfway to Bendigo and is just in commuting distance of Melbourne.

We both did commute to Melbourne for two years until Liz got a job as student counsellor at the Bendigo tertiary college, now La Trobe University, Bendigo and started commuting there. She has been there ever since, and as we have in Kyneton. The house was in a bad state and we had no money after paying the deposit, so we did it pretty hard for some years.

In 1976 I quit the ABC after fourteen years. I was sick of the internal politics, shift work and commuting. I resolved to earn a living locally and spent the next 15 years trying to do it. I ran a landscaping business, worked at the local high school as project officer, ran an insurance agency and drove buses and coaches.

Liz and I married in 1978 to formalise a long de-facto relationship and we have two daughters. Emma is now 18 and working with Green Corp as an Environment Trainee. Chelsea is 16 and still at school. Liz and I separated about six months ago but still maintain a friendly relationship.

After many years of dabbling in electronics and instrumentation as hobbies, in 1992 I put myself through a course in Scientific Instrumentation at La Trobe University, Bendigo which led to a job as Technical Officer with a research centre of Victoria University in 1995. The Centre was doing research into the spread and growth of fires in multistorey buildings with the aim of significant reform to the Australia Fire Code for commercial buildings. They had an experimental $M1.5 building of three stories near Ballan in Victoria which was crammed with about 400 instruments. Every now and then we would set this building on fire and record the results, the data being sent to the research team. It was very interesting work and gave me a taste for the R & D area, but after three years the funding ran out and I was out on my ear.

I did some contract work for a while in instrumentation and process control in several Melbourne chemical plants and for Comalco at their Queensland aluminium smelter, but for the last couple of years I have been semi-retired. I have been very busy lately organising extensions and renovations to this old joint, something I have wanted to do for years but didnít have the time or money. The exterior now looks great but still a lot to do inside.