Caravanning and RVing in Australia


Murphy goes Bush
Chapter 13

I was at this time an Associate Director of the Freedom from Hunger Campaign in Victoria and travelling all over the State. I had to be in Tallangatta one Monday morning and booked into a local pub for Sunday night. I arranged to be there late and they said they would leave the door of my room open and the pub front door would be unlocked.

I arrived sometime before midnight, found the hotel and sure enough the door was unlocked. I took my bag in and looked for my open room. ALL the doors were open. I then looked in their register that was lying open on the bar and found I wasn't listed. No-one was listed! I was in the wrong pub and quickly and quietly crept out and drove to the other Tallangatta hostelry where I was indeed booked in.

Heading for the Western District one day, I was approaching Horsham when a car towing a large trailer came around a bend towards me. It swayed a little and the sway built up to an unnerving pendulum swing that threatened to take me with it as the outfit soon took up the whole road with ever increasing loops. Fortunately Murphy had left me enough room to take to the verge which was very wide on each side of the road. As the car and trailer finally left the road at right-angles, the trailer turned over and with a tremendous 'oink' a number of huge pigs leapt out of the trailer and took off for Melbourne at a great rate of knots. I stopped to offer help but all the driver wanted was for me to inform the RACV when I reached Horsham - while his main task was to catch those sprinting pigs!

It was soon after this that I went to hospital. No - I wasn't sick. After three years with the Freedom from Hunger Campaign I decided I needed a change in career direction and managed to be appointed Public Relations and Fundraising Manager at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, more familiarly known just as the 'Eye and Ear'. We even had one letter sent to us addressed to the 'Iron Ear'.

Murphy came too and saw a golden opportunity to show his flair when I inherited the task of organising a 'POSH' exhibition. POSH stood for Preservation of Sight and Hearing and the venue was the unoccupied ground floor of the Peter Howson Wing. It is important that you should know that the hospital's new operating theatre was situated in the basement of this otherwise empty shell of a building, Why is it important? Well Murphy knew and played one of his cunning tricks.

To get some publicity for the exhibition, I asked Mick Mallyon to come and have his eyes tested with the media present. Mick was tipped as the jockey most likely to be riding the winning horse in the Caulfield Cup which was to be run the day before the exhibition opening. I arranged for some photogenic orthoptists to be on hand to do the tests with a machine I thought was called a synopter and I thought the model was 'four'. There was a good roll-up of media people and one of the orthoptists looked over a journalist's shoulder to read the media release I had prepared. She burst out laughing, grabbed the paper and showed her mates how I had called their synoptofore a synopter four.

That wasn't too bad a blue but just then another TV crew arrived, plugged their high powered lights in and tripped the circuit breakers for the whole building. Now you see why you needed to know about the operating theatres down in the windowless basement that were plunged into darkness until the emergency lights kicked in. Of course both hospital electricians were away at lunch and it took a while to find them to restore power.

Despite Murphy's efforts we received excellent coverage, Mick's horse did win the Caulfield Cup and a large crowd queued outside the building on Sunday afternoon at the advertised time of 2pm waiting to be let in.

Unfortunately Murphy had been at work again and we were not ready to open! The contractor arranging the exhibits had dragged his feet and was still hammering and banging away while I in desperation asked our two Ear, Nose and Throat specialists to put on an impromptu lecture in the foyer while Peter put the finishing touches to his work. Those two ladies were wonderful and talked non-stop for about half an hour during which time my blood pressure came back down from the dizzy heights it had reached. It was my first - and last - POSH Exhibition!

Murphy and I spent nine years at the Eye and Ear and shared some memorable moments.

I guess everyone has heard of the 'Bionic Ear' by now. Well I was lucky to have been associated with Professor Graeme Clark in the developmental stage of the project and I'll never forget the deaf dog. Graeme had used cats a lot for his experimental work and had received a lot of criticism from the vivisection lobby.

One day he rang and told me of a forthcoming operation he was going to do on a deaf dog and asked if I thought there was a possibility for some publicity from this to counter the criticism. I jumped at the chance, got all the details and sent out a media release inviting representatives to attend a conference the day before the operation. I might add that the operation was to be done in the Professor's operating theatre in the University Department of Otolaryngology and not in the hospital theatres and the dog was the patient of one of the university veterinarians who would assist with the anaesthetic for the operation.

We had no idea the interest this story would have. Max Grant, Chief of Staff at the Melbourne 'Herald' newspaper, rang to say he had a photographer in his car with the engine running and where could he take a picture of the dog? "You've got a world story here mate!" said Max. Only trouble was I nearly didn't have a dog! Graeme hadn't mentioned the publicity to the dog's owners and they were unwilling for it to take place. Murphy backed off and Graeme was able to persuade them to let us go ahead with the media conference scheduled for the day before the operation.

There was a good roll-up of media people for the conference and Graeme explained what would be happening next morning. He told them he would allow one or two people at a time to put on gowns and masks and come into the theatre where he would explain what he was doing. He did stress that they should use the name of the department in any pre-op publicity and they all solemnly agreed although I had grave doubts about them getting their tongues around Otolaryngology. Thank goodness he didn't want the full name of Otorhynolaryngology!

Of course none of them used it and the professor arrived on the scene next morning hopping mad and refusing to let any of them enter the theatre. In a desperate effort to pour oil on troubled waters I asked him if he would relent if I got the TV crews to film the sign in the foyer with the department name and promise to use that in the introduction to their stories. I explained that the word was a bit hard for their listeners and he calmed down enough to say they could go into the theatre as planned but he wouldn't talk to them.

In the event, he relaxed, talked to them all, allowed the 'Herald' to have two photographers in - one to film the dog and the other to get a shot of the first one all gowned and masked as he worked. The coverage was wonderful and did indeed go world-wide despite the fact that the dog was found to be nerve deaf and couldn't be helped by the operation. Since that memorable day the bionic ear has helped thousands of people world-wide and Graeme Clark has been widely recognised as the great and humble man he is - it was a pleasure working with him.
On a much lighter note, we had a visit from a kangaroo one morning.The 'roo came with Shirley Straughan, who, at that time, was compering a children's show on TV, and Shirley and the cameraman had gone ahead to the Children's Ward and were having a cup of tea when I arrived with the 'roo. I asked if kangaroos drank tea and he said they did but not in public as he had to take his head off. I sent him along to a room at the end of the corridor to join his mates and wondered at the sudden burst of sound from that area. Roo had mistaken the directions and had burst into a room where a group of doctors were discussing some most serious topic only to be interrupted by the appearance of a large marsupial seeking a cuppa!

At the Eye and Ear I had developed a slide-illustrated talk on eye safety and was often asked to speak to workers in a variety of commercial and industrial situations. I used to tell a joke or two as an introduction to break the ice and this always seemed to go down well.......until one day Murphy took a hand and persuaded me to tell a lift joke to a group of lift repairmen. The story was that a fellow had been to a party in an office on the third floor of a building and, needing to use the loo, asked directions to get there. "Go along the corridor, take the second door on the left and go down one step." Somewhat confused by the drinks he had consumed he staggered into the corridor, opened the first door on the left which happened to be the lift well, dropped three floors to land in a crumpled heap and said, "Blow the second step - I'll do it here."  

The lift men stared at me without a solitary smile! Then it struck me - these men daily risked their lives clambering about hundreds of feet from the ground in lift wells and my joke was no joke for them.

Chapter 14