This was written some time ago and is only up to the beginning 2000.
Early Years, Sydney,
to end of primary school
High School at Randwick boy's high School
AWA (12 years) including Production Engineering Certificate
R. Mandl Pty Ltd. (3 years) as factory manager
Lynburn Engineering self employed partnered with my brother
Automatic Totalisators Ltd PDP8 assembler programmer
Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm, Broome, general maintenance, farm diver
West Kimberley Radios self employed electronics servicing
Outback Air Charter self employed
Broome Reticulation self employed
Chinatown Music self employed
W.J. Moncrieff, Perth, technical support computers
DIALix Internet Services self employed ISP
Vortex Computer Components self employed
Marine Computer Systems, Gold Coast, PIC assembler programming
I was born in Sydney in 1941 and, unknown to me, there was a
on and this could well be the reason I am inclined to be a pacifist.
you, I remember absolutely nothing about the war years but my
years at Gardener's Road Primary and Randwick Boy's High are
relatively carefree and interesting times.
I left school at
what was then "Intermediate Certificate" level which
would be equivalent to today's Year 10 (16 years old). My education
stage was relatively successful with strengths in maths and
mediocre in English and languages and bloody awful in history.
I continue to
be totally fascinated with science and technology, but my interest
history has turned around and I now thoroughly enjoy reading
First 12 Years" and genuine historic accounts back to anytime.
still can't take too much "Kings and Queens of England".
I was pretty well
into sports during these years and took part in
school level rugby league, soccer, track and field, tennis and
represented the school or local club against other schools and
once against an interstate team. I also played chess and represented
school in this activity as well. I must add that I was not a
huge star in
anything (except underwater distance swimming:-) but I did at
"above average" in everything I tried.
In these pre-TV,
pre-PC days, leisure time was filled playing games
with friends and indulging in hobbies. Games were of a sporting
including lots of bicycling, street cricket, kicking the football
local park, probably too much time on the beach, in the sun
and, indoors, we played drafts, chess, monopoly, cards and the
games of those times. Radio and electronics was a major hobby
and I built
the usual gadgets of the time like crystal sets and later valve
Under my father's wing, I was signed up as a "trainee"
at AWA, who
were at the time, Australia's largest manufacturer of electronic
I was not driven enough academically to be considered for University,
was capable, so a compromise was found. Available at the time
was a 5 year
Certificate course that was a hybrid between the technical college,
looked after apprentices, and the University of NSW that handled
theoretical side of materials etc. The course was to qualify
me as a
Production Engineer which meant nothing to me, but sounded better
or part time Uni. and more interesting than an apprenticeship.
As apprentices at
AWA went to college one half day per week, and my
lectures were all after hours, I, and a handful of other AWA
allocated a half day in the company boardroom to study. This
particularly productive as it was unsupervised and, as we worked
widespread sections of AWA, had plenty of gossip to share. It
did cement to
some great friendships though.
AWA were very committed
to their training programs. There were just
under 5,000 employees mostly in Sydney but each state had at
least a sales
and service team. They took on 50 or so new apprentices and/or
year and had excellent follow-up to keep us in line. My program,
budding production engineer, was to get the broadest experience
the 5 years of "hands on" training within the company.
The first couple
of years were enjoyable and interesting but a bit of
a let down initially. I started in the press shop where the
metal TV chassis
and other components were stamped out. The noise was LOUD. My
fist task was
to dip a piece of cloth into a tub of beef fat and wipe it over
a flat piece
of steel. I then handed this to the press operator who put in
press, closed the safety door, and stepped on the "go"
pedal. With a
pressure of umpteen tons, whir-squeak-BANG, a TV chassis was
born. And then
we did it again.......... This is how you learn to be a production
Learning all phases
and duties during three months in the press shop
(sorta qualifying as "press operator"), I was brought
before the board and
evaluated, criticised and congratulated and moved on. Turret
electro-plating, injection molding, toolmaking workshop, electric
gas welding, automatic lathes, assembly line, drawing office,
etc. What a fantastic program. I never stop thanking my lucky
stars for the
sequence of events that led me into this great training environment.
In the last few
years of my "time", I supervised the production line
making taxi two way radios (valve), was assigned as assistant
I never did any "production engineering" within AWA
far as I know. I certainly utilised the skills gained during
years, but I never had an office with
Knock and Enter
on the door. Not
that I ever reflected on that at the time. Work life
was very interesting.
AWA had a contract
at the time to supply and install H.F., VHF and
data transmission equipment into ten sites in Indonesia. During
shortages I was seconded to the assembly and testing of the
data portion of
the deal and when an engineer posted to Indonesia fell ill with
they bundled me off to replace him. There are many tales to
tell, both work
related and others, but this is not the place and some of it
not for public consumption.
However, we (fifteen
engineers), battling all odds of getting high
tech gear into low tech locations in the 1960s, managed very
equipment made it possible for the first communications between
and Australia for the transfer of meteorological and aviation
a regular basis. Prior to this, Qantas, and others, were not
ascertain the weather conditions on the ground or in the air,
condition of airfields, for an important part of their continental
On my return from
Indonesia I was grabbed by Jack Fryer, one of the
"legends" within AWA. In those days, many employees
spent their lifetime
within the same company and Jack was one of these. He was respected
company and feared by some (most?) subordinates as he was a
Although I had never met him, he was known to me and I had seen
the factory from time to time. I reckoned that this was a re-incarnation,
a different form, of greasing TV chassis embryos. It was a formal
the company board-room and I, in my very early 20s, in the plush
was totally out of my "comfort zone". Several top
level company men, known
to me through the traineeship program, introduced me and said
I was to be
Jack's assistant for the foreseeable future and I was to do
he assigned to me. I was terrified.
Well, like the press
shop experience, it was the beginning of 5 years
of personal development that was perfectly planned once again
by my lucky
The following working
day I was taken to a subsidiary business,
Telephone Manufacturing Company, in which AWA had just acquired
a 30% share
holding. AWA was responsible for the day to day running of TMC
as part of
their input. Jack Fryer was to oversee AWAs involvement whilst
his regular duties within AWA. He had made his presence known
at TMC for a
week or so before he skewered me, and on the next working day
"promotion" he took me along to TMC. He introduced
me around and told
everyone that I was there to liase between them and AWA in a
It was definitely
the deep end. This was not a happy campsite. The 30
or so employees, particularly at the top end, were unsure of
and not exactly working well together. I floundered for a few
to figure out what I was supposed to do. I had lots of "production
engineering" training and even experience. I had considerable
skills from work and hobby exposure. But none of this was needed.
I did not
have the senior years to get instant respect from TMC management
maturity and confidence to enforce anything.
It took a month
or two of misguided "schemes" to improve known
production problem areas to get to know the staff and gradually
I became one
of the TMC crew. I eventually worked well with the design engineers
planning office and likewise was accepted by the assembly section
with them to improve handling and testing techniques.
But one problem
remained. The company made equipment that enabled
multiple telephone conversations to travel on one pair of wires
modulating them onto a "carrier" frequency. This was
high tech (for the
time) and some components were manufactured in house. A section,
of just a
few employees and a technical supervisor, made close tolerance,
wound capacitors. Each one was hand made to meet the values
specified by the
electronics engineers and then encapsulated and finished off
in a controlled
temperature oven. The supervisor was a tyrant. In the year and
a half that
I had been at TMC I had hardly been into the "lab".
Mind you, neither had
most TMC employees! The section did what it was supposed to
do, and merely
being in the presence of the supervisor was unpleasant.
The capacitor section
came under pressure to increase production and
the tyrant emphatically stated that it can't be done. Nothing
to increase production in that section and that was that. Crisis
reached for the company and neither TMC management nor I could
see a way
out, so Big Jack was called in. He got us into the manager's
starting with me, told us we were %$# &^ %$^%$#s and a few
besides. He said
are a problem maker. Jeff, you are a problem solver.
Surely this is a match made in heaven. Sort it out!"
And we did. As it
turned out, Peter was right and not much could be
done to speed things up. But he wouldn't let anyone into his
domain in the
past to find out. We worked together to improve things a bit.
He got some
long asked for test equipment that he needed but only ever 'demanded'
All in all, my 2
years at TMC surely comes under the heading of a
"character building exercise".
At this time, Jack
Fryer was given the task of creating a brand new
division of AWA to be known as the Military Electronics Division.
He was to
find factory space, equipment and personnel and create a division
after the varied service and support operations that AWA conducted
different arms of Australia's military. The first thing he did
was to take
me on as his full time assistant. I was never given the benefit
of a title
like "Assistant Division Manager" but it didn't matter.
These couple of
years were great.
a two story building in Lord Street Leichhardt that had the
right mix of bare concrete floor, open space down stairs and
suitable for office work and light service and some assembly.
adequate staff parking, proximity to public transport and not
far from a
main feeder road for Sydney (Parramatta Road).
Part of the downstairs
area was cleaned up and a "clean room"
constructed for the service of aviation instruments. It had
ventilation and air lock to get in and out and a "not to
of dress (special dust coats, hair covering, etc.). Upstairs,
room was made to test Army radio equipment. Each section of
needed to be done from a fresh start to house existing sections
throughout AWA. Needless to say there was much consultation
with the section
managers as to their 'needs' and 'wants' and trying to work
difference between the two.
Jack's old shoulders
and my enthusiasm to the challenge made a good
team. There were times of disagreement but we were both of the
respect the other persons advice and if it was a 50/50 decision
we'd just go
with one or the other and fix it if it wasn't the best way to
But it was definitely
not all roses. Jack had a saying "we'd be better
off making bricks" and a day came along when I found out
where he get it
from. I can vividly remember a conversation during a chance
meeting with one
of Jack's cronies while we were having a counter lunch in a
Parramatta. We were out on the road trying to fix some daunting
Initial pleasantries and my introduction to the crony, who turned
out to be
a brick manufacturer, was followed by a tirade from Jack about
problems on his (our) shoulders and finished up with "Sheesh!
We'd be better
of mak'n and bak'n bricks."
We then had to sit
through five minutes of Mr. Crony's last two weeks
"at the office". It hadn't stopped raining for days
and the clay is too wet.
The workers ('lazy bludgers' was the term I think) were on strike
good reason and it would take 48 hours to get the ovens up to
Jack dropped the
phrase about mak'n and bak'n bricks from then on!
A couple of years
down the track and everything was going so smoothly
that I was pretty well out of a job. There was a division manager
and he had
an assistant and they had an accountant and the whole thing
along. I fronted the big brass for something worthwhile to do
and after a
fair bit of head banging the only offer was for me to wait till
position came vacant and I would be on the top of the list.
I was 27, and
even if the management job came "real soon now", I
could not see myself
waiting very effectively, and when the time came, how long I
I thunked it through
and confronted the company again. They
understood, we all shook hands and I joined the ranks of the
Well not really. AWA introduced me to a few possibilities where
would be in demand and I started a week later as factory manager
Mandl Pty. Ltd.
During my time at
AWA I started working part time on some Friday and
Saturday nights, and Saturdays during the day, at the Sydney
and "gallop's" race tracks. I was employed as an on-site
engineer setting up and keeping running the on-course totalisator
equipment. There would be as many as 15 engineers on a race
day to ensure
the smooth operation of the "tote". This was computing
in the good old days.
Miles of wire, hundreds of relays and whirling "distributors"
refined, very "smart" mechanical "adders".
Invented some time before we had
commercial radio stations, TV transistors or even dreamed of
design was still in use into the 1970s.
The DIALix Story (as it appeared in the West Australian newspaper)
Australia's first Commercial Internet Service Provider,
1990 - 2000
From the street,
it's just a modest corner house, half hidden behind trees, overgrown
lawn and shrubs. An early 80's Sigma sits in the driveway, its
registration lapsed. But inside the Johnsons' home in Woodlands
the telephone lines are buzzing, as they do night and day, 365
days a year. This is the nerve centre of DIALix, a rapidly expanding
provider of access to the internet, handling a million calls
a year. Proprietor Jeff Johnson, wife Kay and son Michael are
riding a wave of success as more than 1500 people and businesses
daily connect through their back room to this worldwide network.
The hub of the operation
is down the side and round the back (mind the stump), a sparse
backroom which clinks and twinkles with the subdued sound of
electronic messages winging down the wires. DIALix is the biggest
commercial provider of access to Internet in Australia - and
is taking on 50 new customers a week.
To understand how
the Johnsons have stolen a march on communication companies
Australia - wide to achieve this exponential growth, you have
to go back four years, to when their son Michael enrolled at
Churchlands Senior High School. "There were very few computers
at the school then, and I wondered how much these kids would
learn with the equipment thay had," Jeff recalls. So he bought
a commercial Unix computer and set it up so students across
Perth could dial into it and gain access to a mainframe computer.
"As a father, I asked myself how much I could afford to pay
to allow my son to hook up. The answer I came up with was 1
cent a minute," he says.
"Then I expanded
it outside schools. In the first year I had very few customers,
mostly proffessional people. One of the customers told me of
the Internet, which functioned through the Australian Academic
and Research Network (AARNet), connecting colleges and universities
around Australia - and the world. "I was the first one in Perth
to become an AARNet mail affiliate and piggyback on the AARNet
link. It quickly became a full - time job and I spread my wings
by putting a computer link in the basement of my sister's house
in Sydney. "My nephew Justin (who is hosting this website today)
pestered me to teach him to operate it. He learnt entirely via
e - mail, and now administers the Sydney side of things."
This early foray
into the national market has put the Johnson family business
at the forefront of Internet's expansion into homes and offices
around Australia, with DIALix computers in the major capital
cities, allowing users to call there to join in for the cost
of a local phone call. One of the main reasons for their success
is that they have kept their rates to 1 cent a minute. Mail
and file transfers beyond the DIALix network can be delivered
to any other computer connected to Internet at the additional
cost of 1 cent a thousand characters. Larger companies can link
their inter - city computers into one network. Kay has quit
her job to look after the paperwork, while Jeef keeps an eye
on the traffic, handling 200 - 300 e - mail personal messages
That's why he does
not bother running a car. "if people want to talk to me
they send me a message or come and see me."
Some of the biggest names in the W.A. business world use Internet
constaltly - Western Mining, Orbital Engine Company, Intellect
Australia. Indonesian subscribers ring Perth to join the Net
via DIALix because it is cheaper than going through Singapore.
It is a communication transformation that is reflected in the
charts on the walls at DIALix. Soon the company will have its
own dedicated line to the commercial Internet in the U.S. and
thence the entire Internet, bypassing AARNet.
In his spare time, such as it is, Jeff is assembling a DIALix
host suitable for small towns. This will allow thousands of
users outside the capital cities to join in for the price of
a local call.
And from there? Who knows?
Well we all know
how the Internet has grown since then, but that's how the commercial
side of it began in Australia back in 1990. - Webmaster