The Public Trustee
After school I had worked for periods for the national Australia Bank and at Queerah meatworks, but by late 1985 I managed to find my niche in the workplace when I was offered a position at the Public Trust Office.
The old Public Trustee building was in the heart of the city at the corner of Abbott and Spence Streets, bordering on a green oasis known as Anzac Park. The building has long been demolished along with the park to make way for the Cairns Casino. The casual pace of life inside the Public Trustee building contrasted amazingly with the busy pace of the city, although Cairns in those days were much more relaxed that the Cairns of today. Life was certainly casual at the Public Trustee but it was never boring the characters that worked there saw to that.
Tied up in Controversy
Understanding the casual relaxed atmosphere that existed at the Cairns Branch of the Public Trustee, you can imagine the great outrage it caused when we received a memorandum from the Department Head in Brisbane that we were all to wear neckties when at work! I certainly was not happy when I heard the news, but it was probably not a clever move to agree to an interview when I was contacted by local journo Robert Reid who freelanced for that old Aussie icon ‘The Australasian Post’.
Robert was much more used to doing interviews then I was to being interviewed and like the old hand that he was, he proceeded to buy me a beer at Rusty’s pub to make sure I was relaxed enough to mention the bureaucrats in Brisbane that have nothing better to do than come up with ridiculous rules like this.”
On the first day of 1990 at around 8 AM I received a phone call from the former Premier of Victoria Jeff Kennett. He had been replaced as Victorian Premier and was doing an early morning radio gig. As I waited on hold on this 1st day of January 1990, I heard him say to listeners, “we are now going to interview a man from North Queensland about the biggest social political and economic issue of this decade!” (which was less than 8 hours old). Apart from his smart arse intro the interview went well.
This issue received massive media coverage, much of it light-hearted, but I really felt Cairns needed an image that offered a point of difference, not just like everyone else – besides, it gets hot up here!
A Far Northern Tragedy
Still living with my parents, I returned home from work one afternoon and found my mother sitting beside the phone with a concerned look on her face. She had been watching television and a message had flashed across the screen that a plane carrying Far North Queensland local government officials was missing on route from Airlie Beach to Cairns.
Dad had been invited to do a presentation on local government management with Cairns Mayor Keith Goodwin, at a conference at Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays, so naturally we were concerned. In those days many of the councils in North Qld used to hire private charter planes to take councillors to meetings in areas where there were no regular air services.
No sooner had mum informed me of the news than the phone rang. It was media, asking mum if she had heard from Tom. We both decided to stay by the phone with the television on to find out whatever news we could, good or bad. We both feared the worst.
It emerged that earlier that day Keith Goodwin and dad had made their presentations. Dad tried to get on the Cessna home, but all the seats were taken. He stood envious of Keith and his other colleagues, as he waved them goodbye and made his way to get on a bus thinking “I’d rather be with them than endure the drive back to Cairns.” He could not have known that the while bus would safely make it to its destination, the Cessna never would.
On that day in 1990 the Cessna crashed into Mt Emerald and all aboard lost their lives. They were Keith Goodwin, Rose Blank, Ivan Wilkinson, Harry Rankine, Elwyn Phillips, Bruno Riedweg, Hector Wallace, Sister Nadia Giovanna del Popolo, Joesph Frederick Newman, Graham Gilbert Luxton and pilot Stan Lingren. This tragedy shook the community and robbed the Far North of some of our much loved and most respected leaders.