1956 was a very busy year for my dad, John ‘Jack’ Leo COGHLAN (1909-1974). Not only did he become a father for the fifth time—to me—but he was working at the Olympic Games in, our home town, Melbourne.
The XVI Olympiad was the first Olympic Games to be held in Australia and the first to be held in the Southern Hemisphere. It was also the first Games to be televised.
Dad’s official position at the Games was: ‘Technical Instructor, Olympic Training Scheme’. The position was for 12 months as a teacher of broadcasting techniques. Three hundred technicians were trained at this time.
The lead up...
Dad’s service during WWII was as a radio operator in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), serving in New Guinea and the South Pacific. On joining up, he was already proficient in morse code; a lover of anything to do with valves, resistors, oscilloscopes or such like. As a teenager he built his own crystal set (a radio receiver that received radio waves by a wire antenna) and in 1936, as a 27-year-old, he obtained his amateur radio licence. His future in the world of technology was laid out.
However, an episode of intense communication during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941 nearly put an end to his dreams of a technical life. During the attack Dad sent morse code for 48 hours. The intensity and repetitiveness of this action resulted in a ‘wayward’ right arm. Messages from his brain to his arm became scrambled. In my childhood years, the disability manifested itself, mostly, at the kitchen table: in reaching for something, such as, the salt and pepper his arm would rise up, like something possessed. To control it he had to bring it down with his left arm. We laughed. We thought it was a joke. And I must admit Dad made a joke of it too. Ever the comedian. But it must have been very frustrating for him. Mum told me she had to cut up his food for him after they were married in 1943. However, not one to be beaten by adversity (in fact, the COGHLAN family motto is ‘Courage in Adversity’) Dad learnt to write and send morse code with his left hand. Nothing was going to stop him pursuing his technical dreams.
Following his medical discharge from the RAAF, and as part of his repatriation back into civilian life, he was asked what sort of work he would like to do. He didn’t hesitate; telecommunications. He was now learning to manage his disability with a little Valium, a muscle relaxant, and his new found skill of ambidexterity.
In 1944, he took up a position as a technician in the Radio section of the Post Master General’s (PMG) Department. He worked in Broadcast House, Lonsdale St, Melbourne, the home of the radio station 3LO (now 774 ABC Melbourne)* on-air studio until 1955. Whilst there he learned a lot about recording techniques, even recording his young children, singing, on a ’78’ record.
*For a brief history of 3LO to 774 click here
Amongst the family memorabilia are some of the official photos taken of the broadcasting areas at the Games. The following photos feature a spruced up Dad with a seemingly fresh short, back and sides, ready for one of the most exciting times of his life—besides my entry into the world, of course:
An ‘unofficial’ photo’ of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) is also part of the family archive. Family folklore says that Dad is the fellow in the white trailer perched precariously in front of a jeep in the centre of the following photo:
It’s great to have these photos and it’s been an added bonus to find Dad in a film clip archived in Australian Screen; ‘Australia’s audiovisual heritage online’, part of the National Film and Sound Archive.
This clip comes from a film sponsored by the Postmaster-General’s Department (now divided into Australia Post and Telstra) designed to celebrate and promote the achievement of a telecommunications system for the 1956 summer Olympics in Melbourne that was modern and of an international standard. The Games, the first to be held in Australia and in the southern hemisphere, were seen as a chance to prove Australia could stage a world-class event.
In the film clip (below), Dad is standing to the left of screen, in his ‘supervising role’ at the 32 second mark. He’s on for about 4 seconds so you’ve got to be quick!
There’s also some great examples of home movies taken at the Melbourne Games by Bruce Beresford, Mike Leyland and Sir Robert Menzies on the National Film and Sound Archive. To see them click here
After the Games, Dad went on to have a very fruitful and rewarding career with the PMG. But his technical interests did not stop at work; in his ‘spare time’ he made our television set and stereo equipment, and to ‘relax’, he exchanged signal strength information and weather conditions with people all over the world on his beloved ‘ham’ radio. A true techno whiz!