Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Swimming with Sharks

Peter Dick, the Breakfast Show presenter, used to get perverse pleasure from sending me to scary, dangerous places.

Many mornings I would have to remind myself that I was a mother of two beautiful, small children, and should I really be doing this?

But I loved it too, each day bringing me some new discovery, some privilege that no-one else could see/touch/experience. One of these things, was to swim with the sharks, early in the morning.

I planned my revenge....listen here

One Kilometre Underground - clunk!

One of the scariest things I have done, is to travel one kilometre underground to a coal mine, west of Brisbane.

Meeting the men who would ultimately be in charge of saving my life if anything went wrong, I was kitted up with grey overalls, heavy boots and a 20kg emergency pack, (well it seemed that heavy anyway) slung over my hip. Tragically, I also had to wear a hard hat, my poor head is just too small for these things, lol. The hardhat also had my light, which I would need in the total darkness.

Walking was difficult as my hard boots were a mans size, and my little size 6 feet had to lift and clump, lift and clump. The Emergency Pack held my supply of oxygen and other things you and I don't wish to know about, suffice to say it was bloody heavy, and very awkward on my hip.

We went down the mine on a low-riding thingy, (see picture) which I have no idea what the name of it is now days...and the immediate thing that struck me was that all the walls are painted white, to help reflect what little light there is.

Electricity, telephone and water are also powered down the mine, allowing limited lighting and use of water for washing etc. Throughout the mine, there are ante-rooms, some with a table and chair for smoko-time, lol. These "rooms" are for safety and access to rest whilst heavy machinery operated close-by.

The men joke with me, and one smarty says "Let's show Patty just HOW dark it is in here, lights OFF!" and with that, I am plunged into total, mind-numbing darkness. I feel like a bat, using all of my senses to strain to listen to where the men are. "Fellas?" I call out, nervous, but also enjoying the joke.

It is incredibly hot and humid underground, the temp was prolly 38c and water seemed to run everywhere on the ground. 'Underground creeks" came the answer, hmmm.

Huge diggers came and went, shifting tonnes of coal and structure around like it was a sandbox. As I was not allowed to use my normal Uniden mobile phone in case of a spark, I had to use the underground landline phone.  

Throughout the whole interview, you can hear "Clunk, hello Peter, can you hear me?

"Clunk", I am speaking with Joe Blogs, good morning Joe, Clunk!" My hands were shaking so much, I kept hitting not only my own hardhat, but also poor Joe Blogs hardhat, each time I placed the phone near him for his interview responses.

So funny!

Fresh air never seemed so good at the surface, and then we relaxed and took our photos. Whew!

I came, I saw, I climbed!

The Story Bridge Climb is now open.

When I was a Roving Reporter for Radio 612 ABC, one story involved climbing the Story Bridge, to see how it was painted. After a few phone calls to City Hall, permission was finally granted on the basis that a) I was not to ask people to "look up and wave to me" for fear of a car accident in early morning traffic rush-hour, and b) I was all care, no responsibility - in other words, look out for myself!

As usual, I was in the Studio around 5.30am, to say good morning to Peter Dick, and to grab my phone and spare batteries. The last thing you need is a flat battery, after this effort, and believe me, it was going to be an effort. My phone pack weighed around 5 kgs.

In one of the phone calls to the Supervisor in charge, he suggests I use a mini crane to "get up to the first row - "don't worry, the previous Mayor also used it when she climbed too" which immediately puts me right off the suggestion.  
I shall climb it myself, I announce proudly. Foolishly.

I park at the end of the Bridge, a tricky tight corner where my 4wd barely manages to sit, and I meet the two blokes who are to escort me up the Bridge. It's now 6am, perhaps we can make the first 'cross' at 6.20am, after the news and a song?
We walk along the pavement, to where we are to climb. "Up you go Patty" the men suggest, and I look blankly at them.  

Where? Where is the staircase I had imagined? Where was the enclosed ladder I thought we would be using? As it was, I had to begin to climb hand over hand up this giant Meccano set, with the bridge supports at 45 degree angles. Making very sure my feet don't slip, I mutter to myself "I am a mother of two small children" and will myself not to die today. I shove the phone pack to my left hip, and begin to climb.

"And you will die!" the men say cheerily, "If you fall, you will hit your head on the supports, and if that doesn't kill you, a car will run over you, and if that doesn't kill you, you will drown in the river!"

Hmmm....I climb very purposely, carefully, up, up, we must be nearly there surely? My hands are aching and sore from gripping the cold steel, and I am shaking - whether it's from fear or the cold, I'm not sure, but I am shaking!

When I also mention this to the blokes, they laugh and say "Oh yes, and the whole Bridge shakes too, in fact, if it stops shaking, run like hell!"

We do the first cross halfway up, I sound breathless and scared but excited, and I am. My arms are wrapped around the steel girders, and I have to also interview one of the men and hold the microphone under his mouth.

So one hand around the Bridge, one hand with the microphone shaking with fear as we go to air. Cars immediately start beeping and honking, it's amazing how many people are listening. (In those days, Breakfast used to rate 22% which has never been beaten, or equalled. Now they rate around 9 -11%)

The noise from the cars, trucks and buses fills my head. When we reach halfway, the men tell me to go through a trapdoor hole. It's very tricky, as I have to manoeuvre myself to climb forward, then reach backwards and then stand up. My legs are jelly, and I am out of breath, but the worst is now over. The rest is an easy doddle up using a proper staircase, to the highest point.

The view is spectacular, in fact I can see my suburb and imagine my sleeping kids and hubby, still fast asleep. It's now about 6.45am and we have time to kill before our next 'live cross' in half an hour, so we chat, and take photos, and watch the traffic, the faces of the drivers just recognizable as they wind their way into the city.

Going to air for the second 'cross' a listener rings in to tell me she can see my through her binoculars in her home at Newfarm. Really? I wonder for an instant about my lipstick, but soon smile and wave to her, somewhere in the distance. Coming down was a whole new ballgame, as we did everything in reverse, including the tricky trapdoor opening.  

The traffic was flowing north to south, the river was flowing east to west, and passenger ferries travelled in both directions. My head was spinning. Whoa!
I take my time and don't rush anything, this is when mistakes happen. Left foot, placed. Right foot, placed. Hands, hands, left foot, placed. Right foot, placed, and so on, all the way down.

Made it! The relief is palatable. I drive home on a natural high, for breakfast and a cuppa, before making my way back to the Studio to recharge the phone and see how the Show went. By the time I get home, hubby and kids have left for school, so I sit there and think about the day, think about the Bridge, and make myself another cuppa.

QANTAS to Singapore

When I was approached to fly to Singapore to turn around and come straight back home on the first QANTAS plane from Brisbane, my family and I had been sailing up through the Whitsunday Islands. Clueless, I stood in Nara Inlet on the deck of our gorgeous 40’ chartered cat, and rang my radio producer to see what jobs she had lined up for me for the next week back on air. She screamed "IT'S PATTY! IT'S PATTY!!" to whomever in the office.

"Blimey", I thought, "someone is happy to hear from me."

As it turns out, I had to fly to Singapore in two days time, and I quickly rang my neighbours to see if our passport was still current, (it was) and the next day I flew back to Brissy, unpacked, showered, repacked, and drove to the airport to fly out on QANTAS. We couldn’t get hubby onto the same flight at no cost, he had to pay full fare, bugger!

As we boarded, I mentioned to the Steward who I was, as I was hoping to seat my excited hubby next to me, (as it was a last minute thing) when he whisked me straight up with...."the Captain is waiting for you" on flightdeck.

What the?

I waved goodbye to my confused hubby, and went to meet the Captain, and the Navigator promptly locked my 5-point harness...for takeoff.

Oh no, I thought, do I stay here for the entire flight?

After lots of 90% boredom 10% pure fear stories, I asked to be excused and made my way back to hubby, who by now, was waving a bottle of champers at me. Smashed off his face.

"If I have to pay my own business class ticket to Singapore, I am drinking the fare in champers" he declared, and with that, he passed out. 

Upon arrival at Singapore, we were in the company of the QANTAS PR girl, and spent most of the time wandering aimlessly waiting for the plane to refuel and take off again.

We had dinner that night with the Pilots, and when I phoned Australia to see how the children were, my neighbour (who was then a chief Steward for Ansett) casually mentioned on the phone that Ansett were going to try and beat QANTAS back from Singapore; they were flying in from Japan.

Race is on!

I pass this info onto the Pilots, who immediately proceed to gear up, and the staff ring all passengers to board 2 hours earlier than intended.


We load up after a rough nights sleep (prolly 2 hours) and by now I have been awake for 'what-day-is-it' and we take off, this time, me seated next to hubby, who promptly falls asleep.

I stay awake all night (over-excited schoolgirl) and just marvel at the lights, and I follow our progress via the in-flight magazine map, clearly seeing the islands and shoreline lined with bright lights.

I simply cannot sleep, as I am very worried too about the live broadcast the next morning.

Brisbane ABC Radio have had to 'patch into' Sydney blah blah blah so that Peter can speak to me live, as well as the Pilots, via their own radio frequency.

Very tricky stuff, never been done, and I am it. *gulp.

I stare out the window for 6 hours, and finally go quietly to the washroom and freshen up as best I can, putting on my ABC Radio t-shirt uniform, aware there will be loads of television cameras there. I apply extra lippy, just in case.

Going to the Pilots flightdeck, I again take my position in the jump-seat, waiting for Mr Navigator to strap me into my harness, but he never does. Oh well, suits me, I am free to bend down and fiddle with my phone and start to make contact with the Station.

I ring, and ring. And ring.

The time is now 4.30am, and we are very, very early, as we have to beat Ansett Airlines into Brisbane. No one is interested in coming second.

Apparently the story is that when Ansett went into Japan, QANTAS stole their limelight by landing a plane painted in aboriginal artwork, so revenge is on.


Party spoilers.

But.. as it is ONLY 4.30am, I can "see" Peter and Pam just sitting there having coffee and discussing the show. They aren't expecting me until the 5.30am 'cross'.


We ring, and Ring. AND RING.

Finally the sound engineer picks up, and by now we are all hysterical, and tired. It has to be a pre-record, which is fine IF YOU HAVE THE TIME, but as Peter was also about to go to air 'live' the whole thing is just getting silly.

S.H.I.T. B.R.I.C.K.S!!

Eventually we agree not to go "live" in the plane (all that tax-payers money down the gurgle, so sorry) but to go live as we land (great, but I am more interested in actually being safe than talking to the Pilots as he lands us down).

We continue to fly and I can see another plane, and hear it - in the radar loop.

"That's Ansett" the Pilots say, and we play a cat n mouse game of up and down to stay in front of them, for over an hour. :)

As they went down to "go under us" we went down too. If they went "up" we also went up.

As we get closer to Brissy, I again wait for the Navigator, but to be honest, we are all so stressed, and running on empty (the plane took less fuel to be lighter and faster) that I don’t want to disturb him too much. As it turns out, I never did get buckled up, as I was also too busy to do anything, so we land with my nose firmly pressed into the back of the Captain.


We finally land, and I do my first cross. I am at no stage allowed to say the word QANTAS, as the ABC is non-commercial. Oh yeah? You try it. Ha!

I have been awake now for what-year-is-it? I am running on nerves of steel.

As we taxi in, I can see the television cameras, all trained on us. The fire brigade are also there, with a water cannon salute, drenching the plane and christening the flight.

I say to the Pilots "Better smile boys, there will be a lot of people looking at you on telly tonight" and so they wave and smile, and sure enough on the news that night, there are the Pilots waving and smiling, and me, waving and smiling too, seated firmly behind the Captain.

So funny! As the doors open, there is the Queensland Premier to meet me and I thrust my ever-present camera to my hubby, who is so star struck he only manages to take one photo the entire time.

Good grief.