My ancestors were boilermakers who came from Scotland and settled in Collingwood. My father went to Collingwood Technical School and he became a knitting machine mechanic and worked in the tramways. He was always a practical person.The family subsequently moved to Preston which is why I attended Preston Technical School.
I was at Preston Technical School from 1952-55. I studied mathematics, English, technical drawing, science, solid geometry, social studies, art and clay modelling during the first three years, which gave me a Junior Technical Certificate. I loved making things and in sheet metal, for example, I made many scone cutters for my mother. Fourth year gave more emphasis to science and extra mathematics and subjects related to trades including Machine Shop and Fitting and Turning. This was preparation for a Diploma course at college, and gave me an Intermediate Technical Certificate.
We had some exceptional teachers. One who inspired in me a love and appreciation of mathematics was Mr Spottiswood. He had a passion for maths and he taught it by using solid examples for every concept he introduced to supplement his drawings on the blackboard. We were shown models of everything and these models were made for him by the trade teachers. Mr Bermister was another teacher I remember fondly. He was a young teacher who introduced us to ‘Trad. Jazz’, and because of him, I’ve loved that music all my life.
Preston Technical School was the perfect choice for me because I loved making things. We learned technical drawing, a skill which enabled us to properly design something on paper. Then we learned to turn an abstract idea on paper into something solid, something real. We acquired spatial skills related to the real world and we could see where mathematics subjects were inter-related. Technical drawing was done then with pencils and rulers. Although it is done on computers now with Autocad, the principles and concepts are the same, only the tools are different.
After leaving Preston Technical School I went to Footscray Tech. full-time for one year in 1956, where I started a Diploma in Electrical Engineering. I then went to the State Electricity Commission (SEC) and started a traineeship as an electrical tester, gaining a Certificate in Engineering. The SEC gave us a good general grounding in business, accounting and all activities related to running a business.
As a boy, I read all the adventure books of polar explorers, such as Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen. Some people went to Africa, but I looked for openings to go to Antarctica and was successful. The SEC gave me leave from August 1962 – March 1964, to go to Mawson.
Everyone on a polar expedition is required to be competent in one of the specialties that were needed. I joined as a weather observer, and underwent training in reading instruments, sending up weather balloons, and coding information. We were also required to help out with all the general duties involved in running the base at Mawson. I spent a year at Mawson in 1963. My expedition leader in 1963 was Ray McMahon, who was at Preston Technical School between the years 1946-49. There were four of us in the Meteorological section and we went out on field trips, sometimes on ‘manhaul’ i.e. dragging a sled. We experienced snow and blizzards, at times our tent collapsed, and we suffered various degrees of frostbite.
When I returned from Mawson, I went back to work with the SEC, travelling all over Victoria building power lines, first as an Engineering Assistant then in the distribution side of the business and as a manager.
I also returned to TAFE as a trainer in later life, giving back to technical education some of my experience in the workforce.
My technical education gave me skills that stood me in good stead throughout my working life. It gave me a well-rounded education during which I met a broad range of people who later went into a diverse range of trades and occupations. I think I learned to appreciate how other people think and I appreciated the grounding it gave me.
Interview with Bob Watson, September 17, 2011.