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Evan Lee

Graduating from Preston Tech with excellent problem solving skills and a great right hook!

Evan attended West Preston Primary School, then Preston Technical School from 1948-1950. He completed all the trade subjects, English, geography, mathematics related to trades, and technical drawing.

​He says the school was well run but very tough. Rules and bells were to be obeyed and the strap was used on boys who were not obedient. Evan was the only Asian student at PTS and, because it was so soon after World War II, was often mistaken for Japanese. He was bullied constantly, and in order to deal with that, joined the school boxing team as a bantamweight.

Many technical schools at that time had boxing teams and they competed against teams from other states. His training as a boxer helped him to develop his fitness and his confidence, and his boxing prowess soon discouraged the bullies.

After three years at PTS, Evan left school to begin an electrical apprenticeship with a firm in South Melbourne. He graduated with a B Grade Licence as an electrician, then made a decision to return to Darwin, where he had sisters and brothers. There he applied to join the Bureau of Meteorology, where he was trained as a Weather Observer. A meteorologist or weather forecaster needed a science degree to work in that role, but due to his solid grounding at Preston Technical School, Evan, who became a Weather Observer, had the prerequisites for a satisfying and absorbing career, and the ability to develop his skills to a higher level. At school he learned to use his hands for practical things, to solve problems, to apply the mathematics needed in various trades, to create graphs, and to use slide rules. With the weather bureau he was able to install and monitor radar installations, organise balloon flights, maintain weather instrumentation and collate and analyse data. When Evan eventually retired, after a career of 45 years, he was a Senior Technical Officer.

Evan’s career as a Weather Observer led him into a life of adventure, responsibility and travel. In 1959 he was sent by the Overseas Telecommunications Commission to the weather station at Willis Island, 500 kilometres northeast of Cairns. In 1963 he applied for a position as a Weather Observer on Davis, a small Antarctic base with only nine personnel, including four Weather Observers. In 1964 he joined the RAAF and was sent to Thailand during the Vietnam War. It was his task to collect weather information from the Thai weather stations, collate the information, and then brief the pilots of the Australian Sabre squadron before they went out on operations. In 1969 Evan returned to Antarctica to Mawson, one of the larger Australian bases, where there were 28 personnel to share the workload.

From 1979 he spent four years in Malaysia with the RAAF, and because of his rank as Warrant Officer, at times represented the commanding officer in his absence for long periods, and was nominally in charge of the Butterworth air-force base, where a big squadron of fighter aircraft still remained. Evan continued to travel as a Weather Observer and remained with the RAAF until 1985.

Evan attributes his ability to master whatever challenge has been put before him to his excellent grounding at Preston Technical School. He says, ‘It formed the basis for my career. I gained a lot of knowledge and skills which saw me through all the varied and highly technical work in my long career with the Bureau of Meteorology’.  

Vivien Achia interview with Evan Lee.