I started school at East Preston Primary in Sylvester Grove then went to Penders Grove Junior Tech for 1 year, then to Preston Tech in St George’s Rd for years 2, 3 and 4. Many of my friends went to Northcote High School but I chose Preston Tech.
Because I loved making, building and fixing things, the technical school was a perfect choice. I completed entry level to a Diploma course then went to Footscray Tech for a short time to do Mechanical Engineering. One of my father’s friends found me an apprenticeship as a fitter and turner at the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation where jet engines were made. After two years in a trade course I took supplementary subjects until I had a parcel of practical trades subjects, including instrument making, tool making and gear cutting, but underpinning them all was Technical Drawing which I had done at Preston Tech.
Because I was always looking for adventure I went to Britain where I worked as a toolmaker; later, in Canada, I worked in a drawing office where I found that Preston Technical School had given me skills of a higher standard than those taught to students in the UK and Canada.
While there, I joined the Canadian Navy for a while during the Cold War at a time of great tension worldwide. We had Russian planes and ships nearby and buzzing us overhead.
In 1962, at the age of 28, I was selected as Officer-in-Charge of an expedition to the Antarctic. I was commissioned to go as far inland as I could, to prove to the Russians and Americans that Australia was serious about its Antarctic territory, and that we had the skills and resources to administer it. With a team of men and dogs, we explored 1700 kilometres of the Amery Ice Shelf. I took a red Volkswagen beetle straight off the production line to go to Antarctica for use in small jobs around the base. The colour was chosen to stand out against the snow and was named ‘Red Terror’.
I was awarded the British Polar Medal by the Queen for my role in the 1963 expeditionary activities and I had a mountain named after me.
I went back to Siddons Industries after my time exploring and became a Director at Sidchrome in Heidelberg. I was there until I retired 30 years later. In 1973 I returned part-time to Preston Tech as a teacher, and in 1981 I lectured in Participative Management Philosophies at Phillip Institute.
My technical education set me up for a life of adventure and achievement. Preston Technical School gave me the opportunity to express myself, to be adventurous and to test myself to see what I could do. It captured my imagination and equipped me with skills to deal constructively with practical problems and crises on land, sea and ice.
I am now writing my memoirs and also work as a tour guide and historian for an adventure travel company taking groups to the Arctic and Antarctic.
To students who are unsure of what path to take in life, I would advise them to go into technical education, to see where their abilities lie and to find out what they are capable of. The skills they learn there will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives and lead into exciting and productive careers.
Ray McMahon interviewed by Vivien Achia, September 2, 2011
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