“Everything stood still in Pakenham – as elsewhere throughout the world – on Monday as young and old crowded around TV sets or radios to see or hear of man’s greatest achievement – landing on the moon.”
So reported the Pakenham-Berwick Gazette of Friday 25 July 1969.
“Berwick Shire Council, following the general trend, adjourned its meeting for an hour or so while councillors and staff watched the epic feat on a portable TV set,” the four paragraph front page report continued.
“So much has been said and written about this voyage into the previously unknown that anything we can add would be repetition. But the historic occasion cannot be allowed to pass without us paying our meed of praise to the courage, the skill, the abiding faith of the intrepid astronauts and the team who stood behind them.”
Despite the understated coverage for such a huge event, the lead story in that edition was moon related, to a degree.
Those councillors who had gathered around a portable television wheeled in for the occasion around lunchtime were still at it late into the night – and tempers were starting to fray.
“Last Monday’s meeting of Berwick Shire Council will go down as one of the stormiest on record,” the front page report read. “Partly because of councillors taking ‘time off’ to watch the moon landing and partly because it was a long business agenda, it was about 10pm before council got around to a notice of motion and general business. It was then the fireworks started.”
Furious debate ensued over a motion from Syd Pargeter over the issue of income generated from each riding being spent in that riding – and comments made publicly about that issue by the shire president.
Other major stories were a celebration of well-known teacher Mrs Caulfield’s retirement after 46 years with the education department at Officer Hall, Antionette Cox, the daughter of respected doctor Bruce Cox, graduating as an air hostess with Ansett Airlines and a big win by Nar Nar Goon over arch rival Pakenham in the West Gippsland football, with Ron McQualter and John Stratten dominating.
The cranky councillors aside, most were in awe of the events of 21 July 1969.
Ray Canobie, a shire officer, recalls watching it unfold on that small portable television wheeled into the council chamber.
Some of his colleagues weren’t so lucky it seems.
Neil Lucas remembers only the senior staff being invited into the chamber to watch the momentous event, so a group walked down past the fire station into James Street to watch in the lounge room of colleague Stew Williams.
Ray’s recollection was that all staff were to be summoned into the chamber as Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon and that some must have grown impatient and made their own plans.
He said that if it was a hierarchical call, as Neil suggests, then “it would have been the first time I outranked Lucey in anything.”
Just up the road at the newly opened Pakenham High School, Phil Anning and his mates watched the event unfold on a TV screen set up in the corner of a flash new classroom.
Next door at the Pakenham Consolidated School, Heather Arnold and her classmates were whipped into a moon landing frenzy by an assignment from teacher Mrs Hosking that was plastered onto butcher’s paper and hung up around the school.
Down in the town centre, a young Bronwyn Webster had taken a small portable black and white television set into work at the office of her father N.N. Webster – where Pakenham Travel and the newsagency are now.
A strapping young lad by the name of Russell Broadbent was walking past, noticed the TV in the office and watched the events unfold there.
They were not that well known to each other then, but would go on to be husband and wife.
“I suppose you could say it was one small step for Russell…” the Monash MP said this week.
The Gazette asked a few locals where they were at the time of the moon landing and any recollections they had of the historic event.
Here is what they had to say:
Cardinia mayor Graeme Moore
I watched the events unfold in a Grade 5-6 composite class at Noble Park Primary School, where we had a small television wheeled into the classroom – an experience shared by many others I would have thought.
Gembrook artist Sue Jarvis
I do remember it – like the day JFK was killed – but I wasn’t old enough to realise how important it was. I would have been at teacher’s college and probably saw it on the news that night. At the time we thought people would be living on Mars by now and didn’t appreciate that nothing like that has happened since. I suppose we were a bit passé about that.
Pakenham Racing Club member and former school librarian Ron Carroll
I was actually in New Zealand on a teaching exchange and I remember it being a school day. We asked our children Michael and Bernard to come in to watch it all unfold, but I remember it snowed in Christchurch that day and they probably hadn’t seen snow before. So I imagine that was more exciting for us than the moon landing.
Former Cardinia mayor and keen astronomer Ed Chatwin
I remember it being an auspicious day for me. It was the day I decided to come to Australia – which was just as momentous for me personally. I was in London at the time and met the general manager or ACI, we talked and he invited me to come to Australia. I took him up on the offer, packed up and haven’t looked back. It always sits in my memory that the two things are complementary. A momentus occasion for the world and for me one which I certainly don’t regret.
Former Shire of Berwick CEO, City of Casey mayor and State MP Neil Lucas
When Armstrong walked on the moon in July ’69 there was a council meeting and the council hired in a television so they could watch. When it came close to the landing the meeting was postponed and the only people who were going to watch it were the councillors and senior staff – and Herb Thomas was probably up the back as well covering the meeting. The other council staff knew this was on and were annoyed they couldn’t come in too, so we walked up past the fire station and into James Street to (paymaster) Stewie Williams’ place. He lived three or four doors from highway. We all crowded into his loungeroom to watch the landing. In those days he had a television that had a big glass sheet over the front of it and a there was a big crack in the glass. His kids must have thrown a ball at it. Anyway, we all watched Neil Amstrong go down the ladder, say what he said and then we all went back to the office and resumed work.
Former Pakenham shire secretary and Windermere CEO Ray Canobie
Of all the recollections that sticks out most prominently. There was a council meeting on at the time. Early afternoon a small black and white television was wheeled into the council chamber and the meeting suspended so councillors and staff could watch the events unfold. When the landing was neigh, they would alert us and allow us in. It was extraordinary to see council business put to one side. The vision was less than sharp and we couldn’t really make out the dialogue, but what an occasion it was. In later years we went to Cape Canaveral (later renamed Cape Kennedy) and I was gob smacked. My kids must have wondered what we were doing there and why I was so enamored with all space stuff. Then we went to the the Smithsonian Institute. It seems like yesterday. The other thing about it is that it united the people. This was a thing for mankind. It brought people together on the same platform. We shared in the success of it.
Long-time Pakenham businessman David Brown
I can’t remember what happened last week, but this event 50 years ago is as clear as day. I was still at school, at Dandy High, and we were all allocated a classroom with a television. We all crammed in and watched the moon landing. I remember there was an expectation that it would happen and all fall into place. The fact that it was an extremely difficult exercise didn’t occur to the 15-year-old me – that it could have been life threatening.
Russell and Bronwyn Broadbent
Russell – Kooweerup won the West Gippsland football premiership in 1969, which would have been more important to me at the time. Seriously though, it was a momentous event and signified everything that was America. It was a new beginning, a new era.
Bronwyn – I had taken the portable TV into work. I worked with Dad (N.N. Webster) on the corner of Main Street and John Street. Russell happened to call in and watched the landing. We were only ‘hello Russell, hello Bronwyn’ at that stage. We had gone to Kooweerup High School together, but weren’t going out then.
Russell – What was one small step for Russell… and look where it led – to Evan, Paul and Emily!
Former Kooweerup businessman and football legend Gary King
The day of the moon landing I was surf fishing at Kilcunda and watched the grainy images on the television later. I am still amazed at what they achieved with such primitive equipment. Apparently the computer they had didn’t have as much power as a mobile phone does these days. They were extremely brave and adventurous. To this day I am still stunned at what was achieved.
Casey Cardinia local history librarian Heather Arnold
I was in Grade 5 at Pakenham Consolidated School. We had Mrs Hosking who gave us a group project on the moon landing and all our work was displayed on butcher’s paper around the school. We must have had a television in the room and we were all quite excited about it. At home we used to get Life magazine and I remember looking in awe at all the images – the whole thing was just amazing.
Pakenham Cricket Club president Phil Anning
I was in Form 1 at Pakenham High sitting in the classroom with the rest of the class watching it on the black and white TV in the corner. I would have been there with Keith Popovits, Gordon Kitchin, Peter Bennett, Derek Bastow and Geoff Hamill. It was the most exciting thing I had ever seen. We had just moved into the new high school and we were in one of the new classrooms, which is probably why there was a TV in the corner.
Kooweerup identity Geoff Stokes
We were living in Hartpury, a small village in Gloucestershire, in the United Kingdom the day of the moon landing in July 1969,
It was just a few months before we left the UK for Australia for me to take up a mechanical engineering position in Melbourne.
I remember this time of my life vividly because the take-off day – Wednesday 16 July – was my birthday.
As a mechanical engineer, specialising in valves, pipes and fittings, I was quite fascinated trying to comprehend the massive calculations necessary for such a project.
At that time we had no idea of the advent of calculators let alone computers.
It was just standard procedure to use a slide rule and logarithmic tables for calculations in my field of mechanical engineering and, in the recent past, for my trajectory calculations in the Royal Artillery.
So, for me, this aspect was mind boggling.
As a family we watched the BBC broadcast on our black and white 17 inch (43cm) television set in our lounge. Believe it or not, this TV set was state-of-the-art in 1969.
I recall the TV was switched on most, if not all, of the time.
On the BBC TV studio desk was a digital clock (that was new to us as well) which counted down the time to lift-off
The landing was about 3.15 pm in the afternoon of Sunday 20 July in the UK.
It was quite difficult to make any visual sense out of the first pictures from the lunar surface, as I recollect.
When Buzz Aldrin became the second man on the Moon 19 minutes later, the picture quality improved quite a lot and we could now make out what those eerie black and white shadows were.
Who can forget Neil Armstrong’s words: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
On 21 July, we watched both astronauts get back into the lunar module and the hatch was closed.
Then the Eagle, as it was called, began its ascent back to Apollo 11 to begin its long journey home.
We were watching every second of this and I recall this part of the operation as quite frightening because we had no idea of how this module could get off the moon’s surface.
We didn’t know it had a rocket engine in its base and then suddenly, with a visual roar and a burst of smoke and flame, away it went, up, up and away.
The rest is history, but we tuned in later in the week to see the landing in the Pacific Ocean on 24 July.
We have never forgotten those exciting life-changing days.