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1965-1968: Early Days in Lighting

I started my career in the entertainment industry whilst still a student at Waverley High School in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne.  After numerous fund-raising activities, the parents of our school had raised enough money as a co-payment to persuade the Education Department to build a substantial hall near the corner of Waverley and Huntingdale Roads. (Now “Jeffed” and a housing estate).  This hall was to cater to the needs of student assemblies, double as a gymnasium, and would be hired out to raise a little money for the school.  The hall was completed sometime in the mid 1960s and it was made known that students would be accepted into a training course to operate the technical equipment.  What’s more, if operating outside of school hours, the princely sum of twelve shillings and sixpence per night was offered as compensation.  That was enough to buy an EP (7-inch extended-play vinyl record) and, being very interested in music, I jumped at the chance.

The course was run by Ron Everett, a theatre professional and the parent of two students, and was very thorough for its day.  We learnt how to create simple lighting using equipment from a Strand Lighting catalogue, some staging techniques and some rudimentary sound mixing.  The control equipment was pretty basic: a set of eight Strand resistance dimmers and a four-channel valve mixer with a couple of mics and a turntable.  That’s me in the photo at the Waverley High School lighting console 1967.  Keep this image in mind, for shortly we will see the difference a couple of years make...

As the years went by we managed to get a little extra equipment and also cut our teeth on a large number of productions from our own and neighbouring schools – including innumerable versions of the “Pirates of Penzance” – by far and away the most popular of the Gilbert and Sullivan school productions.  One year a relatively adventurous Waverly High drama teacher decided we would perform “Antigone” – against blacks instead of a set, and with dramatic lighting and sound effects.  With our limited facilities this was quite a challenge, and one that I think we managed pretty well.  This was my first real taste of creative theatre, and I was most disappointed when a new teacher was assigned the task of
producing next year’s play – “The Boyfriend”.

After matriculating at Waverley High School in 1967, I entered the second
year of a Diploma of Applied Chemistry at RMIT, more because I hated
chemistry less than physics or maths than any real desire to become an
industrial chemist. The freedom of tertiary education quickly went to my
head and I joined a band with some fellow students and also the RMIT
Dramatic Society. By the end of 1968 I had grown up a lot, had shoulder-
length hair, but had regrettably wasted much of my parent’s hard-earned
tuition money. In desperation my father sent me to a vocational guidance
counsellor, who decided that my abilities and interests were mismatched
and concluded (in the nicest possible terms) that I was unemployable!

At the suggestion of a family friend I wrote to all the commercial television
networks enquiring if they might employ me in their lighting departments.
Ten never replied, Seven said no thanks, and Nine said that they didn’t
have a position, but come in for a talk anyway. After my short interview
they said they would place me in the queue. On 7 January 1969 I found a
position as a trainee computer programmer for Felt & Textiles. I rang Nine
as a courtesy to let them know, and was told that my new employment
was a great pity, as a technician had had a severe falling-out with the
head of the Lighting Department and could I start at 8.00am the next
morning? In such moments are careers made and broken, and my swift
decision to accept the job at Nine was literally life-changing.

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A young Peter at the lighting
switchboard at Waverley High
School circa 1967 – wearing
school uniform complete with


Outside my parents’ house in 1968 – a long-haired student at RMIT, and drummer in a band consisting mainly of fellow Industrial Chemistry students