There are things we did together, Murphy and me, that I choose
not to tell you about. Like why I hit a kerb late one night and
punctured two tyres and then left a trumpet on the nature strip
after taking it out of the boot to get to the spare wheel! And
how we finished up on top of a heap of road metal with all four
wheels suspended in the air at 2am one morning after a late night
with Ernie Butler!
Which leads me to tell you about Ern. Those who knew him have
a great assortment of stories about him and his exploits
often brought on by imbibing plenty of amber fluid but all outrageous
and most of them true. I did a round-the-world trip with Ern
so have a few personal stories to add to the vast collection
but one thing that always emerges when people start to talk about
him is that underneath the buffoon he chose to show to the world,
there was a unique, caring and highly intelligent individual.
Our trip started out fairly well with Ern and I keeping the hostesses
busy bringing us cans of Fosters to help us through the long
night as we winged our way towards Hawaii where we found ourselves
in a glorious high-rise hotel apartment overlooking the famous
When we went out at night for a meal, Ern kept the American couple
on the next table amused by his Ocker wit and they insisted on
'shouting' us large amounts of Budweiser so that by the time
we staggered back to our room, Ern was not fully with it. I was
VERY asleep when he put the light on and headed for the bathroom,
babbling incoherently. He babbled still more when he returned
and eventually the light went off and peace settled again. Next
morning I awoke to cries of, "Who did this?" as Ern
surveyed the wreckage of the bedside lamp. It had an American-style
rotary on/off switch that had beaten him during the night and
he had dismantled the whole thing and removed the globe!
Our flight to San Francisco was delayed and we arrived there
on a Saturday around midnight to find no-one to meet us despite
plenty of correspondence between Ernie and members of the 20/30
International organisation that was the U.S. equivalent of Apex.
We tried to phone the contact person who Ern believed lived in
Chicago because the letters had carried 'CHICO' as their destination.
The phone books didn't help no-one by that name lived in
Chicago or the surrounding areas. We were eventually rescued
by the people supposed to meet us they had started the
welcoming party without us and were in great form by the time
they arrived at the carousel. 'CHICO' turned out to be a little
Californian town near San Diego and had nothing to do with Chicago!
After a hectic and rather strange Sunday in San Francisco we
flew to Vancouver, spent time with the local Kin 40 members and
then next day boarded a coach for Montreal with overnight stopovers
at Revelstoke in the foothills of the Rockies and Calgary
home of the famous 'Stampede'. With us on this part of the trip
was Dennis a boomerang throwing champion back in Aussie
and his wife. During a mad tour with our Kin 40 hosts of
all the hotels in the area, Dennis demonstrated his prowess with
the boomerang but as the night wore on the curved stick showed
less and less inclination to return to sender.
We had a great time with the Canadians and all too soon we were
on a British Airways flight to London where Murphy had preceded
us. Ern was heading for friends for a few days and my plan was
to pick up the hire car I'd booked before leaving Australia,
staying with cousins in London over the weekend and then taking
a few days to reach the World Council of Young Men's Service
Clubs convention in Edinborough where I'd catch up with Ern again.
There was no desk for Kays Rent-a-Car! No-one had heard of them
and the phone book had no entry for them so I tried Avis and
all the others. It was a universal chorus of, "Sorry
we are booked out. Try again after the weekend." Just a
bit discouraged I rang cousin Barb. and she arranged to meet
me at the underground station near her home in north London.
Struggling onto the train with my heavy cases and wearing a cowboy
hat presented to me in Canada by the boys of Kin 40, I sweltered
in London's out-of-character heatwave and finally reached Tufnell
Park Station where I waited for ages outside the wrong entrance
until I finally woke up to the idea that there just might be
On Monday, Murphy persuaded Avis that I needed to show my Australian
driving licence before they would let me loose on British roads
and, as I'd left it at home, I had to ring son Chris and get
him to drop it into the Avis Melbourne office for them to fax
the details through to the UK. This done I was given the keys
of a Vauxhall and sent off into the London rush hour, fortunately
accompanied by Barb's husband Steve who worked in the City and
had arranged to meet me after work.
A few days later I had caught up with quite a few family members
plus Derek and Barbara, old friends from RAF days, and spend
the next weekend in York with some of Vi's family before going
on to Scotland for the convention.
Ern was popular wherever we went and it amazed me to find how
many people from around the world knew him and corresponded with
him. He was in fine form at the social evenings and one night
as we returned from a 'Caliedh' (check spelling) on the top deck
of a double-decker he embarrassed everyone on board that knew
him by asking the girl he was sitting with if she'd ever wondered
what Scotsmen wore under their kilts and then lifted the
kilt of the poor fellow sitting opposite!
A huge Indian member of Round Table Jitty Singh came
with us as we drove back to London and his turban hit the roof
every time we went over a bump. Jitty was from New Delhi but
had friends who owned an Indian restaurant in London and we were
invited to go there for lunch before flying to South Africa.
The hot curry was mild compared to the ferocious chilli-based
dish served as an entree. "You've destroyed my taste buds
you b.....," I cried to Jitty's great amusement. I blamed
Jitty for my streaming eyes and burning throat but I believe
my mate Murphy would have had a hand in it!
He certainly had a hand in our SAA flight to Johannesburg that
night or it should have been that night but BM caused an
engine problem that saw us sitting on the plane for hours while
they tried to rectify the trouble. They served us dinner and
drinks and finally around midnight carted us off to a hotel where
we endeavoured to get a few hours sleep before the early call.
Our luggage had stayed on board so I had to put on the same socks
that I had worn all the previous day and we finally got airborne
well into the morning for the long haul down the coast of Africa.
SAA was forbidden to overfly the African countries and had to
take the long way round and this saw us arrive at Jo'burg just
before midnight. Our message to Ern's friends had not reached
them and they had spent the entire day and evening at the airport.
By now the nylon socks were getting very high indeed but there
was still a three hour drive into the Transvaal before arriving
at our host's home and at last I was able to get those smelly
things off my feet before we settled down to yarn while we munched
on caviar and scrambled egg at 4am.
Oh Ern I could write another book about you. Sadly, Ern
developed a rare and particularly savage kind of bone cancer
and he and his long-suffering partner Jesse, bought a lovely
home on a hill overlooking the estuary at Batemans Bay in NSW
were he spent his last few years as the cancer gradually overcame
even his indomitable spirit. With a group of his friends we scattered
his ashes in the estuary at a spot he had nominated and even
then his humour came to the fore. He had requested that his ashes
be scattered there, "Because then I can come ashore twice
a day for a beer when the tide comes in!"
Murphy kept his head down and it was a lovely sad/happy weekend
until, on the way home, the approaching police car did a u-turn
on a deserted stretch of the Princes Highway the other side of
Orbost and I copped a speeding fine.