Tribute to the life and times of Peter Mewkill – (12th November 1940 – 17th October 2001)
Photo: Libby Stanton-Cook
Peter at Mount Hay, Blue Mountains, March 2001.
Peter was partner to Sue Nolan (dec.), husband to Beverly, father of James and Danielle, and grandfather to Heather and Anna.
Denis Edwards, Leura, October 2001
Other Speakers at Pete’s Farewell were Steve Bisley, Bret Ferris and James Mewkill Huge thanks to Steve and Sally for hosting the wake.
Peter spent some time with us surveying lines for gravity surveys at Girilambone North and Tritton during a couple of seasons about 4 years ago – and we would have asked him back if there had been more work of this type.
Worked his butt off, did an excellent job and kept everybody in high spirits with his comments. I don’t have any particular anecdotes, but he was well known to the regulars at Barrett’s Hotel – which was a bit like the Ettamogga Pub, only a bit rougher. Camels in the bar, Harley Davidsons tearing up the carpet, ladies who lost various parts of their apparel, bands until 3 am etc- things like that. When Peter was in the bar there was always a good crowd because none of the locals would leave but stayed on to listen to his jokes and conversation. Vale Peter.
It’s very sad to lose Peter. When I worked with him in Cobar he asked me to called him Mickey Mouse. We worked in Langtons, Glenown, Bobadah and Narri. We worked from sun up until sun down. Black and strong coffee was his lunch. One day he said to me that if I put the next peg right on the spot he would buy me a beer. What happened next was I did it. He bought me a beer at the Nymagee pub. From Nymagee pub we drove the campervan to Bobadah where we were doing a gravity survey. It was winter and it was frosty and cold but he worked nearly non-stop from dawn till dark. We cleared trees, pulled them away. Peter I miss you. You are my friend for all seasons.
I got to know Peter during Delta’s Tennant Creek days where he was contracted to undertake close spaced gravity and magnetic surveys. I will always admire his ability to walk from sun up to sun down while dragging a magnetometer around the spinifex. His only sustenance during the entire day would be some sort of home made iced coffee concoction. I was never sure what was in that stuff but it must have been pretty strong. Each day would end at the “rough as guts pub”, as he would call it, on Tennant Creek’s main street.
Many happy memories. R.I.P.
Gidday! My name is Steve Bisley and I was Pete’s neighbour and mate for the last 8 years. I haven’t started to grieve Pete’s passing , yet there have been brief moments,when I know something’s not right, something’s missing, a space is empty that I know will never be filled. I had a relationship with Peter which was probably the easiest I have ever had with anyone in my life. It was a bit like walking with him. There was no need to fill the beauty of the silences with needless chatter. Whether we were at Mount Hay or Leura Falls, Mount Solitary or Doctor Darke’s cave it was enough to have a mate along, to share something, together. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all peaceful and quiet, oh no! Peter loved nothing more than a gathering of people for a celebration. I once had some people at my house in Leura for a Sunday lunch. They wouldn’t have been my 1st choice but the circumstances were beyond my control. So with Pete’s help and equipped with a recipe I had for Zucchini Fritters , we started to prepare the dish. I like to experiment when I cook and I had appointed Pete as my assistant that day, as he had arrived early and was keen to help. In went the ingredients, as well as a secret herb that I had found growing in a sunny patch in my garden. As Peter and I were unaware of what the effect of this herb might be on the Lunch guests we had tried it ourselves. Some time later when I was again able to speak we introduced the now fully approved herb to the fritter mix. The guests dutifully arrived , lunch was consumed as was some local win……
Later that afternoon a lady who who shall remain nameless was found under a Rhododendron , naked and entwined in the arms of someone she had only just met, but apparently liked. I encountered one guest talking to a chook, so I left them to it. Needless to say it was, and remains, a very memorable afternoon. On of the guests called the next day to say what a lovely time they had had, followed by the best night’s sleep ever. Ahhhhh..that mountain air.
I’ll get back to you later. There’s more.
Thanks for letting me know about Peter. Unfortunately I won’t be able to get
to Leura – my thoughts will be with you all, remembering one of life’s classics.
My memories of Peter are from the times he worked with me for Delta at Cobar and for Tri Origin at Lewis Ponds – a wizened gnome with skin like leather, a shock of straggly blonde hair, those ever-twinkling eyes and that sense of humour – the way that he would make a totally outrageous statement and then patiently look you in the eye while you struggled to come up with a coherent response was totally un-nerving!
Please wish him farewell for me.
In 1979 – Peter and I were both working for Geopeko and we had a load of maps to deliver to the post-revolution Government in Iran, to complete a contract made with the pre-Revolution government. Diplomatically delicate it is fair to say. There were not too many volunteers. Peter was hard to hold back – even before the Company decided to send us first class. The argument was that the excess baggage fees, given the weight of the maps, was more than the difference in the fares. In those days it was accepted as a law of nature that the concept of excess baggage ceased to exist in first class. Pete was just delighted, I can still see his elfin eyes sparkling as we settled into the enormous chairs in the JAL front cabin, assisted by two exquisite living dolls, each dressed in 20 metres of folded burgundy silk . We dined well, to say the least, on about 9 courses and Pete savoured every mouthful. After the customary aperitifs and vintages, he decided it was too important an experience to be ended with an ordinary Grandfather port so we had Benedictine. It was exceptionally fine and so we had another, then we had a minor disagreement about whether it would be as good a third time, so we had to resolve that empirically (with apologies to Aristotle who I think actually featured in the conversation – it was hard to catch Pete short of information on any topic related to science or philosophy) … some blurry hours later I recall Pete summoning the immediate and unswerving attention of the nearest living doll with an energetic gesture of the little finger on his left hand. She arrived with a tragically pained expression and as he ordered she fell to her knees and clasped her hands in anguish … “Oh Sah! I am so tehhibly solly but I cannot brin you any moah – you have dlunk all of Benedictine in whole aehoplane!
I don’t remember mush more of the flight…
Another Story Pete told me …
He was working for Lindsay Ingall on the BMR Regional Gravity survey of South Australia in the 60’s.
They were using a helicopter in a classic double-drop/double-back operation. The first operator would be dropped on a station and the helicopter would lift off to drop the second operator on his first station, some miles away, leaving the first site in calm and quiet to take the reading. The helicopter would then double back and pick up the first operator and move him to his second station and so forth all day.
The Lake Eyre district proved a real problem, as their usual method of navigation was marking air photos for the pilot to relocate the operators and they were about as useful as a lawnmower on the salt lakes. The horizon was a broad zone where the white graded into blue overhead with no distinct break between them. Because of the reflected light and heat and the multiple undulating layers of air at different temperatures, visibility from the ground was severely limited and shimmery, perhaps only good for a few hundred metres. It was not much better from the air at the low altitudes needed to spot a person. There was a serious danger of the pilot not being able to relocate an operator. The scheme they devised to manage the risk was for the operators to throw out brightly coloured party plates every few seconds to make a trail on the salt that the pilot could follow back to find them again. It was in the interests of each operator to throw them frequently so he would be easy to find and they deployed hundreds of them.
He said it was an eerily unnerving feeling to be left alone there in that unreal world. The worst was the time after taking the reading, waiting for the helicopter to return. The fear of being lost was ever-present. You felt absolutely elated when you finally heard the throb of its air-cooled flat-four engine well before you saw it, no music could sound so sweet. It often first appeared dislocated, with the distorted rotor and body separated and then drifting together as the distance closed.
I wonder what the party plate supplier thought they were doing?
Around 1980 or so the staff of Amoco Minerals would have a few drinks in the office after work on a Friday evening. Peter Mewkill was a regular visitor at these times. People would sit around joking and telling stories. When Peter would tell the story of something that had happened to him in the last couple of weeks all other conversation would stop to listen to his lucid narrative. Almost inevitably Peter would be coming up to what seemed to be the climax of the story and would stop. When asked what happened next, he would reply, “Nothing – that’s it”. Peter enjoyed telling life’s stories the way they really happen, which is usually without a punch line. He didn’t think that a story needed a dramatic finale for it to be interesting to himself and to others.
I suspect that in his life there were many, many stories which did have punch lines, but he didn’t talk about them – he just remembered and smiled that enigmatic smile.
We all have lots of stories about the things we remember doing with him. And we are all smiling because a large proportion of them had punch lines when Peter was around.
We were working in the early 80’s out of a base in Canberra. It was most unusual to be doing field geophysical surveys based in a city. Instead of the customary trip to the pub at night we stopped at a night club in Civic for a beer or two to conclude the days work. We sat at a table and downed the first beer while we watched the seething mass of young humanity thrashing around on the dance floor.
Suddenly Peter leapt to his feet. “This is great!” he exclaimed “I love this!” and rapidly made his way to the dance floor. We didn’t see him for an hour or so and we assumed he had used his charm to seduce yet another lady to the floor. When he returned it transpired that he had spent the hour on the floor dancing by himself and generally mingling. If Peter felt like dancing then that was what he did. The fact that he had probably walked more than 20km during the day’s work was irrelevant. I think the need for a smoke was the only thing that brought him back to our table.
Goodbye Peter Mewkill – one of life’s unforgettable characters.
Like the time he came to dinner with me, and we had wine and pizza talked books for hours and then I heard the back door bang. A Robber! So I called the cops (having) just also smoked a joint with him and then he showed me how to watch Northern Exposure~ Ah, the cops, well, Peter couldn’t believe I had called them, all things considered, over a burglery! It looked very intimate just two wine glasses on the table and Pete and I sitting watching telly – “…er, my husband’s away, just a friend…” she babbled…I am not good at making this sound funny and maybe I shouldn’t tell the dope bit, the industry being what it is and all!
Thanks for the phone wake!
Love to you all
So sorry to lose Pete, a real friend. I have included a pic of the most recent photo – the July Harbour cruise, blue eyed and forever inquisitive! Hope it all goes well tomorrow RogerSK
Sad news – unfortunately I am in India and can’t make the gathering. Some of my best memories of this business are of the time I spent with Pete working up in Cape York for Cyprus.
1978, north of Georgetown, FNQ. Sharing a van with Peter at the Dingley Dell Camp where he was running some resistivity surveys. Just before dawn, a stirring from Pete’s bunk, an arm emerges, forages around for the pack of Camel Plain. The eyes remain closed, the first fag of the day is extracted, lit and enjoyed. The burning of fingers signals the visual start to the day and emergence to stub the butt. An heroic and dangerous approach that he maintained for years while those made of less stronger stuff insisted on food and a cuppa before lighting up.
And there was the day’s journey from Townsville to the Selwyn Camp in the mid-80’s. Pubs were visited in Charters Towers, Pentland, Hughenden, Richmond and Julia Creek. The extended stay, ’til closing at the McKinlay Pub; more cartons bought and we MUST HAVE SOME PORT! (Thanks Ian!) Peter got us to Starra before dawn, a superhuman effort in the company of two seasoned drinkers who were simply outclassed on this occasion.
He had an amazing capacity for work. The line kilometres of mag in rugged terrain at close spacing exceeded 15-20/day and then he would deliver contoured plans after dinner. And, when memory mags and his CPM-driven Kaypro became the go, he achieved more, faster! Somewhere at Selwyn is the data set for a ground mag survey over Mt.Eliot and SWAN at 10 metre spacings, N-S & E-W. All Peter’s work.
His love of music and his eclectic collection ranging from the classical composers (Bach was his favorite) through to obscure jazz and rock and roll remains vivid. Pete had the first and best mini-CD players and speaker systems ever to grace a field camp. Armed with these and his great love for the bush, extended field trips became his pleasure, the pinnacle probably being, for Peter as well as many others, the Starra Camp in North Queensland.
Pete lived a full and enjoyable life, hedonistic at times but he shared that, along with his wine and smokes and his entertaining and provocative personality. And the best women loved him.
Whatever else, it was always good fun. Cheers Pete.
Our paths first crossed at Perth airport in December 1968, a place of many
crossings in the late 60s early 70s, when I was returning to Sydney from
Tom Price after my first AGC job and Peter was taking over the project.
The next meeting was 14 February 1970 at just on dusk at the Docker airstrip in the Petermann Ranges near the NT/WA border. Mel Czerwick and I were taking seismic and resistivity crews out to Gibsons Desert to try and get some production on the Inco job, which had had a three month “setting up” period without any production and AGC weren’t that happy. Peter was just arriving back from the Stuart Arms in Alice Springs, where, unknowingly, our paths had crossed earlier in the day. In his inimitable way, he asked me what the bloody hell I thought I was doing there. I told him I was taking a crew out to get some production. That seemed to satisfy him. The next day, with a novice crew, I broke the all time record for resistivity spreads in one day.
I didn’t see much of Peter on the Docker job because we were surveying 5,000 square miles and weren’t in camp at the same time very often.
The next time I recall was around April 1970 at Paraburdoo, where I had to lay Peter across the bonnet of the Land Rover because he had a mild case of heat stroke. A few beers and a couple of salt tablets fixed him.
We were in Bougainville together later in 1970 and after that it was mainly Geoquest work I think. Braidwood NSW, Georgetown FNQ, Boraloola NT, NW Tasmania, Wellington NSW, Condoblin NSW, and so on and Yeoval, bloody Yeoval!! We were there for a month in winter and, as Peter said after the first week, he was finding it difficult to imagine that he’d ever been anywhere else in his life.
In Sydney, most of our social life revolved around the Victoria Cross hotel, where I had a few drinks for him last Friday and will have a drink for him this arvo (Wednesday). During the 80s, I slept on the floor in Peter’s flats at Artarmon and Naremburn.
I remember watching the Aussie Rules on TV with Peter. I was happy to watch with a beer in my hand, while Peter would play non-stop computer backgammon, have a beer, drink coffee, smoke a cigarette and/or a joint as well as watch the footy and talk to me.
We had our off times but after 33 years, Peter was one of my longest standing mates and I’ll miss him and the many curry lunches we enjoyed.