Story of the Port of Geraldton's first Safety Officer

Published: Friday, 5 April 2019 at 11:20:21 AM

In 1969 the Beatles played their last public performance, the first man landed on the moon, and teenager Peter Jones from Geraldton joined the Royal Australian Navy for a career that would shape the rest of his life. Spike Jones shares his history

50 years to the day and Peter is sitting in the office of the Mid West Ports Authority where he works as a Safety Officer - able to reflect on the path that would eventually lead him to this very room.

Peter was just 16 when he excitedly received his acceptance letter to the Royal Australian Navy.

As one of the youngest recruits in his intake, Peter remembers feeling the pressure when he arrived at the Melbourne training camp.

“I remember pretty clearly the feeling when I got off the bus at the camp, and it was along the lines of what the hell have I gotten myself into?,” he said.

“My family had lived in Geraldton since before there was even a townsite and I think getting off the bus in dreary old Melbourne was a bit of a shock.

“Luckily the training back then was only three months and before I knew it, I was out and assigned to the HMAS Sydney III as an ordinary seamen.”

The next few years of Peter’s young life were spent working at sea onboard Australia’s war ships.

Starting at the bottom, Peter worked his way up to become a radar technician, where he spent his days tending to the onboard missiles.

Peter eventually returned to shore where he drafted off to become a Navy electrician, which back then was a year-long course at the training base in Melbourne.

12 months on and with his certificate in hand, Peter was then stationed to a patrol boat at the HMAS Leeuwin Naval Base in Fremantle.

It would be a decision he wasn’t yet aware would change the trajectory of his life forever.

“I’d been working at the Leeuwin for a few months now and decided to go out to town one night with some friends,” he said.

“That’s when I met Charlotte - from that moment on I knew I believed in love at first sight.

“Let me tell you though, I had to work hard to get her to agree to go out with me.

“It wasn’t until I came back from two weeks away on the patrol boat that she finally agreed to a date.

“So there’s a tip - distance must make the heart grow fonder.”

It was a whirlwind romance for Peter and Charlotte and before long they were married and dreaming about starting a family.

Two-years later and that dream became a reality, as they welcomed their first born into the world.

But on Anzac Day in 1975, Peter made one of the hardest decisions of his life as he stepped back on board the HMAS Diamantina for his longest deployment yet.

In the three years Peter spent at sea on the warship, he was only allowed five months at home with his young family.

Towards the end of his contract, Peter said there was one moment that made the decision to hang up his white and blue cap easy.

“There’s a newspaper clipping to this day that still breaks my heart whenever I look at it,” he said.

“I’d just gotten to the end of my nine-year contract with the Navy and was deciding whether or not to resign.

“Then I saw the newspaper photo of me holding my daughter Cassandra as she’s trying to push away from me to get back to Charlotte – you could see in her face she had no idea who I was.

“It was that moment where I pretty much decided I was ready for a different type of life.”

Peter finished his enlistment and packed up his growing family to move home to Geraldton.

With a new son on the way, Peter took on just about every job imaginable – everything, as it turned out, except being an electrician.

It was while he was working for the Geraldton Building Company that Spike first took on a job in safety, undergoing the first training course run by Work Safe.

It led him to a long and satisfying career in the industry - even seeing him become the Port of Geraldton’s first safety officer.

But Peter’s true passion would always lie with his first love, the Navy Cadets.

His devotion to the Cadets and countless others across the community had not gone unnoticed, and on January 26, 2019 he was named the Active Citizen of the Year during the City of Greater Geraldton’s Australia Day Awards.

Peter, who’s incredibly humble about his accomplishments, said he didn’t do it for the accolades.

“About 18 months after I left the Navy, when my hair had grown past my shoulders and I had a beard halfway down my chest, I was asked to come and chat to the cadets at my old barracks,” he said.

“I never looked back – I became the commanding officer of that unit for 20 years, worked as the safety officer for the national organisation and I was eventually made the flotilla commander.

 “I think as long as my body will let me, I’ll be part of the cadets. I like to think I can give the kids I work with a direction and I can even sometimes see a bit of myself in them when I was their age.

“My own grandson has just finished up with us – it’s part of me.”

Taking a peak into the future, Peter is unsure where the next few years will lead.  

The one thing he does know? That with Charlotte by his side, he’ll be happily watching the stories of his own children and grandchildren unfold.

 

 



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