Geoff Voysey was born in Brisbane, Queensland on 30th October 1929. He married Ruth Wagg on 25th May 1957 and they have three children, Catherine, Alison and Christopher. Geoff was the last Chief Property Officer in Queensland, retiring in 1988 after 40 years service. This is the story of his property career in the Commonwealth Public Service:
Geoff Voysey joined the Department of the Interior in 1948 when the Chief Property Officer was Thomas Basil Payne.
“I’d had a year doing science at the university after I passed Senior and I only got a couple of subjects and I didn’t want to do any post exams so at about that time. In those days you used to put your name down for the Commonwealth Public Service and then I got an entry from the public service inspector of the day to say if you wanted to join the public service, come and see us. The Chief Property Officer was Thomas Basil Payne. He was good, he was an old surveyor. In those days the boss in Canberra was known as the Surveyor-General and Chief Property Officer so the survey people had sort of ruled the roost up till about the ‘50s and then it became just the Chief Property Officer and they formed a separate survey section but up till then the surveyors were the boss cockeys – in all the states too.
“When I joined it was the Department of the Interior. It was the Department of the Interior for a long time and then it became the Department of Services and Property and then Department of Administrative Services. We were in National Mutual Building and then we went to a place called Interior House which was in Ann Street and that became our own building and that was part of the Ann Street Presbyterian Church where the old tennis courts had been before the War and the army took it over and they built what became the Army pay office which was an old fibro building and it’s still there. So they moved out so we went in there, Interior House. And then we went to the Guardian Insurance Building in Queen Street and then from there we built the new Commonwealth office block. We were up there, up at Ann Street fairly late on – it would have been in the 70s, mid 70s. And then from there – then the last shift that I had we went down to the building in Santos House and that was where I retired from there.
“The first job, I was in the Accounts area for a little while. I was stores and transport officer and – we moved around a bit. I was only there for about a couple of years and in 1950, late ’49 I moved into the property area because at that stage I’d started doing my Commonwealth Institute of Valuers and the Chief Property officer of the day, Lex Carter, Tom Payne had gone. Lex Carter had come up from the Tax Valuers, been promoted to – he was the first Chief Property Officer actually, as by name and then I just moved into the property area in the – we had acquisitions section and disposals section and leasing section but I was in the acquisitions section.”
Geoff’s first property job was “the straight six” at Eagle Farm.
“The Americans had taken over, because they’d built Eagle Farm. The Commonwealth did own a small area. It was known as the Eagle Farm landing area but the Yanks enlarged Eagle Farm completely and during the war they used to have what they called “hirings” and they paid periodical compensation which was just like rent. In other words then, the Australian Army or the American Army could move in and sort of say “Everybody out of here by this afternoon.” And they did that to lots of places, Somerville House, for example, Tufnell Home which was the Anglican orphanage at Nundah. The Americans just took it over in a matter of 48 hours. That was called “hirings”. That was an Act of Commonwealth Government which was passed in the emergency days. The Americans took all this land and just occupied it and included in which was the “straight six furlong” at Doomben racecourse and Doomben had been an oval exactly the same as it is now but they had what called – there weren’t too many of them in Australia – they had what they called a “straight six” furlongs which sort of came and then joined up. The idea, the horses ran a straight race. They started up that end and the finishing line was down here in front of the stands. And the straight six is now – you can still see remnants of it but it’s on the old Airport. The whole of Doomben was taken over by the Americans and the Australian Army for a while. There were no races held there for probably twelve months, right in the very early days, 1941, when they thought the Japs were at the door. But anyway they took over the straight six and it never reverted back to the BATC, Brisbane Amateur Turf Club. And in fact you might know, remember the line of igloos that were in the old airport. They were built fronting the straight six and what the Americans did they macadamised and hard-sealed that straight six for the aircraft parkways and things like that.
“But the point of the story was that at the end, in 1947/48 when they knew that they weren’t going to get the straight six back the Commonwealth compulsorily acquired the land under the powers of the government and they couldn’t reach agreement on the price so the BATC sued the Commonwealth for compensation. My first job was going up with barrister, Arnold Bennett was the QC. My job was to go through all the race books going back to about 1930 and sort of work out how many times – cause the straight six wasn’t used at every race meeting. So I had to go through and make a note of when the straight six was used, what the prize money was and that sort of thing with the view of our barrister trying to find out, trying argue that it wasn’t that terribly important anyway to the racing scene as a whole. In the event, it was settled out of court. But that was – I spent weeks doing that just collating this information and I’ve never been to a race meeting in my life. It was very interesting. That was my first foray into compulsory acquisitions, and compensation and arguments about money and prices and things.
“But then after that we were just involved in most of the things that I was involved in was just buying houses because we used to buy a lot of houses for staff in those days. The Department of Civil Aviation were expanding throughout Queensland and they’d need houses here and there. We did all the houses for the post office, Postmaster’s houses and exchange sites and all that sort of thing.”
The office environment was very different in the early days.
“We had a book. You had to sign on – before we even got a clocking machine, we had a book and then the staff officer who was a bit of a dog. He’d be out there at – what’d we work 8.45, quarter to nine till six past five I think it was, something like that, 8.45 till 5.06. He’d be there and you’d sign the book and at the stroke of a quarter to, he’d rule a red line then you were under the red line. Then you couldn’t go out to sign off until – and there’d be a great queue of everybody trying to get off at six minutes past five. And then they got a Bundy clock. But then that sort of disappeared. I can’t remember signing, even as a sort of you know Class 4 or 5 or 6 clerk, I can’t remember signing on for the last 20 or 30 years really. And then of course they had flex hours where you kept your own times.
“In the property area at that stage, there was – there would have been 20 or 30, perhaps 30. They had a disposals section, they were the fellows who sold all the surplus land and there was a lot of that going on because there was surplus land that they’d acquired during the war and they didn’t want. Then there was the leasing section and they were the people who were generally leasing office accommodation because there was an expansion of that with other Commonwealth departments who were expanding and getting into more salubrious premises and then there was the acquisitions section that I was in. At the same time, we had a drafting section with all the draftsmen and then the surveyors. And then we had an accounts section with a senior clerk and accountant in charge and they were the people who ran the records and stores, you know, you went up for a new pencil and that sort of jazz.”
Geoff was fortunate with his supervisors in the early days.
“They were all good. I can’t remember any nasty people there at all. There was lots of fun because when I joined, there were still fellows who’d been working there during the war and they were temporaries. I think they had a bit of an inferiority complex about all us young permanents coming in with superannuation and all that sort of thing. The temporaries didn’t have any seniority. In those days, it was seniority and efficiency as far as promotions was concerned. So really the temporaries were fixed on whatever they’d been working at. Some of them sat for their exams and became permanent but the temporaries just gradually filtered away and it was all the young Turks that became permanents and sort of gradually got promoted up the ladder.
“I wasn’t a base grade clerk for long. I think when I got to Property I was a Class 4. I went from a base grade to a Class 4. Then I went from a Class 4 to a Class 6 and I was a Class 6 for quite a while. But a Class 6 that was more or less the operating level. That’s when you could go out and do things on your own. In other words they’d send you off to the bush to buy a house – nothing terribly contentious but you were trusted to go off and buy a house and ring the agents, view the houses and you’d always take a rep of the client department with you of course, so there was always two and that was sort of the operating level – buying a house, or an exchange site or a block of land or something. For example, I bought the Surfers Paradise Post Office site in Caville Avenue for ₤4000.00.
“I used to like going to Rockhampton. Out west I was never terribly – we didn’t have a great deal there – Charleville, Longreach. The first house I ever bought was for the post office and that was at Texas. That was a big deal – I can’t remember the date but that was the first time I was ever let loose on my own to buy a house. I think they still own it actually. We had a District Office in Townsville so we had the District Officer based in Townsville – that was a throwback to the World War days and he operated from Mackay. We didn’t do anything in Mackay. He operated from Mackay north so that if there was a house to buy, or property to buy from Mackay north it was handled by the District Officer so we only went as far as Mackay and out to -”
Geoff worked under a number of Chief Property Officers before he reached that level himself in 1980 or 1981.
“The first one was Thomas Basil Payne. He was a nice man. He’d been in World War I and – I think he’d been a bit of an old villain in his day – most of these surveyors were – they were pretty rough and tough, particularly the ones that did country work. I think these big survey camps – you know, they weren’t five star hotels in those days and the fellows that they had to control; they had to be just as tough. And then the next one was Lex MacLean Carter who’d been a valuer in the Commonwealth Valuation section which in those days was run by the Taxation office. Lex Carter – he died fairly suddenly. Then we had a chappie came up from Canberra, Tom Hopkinson, was with us for a while. I think he followed Lex Carter. And then there was, Norm Richardson. Arthur White was a Chief Property Officer. He was before Norm and he went to Western Australia or was it the other way around and then there was myself.”
Changes in government had little effect on Geoff’s department.
“I think it was the “good old days”. It’s a bit different now. I mean we weren’t like America where everybody was a political appointment of the politician, the head politician at the time. I mean in my day, I think the boss of the department was the Secretary in Canberra. We’ve had quite a range of those. They were all career public servants and I think they obviously did what the Minister wanted them to but they also gave unfettered and even-handed advice and I know as Chief Property Officer we were supposed to do the same. I mean you wouldn’t discuss it with the Minister because it would go through Central Office but you’d say “No I don’t think we should be doing that because of ABCD.” Then they might say “We’ve talked to the Minister.” And I said “Okay, as long as he knows that – what the pitfalls are.”
“They were funny old days as far as government was concerned and we had some funny old Ministers – Tom Uren was one. He’d been an ex-POW but he’d also been an ex-boxer and he was a real left-winger but he had some funny ideas about things. At that stage we’d done some extensions at Canungra and I’d been responsible for acquiring all the land with another chappie, Alan Ryan and you might remember one of the classic cases was a certain fellow, Paddy Fitzgerald. Army didn’t want to shift him out. We couldn’t agree with him but it even got through to Tom. So we all went down with a whole coterie of advisers and myself and Tom went and spoke to Paddy and said – I remember him saying something about “Just look after him, Geoff. It’ll be all right, you know.” Obviously we weren’t going to upset Paddy because of the political – in the event Paddy died and I don’t know what – I think the outcome of it is that the property still reverts to public use once a year but I don’t really know whether Army were desperate for it anyway. That’s another story.
“Alan Ryan was more involved at that stage, I was in charge, not Chief Property Officer, but I was in charge of the acquisitions section. Alan and I used to go down to Canungra. We had things called “Notices to Treat”. When it was going to be compulsory, you had to issue these “Notices to Treat”. There was this one farmer who operated this dairy farm there and I think he thought that he might’ve only lost part of it but I’ll never forget the look on his face when we gave him the Notice to Treat and he looked at his wife and he said, “It’s the lot.” You know, Alan and I felt about that big. But anyway, Army turned it into a golf course which was a terrible thing.
“Our department was the low totem pole – it wasn’t the Treasury or anything like that. We ended up with all the junior ministers. Mostly as they worked their way up the ladder but one of them, the best was Anthony, Doug Anthony. He was a Minister for while until he moved along but we had some real dills, of all political persuasions but Doug Anthony was pretty good. Nixon wasn’t too bad. But no, I think most of them looked on it as, you know, a stepping stone to greater glory because they weren’t part of the Cabinet. They weren’t part of the front bench. It was a junior ministry. And most of them, I think, thought that because the Electoral Office was part – came under their wing, nothing to do with us, but came under their wing. They were more interested in new boundaries and things like that. That was more interesting to them than acquiring a house for the postmaster or something like that.”
Working in the acquisitions section, Geoff acquired some substantial properties on behalf of the Commonwealth government.
“We had two bites of the cherry at Brisbane Airport. There was Meeandah and Pinkenba – that’s on the old airport to build the new runway. So that was a fairly major extension with about 150 odd different claimants. That was when we went all the way down to Meeandah and Pinkenba and acquired land down there. And then of course, there was the second Brisbane airport which was my swansong in a way. That was very interesting because I was in charge of that and we had a tremendous lot of fellows – real larrikins and that was acquired in 1974 – the compulsory acquisition and that included the whole of Cribb Island which probably you’d never be able to do now – when you think of the Greenies and things like that. But I still believe that it made a tremendous site for the airport in Brisbane. It’s the best sited Australian capital city airport that we’ve got.
“There were many houses. There were well over 100 claimants. There was the freehold section and then there was the leasehold bits which was the Jackson’s Estate which was owned by one family which was the Jackson’s and they allowed people during the Depression to go down there and build. Started off with little holiday cottages right on the front, along the front there. In fact my grandfather, Grandpa Voysey – he had a little cottage down there. They didn’t live in it – it was a holiday cottage and I’ve got a photo of my father as a fairly young man sitting on this beautiful sandy beach and I said “Where’s that?” and he said “That was outside our cottage. Grandpa used to go out and catch whiting for breakfast.” And beautiful white sandy beach – now of course, with all the dredging in the river I think the mud got carried down. But anyway a lot of people used it for – most of them used it for holiday cottages and then during the Depression, I think the Jackson family let them live there permanently and then it became a bit of a – down and outer. Some interesting things there. We had a picture theatre and a store and a bus route, the Cribb Island Bus Service, which we acquired. We all got to know about bus services and all that sort of thing because they just closed down. We had a shell grit works. But of the people I think at Cribbie ended up – they got paid reasonably well. They wouldn’t have thought so at the time but they all managed to shift into other places. A lot of them stayed in the local areas around Northgate and things like that and they ended up – but at least most of them, I’d see years afterwards and they’d still come up to me and talk nicely to me so they couldn’t have felt so bad about it which made me feel good.
“And we also had a – I don’t know if it was the 4BH or 4BC transmitter was down there – that was just across the road from Aufferber’s. That was a big tower. The broadcasting was done from Brisbane of course but the transmitter was down there. So they took the tower away and they re-erected it down along Wynnum Road somewhere. And then there was the shell grit works – and there was a big egg farm. Yes, very interesting.
“And then there was the Rockhampton Airport extensions. That was very interesting because we took a major part of the Rockhampton golf course to extend the runway at Rockhampton and we were very lucky because we had pretty good rapport with the Lands Department people and also the Mayor of Rocky was Pilbeam at that time who I got to know very well. And they were all in favour of a new airport but they wanted to see the Rockhampton Golf Club fixed. So we were – it wouldn’t happen now. But we got the State’s agreement to acquire part of the undeveloped part of the Rockhampton Botanical Gardens which adjoined the golf club and it was a dedicated botanical gardens but it had never been developed – but the gardens there were beautiful. But this part which luckily was next to the – was on the sloping ground down to the golf course had never been developed so the State cancelled the botanical gardens reserve on that part, sold it to us, the Commonwealth and then we transferred to the Rockhampton Golf Club and they ended up with a little bit more land than what they’d originally had. But what it really meant – that was interesting, because what it really meant was that a complete design, re-design of the whole of the golf course. We thought – oh they’ll just run a few holes up there and do this but – oh, no it meant the complete re-design of everything and a new clubhouse because the club house went in the extensions so they built this lovely new club house. But once again we were friendly with them and they had solicitors for all the Rockhampton people and I got an invite to the opening of the new clubhouse. For a while I used to go up there on other work and I’d always go out there and have a drink with them, you know. It was a very interesting – really was. The CPO of the day was Tom Hopkinson and he had a fellow, a new fellow an architect – in effect a golf course architect from Canberra and he came up and he gave us some advice but they got their own golf course architect and of course, they were looking for the very best which was natural. But once again we got that settled by agreement and everybody lived happily ever after. That was Rocky.
“There was extensions at Mackay that I became involved. And then I was also involved in the big Townsville Lavarack Barracks acquisition which is now the big barracks. It was up and down to Townsville on that and then one of the most interesting ones was the Shoalwater Bay – the big Shoalwater Bay. That was very interesting, you know, we used to get choppers out, up and down. It was just all cattle properties but it subsequently became environmentally sensitive. It was – it was a beautiful spot but they were just all cattle properties. There were quite a few owners but, we had a chappie at work, Cec Marsh who was basically initially involved in Shoalwater Bay but then subsequently he had to retire and then I sort of took over. But it became very interesting because there were some beautiful spots there and of course we had the Army on tap at Rocky and they had helicopters and choppers and every time we wanted to inspect something, we’d get a chopper out there and fish on freshwater beach, and freshwater bay.
“There were the big extensions at Amberley. That was, once again that was interesting, more interesting but we used to go up there and we had to acquire – and I had a chappie working to me at stage, Bob Savage. He used to love going up there because he liked the officers’ mess for lunch. And we became – they made us sort of honorary members of the mess so every time we went up we’d go there and have this magnificent lunch. Bob thought that was wonderful. We had about 20 or 30 different owners involved there – of a greater or less degree – houses, you know.”
It was departmental “folklore” that Geoff had a ride in an F111 when he was working on the Amberley project. However, Geoff said that was not the case.
“When I was up at Amberley – what I did do was go out on a Lincoln bomber. They wouldn’t trust you in an F111. No, but I went on a flight on a Lincoln. That was very interesting. We went over Moreton Island, Stradbroke Island then back again. It was just an engine test run. They said – would you like to go. I said “As long as the engines are okay.” You know. That was in the days before. You see the F111 basically, well actually the Lincolns. There was the Canberra’s first then the Lincolns, then the Canberra’s and the F111s. Oh that was a long time ago, crikey. They were pretty good old days. If you were doing something for Civil Aviation and they wanted to do something for them like at Rockhampton, I’d regularly get a flight on a DCA plane up there rather than travel up. They wouldn’t lay it on specially but if they had to go or something like that, they’d say – you can come with us. Some of those fellows were characters. I can’t think of his name and I wouldn’t tell you if I could, but he was one of their pilots, DCA pilot. There was a little twin-engine aircraft, I can’t even think of the brand but we took off on the – we taxied out and we took off on the short runway and he had glasses on like mine around his neck and he’d sort of – he’d open up the throttles and away we took off and he kept looking up and obviously his distant vision was fine but when he’d gone to watch the instruments, he had to put his glasses on. So he’s holding the wheel with one hand and then when he wants to see the instruments, he puts his glasses on and then you know, while were taking off, his glasses going up and down. In the event we got up as far as – I don’t know where it was, Bribie or somewhere and then they discovered that Rockhampton was going to be socked in. It was heavy rain and he was only, the particular aircraft they had – it was only visual flight rules so we had to turn around and come back and I ended going up that afternoon with QANTAS or Ansett flight or whatever it was.”
One of the most memorable characters that Geoff worked with was Frank Huxham.
“I didn’t mention Frank Huxham. He was Chief Property Officer. He followed – actually that’s right, he followed Lex Carter cause Lex Carter died. Frank was a valuer in the Taxation Office too. Frank was, God rest his soul, he was a smash. He was a terrible driver. The stories abound of Frank driving. He’d think nothing of coming back on Ipswich Road and he’d diverted one day right through the weigh area – vroom, vroom, vroom – back on the road – what was that! Frank was – one day he was driving me up to – with a client up to – I can’t think of the place. Another thing we were involved in was the SEACOM sites which was the South East Asia Communication network and that was something that was developed by post office and they were “line of sight” towers, the cable came ashore at Cairns, I think – Townsville, Cairns from south-east Asia, marine cable. And then to get all the way down south, they built these – it was the first time that – but now of course it’s much more sophisticated. But they – we had all these SEACOM sites all the way up the coast and they averaged about, oh about 100 km, or less than that – all depended on where they could – but mostly they were on top of mountains or hills and they had to be able to see the next one and they had to be – and they were about 40 or 50 miles apart but so long as they had line of sight they could – so we had all these SEACOM sites and that was interesting because you’d – you know, you’d have to go up and all these little one horse places and – years ago I could have rattled off all the names for you.
“But the first one was out of Brisbane here was at Mount Glorious and then it was beamed through onto a tower on the top of the GPO. There was Mount Glorious and then there was Buderim, Mount Glorious, Buderim, somewhere up near Cooroy, I can’t think of the location names. Yeh. But anyway – with Frank, we were driving along and taking this chappie up to Mount Kanighan and it was up near Miriamvale. We were taking him up – he was a grazier but he lived absentee. And we’re driving along in this car and Frank had brought his dog. It was a smelly thing too. And I’m in the back with the dog and we’re bowling up the Bruce Highway and all of a sudden the highway sort of veers round to the right, double highway, lines – not double but lines and ahead of us was a little gravel road going straight ahead. Vroom – straight up the gravel road we go and the fellow looks a little bit concerned and I thought – well Frank being a valuer, country valuer and he obviously knows this is a short-cut to Miriamvale or something, you know. Anyway, it got worse and worse and worse. We got about two or three miles along the way. I said “Frank, we’re off the highway, you know.” “Oh,” he said “Oh, are we oh, okay.” So we had to do a U-turn and go back. That was just path of the course. He’d do some funny things, terrible driver. That was Frank.”
Geoff has fond memories of many of his former colleagues.
“They were all memorable. When I think of some of the staff. The Cribb Island team that we had – Johnny Grayson and Bob Hallinan and even your nice husband, you know. We had a lot of fun. We really did. I suppose Terry’s told you a few stories about it all, you know. But actually I really can’t think of any great snags in the property area at all. They were all characters and they – Terry Harris, oh you could just name them, one after the other. But I probably wasn’t as strict a boss as I should have been but I enjoyed – life was a bit too short to be, fussing around. We probably stayed back after 2 o’clock too many times. Charlie Lubans was one of the greatest characters we ever had. He came from Canberra. We recruited a few people – Chris Tucker came from Melbourne. Charlie Lubans from Canberra, dear oh me, he was a wild man. He’s settled down now I believe but – some of the things that – Geoffrey Maher, Dasher.
“There is a certain camaraderie not only with us but with most of the other agents. In fact I still – there’s one particular agent, Arthur Bolger who I used to know when Arthur worked for Isles Love – he’s about my vintage, he might be a bit younger. He started off as boy cadet with Isles Love and then he ended up becoming one of the partners with Jones Lang and Wootton, whatever they’re called now, I don’t know. But we still see Arthur. Arthur comes to our little meetings at the Irish Club every three or four months and – there’s quite a few of them that I see. Some of them were – I think some of them were a bit “posh” and I think they thought I was a bit of a cowboy, I suppose – in a nice sort of way. Cause I – it used to intrigue me with the real estate agents, I don’t know what they’re like now. But you never saw them without a coat and a tie – we didn’t worry much about that but we had a lot to do with them, particularly in the good old days of the roaring 80s as we called them. You know, you’d go to the opening of an envelope, you know. They’d have grog, you know, dearie me – it was wonderful, every time they opened a new building there was something on there. They just wouldn’t invite me, there’d be three or four fellows, great times.”
Geoff travelled around much of Queensland when he was acquiring properties.
“We used to travel quite a bit. Another job I had too was in Cairns, the Navy in a hurry wanted 25 houses so I was given the task – I wasn’t CPO then – and they felt that the District Officer had enough work on his plate, so I was sent up to Cairns with a valuer. It was one of the first times we ever got a valuer. Normally we’d go and find a property and you’d get the valuer to value it and that might take a week or so before you could. Anyway they sent a valuer up with me, Jim Jewell and he had a fairly down to earth approach about things so we – we did have a Navy rep. This was when they were going to establish the patrol boat base in Cairns. And they wanted staff housing so we had to buy about 20 odd houses, bit more – 25. So I’d go and see all the agents, get the listings, go out, inspect the houses and give it a green light or whatever and Jim Jewell the valuer would go out and value them in the afternoon and it was sort of like a production line. Then we’d make an offer the next day or even that afternoon, generally in the pub with the agent and then by the next day we’d know whether we had a deal or not. So it took us about – I took two trips of about a week each or a bit more to buy the 20 odd houses so that was a very interesting exercise.”
Geoff met Joh Bjelke-Petersen before he became Premier which Geoff was acquiring a site at the Bunya Mountains.
“I met Joh and I never thought he was such a bad fellow either at the time because I’d been involved in acquiring a beacon site up on the Bunya Mountains and at that stage we were buying a lot of these beacons and they were some new device, navigation device. There was one up past Nambour and that’s when all the southbound flights – you used to hear them. It’d go off in the cockpit – it was a sign for the non-directional beacon, NDB. That was the time to start letting down and – there was one on the Bunyas, it was for the aircraft tracking in from the central west and Mount Isa, direct flights to Brisbane. Anyway, the site that DCA picked was off the main road but right up on the fairly high, and it was in this very thick forest but it was owned privately by a chappie who had quite a few acres of land and it involved building a road. The site itself that we’d picked, or the DCA picked wasn’t far – it was only about 100 yards, less 50 yards off the road, the main road that wound up over the Bunya Mountains. Anyway, we ended up, they picked it and they wanted the access in and it’s quite a small site, just to put this tower on. So I wrote to him, the letter, he didn’t live at the Bunya Mountains, he lived in Kingaroy. Anyway, I wrote to him and we didn’t get any reply and one day the phone rings on my table and by this stage, I might say I was about a Class 6 clerk so I mean, you know, we were about, you know. And this voice just came on and said “Is that Mr Voysey?” and I said “Yes.” “Oh,” he said “It’s Joh Bjelke-Petersen here.” And he at that stage, he was the Minister for Works and Housing, he wasn’t the you know, he wasn’t the Premier and I thought I said “Oh, yes minister.” Yes Minister. He said “You’ve written to a very dear friend of mine about acquiring a site at Bunya Mountains and he’s a bit concerned about it.” He said “Whereabouts are you?” and I – he said “Oh, I’ve got your letter here.” He said “Would you mind, could I come and see you and have a talk about it.” And I nearly dropped through the floor and I said “Oh, sir, Minister, I’ll come up to you.” He said, “Oh, that’s all right, yes, okay thank you.” I think he was – but he did offer to come and talk to me. So I made a time the next day and up I went into his office and he had the letter there and I took up our file and he said – actually the main concern really was that it was – what was it going to do? Was it going to be intrusive? Well, I said no. There’ll be a gate – they won’t see it. There’ll be a bitumen road, a very narrow one – one car wide, up onto this site. It was only a few square metres and I said the tower will – you won’t be able to see it above the tops of the trees because it sort of goes up and out. Of course, I knew he was a pilot and he flew. I said it’s an NDB and it’s – I told him what it was and said it’s terribly important. “Oh, yes,” he said “I’d use that myself.” So he said “Oh, that’s okay. Good.” He said “It’ll be all right, I’ll tell him it’ll be okay.” Well in the event the chappie gave us the land. It probably, might have been in the late ‘50s, perhaps early ‘60s, late ‘50s. but whenever Joh was the Minister for Housing.”
Towards the end of his career, Geoff found the culture was changing in the public service and particularly in his department.
“We thought we had the best jobs in the Commonwealth Public Service, generally speaking but the culture did change at the end and that’s really one of the things that encouraged me to – cause I was only 58 when I retired in ’88 but oh, it became – it was words I couldn’t understand and “performance records” and “statements” and all this sort of thing and we had people, females – not that there was anything wrong with that but, you know that they were in charge in Canberra and they had no – in fact we did have a Permanent Head that sort of said that property knowledge, you didn’t have to know anything about property to be a Chief Property Officer which we all found rather amusing but nevertheless that was part of – that was a culture change. Up till then, you know, the people that I can remember First Assistant Secretaries and who’d had a long and quite an interesting career – a good career in property and you could talk to them on an equal basis. I remember once we had a lady, I won’t say her name – who wanted to know what a real property description was, you know. She said “Why don’t you just call it 14 Smith Street?” And then we pointed out that that didn’t say how big it was or what the area was or, you know. She thought that didn’t matter terribly much. This was the sort of – yes, that was a culture change. And that’s really one of the things that – and of course we – I could see in the end, the writing was on the wall that in fact what subsequently happened with the – the department closed down. Whether for good or for evil, I wouldn’t know, but I think I wouldn’t like to have been there when that happened. I wouldn’t.”
Geoff found it difficult to name the highlights of his career as it had been such a full one.
“I suppose, second Brisbane Airport because I had really had the full running of that. I wasn’t Chief Property Officer and I had – but I had a CPO who gave us a free hand and you know, and I had a good team of fellows and that just went – apart from Aufferber – it went with really a minimum of fuss and we – leased back a lot of the cottages. There were a lot of houses at Cribb Island – they were all leased back and that was fun and games. And then we had to get them out when the construction started because the construction of the airport didn’t start till when – we acquired compulsorily in 1974 – I remember that – almost had the date, 4th August I think it was 1974 that when the gazettal thing was published in the Gazette. And construction didn’t start till when? I know one of the last jobs I did as Chief Property Officer was got an invite to the official opening and that was Bob Hawke and that would have been about 1988.
“The last official function I went to on the Saturday. I’d retired on the Friday, on the Saturday was the opening by the Queen of EXPO. That was a bash and half too. That was – all the – all the departmental heads, Commonwealth departmental heads got one. In fact I sat next to the AFP man. Ruth and I went officially and a big white Commonwealth car called for us, Rode Road and took us there and we all had seats out and waited for the Queen to come up the river on to the pontoon and then we all went in for drinky poos and then a lunch was served and then we walked around. That was – then I came home and thought –well that’s it. I’m not a Commonwealth Public Servant any more.
“But as far as highlights – I suppose second Brisbane airport and some of the – ones that went well. Rockhampton Airport was good – I think the highlights was just being – I enjoyed being CPO and I enjoyed – and you know there were always a few hassles with staff, and promotions. By the time I was leaving, the old seniority business had thank goodness, had you know, up till I suppose the early ‘70s if you were senior to me and providing all you had to do was prove you were equally as efficient well you got the job. And that used to be – that was terrible. If you appealed against somebody you had to – if you were junior to them in seniority you had to prove that you were more efficient. That was always a bit hard to do. But in the end when I was CPO, they’d sort I’d retired, the Public Service Inspector had disappeared anyway. He was one of the first to of say to me “Who do you want?” There were ways and means. But then of course by the time lose his head. When I was a kid, like a junior, when the Public Service Inspector came around, dearie me – that was like the inspector of schools. Then the departments themselves got a lot more, you know – you couldn’t get extra staff and you couldn’t get your own classification unless the Public Service Inspector passed it. But by the time I left it was, you know, the departments pretty well ran their own.
“I think it was quite rewarding really. As I said before I’ve got no complaints about anything. I’m pleased at what I did and I enjoyed just about every minute of it.”
(Geoff Voysey was interviewed in October 2003).
Geoff Voysey died 3 May 2011.