Prize Prawn' (AKA Ken Mulholland) does it again!
This time the trifecta: Television, Radio and News Papers
So many, many memories, drifting back through the clouds of time; tiny
particles of long ago when Menzies and Holt ruled.
'Ai Les! Santa Maria's got the arse!' Billy Webb's succinct summation,
reading his version of the paper's headlines to Les Young. The article
was about Bob Santamaria's removal from some sphere of power.
'Driving down the west coast of the old U.S.of A. in my Volvo.' Spears
Curetin, an American or Canadian who came to work on staging at 7.
'Christ man! What are you doing to me!' Alf Potter to a wayward
'Ohh, come on Marion, stop perving on me!' Bob Henderson, changing his
shirt in the Teletheatre control room with the exceptionally attractive
Marion Brown appreciating Bob's upper torso.
'You keep whingeing and I'll throw you off the Dress Circle.' Bruce
Jacobs to me at the Teletheater.
'Jack Bell! Jackie Bell!' The stentorian voice of Bunny Brooke, Props
Mistress at the time, hunting down a Bell at bay, from the rear of the
'Nooo Trouble!' Just a couple of clowns, emptying flour and water-
colour paint mixed with sawdust and wood shavings all over studio one.
'You ever do that again and I'll kick your butt into Wednesday.' A terse
aside by floor manager Neddy Paine to me.
'Seven News: Two people have gone missing in The Grampians north-west of
Melbourne. Maria Pemberton, Catering manager of the Channel Seven
canteen and Kenneth Mulholland, a Seven staff member, failed to arrive
back in Melbourne on Sunday evening. Police were notified and a search
of the area they were last sighted in began today.'
Alf finishes drying his hands.'Yes Ken.'
'I was wondering, the other guys call you Alf. Would it be alright if I
Alf regards his reflection in the Men's toilet mirror. 'Yes Ken, just
don't do it in front of the others...'
WAIT A MINUTE!
What was that about being lost in The Grampians?
Oh yes. Those two. That would be in the beginning of 1968. But before I
can relate this little saga of blundering around in the bush, we need to
go right back to about 1962-3. Graeme Rowland and I were both
stage-hands back then. He, just slightly older than me. We got on well
and started to hang out together. Or, more correctly, I began to tag
along with him. He was friendly and I was wide open to anyone or thing
positive. Eventually he told me about The Grampians. (These are a series
of mountain ranges that can be found three or four hours from Melbourne
in the north-west.) With the mystery of rock and cave paintings, the
splendid upsurges of towering ridges and the lure of names such as
Victoria Valley, The Wonderland hike, The Jaws of Death, The Pinnacle,
Silent Street and Mount Rosea, I happily went along with Graeme and Ted
Jobbins (Then a Floor Manager) on that first weekend, and like the
dutiful P.P. hauled a leg of lamb, my mother had cooked for us, all over
The end result of this first expedition under canvas was positive. In
the years after, Ted was replaced by Ian Wilson, another convert from
audio at 7. Willie and I became Graeme's wing-men, voluntarily. We were,
to lessor or greater degrees, enjoying the splash-off effects of a good
looking, cool dude who's older brother, Bruce Rowland, was already
beginning to garner attention as a composer/muso.
So, I got my education on The Grampians. Over a number of years from
1964 to 1968 I returned there. Not always with Rocky Rowland and Willie.
On one occasion I took a young woman on a very hot summer's day to show
her the splendour of the water falls. All went well as we descended the
narrow, water-slick path until, turning a bend, we were confronted with
a snake, rearing and hissing. Frantically rummaging in my pack for the
big knife I knew was in there, all I could come up with were hard boiled
eggs. The snake had gotten bored by then, and before I could offer a
salvo of googies, he simply slithered away.
But now, back to the day I asked Maria to go to a party.
Paul Dethridge and I had first watched this young lady one quiet weekend
in the 7 canteen. She was new, and had been installed by Nationwide to
run their service at Dorcas Street. She was pert, seemed smart, wouldn't
put up with bad manners and carried herself with authority beyond her
years. I liked her.
I asked her to a party. Our first date.
She put up with me and a week or so later I suggested that I might take
her up to The Grampians for a day trip. She said O.K. and away we went
in my F.B.Holden. We motored the journey, met up with Graeme and
friends, separated (I was hopeful of having the girl to myself.) and so
wound our way, we two together, down into the Victoria Valley. The main
dirt road wandered quite safely, though remotely over the valley floor,
but there were other tracks that led off it to left and right. One such
were the entrance and exit Moora track that led to Melaleuca swamp.
Now I knew the entrance track, having been in there once before, however
I chose to turn up the second, exit track.
The interesting thing about The Grampians is that once, a very long time
ago, they formed the floor on the seabed. Climbing Mount Rosea I was
surprised to discover sandy deposits and the remnants of sea-shells high
on the up-thrust ridges.
So why was I surprised when, on rounding a tight bend on the Moora track
the dear old F.B. suddenly pan-caked into a deep sand-drift? The motor
choked and stopped.
It was late afternoon.
A final wisp of heat shimmered from the bonnet of the stalled motor.
I was sitting alongside a young woman, twenty one-two, who had made the
mistake of venturing off with a bloke she hardly knew, up into a
mountain range where no one actually lived. Yes, there were Fire and
Forestry outposts, though only manned at certain times and mostly
deserted. One valley over was Hall's Gap and civilization. An arduous,
long walk up out of the valley and then down again. Of the other way, I
was uncertain, never having exited the valley in that direction before.
With much cursing, I got the engine to start and attempted to reverse
out after placing as much dry stuff, branches etc. under the wheels. No
luck. Just not enough traction.
The shadows were growing long when I finally gave up. Maria took it all
in her sensible stride. Best to stay put overnight, and try to walk out
next morning. Lucky that we had water and fruit.
The moon rose, the temperature dropped. She, being smaller, would settle
in the front seat under a car rug. I would sleep in the back, under a
When sleeping became difficult because of the intense, crisp coldness of
night, and possibly the cries and scuffles of all manner of creatures,
Maria suggested that she should get in with me to just keep warm.
Right. I debated this for a half second.
Next morning...Oh come on now? It was fun sleeping with a young woman,
even if it was just that... we climbed out of our cocoon and taking out
supplies with us, left the car and began walking. We got back to the
main road and turned left. I didn't like the idea of climbing up out of
the Valley to the main road, then down again into Hall's Gap. So we set
off in the other direction.
Meanwhile: Other forces were set in motion. Sunday had seen us part
company with friends in the Grampians. Monday we had not returned or
reported for work. Questions were asked, at first at Seven, and soon of
people: those who had seen us last, general enquiries, then family. Then
the search began earnestly. People, planes, reporters.
We walked all day and by dusk, hadn't come to any sign of civilization.
Knowing how cold it was going to get, I decided it would be best to
return to the car. We got back around mid-night, absolutely worn out.
The apples we ate were the best I've ever tasted.
We were woken in the morning by the muffled sound of voices. Peering out
from under the tarp in the back seat we saw two uniformed police
wandering around the car. They hadn't realized we were in there.
They had come in from the other end in a divvy van. Maria sat in the
front with them. I spent the ride back to Hall's Gap behind bars (well a
grill on both sides) in the back.
In Hall's Gap, we were given showers, food, and a stiff dressing down,
mainly aimed at me: The cost to the community, the resources, time and
effort expended on foolish behaviour etc. Of course I took complete
responsibility for the whole thing, and hoped that I could get Maria and
my car out of its abandoned state and back to Melbourne as soon as
However, I had four very unexpected events that unfolded before me, to
contend with. Each of them beyond my ability to control.
The first was the arrival of duo Channel Seven Reporter/Photographer
team Gordon Bennett and another chap I can't recall. They had flown up
in a single engine aeroplane from Melbourne, landed at Stawell and taken
a taxi (Yes, a taxi) to Hall's Gap. They latched onto Maria, bundled her
into the cab and whisked her back over the mountains, down into The
Victoria valley for some on-the-spot vision and dialogue. (Well, if
Seven's people had gotten themselves into a fix, Seven, at least would
get a news story out of it.)
Meanwhile, a man in a tow truck arrived and said he was going to take me
back over too, to collect my car.
As we were heading from The Gap back up the steep grade he asked me what
kind of car it was. I said 'A two tone, white, mushroom colour
F.B.Holden, just like that one going that way.' I pointed to a car
whizzing past in the other direction.
When the tow driver and I found our way back into the Moora Moora track
we discovered...nothing. Orange peel, apple cores, flattened sand, signs
of disturbance. No car, no Maria, no Reporters. I was beginning to lose
any semblance of control over the situation.
Nothing to do but turn around and head back to Hall's Gap. It occurred
to me on the way that the Holden I'd seen zipping past us had in fact
been mine. In the Gap, only the news that Maria and the News Hounds had
found the same deserted site, and that they had gone back to Stawell,
boarded their light aircraft and were Melbourne bound.
Girl gone, probably never to speak to me again, car vanished, days
absent from work, my family, her family, to placate, derision to be
gotten through, if I still had a job.
What the hell to do?
The tow driver offered me a lift back to Stawell. Maybe my F.B. was
there? We got in in late afternoon. He dropped me at the Police Station.
They informed me that the vehicle had been discovered, abandoned, by
another search party, who had managed to prize it out of the sand-drift
and drive it back over the mountains and on to Stawell. My car was here!
The garage only a few blocks away. Profound thanks to the Police
officer. Down late afternoon to the garage. There it was. My car. How
much do I owe for whatever? Sort that and be on my way to do the best I
can. Apologies all round for the whole thing.
Next unexpected. The car's brakes are shot. It was driven back over the
mountains on gears alone. Replacement parts and repair on the morrow.
What am I to do? I'm stranded in Stawell. Maria has flown back to
Melbourne with the News chaps.
I'm pointed toward a Stawell hotel. They take me in, give me a room and
an evening meal, 'On the House.'
I'm sitting there, gratefully eating, when the Seven News leads with the
story of 'Two people stranded in The Grampians.'
Whatever I was eating froze in my open gob. I'm watching Geoff Raymond
reading a story about this young woman and man, being found after an
intensive search, in a remote area of The Grampians. What he doesn't say
is that she is out on a second date with this cretin, who is sitting in
a pub in a country town, wishing and hoping and thinking and praying (To
pinch the line from Dusty Springfield) to get the hell out of there and
back to Melbourne.
But there was one other unknown to come.
Puckapunyal Army Base.
A young conscripted soldier, having had his marble drawn in the infamous
ballot for Compulsory training for the Vietnam campaign,
was reading his morning paper when he came upon a small article about
two people in The Grampians. The Name Maria Pemberton leapt out at him.
Later that day he was reported as having gone A.W.O.L. I can only
presume the story mentioned that the Seven reporting team were
heading back to Essendon airport with the female of the pair.
What I didn't know until some time later, was that Maria Pemberton had a
boy-friend. He was there at the air-port when the little plane landed.
I see it in my mind even now: the vision is of two people running in
slow-motion toward each other, colliding together, and spinning into the
dream haze of my imagination. (It was probably nothing of the kind.)
What I did know was that, after a terrible night of disturbed tossing
and turning, I got my car, paid the bill, and hit the road, Melbourne
bound on Wednesday mid-afternoon. I went home first. Mum and Dad seemed
O.K. but they later told me how upset my little sister was when they had
first heard of our disappearance.
Having made my apologies to my family, I made a bee-line for Maria's
parents in Hawthorn, buying a large bunch of flowers on the way.
Her Mother opened the front door and I blurted out my apologies in a
rush and handed her the flowers. She had no idea of what I was talking
about. Hadn't heard a thing nor seen the reports on television, radio,
or in the newspapers. (Maria had her own Bed-Sit in Hawthorn.)
And Maria had not contacted them at that time.
I was confounded. I still had to catch up with her, to again apologize
and attempt to repair our two time dating. I had yet to find out about
the Army connection, and I had yet to report back to Seven and whatever
was decided re. my fate.
As it turned out, 7 was benevolent, Maria remote, the army man yet to be
confronted (That would come later.)
Work-mates approved, giving me a verbal back-slap and acknowledging me
I didn't care about that.
After many months passed and a lot of hard work on my side, Maria and I
were married at the beginning of 1970.
Forty-four years later, I think, tentatively, that it worked out
And yes, this actually happened, as my wife Maria, my sister Jan, Graeme
Rowland, and hopefully Gordon Bennett, will attest.