A Life In Cars

The life story of Dickie Sutherland


My First Job

First job offer, Yes! well I was offered the job, a 5-year apprenticeship, at the Department of Supply Woodville Workshops, with a requirement to attend night school to complete my Intermediate certificate.

My first Job

I didn’t go all that far in high school however thanks, yeah thanks, to my brother Donald, I got my first job. He told me his employers were advertising apprenticeships in Panel Beating.

“Panel beater!  What’s that?” I exclaimed!

“It’s repairing cars. Leo Cletch is a Panel Beater,” he said. Leo, he was a friend of Mum and Dad. To a boy of 16 Leo was an older guy, short in stature, with a bit of a limp, that he had grown up with.  Father of three teenage daughters, who I met from time to time at family gatherings and Christmas holidays at the Kingston Park camping site.  Leo drove a large American sedan, Chevrolet, which was a similar shape to Mr. Mosley’s Pontiac.

The Blue sedan was a similar size to Leo’s car, parked near Leo’s site at Kingston Park.

Finding it difficult to convince me of the benefits of the Panel beating apprenticeship, Donald prompted me by saying “Panel Beaters build Racing cars”.  Sold!  When is the interview? 

Yes! well I was offered the job, a 5-year apprenticeship, at the Department of Supply Woodville Workshops, with a requirement to attend night school to complete my Intermediate certificate.

The Workshops were a wonderful place.  A very large saw-tooth roofed factory, a munitions factory built for World War two, now filled with cars and trucks, equipped with all manner of stuff. 

Workshop view from the Panel shop past the store right down to the Service bay wall

Entry via the Service bay with pits large enough to service two semitrailers side by side, complete with trailers attached.  Heavy vehicles workshop, Wheel aligning pit, Machine shop, Electrical work room, Diesel work room (air-conditioned), Panel shop, Large enough to fit 2 semi-trailers Paint booths, and centrally the Offices for management and a big Tools and spare parts store.

Staffed by 60 tradesmen and 20 apprentices. Three other lads, John, Wayne and Malcolm started a few weeks before me along with quite a few second, third, fourth and fifth year Mechanic apprentices lads.

I was grinning from ear to ear from day one, it was just the place for a boy of 16 who was car mad. 

Note: Apprentices were required to attend 3 years of Trade School, two nights a week and one day every fortnight, Wayne was the first Auto Electrician apprentice and I was the first Panel Beater apprentice.

Working on cars that were replaced at two years or 30,000 miles, with new models driving in the door, every year.

Let me tell you about the cars, the vehicles.  These were the Commonwealth government workshops.  The most impressive was the politicians’ fleet of cars. 

A brand new EJ Holden Premier sedan, a luxury sedan, black body colour with green leather trim, the likes I had not seen before.  Holden’s EJ Premier was something to behold. 

The black Humber Super Snipes with red leather trim, real British pucker

Ex Commonwealth car at All British day
This Pontiac Parisienne for memory is very similar, with iridescent green metallic paint, brown leather interior and duel headlights mounted one above the other.  Some car, some car indeed. 

The Bureau of Mineral Recourse (BMR), used the Land Rovers surveying and searching mapping of mineral resources in the Outback. By my second year, this work interested me the most.
In previous years, the panel shop had fitted out  Land Rovers for Len Beadell.  Len’s work included the initial Woomera airstrip, town and launch site surveys. In the years to follow, he led a gang of road makers to create over 6,500 kilometers of access roads for scientific observations relating to Woomera, Emu, Maralinga and the subsequent worldwide geodetic survey.
The tasks required to manufacture and fit brush guards, under chassis guards, additional water and fuel tanks and storage boxes.  Modification to improve the range of the vehicles and the ability for the vehicles to travel off-road in the Australian outback.
Len Beadell with fitted out Land Rover out on the job

Leave a comment to continue the story

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Explore other stories

007 Singer9 SingerChev RichardCrop207KB
Singer-Chev Construction the sarger continues
The TR8 allowed me to combine my interest in ‘pulling things apart’, restoration and rebuilding, and my dream of owning a car for pure V8 driving pleasure.