A selection of stories
Published on June 6, 2011
“One day I had to go and inspect the huge Sitmar Cruises neon at the end of Elizabeth Street on Flinders Street Station. It was about 50 foot long (15 metres) and displayed three different messages, including a great big ship revolving around. It had blown a fuse, and I thought, ‘Oh bugger, where’s the fuse for this thing?’ Because, of course, the railways had bloody switchboards all over the place. So I got on up on the roof. I was walking along the roof following this conduit to one of those little beehives along the side of the railway building. There was an old rusty lock on the thing. I just ripped it off with my screwdriver and I went in. There was a little trapdoor up in the roof and the bloody conduit went up into that and I thought, ‘You bastard!’. So I had to go downstairs and get a big pair of steps and drag it up. Got them into the bloody thing, got up, pushed the trapdoor open and stuck my head in.
‘There was about 100 musical instruments in there. All beautiful silver trumpets and trombones, violins, guitars, banjos. All the glue had come undone and they’d fallen into a heap of three-ply on the floor and all the skins had gone off the drums. And I thought, ‘What a strange f***ing thing this is.’ So I went down to the man in grey and asked if he had ever lost anything here. [It turned out] the bloke who hid them up there was told to hide the instruments because at the start of the Second World War everybody thought the Japs [the Japanese] were coming. He built a false ceiling in and put all the stuff up there and closed it up. He belonged to the Salvation Army band in Brunswick and they all went away with the Second 21st Australian Brigade to Singapore.
‘They were all captured by the Japs. As they were getting taken to Japan for forced labour, the troop ship they were on was torpedoed by a Yanky [US] ship. They were locked down in the hold. Two thousand of them went to the ‘bottom bank’ – one of the biggest Australian losses of life in the War. And he was the bloke that hid them; he’d worked for the railways.
‘They searched everywhere for these instruments – in Flinders Street, Spencer Street – couldn’t find them. And so I said to the man in grey, ‘Well, I think I’ve just found them’. Apparently after the Second World War there was a reward of 100 quid for finding them. Well I said, ‘I’ll expect a cheque’. And I’m still waiting …’”
Ian ‘Podgy’ Rogers | neon maintenance man