As I have mentioned before, Photokina 1980 changed everything for our company and myself personally. Filmlab Engineering had become a name in the Motion Picture Industry to be reckoned with. We were asked by a representative of the Egyptian Government to visit Cairo and to inspect their laboratory to make suggestions for necessary upgrades and modernisation.
I drew the short straw but should say the longest, because what awaited me was fascinating beyond my imagination. Getting a visa from the Egyptian Consulate in Sydney was easy and then it was only a matter to arrange travel details and accommodation in Cairo. However, our Egyptian contact had already taken care of the accommodation and booked a room at the Mena House Hotel in Giza. As so many places in my travels, this was a first and I really did not know what to expect. After a taxi ride through a very congested city, we arrived at the hotel. By that time dusk had already set in. I went on to the balcony in my room and the sight awaiting me took my breath away. There was this huge structure in front of me almost as I could touch it. When I had recovered from this incredible sight, I realised that a long-held dream of mine had come true. I saw the greatest pyramid of Egypt built during the reign of Pharaoh Khufu and probably completed around 2560 B.C.
View from my hotel room
The following day brought me back to earth as I met with government representatives and laboratory staff at the lab. The inspection of the laboratory revealed that basically none of the existing equipment could be restored and reused. So, I put my thinking cap on and worked on an outline of a proposal how to resurrect the laboratory. The next day I presented it to the government officials who said they would consider it and give me their decision soon.
That meant that I was now free to explore the pyramids and their surrounds. In those days there were no restrictions on where you could go. Fortunately, there were only very few guides and hardly any other tourists around so I could enjoy these fascinating historical monuments undisturbed. I could climb up on the pyramid some way and enter a narrow and low ceiling shaft leading into a burial chamber of some minor public servant.
After a while I walked over to the sphinx and admired the timeless beauty. However, I was a little surprised about the size of it. She was quite a bit smaller as I had imagined but nevertheless breathtakingly beautiful. After seeing all this so many years ago I can only hope that these sites are preserved and not destroyed by the environment, overtourism or any political influence.
To cap an unbelievable business trip off, the company received an order to refurbish the laboratory and supply new processing equipment.
After we had recovered from our night at the Octoberfest, our General Manager and his brother left for Amsterdam (if I remember correctly) and our Production Manager and myself went to the Munich airport to board a flight to Hong Kong. Naturally, I was very excited for a number of reasons. The Adrenalin rush from our exhibition success had not completely gone away, I could see my whole career changing and I was going to experience a completely new world for the first time. It began in a very spectacular fashion. To approach the old Hong Kong airport of Kai Tak the aircraft had to navigate through high rise residential buildings. It sometimes felt that you could almost pick the laundry from their balconies, nothing for weak nerves.
Hong Kong was unlike anything I had ever seen before. The city was bustling with people, fragrant and exciting. It never seemed to sleep. By the 1980’s Hong Kong had established itself as a major financial and cultural hub, one of the most important cities in the world.
We stayed at the Hong Kong Hotel next to the Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, an excellent hotel close to the major shopping and nightlife district of Kowloon.
The new laboratory was to be set up on the 16th floor of an industrial building. Although there was a freight elevator, I did not envy our installation crew to get the processor up to the lab.
We took all measurements of the processing room so that I could prepare the layout back in the office in Sydney.
On the last evening at the hotel before returning to Sydney we decided to have a relaxing massage at the hotel spa to get over the tensions of the past weeks. Unfortunately, that was not to be. While we were getting ready for our massage a slightly inebriated gentleman came into the treatment room also for a massage and when he was told to place himself (on the massage table), he misunderstood it as undress yourself and he pulled his shorts down. Seeing this, all therapists screamed and left the room, never to come back in. This was the end of our massage and we went to the hotel bar for a final drink to farewell Hong Kong.
After this first visit, I have been many times back to Hong Kong.
We stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel in the centre of Cologne and had left early to have sufficient time for last minute checks at our exhibition stand. All was good but we were not prepared for what happened next.
As soon as the hall doors opened, people came streaming in and the isles were soon filled with visitors. Not long after the space in front of our stand became very crowded and our processor was very admired. Word began to circulate in hall 12, “have you seen the Australian wonder machine?” which in turn brought more people along. After the initial excitement had calmed down, we could start talking to people and discussing their various requirements. Many people voiced their concerns that Australia was too far away, and they could not get support when needed and it was exceedingly difficult to overcome this problem. However, we were able to write many enquiries in our order book during the seven days and the follow-up work would be extensive. Apparently, it was already decided that I would be responsible for most of this work and the motion picture industry was mine to look after. Not that I was unhappy about this at all. I met one potential customer from Brazil who wanted to re-equip his laboratory in Sao Paulo. The discussions went on for month after Photokina had finished, but unfortunately came to nothing. I met however their engineer who should become important to us many years later.
On the evening of the first day we received a phone call confirming that our processor had been sold to a laboratory in Hong Kong. This called for a celebration and we moved on to a famous Cologne restaurant “Frueh am Dom” which was, as the name said, located next to the Cologne Cathedral. They served a speciality beer of the region which was called Altbier. This beer is not particularly strong but when you are very exhausted it has its effect. One of our party, no names here, was so exhausted that he fell asleep at the table and began snoring very loudly. After a few moments, the other guests became aware of this and fell totally quiet. This must have disturbed the sleep of our friend and he woke up. As soon as he was awake all the guests started applauding. Fortunately, our colleague had a good sense of humour and joined in the laughter all around.
After we left the restaurant an unforgettable experience awaited us. The Cologne Cathedral was lit up and looked almost spiritual and unreal. It was certainly a sight which will stay in my mind forever. The Allied Forces in World War II were instructed not to bomb the church and fortunately kept to that.
After seven phenomenally successful days the exhibition closed, and some final work had to be done. We dismantled and crated the processor and other exhibition items. I discussed with the freight and customs agent to rearrange the return of the machine to Hong Kong instead of Sydney.
I had some friends in Munich who invited us to a visit of the Octoberfest. Everybody was keen for this experience and so we flew off to Munich. The Octoberfest was a great experience and all I can say is that many a stein of the excellent Munich beer was had. After we had some fun our production manager and I flew to Hong Kong to prepare for the installation of the processor.
Before we could start to prepare for our very first Photokina we had to fulfill two contracts to design laboratories for the governments of The Philippines- NMPC and Malaysia- Filem Negara. The workshop was busy manufacturing the equipment and eventually our installation teams got to work on site with the installations.
Having these projects out of the way we could direct our thoughts and activities to the exhibition. One of the first issued to be resolved was who would represent our company in Cologne. It was decided that four people would be required, three were an automatic selection, our General Manager, our Production Manager, and our Electrical Contractor (who was the brother of the GM). So, a decision was made and to my great surprise and happiness, I was to be number four on the team. I guess that my knowledge of the German language and German customs was an important if not the deciding factor.
While this was going on, I was busy designing the stand layout, contacting freight agents, stand builders in Cologne and a local customs agent. As time drew closer, the team members were measured for a uniform, we even got new shoes, shirts, and ties.
Our Team and two Head Office Managers
The flight over to Cologne was quite memorable. At that time Lufthansa still flew into Sydney and we used them to travel to Photokina. Apart from all the comforts of travelling first class I got invited to visit the cockpit to have a chat with the Captain. After landing in Frankfurt, having had a very pleasant flight, we tried to look for our connection to Cologne. As it turned out, our travel agent had not booked a flight but the Lufthansa Airport Express to Cologne. The train carriages were laid out like an airline cabin and the food they served was as in a plane as well. But most importantly, the route along the Rhine river was most beautiful and I was quite proud and happy that my Australian colleagues could see some of the beauty of my native country.
Then the work began. We had allowed quite a few days for the set-up as everything had to be perfect. The stand had already been constructed and the freight company was extremely efficient in delivering the exhibition goods so we could finish with a day or two to spare. Finally the opening day of the show arrived, a last minute check, our hearts beating faster and then the doors opened for the visitors.
After I had settled back into a daily routine my business life was filled with drawing and designing a new type of film processor for a developing process for news gathering Kodak had introduced. Some time was also spent on keeping the drawing and design office functioning at top performance.
By now I had gained enough experience so it was not a too difficult task. It is also gratifying to see when something you design on the drawing board comes together on the workshop floor.
RVNP Processor for Townsville TV
The business of supplying processors to local TV Stations and Photofinishing Laboratories would sooner or later come to an end and it was decided to spread our wings and try to enter the international motion picture market.
The most suitable event was the Photokina exhibition which was the largest in the world for the motion picture and photo industries, held every two years in Cologne- Germany. The original plan was to fly over in 1978 and show “my baby” (see above) but then it was wisely decided that we should enter the international scene with a bang. We built a larger processor (very large for that time) to impress the film industry and potential customers in 1980. This decision would change my life forever.
My first real involvement came shortly after I had joined the company. I was asked to take over the project of the design for the New Zealand National Film Unit. At that time my experience on laboratory layout designs was still very limited, so it felt like being thrown into very deep waters. However, eventually I prevailed and the project got under way. Some time later I flew to Wellington to see the progress of our work.
With the New Zealand Film Unit Project Manager
A few moments away from the responsibilities of work are still in my memory. While sitting in the lounge room at our hotel an earthquake of 6.4 magnitude hit and
frightened the life out of everybody. I initially did not understand what happened as only a very loud bang complemented by some rumbling in the ground occurred, but our New Zealand friend, who had turned very pale, explained that we just experienced an earthquake. We sat under a very large glass window and if that had shattered, we could have been seriously hurt or worse. Fortunately, the quake did not cause any casualties in Wellington but in some high-rise buildings the elevator shafts twisted, and people got trapped. It took hours to free them again.
During installation of the equipment we stayed at the Taita Hotel in Lower Hut which was the weekend hotspot for the local Maori population; so, these evenings were always a source of great entertainment.
This more or less completed my involvement with this project and I could fully concentrate on all the other work on hand.