Jeff's Walk




About Jeff Johnson

ABC Radio News Story

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Current (short form) CV (11th Feb 2008)

This was written some time ago and is only up to the beginning 2000.

Early Years, Sydney, to end of primary school
High School at Randwick boy's high School
AWA (12 years) including Production Engineering Certificate course
R. Mandl Pty Ltd. (3 years) as factory manager
Lynburn Engineering self employed partnered with my brother Bill
Automatic Totalisators Ltd PDP8 assembler programmer
Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm, Broome, general maintenance, farm diver
West Kimberley Radios self employed electronics servicing
Outback Air Charter self employed
Broome Reticulation self employed
Chinatown Music self employed
W.J. Moncrieff, Perth, technical support computers
DIALix Internet Services self employed ISP
Vortex Computer Components self employed
Marine Computer Systems, Gold Coast, PIC assembler programming

Early Years
   I was born in Sydney in 1941 and, unknown to me, there was a war going
on and this could well be the reason I am inclined to be a pacifist. Mind
you, I remember absolutely nothing about the war years but my early school
years at Gardener's Road Primary and Randwick Boy's High are remembered as
relatively carefree and interesting times.

   I left school at what was then "Intermediate Certificate" level which
would be equivalent to today's Year 10 (16 years old). My education to this
stage was relatively successful with strengths in maths and science,
mediocre in English and languages and bloody awful in history. I continue to
be totally fascinated with science and technology, but my interest in
history has turned around and I now thoroughly enjoy reading "Australia: The
First 12 Years" and genuine historic accounts back to anytime. However, I
still can't take too much "Kings and Queens of England".

   I was pretty well into sports during these years and took part in
school level rugby league, soccer, track and field, tennis and swimming and
represented the school or local club against other schools and clubs, and
once against an interstate team. I also played chess and represented the
school in this activity as well. I must add that I was not a huge star in
anything (except underwater distance swimming:-) but I did at least achieve
"above average" in everything I tried.

   In these pre-TV, pre-PC days, leisure time was filled playing games
with friends and indulging in hobbies. Games were of a sporting nature
including lots of bicycling, street cricket, kicking the football at the
local park, probably too much time on the beach, in the sun body surfing
and, indoors, we played drafts, chess, monopoly, cards and the usual board
games of those times. Radio and electronics was a major hobby and I built
the usual gadgets of the time like crystal sets and later valve based audio

   Under my father's wing, I was signed up as a "trainee" at AWA, who
were at the time, Australia's largest manufacturer of electronic equipment.
I was not driven enough academically to be considered for University, but I
was capable, so a compromise was found. Available at the time was a 5 year
Certificate course that was a hybrid between the technical college, that
looked after apprentices, and the University of NSW that handled the
theoretical side of materials etc. The course was to qualify me as a
Production Engineer which meant nothing to me, but sounded better than full
or part time Uni. and more interesting than an apprenticeship.

   As apprentices at AWA went to college one half day per week, and my
lectures were all after hours, I, and a handful of other AWA trainees, were
allocated a half day in the company boardroom to study. This was not
particularly productive as it was unsupervised and, as we worked in
widespread sections of AWA, had plenty of gossip to share. It did cement to
some great friendships though.

   AWA were very committed to their training programs. There were just
under 5,000 employees mostly in Sydney but each state had at least a sales
and service team. They took on 50 or so new apprentices and/or trainees each
year and had excellent follow-up to keep us in line. My program, as a
budding production engineer, was to get the broadest experience possible in
the 5 years of "hands on" training within the company.

   The first couple of years were enjoyable and interesting but a bit of
a let down initially. I started in the press shop where the metal TV chassis
and other components were stamped out. The noise was LOUD. My fist task was
to dip a piece of cloth into a tub of beef fat and wipe it over a flat piece
of steel. I then handed this to the press operator who put in into the
press, closed the safety door, and stepped on the "go" pedal. With a
pressure of umpteen tons, whir-squeak-BANG, a TV chassis was born. And then
we did it again.......... This is how you learn to be a production

   Learning all phases and duties during three months in the press shop
(sorta qualifying as "press operator"), I was brought before the board and
evaluated, criticised and congratulated and moved on. Turret lathes,
electro-plating, injection molding, toolmaking workshop, electric welding,
gas welding, automatic lathes, assembly line, drawing office, planning etc
etc. What a fantastic program. I never stop thanking my lucky stars for the
sequence of events that led me into this great training environment.

   In the last few years of my "time", I supervised the production line
making taxi two way radios (valve), was assigned as assistant to section
supervisors etc.

   Funnily enough, I never did any "production engineering" within AWA as
far as I know. I certainly utilised the skills gained during my training
years, but I never had an office with

Jeff Johnson
Production Engineer
Knock and Enter

on the door. Not that I ever reflected on that at the time. Work life
was very interesting.

   AWA had a contract at the time to supply and install H.F., VHF and
data transmission equipment into ten sites in Indonesia. During some staff
shortages I was seconded to the assembly and testing of the data portion of
the deal and when an engineer posted to Indonesia fell ill with hepatitis,
they bundled me off to replace him. There are many tales to tell, both work
related and others, but this is not the place and some of it is definitely
not for public consumption.

   However, we (fifteen engineers), battling all odds of getting high
tech gear into low tech locations in the 1960s, managed very well. The
equipment made it possible for the first communications between Indonesia
and Australia for the transfer of meteorological and aviation information on
a regular basis. Prior to this, Qantas, and others, were not able to
ascertain the weather conditions on the ground or in the air, or the
condition of airfields, for an important part of their continental flights.

   On my return from Indonesia I was grabbed by Jack Fryer, one of the
"legends" within AWA. In those days, many employees spent their lifetime
within the same company and Jack was one of these. He was respected by the
company and feared by some (most?) subordinates as he was a tough nut.
Although I had never met him, he was known to me and I had seen him around
the factory from time to time. I reckoned that this was a re-incarnation, in
a different form, of greasing TV chassis embryos. It was a formal meeting in
the company board-room and I, in my very early 20s, in the plush environment
was totally out of my "comfort zone". Several top level company men, known
to me through the traineeship program, introduced me and said I was to be
Jack's assistant for the foreseeable future and I was to do whatever tasks
he assigned to me. I was terrified.

   Well, like the press shop experience, it was the beginning of 5 years
of personal development that was perfectly planned once again by my lucky

   The following working day I was taken to a subsidiary business,
Telephone Manufacturing Company, in which AWA had just acquired a 30% share
holding. AWA was responsible for the day to day running of TMC as part of
their input. Jack Fryer was to oversee AWAs involvement whilst keeping on
his regular duties within AWA. He had made his presence known at TMC for a
week or so before he skewered me, and on the next working day after my
"promotion" he took me along to TMC. He introduced me around and told
everyone that I was there to liase between them and AWA in a problem solving

   It was definitely the deep end. This was not a happy campsite. The 30
or so employees, particularly at the top end, were unsure of their future
and not exactly working well together. I floundered for a few weeks trying
to figure out what I was supposed to do. I had lots of "production
engineering" training and even experience. I had considerable electronic
skills from work and hobby exposure. But none of this was needed. I did not
have the senior years to get instant respect from TMC management or the
maturity and confidence to enforce anything.

   It took a month or two of misguided "schemes" to improve known
production problem areas to get to know the staff and gradually I became one
of the TMC crew. I eventually worked well with the design engineers and the
planning office and likewise was accepted by the assembly section to work
with them to improve handling and testing techniques.

   But one problem remained. The company made equipment that enabled
multiple telephone conversations to travel on one pair of wires by
modulating them onto a "carrier" frequency. This was high tech (for the
time) and some components were manufactured in house. A section, of just a
few employees and a technical supervisor, made close tolerance, polyester
wound capacitors. Each one was hand made to meet the values specified by the
electronics engineers and then encapsulated and finished off in a controlled
temperature oven. The supervisor was a tyrant. In the year and a half that
I had been at TMC I had hardly been into the "lab". Mind you, neither had
most TMC employees! The section did what it was supposed to do, and merely
being in the presence of the supervisor was unpleasant.

   The capacitor section came under pressure to increase production and
the tyrant emphatically stated that it can't be done. Nothing was possible
to increase production in that section and that was that. Crisis point was
reached for the company and neither TMC management nor I could see a way
out, so Big Jack was called in. He got us into the manager's office and,
starting with me, told us we were %$# &^ %$^%$#s and a few other things
besides. He said

   "Peter, you are a problem maker. Jeff, you are a problem solver.
Surely this is a match made in heaven. Sort it out!"

   And we did. As it turned out, Peter was right and not much could be
done to speed things up. But he wouldn't let anyone into his domain in the
past to find out. We worked together to improve things a bit. He got some
long asked for test equipment that he needed but only ever 'demanded' so was
put off.

   All in all, my 2 years at TMC surely comes under the heading of a
"character building exercise".

   At this time, Jack Fryer was given the task of creating a brand new
division of AWA to be known as the Military Electronics Division. He was to
find factory space, equipment and personnel and create a division to look
after the varied service and support operations that AWA conducted with
different arms of Australia's military. The first thing he did was to take
me on as his full time assistant. I was never given the benefit of a title
like "Assistant Division Manager" but it didn't matter. These couple of
years were great.

   "We" found a two story building in Lord Street Leichhardt that had the
right mix of bare concrete floor, open space down stairs and upstairs was
suitable for office work and light service and some assembly. There was
adequate staff parking, proximity to public transport and not far from a
main feeder road for Sydney (Parramatta Road).

   Part of the downstairs area was cleaned up and a "clean room"
constructed for the service of aviation instruments. It had filtered
ventilation and air lock to get in and out and a "not to extreme" standard
of dress (special dust coats, hair covering, etc.). Upstairs, a "faraday"
room was made to test Army radio equipment. Each section of the division
needed to be done from a fresh start to house existing sections from
throughout AWA. Needless to say there was much consultation with the section
managers as to their 'needs' and 'wants' and trying to work out the
difference between the two.

   Jack's old shoulders and my enthusiasm to the challenge made a good
team. There were times of disagreement but we were both of the nature to
respect the other persons advice and if it was a 50/50 decision we'd just go
with one or the other and fix it if it wasn't the best way to go.

   But it was definitely not all roses. Jack had a saying "we'd be better
off making bricks" and a day came along when I found out where he get it
from. I can vividly remember a conversation during a chance meeting with one
of Jack's cronies while we were having a counter lunch in a pub near
Parramatta. We were out on the road trying to fix some daunting problem.
Initial pleasantries and my introduction to the crony, who turned out to be
a brick manufacturer, was followed by a tirade from Jack about all the
problems on his (our) shoulders and finished up with "Sheesh! We'd be better
of mak'n and bak'n bricks."

   We then had to sit through five minutes of Mr. Crony's last two weeks
"at the office". It hadn't stopped raining for days and the clay is too wet.
The workers ('lazy bludgers' was the term I think) were on strike for no
good reason and it would take 48 hours to get the ovens up to temperature
again. etc.etc.

   Jack dropped the phrase about mak'n and bak'n bricks from then on!

   A couple of years down the track and everything was going so smoothly
that I was pretty well out of a job. There was a division manager and he had
an assistant and they had an accountant and the whole thing was rolling
along. I fronted the big brass for something worthwhile to do and after a
fair bit of head banging the only offer was for me to wait till a management
position came vacant and I would be on the top of the list. I was 27, and
even if the management job came "real soon now", I could not see myself
waiting very effectively, and when the time came, how long I would be
satisfied there.

   I thunked it through and confronted the company again. They
understood, we all shook hands and I joined the ranks of the unemployed.
Well not really. AWA introduced me to a few possibilities where my talents
would be in demand and I started a week later as factory manager of R.
Mandl Pty. Ltd.

   During my time at AWA I started working part time on some Friday and
Saturday nights, and Saturdays during the day, at the Sydney trotting, dog
and "gallop's" race tracks. I was employed as an on-site maintenance
engineer setting up and keeping running the on-course totalisator betting
equipment. There would be as many as 15 engineers on a race day to ensure
the smooth operation of the "tote". This was computing in the good old days.
Miles of wire, hundreds of relays and whirling "distributors" and highly
refined, very "smart" mechanical "adders". Invented some time before we had
commercial radio stations, TV transistors or even dreamed of PCs, this
design was still in use into the 1970s.


The DIALix Story (as it appeared in the West Australian newspaper)

   Australia's first Commercial Internet Service Provider, 1990 - 2000

   From the street, it's just a modest corner house, half hidden behind trees, overgrown lawn and shrubs. An early 80's Sigma sits in the driveway, its registration lapsed. But inside the Johnsons' home in Woodlands the telephone lines are buzzing, as they do night and day, 365 days a year. This is the nerve centre of DIALix, a rapidly expanding provider of access to the internet, handling a million calls a year. Proprietor Jeff Johnson, wife Kay and son Michael are riding a wave of success as more than 1500 people and businesses daily connect through their back room to this worldwide network.

   The hub of the operation is down the side and round the back (mind the stump), a sparse backroom which clinks and twinkles with the subdued sound of electronic messages winging down the wires. DIALix is the biggest commercial provider of access to Internet in Australia - and is taking on 50 new customers a week.

   To understand how the Johnsons have stolen a march on communication companies Australia - wide to achieve this exponential growth, you have to go back four years, to when their son Michael enrolled at Churchlands Senior High School. "There were very few computers at the school then, and I wondered how much these kids would learn with the equipment thay had," Jeff recalls. So he bought a commercial Unix computer and set it up so students across Perth could dial into it and gain access to a mainframe computer. "As a father, I asked myself how much I could afford to pay to allow my son to hook up. The answer I came up with was 1 cent a minute," he says.

   "Then I expanded it outside schools. In the first year I had very few customers, mostly proffessional people. One of the customers told me of the Internet, which functioned through the Australian Academic and Research Network (AARNet), connecting colleges and universities around Australia - and the world. "I was the first one in Perth to become an AARNet mail affiliate and piggyback on the AARNet link. It quickly became a full - time job and I spread my wings by putting a computer link in the basement of my sister's house in Sydney. "My nephew Justin (who is hosting this website today) pestered me to teach him to operate it. He learnt entirely via e - mail, and now administers the Sydney side of things."

   This early foray into the national market has put the Johnson family business at the forefront of Internet's expansion into homes and offices around Australia, with DIALix computers in the major capital cities, allowing users to call there to join in for the cost of a local phone call. One of the main reasons for their success is that they have kept their rates to 1 cent a minute. Mail and file transfers beyond the DIALix network can be delivered to any other computer connected to Internet at the additional cost of 1 cent a thousand characters. Larger companies can link their inter - city computers into one network. Kay has quit her job to look after the paperwork, while Jeef keeps an eye on the traffic, handling 200 - 300 e - mail personal messages a day.

   That's why he does not bother running a car. "if people want to talk to me they send me a message or come and see me."

   Some of the biggest names in the W.A. business world use Internet constaltly - Western Mining, Orbital Engine Company, Intellect Australia. Indonesian subscribers ring Perth to join the Net via DIALix because it is cheaper than going through Singapore.

   It is a communication transformation that is reflected in the charts on the walls at DIALix. Soon the company will have its own dedicated line to the commercial Internet in the U.S. and thence the entire Internet, bypassing AARNet.

   In his spare time, such as it is, Jeff is assembling a DIALix host suitable for small towns. This will allow thousands of users outside the capital cities to join in for the price of a local call.

  And from there? Who knows?

Well we all know how the Internet has grown since then, but that's how the commercial side of it began in Australia back in 1990. - Webmaster