Looking back over ones life from a state of happy retirement provides an opportunity to calmly assess what one has achieved.
I can't remember a time when I didn't know that I was to become an engineer. When I was about eight, a cousin introduced my brother and I to radio. We built all kinds of crystal sets. In high school, I planned a science project which was a piece of electronics. It never got built for lack of resources and, in retrospect, it wouldn't have worked because the technology of the day was inadequate. When I went to university, I enrolled in electrical engineering without considering any alternatives. During my undergraduate years, I dreamed of participating in the second industrial revolution which would remove the need for manual labour and would lead to a socialist utopia where people only worked because they wanted to as all the effort of production would be carried out by self-managing machines. This has of course largely come to pass but our society has invented new ways of enslaving people in the economic process.
I was reminded of my youthful enthusiasm when we were in Edinburgh in 1994 and visited our friend Murray's mother who remembered me as the young engineer who talked ardently about the future of solar energy.
I reflect on my career with some pride and with a lot of satisfaction. I was able to contribute in a significant way to the design of many successful and useful projects. There are some very high grade devices I have designed and developed from professional tape recorders to complex ground support facilities for patrol aircraft, excellent projects I have contributed to from sonobuoys to satellite ground stations, production processes I have brought into being for the manufacture of sophisticated electronic devices from submarine ships management systems to infrared fire detection and suppression systems, quality assurance processes I have put in place from calibration tracking systems to high performance design review procedures, and a military electronics manufacturing facility which was considered by Professor Macintosh, a government appointed reviewer of the Collins Class Submarine Project, to be of world class standard.
I contrast my satisfaction with my career with that of my brother-in-law, Ron, who looks back sadly on a lifetime of work in CSIRO trying to develop better crops for use in semi-arid pasture land only to have all the research terminated on his retirement and all his collection of genetic material given away to a university in Columbia because CSIRO no longer finds this kind of work appropriate.
In addition to being an engineer, I have filled a number of other roles with some success.
I have been a manager and my greatest satisfaction is that many of my staff have said that their time working for me has been the most pleasant and the most productive of their working lives.
I have been a committee man for many organisations and have been able to contribute as Secretary and Chairman of many of them often receiving thanks from other participants for my ability to control meetings while at the same time allowing everyone to have their say.
I have been a public speaker and a public speaking critic and have often been called on to communicate with large groups in difficult circumstances.
I have been a kitemaker of some skill and have often been asked to make kites for sale, a situation I always avoid because making kites for fun is one thing but making kites for money brings pressure to ensure that the thing always meets the expectation of the customer.
I have been a zoo guide and have been mistaken for a zoo keeper on more than one occasion and I have been invited to be an honorary guide at the Adelaide Zoo.
I have been a grey nomad and have come to know much about Australia which is unknown to most city dwellers.
I have been a son, brother, husband, father and grandfather with mixed success. I realised recently that my relationship with my father was quite different from that of many boys as I only knew him for a few years during my teens and wasn't able to develop the depth of communication which some sons achieve. As a brother I have a good if sporadic relationship with my sister but my brother and I are pretty much strangers. As husband and father I claim only moderate success but I reflect that our marriage has survived for many years and all my children still talk to me. As a grandfather I envy those who have wonderful relationships with their grandchildren but I know that this kind of relationship is neither universal nor usual and I believe that we will become closer as they become older.
I can happily say that I have no regrets. There are things I would have done differently if I had been wiser but I believe that I generally did the best I could.
I find myself, in my reflective years, to be a genuine atheist. I was brought up to be a good churchgoing boy and have agonized for much of my life over the conflict between the beliefs I was supposed to have and the reality of life as I see it. The proposition that one must have faith in a personal omniscient being when all the evidence points the other way has come to be, for me, an insupportable one and I now see all organised religion as at best, superstitious nonsense, and at worst, the means used by the powerful to dominate and subjugate the masses. I am amazed at the continued success of organised religion in the light of our ever deepening knowledge of the workings of the universe. I see much evidence of the harm done in the name of religion and I am appalled that great nations are run for the benefit of these enterprises without any consideration of the rights of the people. I have come to consider that organised religion is, like ignorance, one of the most pernicious influences in today's world. I do have faith that civilization will win out in the end. The rise of civilization is the greatest achievement of our species and, despite some periods of darkness and exploitation, the lot of humanity has, in the long run, continually improved over the last five thousand years. I believe that this trend will continue and that the common man will, in the end, always win out over his exploiters. I hope that this belief is well founded because otherwise I can have no optimism about the future of the world and about the lot of future generations.
I leave this world to my children and their children. I hope they can look back on their lives with as much satisfaction as I look back on mine.
While I was writing, I picked up a book called "You can write a memoir" by Susan Carol Hauser, an Assistant Professor of English at a minor America University. I am challenged to review my writing. I will read her book, review what I have written and perhaps rewrite it in the light of her advice. Meanwhile, at least the facts are here.