Senate debates

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Statements by Senators

First Moon Landing: 50th Anniversary, Reid, Mr Thomas (Tom), MBE

1:22 pm

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Finance, Charities and Electoral Matters) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a bit of a national sport to bash Canberra, not least of which is about those in this building. We often hear a bit of that going on, but I would make the argument that in fact what goes on in this building is often actually done by a lot of non-Canberrans. This is what gives Canberra its bad name. I like to always highlight good things that happen in Canberra, particularly beyond this building, and their contributions to our nation. As we've been looking at and celebrating 50 years since the moon landing this week, I thought we could celebrate one of those great Canberra contributions to our nation and, indeed, to the world.

When we look at the contribution made here in Canberra to the moon landing, unfortunately history has sought to more or less write out the vital role of the ACT in this momentous event. The 2000 Sam Neill film, The Dish, would have you believe that it was Parkes that brought the pictures of the moon landing to the world. As is often the case with films of historical events, this was a half-truth. So, I rise today to pay tribute to Tom Reid MBE and his team at Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station, just down the road.

Tom Reid was born in Glasgow in 1927. Tom joined the Royal Navy at the outbreak of World War II, and went on to study electrical engineering at the University of Glasgow. At that time electrical engineers really were the pioneers of their age, and the University of Glasgow was the place to study it. Tom absolutely cleaned up at university, getting top marks. He then migrated to Australia in 1952 and served for five years in the Royal Australian Navy as an electrical lieutenant. In 1952, Tom married his first wife, Betty, and together they had four children. Sadly, Betty passed away in 1965. In 1967, Tom was appointed director of the Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station. It should be noted that Honeysuckle Creek was one of several tracking stations—essentially large satellite dishes—without which NASA would have been blind to the Apollo astronauts.

The Apollo 11 lunar module had been fitted with a television camera so that the occasion of the first man to set foot on the moon could be filmed and transmitted back to earth. But, lunar modules being naturally very small and cramped things, the only way that the camera could be made to fit was for it to be mounted in an equipment locker upside down. Before setting foot on the moon, Buzz and Neil would have to pull a lever, the equipment locker would drop open and the camera would begin recording and transmitting pictures, albeit upside down, back to earth. It would be up to the individual operators at the individual tracking stations to flick a switch on their television monitors in order to turn the picture the right way up.

According to the plan, once the lunar module landed on the moon, Buzz and Neil were to have a short sleep in order to recharge before their first moonwalk. Having travelled over 380,000 kilometres, and being the first humans on the moon, they naturally had some difficulty in falling asleep and so told mission control in Houston that they were going to go out early. NASA's intention was for the Parkes Observatory to broadcast the images coming back from the moon but, given the changed time of the moonwalk, Parkes was not yet in position to broadcast the images. Houston then decided it would be Goldstone that would transmit the pictures. However, the operator at Goldstone had forgotten to flick his switch in order to flip the picture. He panicked and went through a whole lot of troubleshooting which invariably made the problem worse and so, with a few seconds to go before Neil Armstrong was to step out onto the moon's surface, Houston made the call: 'All stations, we're switching video to Honeysuckle.'

So it came to pass that at 12.56 Sydney time on Monday, 21 July 1969 it was Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station, just outside Canberra, that broadcast Neil Armstrong climbing down that ladder onto the moon's surface and saying the immortal words, 'One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,' to more than 600 million people around the world. Honeysuckle Creek would continue to broadcast pictures from the moon landing for eight minutes until the Parkes Observatory came online and took over the broadcast. But for Tom Reid and his team at Honeysuckle Creek, the world never would have been able to see those immortal pictures.

Tom Reid would go on to be the director of Tidbinbilla Tracking Station, which maintained communications with spacecraft travelling to the outer edges of the solar system and beyond. Tom Reid would marry a local Canberra girl, Margaret McLachlan, in 1966. Margaret McLachlan would be better known to members of this place as the Hon Margaret Reid AO, Liberal senator for the ACT for over 20 years and former President of the Senate. There are many in and around this building who are written up as Canberra power couples, and rightly so, but there can be no doubt that Tom and Margaret Reid were one of the original Canberra power couples. One was the man who brought the pictures of the moon landing to the world, and the other was the first female President of the Senate. I pay tribute to both Tom and Margaret for their enormous contribution and significant achievements.

Tom, sadly, passed away in 2010 but Margaret continues to make an enormous contribution to Canberra and to our nation. I also thank John Heath, John Saxon, Mike Dinn and their whole team, who have done so much over the past couple of years to make sure that Canberra's important role in this historic event is properly remembered. I also pay tribute and thank Andrew Tink AM, author of Honeysuckle Creek: The Story of Tom Reid, a Little Dish and Neil Armstrong's First Step. It's a fantastic book which I would encourage everybody to read and to share to ensure that Canberra's and Australia's role in this momentous event is not forgotten.

At the time of the moon landing there was someone I had met recently who was turning 50, and I was very pleased to celebrate with Gordon Holyland recently for his 100th birthday. I'd like to recognise a very special Canberran. A few weeks ago I attended, with Gordon, family and friends, the Northside Life Church celebration hosted by pastor Sue Miller to celebrate Gordon Holyland's 100th birthday and to pass on messages from His Excellency the Governor-General, from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, from the Prime Minister and on my own behalf to Gordon.

Gordon was born on 30 June 1919. It's difficult for those of us who are a bit younger than Gordon to imagine life back then and how different things were back when the great ocean liners crisscrossed the globe and the Ford Model T represented cutting-edge technology. Gordon served in World War II, serving primarily in New Guinea. Gordon continued to serve in the Army after the war, serving as an instructor here in Canberra at Duntroon and rising to the rank of corporal. When former Prime Minister Ben Chifley died in 1951, it was Gordon who would drive the hearse. Gordon would go on to become a Commonwealth driver and still to this day lives here in Canberra.

Gordon, too, represents an ordinary Canberran who has made an extraordinary contribution to our city and to our nation over the years through his service in the Army and in other roles. I'm sure that all senators here and those beyond will join with me in wishing Gordon a happy 100th birthday, and we also wish him, hopefully, many more happy years with his family.