Max Lovelock looks back in time with a photograph of himself as a young man when he worked as a telephone switchboard operator.
Max Lovelock looks back in time with a photograph of himself as a young man when he worked as a telephone switchboard operator. Sharyn O'Neill

Max recalls drama of emergency

YEPPOON'S Max Lovelock will never forget his part in a historic event 75 years ago.

Max was only 21 and working his first week on the switch in the telephone exchange in Albury, NSW, when the entire switchboard went crazy.

The town was responding to an emergency situation where a Dutch plane, taking part in the 1934 London to Melbourne Commemorative Air Race, became lost in an electrical storm.

“It was an extraordinary thing,” Max recalled.

The plane was the Uiver, and it was forced to make an emergency landing at the Albury racecourse, as there was no airstrip at that time.

The story is told that Albury Post Office telegraphist, R.J. Turner, had been following the race on the wireless.

When he heard the faint drone of an aircraft he suspected it was the Uiver.

He set the alarm around the town and they started their ambitious rescue plan, using the street lights to signal the plane.

Alone, working on the night shift Max normally received only three or four calls through the switchboard and was expected to clock in every two hours to let head office know he was still awake.

On this particular night, in the early hours of October 24, 1934, there was no time for napping. Max believes half the town was trying to place calls.

“We had 800 subscribers, and looking at the switchboard, the whole lot were on the phone.

“They all wanted to know what was going on,” he said.

And with the town turning the lights on and off to message the plane in Morse code it made his job all that much harder.

“It meant the lights were going on and off and I couldn't see what I was doing.”

To assist in the safe landing of the plane, many local motorists created a makeshift runway with their car headlights lighting the way.

They also helped pull the plane out of the mud the following day.

The Uiver went on not only to continue the race but to finish first in the handicap section and second overall.

Now aged 96, Max said he can still remember the mad rush to carry out his duties under extreme circumstances, knowing that lives were at stake.

“I didn't have much to do with the actual thing, I was just trying to attend to people telephoning.”

The city of Albury is hosting a celebration dinner tonight to mark the historic event.

Aviation enthusiasts from all over Australia and overseas are expected to arrive in vintage planes to mark the occasion.

First-hand accounts of the landing, like Max's, will be told at the event.

“It was a pretty miraculous thing really.”

Despite his extreme introduction into the role of switchboard operator Max ended up working in the job for three years.

As well as writing an account of his story for the local newspaper all those years ago, Max later wrote a book titled A Farewell to Morse, on his later career in telegraphy.

After retiring, Max and his wife Lillian moved to Yeppoon 20 years ago.



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