Press-ganged by the Aussies

Fred Mulligan - the photo accompanying the ODT articleThe The following is the text of an article published in the Otago Daily Times, Tuesday May 19, 1981, page 10.

Retired Wireless Operator Now Prefers To Play Bowls

Staff Reporter

RANFURLY.- Fred Mulligan, of Patearoa, may be 95 and blind, but, if necessary, he could still dash off a quick message in Morse code-his chosen field when he started work as a lad in Dunedin.

But Fred, who spent all his Working in the in the message business, first as a letter carrier and then as a morse and wireless operator confesses he has had enough. He would rather play bowls.

Cateracts on his eyes prevent this at the moment, but an operation is scheduled soon to overcome the problem.

Fred only started playing bowls at Patearoa at the age of 78, and then when he was 90 he was club president, a mile-stone he regards with obvious pride.

It is not far from Dunedin to Patearoa, but he took the long route and 77 years to get there.

Born in Dunedin late in 1886, Fred was raised as an orphan, and at 15 became a telegram messenger, and later a letter carrier - or postman in today's terms.

In 1910, he' became a fully fledged Morse operator having, along the way, received top marks for Otago and Southland in his exams.

A young Fred MulliganIN AUSTRALIA

After transfers around the country and more examinations, young Fred resigned and went to Australia as a wireless operator for the Telefunken company.

There were promises of more tuition, but the instructor was away, and within a few days of arrival the young man found himself wireless operator on the SS Kyarra, a 7,000-ton passenger ship which was later sunk as a hospital ship.

But by then Fred was ashore, working in shore-based stations in Perth, Rockhampton Sydney Brisbane and Melbourne.

In July, 1914, he was sailing home to New Zealand on leave when, in mid-Tasman and by courtesy of wireless, he received a terse message: "Return immediately. Hostilities imminent."

So, five weeks' leave became two days, and he was back in Australia with no refund from his employer for his wasted passage, and blocked from enlisting because needed to man a wireless station.

But Fred did see action of a sort.

"Pressed" into the navy he spent time in Williamshaven, now Madang, in Papua New Guinea, being eaten alive by mosquitoes.

"The cattle there were eaten raw by the mosquitoes, and while the German shopkeepers and people had their rations, of quinine, I had none," he said.

But with wireless operating time also spent in Rabaul and Nauru, malaria finally caught up with Fred and he got so bad that he had to return to Melbourne on a phosphate boat.

At the Melbourne heads he had to get off his sickbed to relay the entry instructions for the captain who could not read the "quick fire" sending of the port officials.

However, his treatment by the Australian Navy left Fred with a sour taste.

"Really, I was conscripted. I wasn't asked, .. just transferred into it. '


"When I approached the Defence Department after the war there was no record of me ever having been in their navy.

"So I got no Pacific medal or gratuity ... nothing.

"The matter was even raised in the Federal Parliament, but nothing ever came of it," Fred said.

Between the two great wars he was officer-in-charge of several Wireless stations around Australia.

He was on Flinders Island in Bass strait for 13 years, and then, when transferring to SS Darwin with his family in 1931, their ship ran aground at Long Bay, near Sydney.

The ship ran in under cliffs in fog, but all the passengers, crew and cargo of racehorses got off safely.

Even in the excitement Fred had the presence of mind to pack the family's bags and leave them outside the cabin door.

After the rescue the Mulligans got their luggage back.

"I was told we were the only people to do so," Fred said.

In Darwin in 1935, although his tour of duty was up, he stayed on to help with wireless communications during the first England to Australia air race,


During the Second World War he manned various stations, and in 1946, aged 60 and a warrant officer, he was discharged from the Naval Reserve.

Another five years in "civvy street" and Fred retired for good after 33 years involvement with communications in Australia.

As well as his morse ticket, Fred had first class tickets in the Telefunken, Marconi and Balsillie wireless telegraphy systems.

While Mrs Mulligan is deceased, the three children from the marriage live in Australia.

In 1961 Frederick Charles Mulligan returned to New Zealand, and since 1963 he has been living at Patearoa with a relative, Mr Fred Hall.

He has his own quarters on the Hall farm and helps out with the cooking and housework.

"You've got to keep busy," a sprightly Fred said.