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Alan (Captain) Terrell


Flight Operations/Operations Management



Home City:


Date of Passing:


Eulogy for ALAN IVOR TERRELL by Simon Terrell (son)

First of all, I would like to thank so many of Dad’s friends for coming to honour his memory. I know that he would have been delighted by your presence and thank you Warryn, his great friend and spiritual mentor for conducting the service for us.

Dad was very keen to ensure that today would be a celebration and would never want to be the centre of attention – our son Ben believes that he enjoyed sharing a birthday with him for that very reason. Dad simply wants today to be a reason to bring people together. I hope that my words will be in that spirit.

I’ve thought about this for a long time and if there is one word to sum up Dad, it would have to be “extraordinary”. A life full of extraordinary achievements and an extraordinary man in so many ways. Many of you would know some of the facts of the various aspects of his life and so my intention is not so much to recount those details, but to focus on those aspects of his life which showed the sort of man Dad was.

Dad was born in Darjeeling in India in 1928, almost within sight of the world’s two tallest mountains – Everest and K2. He was the firstborn of Alec and Joyce Terrell. In fairly quick succession, there followed Tim, Michael and Jill who are all here today.

I don’t know if my siblings or cousins have had similar experiences, but I have a number of Indian work colleagues and I get a lot of bemused looks when I tell them that my father and both of my paternal grandparents were born in India!

The first few years of the young Terrells’ lives must have been fairly idyllic, living on a number of different tea plantations which their father managed, during the penultimate decade of the British Raj. Dad started school at St. Pauls in Darjeeling, which at 7,500 metres was claimed to be the highest public school in the world. In 1938, as was the case with many of the British in India, Dad as a 10-year old, together with his 18 month younger brother Tim, was sent to school at Ardingly in Sussex. Ordinarily, they would probably then not have seen their parents until the end of their schooling, however Adolf Hitler ensured that this was not to be the case when it was deemed too risky for them to stay in England. So, they returned to India in August 1940, at the height of the Battle of Britain, on a troop ship bound for Singapore, sailing fast to evade German submarines on the way. Dad and Tim disembarked in Bombay, but the ship sailed on and would have reached its destination, just before Singapore fell to the Japanese. We can only imagine the fate of those soldiers. The final part of Dad’s secondary education was completed back at Ardingly towards the end of the war.

In 1946, with Indian independence looming, Alec and Joyce decided it would be best for the family to emigrate to somewhere where their children’s future would be more assured, and they could carry on growing tea. They identified either South Africa or Australia. Having chosen Australia and the Numinbah Valley, inland from the Gold Coast, the family left India in December 1946, but unfortunately without the tea plant seeds, which had then become a prohibited export. So, Dad’s parents became firstly dairy farmers, then small crop farmers when they moved closer to Brisbane.

Dad started an engineering degree at Queensland University, which I am sure was the source of his wonderful creative ability as an accomplished handyman. In order to make some extra pocket money, he was doing contract ploughing in the Brisbane area. On 20th April 1949 he was ploughing next to Archerfield Aerodrome, not far from the family home in Sunnybank, when a flight instructor there, Jim Cronin, asked him if he’d like to have a trial flight. Dad did so and was obviously immediately bitten by the flying bug and left university to learn to fly.

Once he had gained his commercial pilot’s licence on 13th May 1950, he joined Australian National Airways or A.N.A. as it was then known on 20th November 1950, flying Bristol Freighters and DC3’s. The next big change in Dad’s life came early in 1953 when he was sitting with a group of Brisbane-based A.N.A. pilots in the Strand Hotel in Cairns. In walked a group of A.N.A. flight hostesses, who were based in Cairns and who had just returned from a trip to Brisbane. As the hostesses which included Mum, approached the group, Mum was immediately struck to see one of them, Dad, stand up to greet them. She thought he couldn’t possibly be an A.N.A. pilot as they didn’t generally stand up for women! Clearly an early sign of the “gentleman aviator” that he came to be regarded as.

Also, in Cairns at that time, both working for A.N.A., and friends of Mum and Dad, were Pat and Tom Cook. I am especially grateful that they produced their eldest son Tom, who is my longest standing friend. We met in New Guinea when we were about five and attended several schools together in New Guinea and in Sydney. Unlike me, Tom followed in his father’s footsteps and became a pilot, working with Dad at Qantas for part of this time. So, whilst Dad and Tom’s love of aviation was professional, mine has always been as a passenger, but a fascination with flying, nonetheless. My wife Margie thinks that I’m happiest either at an airport or flying, so Dad your love of flying certainly rubbed off on me!

Dad and Mum had a whirlwind romance, including Dad giving Mum a copy of the sheet music for “Jeannie with the Light brown Hair” – he was more romantic than we thought! Their engagement was punctuated by a number of absences from each other, which was to be a feature of Dad’s working life, but they married in Adelaide on 22 July 1953. One striking thing about their wedding was that it was the first time that a mixed marriage – i.e. one between a Catholic and a non-Catholic – was performed before the main altar in the Adelaide Archdiocese. Previous to this it was always done at a side altar. Mum always said it was Dad’s great fortune to marry a Catholic, because the Catholic schools' fees were so much cheaper than Anglican ones. On the other hand, Mum and Dad had a number of priest friends over the years who seemed to be able to consume a fair amount of their whiskey, so perhaps things evened out!

I was born within a year of Mum and Dad’s wedding, in May 1954.

The next big change was on 4th July 1955 when Dad joined Qantas, flying DC4’s and not long after was posted to Papua New Guinea, spending two years in Port Moresby and three in Lae. During this time, my sister, Verity, was born in Port Moresby in 1957 - Mum and Dad’s piccaninny!

From all accounts, flying in PNG was quite something. He flew Twin Otters, Beavers, Catalinas and DC3’s. I remember him saying later on that Qantas always looked a little bit warily at pilots who had done a lot of their flying PNG, because they were used to doing some fairly hairy things – i.e. landing on mountain plateaus and flying along river courses, as at least you knew where the river went – that would not really be acceptable for a commercial airline pilot.

During this time Dad’s brother Tim, who was also in PNG with the Australian administration, tells this story of a meeting with Dad at Lake Kutubu, a 20 by 4 kilometre body of fresh water 2,500ft. above sea level - just the place to use as a base for opening up what was then a very remote area. Qantas was running flying boat services out of Port Moresby to a number of coastal centres round PNG, so the Lake became a regular calling point. Dad was flying Catalinas at the time and was soon flying in on the fortnightly service to Lake Kutubu.

Quoting Tim, “One such flight was particularly memorable. To traverse the lake and unload the flying boats we had built a large double canoe, the pride of the fleet. This had been manned by local oarsmen but shortly before this incident, a second- hand outboard motor had been delivered to power it. After much effort it had been fitted and got to operate, so when the Catalina arrived the outboard was proudly started up and we headed off. As we neared the Cat, we slowed the throttle and put it into reverse to pull up, when horror of horrors, it stalled altogether and wouldn’t start again.

There we were, headed straight for the Cat, big enough, and going fast enough, to sink it if we hit, however my police sergeant managed to set the sweep oar and steer the canoe just under the upswept tail of the Cat. While the canoe just missed the plane, a number of the people standing on it were not so lucky and ended up in the water. Alan, who was standing on the wing of the Cat watching proceedings and obviously enjoying the spectacle, called out “Are you going to do that every time we come? If so, we’ll have to come more often.”

It was in PNG that Dad lost his only aircraft – albeit slowly – as the Catalina he had flown the previous evening sunk at its moorings overnight. This might have had something to do with a story that Mum tells of standing next to a Qantas engineer as Dad’s Catalina was about to land in Lae and she was filled with confidence when he muttered – “I don’t know how these things still keep flying- they are so full of rust and corrosion”.

In 1960 we came to Sydney for the first time, which would eventually be our home and was where our sister Angela was born in 1961. After two years here, flying Super Constellations and then 707’s, Dad had the opportunity to go to London, which was an wonderful time for us all - to live overseas and to be in London, when it really was swinging London, including watching the then new pop groups such the Beatles, Manfred Man, Herman’s Hermits and the Rolling Stones and others, who were all regulars on TV.

A few years ago, we had a reunion of Qantas families who had lived in London during that time, and we all agreed that as children, we were extremely fortunate to have been given that unique opportunity.

Being based in London, Dad had the chance to fly to a number of then exotic destinations - including, Bermuda, New York, Cairo, Tehran, Istanbul, Karachi, Frankfurt, Athens, Rome and others. We were also lucky as a family to be able to go to some of these places, often with Dad flying us and of course we always though that Dad did the best and smoothest landings!

We returned to Sydney in 1965 and it was not long after in 1967, that Dad was first promoted to a pilot management position. During this time, he had a number of extraordinary achievements, including – pioneering a new Kangaroo route to Europe via Bahrain, Qantas’ first long range flights to South America, including flying south of the Antarctic Circle - probably the first time that a commercial airliner had ever done this. He also flew the first commercial flights to the Antarctic itself, which are now relatively common. It was on one of these Antarctic flights that he took his father Alec, for his first and only flight. Just for a change, he also competed in the London Sydney Air Race in 1969 in a Cessna 306. Other experiences included flying immigrants from Malta to Australia. On one flight, on a Friday, ham sandwiches, the only food option, were handed out to all the passengers, who initially just stared at them not knowing what to do. Dad then hit upon the idea of getting a priest, who was also on board, to give the passengers a special dispensation to consume the otherwise-forbidden food. It was on another similar migrant charter flight, from the Middle East, that he was asked by the cabin crew to announce that it was not acceptable to use camp stoves to cook your own food during the flight! During the Vietnam war he also flew Australian troops to Saigon on a number of occasions and according to Michael Collins a fellow pilot on some of these flights, narrowly avoiding getting shot down on one occasion – I’m not sure it if really was the Vietcong or “friendly fire”.

Other firsts for Dad included flying the Queen on a number of occasions, the Pope and various Prime Ministers, including Gough Whitlam on his first visit to China. He returned with quite a bit of, then fairly unusual, Chairman Mao memorabilia, as presents for us!

He also oversaw the introduction of a number of aircraft for Qantas, including the Boeing 767, 747 and 747SP, and evaluated the Airbus A310 and A320 and DC10. However, the highlight for him was surely evaluating the Concorde in the early 70’s, where he flew it on a number of occasions in both the U.K. and Australia. At a party that Mum and Dad had here in Berrima earlier in the year, I was asked if I had ever flown on Concorde. I replied never commercially, but my experience was much better than that – I had been on a test flight in it with my father!

Through a number of promotions during which time Dad was instrumental in eliminating the previous distinction between pilots and their management, he reached the position of Deputy General Manager for Qantas, responsible for the entire Operations side of the airline. In what was probably unique in the world, at this time two of the three airlines in Australia had Terrells running their Operations, as Dad’s brother Michael had a similar role at Ansett - a career that started when having gained his first pilot’s licence, Dad took his little brother for a flight, again at Archerfield in 1951 and according to Michael, saved him from a life of jackarooing!

Dad also initiated the charity flights initiated by the Rotary Club of Turramurra, which still continue, raising tens of thousands of dollars for various charities and was a very active director of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, hence at Mum’s suggestion, which Dad would have wholeheartedly agreed with, the family has asked for donations to the R.F.D.S. in lieu of flowers. In recognition of his amazing contribution to aviation in all its many forms, Dad was awarded an Order of Australia in 1990.

At today’s service, Dad’s grandsons and I are all wearing what I am told are now fashionably thin ties, from the various organizations that Dad was associated with, including the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators, the Royal Flying Doctor Service, Boeing, Airbus and Saab and others.

In many ways Dad was lucky to have participated in and been a major player during the golden age of aviation, when so many new aircraft, including jets, were coming into service, so many new routes were being opened up and so many more people were now able to fly. It was an age where Operational people like Dad, made many of the key decisions in running an airline – it’s also an age that has now seems to have passed and the airline industry doesn’t seem to be the better for it.

Post Qantas, where at his retirement in 1989, the Boeing representative commented that he was a man who could get them to change anything, such was his status within Boeing and Qantas’ status as a key Boeing customer, Dad ran Australia Asia Airlines, the subsidiary set up by Qantas to fly to Taiwan. He also had roles with Hazelton Airlines, the Regional Airlines Association, the CAPA Centre for Aviation and he was lecturing at the University of New South Wales in their aviation studies course until last year. So that flying bug that bit him in 1949, stayed with him forever, but like many of his contemporaries, it was a bug that he always thrived on.

Dad also very much experienced the highs and lows of life. In the early 90’s our family underwent one of our greatest challenges and it was then that I really saw the extraordinary man that Dad was. In addition to the strong support of his friends, we had many, many offers of support and calls from people that Dad had worked with, both within Qantas and the wider aviation community. We saw the extraordinary respect, admiration and I’m sure affection, that so many people had for Dad and it’s that affection that is evident in your presence today.

For most of his retirement, if he ever really retired, Mum and Dad have lived in Berrima and have fully immersed themselves in the local community, including participating in most of the local organizations. Many Berrima residents and by the looks of it most of you are here, as the rest of Berrima looks fairly quiet, have been witness to this extraordinary man. When he received the diagnosis of his illness just after Christmas, his initial comment was, “well this is the first trip that I’ll be making where I won’t need a passport”!

Mum and we children have been incredibly important to Dad and he has always taken great pride in us and our extended families. As you no doubt saw from the thoughts of his grandchildren, (three of the four girls are currently living overseas, but have all seen Dad recently), Dad was a key figure in their lives, and they were all very lucky to have had him for so long – from Amelia’s 31 years to Nick’s 18 years. However as Dad in his humility was a better listener than a talker, in some cases they may have been unaware of all of their grandfather’s achievements but were nonetheless intrigued with his aviation life and amazing stories. Our daughter Lucy, who is studying in Spain, e-mailed us last Thursday night to say that she was supposed to be completing an assignment, but had decided instead to Google Alan Terrell and couldn’t believe how much information there was on him and how much he had achieved. If I could quote here, Peter Harbison with whom Dad worked at CAPA – “he was a lovely man and, in many ways, a great man”. This was very clear to each of his ten grandchildren who were always extremely proud of him. I think that he featured in more than a few grandparent biography assignments when they were at school!

So there you have it – our extraordinary father, grandfather, great grandfather, husband, brother, uncle and friend. As he now sits there with God, at least he won’t have to ask him to break the drought in Berrima, as he threatened to do personally, if God didn’t do so beforehand.

I know that Dad will continue to watch over us - his very last words to me, when Verity and Angela and I put him to bed last Wednesday night typified the love and care he has always had for all of us – “Take care old chap”.

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