My Unfinished Father – A Life Lived to the Full
A Life Lived to the Full
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
Part 11 – Pages 105 – 116
I was now back in Australia and within a couple of weeks I would have no job and nowhere to live. I had written to my old boss, Sqn Ldr Jimmy Lindsay, to see if he could suggest anything. To my astonishment he declined to help, saying he would not do anything to help an officer leave the service. There you are then.
Someone put me in touch with ex Group Captain Mike Cowan, who turned out to be a bit of an old love. Mike worked for General Motors Holden, at that time the largest car maker in Australia. They manufactured engines and gearboxes in Port Melbourne which were then sent to a Vehicle Assembly Plant in Dandenong for the making of the complete car. I visited their plant in Salmon Street in Port Melbourne and spoke to a few people. To my surprise I was offered a job as deputy Chief Plant Protection Officer.
As far as I could tell, the major responsibility was to control the guard force and ensure they controlled goods in and goods out.
The Chief Plant Protection Officer was an Englishman, an older man called Sam Patterson who was well into his sixties. He was a pretty old fashioned guy and I anticipated some struggles ahead in getting on with Sam.
So far things had gone well; now it was time to find somewhere to live. We had saved a fair bit of money while in Malaysia, so, while we camped with John, our former postman, and borrowed his car, we went house hunting.
The Makiing of the Springvale South House in Serpentine Road
We viewed a house in Springvale South, a suburb about ten miles out of the City, and close to the beach. The house was near to completion and we agreed to buy. On 3rd November 1971 we moved in. It was our first home which we owned and we remained there quite happily for some five years.
Before and after our move into 21 Serpentine Road we got around and revisited many of the places we had been before. Margaret seemed pretty happy. I became involved with some correspondence with the Department of Air, where they were demanding a minor payment over expenses incurred during our return from Malaysia. I hung out as long as I could but gave in finally and sent them a cheque.
I also had another financial problem, being some $900 short in making the full deposit on the house. Eventually Margaret agreed to ‘lend’ me this sum on condition that I repay the loan as quickly as possible. This made me think; but I did what she asked. I borrowed the money from the bank and paid interest on the loan. It did strike me as being a bit strange that she did not feel able to pay any of her own money towards a house we were both to own.
Now, at last, I could settle down and watch my children grow up. I suppose that in our first six years in Australia things had been pretty well dictated by my job and now Margaret was imposing some of her own rules on matters.
We went out a great deal in our new, second hand, car, a Peugeot 404. I cannot remember what I paid for it but it pleased me a good deal.
We enjoyed the Dandenongs and visited Healesville animal sanctuary, which featured native Australian breeds. The kids enjoyed getting friendly with the kangaroos.
GMH organised a picnic at Christmas 1971 at Melbourne Zoo and we all trooped along. In fact it turned out to be a pretty enjoyable day and we were pleased we had gone. The job itself was pretty ordinary and not hugely interesting but I had a job and I was paid pretty well. I also knew that I did not have long to wait before Sam retired.
Over the Moomba weekend we watched the Parade marching past the Shrine along St Kilda Road. It was a sunny day and great fun. Moomba was an annual celebration in Victoria where it seemed everyone took part.
Our new house was in the process of being completed and on 3rd November we moved in. A lot of work was needed on finding enough furniture but somehow we managed. The garden was different and required a lot of work. The rear garden had an unfortunate tendency to flood.
Rory went to Springvale South Primary school where he seemed to enjoy himself and to progress well. The kids made friends with the neighbours and we bought a table tennis table which we kept in the car port out of the weather which helped attract visitors.
I realised that I was settling down to watch my kids grow up and at the time I was happy enough to do that.
Our house was, in English terms, a bungalow, although that term was not often used in Australia. There were three bedrooms a long hallway, a lounge and a kitchen/dining room. We had a small regulation front garden and a long bare rear garden. There was also a car port, although I mostly left the Peugeot in the street. I was never ever a garden fiend and was happy enough to keep the place clean and tidy with the grass mown.
In the meanwhile, my sister, Aileen and her husband, whom we had last seen in 1967 on their way to Sydney had relocated to Victoria and began to call. By this time, I think they had a baby boy whom they called Danny.. They were buying a house in Hoppers Crossing a suburb of Werribee, a town on the western side of Port Philip near to Geelong.
We also had the beach, or rather, beaches of which there were many along Port Philip Bay; St Kilda, Brighton, Mordialloc and Frankston. The kids, being kids, enjoyed the sand and Rory perhaps a little more than his sister.
We also took ourselves to various diversions, like Trash and Treasure sales and Art shows. We also visited HMAS Perth, which was a ship I had visited in Singapore and Moorabbin Air Museum, where the star of the show was a Buffalo, an aircraft from World War Two.
One Sunday we took ourselves to the Shrine of Remembrance and had a look at Captain Cook’s cottage. This was his home which had been uprooted, brick by brick, from its native Yorkshire and re built in Melbourne. It was a very small cottage which seemed full with three adults inside. The Shrine itself was a magnificent piece of sculpture looming over Fitzroy Gardens.
I had made contact with Harry Ellis, whom I had first met at Hendon in 1956. Harry and I, as good little Catholics, had wandered off looking for somewhere to hear Mass on a Sunday morning. We visited Harry’s home.
We also became good friends with one of my Senior Plant Protection Officers, Ken (Dick) Turpin and his wife Elsie. They were an English couple who had settled in Australia. Ken had previously worked for Vauxhalls in Luton. They remained friends after we left Australia and visited us a couple of times in England.
Rory rejoined the scouts again and spent the next few years becoming quite involved as I did myself. Initially I was in the support group of parents, but eventually I became a scout leader, shorts, big hat and all. In November 1972 we attended the Cub Olympics at Burden Park, wherever that might be.
I also became involved with the local community group, with the grand title, Karibah Civic Association. I also played one game of cricket for them, scoring 6. As with many other groups in Australia, both civil and at work, they organised an annual picnic. We went along.
I was settling down to the role I expected to follow for the next fifteen years or so, being a husband and father. I believed I was making a reasonable job of that. Work was fine, not very exciting, but perhaps we had had enough excitement in our lives. At work I became good friends with Mike Caffery, one of the security guards, and his wife Mary. Mike took me to the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the first time.
I was amazed at the sheer size of the place, over three times the capacity of Lords. The amount of noise generated when Dennis Lillee was bowling in a Test Match was phenomenal. The poor old Pakistani batsmen had a great wave of ‘Lillee, Lillee Lilleeeee’ wash over them as the great man ran in. The Pakistanis were playing Dennis from square leg.
I was to become a frequent visitor to the MCG in the coming years.
We also discovered, for the first time, the ‘Drive in’ movies. This was quite good fun, as long as you remembered to put the speaker back on its hook, before leaving the drive in.
Australians turned out to be quite partial to displays of vintage cars, and in driving them too. We went along in the sunshine to watch these displays.
On New Year’s Eve, 1972 we went to a party at Harry Ellis’s and met with a number of other ex pats. Wally Eacott was there along with his wife Jane. Wally was an inspector at Hackney when I was there and later joined the RAAF. I had met him previously at Point Cook, in the Officers’ Mess. I should know a bit more about him, but if I did, I have forgotten it now.
We were also good friends with Werner and Helga Gopel, another security guard, along with their kids Suzi and Armin. We remained friends with Hans and Helga after they returned to Germany around 1973 and staying with them there. Like me, when we next met in this century, in England, Werner was divorced.
When he was working at GMH, Werner was known as Hans, as the Australians in the security group claimed they could not say ‘Werner’ but could manage ‘Hans’ At Christmas one year Werner was offered a drop of Scotch to put in his tea with the advice, warmly meant, that it would ‘put some lead in your pencil.’
In true German style, Werner spent several hours examining his English/German dictionary in a puzzled state of mind before someone translated for him. He was astonished.
GMH arranged a two day trip to the Vehicle Assembly Plant (VAP) in Elizabeth in South Australia which was an enjoyable little outing. I must confess that one VAP looked very much like another but it was great to get away from Port Melbourne for a little while. That was in March 1973 and no sooner had I got home that Moomba was once again celebrated with its hundreds of floats, which featured a parade of London double decker buses. There was also a drive past of MGBs.
The RAAF Band made an appearance especially for me, I told myself. If the truth be told, I was still missing the RAAF.
We took bit of a family holiday in May 1973 when we drove along the Great Ocean Road to Adelaide. There is some particularly good scenery along this road, especially the ‘twelve apostles’, twelve rock formations sticking up out of the ocean. When I was in Australia in 2007 three of the ‘Apostles’ had been overcome by the ocean.
We also took a trip on Lake Torrens around the city and paid a short visit to the Barossa Valley, famous for its vineyards. On the way home we visited a lion park at Baccus Marsh. The last thing I expected to see were lions in Australia. And we arrived home in Melbourne happy but a bit tired.
We spent three days in Adelaide which was a city that we enjoyed. We also visited the famous blue lake at Mount Gambier.
We took the opportunity of living in the same spot to do some exploring. We went to Sovereign Hill, a reconstructed gold mining town near Ballarat in Victoria. All the old workings were still in place and apart from being made safe, they remained as they had been in the 1850s when the first Victorian gold rush had begun. There was a print shop there, still printing notices as they would have done in the previous century.
Sovereign Hill was a real town with buildings of various kinds, including toilets, which, if I remember correctly, was much needed by Margaret at the time.
I was crossing a wooden bridge while carrying Jenny, when my foot went through the structure. I couldn’t put Jenny down, or drop her, and had to bear the pain before any help came from my wife. The result was one walk sock destroyed, one leg damaged. My little girl was unharmed.
In the meantime, Sam Patterson had retired and I took his place. I was now free to play a rather more unrestrained role at work. I was helped in this objective by having Nigel Coxhill working with me at Lang-Lang. This was the GMH proving ground where cars were tested. Nigel was English and a very decent lad. Lang-Lang was situated east of Melbourne and about 30 miles into Gippsland.
We had earlier sold our Peugeot 404 as General Motors did not like one of its managers driving a competitive vehicle and parking it outside the front door. They introduced a lease scheme whereby it was possible for me to drive a GMH vehicle at a reasonable price. I had, as my first car, a Holden Monaro which was simply an ordinary car. Now in 1974, they widened the range off vehicles available and I leased a Torano GTR. It was a lovely car and I enjoyed it a lot.
For a period I tried to teach Margaret to drive. She decided that she did not like it and gave up. To the best of my Knowledge she has never learned to drive.
Aileen’s house was completed and the family moved in. We visited quite often and ‘gray dog’ became famous. She had a dog, and to get it moving, it was only necessary to say ‘gray dog’ and the dog would go berserk. It would run to the window and stare out intently. To get it going again it was only necessary to say the magic words, ‘gray dog.’
In June 1973 we attended the wedding of Jim Hope, an English member of my security group. He married an Australian telephonist with GMH. It was a very smart affair. I remember her in particular as having the foulest tongue in GMH.
We also visited Bendigo and visited the Cathedral. It had been started in 1898 and was still being worked upon.
Early in 1973 I had the opportunity to reconnect with the RAAF. I was a retired officer on the General Reserve and thus had a duty to respond whenever the Air Force called but I was still surprised to receive a call one day. I was invited to take up a position in the Citizens Air Force as an instructor, part time, at Melbourne University Squadron. I accepted in a flash.
I was required to do one evening a week at MUS and to participate in the annual camp. I still had my uniform, although since my leaving the permanent service, it had been replaced by a new model. This was primarily a light blue replacing the old dark blue. Many years later I understand that the RAAF reverted to dark blue. Looks much better in my view that the light blue. This was not the same colour as the RAF’s uniform.
In truth, it was all very jolly. We would turn up on whatever evening it was and meet our students. I would then do a couple of hours instructing, usually on Air Force law. And then about 9pm we would retire to the bar, within the university squadron, for a drink. The students were all very pleasant young guys in their smart tailored uniforms, as a contrast to me in my old fashioned ‘blues.’
On just one occasion, I am ashamed to say, I had too much drink taken and had I been stopped by the Police on the way home I would have been done for ‘d’ and ‘i’. Fortunately I never was.
Between the 16th and 24th August 1973 I went with my students to RAAF Point Cook for a Leadership Training Corse. In many ways it was better than my earlier time at Point Cook, because this time I was regarded as someone who knew something about the Air Force, which I did.
Having heard about the effect that compression could have on the human body, we were impressed to experience it personally in the de compression chamber.
We had a chance at some firearms training with both pistols and rifles, The poor old Firearms Sergeant must have been petrified as he tried to persuade the young gentlemen to stay looking forward and, more importantly, maintaining their firearms in the same position.
I considered myself very lucky as I was able to partake in activities I had never had the chance to do before. This included me being on the ejector seat unit. I did not want to do it but was persuaded by the young students clambering to be allowed on. I was shot 50 or 60 feet into the air before descending more slowly.
We were allowed into the Control Room which I had never experienced before. It was a fascinating time and I was very grateful.
On 23rd August we all had the chance of going up in a Winjeel, the RAAF’s basic flying trainer. I had never been in a Winjeel before and my pilot was Flt Lt Max Goodall and he flew over Ford’s Proving Ground in the You Yangs and also their factory in Geelong. For a little while I was the spy in the sky.
We also fitted in a flying visit to RAAF Laverton, a fellow station just a few miles away. All in all it was a very rewarding time and one of the best experiences of life in the Air Force.
About this time I was beginning to feel discontented with my job and I made a couple of enquiries about alternatives. The first was about the Australia Police where Harry Ellis was still serving. That meant that I would have to go back to being a uniformed copper again and I felt that I had gone beyond that.
The second concerned ASIO, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, usually referred to as ‘ass 10’. I travelled to Canberra for an interview and probably would have been offered a job, but I didn’t want to move to the ACT.
I was influenced in this decision by an agent who used to visit me. I presume to keep up to date what was happening in industry. He always said he worked for the Attorney General’s Department. Which I presumed he did. He was a nice bloke and very personable but not the brightest tool in the box.
In November 1973 there was a ‘’going up’ ceremony at Mount Martha where a lot of cubs and scouts gathered. I think it was at this time that Rory became a scout.
In early 1974 I was diagnosed as being diabetic. This caused much heart searching as to choice of foods and diets. In retrospect this was pretty much a waste of time. At the time of writing I have been diabetic for forty four years without any major worries. Much of this has been due to good luck on my part added to a little careful management of the condition. But the early thoughts of having your penis drop off did not happen.
I have been involved with diabetes and diabetics for too long to dismiss the condition lightly. It is a serious disease which makes some people very ill.
Also around the same time a strange strand of conduct was revealed in Margaret. She was a bit, or a lot, fey. That is she possessed the power of foretelling the future. The first time she displayed this was the night before a fearsome train accident in Victoria when there was a train crash in which many people died. She began talking about it on the previous evening. It was a bit, no a lot, scary.
On another occasion Rory was away with the scouts when we received a phone call to tell us that the car in which he had been travelling had been involved in an accident and that they were all being taken to hospital. I was very concerned; Margaret was not.
“He’s all right, I just know it.” And he was. We took the opportunity to explore Wilson’s Promontory, some way along the ocean towards the entrance to Melbourne Harbour. There were a number of excellent beaches with great rocks scattered willy-nilly along the sand.
Philip Island also deserves a mention. They had mutton birds there and the name came from the earlier settlers who ate them and described the taste from where the birds were named.
Rather more famous were the hundreds of small penguins who came ashore early every evening and waddled up the beach to their burrows. When we lived in Australia in the seventies the penguins were called ‘fairy penguins.’ In 2007 when visiting again, their name had been changed to ‘little penguins’ to avoid offending the homosexual community. God help us!
We maintained our visits to Mount Dandenong and to St Kilda, both favourite spots for the whole family. Rory turned into a fisherman, happily angling from the pier at St Kilda, while I read the newspaper beside him.
Melbourne remained a favourite haunt, a most interesting city with which I had now become very familiar. We tried, for a change, a tour of the city, on, as far as was possible, water ride. We saw the ship Polly Woodside, built, many years before in Belfast and now destined to become a museum. Ah, dear old Belfast.
GMH held a celebration of their quarter century of manufacture in Australia. They held a great gathering at the Proving ground on 17th November 1973 and everyone was invited. A line up of cars for the last 25 years was on display and a huge marquee erected for the day. All was completed under the watchful eye of Herr Harry Harle.
In November 1973 we celebrated our 15th Wedding Anniversary with a party in our house. I guess we must have known everyone who was there, but now, looking at the photographs, John Teague, a big West Countryman is the only person I remember and was because he worked for me at GMH.
We visited Laker Eildon, in Victoria with its huge dam. Being up close and personal to something that big does have to the power to make you think how insignificant the human being is.
And Christmas came and went with the floor of the lounge covered in wrapping papers into which Jasmine choose to bury herself. Jenny chose to hide away in her nurse’s uniform.
And so 1973 drifted into 1974. And GMH provided me with a replacement lease car. They also carried out all servicing and replacement of important parts. It was a good deal.
We had discovered Como, which was, I think, the home of the Governor General with magnificent gardens. And in Walhalla, we found another old gold mining town where you could do a little panning for gold. We did not find too much of the stuff.
In February 74 we visited the Sidney Myer Music bowl for the first and probably the only time. The Myer Music bowl was a large open air arena which was huge and where all kinds of entertainment were on show. The concert we attended was called ‘Music for the people.’ We enjoyed it.
We had a little break before the end of summer by travelling to Lakes Entrance and went on from there to Buchan Caves National Park. This was fascinating as we walked along the caves between the stalactites and stalactites. We finished off the holiday with a small cruise on the lake. I guess we were pretty tired by the time we stepped into the Bamboo Motor Inn to spend the night.
In 1974 two important things happened. The first was that the new Labour government closed down Melbourne University Squadron. I presume they did this to save money. However, what it meant for me was that my little Air Force bolt hole was now closed for ever. I was very sad.
The second thing that caused great excitement was the announcement that Frank Sinatra would visit Australia, performing in Melbourne and Sydney. This caused great excitement within the many Sinatra aficionados in the City, including one or two at GMH. I applied for two tickets and Margaret and I went along. Roger Finegan, a tall Canadian security guard at GMH came along too.
The man’s performance was incredible, he was fantastic. Unfortunately his monologue was less so. Frank took it upon himself to attack the Australian Press, especially the female members of that body, describing them as ‘hookers’. Naturally this did not go down very well with those who felt they had been denigrated and they called upon the trade unions to support them.
The ACTU, Australian Council of Trade Unions did so and the net result was that the second concert in Sydney was cancelled.
This was a sorry ending to a great tour. Frank was badly advised over his comments on the Press, but the latter acted like school children. Result nobody wins, which just happened to be the title of a track on one of Frank’s long playing records.
This was the first time any of us had seen Sinatra in the flesh. Later, in the 70’s and 80’s, I was fortunate to see him in London.
On 28th May 1974 Rory undertook a ‘going up’ ceremony and became a scout. He was eleven and had become more and involved with the scouting movement over the years. Jenny, who was six, was taken to the Zoo for her birthday.
At this time a cat achieved a lot of fame, appearing on the television. A black and white female cat had attached itself to security department. We believed she had done this as the department was about the only place in the plant that wasn’t contaminated by near toxic fumes. She was an incredibly scruffy cat but, cunning rascal that she was, very friendly. She did not wash while the plant was running but did clean herself up in the long Christmas shut down.
Having adopted us we needed to give her a name and it was Roger, our Canadian who came up with C4, translated as C for cat.’
Over Christmas she became pregnant. We never saw the father but C4 was set up with a comfortable place with bedding to have her kittens.
One day, while C4 was still a lady in waiting she was spotted by a cameraman from Channel 9, a television channel, who took some shots which were shown that evening on the television news. In due course she became a minor star on television. When the time came we had no trouble finding homes for the kittens.
For a week at the end of September I went on an Industrial Civil Defence Course at the Civil Defence College. It was an interesting time and the family prepared a fine welcome home for Dad when he got back.
GMH held a children’s’ Christmas party at Melbourne Zoo where Jenny made good friends with Father Christmas.
After Christmas we took off for a few days to explore the wilder and more deserted parts of Victoria. We drove through a series of abandoned mill towns and beautiful scenery. We ended up in the Snowy Mountains with its great hydro electric system spread across the mountains. We stopped in Thredbo in a very pleasant motel and admired the Memorial to the lost aircraft ‘Southern Cloud.’
We went on to Canberra where we stayed for several days. We had been to Canberra before and had enjoyed it very much. The weather was fine and we had a most enjoyable time. We revisited the Carillion, with its great peel of bells. This was a gift from the people of Britain to the people of Australia.
We viewed the Australian Parliament, a splendid building, and Lake Burley Griffin. Then it was on to the National War Museum, with its array of guns and tanks and aircraft. I was much taken by the Lancaster bomber ‘G for George
Finally on 9th February 1975 we managed to start a cricket team with a match between Security and Personnel at GMH. Personnel drew with us as we ended on 112-9 with my scoring 16 not out. This was the successful outcome of scratch match staged the previous November. Cricket was on the move in General Motors. February is, however, a bit late in the season for cricket to be kicking off in Australia and we had to set our sights on the latter part of 1975.
GMH organised another children’s picnic, this time held at Bacchus Marsh. Great fun and most of my loyal team came along.
About this time we moved house from Springvale South to Seaford. It was really a mistake. We had decided to sell up and return to UK and then had a change of heart and chanced our minds. So we quickly had to buy another house.
Why we decided to sell up puzzles me even now. I had a reasonable job with no prospect either of promotion or the sack. We had a pleasant house and we had no money problems. The kids were happy at school and Margaret seemed to be settled. So, why did we decide to sell up? If we felt the need to visit the UK we could afford to take a holiday. But, anyway, the matter was put on a back burner for a period.
Our new address was 4 Margaret Avenue, Seaford. The Seaford house was fine and we had a bit of a bonus in that our new neighbours on one side came from Northern Ireland, Gerry and VI Kenny.
In June 1975 Jenny celebrated her 7th Birthday. She had always enjoyed good health so it was a bit of a shock to take her to hospital believed to be suffering from meningitis. Thank God it was not that, merely a fever, but it did display the cruel tricks that life can play.
Rory was now a scout in the 2nd Seaford group and I became involved with the parents support group. One of the tasks tackled by the scouts was to cook a dinner of potatoes and sausages over an open fire. No reports remain of how it tasted.
In July 75 Rory and I went away on a father and son camp. This involved sleeping under canvas and feeding ourselves for two days while we worked out all kinds of silly games to play. It was all a bit muddy and on the chilly side, but I think we enjoyed it. It was, after all, mid winter.
We had become very interested in Australian history, especially because there was not a great deal of it available. As a result we visited lots of old dwellings and historic homes. Also with a historic theme, Rory developed an interest in war gaming played with model soldiers. His particular period was the era of Napoleon, who always managed to lose.
Jenny was developing as a pretty normal and happy young lady, but had not displayed any interests outside those of a little girl. She had grown up to the extent that she offered to help Dad do some painting. We started with the back garden swing as a safe bet. Well sort of safish bet as she got as much paint on herself as she did on the swing.
She did have the saving grace at this age of calling me ‘Daddy Darling.’
In the meantime Aileen had produced her second child, a girl named Siobhan. She was a healthy child and yet another family was complete. Writing this from the distance of over forty years, I have just had a brief visit from Danny, his wife Constance and their baby daughter, Adelaide. It was a great pleasure.
At the end of August 1975 we went to Kyral Castle, a mock mediaeval attraction near Ballarat. It featured bits of every period including a guillotine with suitably blood stained blade. There was a castle with battlements which gave a hi-level view of the surrounds.
We went with Bob Henderson, a Scot and ex Met Police officer who had just been appointed as my assistant. We re-visited Sovereign Hill and spent lots of time walking around the old gold mining town. We noticed that not all the re enactors dressed as colonial police would have qualified today on height grounds but perhaps people were shorter in the 1850s.
The GMH picnic was a visit to Luna Park with all its amusements.
At the end of October there’re was a reunion of number 6 course’s passing out from the Victoria Police training school. I knew all the blokes and one girl, but did not remember them well. I cannot even remember if all were still in the job. Their interests and mine were all pretty diverse after the passing of ten years.
We also visited St Patrick’s Cathedral, The first time I had been inside a church in years.
Also in October we drove down to Philip Island amidst the heaviest rain we had ever experienced during our ten years in Australia. Fortunately by the time we reached Phillip Island it had stopped and all we got wet were our shoes.
It was in November that Rory’s scout trip took place and he was involved in an accident which Margaret was pretty well laid back about it. She had not demonstrated any major telling of the future. Much as we encouraged her to reveal the winner of the Melbourne Cup.
In November 75 we started playing cricket at work and managed two games before Christmas. I got 12 not out in a game for Personnel which we won. The real rise in cricket as a game at Holden was ahead of us in 1976. It was a pleasure to come.
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