I was born in Albany on my mother’s birthday. She often stated that she remembers the sound of the Woollen Mills, 5.00pm cease work siren at the moment of delivery. Or maybe it was just my protests at having to enter the cold Albany environment.
My parents bestowed Vernell on me as a second Christian name. Often the butt of jokes at school as one would expect, it was many years before I learnt the origin of the name. I have still not learnt why they chose Geoff. Anyway, I scored Vernell as my father was a close friend of Vernell Coriell – a famous clown in the US at the time. The two of them were founding members of the Burrough’s bibliophiles (the fan club of Edgar Rice Burroughs – the American author). The Burrough’s bibliophiles produced various fan magazines to which my father contributed articles. One of my more enjoyable memories of my early youth was peering at the gorgeous, curvaceous, scantily clad maidens that adorned the covers of the Burrough’s books in my father’s collection. I often thought of myself as John Carter of Mars, sword in one hand, pistol in the other rescuing scantily clad princesses from the embrace of some ogre or other.
I went to various schools in Albany, including a temporary school that was set up at the old Albany forts. My interest in old guns and other things that go bang commenced from at least this period, when it was stimulated by my excavating of quantities of munitions much to the consternation of the teachers.
My mother shifted to Carnarvon during the Summer school holidays of 1958 and I was put into Christ Church Grammar School presumably in an attempt to teach me conformity. My sister went to school in Carnarvon – presumably she didn’t need to be taught to conform.
My body drifted aimlessly through school, while my mind was mostly on the fishing, shooting and more other interesting activities available at Carnarvon. Various academic prizes came my way, probably by default or by falling off a truck. If I remember correctly I achieved the unique distinction of being declared Dux in year 11 while failing English. My writing career could be said to have started at Christ Church. When doing what I considered an unjustifiable detention one afternoon I penned a short scifi story that sent the English master into a state of orgasmic delight. The illiterate could actually string a sentence together! He gave it back to me with much ebullient praise and asked me to work on it for the school magazine. I immediately ditched it to play cricket with the other boarders. To give him his credit he persevered and another version of the story,The Riders, appeared in the Mitre for that year, much to my considerable embarrassment.
About this time I took an interest in geology, partly encouraged by the very unconventional geology master at the time, Mr Brian Breeze (Berger for short – especially when he wasn’t listening). Berger, a tall scruffily dress fellow would arrive at school, chugging along on an old motorbike. He seemed to have a symbiotic rapport with the more ruffianish elements at the school. For a change, I took some interest in my academic pursuits and took out the top mark in the State for Geology in the Matriculation Exams (later to be renamed the TEE) that year.
My parents undoubtedly thought that I was destined for great academic success. However, as usual I was a very poor student – being easily bored by the rambling monologues of lecturers or demonstrators who as often or not would have also have preferred to have been somewhere else other than the lecture hall.
There was a nickel boom underway by 1968 so I gave up studies and commenced working as an unqualified geologist (proper geologists were in very short supply at the time). I eventually gained a geological degree from Curtin University in 1972. This period was one of the more interesting in my life as I worked my way over much of the state, rarely returning to Perth. When I did return to Perth and I was surprisingly invited to positions on various Curtin University Committees such as the Geology Advisory Committee and their Key Centre for Research for Mineral Exploration.
With others I was dissatisfied with the way that amendments were being programmed to the State’s Mining Act. These amendments basically disenfranchised the small mining and exploration company in favor of the large multinational. With like-minded nonconformists, AMEC (the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies) was founded and this organisation had a substantial impact on the writing of the current Mining Act. I served two terms as vice-President (1988-90) and, somewhat reluctantly a final term as President. AMEC at this time was heading in a direction, which was in simple terms, leading it to be a smaller replica of the Chamber of Mines, and hence it was in my view losing its focus, which was to represent the interests of the smaller more speculative mineral explorers. Worn out after more than ten years on the Council, and sick of battling bureaucrats, I left at the completion of my Presidential term – the last of the founding councillors to leave the Council.
Having always been interested in History, it was in the late 1980s that I seriously considered writing a book. This first book was The Children’s Friend Society – Juvenile Emigration to Australia, South Africa and Canada 1833-1842. It was published in 1993.
I currently combine my work as a consulting geologist with further historical research and writing. I am currently researching and writing books about the adventures of Australians in Sub-Saharan Africa during WW1 and also about the adventures of Australian prospectors and other travellers in Equatorial Africa during the 19th and early 20th Centuries. This work has already resulted in the publication of one paper German Australians in von Lettow’s Army, 1915-1918 … or, the Governor’s Wife was an Australian Actress (inSabretache – The Journal and Proceedings of The Military Historical Society of Australia, Vol. XL No. 2 June 1999 pages 21-26).
It was when gold prospecting in the Tekeze region of Eritrea in the mid 1990s that I first heard a story of an Australian spy being shot by firing squad during the Second World War. Further research identified this man as Australian Politician and Super Spy, Arnold Wienholt and it was originally hoped to have this published by the end of 2002, however more leads and work commitments as a geologist impeded this objective.
However, a paper by the author mentioning Wienholt’s activities and the adventures of other Australians in Ethiopia during World War II was published in Sabretache (The Journal of the Military History Society of Australia) in June 2003 titled Mission 101--the Operational Centres: the hidden Australian involvement in Ethiopia--WW2 and the formation of the Special Operations Executive, "SOE".
Arnold Wienholt was a curious character who seems to have been engaged by various arms of British Intelligence his entire adult life. The one time Liberal Party member for the Queensland State seat of Fassifern and Country Party member for the Australian Federal seat of Morton, he consistently resigned his parliamentary seats to undertake covert operations for British Military Intelligence. He remains the only Australian Federal Parliamentarian to have been executed by firing squad for spying by a rival power.
Geoff’s gold prospecting activities since 1993 across the breadth of North Africa ranging from the former Spanish Sahara to Somalia and in particular in the remote and rugged triangular border region between Ethiopia, Sudan and Eritrea give him a unique insight into the daily difficulties and frustrations, not to mention the hazards faced by Wienholt as he endeavored to complete his compromised mission. Geoff’s most recent prospecting activities are in the Kurmuk (Ethiopia) – Rosairis (now Ar Rusayris, Sudan) – Gimbi village area that were the final backdrops to Wienholt’s life.
On Australia Day 2006, Geoff was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for “For service to the mining industry as a consultant geologist, and to the community as an author of works on colonial history."