Ron Terry was sound asleep aboard the Royal Australian Navy warship HMAS Voyager, on the night of 10 February 1964, when it was cut in half by the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne near Jervis Bay, New South Wales.
There were 314 men aboard the Voyager, 82 of whom perished in the collision. Ron regained consciousness in the ocean, surrounded by (in his own words) “Beer cans, oil and bodies”. He was rescued and taken aboard the Melbourne, which sailed to Sydney the following morning. He was then discharged from naval service.
Deeply traumatised by the event, Ron decided to go wandering, hitching rides with truckies to North Queensland. I met Ron in Brisbane during 1965, while he was working as a psychiatric nurse. He lived in an attic above an old house in Milton, where the rent was two dollars per week. It had one gas burner and two electric lights. Visitors entered via the front window, having climbed the rickety fire escape, to avoid disturbing the elderly male tenants downstairs. It was an open house, Ron didn’t mind who came and went in his absence. One quiet, sunny day, I climbed into the attic while Ron was at work, and made myself comfortable in the only arm-chair in the house. By the time Ron came home, I had read Jean-Paul Sartre’s ‘Nausea’ from cover to cover, by way of trying to understand what existentialism was about.
Many good times were had there, and at Brisbane’s Folk Centre, which was an enormously popular venue. Ron was from a great old Greek family, and he always had huge jars of his γιαγιά’s olives to go with the bread and cheese, and copious amounts of red wine and Greek coffee. Life was a succession of crazy parties, interspersed with deep discussions about philosophy, literature and life at large. Ron had a very quick wit, and was a very generous and fair-minded friend. He had met and fallen deeply in love with a friend of mine, Barbara Brooks; an affair met with strong disapproval by Barbara’s ex-policeman father. She would eventually meet and marry a more suitable prospect, a respectable engineer.
Ron returned to his home town, Sydney. We stayed in touch by phone and the occasional visit. A Royal Commission was established to deal with the Voyager incident, which dragged on for many years with survivors being denied compensation. Payments were finally secured in 2014, after much legal skullduggery.
Ron had bought a block of land in central New South Wales, where he lived a most withdrawn, reclusive life. I’m sure he never managed to get over the Voyager event. I was very sad to hear news of his death, which I think was also in 2014. He had been to hell and back.