The IVF Years…

1981

Australia – Media interest was growing – the two previous IVF births had been shrouded by commercial contracts, so interest in the third test tube birth was higher than expected – and international.

Monash University asked us to take part in a documentary featuring Prof. Carl Wood’s research, leading up to the birth of ‘his’ first baby.

Two historic facts: 1.  The UK team had consulted with Monash over water purity issues – yet no credit was given to Carl Wood by Steptoe and Edwards when Louise Brown was born in Oldham.  2.  Prof. Ian Johnson broke away from the Monash Team just prior to Candice Reid’s birth; and, again, no mention made of Carl Wood and his team…

So we agreed – and for the last weeks of the pregnancy camera crews followed us everywhere, drawing more attention from the media.

Anthea knew that she would experience childbirth only once and demanded she be awake for it.  It was to be a Caesarian – and Carl had told her that if the spinal block didn’t work he would have to use a general anesthetic.

After the fifth needle in her spine, he rubbed ice on her stomach… “Can you feel that?”  “No Carl, nothing…”

As the scalpel entered her stomach, her finger nails entered my wrist…  Like I said earlier, tough lady, that little Pom!

Carla was born at 7:23 pm on March 28.

For the next few days (weeks) media commitments were a huge intrusion – not made easier by Monash’s decision to exploit the positive community sentiment with news of their ability to freeze human embryos.  This fired the media again – and the smart arses…

During the week after Carla’s birth, I drove through the Melbourne suburb of Richmond, past The Cricketers Arms Hotel (famous for its cryptic roadside news board) “Test Tube Babies Frozen,” it read… “Congratulations – you are now the father of a 5lb Icey Pole.”  I laughed – until I realised they were talking about me!  I pulled over to a telephone box – found their number and – in my best ‘ABC voice’ – suggested that ‘we’ convene an on air interview with the author of the sign and the father of the latest Test Tube Baby… “Just a moment, I’ll see if I can find him…” the pub door flew open – someone rushed out and wiped the board clean… “are you still there?  I’m sorry – but he’s gone home…”

We returned to the Gold Coast in late April – more media attention. The rest of the year was spent learning to be parents, and traveling the country with Carl Wood – doing public awareness interviews.

In June, Peter Luck’s series ‘The Australians’ – went to air.  The segment on Carl’s work (and Carla’s birth) was titled ‘The Baby Maker’ and the book was launched.  June 6, the world’s first set of IVF twins were born – Carl called me back to Melbourne to help with the media.

Carla’s christening coincided with Carl & Judy Wood visiting with us for a week.

We returned for Xmas in Melbourne.  A wonderful (media free) circuit of dinner parties with friends…

I will write more on the IVF years, & my personal relationship with Carl Wood.  THE LINK IS HERE…

1982

Australia – Media commitments continued – unrelenting.
Carla’s first birthday.

Carl was awarded an OBE – there was mention of a knighthood – but Palace caution won out!

Hong Kong – In June we decided to escape and spend some time alone…

2 months at the Mandarin Hotel.  The hotel arranged an English Nanny for Carla, and with Liz, she learned to swim in the pool at HMS Tamar (Geoff was a senior British Army Officer), and learned to walk in the Mandarin corridors. Liz and Geoff became close friends, as did fashion boutique owners Ming Chui & Wai Ng. We got to experience two quite different sides of Hong Kong.

1983

Australia – Donor embryo issues dominated the IVF scene.   I returned to full time involvement with the publishing company – and became more active with the marketing initiatives of the Tourism Bureau.

Hong Kong – We returned to the Mandarin for four weeks in June and July, established a production base for the magazines – and visited friends.

At some stage during the year – I walked into my study and found Carla curled up in a blanket with her beloved Teddy – reading him a story… I managed to back out, return with a camera – and shoot a roll of film, without destroying one of those true ‘Kodak moments…’

Where did I come from? Indeed…

1984

Australia – March – elected Vice Chairman of the Gold Coast Tourism Bureau – and in June lead my first team of tourism operators to the TAANZ Conference in Rotorua.  Took a week off – skiing at Mount Hut – near Christchurch.  During the last week, Anthea and Carla joined me and we flew south to visit my home town of Oamaru.

An IVF Picnic in Melbourne – for the first 9 test tube babies. We stayed on for our fourth IVF Cycle, nine embryos fertilised, three transferred and six frozen. While Anthea was doing ‘her thing’, Carla’s god parents took us skiing at Mt Buller. The cycle failed at 18 weeks.

1985

Australia – April, re-elected for a 2nd term as Vice Chairman of the Gold Coast Tourism Bureau – and asked to lead a Queensland Government party to Japan.  The trip was delayed on the night before departure – I was hospitalised with a deep vein thrombosis.  Missed the cherry blossoms.  My first trip was in July – lasted 5 weeks.

Japan – Conscripted by ATC & Austrade into the O-Miyage Project – a study into the obligatory gift giving tradition of Japanese tourists.  Renewed contact with old friend from London. Martin took over as ‘social director’ in off duty hours.  I was shown a Japan few get to see, totally enchanting – the country and the people.  Felt strangely at home…  We spent weekends on a yacht on Sajima Bay & Nagano mountains at OLD Karuizawa

Hong Kong – Anthea and Carla met me as I returned from Japan – and we spent August at the Mandarin.  Then to Melbourne for our fifth IVF cycle – thawing and transferring three frozen embryos – failed at seven weeks.  We debated the future of the 3 remaining frozen embryos – I lost the argument.  I am so glad I lost that argument…

Japan – November – a surprise 40th birthday.  Left immediately after for the JATA Conference – the most important event of the tourism year.  Some embarrassment…  Incumbent Chairman of the Gold Coast Tourism Bureau – personal business cards – inappropriate logo – potential for serious market damage.  We managed to steal and destroy most of them. The Board decided (right then) that I should stand for election as Chairman. The campaign for a ‘Palace Coup’ commenced…

1986

Australia – Carla started school – St. Hilda’s.

March, elected Chairman of the Gold Coast Tourism Bureau – the mandate was huge – so was the task.  Domestic industry relationships had disintegrated – and needed urgent ‘fence mending.’  The Gold Coast was emerging as a world class international destination – but no marketing strategies had been developed.  Both markets needed urgent attention.  After the election I lead a domestic product team to the AFTA Convention in Cairns. Anthea and Carla toured the Daintree.

In July we travelled to Melbourne for our sixth IVF cycle.  Our last three frozen embryos were thawed and transferred.

Japan – October we launched Discover Australia (Japanese language) magazine in Tokyo and Osaka – with ATC and Austrade. After a savage round of functions I escaped for a week in that beloved log cabin in Karuizawa – it was there that Anthea phoned me with the news…

We were pregnant again!

1987

Australia – Re-elected for a 2nd term as Chairman of the GCTB. The priority had shifted to an international marketing strategy.  The incumbent team lacked the experience to shift from the old domestic focus and function professionally in the cultural complexities of the emerging Japanese & Asian markets. Things began to settle down when we appointed a new CEO, with a solid track record in the tourism industry. A torrid year – and…

Our son was born right in the middle of it… JB (John Benjamin) arrived at 08:30 am on April 16 – and this time Carl performed the caesarian on the Gold Coast.

I guess I also have to admit that it was about then that I started to become an absentee father…

Japan – Three trips for Discover Australia Magazine – and I was asked by Japan Airlines to begin negotiations on their behalf with the Gold Coast Marathon – which became a very profitable partnership.

Europe – The pilots strike erupted – and Queensland needed to charter aircraft (and crews) from all over the world.  The CEO of Tourism Queensland and I led a Northern Australian team to the ABTA (British Travel Agents) Conference in Innsbruck – and held several discussions with airlines and charter companies.  We took a few days out to ski the Stubai Glacier – had a nasty crash – and my first experience of the indignity of a ‘banana boat’ rescue.

We bought a 28’ Fjord cruise boat, ‘The Bird of Paradise’ – to run fishing charters – and I was invited to join one of 14 syndicates vying for the Gold Coast’s first commercial FM Radio Licence. An interesting process – I knew nothing about radio…

Late in the year we went to Perth for the Australian Tourism Awards – and won the category of Best Regional Tourism Association.  Also made a ‘research’ trip to the wineries of the Swan Valley! Home in time for Anthea’s 40th birthday – and to welcome the daughter of a Japanese friend – and, for a few months, Carla got the sister she had been hoping for…

1988

Australia – Chairmanship of the GCTB continued…

Japan – Three trips – a Kansai regional sales promotion in Osaka with Printemps Dept. Store – a final meeting with Japan Airlines where they agreed to take an initial 5 year sponsorship of the Gold Coast Marathon…

and a private trip for Discover Australia magazine where we set up distribution centres with the Australian Visa Issuing Service.

Carla cut the ribbons.  April – JB’s first birthday – and I got home in time!

November – I sold my shares in Gold Coast Colour Productions – and our syndicate (by then known as SEA-FM) won the broadcasting licence, and the rights to pay AUD$6.4 million for it…

1989

Australia – Elected – 3rd term as Chairman GCTB.

Solomon Islands – Formed a syndicate to purchase the Mendana Hotel (and other assets) in Honiara.  Tendering process and our offer included a full tourism strategy for all islands and custom groups in the archipelago.  Fascinating (but fruitless) three months – got to final two – but ‘guzumped’ by a Japanese group who offered to rebuild the terminal buildings at Henderson Field.

Japan – Two trips – the first, a Ministerial visit (Tourism) – several corporate meetings with potential investors in Queensland – and meetings with the Governor of Kanagawa Prefecture.  Shonan Beach and the City of the Gold Coast had many physical and economic similarities – both sides could see benefits in a Sister City relationship.

Second, a visit on behalf of Monash IVF to Professor Suzuki in Sendai. He had assisted with the five Japanese IVF births, but developed problems since, clinical and societal. We could take Doctors to Monash for training seminars, and patients for treatment cycles. The societal problems were a different matter… Japanese culture had difficulties with the concept of human tissue transplants, and discussing sensitive personal issues like infertility is not done. Suzuki arranged a family function with the five Japanese families and us – and invited the media… it was a huge success. Within a week we had a parent’s support group – AND generated around USD$20 million in publicity.

There WAS one small mishap… On the Shinkanzen (bullet train) trip from Tokyo to Sendai, I was standing in the bar car with JB in my arms – enjoying a quiet cold Kirin… he reached up and grabbed the emergency stop cable…  from 214km/hr to zero – in a very short distance… and one very nervous little gaijin kid gained a whole new level of notoriety!

The headline read, “Shikanken (Test Tube) Baby Stops Shinkanzen…”

JB was now (obviously!) old enough to travel and Anthea took the kids home to the UK & Jersey for a month.  I stayed behind and, with a colleague, started the Gold Coast Reservations Centre – a booking service for Accommodation owners.

1990

Australia – Chairmanship of the GCTB continued and we (for 2nd time) won the National Award for Best Regional Tourism Association.  We began planning a Queensland Lifestyle Magazine, following on the English ‘Tattler’ concept.  Offices and studios were set up in Brisbane and the launch date set for the last week of August…

Japan – That same week was scheduled as the inauguration of the Gold Coast/Shonan Beach Sister City relationship… I flew to Tokyo overnight, took some early morning magazine launch photographs in the Imperial Gardens, train to Shonan Beach for the ceremony, made my speech, train back to Narita for the overnight flight to Brisbane… and launched Different Drum Magazine that evening.

Our timing could not have been worse.  National economy was stalling – Queensland capital markets were still ‘tentative’ following the recent State Government change.  We closed the magazine down in November – rather than debt fund it in a recessing economy.  A glorious failure – and not a great end to the year…

But the last story I was asked to write for ‘the Drum’ brought everything back into perspective…

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More from John’s Story…

From To.. Page Name
 1967 1970  Into, and Out of, Africa
 1971 1980  A Quieter Life
1980  Offshore Racing
 1981 1990  The IVF Years
1987  It takes Three to Tango
1990  Cassy’s Story
 1991 2000  Going it Alone
 1991 2005  Tourism Marketing
1998  A House Somewhere
 2001 2010  A Change of Pace
2001  Fishing Trips
2005  More Fishing Trips
 2011 2020  Three Score Years and Ten?

 

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