The Life and Times of Bruce Bramson


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The red arrow points to Melbourne

Arriving back in the States shortly before Christmas meant getting back in touch with family. I spent a few days with my Dad and his wife in Modesto, then we all travelled to southern California. Todd arrived with his little Toyota truck with a miniscule camper. After Christmas a three-vehicle entourage set out for Guaymas, Mexico. I no longer remember why we went, but Todd drove in his camper, I drove Robb’s old Jeep 4WD, and Robb and family rode in a mammoth Suburban he owned at the time. Robb’s wife hated camping, so she bitched and moaned most of the way, and we were additionally plagued by car-trouble: the alternator failed in the Suburban, which meant from time to time we all had to stop and pump up the battery in that vehicle. I had no trouble with camping, and loved driving that old Jeep, but otherwise I thought the trip was a waste of time. Nevertheless, it helped me maintain my “out of country” status for income-tax purposes.


The location of Guaymas is indicated

Soon after arrival back to Robb’s home in LA, I finalized the agreement to return to Australia to work on the Port Phillip Bay study. I booked a non-stop flight from Honolulu to Sydney: in those days it was still in a 707, and I was surprised it could be kept in the air long enough. It was one of the least comfortable trips I ever made, because there was not an empty seat on the plane. The only thing that lightened it up was one of the stewardesses on her final flight: she proceeded to get quite sloshed, and had fun telling people to “get your own bloody water” and so forth. She was a hoot, but I resolved never to take that long flight again.


Melbourne is located on Port Phillip Bay, which has been called the “arsehole of the earth” by some because of its nearly round shape. There is one small opening to the sea. It is a fine harbor, which accounts for the location of Melbourne nearby. As can be seen in a fairly recent aerial photo, Port Phillip Bay is pretty much surrounded by urban development. In the 1970s, most of the waste from the urban development at that time found its way into the bay, often poorly treated, if at all. The result was declining fisheries, algal blooms and other untoward disturbances. So, a study was undertaken to map the fate of the nutrients which found their way into the bay, and attempts were made to estimate the amount of exchange of new sea-water through the narrow entrance, which tends to limit that exchange quite severely.

Port Phillip Bay

A recent photo shows dense urban development all around PPB

One of the conservative ingredients often used to track pollution in open water is ammonia nitrogen. A huge undertaking was put in place to sample the bay daily in many places and depths, and perform numerous analyses, the object being to create a base-line against which attempts to clean up the bay later could be measured. By the time I got to Melbourne, the study had been going on for some time, and a problem had become evident which no one on the scene could fathom. Whereas early in the study typical concentrations of ammonia-N had been found, as time went by, the amounts became less and less, and for some months none whatever had been found. Since there had been no change in inputs, this made no sense.

Unfortunately, it was a problem too easy to solve using common techniques that those in charge of the study should have known. First, I “spiked” a sample with some ammonia-N, and found the reagent did not react with it. Then I made up a fresh batch of reagent, and—viola—we found ammonia-N. Although instructions were clear that the reagent had to be made in small batches so it would be fresh and used-up quickly, this admonition had been ignored, and the reagent had been made up by the gallon: the many gallons on hand were all useless. At least one (properly, several) spiked sample should have been included with every batch of analyses, but none were, so the failing reagent was not detected.

This finding (which took only a few minutes to deduce) did not exactly gain me any “brownie points” with the laboratory administrators: I did my best to keep the situation low-key, but for the next 6 months I was shunted into regular staff duties just running hundreds of analyses day after day. In the short term I didn’t mind this, but it wasn’t something I wanted to do long-term, so, having solved their problem, I decided to move on.

When I booked my return trip, I decided to fly Qantas, which I had never done. They offered me a “non-stop flight from Sydney to Honolulu”, which I declined, explaining I had done it once and would never do it again. So I got to put my feet on the ground in Pago Pago once more as the slower flight refueled.

Frankly, I was not impressed by Australians in general, though I did meet a few chaps who were terrific fellows. The sloppy administration of the laboratory seemed to be symptomatic of sloppy administration everywhere, which, taken with a general “don’t give a shit” attitude, made me a bit queazy. I loved the trams and interurban trains, and rode them often. But certainly one problem I had was that I was an american, and americans were not exactly popular in Melbourne in those days, largely because of the situation in VietNam, where Australians were dying in combat. That war was even less popular in Australia than in America!

I spent about 7 months altogether in Melbourne. In that time, I was invited out to dinner to homes of laboratory personnel exactly twice. In the second instance, a dinner for ten, a “companion” for me at table had been found. I found her boorish in the extreme, but of course it was all set up in advance: I took the tram out to the the dinner, but “she” had a car so “she” could take me home. By way of her own apartment, of course. There were two other couples already screwing in the lounge when we got there, and she dragged me into her bedroom, intent on rape. I could not have gotten a hard-on for this bird under any circumstance! I no longer remember what excuse I made, but I departed quickly: fortunately, I had paid attention and knew I was not far from the hotel where I stayed, so I walked there in the wee hours of the morning, my virginity intact.

I quickly established a routine: I would rest and read after reaching my hotel at the end of the day, then I would ride back into town and dine at the Australia Bistro, located then in the basement of the Australia Hotel. The food there was terrific, and I would wash it down with a fifth of good Australian Red. Then I would walk through a convenient tunnel to the Australia Bar, also in the basement of the Hotel. This was a gay bar, and there I eventually met a fellow I’ll call George. George and I hit it off very well, and after a pony of beer we’d go to my hotel for an evening of wonderful sex. George stayed over occasionally, but usually departed and found his way home.

When it came time to leave Melbourne, leaving George behind was difficult. I took him to the Bistro one night, and when we surfaced after our ponies of beer, instead of heading to my hotel, I simply told George I was leaving the next day: “I hope you will remember me the way I am now, slightly sloshed, horny as usual, and sad that I won’t be sucking you off ever again.” I turned on my heal and walked away: I never saw George again.

I took only a few photos in Melbourne: this is one of them.

Flinders St. Station

Melbourne's most famous landmark

I found this on the web: “Rumours abound that the plans for Bombay railway station and Flinders St. railway station were mixed up in the designers’ office in London, and as a result the Bombay railway station now sits in Melbourne and the original Flinders St. railway station was built in Bombay. While there’s no actual evidence to support this claim, Flinders Street Station has in fact had its influences reach further ashore. The Luz Station in Sao Paulo, Brazil was based on a design inspired by the lines of Flinders Street Station.”

Here’s a recent photo of this Australian Icon:

Flinders St. Station2

It is still there!

I walked into Flinders Street Station many times. Among its amenities was the only ice-cream shop I ever found in Melbourne that knew how to make a true american-style chocolate milk-shake!

Australian bills were not very exciting. Throughout my brief tenure with the MMBW lab, I was given a pay-packet every two weeks with my salary in cash!



That’s all I have to say about Australia, except that I know Melbourne is a very different place today. A large influx of Vietnamese and other South-East Asians has widened Melbourne’s outlook immensely. I might actually enjoy it now, but in 1969-70, I found it appallingly provincial.

1970, however, would turn out to be an important year in my life, as I will describe soon.


Written by Editor

April 8th, 2010 at 10:51 am