It is 1969. I am sixteen years old, attending East Loddon Consolidated School with other kids from surrounding farms. The school services an area of about a 20-mile radius, in northern Victoria.
Even in this backwater, my friends and I know about the Beatles, Jimmy Hendrix, Woodstock and The Who. Brian Henderson’s Bandstand is our favorite show on TV, only black and white where we live. The Seekers, greatest hits album has made it to No 1 on the UK charts and Hair – the musical has opened in Sydney, peompting sparking debate among our parents, shocked to hear the singers were performing naked on stage.
John Gorton is Prime Minister. The Liberals hold power. It is the time of the Vietnam War, conscription, anti-war rallies and conscientious objectors.
My father owns a HR Holden station wagon. My mother belongs to the local CWA. As a family we attend Church every other Sunday. Local boys play footy, Aussie Rules that is, and the girls play netball on Saturdays during winter and tennis and there is cricket in summer. Occasionally there is a dance at the district memorial hall. Girls sit together and gossip, shyly peeping at the boys, hoping to be asked for a dance. Boys bunch around the hall entrance, looking tough, shuffling their feet trying to pluck up courage to ask the girl of their choice for a dance. My life was just the same as my friends.
The thing I remember most about 1969 was Apollo 11 and the moon landing. For me the night sky became a familiar friend, I would rug up against chilly nights in beanie, gloves and parka, sit and watch the stars and moon and dream and ponder and wonder.
The build up to the launch on 16th July was all over the papers and on TV. The names Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were on everyone’s lips. How we loved the name of the command module – Columbia – coined from Jules Verne’s story ‘From the Earth to the Moon’ and its Columbia, the spacecraft fired by a giant cannon to the moon However or some people believe the modern spacecraft was named after Christopher Columbus. Everyone laughed about the lunar module being named Eagle, so American.
We watched TV repeats of the launch over and over, the Saturn rocket propelling Apollo 11 into orbit, then on towards the moon. After TV news updates each night, commentary was pulled apart, examined, providing a source of debate next day at school; lively discussions about ethical and moral implications, was there life on the moon, are we invading the moon? What would happen if unknown viruses and germs were brought back to earth by the lunar module or astronauts and a multitude of other questions and hypotheses.
On Monday 21st July about 6.00am in Australia, although it was 20th July in USA, with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin aboard, Eagle separated from Columbia and descended to land safely in the Sea of Tranquility. Armstrong’s voice, broadcast all over the world, echoed in grainy, static tones, ‘Tranquility Base, Eagle has landed’ and mission control replied ‘ Roger Tranquility, we copy you on the ground’
Some hours later we crowded around the TV at school to watch Neil Armstrong step on to the moon’s surface.Our teachers had organized a TV and, being in Form 4, the eldest students, we were allowed to watch the landing. Commentary of the moonwalk was piped through the announcement system to the rest of the school.
We held our breath as Neil Armstrong descended the ladder. At 12.56 pm Australian Eastern Standard Time we heard Neil Armstrong’s voice ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’ and we all cheered, with the moon and stars in our eyes.
Classes were forgotten as we watched Armstrong and Aldrin bounce across the lunar surface and plant the flag of the United States of America. We marvelled that it didn’t waver in the moon’s atmosphere, listened to President Richard Nixon speak to the astronauts, watched as Armstrong and Aldrin collected mineral and core samples and saw them disappear back inside Eagle.
You could hear a pin drop as we waited to hear if Eagle and its precious cargo would be able to lift off the moon and return to dock with Columbia. Great cheers erupted when this accomplishment was achieved, and learned later that Columbia was on its way home – to the Earth.
August was a month of celebration in America and other world-wide. Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins rode in parades in New York, Chicago, and Los Angles, attended state dinners and were presented with presidential medals. Countries struck coins and issued stamps honouring their achievements. The world seemed to change, no longer so unknown or so big. Countries and places on the other side of the world were no longer so far away.
Many discoveries were made with the technology and science required to put a man on the moon. Some myths were discredited including that the moon is lifeless, and it was established the moon is ancient and genetically related to earth. The space race brought many benefits, massive changes to electronics, computer technology. Other developments included memory foam, freeze-dried food, and advances in artificial limbs to name a few.
The biggest change was in people’s perceptions of our place in the universe. No longer did living on the Moon or Mars seem impossible.