The North Fitzroy Post Office and the 5.95 Degrees of Separation




It was a Saturday morning in December 2012, a couple of weeks before Christmas.  Armed with a swag of Christmas cards ready to be posted off around Australia and overseas I was about to make my way down to the post office. Walking out the door the words of Antarctic explorer Captain Lawrence ‘Titus’ Oates came to mind as I called out to my wife Heather, “I am just going to the North Fitzroy Post Office and may be some time.”  


When I arrived at the post office there was a queue stretching out the door onto the footpath, there must have been about twenty or so people waiting to be served.  I was tempted to turn around and go back home but as I was going to do some shopping at the Piedemonte’s IGA, just across the road in Best Street, I decided to wait.


After about five minutes the queue had moved along and I was finally inside the post office proper.  I got into some idle chit chat with a couple of fellows (one of whom I recognised as John Harms) about how disorganised and slow the service was and that I preferred to go the North Carlton or Clifton Hill Post Offices. It seemed to take forever for customers in front to be served and I repeated my Titus Oates comment; I thought I detected a little smile from John Harms.  


After about 20 minutes I eventually made it to head of the queue and bought my stamps; then spent another five minutes putting the stamps and those little ‘card only’ stickers on the envelopes before finally posting them in the letterbox outside.  By the time I had done my Saturday morning shopping and walked back home to Clauscen Street I reckon I had been away at least an hour and a half.  I had a little whinge to Heather about the time it took at the post office but said it wasn’t all bad as I had seen and spoken to John Harms whilst I was there.


I would catch-up with John Harms again about six months later.  It was at a Fitzroy Football Club pre-match luncheon in the Community Rooms at the Brunswick Street Oval.


John and Paul Daffey were our guest speakers and they were there to launch their latest book Footy Town. 


It turned out to be a cracker of a lunch, Peter Hille, our resident MC, was in scintillating form and was a great warm-up act for the guests. Paul and John kept us entertained as they read three extracts from Footy Town, followed by a Q & A session and book signing.


Paul went first, telling a story about covering a game in the Omeo and District League at Swift’s Creek.  It was a wonderful piece which described how he was approached by the presidents from both clubs trying to con him into playing that afternoon.  And, in particular, mentioned making a memorable connection when he met former Benambra president Pierce Edward ‘Ben’ Buckley, 


Paul told a couple of stories about Ben and his crop-dusting aircraft.  One of Ben’s favourite tricks was flying low enough to dip a wing between the goalposts at the Benambra oval. Also, it was rumoured that on one training night he dumped a load of superphosphate on the players’ heads.


Ben is something of a legend in aviation circles in Victoria and although I have never met him I do have a connection.  More of which I will explain later.


John went next with a piece which described his time playing footy for the Adelaide Lutheran FC in the 1980s; another gem.  


However, there was one passage that really resonated.  John told of two Lutheran seminarians Everard Leske and Keith Nagel who were playing at the SANFL club Sturt in the mid-1940s. Apparently they were pretty handy players and were an essential part of the Sturt Football Club (however briefly).  


John recalled an occasion when Leske and Nagel turned up for training at the Unley Oval one Thursday to find no other players, trainers or coaches in attendance. To kill some time, until the rest of the squad arrived, they decided to go across the road to the pub and have a couple of sherbets before returning to training.  The session was completed and Leske and Nagel made their way back to the Seminary in the belief that nothing had been known or mentioned about their sojourn to the pub.


Unfortunately for the young seminarians, upon their return, they were immediately summoned to the Principal’s office.  He had heard about their visit to the pub and was none too pleased, to say the least.  So much so they were given a severe dressing down and banned from playing for the Sturt Football Club from thereon.


The third story recounted the legendary 1967 Tasmanian State Premiership Final between the Wynyard Cats and the North Hobart Robins, which was played at the West Park Oval in Burnie.  It told, not only, of the intense rivalry between the three state leagues – NWFU, TANFL and the NTFL – but also gave a magnificent account of the match.  Culminating in the nail-biting finish when David Collins, the North Hobart full forward had an after the siren kick for goal to win the match, only to have the spectators invade the field and tear down the goalposts. Confusion reigned and eventually the game was declared a no result.


The stories chosen by Paul and John were perfect samplers and certainly motivated me to purchase a signed copy of the book at the conclusion of the lunch (I bought two in fact – I will explain the reason later).


Why have I amplified parts of each of the three stories?  I thought it uncanny that  there were elements in each of the stories with which I had some sort of connection. Isn’t it a small world?


Let’s start with Ben Buckley.


In the late 1970s I had been working as an air traffic services officer at the Department of Civil Aviation’s (DCA) facilities at Melbourne Airport.  I had been in communication with Ben Buckley on many occasions, albeit via the medium of VHF (very high frequency) radio.  


Ben would depart from Benambra aerodrome, not in the crop duster, but in another larger aircraft used for charter operations (I can’t remember the type or the call-sign): as usual he would call-up (radio in) on the flight information area frequency wanting to submit a flight plan. That in itself was not an onerous task as you wrote down the radio transmitted details onto a pro-forma notepad, which was then handed off to a flight data officer to ‘put into the system’.  It would also require me to provide a weather and NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen) briefing back to Ben via VHF radio.  


Under normal circumstance this would only take a few minutes to carry-out, but invariably it occurred when there were several other aircraft on frequency at the same time and the workload conditions were high – e.g. me trying to resolve an en-route or aerodrome traffic confliction or negotiating an airways clearance for aircraft to transit the RAAF East Sale control zone. A pain in the proverbial but that was part and parcel of the job.  


I always used to wonder why Ben didn’t telephone the pilot briefing office at Moorabbin or Essendon airports to submit his flight plan. Was it because of poor telephone facilities? Hopefully the telecommunications infrastructure in East Gippsland has improved somewhat these days.


Now to Everard Leske and Keith Nagel.


It was the spelling of Nagel (rather than Nagle as in Kel the golfer) that intrigued me.  


I had a long time friend and aviation colleague whose family name is Nagel and his father just so happened to be a Lutheran pastor. My friend had told me about his time growing up in Papua New Guinea in 1950s and 60s and of his father’s pastoral work there.  I recall him saying that in the late 1970s his father had been appointed to a senior position in the church in Sydney. The one thing I couldn’t recall was my colleague’s father’s name and he never mentioned anything about a football connection.


Given that the Nagel of John’s story was a Lutheran seminarian and given the time period of 1944 or 45 when he played at Sturt, I wondered was this Nagel related to my former colleague. It was necessary to carry out some online research.


Thanks to Google and my very first find was a photograph of Pastor Keith Nagel, President of the Lutheran Church of New South Wales.  Pastor Keith bore a strong resemblance to my former colleague.  Ah! Ha!


I then found an obituary for a Dr Norman Edgar Nagel who died in St. Louis, Missouri in October 2019.  Dr Nagel had a long and distinguished career as a Lutheran pastor, professor, and theologian, in Australia, England, and the United States.  It also mentioned his brother Keith Otto Douglas Nagel who became a Lutheran missionary to New Guinea and then president of the New South Wales District of the Lutheran Church of Australia.


Finally an article by a Pastor Wayne Zweck in Lutheran Church International Mission revealed the following.  


Growing up as a pastor’s kid had its advantages. When church dignitaries from the USA visited Australia, we got to meet them. When Nestlé introduced and sponsored instant coffee and Ideal Milk at the 1956 convention of Synod, we got to try it. When two Papua New Guineans came down with Missionary Keith Nagel…….’


I thought, could this be evidence enough to show that this Keith Nagel was not only the Sturt footballer but my former colleagues’ father as well?


I’ve be out of contact with my friend Nagel for a couple of years now, it would be great to touch base and also to confirm my research.


Finally ‘The Goal Post Grand Final’.


Another aviation connection and a Tasmanian one as well.


My very good friend Ron Rigney was another long time aviation colleague, we first met in 1975 when he was posted to the DCA’s facilities at Melbourne airport.


Ron had grown up in North West Tasmania and the story of the ‘Goal Post Grand Final’ was well known to him and he had recounted it to me at one time.  Ron said that he had not been at the game and therefore did not witness the dismantling of the goal posts.  However, on the day after the match, he did see them strapped to the side of the carriages of the Tasman Limited as the train passed by Cooee on its way up to Wynyard.


Another of Ron’s Tasmanian footy memories was playing for the Cooee Thirds where, he recalled, “you had to do your own boundary throw-ins.”


I mentioned earlier that I bought two copies the book, one for myself obviously and, because of the Ron’s memories of that legendary grand final, I felt had to buy a copy for him as well (which, by the way, included a very nice salutation to Ron from John and Paul on the title page).  


Ron was living in Abu Dhabi at the time, working as Principal Air Traffic Management Advisor to the Abu Dhabi Transport Department. I knew he was planning a visit to Australia with a number of Emirati colleagues later in the year (meetings with Australia’s aviation agencies) and we made arrangements to catch up when he came through Melbourne.


We managed to meet up for drinks and dinner at a Southbank restaurant and over dinner I presented Ron with his copy of Footy Town, bookmarked at the chapter on the 1967 Tassie Premiership final.  Ron was chuffed by John and Paul’s comments and had a quick skim over the story as well.


Then he said, “You know what?  I think I know Shane Johnson (the piece’s author), I’m not sure, but I think I was at Burnie High School with him, I don’t think he was in my year though.  I can still remember the Tasman Limited going past with the goal posts strapped on the side of a train.”  


In preparing this piece I contacted Ron to confirm the details about Shane Johnson attending Burnie High School, he informed me that Shane had in fact gone to Wynyard High so he hadn’t known him during their school years. But he does remember meeting Shane in Brisbane in the 1990s.  Ron was involved with Brisbane chapter of the Tasmanian Devils Club and Shane Johnson had been a guest speaker on several occasions providing club members with regular updates on how the Brisbane Lions were travelling (Shane was for many years the Lions player welfare manager). Ron said another regular guest was Alastair Lynch who early in his footy career played with the Wynyard Cats.


Ron and wife Sue are now happily retired to the Bay of Fires region of Tasmania and Heather and I keep in touch regularly: like us, they are Brisbane Lions fans. We have made several trips to Launceston to join Ron and Sue at York Park when the Lions have taken on the Hawks.  


There has been considerable research over the years into the notion of the ‘shrinking world’ or the ‘small world’ concept particularly with regard to social networking. I think my aviation themed connections to John and Paul’s stories show that it is indeed a small world. 


How a chance meeting in the North Fitzroy Post Office and a book launch gives weight to the ‘six handshakes’ rule, or as the eponymous John Guare play describes it The Six Degrees of Separation. 


I have to say though, it does feel a bit like 5.95.



 Read more from John Milton HERE





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  1. Thanks John. I do remember that. The North Fitzroy PO is worthy of a sitcom. It presents clues for physicists who are interested in the disappearance of time.

    I would love to hear readers’ connections to any of the people mentioned in your story.

    I will dig out my story of the four seminarians. Just have to find the USB!

    Shane Johnson has written a few things for the Almanac, and has published a memoir. HIs telling of the often told goalpost legendis one of the famous yarn’s best ever tellings.

    Thanks again for your piece.

  2. Ian Hauser says

    I find several linkages in your story, John. The obvious one is JTH who I’ve known since the mid-80s when we used to teach together at a Lutheran college in Brisbane. Now I work for him!

    The others have to do with Everard Leske and Keith Nagel. My older brother Richard had his first teaching appointment in the early 70s at St Paul’s Lutheran College in Walla Walla, a small town just north of Albury. The local Lutheran pastor was…Keith Nagel.

    Forty years later, I was teaching at Grace Lutheran College at Rothwell, 30kms north of Brisbane’s CBD. One of my teaching colleagues was Andrew Leske, the second son of Everard Leske. One of the loveliest people you could ever meet, Andrew went on to become a Headmaster towards the end of his career, including a stint in Mildura. I’ve also known his older brother, Ev Jnr., another teacher in the Lutheran system, for decades. Ev Jnr displayed shades of Royce Hart on the footy field while Andrew, who played for the Sturt Reserves, was more in the Paul Bagshaw mould.

    At the very end of my teaching career at Grace, the very last class I taught was a Year 11 (2009)/Year 12 (2010) Christian Studies class. One of the young ladies in that class was Bronte Nagel, grand-daughter of the very same Keith Nagel. Bronte was a lovely person and it was a very good class. It’s their 10-year reunion this year – I might pop along.

    These connections were all to do with the Lutheran Church, a small but not insignificant denomination in the Australian religious context. Degrees of separation within Lutheranism are usually measured in decimal points less than 0.5!

    And when I lived in Adelaide (1970-83), it was mostly in the Unley/Highgate area, so I barracked for Sturt.)

  3. John Miton says

    John and Ian
    Thanks for your comments.

    Ian, wow, some even closer connections than mine.

    I am still intrigued that John and Paul would choose those three stories from the book, when they had a magnificent selection to choose from.

  4. Best opening para in Almanac for some time – but mytbe you have to know North Fitroy Post Office to really appreciate it – ‘I’m going to NF PO: I may be gone for some time’. Made me laugh out loud. Got a bit bogged in the rest of the tale but thanks for a good chuckle upfront.

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