Mick Skinner (1934-1987)

By Laurie McLean May 2014

This article is a somewhat belated tribute to Mick Skinner who was involved with National Mapping for some 22 years from 1965 until his untimely death on Anzac day 1987.  While formally an electronics technician, Mick was best known as one of Nat Map’s great characters and a consummate Mr Fix It who could turn his hand to any mechanical, automotive, electronic, photographic or other device that needed attention.  Mick was the loving husband of Lily and the proud father of sons David and Mark.  For reasons now lost with the passage of time and the fading of memories, Mick’s Nat Map nick name was Scandalous; a truncation of Scandalous Skinner.

Some Reflections

Mick had a prodigious work ethic and was sometimes a little impatient to get things done or get the show on the road as he may have said.  And he had a lot of pet phrases, sayings and acronyms such as BER-beyond economical repair and PNV-positively no value which Mick used to describe a piece of equipment that was giving trouble, a situation best avoided or even a person whom he had assessed poorly.  In his Aerodist flying days, Mick operated the master equipment during measuring flights in the Grand Commander VH-EXZ.  Usually before the aircraft landed he would attempt to have field checked (or broken) many if not all of the charts that recorded the various line measurements between survey stations.  (Aerodist chart field breaking was a quality assurance measure to ensure the charts were useable and that lines did not have to be reflown.)

Mick was not above a little game playing to help ensure he was chosen by the survey party leader to be on the next day’s measuring flight.  One such game was to give the master unit controls a bit of a tweak to make it harder for another operator to readily get useable measurement results on the next flight.  Rather than being malicious, Mick (who had a very well developed sense of humour) would have seen such action as a bit of a lark (to borrow Banjo Paterson’s words).  Nat Mappers and others who knew him will no doubt recall well some of the many larks with which Mick was involved.

During a quiet time in the field with the Aerodist measuring party in 1967, Mick Skinner was at Mary Kathleen in north-west Queensland.  There was a good pondage of water nearby and with fellow Nat Mappers, brothers John and Lachlan Ely, thoughts and hands were somehow turned to the task of building a sail craft.  A vessel apparently inspired by Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki but perhaps a little less elegant in its construction was soon launched.  Sadly the Nat Map raft did not survive long before its nominated sailor had to dog paddle it back to shore.

Launching the Nat Map boat in 1967, from left: Mick, John Ely and Lachlan Ely.

A couple of years later, Mick Skinner was at Windorah in Queensland’s Channel Country.  Here several members of the Aerodist party turned their hands to kite construction and flying to help pass some quiet time and take advantage of the good winds on offer.  Nat Mapper Micky Lloyd recalled well that time in 1969, as the winds grew stronger the kites were made larger.  The ultimate kite was made by Mick Skinner.  It was of considerable size and used the canvas cover from a standard issue camp stretcher and even had lights attached.  Mick’s kite could fly to a considerable height; much higher than the lesser constructions of his peers.  Unfortunately, the kite flyers had chosen a testing ground adjacent to the Windorah airstrip and the high flying kites were soon rightly deemed to be a hazard to aircraft and all such activities were promptly ceased.

As well as a good sense of humour, Mick had a razor sharp mind and was quick on the uptake; perhaps a little too quick for some as a hapless guest (the third man) at Kalgoorlie’s Palace Hotel in the early winter of 1972 eventually discovered.  Mick Skinner and the Aerodist measuring aircraft’s (VH-EXZ) pilot John South were also staying at the Palace as the aircraft was operating from the town for a few days.  In their town clothing Mick and John were quite presentable and after dinner one evening struck up a conversation with their fellow guest who was in town for a few days on business.  Apparently their conversation was wide ranging but the third man had no idea he was throwing down the gauntlet when he remarked to the effect that sadly today spontaneity and improvisation were all but dead and people had lost the ability to ad lib.  Nevertheless our two knights swiftly and at first silently took up the challenge given to them.

As their conversation progressed Mick and John revealed they were Christian gentlemen who were in town on a Bible sales mission to the Goldfields.  Playing off each other, Mick and John discussed the continuing relevance of the good book and the rewards for the faithful.  One of them even made a hurried visit to their hotel room and afterwards solemnly presented the third man with a complimentary sample of their wares; which was in fact the hotel room Gideons Bible!  To somewhat again misquote Paterson: no doubt their mark was fairly taken in and apparently accepted Mick and John at face value.  They had to fly early next morning and could not meet their mark in the hotel dining room for breakfast.  Unfortunately the waitress gave their game away when she corrected the third man’s inquiry about why the Bible salesmen weren’t at breakfast when she replied along the lines: Oh no they’re surveyors who had to fly their aeroplane very early today!  It is not known if the third man revised his thoughts on spontaneity, improvisation or the Bible!

Mick with pilot John South at Featherstonhaugh Aerodist camp Western Australia in 1972.

Mick and Lily Skinner were great hosts and organised numerous social gatherings.  During the Aerodist days of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the end of season parties at the Skinners’ Doncaster East home were a high spot on Melbourne-based Nat Mappers’ social calendar.  These events were open to all comers from Nat Map ranks and often included pilots and other people.  They were always very well attended.  Mick and Lily continued to host social events for Nat Mappers and other people after the family moved to Canberra.  In both Melbourne and Canberra, Lily’s friends from nursing and allied professions often attended such social gatherings.  Several marriages within the Nat Map community resulted from introductions at social events hosted by Mick and Lily.

Mick was quick to spot and then develop an opportunity.  In the early 1970s, sewerage was being connected to Doncaster and numerous other Melbourne suburbs.  Mick made sure he was home when the backhoe operator came to dig out the trench for the line across his Paula Cresent property.  Straight away Mick saw the potential to dig out a wine cellar next to the house and by some unknown means he induced the backhoe operator to cooperate.  Mick then had a clay lined hole of bomb shelter proportions in his back yard; no doubt a great mess for many eyes but for Mick it was the start of something special.  Over the next few years Nat Map attendees at end of season parties and of course numerous other people watched the wine cellar take shape.  Firstly, the hole was simply covered by a hired timber dance floor.  Then to gain local council approval, massive concrete piers had to set to support the cellar and its covering concrete slab.  Sons David and Mark helped cut and position the sleepers that lined the cellar and its entrance stairs.  Finally came an extension to the back of the house that provided a room above the cellar.  By 1973, it was complete and Mick’s early vision had been transformed into a very fine and well stocked wine cellar.

Mick Skinner was a man of diverse tastes.  He was quite good as an exponent of the piano as many Nat Mappers would recall from his renditions of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata (Opus 27).  It was a skill his mother had imparted to him.  Also well recalled were Mick’s tastes in cars; a Holden or a Ford was not for him.  His vehicles were invariably European and usually French.  The Skinner family went to Woomera in 1958 with a Peugeot 403 station wagon (or break as the Europeans called it).  But for the next 20 years or so Mick’s vehicle of choice was a Citroen.  His preference for this brand started in 1958 when he purchased a black DS19 off the stand at the Adelaide Motor Show.  Unfortunately neither the vehicle nor the local supplier was particularly good.  Nevertheless Mick went on to own numerous other Citroens including an Australian built D Special Deluxe and an ID19 station wagon.  Mick also owned several Citroen 2CV models and a classic Light 15.  Mick also tried British and German vehicles including a Rover SD1 with a V8 engine and automatic transmission and lastly an Audi.

Birth and Family Details

John Michael Skinner was born on 8 August 1934 at Mt Barker about 50 kilometres north of Albany in Western Australia.  John (as his family called Mick in his younger days) was the second of the three children (all sons) born to Henry Lee Skinner (1902-1944) and his wife Bobby Karen Esme nee Henstridge (1915-2004); who was referred to by her middle name.  In order of birth the Skinner brothers were: Deryck, Mick and Timothy.  Mick grew up at Mount Barker where he also spent his school years but his schooling did not extend past age 14 years when he left home to become an apprentice in the Australian Army.


Mick’s father, Henry Lee Skinner was born at Albany in 1902 and was the youngest of six children born to Captain Thomas Ambrose Steigenberger Skinner (1860-1939) and his wife Eveline Maude nee Lee (1863-1937).  Henry Skinner spent some of his early days in Adelaide after his parents moved there.  Later he returned to the Albany region to take up orchard work at Mt Barker.  For health reasons he then worked in the fruit supply industry and ultimately purchased the business from his employer; the enterprise became known as the Mt Barker Fruit Supply and also operated an agency business.  Henry and Karen Henstridge (who was then still in her teens) married in 1932.  Henry Skinner was often in indifferent health and on 14 January 1944 he sadly died at the Mt Barker District Hospital at age 41 years after a short illness.  Thus ,when he was age of nine years Mick Skinner and his brothers had lost their father.  Henry Skinner was a well known and highly respected member of the Mt Barker community and his funeral service at the Anglican Church was well attended.  Afterwards his remains were interred at the Mt Barker cemetery.  Somewhat ironically, like her own mother during World War 1, Mick’s mother Karen was left alone to raise and support her three young children.  (Karen and her mother Violet were widowed at age 28 and 29, respectively.)  Karen was to survive Henry by some 60 years and during that period she remarried several times.

Maternal Grandparents

Mick’s mother, Bobby Karen Esme Henstridge was born at Snowtown, South Australia on 2 April 1915.  She was the youngest of three children born to Harold (Henry) St Clair Henstridge (1887-1917) and his wife Violet Phoebe Constance nee Fiveash (1888-1956).  Violet was born at Maylands near the Adelaide CBD; she was the third of five children born to Algernon James Thomas Fiveash (1861-1902) and his wife Evangeline nee Sampson (1859-1936).  Karen’s older two siblings were Kevin Fiveash (born 1910) and Betty Romola Isobell (born 1912). 

Henry Henstridge was an advertisement writer who was born in Adelaide and married Violet in 1909.  He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 14 August 1915 at age 28 years and embarked on the RMS Malwa at Adelaide on 2 December 1915 as part of the reinforcements for the 10th Battalion AIF.  Later he was posted as a Private to the 3rd Australian Machine Gun Company.  He served on the Western Front, including on the Somme and sadly was killed in action at Glencorse Wood, Belgium during the third battle of Ypres on 20 September 1917.  Henry Henstridge was buried at the Hooge Crater Cemetery at Passchendaele, Belgium.  Mick’s mother Karen would not have recalled her father who went away to war when she was just 8 months old.  

Paternal Grandparents

Mick’s paternal grandparents were Thomas Ambrose Steigenberger Skinner (1860-1939) and his wife Eveline Maude nee Lee (1863-1937).  Eveline Lee was born at Manly Beach New South Wales in 1863 and was the second of the four children of missionary Henry Brougham Richard Lee (1831-1883) and his wife Harriet nee Miller (1833-1878).  Thomas Ambrose Skinner was born at Pembroke Terrace in Caledonian Road Islington (now within Greater London).  His parents were Thomas Skinner (1830-1868) a flour merchant and his wife Eliza nee Steigenberger (1830-1861); Thomas Ambrose was born into a well connected family.  In London in 1760, a great-grandfather and great-great-uncle of Thomas Ambrose, namely Johannes (John) and Louis Amelius Chris (Lewis) Steigenberger, respectively founded an enterprise that became known as Lewis Berger and Sons.  It went on to become a world-wide business perhaps most recognised for its Berger Paints products.  Thomas Ambrose’s maternal great-grandparents John Jacob Walter (1767-1828) and his wife Ann nee Bean (1780-1873) were once planters in Antigua in the West Indies.

Thomas Ambrose Steigenberger Skinner went on to become a ship’s captain and was said to have been fluent in 11 languages.  He and Eveline Maude Lee were married at St Matthew’s Church at Brixton Hill, Brixton in the London borough of Lambeth in October 1884.  After their marriage the couple resided at the old Steigenberger family home, the Manor House, at Heston, Middlesex to the west of London.  (Manor House was built in the 1800s and demolished sometime prior to 1958.  It was not connected to any of the historic manors in the Heston area.)  At Heston, Eveline bore three children: Thomas (1885), Florence Eveline (1887) and Ernest Lee (1888).  (Ernest later served as a sergeant with the 3rd Battalion Australian Machine Gun Corps during World War I.  He was awarded the Military Medal for bravery during offensive operations with the 11th Australian Machine Gun Company in France on 31 July 1917; sadly he did not survive to the end of the war.)

In 1890, Mick Skinner’s paternal grandparents Thomas and Eveline Skinner and their then three children migrated to Australia.  The family travelled from London on the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company’s (P&O) Royal Mail Steamer Parramatta of 4,771 tons.  The vessel travelled directly from Colombo to Albany and arrived there in early June.  (Founded in 1826, Albany is the oldest European settlement in Western Australia.  Initially known as the King Sound settlement and later as Fredericktown, it was officially named Albany by Governor Stirling in 1832.)  At Albany, Thomas Ambrose Skinner established Fairdale as a mixed farming and orchard property.  It was located on the King River that runs into Oyster Bay to the north of the town.  Also at Albany, Eveline bore three more children: Augusta May (1892), Harriet Gladys (1900) and Mick Skinner’s father Henry Lee (1902).  While at Albany Captain Skinner was also a ship’s surveyor for the Lloyd’s of London insurance syndicate and later resumed sea duty.

Army service 1948-1964

In 1948, at age 14 years Mick Skinner joined the Australian Army as an apprentice; his Army number was 48501.  Mick’s initial term of engagement was for 9 years; being 4 years of apprenticeship training and a further commitment of 5 years in the Army as a form of pay-back service.  Mick extended his initial engagement by a further 6 years and left the Army in 1964 after 15 years service with the rank of Warrant Officer Class 2 in the Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.  He received his initial training in electronics, radar and telecommunications at the Army Apprentice School that was then located at Balcombe on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula (the school moved to Bonegilla on the southern shore of Lake Hume, Victoria in 1983).  Mick was in Balcombe’s third apprentice intake and graduated as a telecommunications mechanic in 1952.  After completing his apprenticeship, Mick had a number of postings within the Army as a RAEME technician.  Known postings included to Bulimba, Sydney, Bandiana and Woomera.

Towards the end of his Army service Mick became involved with the Royal Australian Survey Corps’ Aerodist airborne microwave distance measuring system that the Corps acquired in 1964 and deployed in the field that year.  The system was mounted in a Lockheed Hudson operated by Adastra Airways.  During the system’s installation and operation in the Hudson, Mick got to know Lionel Van Praag (1908-1987) who became Adastra’s chief pilot.  (Lionel Van Praag was a legendary character and a decorated World War II RAAF pilot.  He was the inaugural world motorcycle speedway champion in 1936.)  Mick was the first of several RAEME technicians to support the Royal Australian Survey Corps’ operations in the field.  Mick undertook maintenance work on the Survey Corps’ Aerodist system during the Survey Corps’ operations in Papua New Guinea and in Australia.

Lily Awee (1932-1998)

Mick Skinner’s soul mate and wife of over 30 years was Lily Awee who was born in Cooktown on 31 December 1932.  She was the oldest of three children born to a merchant family who ran a general store in Cooktown.  Lily’s siblings were her sister Maude and her brother Kevin.  Lily’s mother was her father’s third and youngest wife.  The family had moved to Cooktown from China in 1890 to pursue opportunities on the Palmer River goldfield from which over 1.3 million ounces of gold were won between 1873 and 1954.  (By 1877 there were some 18,000 Chinese workers on the Palmer goldfield; they comprised about 90 per cent of the goldfield’s population.)  In China, Lily’s father’s family name was Lau; the family name Awee was assigned to the family by Queensland colonial officials upon their arrival in Australia.  Around 1939, Lily visited China with her father who later returned to China and sadly was killed during the revolutionary battles of the 1940s.

Lily and Mick in Florida in 1979.

Lily grew up in Cooktown but at age 11 years (when in grade 7 at school) she went to live in Cairns.  Here she worked in a haberdashery shop and particularly liked selling the beads it stocked.  Later when still at a very young age Lily became the manager of the shop.  By the time she was 14 years of age, Lily had decided to pursue a career in nursing; a calling in which she was to remain involved for some 50 years.  Lily commenced nursing at the then Cairns Base Hospital and later continued her nursing career in Brisbane where she remained until the mid-1950s. 

In Brisbane in the 1950s the place for young people to go was the Cloudland Ballroom located on a hill top in the inner suburb of Bowen Hills.  (As well as having a parabolic roof and a renowned dance floor, Cloudland was a concert venue that hosted many noted entertainers including rock & roll legend Buddy Holly on his only Australian tour in early 1958.)  It was at Cloudland in 1952 that Mick Skinner and Lily Awee first met.  He was a 17 year old Army apprentice and she was a 19 year old nurse.  Apparently Mick was captivated by the attractive Lily to such an extent that his later renowned organisational skills failed him; he forgot to get her contact details.  However, the ever-resourceful Mick did glean that Lily was a nurse at the then Brisbane Hospital at Herston on the edge of the CBD.  Thus, in Mick’s parlance a scheme was hatched: he simply waited outside the hospital entrance until Lily appeared; it only took eight hours of waiting and watching!

Lily, Mick and David Skinner on 24 Oct 1956.

Mick and Lily married in 1955 and later had two sons: David who was born in Sydney in 1956 and Mark who was born in Melbourne in 1964.  After their marriage an Army posting took them to Sydney where they lived for a while at the idyllic Chinaman’s Beach at Balmoral.  Another posting was to Woomera in the South Australian desert country about 500 kilometres north of Adelaide.  Here Mick provided technical support for the Weapons Research Establishment’s Skylark and Black Knight rocket programs.  As there were no nursing positions available, Lily worked in the base’s radio communications area.

The Skinner family remained at Woomera for about 6 years from around 1958.  During that time they resided at 20 Googona Street that was located towards the north-east corner of the Woomera Village.  (Houses in that area of the village have since been removed.)  In the early to mid-1960s the resident population at Woomera peaked at around 7,000 people as the rocket testing program was in full swing.  Mick saw an opportunity to use his skills to supplement his Army pay by providing a radio and Hi Fi sound system repair service for Woomera residents.  He operated this sideline business from the Googona Street family home.  While sales of equipment were profitable, Lily was later to remark that on an hourly rate basis the return from repair work was only a few pence per hour.  Mick was too kind hearted to his customers to ask for the full value of repair work.

After service at Woomera, the Skinner family moved to Melbourne where they purchased a ¾ of an acre home site at 41 Paula Cresent Doncaster East.  Here Mick and Lily later designed and had built their family home of some 20 squares (about 186 square metres).  When it came to the actual building stage, Mick and Lily found their finances were overstretched and they were about a thousand pounds short.  Fortunately, they had a lucky and totally unexpected return from one of their previous acts of kindness.  Soon after moving to Melbourne in 1964, Mick had met John Millington who had recently migrated from England.  John was then starting from scratch in Australia and had no family or friends for support.  Mick and Lily befriended him and John was later able to return their kindness by loaning the money needed to complete the building of the Skinners’ Paula Cresent home.  John worked with Nat Map in the early 1960s including one season as a Field Assistant with a traversing party in Western Australia during 1967.  He boarded at the Skinners’ home for a few years.  Lily returned to nursing and spent some time with the Royal District Nursing Service based at Canterbury.  Lily introduced John Millington to his future wife, Dianne who was also an RDNS nurse at Canterbury.  The Skinners and the Millingtons remained lifelong friends and although Mick, Lily and John have now sadly passed away, Dianne Millington and Mark Skinner still keep in contact.

Mick and Lily at home in Woomera.

Service agent with DR Johnson and Company Pty Ltd 1965-1966

After completing his Army service Mick took a position as a service agent with the survey equipment distributor and servicing agent DR Johnson and Company Pty Ltd that operated from 33 Queens Road Melbourne.  DR Johnson was the service agent for surveying and other technical equipment including the Aerodist microwave-based airborne distance measuring system.  National Mapping operated its Aerodist system from 1963 until 1974 to obtain horizontal control over about 50 per cent of mainland Australia for the 1:100,000 scale national topographic map series.

Kevin Burke (a qualified radio and television technician) was a Nat Map staff member from 1962 to 1965 and worked on the Aerodist system.  He recalled that Mick Skinner worked on Nat Map’s Aerodist system on a number of occasions (both in the field and back in the agent’s Melbourne workshop) when Mick was with DR Johnson.  One recorded field servicing assignment was when Nat Map was carrying out Aerodist measuring operations with the Aero Commander 680E aircraft (VH-EXY) from Emerald in central Queensland on 23 August 1965.  The party leader Con Veenstra experienced problems with master equipment and with some remote units.  These problems included poor voice communication on the Blue frequency which also had low measuring signal strength, excessive interactions between A and other patterns when switching levels were adjusted and no transmission from the Red 3 remote unit.  Con Veenstra requested maintenance assistance from DR Johnson, the service agent.  Mick Skinner arrived at Emerald at 1520 hours the next afternoon and began equipment testing straight away.  Further airborne testing with remote units was carried out at the Emerald airstrip on 25 August and a successful measurement on one line was achieved on 26 August 1965 before the party moved to Clermont.

Nat Map Melbourne 1966-1974

By early 1966, Mick Skinner’s ability to keep the Aerodist system operating satisfactorily was held in such high regard that he was asked by Nat Map’s Supervising Surveyor Len Turner to consider joining the organisation.  Mick started at the Division of National Mapping’s Melbourne office on 22 April 1966 as an electronics technician (Technical Officer Engineering Grade 2).  As with his earlier work on the Royal Australian Survey Corps’ Aerodist system, Mick was the first person to be specifically employed as an electronics technician by any Australian civilian surveying and mapping organisation.  (However, as mentioned above Kevin Burke was the first qualified technician to work on Nat Map’s Aerodist system.  Also John Ely who had experience and training in radar and other electronics joined Nat Map’s Geodetic survey party as a field assistant in 1965.  John moved to the Aerodist party in 1966 prior to Mick starting work with Nat Map and went on to work beside Mick as an Aerodist technician.)  During Mick Skinner’s service as an employee with Nat Map, the Aerodist system was mounted in a Grand Commander 680 FL twin-engine aircraft (VH-EXZ) on charter from the Essendon-based Executive Air Services.


Pilot Trevor Merton and Mick (blue overalls) with VH-EXZ at Laverton in 1972 and Mick undertaking field repairs to Aerodist master unit in workshop caravan at Featherstonhaugh in 1972.

Mick worked on Nat Map’s Aerodist system both in office and in the field.  He was instrumental in establishing a well equipped electronics workshop on the second floor of Nat Map’s Melbourne office that was then located in the Rialto Building at 497 Collins Street in the Central Business District.  The principal aircraft-mounted components of the Aerodist system that had to be maintained were the three master units (coded Red, White and Blue frequencies), the mounting cradle, power supply, various external antennae, an antenna switching device, a pen-based chart recorder output device, an airborne psyschrometer, an altimeter, cabling and a high frequency radio. 

There was also a 70mm aerial survey camera.  In addition there were four ground based Aerodist remote transponders (each on a single frequency). In Mick’s first two years with Nat Map additional remote units were acquired and modified in-house to provide two dual frequency or double-back units as they were called.  (These double-back remote units greatly increased measurement flexibility in the field by reducing the need to reposition survey parties on the ground to avoid both ends of a line to be measured having remote units of the same frequency.)  In a final refurbishment of the Aerodist system in early 1973, Mick Skinner arranged for the Klystron cavities to be gold plated to overcome general deterioration after a decade of operation and extend the service life of the system.  The replacement of the original silver plating with gold plating was carried out by the Weapons Research Establishment.

As well as maintaining and refurbishing the Aerodist system in the office, both Mick Skinner and John Ely undertook extensive periods of field duty.  Here they maintained the Aerodist master and remote units and ancillary systems and also worked as master operators in the aircraft and occasionally as remote operators on the ground.  After 1967, Mick and John usually rotated their periods of field duty at Nat Map’s various operational areas throughout Australia.  Later in the 1960s, Mick and John were joined in the electronics workshop by Terry Mulholland (Technical Officer Engineering Grade 1) who was a former RAAF instrument fitter and electronics technician.  Bob Lucas, a former PMG technician subsequently came on board as another Technical Officer Engineering Grade 1.  Later they were joined by Ozcan Ertok who had been a technician with the Turkish Air Force prior to joining Nat Map as a Technical Officer Engineering Grade 1 in 1971.  By the mid-1970s the Nat Map Melbourne electronics workshop received several more members through the trainee technical officer program, namely: Andrew Christie, Arnold Visser and Donald Sutherland.

A significant expansion of the workshop’s activities occurred in 1970 when National Mapping commenced operations with the WREMAPS1 laser terrain profile recorder that had been developed by the Australian Defence Scientific Service of the Weapons Research Establishment within the Department of Supply.  WREMAPS1 was deployed in the field by Nat Map until 1980 and profiled some 250,000 line kilometres and provided vertical survey control for the photogrammetric plotting of topographic maps over 35 per cent of the Australian mainland.  During Mick Skinner’s involvement with this system it was mounted in a Grand Commander 680 FL twin-engine aircraft (VH-EXP) on charter from the Essendon-based Executive Air Services.  Initially the lead technician for the laser terrain profile recorder was Des Fahey who came to Nat Map from WRE as a Senior Technical Officer Engineering Grade 1 in August 1970.  After Des Fahey left Nat Map in the latter part of 1972, Mick Skinner became more involved with the maintenance of the laser system and was later promoted to the Senior Technical Officer position.  Mick maintained the laser both in the office and during some field operations.  (However major overhauls of the laser were usually undertaken by the Weapons Research Establishment.)

Antarctica 1971-1972

In the summer of 1971-72, Mick Skinner was a member of an Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions survey party to the Prince Charles Mountains.  The survey party included other Nat Mappers: John Manning, Eddy Burke and Andrew Greenall.  These Nat Mappers together with other expeditioners and aircraft support travelled south on the MV Nella Dan.  After arrival in Antarctica, the expeditioners were based at Mt Cresswell in the southern Prince Charles Mountains in Mac Robertson Land.  The survey work included determining the positions of 11 ice movement monitoring stations around the Lambert, Fisher and Western Lambert Glaciers.  The ice movement stations were positioned by Tellurometer and theodolite observations from survey stations in the nearby mountains; and the ice station positions were re-observed two months later to monitor the movement of the ice.  During these field operations, Mick’s observing party partner was ANARE glaciologist Ian Allison and they forged a long-time friendship.

Mick Skinner onboard MV Nella Dan about 40 miles out of Mawson base in December 1971.

Three Hughes 500 369HS helicopters were provided by the Moorabbin Airport-based Jayrow Helicopters to support the expedition, namely: VH-BLN, VH-BLO and VH-SFS.  The helicopters flew a total of 543 hours in 791 sorties.  Helicopter pilots were Peter Clemence (chief pilot), Vic Barkell and Ron Newman (pilot/engineer).  Helicopter engineers were Eckhardt Schneider and Jim Marsh.  A fixed wing aircraft was supplied by Forrester Stephen, namely a turbo prop Pilatus Porter VH-FSB.  Between 27 December 1971 and 17 February 1972, VH-FSB flew 193 hours and 40 minutes.  The fixed wing aircraft pilots were Doug Leckie and Vic Barkell who did about 10 hours of relief flying in the Porter between the sixth and eleventh of January 1972 as Doug Leckie had become unwell after contracting a virus on the voyage south.  The fixed wing aircraft engineer was Ian Northcott.

Skinner Nunatak

Skinner Nunatak is a rock outcrop in the Goodspeed Nunataks of the southern Prince Charles Mountains that was named after Mick in recognition of his service on the 1971-72 summer survey expedition.  Skinner Nunatak is located at 72 degrees 57 minutes South latitude and 61 degrees 2 minutes East longitude.

Satellite image map around Skinner Nunatak.

Nat Map Canberra 1975-1985

During 1974, Mick undertook a temporary assignment in Canberra with Nat Map's then Bathymetric Mapping Branch. During this assignment Mick spent some time on the MV Cape Pillar undertaking a bathymetric survey off the New South Wales central coast. In early November 1974, Mick sent a letter from Port Stephens home to his then ten year old son Mark to tell him about the work he was doing. Mark Skinner has kindly provided a copy of that letter which may be viewed via this link. In 1975, Mick, Lily and Mark Skinner moved from Melbourne to Canberra where Mick had been promoted to a Senior Technical Officer Engineering Grade 2 position in Nat Map’s Bathymetric Mapping Branch (later part of the Survey Operations Branch).  The senior managers of the Branch at the time were Assistant Director Len Turner and Supervising Surveyor Con Veenstra who had both worked closely with Mick during his Nat Map Aerodist days and held him in high regard.  After moving to Canberra, the Skinners established their new family home at 3 Schubert Place, Kambah on Canberra’s south side.  (However, they did not dispose of their house at Doncaster East until 1978.  In the meantime, David Skinner continued living there as he was committed to the apprenticeship he was undertaking initially with the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works and later with Standard Telephones and Cables Pty Limited whose then well known brand name was STC.  David qualified as a Radio Technician-Communications at the end of his apprenticeship.)

Bathymetry is the determination of ocean depths to obtain a representation of the ocean floor, thus bathymetric maps are essentially topographic maps of the ocean floor.  The bathymetric mapping process involved three main data capture elements, namely: echo soundings to determine water depth, position fixing to determine where the depth soundings were taken and tide gauge observations that adjusted the raw echo sounding data.  In 1971, National Mapping commenced the national bathymetric mapping program over the continental shelf primarily as an aid for future resource exploration and for scientific studies; the maps were also used in numerous other applications.  Ultimately the program was to provide mapping from an inshore depth of 20 metres to a depth of 300 metres at the outer edge of the shelf.  Bathymetric maps were compiled at a scale of 1:250,000 and showed isobaths at 10-metre intervals supplemented by spot depths.  (Following changes to government administrative arrangements in mid-1987, responsibility for the bathymetric mapping program and the related Nat Map staff as well as other related resources were transferred to the Royal Australian Navy’s Hydrographic Service.)

During his Bathymetric Mapping Branch days, Mick worked in most of Australia’s territorial waters, including Great Barrier Reef waters, Coral Sea, Gulf of Carpentaria, Torres Strait, Timor Sea, Arafura Sea, North West Shelf waters, West Coast waters, the Great Australian Bight and off Tasmania.  Mick Skinner worked with Bathy before the Global Positioning System satellites were in operation.  During Mick’s Bathy days, Nat Map used the 2,100 tons Department of Transport Navaids vessels for most of the offshore work; principally the Melbourne–based MV Cape Pillar.  Also during Mick’s time a number of smaller vessels were used for closer inshore work; including in the Great Barrier Reef waters.  These smaller vessels included the DT Burrowaree, MV Lumen, MV Candella and the TSMV Febrina

MV Cape Pillar

On the Cape Pillar, a Doppler satellite system and Doppler sonar navigation system were used to position the vessel.  The former system interrogated satellites in the world-wide Navy Navigation Satellite System to periodically fix the position of the ship.  The Doppler sonar system was linked to a gyro compass to give course and speed data that was used to calculate the ship’s position between satellite fixes.  Water depth measurement was done with Atlas Deso 10 echo sounders.  An expendable bathythermograph was occasionally deployed to determine the temperature profile of the water that was then used to set the echo sounder.

On smaller vessels such as the Febrina, positioning was achieved through a Decca Hifix 6 radio positioning system (that worked on signal phase comparisons).  There was also a back-up positioning system, namely a Motorola Mini-Ranger (that was a radar-based time phase system).

Mick with Con Veenstra during the Bathymetric mapping days.

During 1983-1984, Mick and Lily’s elder son David Skinner also worked with Nat Map’s Bathymetric Mapping Branch as an electronics Technical Assistant.  David recalled that his assignments included setting up a Mini-Ranger system at Alva Beach out from Ayr in Queensland to position the TSMV Febrina. He also worked off Green Island and Magnetic Island.  Another of David’s assignments involved working on the fit out of the MV Cape Pillar in Brisbane and working with its 7-metre launch.  David also recalled crossing Bass Strait in the Cape Pillar and working with it off Tasmania’s west coast.

Assignment in West Africa 1979-1980

On 6 October 1979 Mick and Lily flew out of Canberra bound for Dakar in the West African nation of Senegal.  Here Mick was to work on a mapping project funded from United States Aid money.  (Mick had taken leave from National Mapping.)  The mapping was part of a larger project for the Organisation for the Development of the Senegal River which was known as the Organisation pour la mise en valeur du fleuve Senegal or OMVS.  The project was set up by the governments of Mali, Mauritania and Senegal to develop the agricultural and hydropower potential of the basin.  During this assignment Mick and Lily were based at Dakar on the coast of Senegal but they also spent some time in Mauritania. 

One of the OMVS project objectives was to establish a green belt along the Niger River to help contain the encroachment of the Sahara Desert.  One OMVS outcome was the multi-purpose Manantali Dam on the Bafing River in the Senegal River basin, 90 kilometres to the south-east of Mali.

In West Africa, Mick was employed by the United States firm Teledyne Geotronics that was based in Long Beach California.  Mick’s nominal role was as an Electronics Engineer responsible for maintaining the Geodimeters, Motorola Mini-Rangers and other survey equipment as well as radio communications equipment.  Mick also had other duties as the project’s Logistics Chief overseeing field camp managers and assistants, several mechanics in the motor pool and drivers at the Dakar base.  Although not part of the project team, Lily provided occasional support such as assisting with the office bookwork and organising the office Christmas party.

The Technical Director (and later overall Project Director) of the mapping project was former Nat Mapper George Williams.  George worked for Nat Map from 1972 to 1978 and was then based from the Canberra office.  George started on the project several months prior to Mick and Lily’s arrival at Dakar on 12 October 1979.  George had recently married Lynette a trained doctor who accompanied him on the project.  (George and Lyn had first met at a Canberra social function organised by Lily Skinner.)  Lyn later took up a position as the Peace Corps Doctor for West Africa. 

The mapping project was to produce large scale orthophotomaps along the Senegal River and capture high level reconnaissance photography over the work area.  The mapping project employed some 27 expats and about 100 local workers.  A Canadian sourced Learjet was used for the high level photography and a Cessna 210 aircraft was used for lower level mapping photography.  Vehicles included US sourced Dodges and some Land Rovers; with the Dodges being difficult to maintain due to the absence of locally sourced spares and locally available experienced service personnel.

The project involved about 1,000 kilometres of first order traversing with theodolites and Geodimeters.  The traverse route ran along the Senegal River Valley from Dakar to Kayes in Mali.  From Kayes the traverse route turned generally south to connect with an existing first order network at the 12th parallel.  Each station on the traverse used a 116 feet high Bilby tower.  (The experienced tower crew could unload the steel from the transporting truck and set the concrete footings for each tower in a day.  The tower would then be erected to 116 feet the next day.  After survey occupation of a tower site was completed, the tower could be dismantled and packed on the truck in a day.)  The project also involved around 800 kilometres of levelling from Dakar to Kayes generally along the Senegal River. 

Mick completed work on the project on 9 May 1980 and he and Lily flew out of Dakar for London on 12 May 1980; they spent about a month touring Europe prior to returning to Canberra in mid-June 1980.  After the West Africa assignment Mick resumed duty with Nat Map in Canberra and Lily returned to nursing.  However, Mick was not content to remain with Nat Map until retirement age; he was keen to explore other opportunities to use his considerable skill and experience.

Rosshaven Marine Pty Ltd Townsville 1984-1985

In 1984, Mick and his friend Arthur Johnson started planning the development of a marine repair business in Townsville.  (Arthur was a commercial aircraft pilot who had previously joined the Royal Australian Navy’s Fleet Air Arm to undertake aircraft maintenance duties and later became a Navy pilot.  He left the RAN about 1970 with the rank of Lieutenant Commander.  Mick had first met Arthur in 1970 when Arthur was one of the pilots of Executive Air Services’ Grand Commander VH-EXZ in which Nat Map’s Aerodist equipment was mounted.) 

Arthur and Mick formed an equal partnership with two Townsville business identities Jim Mitchell, a chemist and John Sexton who operated in the development and construction industries.  (Jim and John were essentially silent partners.)  The partnership traded under the name of Rosshaven Marine Pty Ltd.

Rosshaven Marine Pty Ltd, Townsville 2011.

Foreground group (L-R) : Mark Skinner, Heinrich Eickenbrennen,  Maggie Eickenbrennen, Arthur Johnson and Maxine Virgo.

Middleground : The majority of the company’s staff members.

Background : Facility with 250-ton shiplift travel crane (blue) and 68-ton shiplift travel crane (white).

The Townsville Port Authority had called for tenders for the operation of a slipway on the Ross River in the port precinct.  Rosshaven Marine submitted a non-conforming tender that proposed the use of a 68 ton Australian built CI Comer Shiplift travel crane instead of a slipway.  Rosshaven Marine’s tender was successful and preparations were made for the business to get underway.  It was intended for the business to provide a range of services for fishing and recreational vessels including haul outs, repairs, marine and electronic equipment maintenance as well as chandlery and other sales items.  As part of the business preparations Mick and Lily purchased a house in Townsville.  It was intended that Arthur would be the business manager and Mick’s role would include operation of the travel crane as well as electronics work and other duties.  Lily was to take on the role of office manager.  The business commenced operations in October 1985 and to this end Mick had again taken extended leave from National Mapping with the intention of resigning when this leave expired.

Sadly Mick and Lily’s plans had to be radically changed.  In July 1985 Mick was diagnosed with prostate cancer and as the severity of his illness became fully known, he and Lily decided to return to Canberra where medical facilities for Mick’s treatment were better.  Mick then took sick leave from Nat Map.  When it was realised that Mick’s condition was terminal, he was superannuated out of the Commonwealth Public Service; thus formally and sadly ended his distinguished career with National Mapping that had spanned some 20 years.

In March 1986, Mick and Lily’s younger son Mark took on the role of Rosshaven Marine office manager and remained in that position for some 15 years.  After that period of working with Rosshaven Marine, Mark remained a Director of the company until December 2012 when it was sold to Entraco Marine; part of a Singapore-based group of companies.  Throughout all of this time, Arthur Johnson remained the Managing Director.  During its first 25 years of operation Rosshaven Marine had progressed from servicing the now largely non-existent local fishing fleet to maintaining and refurbishing Defence vessels including landing craft for the Army, watercraft for the Navy’s Landing Platforms Amphibious (HMAS Manoora and HMAS Kanimbla) and patrol boats donated to island nations under the Pacific Patrol Boats program as well as various other commercial and recreational vessels.  Also during this period Rosshaven Marine shifted to a new location within the Townsville port precinct as a new low level road ridge was to block vessel access to their original site.  Prior to Mark Skinner’s departure from a hands-on role in 2000, the company had added an additional travel crane of a massive 250 tons capacity to its plant and had grown to such an extent that it employed about 70 people; a tribute to Mick and Arthur’s foresight.

Vale Mick and Lily

Mick Skinner died at age 52 years on Anzac Day, Saturday 25 April 1987 at Royal Canberra Hospital.  His funeral service was held the following week at Canberra’s Norwood Park Crematorium in Sandford Street, Mitchell; his remains were then cremated.  As well as Mick’s family and friends a number of Nat Map colleagues attended Mick’s funeral service.  A number of Nat Map mourners attended from the Canberra office including Con Veenstra, Peter and Petra O’Donnell, John Corcoran and Laurie McLean as well as former Nat Mapper George Williams and his wife Lyn.  Nat Mappers from the Dandenong office included John Ely, Terry Mulholland, Ozcan Ertok, Michael Lloyd and Graeme Lawrence as well as former Nat Mapper Peter Salkowski.  The Nat Map mourners from Dandenong had flown to Canberra in a chartered Cessna 337 aircraft piloted by Terry Mulholland (1935-2013) who was then Nat Map’s Chief Pilot.  Mick Skinner was survived by his mother Karen, brothers Deryck and Tim, his widow Lily, sons David and Mark and by granddaughter Cherie.  Although it is now over 27 years since Mick died he is still sadly missed but fondly remembered not only by his two sons but also by the many Nat Mappers who knew him.

At Kambah after Mick's funeral service, from left: Peter Salkowski, David Skinner,

Arthur Johnson, Graeme Lawrence, Mark Skinner, Oz Ertok, Michael Lloyd, Lily Skinner and John Ely.


In a brief tribute to Mick in the June 1987 issue of the ANARE Club’s Aurora magazine, Ian Allison a long-serving glaciologist with Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions extended the ANARE Club’s sympathy to Lily, David and Mark following Mick’s death.  Dr Allison noted that Mick Skinner would long be remembered for his extraordinary enthusiasm, optimism and humour.

Lily Skinner sadly died from cancer in Townsville in 1998 at age 65 years and her remains were later cremated.  Sometime later, in accordance with Mick’s wish for his ashes to be scattered on the Coral Sea, his son Mark Skinner scattered both Mick’s and Lily’s ashes on the Coral Sea offshore from Townsville.  Like her husband, Lily Skinner was a much-liked member of the Nat Map community and is also sadly missed but fondly remembered.


The author gratefully acknowledges the generous assistance provided by Mick’s and Lily’s sons David and Mark Skinner as without their assistance this article could not have been written.  A number of other people provided useful information and insights which were greatly appreciated; these people included: George Williams, John Ely, Kevin Burke, Michael Lloyd, Dianne Millington and Paul Wise.

About the Author

Laurie McLean worked with the Division of National Mapping (and its successor organisation) from 1969 to 1988; including some nine years in Melbourne-based field positions.  He worked with Mick Skinner in the field with the Aerodist measuring party from 1970 to 1973 and in December 1984 took up duty in Nat Map’s Canberra office where Mick was also based.



Allison, Ian (1987), Vale Mick Skinner, in Aurora ANARE Club Journal, Volume 6, No 4, June 1987, p 11; ANARE Club, Melbourne.

Anonymous (2014), Bobbie (sic) Henstridge entry on My Trees website, accessed at: http://www.mytrees.com/ancestry/Australia/Born-1915/He/Henstridge-family/Bobbie-Henstridge-sk000217-3.html

Anonymous (2014), Thomas Ambrose Steigenberger Skinner entry on Tolliss family genealogy website, accessed at: http://www.tolliss.com/gedview/individual.php?pid=I938&ged=Tolliss.ged&tab=0

Anonymous (2014), History of Berger section of Berger Paints website, accessed at: http://www.berger.com.au/History/History/default.aspx

Anonymous (2014), Henry Brougham Richard Lee entry on page 1381 of Chestnut Blue’s Genealogy Pages, accessed at: http://www.chestnut-blue.com/Chestnut%20Blue-o/p1381.htm#i70534

Anonymous (1937), Eveline Skinner death notice in The Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday 29 May 1937, page 16.  Accessed from the National Library of Australia’s Trove service at: http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/17371958

Anonymous (1890), Arrival of the English and Colonial Mail Steamers at Albany, in Shipping Notes in the Western Advertiser (Perth), Saturday 14 June 1890, page 25.  Accessed from the National Library of Australia’s Trove service at: http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/32733500

Anonymous (1888), England by P&O Royal Mail Steamer Parramatta, advertisement in The Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 26 March 1888, page 1.  Accessed from the National Library of Australia’s Trove service at: http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/13666151

Australian Army Apprentices Association (2014), Intake list for 3rd Intake-Graduated 1952, on Australian Army Apprentices Association website, accessed at: http://www.austarmyapprentice.org/allappies/03.htm

Australian Antarctic Division (2013), Place Names search for Skinner from Australian Antarctic Data Centre Data Management and Spatial Data Services website, accessed at: https://data.aad.gov.au/aadc/gaz/display_name.cfm?gaz_id=1709

Australian National Archives (2014), Harold St Clair Henstridge Pay File, Series No D2994, Control Symbol 3766, Item Barcode 1998399, accessed from basic search at World War 1 Service Records at: http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/explore/defence/service-records/army-wwi.aspx

Australian National Archives (2014), Harold St Clair Henstridge service records, Series No B2455, Control Symbol Henstridge H St C 3766, Item Barcode 5476270, accessed from basic search at World War 1 Service Records at: http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/explore/defence/service-records/army-wwi.aspx

Australian War Memorial (2014), Ernest Lee Skinner MM entry on First World War Nominal Roll, accessed from Australian War Memorial website at: http://www.awm.gov.au/research/people/nominal_rolls/first_world_war/page/R1554135/?preferred_name=Skinner+Ernest+Lee&sort=asc&order=id&op=Search

Australian War Memorial (2014), Harold St Clair Henstridge entry on First World War Nominal Roll, accessed from Australian War Memorial website at: http://www.awm.gov.au/research/people/nominal_rolls/first_world_war/page/R1555274/?preferred_name=henstridge&sort=asc&order=id&op=Search

Australian War Memorial (2014), Image of members of the 3rd Australian Machine Gun Company on the Somme 26 February 1917 (includes Pte Harold Henstridge-Mick Skinner’s maternal grandfather).  Image ID E00236, accessed at: http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/E00236/

Burke, Kevin (2014), Personal Communications April 2014.

Corry, Max (1987), The Amery Ice Shelf Saga Part 4, in Aurora ANARE Club Journal, Volume 6, No 4, June 1987, pp 21-24; ANARE Club, Melbourne.

Ely, John Herbert (2013-14), Personal communications November 2013-May 2014.

Ertok, Ozcan (2014), Personal communications March 2014.

Lines, John Dunstan (1992), Australia on Paper: The Story of Australian Mapping, Fortune Publications, Box Hill, Victoria, ISBN 0646097695.

Lloyd, Michael Terence (2014), Personal communication March 2014.

Millington, Dianne (2014), Personal communication March 2014.

O’Donnell, PW (1982), Bathymetry-The Decade Ahead, in the First Australian Congress of Surveying and Cartography, Technical Papers Volume 1, held in Canberra 17-23 April 1982, accessed from XNatMap website at: http://www.xnatmap.org/adnm/ops/prog/Bathy82/Bathy82.html

O’Donnell, PW (2014), Personal communication May 2014.

Reynolds, Susan (editor) (1962), Heston and Isleworth Manors: A History of the County of Middlesex, Volume 3, pp 103-111.  Accessed from British History Online website at: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=22275

Sargent, TC (1993), Letter to the Editor, in The Australian Surveyor, Volume 38, Number 2, June 1993, pp147-151, The Institution of Surveyors, Australia, Canberra.

Skinner, Mark (2013-14), Personal Communications November 2013-May 2014.

Skinner, David (2014), Personal Communications March 2014.

Turner, LG; Kirkby, SL; Veenstra, C; Ely, JH and others (1962-1968), Aerodist Log Book, an unpublished manuscript of Aerodist equipment testing and operations from January 1962 to August 1968, prepared by officers of the Division of National Mapping, Melbourne.

Turner, LG (1974), Mapping Australia’s Continental Shelf, paper presented to the 17th Australian Survey Congress, held in Melbourne 23 February-1 March 1974 by the Institution of Surveyors, Australia.

Veenstra, C (1984), Mapping the Australian Continental Shelf, in the 12th Conference of the International Cartographic Association, Technical Papers Volume 1, pp 411-421, held in Perth, 4-13 August 1984.

Western Australian Museum (2014), Welcome Walls settlement history website, accessed at: http://www.museum.wa.gov.au/welcomewalls/names/skinner-ta-em

Williams, George Earl (2013), Personal communications November-December 2013.

Wise, Paul Joseph (2014), Personal Communications March-April 2014.


Photo Gallery

Mick Skinner at Birdsville in 1969.

Mick Skinner north of Mary Kathleen Queensland in 1967.

Mick Skinner preparing for the tourist season in Antarctica in December 1971.

Mick Skinner observing angles with a T3 theodolite in Antarctica during his 1971-72 expedition.

Map1-Overview of Skinner Nunatak Antarctica.

Map2-Detail around Skinner Nunatak Antarctica.

1979-80 West Africa Project Structure.

Bilby tower as used on West Africa Project in 1979-80.

Rosshaven Marine at Townsville in its early days.

Mick and Mark Skinner at Cooktown.

Mick Skinner on holidays.