UNFORGETTABLE and larger than life. These were terms used to describe popular radio personality Jack Davey in the mid-1950s.
A superb showman (and mad gambler) he even rationed his sleep to four hours a night so he could fulfil a punishing work schedule of 682 shows a year, including narrating newsreels and two charity gigs each week.
Known as "Mr Radio", the dynamic 2GB broadcaster had a weekly audience of five million listeners hanging on his every word.
His "Golden Voice", spontaneous wit and reckless generosity made him loved throughout the nation. The cheery introduction of "Hi Ho, Everybody!" to his programs made him a household name.
American crooner Nat 'King' Cole considered Davey a unique talent, saying he could have written his own ticket to world fame if he had decided to move to the US.
While producing, directing and starring in his Aussie radio variety shows, Jack Davey won the admiration of several visiting guests, including Bob Hope, Sammy Davis Jnr, Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong, Spike Jones, Billy Eckstine and Johnnie Ray.
To let off steam and relax, the radio quiz host owned a stable of fast cars, once including a very expensive and throaty Le Mans D-Type racing Jaguar. Davey, a keen fisherman, also owned Sea Mist, a 70ft (21m) luxury cruiser, which he made even more famous by the overseas guests he invited onboard, often to gamble.
Abbott and Costello, then world-famous US comedians, reportedly lost the proceeds of their Australian tour on the turn of the cards while playing poker with Davey. Among other celebrities sampling Davey's hospitality were Frank Sinatra, pianist Liberace and singer Shirley Bassey.
I'm indebted to Maitland reader Lindsay Watson for refreshing my memory of Jack Davey's extraordinary popularity and alerting me to his now forgotten, almost disastrous, link with Tea Gardens at Port Stephens.
Lindsay wrote: "I have finished reading your recent book Past Port. It reminded me that a few years ago I was in an old book shop up the coast and found a 1961 copy (by Lew Wright) on the life of Jack Davey."
Davey was actually a New Zealander. The book's foreword was written by Bob Dyer, an American doing a rival quiz show (Pick-a-box) and a fellow big game fisherman, Lindsay said.
"Jack Davey's crew were moving his large motor cruiser up from Sydney to Queensland when they struck bad weather and came to shelter in Port Stephens to ran aground on rocks," Lindsay revealed.
Thanks for the tip Lindsay, and what a yarn author Lew Wright spins within the pages. For Jack Davey's beloved vessel did sink and a total write-off was narrowly avoided.
Davey's crew decided to moor his immaculate cruiser at Tea Gardens.
Earlier, with a threatening storm, Davey's crew decided to moor his immaculate cruiser at Tea Gardens, but were confused by a fishing boat that had gone aground in the dark. Sea Mist then became stranded on a submerged slag heap and listed heavily.
Water flooded through an open porthole. The vessel sank. Local mariners advised the crew to abandon the cruiser as a total loss.
Knowing of Davey's love of the boat, however, her skipper roped Sea Mist securely to another seventy-footer, the local Vagabond, at low tide. As the water later rose, Vagabond lifted Sea Mist up enough to get her pumps into action, finally being able to re-float her. She was a flooded mess, but undamaged structurally due to the solid triple-skin construction from designer Lars Halvorsen. Within two months, with one engine working, Sea Mist was seaworthy enough to return to Sydney.
When told of the sinking, Davey was competing in a round-Australia car reliability trial. His only concern was if any lives were lost in the incident.
The luxury cruiser though was one of the true great loves of Davey's life. To escape work stress, Davey would take big game fishing trips as far south as Eden on the NSW south coast, to north of Brisbane.
It was the second time his vessel had been saved. Before buying her in 1954, Davey surveyed the chaos onboard the neglected cruiser berthed in Sydney Harbour and his heart sank.
Despite a proud wartime past, the cruiser was then "little more than a hulk", according to Davey's personal assistant Lew Wright.
Inside of a few months, Davey had replaced the cruiser's old Hercules engines with twin Gray marine diesels and had transformed the shabby Sea Mist into a floating palace to sleep eight people. A piano and cocktail bar were added.
Davey had Sea Mist only for four years, until 1958, but regular visitors included handicapped children from hospital. Fishing with rods, his young guests dropped lines over the side where a crew member beneath would reach out from portholes to put gifts, such as dolls and toy koalas, on the hooks.
Unknown to many, however, was that Sea Mist was a really historic vessel. Built in 1939, then requisitioned by the Royal Australian Navy and painted military grey in WWII, she became HMAS Seamist. She was part of the "Hollywood fleet" of privately-owned pleasure craft used by the RAN.
Her day of glory came in June 1942 when she depth-charged and sank a Japanese midget submarine after the attack inside Sydney Harbour. In doing so though her engines were disabled when the ship was lifted out of the water when a second depth charge exploded at a shallower depth.
Jack Davey reluctantly sold his renamed Sea Mist in 1958, the year before he died aged 49 of cancer. Since then, the luxury cruiser has had several owners and is now believed berthed in Brisbane.
But to the very end, the radio legend adored his former cruiser. After she was sold, every time Sea Mist cruised majestically past the windows of his Point Piper home he would watch her through binoculars until she was well out of sight.
On his deathbed, the genial Davey said he had no regrets.
"I have had 100 years of living. More, I've done everything I wanted to do - and a damn lot of things I shouldn't have. Not many people can say as much."
About 15,000 people viewed his body as it lay in state in a Sydney funeral parlour.
A suitable epitaph for the warm-hearted and boisterous radio personality comes from Davey's biographer, Lew Wright, in his 1961 book.
He wrote: "Once, while Sea Mist rocked gently at anchor (off Halifax Park) Port Stephens, a thunderstorm worked its way up with flashes of lightning piercing the eastern sky, followed later by rolls of thunder.
"Here's the Boss coming now," a crewman said, "in the Jaguar".
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