From the Archives, 1965: Stowaway’s box seat in airliner

First published in The Age, May 18, 1965.

Man in Crate Could Have Had Free Trip

Stowaway Brian Robson is fed soup by Nurse Betty Bjornson in Los Angeles Central Receiving Hospital. Credit:AP

If Brian Robson, Melbourne’s air-borne “migrant in a box,” had contacted the Immigration department when he came out of gaol in Brisbane on April 27, he would now be back home in Cardiff, Wales — without cost.

Robson’s friends discovered in Melbourne yesterday that his highly dangerous trip home was unnecessary.

The Immigration department had already decided to send him back to Cardiff, Wales, free of cost.

Robson will appear in a Los Angeles court today to face charges of illegally entering the U.S.A. following his 8000-mile trip from Melbourne in as wooden crate measuring 36 in. by 30 in. by 38 in.

He will probably finish his trip to his birthplace in Wales without cost—but under a United States deportation order.

Robson was nailed into the crate at his Albert Park (Victoria) boarding house on Friday. He expected to be consigned to London via Qantas.

Instead, he was flown to Los Angeles by Pan American Jet and discovered inside the crate by a freight worker at Los Angeles airport.

Robson was cramped, dehydrated and too weak to walk.

Assisted

An Immigration department spokesman said Robson arrived in Australia by air from Cardiff, on July 8, 1964, as an assisted migrant recruited by the railways.

“Due to an unsatisfactory record in his short time in Australia, and as there seemed little prospect of his successful settlement, Robson was to be offered repatriation to Wales,” he said.

“Before this decision was conveyed to him he apparently left Australia.

“Had he reported to the department after leaving gaol in Brisbane in April, as he should have done, Robson would now be home in Wales,” the spokesman added.

It was reported from Brisbane last night that Robson completed a five months sentence for false pretences on April 27.

Robson’s landlady, Mrs. L. Beeson, of Philipson Street, Albert Park, said yesterday she was not surprised at the news that her former boarder had air freighted himself out of Australia.

“I did not realise he was leaving until I went into his room on Saturday to collect some board money. Instead, I found two of my blankets and two pillows missing.”

BOX SEAT IN AIRLINER

Jet Age Stowaway Tells His Story

LOS ANGELES, May 17. A 20-year-old Welsh jet-age stowaway today told of his fantastic trip across the Pacific from Australia in a wooden crate.

Cardiff-born Brian Robson, homesick after only 10 months in Australia shipped himself c.o.d. airfreight from Melbourne to Cardiff in a crate labelled “Ajax computer” and measuring only 36 inches by 30 by 38.

But instead of being placed on a direct 36-hour Qantas flight from Sydney to London, the crate was shipped by Pan Am.

And at Los Angeles airport yesterday, cargo officials heard knocking and saw a flashlight shining out of the crate.

Inside, cramped and too weak to walk they found Robson — 92 hours and 8000 miles after he had been nailed into the crate in Melbourne.

Robson was taken to the prison ward of Los Angeles County General Hospital.

In court today he will face charges of illegal entry into the United States and stowing away.

But Sergeant Kenneth Larsen of the airport police said it was likely that he would be deported — to Britain.

Sergeant Larsen yesterday said Robson would have been dead before the crate had completed the next 5500-mile leg of the journey to London.

The flight was due to leave Los Angeles at noon local time today, but Sgt. Larsen said: “Another 12 hours and he would haw been a goner.”

He remained in a wheelchair as he talked to reporters today.

“If everything goes all light I expect to be home in a week, he said.

“When I get back, I’m going to forget all about Australia and America and just settle down.”

Robson said he had been dissatisfied with his job with the Victorian Railways, homesick and without funds to go home, when he decided on the unusual manner of travel.

Three friends in Melbourne assisted him. “They’re all Pommies,” he said. “I don’t want to give you their names. I don’t want them to get into trouble. They nailed me down into the crate and ordered the taxi to take me to the station.

“If the crate wasn’t delivered in London by Monday morning, they were supposed to get after the airlines and find out what happened. I planned to break out of the crate and telephone them in Melbourne but I suppose that’s all off now.”

Robson sipped water and rubbed his bruised legs constantly during the interview.

After his crate was left at Melbourne Airport, his biggest fear was whether or not the cargo section of the plane would be pressurised.

“I was dead scared, petrified would be more like it,” he said.

Pan American cargo handler Gary Hatch, who found stowaway Brian Robson, shows just how squeezed he must have been.Credit:AP

He had a suitcase and a blanket and several biscuits with him in the tiny box.

It was labelled “Ajax Computer,” he said, adding: “That was part of the plan. We had told the airline it had to be handled very gently, that the tubes were very sensitive and to take especially good care of it.”

His first upset after the flight on an Ansett-A.N.A. plane from Melbourne to Sydney was being left upside down for 22 hours at the Sydney airport.

“The suitcase was on top of my head. It was completely dark and I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Kept Diary

On the flight from Sydney Robson managed to sleep for about an hour.

“I tried to keep a diary of how I felt but I gave it up after about an hour out of Sydney. I was talking to myself quite a bit.

“You know it was complete darkness and I didn’t know what was going to happen. It was very hot and I had spilled my water so I didn’t have any.”

When he was unloaded in Los Angeles on Saturday night he didn’t know where he was. But he said, “I could hear an accent that definitely wasn’t Pommy.”

Robson said he decided to break out of the box but was unsuccessful.

“Finally I knocked on the side of the box. Somebody came over. He wanted to know what was in the box. I said it was a man.

“The man left and came back later with some more people and they tore the top off the box. Those chaps were more surprised than me.”

In CARDIFF, Robson’s father today criticised the Australian Government over the incident.

The whole root of this trouble is that the boy was homesick,” Mr. James Robson said.

“I honestly think the public are misled by the Australian Government in what they are really offering to young men who wish to emigrate.”

Mr. Robson described Brian as “a good, home-loving boy.” A next-door neighbor called him “an adventurous lad.”

Risked Death

In SYDNEY, a Pan American spokesman, Mr. Alan Brook, said he believed Robson risked death by air freighting himself overseas.

“The chances were that Robson could have been freighted in a piston-engined aircraft and would have frozen to death.”

He said the computer cargo rate for Robson’s crate from Melbourne to London would have been about £ 140.

A first-class air ticket would have cost £ 500 and a tourist class ticket £321.

At Melbourne’s Richmond Railway Station, where Robson worked for a short time, some of his former colleagues said he was “moody and impulsive.”

He left the Victorian Railways in August 28 last year and was marked “away without leave” on their records.

After returning to Melbourne from Brisbane, and gaol, Robson worked at the Australian Paper Manufacturers Ltd. Mill in South Gate, South Melbourne.

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