Cardiff man who mailed himself home from Australia searches for the men who nailed him into a chest

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It seemed like the perfect plan at the time.

At least it did to cash-strapped Welsh teenager Brian Robson who, in a desperate bid to get back to Cardiff from Australia in 1965, got two mates to nail him inside a wooden box and fly him overseas.

Naturally, the crazy scheme went awry and the homesick 19-year-old was almost killed after being left upside down in the cramped crate on the tarmac of Sydney airport for almost an entire day.

In addition, the container was then diverted to Los Angeles, during which Brian almost froze to death in the unheated cargo hold of another plane.

There, as he recovered in hospital from his near four day ordeal, he suddenly found FBI agents at the foot of his bed waiting to interview him, convinced he was either some sort of Cold War spy or had been kidnapped.

However, when Brian eventually did get back to Wales he was treated like a local celebrity thanks to his wild tale.

And now, 56 years later, he’s on the hunt for his two Irish mates who helped seal him in that box on that fateful day.

“It initially seemed like it would be a great adventure, going to Australia,” said Brian, now 75, who’d originally emigrated Down Under from Britain as one of the million or so ’10 pound poms’, an assisted passage scheme devised by the Australian government after WWII.



Stiff and limping, Brian arrives in LA



Cardiff’s Brian Robson tried to mail himself from Australia to London in a wooden crate

But the lure of a new life in the sun, sweetened by air fare which only cost a tenner, quickly turned sour.

“I found it very hard to make friends over there and would get called ‘Pommy bastard ‘ quite a lot. It was very rough and ready.”

Plus, he found working on the railways day in, day out too much to bear.

“It was so monotonous, the absolute pits. I couldn’t stand it,” said Brian, who found it very different to his previous job at a train depot on Penarth Road.

So, after spotting a stall for Pickfords removals company at a trade exhibition in Melbourne one day, Brian began plotting.

“Their motto was ‘We’ll move you everywhere’ or something like that, and I recognised the name because there was a branch near where I grew up in Cathays.

“So I thought, ‘Maybe I can move myself’.

After getting hold of a box – not much bigger than a tea chest, with ‘This Side Up’ stamped on it – he booked it, cash on delivery, as freight with one airline and got two friends from the railroad to help secrete him and his suitcase inside.



Pan Am service representative Gary Hatch looking at crate from which he freed stowaway Brian Robson

“They couldn’t believe I was serious at first, but they did it – and deep down I think they’d have come with me if they could because neither of them were particularly happy out there.”

It wasn’t long though before Brian – who also had a pillow, a torch, a Beatles songbook and some meagre food rations with him – realised he’d possibly made a fatal mistake.

“I did think a few times that I was never getting out of there alive,” he said, remembering the lengthy, endurance-testing detour which befell him.

“I was like, ‘you’ve really overstepped the mark this time, Brian. I was nearly cracking up – I couldn’t move because my muscles had seized, I couldn’t breathe properly and I kept slipping in and out of consciousness.

“It was horrific. It felt like the end for me.”

Yet, even as he finally touched down at LAX airport and the crate was jimmied open, there was a brief moment where things looked as though they might get even worse.

“I remember thinking, ‘Oh God, I’m really in trouble now’.



Brian recovers in hospital in LA

“But the FBI and CIA chaps couldn’t have been nicer to me, once they’d worked out why the hell I was in the crate in the first place.

“They were brilliant and even helped sort me out the flight back to London, despite the fact I didn’t have a passport or any paperwork on me.”

Back in Cardiff, Brian also struggled with finding himself the centre of attention.

“At first it was fun, but after a while I couldn’t even go down the shop without people coming up to me.

“I even ditched my new job as a bus conductor because I got fed up with the passengers asking me if I was ‘that bloke from Australia’.”

Eventually though the spotlight faded and he settled down to a life in retail, but he’s never forgotten about those two Irish friends in Oz.



How Brian looks today

“I’m almost certain they were called Paul and John, but that’s all I remember because it was such a long time ago,” said Brian, who’s penned a book about his experiences called The Crate Escape, due out later this month.

“I did write to them when I returned home – tried a couple of times, in fact – but didn’t get a reply.

“Chances are they moved on from the site addresses I had for them, went on to work somewhere else.

“I’d love to catch up with them both again though because I’ve often wondered what became of them.”

And, as well as his book, a film is also in the pipeline, entitled This Side Up.



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“None of this would’ve happened if I’d made it back to the UK as planned though,” added Brian, who’s now settled in Cardiff once again.

“My intention was to sneak out of the crate at Heathrow and disappear into the crowd, and, had I been successful, chances are you’d have never even heard of me.

“Obviously things didn’t quite turn out that way.”



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