PHILLIP David Geri’s involvement with ASIO began innocently enough one summer evening in 1962 as he sat in the driving seat of his black mini, parked in High Street next to the City Family Hotel.Waiting for a friend, the 19-year-old noticed a shortish, greying, well-dressed man, carrying a satchel.The man was walking up and down the pavement, peering repeatedly at Mr Geri’s car.The mini was his pride and joy, but he had fallen behind on the payments, and he worried the stranger might be a repossession agent.The third time he walked past the car, the man tapped on the window and Mr Geri reluctantly slid it open.‘‘Can I help you?’’ he asked politely. ‘‘Are you Phillip David Geri?’’, the man responded, confirming the youngster’s worst fears.‘‘I said yes I was, and he asked me if he could hop in the passenger seat.‘‘My adrenalin was pumping and I had goose bumps, but I told him OK,’’ Mr Geri remembers.‘‘He got in beside me, opened his satchel and pulled out a little case and flipped it open.‘‘It was like an ID card with a photo, and the letters ASIO written on it, and his name.‘‘ASIO didn’t mean anything to me, but he explained what it was, and I realised he was a spy. I was just relieved he wasn’t repossessing my car.’’ The man, who Mr Geri came to know as Mr Mac, dropped his first bombshell: ‘‘You’ve been recommended to us, I can’t tell you who by, but we want you to become an undercover agent’’.The butterflies dancing in Mr Geri’s stomach contributed to an odd feeling of exhilaration. Something told him the man was genuine, even when he continued.‘‘We want you to join the Communist Party here in Bendigo and report to us on its activities.‘‘I’m going to give you a phone number, and I want you to go away and think about it and then call me.’’ Mr Geri remembers: ‘‘It was like a bolt of lightning. I was so politically naive, I knew virtually nothing about the Communist Party.‘‘It was the weirdest thing that had ever come my way.’’ Mr Mac explained that, since he was only 19, Mr Geri would have to inform his parents and, if he agreed to help, they would have to sign the Official Secrets Act on his behalf.And then it was over.Just 10 minutes of affable conversation in a parked car.It would change Phil Geri’s life for ever.Before Mr Geri told his parents, he did something that typified his cautious nature.He had a friend in the police force, and asked him that evening to check the phone number Mr Mac had given him.The friend came back the following day and told him the number was legitimately connected with ASIO.‘‘I knew then I wasn’t being conned and I could approach my parents. I did so immediately.’’ John and Winifred Geri were both born in Australia, and had lived all over Victoria before coming to the Bendigo area.They were, as Mr Geri readily admits, dirt poor, but provided a warm and loving family environment for Phil, his five brothers and three sisters.John, a miner, had contracted lung disease, and Phil Geri’s earliest memories of him revolved around his continual, hacking cough.The young Phil was born in 1943 and his first homes were in Golden Square and then View Street in the centre of Bendigo.He attended Camp Hill Primary School and then Gravel Hill Secondary College, enjoying a trouble free, uneventful childhood.He left school in year eight to start a round of odd jobs delivering milk and pumping petrol while studying for his leaving certificate at night school.He was a keen, but not particularly accomplished, footballer, playing for the Sandhurst Football Club, but never rising higher than an odd game on the wing or back pocket with the seconds.He was also a committed Christian - something he remains today - and a member of the YMCA and its affiliated Vikings Club, enjoying the easy mateship and support of the many friends he made.At the age of 19 he was recommended by a senior official at the Sandhurst Club for a job at the Bendigo Base Hospital, where he began work as an orderly on the surgical ward.Here a medical superintendent suggested he join the Citizens’ Military Force.Young Phil was that type of boy; serious minded, responsible and patriotic. Ripe for ASIO’s picking.It wasn’t long after he signed up for two years with the CMF that Mr Mac came into his life.‘‘I can only guess why I was recommended to ASIO, but I’ve always believed it had something to do with the CMF,’’ Mr Geri says today.After confirmation from his policeman friend that Mr Mac was genuine, he approached his parents.‘‘They knew nothing about ASIO, none of the family was politically minded.‘‘But they said, `If you want to do this we’re happy to sign for you. But make sure you go into it with your eyes open’.’’ Mr Mac had told him to use a public phone box when he called, so Mr Geri went, at 9 pm the day after meeting him, to the Bendigo Post Office.‘‘When I got through to Mr Mac I said: 'I’ve thought about it and I’m willing to co-operate.' I’ll never forget the warmth in his voice when he responded.’’ Nor would Phil Geri forget the exact words Mr Mac uttered: ‘‘You will never want for anything.‘‘When you have finished you will be provided with a house and be financially rewarded.’’ Had he known then how those words would be thrown back in his face 23 years later, during a bizarre little ceremony on the balcony of the Shamrock Hotel, Phil Geri would have slammed down the phone and walked away.Instead, he embarked on the first steps of a journey that would cost him virtually everything he held dear.