If you could talk a little bit about your parents.
My Dad was born on the wrong side of the Burrinjuck Dam, in central New South Wales, before it was built. Country boy. He joined the army in 1942, during the war and served for 27 years in the army. Left to the startling rank of private, stayed a private all his life, met – my Mum served in the air force, during the war and left after the war. And they raised five kids.
My brother and three sisters. They were fairly close knit. And as I said, we had a wonderful time living in that – I mean, Cabramatta at that time, when we moved there was – in our street we had about three houses and the rest was just all wonderful bush, so I mean, nowadays I think of letting your kids roam wild, you know, barefoot and Mum used to come to the end of the street and yell her head off and we’d pop up out of bushes all around the paddocks and
I mean there was nothing to say, “Where you been today?” “Oh we walked to Thorny Island.” That’s about five kilometres away. Nowadays you’d be – you wouldn’t do it, but it was a wonderful childhood, upbringing we had. No computers, no TVs, we did have a radio, but it was just a wonderful lifestyle. When you pass through Cabramatta now and you see the houses and the density, it’s amazing to think that you had free roam on
acres and acres of paddock. My father used to take us mushroom collecting on the old golf course. You’d come back and there’s wild mushrooms, this big. It was just marvellous. But it was a good life, back then, no complaints whatsoever. I think probably, that’s what makes us so different, I mean, having served as I have, within the defence force I’ve actually, the people that I served with,
I’ve actually, in the ready reserve that I was in ’95, I actually had soldiers coming back and I’ve said, “Your name sounds familiar.” And it’s their fathers that I served with that were coming back through. But their perspective of army life, life in general was quantum leap different than what we had. Ours was I suppose, not simpler, but we didn’t have as much expectations apart from what we could get out of life. These people that are coming in now, they’re
a lot smarter, and their expectations are a lot higher. And they probably don’t tolerate as much was what we used to tolerate. We tolerate a lot more in our days, because life’s a lot easier. I would not like to be growing up now. Because my kids have got a lot more expectations and there’s a – it’s a faster, more demanding world out there now. With or without a conflict of any sort.
We had a good life, yeah good life. And good grounding, if you could use that word, for what we went on through life and later on. And I think with my peer group and all my friends that we’ve grown up, they have had similar grounding, similar backgrounds, they’ve come from western suburbs, country stock, that sort of thing, we’ve all hoped to instil upon our
children, some might say, some outdated values, and but it’s not, it’s things that have worked for us in the weirdest of ways, you know, they’ve worked and I’m happy to say that my girls have sort of taken on board some of the stuff, discarded some of the stuff, obviously that’s the nature of things, but they’re, I think a lot better prepared to travel in this world, than most people are. And
I think I put that down to my upbringing, in that carefree era and a certain amount of disciplinary and coalface type activities within the defence force and the army and overseas. Sort of there’s no rule book, there’s no, “This is how you do it.” There’s things that you learn, school of hard knocks, shall we say. So, yeah, that works like that.
I would put him down as a public servant in uniform. And he utilised that. See, I bring my kids up, I’m in the army but it’s not going to get in the way of my family life. I’m a public servant in uniform. That’s all he took it on. To a certain degree I suppose, I do the same thing. But it’s a little bit harder now, because there’s more separation than there was when Dad was in. It’s still a good life.
There are a couple of things that I would – not everyone, you look at the recruitment brochures and so forth, I enlisted in ’65, there was no Vietnam on we were just finishing out of Borneo and Malaya with the communist insurrection there. So there was not a war, but it was a boy’s own adventure. We used to – I grew up and my grandparents and aunties, they used to
every year you’d get the, Boy’s Own Annual, and it was just full of politically incorrect things. Now there was war stories, there was “Smiley gets his own gun.” I mean, it’s- I mean the other day, we were underneath a bloke’s house and up on the rafters, there was this little bebe gun, all covered in rust and I’m a licensed collector so
I took it down to Stafford Police Station so he had it recognised, put it on my list of stuff and so forth. And then I’d done some research on it, and it’s the recommended toy, gift, for eight to ten year olds. That’s the difference in eras I mean, everyone had a bebe gun. I used to chase my brother around the yard, my parents were very good about that they – I had a bebe gun but they didn’t give me the bebes. And
Which was very good because I used to shoot my brother with it. What we did was, we had a lovely hedge on the front which had that little purple beads with the seed in. That fitted just down the barrel, so I used to chase my younger brother around the garden shooting these dye bebes at him. You know, it was a carefree era. You wouldn’t do it now of course, you’d have everyone up in arms. But it was a good life. And again, it’s trying to explain it to a generation now that are
focussed on computers and not getting out and doing something, you know, using your own – and that’s the difference between us as soldiers and our soldiers of today. They are smarter, obviously, they have higher expectations, but they also have a tendency to say, “Broken? Can’t be fixed.” Whereas when we were there, something would go wrong, we’d say,
“We’ve still got to go from point A to point B. So the logic was, let’s work a way around it. Or over it or under it. Where the guys nowadays, it’s you’ve tried three times, that’s it. You finish. There is a tendency not to be as self sufficient or innovative or to use your initiative more than it was before. And I’m finding that now, with a lot of soldiers, they come out and they say, “Rightio, pick this up, take it over there.” “Why?” “Just do what
you’re told.” The – they don’t see the relevance in training and preparation. We have, in preparing soldiers for war, overseas service, you do, physical, to get them physically fit, you give them all the padre speeches about ethics, values, you give as much
as possible, medical and health briefings on what you’re going to be confronted with and so forth. But nowhere in that preparation do you prepare them psychologically for something that they’re going to see. I mean, there’s – doctors have a very good way of doing it, when they’re training. Sooner or later in their medical school, they’ll be confronted with an autopsy. And if they can get past the autopsy part of it, they’ll have no problems.
There’s nothing more brutal than seeing someone carve a body up. So where are we able to prepare soldiers psychologically, to be confronted on a battle field, you can do everything under equity, workplace health and safety, you name it, the Commonwealth does it, yet there’s nothing there that psychologically prepares a young soldier, he can be the best soldier in the world, and suddenly his best friend, is laying, dismantled
on the ground, in the most horrible fashion. How do you prepare the young soldier for that. I don’t know how we did it, I can remember some of the things we did. We’re not allowed to do those things now. There was a lot of yelling, bashing, jumping up and down and continually pushing you to the limit. Nowadays, we’re not allowed to do that. We’ve gone full circle, we’ve got to be really aware of issues we don’t want to break the
body before we get it there. And that becomes a double edged knife. For all of us.
“Don’t worry about it.” And they waved to the soldiers like this, and then calmly, this Rwandan, just pulled this woman aside, pushed the barrel of the gun in her face and pulled the trigger. Now if you’re a young soldier, not – being directed, “Do not respond. Do not respond.” This guy came home as an emotional basket case. Didn’t fire a bullet, was told not to fire a bullet, stood there with his hands tied, for want of a better word. There’s no way you could prepare him for that. And of course
he was not, and he’s a – he’s something that the Commonwealth is going to have to look after for the rest of his life. So you – I believe that you should prepare people more. They’re not being prepared. That’s an example to me, of – I mean, we went over there and you, we call it, “up-down training.” Area 17 at Ingleburn, every soldier went through reinforcement wing would know it, Area 17, every day for
four weeks, you’d get out there, they have contact front, contact rear, contact front, contact rear, up, down, up down, up down. Till you had knees were red raw and you’re worn out and you’d be sitting there going, “If I have one more contact, I’m going to scream. I’ve had this, I’m over this.” Yet, soon as you went to Vietnam, and someone fired that first round, 20 minutes later, you’re sitting there going, “Jeez, I’m alright.” You did it responsively, you did it automatically. All that up-down training.
It was mind defeating, it was boring, it was hard, yet it worked, because you acted instinctively and we’re not doing that. People are being allowed to, let me make a conscious decision, let me look at this from that point of view or your point of view. So I can look at it. And it’s dangerous, you cannot do it. War is not a thing that you can push into a round hold or a square hold as
you think. I think someone said that once the first shot is fired, the textbook goes over the shoulder. And that’s the way it is. So we try to fit all of these wonderful ideas together so that when the time comes we can go to the parents, the next of kins and say, “We have done everything humanly possible to prepare this person for service in a
hostile environment.” And we’ve done it by the book, trouble is, I don’t believe it’s good enough. So I remember my own experiences, and I went to Timor and I saw the guys there, what they were doing and we were very lucky because, we didn’t have it as probably as bad as what they’re having now in Iraq and so we’re learning, so the guys that are in Iraq now have got a lot of good experience
from Timor, so that we’re not as novice, we’ve seen some hardships. That would have been condensed down into four weeks of Area 17 for me, but these guys have gone through a process over the last say, three years, and they’ve had a lot of practical experience, hard work, so there’s no illusions as to where they’re going and what’s going to come at them. And we’ve been very lucky so far. Very lucky.
Going back to my time, it would have been probably a big adventure, every time someone said, “Oh, you’re going somewhere.” It was probably from a western suburbs point of view, I left and all my peer group, same age – 18, 17, 18, got girls pregnant
shotgun weddings, it was all the rage. And I left. When I come back, they’d say, “What are you doing?” I’d say, “Oh, I’m off to do this, off.” You know it was just like a boy’s own big adventure and so forth and, “What are you doing?” “Oh, got to go home, look after the kids.” We didn’t – we parted, I mean I’ve never been back – the friends that I’ve kept all these years are the army friends, the friends from school years and so forth, we all went our separate ways and never went
back. Went back to a reunion some years back and it was like we were two different people, or two – an alien world. They had their own conversations, talking about what they were doing and so forth and I might as well have spoken another language. It was very, very different. We – bunch of guys, I went - I probably had the – until the first patrol in Vietnam I was on my
favourite boy’s own adventure, you couldn’t have asked for a better time. We left in April of ’67 and we were – 17 of us, and in those days, you flew from Sydney on a normal London Qantas flight, to Manila and then you went from Manila to Clarke Air Force Base. So that’s about 60 kilometres north of Manila. And you joined the big
military assistance command, lift into Saigon. So we get to Manila and we had a great time, about 17 of us, all in greens, young and silly. And the bus broke down, on the way to – had a flat tyre. So the embassy guy who was looking after us said, “I’ll go and find a spare bus, you guys stay here and behave yourselves.” “Yeah, okay.” So, off they went and they came back a little while later and he come back with a local Filipino bus.
And there were six bus drivers, and he had two Filipino constabulary guards. These guys are immaculately dressed. We thought, “Oh this is very interesting,” so this – these six bus drivers all sat, you know, family owned business, we all thought that, ‘cause, naïve, just out of Australia, 17, impressionable. So we went to get in the bus and it took off down this road, so now we’re roaring down this road and we see the ambulances coming the other way and as these ambulances went past, they were those
jeep ambulances with stretchers, here’s all these bodies laying in them and hanging out and covered in blood. And I’m going, “Jeez, I just left Australia, this is.” No concept of war. It was just boy’s own adventure, sort of thing. Then we made a turn down this dark side street across a bridge and we said, “Oh, where are we going now?” And next thing you know, this constabulary officer’s got this nice big shiny ‘45 and he’s got it in the back of this bus driver’s head with the hammer back, saying, “Stop.” And the
young constabulary guy, he jumps out with his carbine and he’s – they backed this bus up and we’re going, “What the hell is going on here?” They drove us back onto the main drag to the constabulary’s station and it turns out these guys were what they call, Hucks, communist guerrillas. And they were going to hijack us on the way to Clarke’s. They say, “We’re going to have to leave you here.” So they found this place again, remember we’re 17, 18 year old impressionable types, found this little
bar and it had one of those old Coca Cola machines, chest tops, and it had this whole walls were filled with pornographic wood carvings. And there was two bedrooms and four girls and they guy said, “Right, get in there, you lot.” And had those big old concertina – you know like the old railways, the gates. He locked us in there, with the four girls put the constabulary guard and he said,
“You’re not to leave the building. I will be back.” We had the most memorable – embassy picked up the bill for it. We were all drunk, had a great time, first time out of Australia and it was – there was – and if you bump into any of these guys, they’ll tell you the same story, it’s – we had a marvellous time. We spent seven days in Clarke, waiting for a – to get a space on a plane, but that was the best part of it. And then
seven days later I said – we flew into Saigon and then joined the war. That was our first experience outside Australia. Young 17, 18 year old. Had a marvellous time. We thought, “Well this is what the army’s all about. Hey, I’ll sign on for longer.” So we – impressionable, then we – I joined the 2nd Battalion. When I got there, everyone goes through on a reinforcement status, you go through the reinforcement unit, and you spend time there doing, you know
in country training and they show you how to do things and how not to do things. And they – one of the most silly things I’ve ever seen and I – to this day I don’t know why they did it, they would take a detonator, and they said, “These things are dangerous. Please do not carry them in your backpacks, please do not connect them to – if you’re – there’s lightning around.” They give the whole safety thing. And they’d stick one in a chicken, a dead, a frozen chicken. And blow
it up and it’d just open the chicken up like this. He said, “Now that’s how dangerous it is.” “Oh okay, that’s – they’re pretty dangerous.” Soon as you get out in battalion on patrols, “Oh John, you’re carrying the FI, fuse instantaneous.” Here’s all these det cords and you’ve got about three kilos of explosives on your back you know. There’s lightning striking everywhere and I’m going, “Why do we do that lesson when they do this over the road here?” It made no sense. But we did that sort of thing. 2 Battalion had a,
they’d just come from Terendak in Malaya, they’d spent two years on counter terrorist operations, went back to Australia for a year in ’66 and then early part of ’67 they were in Vietnam So you had all us reinforcements who for want of a better – Johnnie come latelies and all the original hands. We had a very good bunch because most of the platoon commanders were
good hands, from Malaya, we had two platoon sergeants that dropped at Arnhem, during the Second World War, Korean veterans, Malaya, Borneo and us young blokes. So we had an absolute unbelievable wealth of experience to fall back on or be guided if you like. So when the platoon sergeant said, “Do this.” It was, “Oh, can I discuss that with you?” Just didn’t happen, it was,
and you had an unbelievable faith in the leadership of those days. I mean, they had their idiosyncrasies, we had Lieutenant Ed, he was a very nice guy and platoon commander, went on to be a full colonel. But he couldn’t read a map if his life depended on it. And you’d always tell his platoon without seeing him. Cause every member of the platoon
had a map. Making sure they, if he was going to get lost, they knew where they were. He was just a walking cluster with a map. You know, he passed everything except map reading. He was just hopeless. And here’s a guy, you know, full colonel and he’s got the map there and the compass, you can just imagine the scene. Platoon commander with his map out and he’s got his compass hanging around his neck and he’s looking around like this and every person in his platoon
knows exactly where they are. Cause, they’ve all, know where they are. And he was just a – you see on the radios, you know, whatever his call sign was, you know, “Call sign, 4-2, where are you?” And he’d, talking to the CO, “Niner this is 4-2, I’m at coordinates,” and he’d give the reference and niner said, “4-2 this is niner, throw smoke.” And he’d throw smoke and he’d go
“4-2, this is niner, you are not there, you are here.” And he’d give him the reference, lost again. It was just – they were the sort of people that you dealt with. I don’t think in my time, and I was with Charlie Company, we had two platoon commanders, one platoon sergeant and we had two company commanders and a – one CSM [Company Sergeant Major], CSM
actually just passed away. The salt of the earth. Montiff was a gentleman as a company commander any man would have done anything for him. The next one, Major Williams, Princess Williams, he took us into Coburg and – eaaghh. Fairly ordinary. But the CSM, James he was a brilliant man. He sort of interfaced if you like,
between the strengths and weaknesses of his company commander and the strengths and weaknesses of his company. So that any given time, day or night, you always got the maximum effort and the best out of every person there, so that on the day, when the job was done, it was not, Jonesy or Montiff or Humphries or anything like that, it was C Company does it again. The total package. And that’s a lot of things that are missing nowadays.
We have a lot of individuals that do well, because they’re picking up some of the older skills but it’s not right across the board, which it should be. But that was 2RAR [Royal Australian Regiment], that was –they were a good bunch. And the sad part about that is I think that because that was ’67, ’68, I got medivaced [Medical Evacuation] in January when Coburg started with – which was really disheartening for me, the
tag on the thing said, you know, there’s guys laying there and they’ve got bullet holes in them and bombs on their legs and they bring me on board and they look at it and it goes, “Chronic diarrhoea.” And you know, it was really heartening and we get to – we left Vung Tau and overnighted in Butterworth in Malaya and when we were there, Gough Whitlam and – turned up on one of those visits that he was leader of the opposition. And of course I’m laying in the bed and it’s,
“Oh, what’s wrong with you?” “I got blown up.” “I got shot at the battle of so and so.” “What’s wrong..?” “Chronic diarrhoea.” And I’m going, “Thanks.” You know. I got picked up a thing called strongylosis. And I was eleven stone, at that time. And in three weeks I went to six stone, four pound. They had me on intravenous, they raced me back home, didn’t know what it was, until they found it. Only now, where I work, would you believe,
at the Malaria Institute, the Veterans Affairs has decided to do a study on all the Vietnam veterans who had strongylosis. All 562 of us. Because there’s now – they reckon there’s now some sort of a long term side effect. I said, “That’s good, what is it?” I’m barely bloody ten stone now. I lost all that baby fat for good. So they’re doing a study on it now, so you learn something new every time,
I recovered very quickly in – and I come out of hospital, went back to reinforcement wing, and silly thing I did over in the – in Vietnam. We were on a thing called the horseshoe. And it was dry. No beer. It was defensive position and one of the guys, our section commander, Skid Rowe, says, “Let’s go back to Nui Dat
and have a night on the grog.” And we said, “How do you do that?” He said, “You volunteer.” “Volunteer for what?” He said, “They’re doing SAS [Special Air Service] selection.” And I says, “So how do you work that?” He said, “We go back today, tomorrow morning we have the selection day, to go for the interviews, that sort of stuff, that night on the booze, the following morning, back to the horseshoe. So we get two nights.” And we all thought, gee that’s a good idea. “But what if we – we don’t want to go to S..”
“Don’t worry, just say a lot of rubbish, you know and they’ll just cross you out.” So we all went in there, said, “We’re going to volunteer.” Put our hands up. Gets in for the interviews and they had the OC [Officer Commanding] of the squadron in Vietnam at the time, some other brigade officer and a psyche guy. And we all got interviewed and we – “Oh yeah, I want to get out there, I want to kill people, I want to do this, I want ra-ra tear things, leap over hills and jump out of planes.” “Yeah, that should have fixed that, I won’t get there.”
Had two good nights, went back. Got back to Australia and went to the reinforcements wing and I said, “What’s on?” “Oh you’ve got a cadre course to go to, over at the west. You’ve been selected for SAS.” And they’re going, “What?” And here we are, all six of us, so how’d this work? How do we get out of this? We got picked. It backfired on us. So we did the cadre course and I ended up being in base squadron over in the west for two years, where I met my wife for the first time.
And we got bored with that, as you do as a young soldier. Said, “Oh bugger this, I’ll go back to reinforcement wing,” and I hopped on a flight for Vietnam again in ’70. And I joined 8RAR. And they were a pretty good bunch, we had a – at that time then there was a lot of, what’s the word? There was a lot of
incidents. There was people being involved in fraggings, shootings, and so forth. Very untidy. And we had a company commander that was in Delta Company 8RAR that was Major Peck, was a absolute pig. No one liked him at all. And he had a very, he had a simple ethos
about – he said, “Delta Company will travel light, will travel fast, and will hit hard.” And we thought, “Oh great.” So with that in mind, he reduced our rations to one small can of fruit for breakfast, one small can of meat for lunch, one large can of meat for food, no
hexamine or triazine, as they called it for heating purposes and plenty of joopy joos. So – and of course, we – this is no good, we can’t survive like this and he enforced it. So when you’d start a six weeks operation, you’d absolutely load everything down because you knew you weren’t going to get a resupply. So you’d carry six weeks of stuff out there and it was killing you, you know, so. And we had a wonderful company 2IC [Second in Command], big tall guy, Keith Anderson
lovely guy, he’s – I only just met him last Anzac Day, he’s doing very well. He knew what was going and he would actually land – set up Land Rovers to help guys down to the helipads. And the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] used to say, “Why am I having lifting this off? I’ve only got nine guys in the back.” But we were carrying ten guys bloody rations, you know. We were heavily loaded.
work, he was a addict, Bex addict and he’d have in the morning he’d have a cup of coffee, and a Bex powder. Sorry, cup of tea and a Bex powder. Morning tea, he would have a cup of tea and a Bex powder. Lunch he would have a cup of tea, Bex powder and a Sergeant’s pie. That’s what he – and you know, undo the wrapper, pour it down, drink it. That was
unreal lifestyle and you’re sort of growing up with this, going, you know, “You got a headache?” What a silly question to ask, you know. But when it went to mass production they started winding all the people off, getting rid of them, we had people like spindle operators, lave operators, all master tradesmen with years of experience in making quality stuff, and they were being paid top wages at that time, I was on
five pound, five pound a week. And it cost me 21 shillings to travel weekly, from Cabramatta to Redfern. So you get up in the morning, there was no sun up, and you’d come home and there was no sun. And you spent most of your time on the train. Five pound. And then someone said to me, “Why don’t you join one of the services?” I said,
“Why?” “Well, you get 17 pound a fortnight.” I thought, “17 pound! You sure?” Went and checked this out, hey it’s 17 pound, ay? Gee that’s alright. So I went down and applied and they said, “No you can’t join, you’ve failed the medical.” I said, “What’s wrong?” And I still laugh about this, I had a growth, on the back of your spine, there’s the – say that’s the
coccyx there, and I had a little growth above it, which was actually widening itself, going in. Growing in. Forming another hole. So someone, some wag said, “You’ve got twin ports.” So, I said, “Rightio.” So I went to the doctor’s and he said, “It’s easily fixed, it’s a good thing to do because sooner or later it would join up with the canals inside and it would destroy your vertebrae and you could be paralysed.
It’s a good thing to get this fixed.” Because no one has medicals in those days, you’re fit, why do I go to a doctor’s unless I’m crook? So we got that fixed and of course I came out of the surgery in a hospital in Fairfield and – hungry, god I was hungry. And they said, “Oh, you’re on a special diet.” I said, “What’s the diet?” He said, “You can have tripe.” And I said, “Okay, so
what about breakfast?” “Tripe.” Okay let’s try for tea. “What about tea?” “Tripe.” “Nothing else?” “Nothing else. You can have it boiled, you can have it done in a white sauce, and you can have it boiled. How do you like it?” Well I’d never tried tripe and after seven days of tripe, I – you can trust me, I’ll never eat it again. It’d be a bad day in hell before I’d eat –
So having survived seven days of tripe I reckon the army’d be a piece of cake. So I got in the army in – I joined the army 11th February, 1965. And a good bunch of guys we went in with. Most of them are retired now, or all of them are retired now. I’m probably – I’d be the only one still around out of that group, there was a good 40 of us.
That still sort of got a link to the service. But I think plus also there was, there was the mundane travelling, you’d – I mean you’d get on the – get up in the morning, Mum’d make me a bit of breakfast, you know, some ungodly hour of the morning, and I’m not saying you’ve got a good life in the defence force or the army, you know, you - it’s not much better.
But you’d go off to the bus stop, and the same group of people’d be there every day. Five days a week. Year in, year out. And you’d get on the same, you’d go down the railway station where, we’re like sheep. Go down there and you’d stand in your spot, cause at that time of the morning, that’s your spot. And you’d get onto your spot on the train. And all around you would be the same people. And they’d all stand – no one would stand – oh sorry, I’ll move over a bit, you know, they’d
they’d stand in the same spot, and then you’d go to work and no one’d say anything. And we spent the bulk of your travelling life, standing next to people, who only lived two or three houses down the road from you. And you could probably write on your hand what you’ve said in two years. And you go, “There’s got to be something better.” So I gotta take a twink at the world, so to speak, you know this is crazy. So I said,
when the army thing came up, and the money that was a big push, you’re a young bloke going, you know, five pound doesn’t go very far. And especially when your mother sits there and goes, “And I’ll take that pound off you. Thankyou.” And I says – I had big ideas of spending and so forth. Beer was only – a schooner, you could buy a schooner for two shillings, that’s a big pint. Reschs in those days. So we used to drink at the Cabramatta Inn.
And in those days also, there was the – the worker’s pubs were Reschs pubs, Tooths Pubs were the older pubs, and that Johnnie come lately, Millers, they had all the entertainment and girls in mini skirts and all that good stuff and you know and the, course all the other blokes used to drink Millers. Out of necessity. So. They had a pub over at
Bankstown, next to the hospital. And in hindsight I know why it was next to the hospital, it was the Millers Sundowner. And we all used to go over there and have a great old time, bloody, drinking and the pub used to put on shows. And you’d take all the girlfriends along and they’d egg you on – you’d egg the girls on, because they’d have competitions, you know, Miss Lovely Legs and all this sort of stuff. And we were there one night
and they had this stage set up. And a big blind, a roller blind. And they had the Lovely Legs, the most – the – by applause, you know, acclamation. So all these girls got up there and they were asked to sort of hitch their skirts up a little bit and they sort of, they gradually rolled this thing up. Trouble was, there was one little short girl, on one end. And she didn’t realise what she was doing, as the blind was coming up, she was lifting her skirt up, so here’s the girls here at the knees, showing off their legs and she’s got it up there showing off her knickers
and of course the entire audience was going crazy about number seven. And the blokes out there going, “So you’re picking number seven are you?” And everyone’s going, “Yes! Yes!” And then he’d turn round, “Oh no! Put that blind down!” So it was a naïve era then, we had a lot of fun. Fun and games. We had a – I used to go out each night, or a home, and I think I was in the army at the time, we were
at the Millers and we come walking out, and I got run over by a car. Coming out the car park. I was just walking along, we were all laughing and the mate of mine was in front, Povva Ralph was in front of me, and this bloke comes flying out of the car park, picked me up, threw me up into the air, Povva Ralph reckoned he put his hand out like that and my hand touched his hand as I went flying over one side. I landed on me face, all over the place, they picked me up, run me straight across the road and into the
hospital. And you know, put all the stuff on me face. I was – all abrasions most than anything else. And discharged me. So I went home and we had a little house out the back, me and me brother shared. So I just went to bed, didn’t worry about it. And yeah, that was Saturday night, so Sunday morning, my dear old Mum, makes up a plate of scrambled eggs and bloody fried tomatoes and toast and coffee
comes up to her two sons to give them. And I’m laying down, face down and she comes in, kicks the bed and says, “Righto you two, here’s your breakfast.” And of course I rolled over and she took one look at me and went, screaming. So Dad comes running up and – “What the hell’s going on? What have you been doing?” He said. “What? What’s wrong?” And I – it didn’t click, had all these bloody scabs all over the face from where I’d landed on me face, on me head and that there. And I’m going, “Ooh, yeah, a
bit of an accident last night.” And we spent the next 20 minutes scraping all this rubbish off the bloody ceiling of the bedroom. But yeah, it was a good life, as I say. A good life.
in hindsight they probably – from a military point of view, they would have preferred to see me get a trade, do something on a basis where- and they come from a school where, “My son lives here, my daughter lives there, and so forth.” So that they’re all in a little area. You think about – I go back to my grandparents, my great grandparents, sorry, my parents, my grandparents, my great grandparents,
and my great great grandparents. Now all of them would have travelled, no more than twenty kilometres from where they were born and all their family, very few of the family, apart from my father, moved, never left New South Wales, to start with. Go out of Sydney? No. Never heard of it. Why? And so they were all, you know. And when Mum moved to – Mum and Dad moved to Cabramatta – “What the hell are you living out there for?
Out in the sticks?” Because that was the mentality of the – of the time. So when I said, “Oh I might join the army and go roaming.” And so forth. But they put up with it. Said, “Oh can’t stop you.” You know, “Go with our blessing.” But it’s – you look at people nowadays, I mean, my kids – Samantha was born in Perth, Rebecca was born in Brisbane,
and Kirsty was born in Canberra. And they think nothing of it and they’ve been backwards and forwards for education departments, nowadays of course, we’re all becoming more conscious of it because you’ve got public servants, you’ve got big companies and so forth that are moving families all the time. So they’ve gotta structure the education system to suit those needs. I mean, most education systems use
the Mount Gravatt system. And you would think, well that’s good. The drama with that is, they employ the Mount Gravatt system at different levels. An example is, when we moved to Sydney on one of the postings. Let’s see, Samantha stood still, Rebecca went ahead a year, and Kirsty went back a year into the New South Wales, that’s how they worked.
And where Rebecca went forward, they said, “Okay, we’re doing XYZ.” And she, “I don’t know how to do that.” Because what they did was, they did the year before, and she’d missed that year before. That’s the applications that’s a real issue with all the people that move their families all the time. Because the state education systems don’t cater to that. And in the old days, of course it was, you know, reading and writing, the three As, it was not a great deal, but nowadays,
it is an issue. So we were lucky in a sense, so you go to school and there was no dramas about, “You’ve only got thongs?” “Yeah.” I’ve got some wonderful photos somewhere of here in Queensland, I love Queensland, I’m born in Sydney as I said, but I love Queensland, I’m Queensland by choice. Rebecca, little Somerset Hill School uniform and about five of them standing there. Rebecca’s got one thong on
she’s only about six. And the rest of them have all got thongs so they’re all standing there and it looks like, it’s all sort of mugs line up. The kids all lined up there. And it’s just that, you could only take this photograph in Queensland. Because they’re all there with one thong on, and, “Where’s the other thong?” “I don’t know Dad.” Didn’t know where the other thong was, but she wasn’t going to lose that one. But – I mean, that was the beauty of, as I said before, you know that trying to capture what I had as a kid and
give it to my kids so they could understand what I’m saying. You dwell too much on the bad stuff. I said before, you know, the – all the guys that are writing books on Vietnam and that sort of thing. A mate of mine bought one for me. He said, “Oh here’s a book I bought for you.” “Oh thanks.” I read about five pages I think. And become very depressed. Because this guy was obviously getting rid of his ghosts and devils and
so forth and it was just about the worst 12 months of his life. And I looked at him going; there was photographs in there, that just showed him with serious issues. And I – I’m not putting people down, I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen, but I have a friend who spent three years in the armed forces,
12 months in Vietnam. The last 30 years, he’s a fairly senior fire fighting officer with the Queensland Fire Service. Got a wealth of tales to talk about. Yet he’s only focussed on one 12 month period. I said, “What about the fire service?” “That’s where I work.” I mean, you’ve got a wealth of
service there, but he’s – all he can – he’s focussed on this thing here, this – and it’s a negative focus. Not a positive focus. It just amazes me that people can not move past that 12 months, you know it’s a - it’s something that really – they do a – what do they call it? Mind slipping, I must be getting old.
Vietnam veterans counselling, they do a born again, rebirthing process. Guys with post traumatic stress syndrome, lah-di-dah, so forth and they take them out there and they take the wives with them and they have a little bit of a weekend together where they come to terms with their ghosts and so forth and then the very next day, the Monday, they take them in to Enoggera, at the Royal Australia Regiment Memorial and they bury their ghosts symbolically.
Then they walk around the camp and so forth and get over issues and so forth. Trouble is, I’ve seen a couple of these guys but they’re no more crazier than me. And they don’t – what they’ve done is, they’ve gone to this thing and they’ve suddenly taken on board, what’s been told to them. I’m lucky, in a sense that, I’ve had family interaction, contacts and
probably as I said before, the preparation, psychological preparation has made my irreverence I suppose to what went on and psychologically I really thank my family for whatever they’ve done. I mean, I don’t have – what is it? Nightmares, I don’t have issues, problems, so forth. And I
look at it and I say, I look at guys and I think, “You’ve got a wonderful family, you have everything going for you, job and so forth. Why do you need to go and do that?” And the way to do it, is – I’m an operations person, I work in operations. And from an administrative point of view, you put your life in a four drawer filing cabinet. Right. And you’re in charge.
It’s your four drawer filing cabinet, no one else’s. Pull the top drawer open, you’re in control, it’s all the good things. Hence the top shelf. Opens and closes, things come in and go out. It’s all the good stuff. Second shelf, comes out, you’ve got other stuff in there – there’s memories, there’s – it’s all there. Right down the very bottom one, everything bad that happened in your life. When I got run over by a car, you seen mates get killed, see bad things. You
put them in there. They’re not going to go away. They’re there forever. The difference between a person I believe, in managing, staying in tune with life, is how he manages that bottom drawer. If it pops open every now and then, fine, just close it, get on with life. But most people let that bottom drawer open and then start digging around in it, pulling it all out. It’s not going to go away, no matter how hard you try,
what has been done, is there forever. It’s how you manage it is the secret, I believe. So, to me, life is a four drawer filing cabinet.
over. And then you see, “Saving Private Ryan,” and I’m going, “ooh, oh, that’s real.” Yeah, I mean that’s – yeah, the special effects now, have put a different perspective on a war movie. There’s no two ways about it. I mean, I could seriously have – I could sit there and I watched “Saving Private Ryan,” with a mate, the first time it came out, and I said to him, “This is not a movie I’d go to watch and enjoy.
It is not what I would call – this is work. It’s too close to the truth.” Not the storyline, I mean the way they did it. I mean the graphics on it, I’m going, “Whoo!” It was scary for me. I looked at it, I said, “Nah.” I’ll go back to John Wayne. You know, I know his hat’s not going to fall off in a fight. I mean that sounds silly– but I go to movies for entertainment, a bit of historical data
but mainly for escapism, that’s all a movie is about. But when you look at what they do. I give all credit where credit’s due. “Saving Private Ryan,” the historical data, what’s the other one, my kids brought me “Band of Brothers.” The work that was put into those, was absolutely unbelievable and it’s probably good because people go out there now, and
in concert with what I’m saying to my daughters, they look at that and I say to them, “That’s real.” Knowing full well that it’s a movie but the point is, that is as close as you’re going to get to the real thing. And that’s very scary. So probably it is a good thing that the way they’ve done war movies now there’s, it’s a good let-off valve, release valve, pressure valve. To show people that war is not nice.
It’s a very untidy way of settling a disagreement. You can’t settle an issue because if you look at this country, we fought a very bloody battle with the Turks, and it took us 50 years to sort of talk to each other, let alone become you know, I mean Australians can go to Turkey and have no real great issues and are welcomed as a
visiting country. That took a long time. You know you can get that same issue with the Japanese at the moment. Too many bad memories. You don’t get that sort of issue with the Germans. There’s a lot of bad memories, the older generation, that era of people. So when you have a war or you have an issue where it’s done and in my case I – the Vietnamese at the present moment we have a
six and half million dollar exchange program with the Vietnamese defence force at the present moment over the next five years. And in that we are directly exchanging with the Democratic People’s Republic of Vietnam’s military hospital 108 in Hanoi, their ebola virus people, for our ebola virus people. And they’re all young people, most of them are born mid- 70s, you know, so the war was just ending.
So the American war is not a high agenda on them. But just above these people, you’ve got the old guard. So when you go there and say, “Right we’re going to help you with your malaria problems and so forth.” You’re suddenly confronted with this paranoia from the old guard saying – and we’re one of the few countries in the world, that has a military exchange program with the Vietnamese. There’s only two others. So you’ve got this old guard, so
Timor is the same thing. Human nature. One side wants to go with Indonesia, one side wants to be Timorese. They both had a stance, run an election, and then butchered each other. And you say, “Rightio, well we’ll – let’s bury the hatchet so to speak and get on with life.” No. The scariest thing I ever saw. They’d bring the refugees in from
West Timor, to Dili, once every 14 – every fortnight. The UN [United Nations] refugee boat from WHO [World Health Organisation] would come in. And they’d load the people, process them through the building and them put them on buses that take them out to various camps where they’d assimilate them back into the population. But as soon as those buses went into the main street of Dili outside the port, all the locals would rush over there and be glaring through the windows and you could see these people, actually looking
for someone. Not, “Oh, yeah, welcome back.” Uh- uh. Just making sure there was no one there, that had a stance on the other side. Because they would be dead. And it’s – the place up at Manatutu where the Filipinos were, I used to look after the Filipinos. When the elections went and they had –as every town in Timor, has this beautiful big hill in the centre, and it’s got the
bit statue of the Lady of the Rosary holding hands out like that. And one side of the town totally destroyed, that was pro-Indonesia, so the other side was totally destroyed, by you know, tit for tat. And then they turned on everything Indonesian and destroyed all the infrastructure and the only thing they didn’t destroy was the church and the Lady. No on either side, touched that and every
town in Timor is the same. Destroyed everything. Except the church and the bloody statue. Everything else went. And those two sides of the camp, you’d go – drive up the road and all the rice paddies are out there being fertilised – cultivated and the rice is growing, raining and so forth and every now and then you’ll come across a couple of patches where there’s a tree growing out and the people that live there, are pro-Indonesian and they haven’t come back.
And no one’ll touch their ground. So it’ll take a long time for the hatchet to be buried there. Human nature. And I – to me, we’ve – as I say, war doesn’t resolve an issue because you won, at the last battle or the last score taking, or whatever, because then you’ve got to wait for generations to got through the process of dying out for want of a better word and for young people to come and grow up and say,
“Hey, this is not too bad. Haven’t had a shot fired.” Think of how long it’s going to take Iraq, for people to gradually die and it ain’t going to happen over night. It didn’t happen overnight in a lot of places. It’s just a gradual process. So war is not the answer, obviously.
One of the things that really got me was the safety record that you’re brought up with our own air force and the travelling public so when we did our first lift in 2RAR with American helicopters, you’re flying along and we’re all hovering along and you’re sort of wound up in the activity of the moment so you’re not
paying attention to your immediate surroundings, you’re looking a bit further out because we used to travel on skids. You put your feet on a skid there, you’d have your weapon across your lap, pack on your back and you’d be travelling and you do silly things. You wave to the guys in the next helicopter and they’d wave back. You’d then you’d suddenly say “We’re going in are we?” because normally when you start banking to go in to a LZ [Landing Zone] you’d get a tap on your shoulder, you know, thumbs up, get ready
but there was nothing. And I’m looking around. They’re all still up there and we’re by ourselves. As we got out of, we were in the centre flight as we dropped out like that there was no sound. The motor had stopped and we’re just auto-ing down. The next you know the big negro bloody door gunner, load master reached across, huge big hand, grabbed you by the scruff of the neck
and you’ve got great big pack on and you’ve got your weapon and you’ve got all this paraphernalia hanging over you, you weigh twice your body weight and he just goes – and bundles it all up in the centre of the floor. We hit the middle of this road, bang, bounced. They don’t have wheels; you’ve just got a pair of skids. I’ve seen photographs later on, the skids actually bent right out and they make it bounce a bit.
But your backside is sitting on a metal floor, it doesn’t bounce that well. But we landed all right, it just auto-gyroed straight down. We’re all going, “So what do we do now?” throw us all out. Working with the yanks was an issue. You get used to them. They become very efficient getting in and getting out of LZs. Anyone that’s operated on their flights will tell you that. They’ll come in
to a small LZ and they’ll land four helicopters on the one area. Hit and by the time the momentum is banking up like that, you’ve gotta be out, go, goodbye. So we load into the chopper. I’ve got the gun on me lap and I’m sitting in the centre and when the plane lands, the first two guys, they get out and then you’ve gotta
drag yourself backwards because you can’t crawl because you’ve got the pack dragging you and you’re going like this. It hit, those two guys are gone and as the chopper’s lifting along like that, it’s getting up high, this big negro load master says, “Sorry boy, you’re too slow”. He just grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and the back of my pack and I went straight out the door like that. We’re about thirty feet in the bloody air, couldn’t flap my wings or anything.
Just went into the long grass, you know, crash. By the time I turned around they were history, gone. I learnt after that, be very, very quick otherwise he’ll just pick you up and throw you out because he’s not takin’ you back. They were a fascinating organisation to work with though. 2RAR had a lot of big lifts, operation Santa Fe
I think we lifted four rifle companies in one hit off a road. There’s some memorable photographs – 7RAR was on one side and two was on the other side. We just lifted off. It would have taken every helicopter in Australia at the time to lift probably half a battalion let alone we lifted two battalions off a road in one hit. It’s an awesome
insight into the sheer size of the air power in helicopters. We sit there goin, “Oh, look at this, helicopters all over the place”. Actually one of the first tasks we got there was road guarding duty and we set up just outside Nui Dat right up to almost to Bien Hoa in the northern part of the province and
a unit from the eleventh armoured cavalry regiment was being moved from Germany to Vietnam and of course they turned up and there were all this huge amount of bloody armoured vehicles just being driven up the road. We were just standing, watching them drive past just mile after mile after mile, a whole cavalry regiment. It took a day and a bit to pass. As they went up we actually rotated right up to the very end. We watched them setting up their big camp, they had a
massive complex they had set up and they had big fires going. I said, “What are you burning all this stuff for?” and they had come out of Germany with all their cold weather stuff and they had woollen liners, pure wool liners for those olive green coats, thermal sleeping bags and they’re setting fire to them and we’re going, “What are you doing? Don’t do that” so all of us are grabbing. We all realised our mistake because
within a matter of weeks the stuff would have turned mildewy and we had to burn it anyway. But it was just, we looked at this stuff, it was priceless. You couldn’t get that stuff it was for the northern European winters. And these guys that had come with them had said, “That’s it” and they were just burning it all and it was just, made you cry when you looked at it and you couldn’t get it, they were burning it. It was an insight into their, the logistic system that they had was unbelievable.
2RAR had some interesting, we had two companies with us, whisky and victor. They were New Zealanders, they were the New Zealand government’s contribution to the Vietnam effort. They had a very unusual way of doing things. When it come to drinking and you had a shout the Australian,
“Do you want a beer? So I’ll buy you a beer and you’ll buy me a beer”. But with the Kiwis it was “I’ll buy you a case of beer and you’ll buy me a case of beer”. The simple arithmetic, I used to go under very quickly. You know, buy them one case, you get halfway through your case and you’re dead. They were a good bunch but. We had a Kiwi officer in charge of the reinforcement platoon,
the reinforcement unit. In actual fact it’s little know, the largest Australian unit to serve in Vietnam, the largest Australian unit was also the smallest and that’s the Australian Reinforcement Unit, 1ARU because all the reinforcements that passed through it were all posted to the ARU unit so over a period of time you probably had about ten thousand people in it
and when you look at the Vietnam Remembered book and you go through all the battalions and regiments and so forth when it comes to the ARU it’s the largest one. So everyone that went through ARU as a reinforcement was posted to that unit first so it’s the largest unit. Statistically it was. That was 2RAR ’67. 2 Defensive. Lost a couple of good friends. They
really, you really think about the waste when, I seen we had Graham Norly was a section commander, the section next to us and he got shot on covert, killed. The company medic went out to tend to him and we at the time said, “No, you stay
down,” but a medic just kept on going and when he up over him to check him, he got shot and died. So we lost two guys that were an integral part of the organisation. I often think there’s a way, how do you remember him. You meet a guy, you know him for about six weeks
or you know him for six years or six months and then he’s gone. He’s a good bloke, a nice fella, a drinking mate, help you out, lend the shirt off your back sort of thing. How do you continually remember him? There’s a lot of memorials around that attempt to do that. But they’re always located in the wrong place and up until it would have been third year of,
from the Vietnam point of view before they started bringing the bodies home and they’re buried in a lot of nondescript places, the guys are. Little country ceremonies and so forth, cemeteries. A guy in 3RAR came up with a concept for the Royal Australian Regiment Memorial and at the time I didn’t understand it, I said “Why?” What he did was, we’ve got this pathway that weaves through all the conflicts from the British Commonwealth force occupation
of Japan up until the Gulf War. Wherever Royal Australian Regiment soldiers have been involved and every soldier who died overseas in conflict has got a little brass plaque, regiment, unit, day and where he died and as you walk through this thing it’s like a history lesson. Anyway I didn’t understand, I said “Yeah it’s alright, it’s very interesting.” You’ve got a plaque in Canberra where the names are all on the bloody
list and so forth. The day we had the official unveiling by the Governor General, about three years ago, ceremony was over and I was just walking around taking some photographs as you do and up in the carillon part of it, there’s this little old grey haired lady and a gentleman about the same age absolutely bawling their eyes out. I thought, “Oh geez.
There’s no one buried here. What’s triggered this?” The bloke looked up and said “Oh, I’m sorry” and I said, “Oh no. I didn’t mean to intrude” and I said, “Why?” He said, “Our brother is buried in Korea. We have never seen him since the day he left or his grave”. He said, “At least
now we’ve got somewhere where we can connect with him.” Then I understand what they’re trying to do with that. It’s a great idea. There’s no body there and you’re not part of a big wall. Individuals can walk over there to whoever it is, and I know that person, there he is. Very personal without having a body there. A guy from 3RAR thought it up.
There’s twelve hundred Australian native trees with these individual plaques scattered and there’s about fifteen hundred names all scattered amongst it. That’s in Enoggera. Quite an interesting thing to have a look at it. It’s just one of those, we have memorials, we have last post, we have Anzac Day and
sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I think where a person is able to be personable with an individual. I feel sorry, we had, all of us went across on the second tour, there was a good thirty of us bunch of guys went together. We done the ARU as you do and then we went to 8RAR and then
8RAR was going home. We still had time to do so they transferred us across to 7RAR, all the reinforcements and we arrived at the bloody main gate and then we got divvied up into all the companies and so forth and off we went. About, we did, would have given us thirteen months in country. In the last four weeks two guys got killed. Ray Patten and Eric Halkiar. Eric was a big strapping Welshman, Welsh guardsmen
from the British Army. Done the boy’s own thing, got out of the Welsh guards. He always had a photograph of him in his big red suit and bearskin cap. He was a good soldier he was, very good soldier. He came out, joined Australian Army to go to Vietnam. Ray Patten was from in Coonabarabran in New South Wales, country boy. They were in, I think it was A company 7RAR.
A contact came up and when the firing was over Ray had wore a RPG [Rocket Propelled Grenade] round the side of his head. This side of the head was gone and we had to go down and recognise the body. If you’re talking about distasteful things, trying to recognise based on his dog tags and you’ve got to actually do a physical recognition. I’m looking and I’m saying, “Yeah, that’s Ray alright” but every time, something that sticks in your mind, every time you go there to the RAR memorial
on Remembrance Day and Anzac Day there’s always a poppy on his and Eric’s. I often think, you know, he was an only son and I’ve often wondered what his family thinks, all those miles away in Wales, he’s buried here in this country in Sydney. We sent the flag home, the
Australian flag with a little name plaque on it after the welcome home parade. It seems insignificant, you know, for an only son. But that’s what he chose to do. He was a soldier, a Welsh guardsman and then he joined us and was unlucky in the sense he was killed. It’s to put Anzac Day probably the best way I can explain it, Anzac Day is all about remembering those people
who are not there now. But more importantly and my mate Perc is the best example of this. You can be up to your neck in mud, it’s pouring rain, everything that can possibly go wrong has gone wrong and it’s gonna go worse, it’s gonna go pear shaped in about thirty seconds flat, it’s all bad and Perc will pick something to make a laugh at. So when you go to Anzac Day, Perc,
even though the guys are gone, and they died in the most horrific circumstances, you’ll always remember these guys the way Perc does, in the best of circumstances. There’s always something positive. I know it’s a very weird way of doing it but there is. You can dwell on Ray’s exit where it’s better to dwell on when Ray was alive because he was a wonderful guy and we had a lot of fun together.
Circumstances weren’t ideal but that’s what it was all about. You know, the guys there, Perc has a better grasp.
on my fiftieth birthday for God’s sake and he’s telling a story. He says, “I’ll tell you a story about John”. He gets up there and says, “When we were in Vietnam, pioneers, we didn’t always get our bloody resupplies so to change the monotony we’d change gears with everyone. Rightio, give us your pants. I’ll wear your pants, you can wear my pants and change underwear,” and I’m going, “Don’t tell that joke,” “Trouble is Humphries didn’t wear any underpants so you always
got short changed with him” And I’m going, “Where do you get that from Perc?” He’s got this warped sense of humour, probably to with he’s aboriginal. He’s got this warped sense of humour that works. When he comes around he’s full on and you know, whether you try or not, you can go, “No, I’m not gonna get involved. I will stand back
and be conservative”. Uh-huh, not with Perc around. It’s just like a big whirlpool. He starts and suddenly he just sucks everyone into it. He’s one of these guys that can say, he’ll tell a story, he’ll set the scene for you “Let’s see, it was three o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon. George was wearing a black shirt, Fred was there with his blue shoes on,” he’ll do the whole thing and
you’re not gonna disagree because he might be bloody right. He’s just got that wonderful, he can tell the tale like that without repeating himself. I envy guys like that because they’re the sort of guys that should be able to drag all these photographs together and then add a monologue or a storyline to each of them. I mean we don’t need to write War and Peace but there’s something there we can put together that in later generations.
I mean, this is a great idea, years gone by people can sit down there. I think what I liked about this, what intrigued me with this one was not so much the gung-ho, the warry bits and so forth, that’s fine but from a researchers point of view it’s the, what the person came from. How many times
when people are doing research they say, “Lets see now, what set the fabric of life, what effected these people before they even got involved in this thing or these things”. That’s why I really like what you guys are doing. I thought, “This is a good idea” because if you get a good cross section it’ll be like a microshot of the way of life. People growing up in the Western suburbs
of Sydney, in Perth prior to going to the Vietnam War, the Second World War. It would be amazing if you look at say, ten guys doing what I’m doing now and then ten guys from the Second World War. The difference would be black and white. Then do the same thing with the guys from the Gulf War and all that sort of thing. Because what effect us, me and my forefathers is affecting the guys
that are going to Baghdad now. The guy next door, he’s, Suzie’s son Ashleigh had a talk to me because he was sort of losing the plot a bit, unemployed, left school too early, didn’t want to do anything so had a talk to me. So he joined the army and of all things he’s in two battalion, my old battalion and he didn’t do Timor but he did
the security detachment in Baghdad. He’s come back, pocket full of money, girlfriend, all that sort of thing but he’s a different person than he was six months ago. The difference is so dramatic. Not so much for joining the army, that’s part of it but having gone to a place like Baghdad and then I think the word we use is, we sent young Natalie
Lehman, she’s a laboratory technician. She’s doing her degree part time to become a scientific officer but she’s got all the qualifications as a laboratory technician of pathology and she’s a corporal. So we’ve suitably dressed her up in a uniform and sent her off to the border on Timor. I said to her, “The only difference between here and there is that you’ve got a live bullet
in the magazine and in the breach.” Now that doesn’t seem like much but you just imagine, okay, pick up a rifle, there’s nothing in it, it’s inert, it will not harm you. As soon as you put a live round that will hurt you and you know it will hurt
you into the magazine then you put it on a weapon, then you cock the weapon and put the safety catch on and you live with that day in, day out and everyone around you does the same thing. It puts an edge on just day to day living. You mightn’t ever use it and I would imagine in the current circumstances up in Timor Nat won’t use it but she’s, when she left here she was suitably nervous. I said,
“Nat, all you’ve got to remember, remember this for ever and a day and if it’s the last thing you do, always check it again, as soon as you pick your weapon up check the safety and always before you’re going to do something with that weapon, check the safety”. So whenever she’s going to carry out something function, because accidental shootings is the worst issue, there’s nothing worse because once it leaves the end of the barrel it’s in charge of itself.
We had an air force sergeant at the hospital in Dili when I was there in 2000. Got distracted, didn’t think, fiddling around with the thing. We were over one side doing something else with the warrant officer and bang, accidental shooting. We flew around the corner expecting the worst because once it leaves the barrel, who knows.
Luckily he was here doing it and ten feet away was a big tree. We come running around behind expecting the worst and he’s going “Oh, oh” Had no argument, it had gone. As we looked up the local Timorese worker for him was just sticking his head out from behind the tree. He was just walking up behind the tree when the thing went off and hit the tree.
They were lucky. You just see these big eyes just peering out from behind this tree. That’s a scary thing. It’s bad enough that you’ve got to go to war but then you add the unwanted pressure of having a loaded weapon. That’s something you’ve got to get used to as soon as you walk in there. When we were in Vietnam, any infantry unit, the pressure. How do you load pressure?
First of all you’ve got an environment where there’s, let’s take the basic common unit, ten guys all of them with a rifle, each of them with sixty rounds per rifle. Give them two hand grenades, put them on there. A phosphorous grenade, very nasty. Put some claymores on your back. I carried a ninety mil recoilless rifle with two rounds, big things. We were walking bombs
and every man next to you is a walking bomb. That’s the ad… can either be an adrenalin rush for the nutcase or it could be an anxiety thing or it can calm you down and make you concentrate and think about what you’re doing. That’s what it should do. To work in an environment that’s not safe, an environment that’s crazy, you’ve got to concentrate and think. That’s what in most cases it does. It does make you
the army there and I came back from Vietnam to there. Everyone came through what they called the eastern command personnel depot. Idyllic setting, the nude beach was down the bottom down there somewhere in those days, “Ooh, nude beach”. We all arrived there in our various civilian attire with our little bags with what we could carry and this very old sergeant in battle dress that was way too big for him, had all these Second World War ribbons on,
Second World War bloody veteran. He took us for a train ride from Central railway station to Wagga over night and my first introduction to NCOs [Non-Commissioned Officers] and he was quite good until someone crossed him and then he jumped on them. Holy smoke, it was just awesome to see this old guy that would have been a very nice, congenial
grandfather for someone had a uniform and then getting angry and his persona would change completely. Coming back to personnel depots and I come back from Vietnam, full of myself, two inches of glory on my chest. Slip on down to the Watsons Bay hotel, Rose Bay hotel, walked in to there,
“I’ll have a beer thank you”, uniform, two inches of glory and old guy sitting on a bar stool next to the bar, walking stick, the country cap on. “In the army, eh?” and I thought, “Here we go, some bloody old fool having a go at me” and I was about to say something like this and this hand came across the bar and pulled me over like that
and this bar maid said, “I’d watch your words” then put me back and I’m going “What’s going on here?” So took the writing, “I’ll just watch this very carefully”. This guy started talking, “Oh, when I was in the army we got extra money for qualifying with the musket” and I thought, “Okay mate.”
and I looked across at the bar maid and the bar maid’s giving me this steely gaze telling me in no uncertain terms, “Button the lip”. I said, “Rightio” and then he says, “Then we got an extra two and sixpence when we qualified with the lance,” and I think this is getting really, pouring this on. “Then we got extra money with the cutlass” and I’m about to say something
and the barmaid stepped across and said, “You won’t say it. Now I’m going to tell you something” ‘cause the old guy then said, “I’ve got to go now, well done soldier, well done,” and he walked off, see, with his walking stick. She then explained to me and showed me this photograph and here’s this guy. He’s got a vest on with a bandolier of rounds across him, he’s got a pith helmet on his head and he’s holding a lance and he’s got a cutlass on the side.
It looked like something out of an Errol Flynn movie except he was a full life member of the British Legion, a full life member of the RSL of Australia and he was with the Bengal Lancers at Queen Victoria’s funeral. So I learnt never ever judge a book by its character and never ever, if an old guy in a pub does that to you, just believe it.
It was my entry to the army through Watsons Bay and my exit from Vietnam through Watsons Bay. If anything, a cultural shock. You come out of a Mum makes breakfast for me, catered to my, “I don’t like that Mum” to if you don’t eat it, you go hungry. After a very short period of time within the defence force you find you’ll eat anything
irrespective of what it looks like or tastes like because at the end of the day there’s no hamburger shop down the corner in the barracks. It’s all you’ve gotta beef up for tomorrow because you if you don’t beef up you’re gonna get left behind. That’s what you do. You go in there and I’d say about the third day, it would have been the third day, we bore no resemblance to the children that our parents had brought up because you’d go in there and whatever they slopped
on your plate you ate and you ate with a vengeance because as soon as you left there they’d run the buggery out of you and you were just burning it up. So you had to. Someone said, “Oh, what was the cooking like?” I really don’t remember whether it was bad or good because really I was just hungry and it’s very scary because in years later we had
an exercise in Shoalwater Bay and I was in charge of a hundred and twenty guys to look after, we were acting the bad guys. The boss said to me, “John, I’ll give you corporal so and so he’s a chef to cook for you. You’ll be on ration packs. Get up there in Shoalwater Bay and play havoc with the good guys.” So I gets up there and this guy turns out to be, he won a gold medal at the culinary Olympics in Germany and
the divisional commander’s wife used to borrow this guy all the time for her soirees, you know, cook all these little gizmos, beautiful. Anyway about four or five days into this activity and I’ve got a rebellion on me hands. “Sarg.” “What’s up?” He said, “Do something about the cooking. If you don’t do something they’re gonna kill him.” I go down there and he’s got a little sign up on the thing there and he’s called the kitchen
train smash junction. If you work with ration packs, the ten manners, they’re just tins. So all he was doing was it was stew for breakfast, stew for tea, stew for lunch, stew, stew, stew and he didn’t change anything. I rang the caterer up and I said, “Catering, you’d better get up here, this is important, this guy doesn’t know how to cook” He said, “What rubbish, gold medal, culinary Olympics”.
He doesn’t know how to do a ration pack. The caterer said, “Oh shit”, rushed up there. Any catering person you talk to will tell you you’ve got to know what to do with a ration pack otherwise it is train smash junction. This guy said, “Look, if you don’t give a bit of variety. I mean a can of bully beef is a can of bully beef and if you’ve got ten cans of bully beef, you’ve got to disguise it
ten different ways otherwise these guys will say why are you giving me bully beef”. So you make fricassees you make sliced stuff and barbecue it, there’s a whole range of ways you can disguise bully beef but you’ve got to know how to do it and this guy didn’t know how to do it. He could cook a beautiful meal in a restaurant but give him a couple of cans of bully beef and he didn’t know what to do. So the caterer came up and taught him how to do it.
That’s a secret to soldiers, you’ve got to be able to. There’s no such thing as a good cook, it’s a talented cook because you’ve got a lot of stuff there that because, I mean, if you’re out in the field you’re eating ration packs. What is it? It’s full of salt to keep up your water dehydration and so forth. You watch the chefs on TV and they’ll, a pinch of salt this and a bit of that. I’d love to take the bloody naked chef out on an activity and say “Rightio, here’s a ten man pack,
see what you can do with that with a pinch of salt sunshine”. That’s what it’s all about, you’ve got to be able to, and not have four ladies or four gentleman back from the polo court, we’ll have ten diggers come in hungry and let them assess you. That’s what it’s all about. You get guys who will walk away from a meal and say “Thanks cookie” That’s great.
They’ll be back. They’ve got to eat. If they say thanks, that’s good. This guy, we were up there five weeks and it wasn’t ‘til probably about the fifth week that it was “You’re doing all right mate” but he was learning. His learning curve was like this.
you’re about to move out the next day to your and you’re wearing a corps badge which is even worse because you’ve been presented with your badge on parade and these other guys are all standing there, they’re only recruits, you’re a private and so full of ourselves, when I think about it. Of course then you add alcohol to the occasion and mix the two together. They’re up there being marched into their various groups to replace you, they’re up there and
we had a thing called Blanko. Before I joined the army if you would have said, “Do you want to use some Blanko?” I would have said, “What the hell’s Blanko?” The first thing you do is you march in, issued all your gear, take that over to your room then you form up again and you go up to your local canteen. At the canteen you got this lady that still gives me nightmares when I think about her at the end of the counter
and she’s got a big cash register there and she’ll say, “Right,” and you had to give her three pounds ten shillings or something and for that you got boot polish, two tins of boot polish, there was polishing cloths, yellow for your brass, there was bottles of Brasso, cleaning cloths for Brasso, polish brushes and then you got these, ever seen those nail brushes,
the old wooden nail brushes, you got two of them and this tin of green powder called Blanko. I’m sitting there and said, “I’ve already got polish, I don’t need the polish.” “No, no, no, you’re not looking at me, you’re taking the whole.” “But I’ve bought polish, I’m smart, I’ve got polish. I’ve got some polishing cloths too.” “No, you’re buying whether you like it or not.” When it got to the Blanko I said, “What the bloody hell’s Blanko?
I don’t know what Blanko is, what’s that for?” I found out. What do you do on weekends in Kapooka in your first few weeks? You’ve got this wonderful set of thirty six pattern webbing. When it’s on a person it looks very good but when it’s all pulled apart it’s just like snakes and ladders, there’s a lot of brass that’s got to be polished and the fabric, the webbing you’ve got to wet and like a salt and pepper shaker you sprinkle Blanko onto it and it turns
to like an olive green and you take this little brush and you spend about forty to fifty minutes scrubbing the Blanko into each one. It’s all wet, then you hang it in the sun to dry. When it’s bone dry you then take your other brush and you dust it off. When it’s all dusted off you then wear it. As soon as you’ve worn it you take it off
and you start the process all over again. As soon as you make a mark on it it marks and you come along, “Did you Blanko that last night?” “Uh, yeah.” “Don’t lie to me. You didn’t Blanko that last night. Okay, extra Blankoing for you.” So when they finally stopped using Blanko I thought, only one company would make it, no other company would make it so some company must have went out of business when someone said we’re not gonna Blanko webbing anymore. You’d Blanko all this rubbish and they had tables out there
that would have had about forty years worth of Blanko powder on it. It was probably an ecological disaster waiting to happen and right next to it when you covered all your beautiful brass up with Blanko you’d sit there with a very fine toothbrush and get around all the edges because you know the platoon sergeant’s gonna come down and look at it and say, he’ll pick something there or he’ll make you undo your belt, take your brass slides off and he’ll look inside them there or they’ll make
you lift your boots up and check under there to see if you’ve polished in there. All these little things, after a little while by about the sixth or seventh week you’re sitting there going, “Where’re you gonna look now?” and without realising it that’s exactly what he’s done. The anal retentive type activities that he’s doing to you, it’s all process, is making you start being proactive with the program and you’re starting to go
“Jeez, have I done that?” Teamwork, where does the teamwork start? Right there. You’ll get dressed in the morning and somebody’ll go, “John, a button.” “Oh, thanks mate, I’ll check you out,” right, bang. You start merging, meshing as a team and you’d pick the ones that had problems where you had social outcasts who wouldn’t merge and what they would try and do is go, “Okay, that group is working well, let’s pull this guy, he’s a bit of a problem, stick him there”
and they’d try and find a group that would do it. They wouldn’t do it the whole idea was to get these people thinking and working as a team. They would never be a team unless they were lucky enough to be posted together but this is the first approach of being part of a team. If they can’t be a team, there’s no such thing as a loner so they’ve got to work as a team. That’s the first attempt, anal retentive stuff obviously but it’s where they can start, ok.
And you can imagine, down in a platoon commander’s office in recruit training he’d be going over your little report cards. You know, he’d go, “Yes, this man’s taking to Blanko polishing quite well. This guy is excelling in boot polish.” It’s all about “yes, they’re merging as a team.” The report cards are not that much better when they come out. We all laugh about it, you know. “Yes, top soldier, senior this.
Most improved.” I hate most improved. Was I that bad? Most improved at Blankoing? It really, when you say I got a prize for being most improved I say, “Oh my God, did you?” bite your lip John, don’t say that. “Oh that’s wonderful, well done.” “I was most improved” from what? It is, it’s where it starts, where the process starts and it never
ever ceases. Fair enough you go from recruit training to corps training. Corps training is where you really start using skills that you never had before. You build on your team skills and you start building the team spirit, the esprit de corps if you like that’s gonna take you into an activity where you’re using stuff that you’re now training with. In my case I went to as a vehicle storeman
and I enjoyed it, it was interesting. I got to drive a lot of trucks.
I have never had any problems with that. As soon as Timor happened I thought, “Okay,” and I was working in the Malaria institute at the time and I was supposed to go on Croc [Crocodile] 2000 no Croc ’99, as an operations for the brigade headquarters and they got me extra days and then suddenly out of nowhere Timor happened, 19th September. Get a phone call, “John.”
“Yes.” “They need an ops sergeant down at DJ.” “What the hell’s a DJ?” And he said, “DJFHQ”, “I’m still asking, what’s a DJFHQ?” He said, “Deployable Joint Force Headquarters.” I said, “I’m a chocko, that’s all full of regular army guys now.” “No, no, they’re gone.” “Oh”. So I gets down there and it’s normally like a hundred and eighty people down there, Cosgrove’s headquarters.
As soon as they got the word they went out of there four hundred miles an hour. There was cups of coffee laying on the side, there was desks all empty, laptops with docking stations. They took all the laptops and left all the docking stations, that’s all gone. Got down there and there was a bunch of reservists. General Moylan came in and took over and he said to me, “If we’ve got to do this again, where normally there’s a hundred and eighty people, I’m going to have to do it with forty.”
So I took over, I was in charge, a sergeant doing a WO [Warrant Officer] one’s job, all air assets for the division. Even though technically the divisional headquarters were deployed it still had a division back here to look after so I said, “Okay, so what am I gonna do?” Get in there and start. I had no idea; I was totally out of my league. Every morning we’d come in there and there was all this
secret stuff and anyway this spook comes up to me and he says, “What are you cleared to?” and I said, “Oh, I think I’m classified to confidential or something.” “Oh, you’re going to be working in secret, top secret, you’ll have to fill this form out.” So I fill this form out, go through this agonising bloody two hour interview and so forth but the thing hadn’t come through. So I’m up there working on this top secret bloody computer thing and the general’s standing there, “How’s it going sarg?” “Not a problem sir. Everything’s working fine”. Spook comes in
and he says, “You can’t work on that. You’re not cleared. You’ll see something you shouldn’t see.” Not a problem, zip, turn it off, feet up. Moylan looks at me and goes, “What are you doing?” “Not cleared sir.” “Bullshit,” special clearance, bang, back in to work, you know, straight away, that flexibility. We had to clean up after them and one of the things we had to clean up was in the process of going from, getting ready to go over
they’d gone through various plans and during those days the army had a corporate image and I was tempted, I was sorely tempted to save some things because it had Cosgrove’s signature over everything. Thirty five bags of classified waste and there was the corporate business plan for East Timor, big red slashes through it, Cosgrove’s signature and then there was the, by the time you got to about the thirty-fourth bag it was the operational deployment plan for East Timor
and you could tell the nights they worked late because there was pizza packs in there and it was all the way through it and we just sat there shredding all this stuff and I’m sitting there going, “I’m tempted, I’m tempted,” could be worth a bit, the signature. We put it together and of course every morning we’d give a brief to the general based on the operational requirements of the night before and as part of the brief I’d get up and I’d say,
“Good morning sir. I’m the J 3 ops. This brief is now classified, all those people not cleared to top secret please leave the room.” Okay, give the brief, “Questions sir? Sir, that concludes my brief. Any movement to Timor for me?” I’d just add that on the end. In the end he says, “Humphries do not say that at the end of the brief.” I said,
“Oh, you’ve got a movement for me?” He said, “Alright you can have a movement”
operations type activity as an operations person was at a battalion level so you’ve got a commanding officer, lieutenant colonel rank and then you’ve got a warrant officer and some other people and basically it’s a battalion level operation. When Timor occurred and they vacated the building and we all went down there, there was myself, as I said before, and four captains, reserve captains and
two ARA majors and then there was a real long gap and the general. So to set the scene we worked on a mercury switch which is top secret. The stardeck as they call it is a closed room with no windows in the central part of deployable joint force headquarters. It has four computers, two restricted
up to secret and then to top secret and everything, every communication that the defence force puts out every twenty four hours, could be anything from a load list for cement going to Timbuktu to the war started today, comes across that desk. So you’ll go home and the switch is always working, rolling over. In the course of a month about four thousand messages will come in so you get to work
about seven thirty and you’ll sit down and you’ll brainstorm. Four captains, the majors, yourself all sit around and we’ll run through all this rubbish, “No, that’s”, you’ll really drastically cull it as you go through it. And you’ll come up with what’s occurred over the night of military value, interest whatever and then you look at the operational point of view. Now at
the same time the general has also got a media watch which he gets in the morning with his breakfast. He also has about eight newspapers and he’ll look through them. We had the misfortune of one major going there one day and he read verbatim out of the media watch, straight off the report and the general said to him and unashamedly said, “You get paid money to give me an assessment. I already know what I’m gonna do but
I want a different point of view. I don’t want you to read verbatim out of a newspaper, tell me what you think. Now get out of here.” So with that in mind, having seen that we have at nine o’clock you get your brief so between seven thirty and nine we have to go through four thousand messages, come up with a briefing plan on the operational and operational requirements for the next twenty four hours and it becomes quite a push to do it. So we do it. Gets in there and you do the brief.
You say, “Rightio, here’s the brief.” And at the same time on the deck you’ve got two speakeasies, and they’re an Australian classified phone. Also have a thing called STU III, S, T, U and Roman numeral three, that’s the American equivalent, so we have a direct link with other people on a safe voice thing. It’s a pain to drive, you pick it up and say, “Do you want me to drive or you drive?” The first time I heard this I’m thinking, “What the hell are you talking about?”
You’ve got to put this thing into various modes to scramble the whole line to wherever you’re talking to. It’ll only talk from speakeasy phone to speakeasy phone, not to a normal phone. Anyway, I got in the habit very early in the piece to open up the brief. If I wasn’t doing the brief I would be pushing the slides on, we’d have the PowerPoint presentations and so forth. At the completion of it if I didn’t have,
if I wasn’t giving it, I’d have on the bottom of the PowerPoint presentation “Powerpoint presentation put together by Sergeant J Humphries,” and a little request on the bottom would be, “When can I go to Timor?” Or if I was doing the presentation I would then ask the general, “When can I go?” The worst part about it was being in that position you would see all the requests come in, someone wanted in Dili headquarters, someone wanted on the border and I’m going, “Hey that’s me, that’s me, I’m going,” and of course he kyboshed the whole thing.
Working up there was, for all of us uninitiated was most amazing because I’d sit there and I had a young female private clerk, reservist, Kylie Eagan, she’s now in the regular army and doing very well, she’s a corporal now. She said, “What do you do? What’s your part in this plot?”
And I said, “I don’t know, I just sit here and look,” and someone said, “Oh you look pretty and don’t do anything.” She explained it to someone and I was listening, “Sarge does sergeant things.” That’s exactly what I’d do, you’d be sitting there and the person would pick the phone up and be rattling away and you’d watch him and you’d catch the captain’s eye, trying to trigger him and he’d look at you and he’d go, “Go away, go away.” So you’d get up, and you’d walk across and try to catch his eye again and he’d brush you off, “What I’m doing is important.”
So you’d reach across and push the phone down, hang up on him. And he’d look at you with this dirty look, “What the hell did you do that for?” “What are you talking about sir?” “I’m talking to Australian Theatre Command about, oh no…” because he’s on an (UNCLEAR)ed phone talking classified information. That was the one big problem because they had two phones in there not speakeasies and of course everyone would be getting into the hype of everything and they’d pick up the phone, start rattling away
and you’d watch them, “Hello”, hang up. It was a common occurrence. One other thing we liked about it, everyone thought we used to bludge up there, they had two big plasma screens on the wall tuned to CNN and ABC. We sit there watching TV all day when the wars weren’t bothering us, everyone said, “Oh, you’ve got a good life up there in the stardeck.” You could only get in there if you wanted,
on a lighter side, stardeck has a bad habit of locking people out. DJ’s has got a pass system. A little pass and you’re classified to go to certain areas. So you wave the pass in front of the little light and it goes click click, in you go, see. Of course during the night time they have a duty officer there. The duty officer’s job is to man the phones, take care of calls. That person, he or she has a duty driver. The duty driver stays
downstairs but times it’ll go and sleep in the barracks and come back in the morning. If you have a little pass hanging round your neck, you never leave that pass behind because every time you go through a door going out it locks you out. On this particular night, young female captain, there’s a shower facility up the top there. It’s about four o’clock in the morning she decides I’ll have my ablutions now ready for the morning. She’s the only one in the building, locked up tighter than Fort Knox.
So she gets her shower, soaps and so forth, puts a towel around her, because, you know, there’s no one in the building, goes off the stardeck, click, into the shower, click and she’s having a shower, she goes to come back out with her towel and little bag with soap in it and so forth and suddenly realises the pass is not around the neck, it’s still in the stardeck and she’s in the corridor just outside the shower. There’s only one place for her to go.
She can’t go back inside the inner rings, she’s got to keep exiting. So she got down to the front desk and she’s sitting there, she couldn’t find the duty driver, she’s got a towel wrapped around her, it’s about four thirty, five o’clock now and she’s there, “What am I going to do?” We had the most fun that morning. We come in and here she is hiding behind the little counter there with a glass partition and a little round where you can pass your pass through to get validated and that sort of stuff and here she is. The general had the most fun
because she’d gone right out and the only place she could go after that was right out of the building and she couldn’t do that. So she had to wait for the first person to come in and that was General Moylan and here she is, here’s his duty officer with just a towel and a bloody soap bag. Never lived it down. She got extras for it but. Never leave that bloody pass card. Every time she went out, just couldn’t get back in. Very bad system.
We used to go down there for, as someone said, to have a rest from the activities. Probably, you take the alcohol away, you don’t have a great deal in Vung Tau. You had the Grand Hotel, the back beach area, Peter Badcoe Club on the second tour the Peter Badcoe Club was there which was quite nice but
apart from that there was, the town was divided into a couple of areas. There was the areas for the Vietnamese, there was the areas for the black Americans, the area for the South Koreans and the Viet Cong and us travelled pretty much all around. We just walked in and out of areas and most people said, “Oh, you’re Australians, aren’t you, okay we understand the problem here,” almost like
we were, you know, can’t help ourselves, we just walk anywhere. The flags area, you’d go in there, the first thing you do when you arrive in Vungers, clean up, hair cut, shower, sauna and then find a feed of chicken on the side path, you know the old mama would have a little carry stick. In one thing she’d have a charcoal grill with chicken wings and legs and in the other one she’d have little footstools. So you’d sit in the
gutter and you’d have a heppo roll, those French style bread rolls. We called them heppo rolls because you had a pretty good chance of catching hepatitis from it, hence the name heppo. So you’d grab one of them, a handful of this chicken, sitting in the gutter. We survived and it was part and parcel of the cultural thing. Once having enough sustenance in the body you would then stumble out of the gutter
into the bar and continue drinking. The old mama would gather up all her goods and chattels and she’d move to the next bar and feed the next group. It was a good package so to speak. Vung Tau was good in the sense. We were Christmas in 7RAR at the time and we were on base duty. Me and a mate of mine, we’d gone over to
fuel engineers area and we’d had, as you would, way too much to drink and we had this idea we would go to Vung Tau. I said, “How are we going to do that?” and he said, “Very simple,” the MPs [Military Police] where we were drinking they had this little rigid frame motorbike they used for scooting around picking bits and pieces up. So we’ll pinched the motor bike, drive through the pearly gates and drive to Vung Tau. Not a problem, we’ll do it.
Both, way too much grog on board. So we got to the pearly gates, it’s a big steel configuration happily named the pearly gates and there was no way in the world, two drunks on a toy trike are gonna bloody get through there. So we threw it in the gutter and we’re walking back along kanga pad which is a big helipad area for major lift offs. Right over near one of the refuelling points is this American helicopter and he’s doing the fuel checks and refuelling and we said, “Bugger this
see where he’s going to.” So we gets over there and we said, “Hey mate, where are you going?” He says, “Oh, we’re going to Bien Hoa” and he said, “Where are you going?”. We said, “We’d like to go to Vung Tau”, “Not a problem, we’ll take you” “Thank you very much”. So we gets in this chopper and as I said, blind. Chopper takes off, away we go, we’re heading out and of course, bloody bugalugs, he’s got a bag of grapes from somewhere; you know the console in between the pilot, so he reaches across that and as he reaches across that
he’s turning switches off, things are flashing, lights are blinking. Load master’s over there grabbing both of us and strapping us in to the seat to stop us moving around. So they landed us at a place called VC [Viet Cong] Hill. It’s above Vung Tau and it’s a big radio repeating station and the reason I know is because I used to drink with the American MPs there who guarded it, part of the 18th MP brigade
out of Saigon and they knew me. So we gets there and, “John, what are you doing here?” and I said, “Oh, come down for a few drinks, get on the turps with you guys.” “What a great idea.” So the chopper flew off and the blokes said, “Well, you don’t need your weapons, leave your weapons here and we’ll give you a vehicle and away you go.” I couldn’t stand and these guys gave me a six wheeled vehicle to drive.
Did alright too. When you look at this hill, it’s not unlike coming down the gap. A mate of mine had his SLR [Self Loading Rifle], so they took the weapon off and cleared it, secured it and they said, “John, you’ve got a pistol.” I didn’t like carrying the rifle around all the time so in one of the contacts I’d actually picked up a Russian Torkov leather velvet lined pistol holder, lovely thing it was.
I ended up losing it years ago but I didn’t have the pistol with it; that was given to the war memorial. So what I did was I had an old M60 pistol grip and it just fitted inside the holster and you stuffed the rest with newspaper. That way I looked like I was carrying arms and I could walk around without carrying a weapon. These guys opened this thing up and pulled it and said, “What’s this?” “Well now you know what I’m not armed with.”
We took the vehicle, went to town, visited the local houses of ill repute, drunk much again, too much. Somehow got to the top of the hill that night, I’ve got no idea, it must have been a hair raising ride and I thought, “Rightio, we’d better do something about getting back to Nui Dat.” So I ring up. Every morning there was a flight going back by Caribou, it’s called the wallaby flight.
So I rings up the RAAF movements area and I said, “G’day mate. Is the wallaby going back in the morning?” “Yes,” and I thought “Rightio.” “I’d like to get aboard the flight if I could”. And he said, “What’s the name?” “Oh, uh,” he comes back “It’s alright mate.
That’s Smith and Smith is it?” “Oh yeah, okay.” “That’s nineteen Smiths and fourteen Browns.” We weren’t the only ones. That morning we got back there and here’s this darn, at the airport, gets there and it was almost like a mirror image of us. Holding our weapons, or not, hung over. The guy’s calling out list “Smith, E.”
“Oh, yeah, me.” I got back to the Dat and we snuck down the back to the barbed wire area, got into our camp area. I promptly through myself into a monny drain, got myself covered in mud, that was my alibi. My mate walked straight into his CSM and got caught. He said, “You’re gone. You’re on a charge, AWOL [AWL – Absent Without Leave].” So
Major O’Brien who was base commander; he was the operational base commander and Reg Bandy, an RSM I have a lot of admiration for, a serious RSM. He said, “Rightio, we’ll hear the charges tomorrow.” So, hearing the charges.
He said, “We’ll need escorts for the prisoner.” They got the prisoner and I got, “Private Humphries, you be an escort.” So I’m standing there, “Rightio, march in,” march in, “Halt” bang, bang, bang. “Escort to the prisoner, one pace, step back,” boom. “Stand at ease.” Right. Read the charges out and then promptly said “Guilty as sin.” Right, bang. Then he said, “Private Humphries, attention.”
“What’s going on here?” “Step forward. Now I can’t prove you were with him but I’m sure you’re gonna assist your partner in crime,” and I’m going, “Hang on, what, I’m sure this is not legal.” So he got twenty eight days field punishment and I assisted. You couldn’t get around him. We had a marvellous time and the things we did then, I’d hate to try and do them now.
Still didn’t have a weapon, that came when you got to Nui Dat. You then got aboard the Wallaby flight into Luscombe field at Nui Dat and when you arrived there, depending, normally you would go to reinforcements, they would pick you up in trucks, take you over. The very first thing you did was hand the paper work in and was given a weapon. From that point onwards you were part of the activity shall we say, part of the war. You soon got into a routine.
I remember the second time in we drew picket that night. They have what we call brown outs so as soon as the sun goes down if you think about Nui Dat, a town the size of, it was fairly big town, about six, seven kilometres across, five, six deep, so
a fairly big town. Each small unit had a sector of the wire so at a precise time they do clearing patrol. Knew the precise moment, all coordinated by watch, you would go out and go along. As you went out the other group would go out and you would all come in at the same time. Where the guys had gone out, it was all interlocking, little pathways in the wire and they were guarded by interlocking
fire pits. Once the clearing patrol was done you had about a hundred yards to a hundred and fifty yards of total darkness, no lights. And you were right on the wire there, you had all the phones, flares, all the paraphernalia of war, it’s all there. You sit there two hours on, four hours off, two hours on through the night until the morning clearing patrol when you repeat the thing. Then during the day
you’d only have fifty per cent reduction on the wire because then there was more activities to be done back in camp. In the battalions case most of the battalions had limited frontage because they were never there. When we would pick up and move out we would always have what they call lobs, LOBs, left out of battle. These guys would immediately take on the lion’s share of pickets and guard duties, clearing patrols and you also had
if you look at the circle that Nui Dat was, you had your own frontage responsibility and then each sector had what they call a tactical area of responsibility which probably went out for about five or six kilometres out. You would then have to put what they call standing patrols or TAOR [Tactical Area of Responsibility] patrols into that area from the LOB. So even though they weren’t out on operation they were actually patrolling and maintaining
a distance, if you like. Protection by denial. You were aggressively patrolling an area to make sure that no one could get in close enough to surprise you. So that was always occurring. You could be a clerk or a cook or anything like that and you’ll end up on a TAOR patrol. You were not excused anything. So when a guy says, “Oh I was a cook there”, didn’t mean anything, he would have done TAOR patrols, he would have done pickets, he would have done wire duty,
it was all part and parcel. There was only one other thing I hated about the Dat. The Dat was made of two things, tents and sand bags. Sand bags, there were two types of sand bags, there was the Australian sand bag which was a Hessian, what you call it, acid treated, no the same stuff they treat the logs with, Hessian bags were treated with that, so they’re poisonous
and the American ones were plastic, it’s not treated with the same stuff. So if a fire catches up it just melts, melts away to nothing. Every six weeks, six to twelve weeks you were re-sandbagging. It was a continuing cycle. You just finished all the sand bags there and you’re back up the other end and start again, re doing all the sand bags as you go along, like painting the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
You get to one end finished and back the other end and start again. Sand bags don’t last. I learnt my lesson in Timor. On top of the hospital they had three defensive positions we had to keep there and they said, “Oh we’re gonna have to keep sandbagging,” and I said, “No we’re not, this is purely cosmetic. We’re gonna sandbag these once and we’re never gonna touch them again.” “What are you going to do?” Simple. I got a slurry of cement,
dumped them in the cement and then said, “Right, this is gonna be quick. When I pull it out I want you to fill it full of sand, wrap it up, dump it there”. So we built these things, four hours later we had this picture perfect sandbagged redoubt that you could knock on because it had all dried hard. Rain, never rot, wouldn’t work technically for a sand bag should but we wouldn’t have to sandbag the thing again.
was Cosgrove. I mean, what’s the equation, Joe fed the chooks, so did Cosgrove. You could not, I mean the man did not tolerate fools. I learnt very early in the piece, if you make a mistake don’t try and cuff it with him because he’ll burn you. And one other thing I did notice, guys used to walk in with their PowerPoint presentations and their reams and reams of
paper and they’d shuffle the things on the lectern and with the pointers they’d point to this map and that map and he’d not, nothing. And I’d sit at the back and watch this and then Senior NCOs or officers with a bit of smart would produce a field green notebook and dot point. He’d open it up and he’d rattle off that. He’d look at his dot point, “la la la,” dot point “la la la.” And you’d watch
Cosgrove. Suddenly start paying attention. It was one “ah.” So whenever I had to do something anywhere near him, I had nothing in the green notebook, I’d just have it there. Worked for me. I’m not going to get caught out. But he had a very good savvy if you like. One of the things that people don’t realise is prior to Timor
turning pear shaped, he was told that that was it. Look for another job because he was not what’s the word, politically savvy. He didn’t have the political savvy to go up the rung. So he was told basically he’d probably move sideways and “really, you know you really should be looking at another career, out.” He said, “Oh okay.” I mean, he was not going, he
would never have made CDF [Chief of Defence Force] if Timor hadn’t have happened. And as every person in the Defence Force, when Timor went down, you can’t just pull out someone who’s there and put the flavour of the month in. It went. Suddenly everyone realised we had a soldier at the helm and he worked the media, he worked his people. There was just, he could do it all. And when he came back we said, “There’s our next Chief of Defence Force.” And it wasn’t supposed to be an army platoon. It was going to be
air force was supposed to be the CDF, Chief of Defence Force. And of course, he was flavour of the year then and a good choice, very good choice. But it wouldn’t have happened had not, a couple of things from Timor’s point of view. If we’d have been 700kms further away, it would’ve gone pear shaped. We’d have never done it. The difference between a successful activity and a failure come and
went that many times it was not funny. And a lot of credit goes to Cosgrove and a lot of the senior staff because they continually repaired bridges. We did so many silly things. Silly things, we need a crane to lift things off the boat at Dili on to the wharf. Simple request. “Get a crane.” I said “We’ve got one; we’ve got a 32 tonner.”
“It’s broken.” “Well get it fixed. Better still, bring it to Dili, get it fixed operationally.” “That’s a good idea.” “Okay, do it.” They got it into Dili and they said “it’s broken.” “Yeah, can we get it fixed.” He said, “It’s four flying repair.” “So just get it fixed.” They said, “We can’t.” “Why?” “Four flying repair is Darwin.”
“Oh I thought you would have had…” “No, we got rid of that, we didn’t need it because we’d never left Australia.” “Oh okay. Alright we’ll take it back to Darwin and get it fixed.” “Okay.” Hand comes up, “Quarantine.” He said “You can’t take it back to Darwin.” He said “Why not?” He said “It’s got those dirty tyres on it. You can’t take that stuff back to Darwin.” “Well how do we?” “Put new tyres on it.” He said, “We lifted it on to the wharf and it hasn’t moved, it’s broken.” He said, “Okay.”
So we put new tyres on it and they ummed and ahhed, ummed and ahhed, and then finally someone said, “Bugger it. Get rid of it.” So with new tyres on it, it was then loaded onto a thing and sent all the way back to Victoria where it was sold with brand new tyres. There’s a compound in Dili that’s got every vehicle that we send in to Timor, leaves it’s tyre and canvas behind. Now I don’t know if we’re learning very much here because I would say why don’t we leave the vehicles there and
just change the people over. We don’t, we’ve been stuck in this new system. Cosgrove tried to change it quite a few times but it’s just something that’s been way too long entrenched but eventually we’ll get it right. But tyres full of that parasite weed. I mean you get to Darwin when we come home and your plane pulls up. Before that, this is the quarantine customs people, “We’re going to search your stuff.” So they pull your socks out and your jocks out
and you’ve got girls there, you’ve got females in the Defence Force and they’re going through feeling the seams, looking for the seed, this particular seed that’s a parasite. Feels all the, and pulls all the socks out and feels all the socks like this. It’s very thorough. Get to Darwin, get out of the Herc right, and you walk from the Herc right across Darwin airfield right to the perimeter fence and they’ve got a little Atco hut there.
You go in there and you declare all your goodies and so forth and then you sign off at customs and blah blah blah and then you’re about to leave. “Stop.” “Sorry?” And here’s a lady from quarantine. “Please lift your boot up.” Lift your boot up and she’s got a pair of tweezers and a torch and she’s pulling seeds out. I said “What’s that do?” She said, “We don’t want them in the country.” And I’ve said, “I’ve just walked across 350 feet of tarmac, why aren’t you
at the aircraft doing this?” We do silly things.
rules of engagement and legal stuff for the UN. And the PTLs will take you in the morning and sort of walk you around, orientate you to Robertson barracks, and so you’ll start acclimatising. Nothing very hard.” The first morning I gets up there, this PTI killed us. I thought I was going to die. I’m going, “My god, what’s this guy trying to do? Let me get to Timor first before you kill me.” So we’re running down this range, the second last day
of our week up there and he’s yelling out, “All those guys under 30 drop and give me ten.” Thank god. “All those guys under 35 drop and give me ten.” And I’m still running along. “All those guys under 40 drop and give me ten.” Still going. “All those guys under
45 drop and give me ten.” Still going. The guy’s looking at me. “All those guys under 50 drop and give me ten.” I’m still going. He said “Right, all those guys that I haven’t mentioned, drop and give me fifteen.” “Oh okay.” Because I was 54.
It was, we got out to, we were supposed to go out on a Saturday morning and they said, “Rightio, Saturday morning the JB will leave, but that night Darwin went on cyclone warning.” There was a cyclone coming up the Timor sea. So the skipper of the JB, a young bloke said “I can beat it. Get everyone on board.” So me and a mate, John Ellis, said “We’ll go down.” We’d say, “you going to have something to eat?” “No, no.” “We’ll go across to the,”
we didn’t know about the debate going earlier, “I don’t want any tea, we’ll just go across and have a couple of beers in the Sergeants’ mess.” They had the most magnificent Sergeants’ mess I’ve ever seen. So we were having a few beers over there and we were sinking these things in because we were just going to go back and sleep, next morning wet on the JB and go. We had about our eighth beer and the guy comes running, “Are you two guys going to Timor tomorrow?” “Yep.” “You’re not now, you’re going now.” “Holy smoke.” So as we galloped across to our, we were living in the gymnasium.
Picked all our gear up, handful of Quells, because we got the word and we gets down to the Darwin wharf and the JB’s, low tide, right down like that and the ramp going on it was right up and it’s, I’m standing full height and the ramp was up here. So we’ve got full pack on, your webbing and your Dili bag and you’re scrambling on like that, you go down and then you’ve got to climb up through the six floors of the JB. There was only, less than 20 of us on that ship.
It was full of cargo. So, pulls away from the wharf, and this thing gunned this, you know it went roar, and by the time it got to the harbour outer moll it just ran straight into a wave and it was awesome. Normally a twelve run into Dili from Darwin on a normal day, it took us 22 hours and it, this thing had crashed, climbed up the waves, about six metre waves,
right to the top and just drop over. Roar down and of course, we’re in there and of course immediately all the people who went to tea that night, brought it all up. Air conditioning closed down and I’m going, and then to top it all off, they had a little cafeteria there and they had two cases of Worcestershire sauce in bottles, came off the top shelf in one of these waves, shattered on the floor and you can imagine,
Worcestershire sauce and all this vomit and I’m gong, “Oh this is charming.” And I, what we did was, you actually tied yourself down between the chairs and just hung on. It was the most awesome ride I’ve ever done. Because you couldn’t walk and somewhere through the night it would’ve been about one o’clock in the morning, they had a big Coca Cola machine on wheels, bolted to the wall, and it tore itself free. And I’m watching these three sailors, risk life and limb trying to do this thing
because it would’ve gone through the wall and they ended up lassoing it to the bay area to stop it from moving. But it was an awesome run in. The next day of course I had those dinners, because no one felt like eating except me and the mate and it was marvellous. You’d pull those things apart and you’d break open a water vessel and it starts heating itself. And there a American idea. And it fogs the whole place up, marvellous. Great idea. Loved it.