which I was very disappointed in. I went to St Joseph’s School just over to the left there, which is 200 metres away, my primary school, and then I went to Marist Brothers Ashgrove private school. Once I left school I pretty much knew I wanted to be in the army from the age of 12. So once I left school I had to wait until I turned 17, so I became a horse strapper for my brother-in-law. Then when I turned 17 I went in, did the
examinations and the aptitude tests at the recruiting centre in Brisbane and then joined the army on the 4th of August, 1981. From there I went to Kapooka, did the basic training down in the New South Wales. I was then selected to go to the Royal Australian Army Corps to do the initial employment training down at Puckapunyal, which is a great place to visit; you just don’t want to live there. I did all my training. The training went over a period of seven
months. Not that the training was seven months long but just basically waiting for availability of courses and so forth. From there I was then posted back to Brisbane to the 4th Cavalry Regiment based at Enoggera Barracks, and it was a bit of a weird change because you actually had three postings within the regiment. I stayed in the same place but the regiment changed names three times. I think it was just due to budget cuts but it went from the 4th Cavalry Regiment to the 3rd Cavalry, 3/4th Cavalry Regiment A Squadron Brisbane, and it went to the 3/4th Cavalry Regiment B Squadron
Townsville, and then later on it changed to 2/14th Light Horse A Squadron, and the reason being for that was that they were amalgamating an army reserve unit from Wacol over to Enoggera, basically to build up numbers and to boost defence and basically help up the army reserve. I transferred to army aviation in 1990 where I did my aircrew,
sorry, did my ground crewman’s course for an aircraft handler. Basically refuelling and organising command posts and running runways and stuff like that. I was in the unit for about a year. I was then asked to go to Cambodia in 1992, where I did a year with the UN [United Nations] Peacekeeping Forces in Cambodia which is the best time of my life.
I was sent over on June the 10th 1992, which is sort of good because it was four days before my birthday, so I got to celebrate my birthday before I left, and then returned on June the 10th, 1993. Once I returned I spent six months back in my unit but I was basically just doing education courses to build up to my courses to become an aircrewman
loadmaster on the Blackhawk helicopters. Basically, I attended some ground schooling courses and updated my education through the military and then attended the courses to become a loadmaster and in May ’94 I became an aircrewman loadmaster and was posted to the 5th Aviation Regiment on 20th of June 1994,
and basically I served out my time from there. While I was within the regiment, basically we did operations all over Australia, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, the Gold Coast, Tindal, Darwin, all over the place, and in September of 1999 we were deployed to East Timor for operational service over there. I completed two two month tours. I did
two months, came home for a month and went back for another two months and then on returning from my last tour I decided it was time to call it a day due to injuries I sustained in a Blackhawk accident in 1996, and now I reside in Brisbane. Wasn’t too sure what to do with myself at first. Sort of just sort of finding my feet, but I’ve actually found, I started doing some basic IT [information technology]
teaching with senior citizens and getting into the Brisbane City Council’s Brisbane Seniors Online program and helping them out, doing some volunteer teaching there, and now I run a program with the Bardon Community Association within the neighbourhood and teach senior citizens there, and also I’m the manager for leasing the hall. We have a hall we rent out for functions, birthdays, tap dancing, whatever, and I sort of manage that and we make pretty good funds to basically maintain the hall and what funds
we have left over at the end of the year we give to charity, and also now I’ve started my dog obedience instructor’s course and with my dog, Ben, my faithful little hound, he’s a Delta dog, so we go to the Royal Children’s Hospital and the Rosalie Nursing Home and we visit the elderly and visit the kids who are sick and bring a bit of joy to their lives and have a really good time. So that’s pretty much about it.
OK, so let’s go back and find out what is your earliest memory from childhood?
Probably playing football in my front yard with my father and my brother. We had a fairly large front yard and we actually used to look after the lawn really well and we even set up like a bit of a tennis court and we’d play quoits and every Christmas was, like, the whole family would get together and we’d have football or just kick a soccer ball around. We had an unusually large front yard. Probably about three times the standard, and because
it was fairly wide and long we could play soccer, football, things like that. Going to school, having my Mum make my lunches. She’d always like freezing my lunches for me so by the time I got to lunchtime they’d defrosted and they were nice and fresh. She was way ahead of her time. Roast dinners with the family, that sort of thing. I remember I thought my father was pretty cool one night when they were cooking up some chips and that and they had some friends over and it all caught on fire, and everyone’s going,
“Oh, oh.” Everyone’s just freaking out, and Dad said, “I can fix it.” and he put on his cape and whipped out the salt and put it out, and when you’re sort of like 10, it’s very impressive and he just didn’t lose his cool, and I thought that was pretty good. My older brother, being a hoon and coming around in his big V8 Kingswood and having his SLR 5000 [Holden Torana] and chasing after many women and basically being a galah, but you sort of look at him, you look up to him and go, “Gee, I never wanna be like that.” but still, it’s a good influence.
Playing backyard cricket with your mates across the road, just things like that. Going down to the local creek and fishing for eels and fish and swimming, and things like that. The 1974 floods. My brother lived over at St Lucia and he thought he’d be quite clever and stick everything on top of his wardrobe and he’d be safe, but his whole house went under, so apparently it wasn’t that safe.
meet people through, just sort of in passing or just with, like, teaching the senior citizens, they say, “You’re not Basil Fraser’s son are you? Oh my God.” So, he’s still well known. In fact the lady across the road, her husband had a bit of a drinking problem and Dad helped him get through that. So he was the local copper around here. In fact when he was in the police force they had sidecars.
So in fact I remember him telling me a story. He’d go out on patrol with his mate in this sidecar and every day they’d come down the road, there was this dog that would come racing out and bark and carry on and chase him up the street. So one day they took down a large piece of fibro and the dog came running out and they clocked [hit] the dog and never saw him again. But he told me some very interesting stories, how there was a robbery at a sugar mill and they came in and
they used explosives to blow up the safe, but to muffle the sound they put bags of sugar around the safe and they committed the crime and got away with it, or so they thought. They had a few suspects and Dad said, “When you go around to the house check the bottom of their trousers, the cuff of their trousers for sugar.” and sure enough there was sugar in their trousers and that’s what gave them away, and they did more investigations and caught the guys. So I thought that was pretty clever. But he was just a very friendly, very outgoing guy and
he still is, and he’s a great cook. I think that’s where I get a lot of my people skills from, from both sides of Mum and Dad, just being able to talk, to communicate and be friendly, and I find I get on with a lot of people. But it’s sort of funny meeting people from 30 or 40 years ago and you mention your name and they go, “So you’re Basil Fraser’s son, are you?” It’s like, oh my God, or actually guys who knew the guy personally.
getting none for having bad gambling habits. In those days the role models, you know, they were role models, and even like with the other teams like the West Indians, Joel Garner and Clive Richards, Clive Lloyd and Vic Richards, they were just great to watch, even though they were whooping your arse, it’s still great to watch. In fact, I remember a game in Sydney and Joel Garner was batting and they were just tearing us to shreds and Lillee’s come down and bowled and he galloped
to the pitch and just absolutely killed this ball, and he hit it so hard it needed a passport and it’s gone on and hit the members roof, bounced into the crowd and this hand’s just come up and caught the ball and it was my brother and I was going, “That was really cool.” and I rang up my sister and said, “He’s at the cricket, he’s just caught Joel Garner, Joel Garner.” So that was good. I think more so the cricketing greats. They were great to watch, and the football too. Wally Lewis when he was at his best. In fact he was always at his best.
I actually remember when the Brisbane teams went into the Sydney competition, because I remember we used to have our own Brisbane competition and it was considered pretty big, and I went to a grand final when our local team, our Wests club, which is just over the way, the competed in the grand final and they won and it was actually sort of a funny thing because you’re half watching the football and half watching the entertainment and they had these guys dressed up in
peanut outfits giving away these free plastic balls and we were allowed on the pitch in those days. It was half time and anyway, there was this guy in his peanut outfit and he’s got the balls and that and I was with these three other young kids and they raced up and spear tackled him and took his balls off him and he’s going, “You little bastards, bring back the balls.” and we’re going, “Hey, we’ve got our balls.” and ran away and the crowd were laughing and it was quite funny. So, but yeah, I
think mainly the cricket guys. In fact I remember seeing Dennis Lillee and Geoff Marsh in Queen Street Mall and that was just like, wow, just demigods, and even in those days like when you sort of see them have the psychological battles with the West Indians and sort of have the push and shove it was all just part of the game really, and off the pitch and at the dinner table they were the best of mates, but on the pitch it was all out war. That’s fair enough.
but I don’t think there was any problem with discipline and I think that’s what lacks in society nowadays. There’s too much touchy-feely, namby-pamby stuff. There’s nothing wrong with getting the cane and getting put in your place. I think it’s a very, very good school. In fact, I went back there the other day to watch a football match played and it was just great. It was interesting to see the difference in the guys nowadays, in the kids, but it’s sort of funny to see them that they’re quite large. Like, in my days
we had a couple of guys who were big and they were considered, “Wow, what’s wrong with you?” But nowadays you see teenagers who are, like, you know, six feet tall easy. In fact my nephews, who are 19 and 21 respectively, are quite big boys. They’re almost my height as well. Not my size, but my height, but it’s just, “What’s in the water around here?” It was a very good school, very big on sports. Even though I lived in Bardon I actually was a
boarder in boarding school. That was good because you got to be with 30 other guys and they enforced studying, they enforced your routine and I really think that routine is important in life. You don’t have to follow it to a strict rule but I think it’s good for you to have guidelines, otherwise if you’re all over the place you get behind in cleaning the toilet and paying the bills and stuff, but at school there was sort of, you’d get up at a certain hour, you’ve got a certain amount of time to go to the bathroom and have a
shower. Then you go to breakfast and then you’re off to school, have your play time and then you go in. Hit the school and then you come back and you have time in the afternoon to kick a football around and that, and then it’s study for three hours, but you get, like, breaks in between. But I just think that routine is good, otherwise you’ve got zero control over 500 boarders. I think the influence of the senior students is good as well because they come and they have a lot to do with you. They come along and they coach the football teams that you play in, being the seniors.
They would help you out with your studies and you get invited along to some of the drama groups and drama plays they would do. So it’s good to sort of be more interactive with the whole school. I’m not too sure how they do it nowadays. Movie nights was always good. Saturday was movie night and it was always really cool. Censorship was involved. In fact I remember they had the movie Saturday Night Fever and there was a particular sex scene in there or whatever and all of a sudden the screen went blurred. It was like, “Well, that’s
good timing.” and then as soon as the sex scene was over it came back to focus again. But it’s like, I think the brothers were just sort of protecting us and we didn’t really need to see it. It didn’t make me feel any less whatever, so who really cares. But all the boarders went there and watched the movies, and prior to the movies we’d have a report of what happened in the sports one day. Who won the swimming and who won the cricket and the scores and who scored so many tries at the football and it was sort of a good sort of bonding session for all the guys.
But yeah, it was a really good school, really good school.
and the good tucker.” and blah blah blah and companionship and it’s all sort of true in a way, and then you go away and think about it and you say, “OK, I’d like to do this.” and send in some more paperwork saying, “I’m interested, I’d like to sort of join up.” They bring you back in for a second interview to discuss just some basic paperwork, get your father to sign a few things. Now that you’ve had a chance to think about it, you sort of say, “OK, yes, I do want to join.” so you start signing, “Yes, I want to enlist.” and then they say, “OK, we’ll give
you a date to come in and do your aptitude tests and then the third time you come in you do your aptitude tests, your preferences of the sort of work you think you’d like to do, and then you wait a while and they say, “OK, yes, you’ve been accepted and we’d like you to come in with your bags packed on this date.” and then you come in on the fourth time with your bags packed
and get your photo taken and you’re sworn in to the military and you sign the dotted line and then off you go. From there they put you in a bus, take you to the airport and you’re put onto, you’re chaperoned usually by an NCO [non-commissioned officer], by a corporal, and he’ll basically take you all the way down to Kapooka. So we flew down, I think we flew Brisbane to Melbourne and we spent something like eight hours at Melbourne airport waiting around which was actually good, your
first taste of hurry up and wait within the military, and from there we went to Kapooka. Drove in the front gate and were met by a big burly MP [military police] sergeant and said, “Has anybody got weapons and stuff like that, knives?” and this and that and blah blah blah and then we went off to our quarters and then we were just indoctrinated and they…
Just, I think they did mention drugs, just touched on it, didn’t get into it too much. I think it was just nothing out of the ordinary, no, nothing really. From there we were taken to the barracks. We were up on the third storey. We met our platoon sergeant, a big burly chap. We met our section commanders, who’d be our instructors and we had a hot box meal ’cause we got
in fairly late. So we had a hot box meal and then the next morning we woke up and it was culture shock city, but it was actually good. I didn’t mind it. I thrived on it. I really did enjoy it. We were very lucky too, because our platoon sergeant was with us for a couple of weeks and then we had a British platoon sergeant come over from the Royal Green Jackets and he was fabulous, and it was an exchange program, so our platoon sergeant went to Britain and we had this British soldier come over.
I can’t remember his name though. I’ve got a picture of him and I’m sure I could find his name somewhere, but he was fabulous, he was really, really good and I remember once we were cleaning out the toilets which is a daily, in fact it’s a twice daily occurrence, and I didn’t know that he was in the toilet and I knocked on the door and said, “Come on, get out of there, come on, cleaning the toilet. Here you go, here’s a brush, clean the toilet yourself.” and this British accented voice says, “Who the fuck are you?” Rah rah. I went, “Brrpt.” and quickly escaped. He knew who I was,
so he caught me later and gave me a serving. Anyhow, but yeah, and from there it was like uniforms, haircuts, the old crewcut, hair straight off. They’re trying to just basically say, “You’re in the army now, this is the way you’re going to be, this is the way we want you, and it’s a good way to be.” They don’t let you waltz on in and take your time. It’s like shock treatment, but you get your uniforms, they want you dressed as fast as possible. They want you with a haircut as fast as possible and they’ve got you doing drill as fast as
Your PT [physical training] gear, PT shirts and stuff like that. Just everything you need to survive, and you put it in the trunk. So you cart it up to your rooms, and I’ve actually unpacked my bag and put everything in the locker, not realising that you won’t be needing civilian attire for the next 12 weeks, “Put that back in your bag.” And then you’re taught how to pack your locker, and your locker is a work of art. You just don’t fold it and put it in. Everything’s folded and measured with a ruler, and your handkerchiefs are ironed in a certain way, and your socks have got to be folded so you’ve got the smiley face, and yeah,
it’s, I think I’ve got a picture of it somewhere, but it’s just a work of art. Your bed is made in a strict manner. You use your bayonet and ruler to measure it out and you’ve got to do the old coin flip thing and if it’s not good enough it’s trashed and you have to do it again, and if your locker’s not up to standard it’s trashed and you do it again, and they’re just teaching you discipline. They’re teaching you you’ve got to do things precise, and I can totally understand why, because when you join your units certain things, there is no room for error, so they’re teaching you from day one to basically
sort of be precise with everything. It was sort of fun, I was having a good time, and you had to have your weapon clean, and every morning was a room inspection and you had to be standing out the hallway with both sheets over your shoulders. You couldn’t cheat and sort of make your bed before you got up. You had to rip your bed apart and stand there with both sheets and they’d call, “Hallway 11.” because we were 11 Platoon, so you’d race out and go “Hallway 11.” and race out there and
they’d come down and then you’d make your beds and they’d have a room inspection. So they built up from there.
weapons drill prior, especially considering I didn’t really handle a weapon before, and then they give you this big cannon. When you’re 17 and everything and it’s like, here you go. Okey doke, yeah, it was probably about week five or so, but we did endless weapons drill. We did a lot of drill on the parade ground, which is the standard, but the instructors just ran us and drilled us again and that involves tabulated data on the weapon,
multiple velocities, weights, magazine capacity, radar fire, that sort of thing, stripping the weapon again and again and again and again. And from there we were put on the range and we got a lot of theory lessons and a lot of practical lessons on how to shoot too, ’cause we just don’t like there and just blast away. There’s a proper technique of how to shoot and that was really good, and you got to be at sort of both ends. Like, we also had
guys who were in the rifle butt, so they were controlling the targets and you got to hear the rounds fly over your head. So that was good experience, actually, to sort of get used to that sort of thing and in case you had to go overseas. And then, basically you had guys who were on the mound shooting and then guys behind who were doing a bit more weapons drill or just sitting there watching what was going on. There were always photographers floating around the base too and they were taking photos of you doing things like drill or
events or whatever, when you did things like the obstacle course, things like that, so they were always gliding around, which was really good ’cause, like, taking a camera wasn’t even thought of, but these guys were there, and, like, in the evenings you could go up to where they had their little stall which is next to the boozer and the canteen and you could choose your photos that you wanted to get copies of and stuff. It was a really good thing to do. I’m pretty sure they still do it nowadays actually. Sort of like your own sort of little archive of your training at Kapooka. Everyone does it, everyone gets
photos and I’ve got truckloads of them. It was just a great time.
of relationship going, but you could have a bit of a joke and relax a bit. Yeah, he always used to say, his favourite saying was, “For fuck’s sake, you know, get it right.” and ‘for fuck’s sake’ this, and I remember once we were doing contact drills and we were doing fire movement up and down hills and we can’t do it on the flat, we’ve got to do it up and down hills, and we were at the very top, we had like 20 feet to go and we thought, “We’ll stop now.” and he goes, “One more time, go.” I said, “For fuck’s sake.” and one of the other instructors
heard me, and it was just a joke. But he was good value. His lessons were very professional, very informative and he knew his stuff and he looked after us and there was always that rivalry between the other sections and with that sort of battle, but no, he was really good. I
just thought he was great. In fact I’d love to meet him nowadays. Unfortunately when you get sent away you don’t really see instructors again, which is a pity, and I mean, if we’d had the internet in those days it would be easy to track him down, yeah. So there was also another guy there, he was an engineer, Corporal Brown. He was an Asian chap but he was a funny bastard, always making sexual jokes, very weird, but no, he was a really good guy.
In fact the whole platoon staff were really, really good.
uniform changing, as in, like, you’re sent to your room and you’re said, “OK, the dress is GP boots, pyjamas, webbing rifle and slouch hat.” You look pretty ridiculous, and basically someone screwed up, so you’re going to cop the punishment and it was sort of, I look back now and it was quite funny, or that it came out, “AB and gaiters, polyester shirt with Howard Green jumper, boxer shorts and webbing and ironing board.” you know, and you had to be nice and neatly dressed.
It had to be all correct regardless of your having pyjamas and a polyester shirt; it had to be in the correct attire. PT, physical training, God, there’s so many words that you sort of don’t even sort of think of that become second nature. Got the normal military acronyms, basic fitness assessment, or BFA, and battle efficiency tests and all sorts of
things like that. So God, I’m just trying to think of a few now. Yeah, no one’s ever asked me that question, so yeah, it’s sort of funny, but everything’s got a name. Nothing’s really called what it really is and if you get a nickname then no one knows who you are. They just know you are Bluey or Johnno or JJ or whatever. In fact it was always funny
that when you got posted to your unit some people would call up for you, “I’d like to speak to John Fraser please.” “Who?” “John Fraser.” “Oh, you mean Mal, yeah, I’ll go get him for you.” In fact I remember one of my squadrons, I said to my platoon sergeant, troop sergeant, I said, “I’m just going to the bank with Roger.” He goes, “Who?” I said, “Roger.” “Who?” “Tommo.” “OK.” He was the troop sergeant, he should know everybody. So yeah,
the army is very big on nicknames and changing the names of things, what they are and what they really are.
telephone procedures and basically learning up the radios and the different sets up that you would use within the vehicle itself and using the phonetic alphabet, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, blah, blah, blah, and you just go through your books there and you just learn how to do radio telephone procedure, setting up antennas, things like that. But we didn’t really get too much into that. It was more so, because vehicles are established with the radios, it was more so just getting the cabling right within the radios.
From there you did, sorry, I’ll go back one. We did the indoctrination course, the radio course and then your driver’s course. Your indoc course was navigation, was first aid, was using fire fighting equipment, that sort of thing, and then weapons, where you’re introduced to the 30 calibre and the 50 calibre machine gun, which was great. I mean, you’ve just been given this mass weapon of death and you trained on it and I’m 17 years old. I’m using this thing that can take out an aircraft, and
you put it on the range and the budgets were pretty big so we had like a lot of ammunition to use, so we’d go through 500, 600 rounds easy and that was just great. You’d sit there and you’re using a weapon that shoots 7.4 kilometres and you get to engage target at two or three kilometres, and in between courses they were running other courses, so I actually got out to go out a few times because I was qualified, so I could go out and help and I got to do some more shooting, so that was good. Then you did your radio course, which was radio telephone procedure, and then you did
your driver’s course where they taught you the mechanics of the vehicle, how to change tracks, how to service the vehicle. They teach you servicing to a certain level. When you join the units they take it up. You do a lot more servicing and then they teach you a lot of driving skills. I think you spend, like, a week of learning how to use the vehicle, mechanics, servicing, that sort of thing and then the rest of it is all driving and you’re pretty much on the range on the day every day driving, driving and driving. So my first licence and first driving experience was in an armoured personnel carrier, which I don’t think my instructor
knew, which was probably a good thing, so it was great. I loved it.
pull the left stick. If you want to stop you pull them both back at the same time. In front of them were two big black levers for, they were called pivot sticks, so if you wanted to, like, pivot to the right, you’d just pull the right lever and the vehicle would stay in place and turn on the spot, and obviously vice versa. You had a crew of two, you had a driver signaller and you were called a driver signaller because you drove the vehicle but you were also qualified to answer the radios, and then you had your crew commander and he sat in a T50 turret right
behind you. You were basically, behind you and to the right, and he operated the 30 calibre machine gun, the 50 cal, he did all the navigation and he did 99 per cent of the talking on the radio. You’ve usually got three radios on board, so two to three radios, and you’ve got two or three antennas. In the back you carry between six to ten infantry. Top speed is about 60 kilometres an hour. You can
actually swim them. They actually float quite well. In fact I’ve got some great photos of them where you do, like, a running start into the water, and when the vehicle hits the water it’s just, this massive bow wave comes up. They’re an all terrain vehicle, they’re pretty hard to stop, ditches, tank ditches, that sort of thing, logs, mud, sand, anything pretty much, they’ll go anywhere. The armour itself is compressed aluminium
and they’ve been around since Vietnam. In fact my first vehicle was actually older than I was, and recently I’ve just seen the upgrade for them. They’ve actually made the vehicles longer, they’ve given an additional road wheel, so, like, on the running gear you had your sprocket, which actually had large spikes which went through the tracks, and that was connected to the transmission, which was at the front of the vehicle, and then that turned the tracks and then you had your five road wheels and they were basically the ones that were between,
you had the road wheels, your track and then the road itself, and then at the very end you had the spindle and the spindle actually tensioned the track, so you’d have, like, an adjustable shock absorber, so to speak, and you’d pump grease into that and that would move the spindle back and then tension the track and you had to have the track tensioned at a certain distance between the second road wheel and the track itself. If you had it too loose you’d actually throw a track because you get dirt and everything turning in amongst that. So as long you kept
the track tensioned you really didn’t have problems. In fact, whenever you stopped you’d always be checking your tension to make sure that you’re honky dory. A couple of quick pumps and then you were fine. But it had a ramp at the back so you could deploy the infantry, and it had a cargo over the top so the infantry could basically stand up and park outside and that was a heavy armoured top. Had air conditioning vents which never worked. In fact, a lot of the guys would actually take out the air conditioning vents and filters and lay it with rubber and put like cans of beer
or coke, and the ramp itself actually had a door, so even though the ramp was up you could actually hop in and out of the vehicle via the back door.
you’re taught weapons drill, you’re taught contact drill because it’s totally different in armoured vehicles. You’re taught mine drills, medevacs [medical evacuation], fire movement is totally different, navigation is totally, movement, because you’re going so fast, you’ve got to be thinking 500 or 600 metres, you’ve got to be thinking a kilometre ahead while you’re navigating, and of course along the way while you’re looking at your map you’ve got to be scanning ahead for the enemy. You’ve got to be watching where you’re going to make your next movement, and I think, like, with a driver
and a crew commander you get like a good bond, and you get it so that the driver’s actually reading the crew commander’s mind. He knows where he’s supposed to go, and I think with my first line crew commander we bonded really well and I picked up exactly where he wanted to go all the time. We sort of knew the general direction, but it was basically finding that right tree for cover or making the appropriate distance for a bound or knowing when to go without him telling you when to go, that sort of thing.
You do a lot of the stuff in section work, like three, four vehicle sections, and then you do it within the troop, which is 16 vehicles and then you do it within the squadron. When you do squadron stuff it just takes all day to move anywhere because you’re just moving 50, 60 vehicles in formation through the scrub and you’re trying to navigate and especially if you’re doing contact drills and stuff, it takes forever and a day to get anywhere, but when you went to the sections it was a lot faster and a lot easier, but they warm you up for that area.
we’re taught very well, and there’s certain things you can do, like the camouflaging basically involves, like, just chopping off some trees and basically putting them on points just around the outside of the vehicle, but then you can do, like, the sides of the vehicle as well, and the trick they taught us is actually just to grab a rag and do, like, patterns up and down the side of the vehicle with oil, and then that’s what you do. The dust then hits the oil so it gives you that natural camouflage of the dust, so you blend in with the roads and the
dusty environments depending where you were, and with the trees and that, yeah, it actually works really well because you find, I’ve got pictures of APCs sort of, and all you can really see is just the crew commander because of the camouflage around the vehicle. It works quite well. We did an exercise once with the Americans, and they had one of their amphibious landing ships and they had marines and they had their vehicles and they had helicopters and everything and we were 300 meters from
the runway where they were going to land and we had 11 vehicles lined up in a row and we camouflaged them up and they were flying over the top of us and they couldn’t see us, and these were in their Cobra attack gunships. So thought, “Well, if they can’t see us then obviously it’s working fairly well.”
fluid levels, oil transmission, check your tracks, make sure they’re clean, as in, not immaculately polished, just make sure they’re free of debris, check the track tension, go through from inside the vehicle and pull off your fire wall panels, check the tension of your belts, just a basic sort of once over, check your radiator, make sure you’re good to go there. But the tracks were the most important thing. You really had to look after them, plus also you had to check the distances between each track link because they’ve
actually got nylon bushes inside which are held with a track pin and when they got a certain distance apart you had to replace them. So by maintaining your running gear and by maintaining the tension of the tracks that always got your best wear and tear out of your tracks, although I was actually lucky in one of my vehicles. I had American track made in America and it lasted me an entire year. I never changed a track link. Sorry, no, I changed two, where we’ve had the Australian stuff, sometimes you go through an
entire set and you’ve got to change all 50 links. So you’ve got to maintain your radios, which is not too hard. You’ve got to keep them dust free, and maintain your weapons and the batteries. There’s two big batteries in the back, and sort of just keeping them clean, basically.
beside me as far as I’m concerned, and you build up a bond with the guys, they’d actually sort of give you snacks from their ration packs. They’d sort of give you a bit of a feed while you’re going along ’cause they’re sitting in the back and they’ve got time to have a bit of a drink and brew and something to eat and we’re driving and being in a crew commander’s position so we can’t do that. But we do live fire exercises with them, which was good. It’s always better to do it in section and then in troop, because troop becomes a clusterfuck. It works well, but it’s a lot more organisation,
where within the troop, it’s a lot more freedom, a lot more faster and you have a lot more fun, and just patrolling along you have a lot of fun with the guys too. Infantry guys have a great sense of humour. I mean, they just pull the piss out of each other and sitting in the back when you’re on patrol you can sort of hear them having a conversation and you join in. I remember once we were out in the middle of nowhere, up at Katherine somewhere, and
we had our section and we had two vehicles on one side of the road and I was on the other and one of the guys who was, like, the section clown hopped out of the vehicle and went to walk across the road to talk to one of the other guys and he tripped in the middle of the road but there was nothing there. It was just a flat road, and he got up and said, “You bastard, you didn’t even stop.” You know, and it just cracked us up, it was like quick as a wink, so they’re just funny guys and they’re very professional and they sort of, when you sort of see them you think they’re clowns
but when it comes down to do the job they’re the guys you want watching your back. So they’re very, very good, and we’d look after them as well. Like at night in all around defence, we’d have like vehicles in all around defence but they would be between the vehicles and we’d boil up water for them because that way you could have brews and hot meals and they would really appreciate it. We’d invite their section commander to come inside and have a chat and he could write up his orders inside the vehicle so that way he’s got somewhere to sit and he’s got light to work on. He’s not sitting under a hoochie with a little torch and
stuff, and we’d swap rations because they were on one-man ration packs, we were on 10-man, and we’d do trades and we’d get a bit of extra rations, so we’d make them waffles, or make them jaffles, should I say, and yeah, so there was that good common bond, so that’s why I think we worked together. There’s that rivalry between infantry and armour, especially on the football field, but when it comes down to do the job it’s good teamwork.
top of the vehicle you could put brackets for your water jerries and extra ammunition or for storage and stuff like that, but the interior, some of the vehicles were a work of art. Some guys would rip out the left seat and actually put in, like, a box seat, so the box was the storage, but then they had this big mattress on top so they could sleep on that. So it worked as a seat and did its job but it also acted as storage. Then you had guys who would have these lights and siding. You had a red light and a white light, so someone would have two or three lights and side so you could have decent lighting at night. Different brackets, rubber
mats came into the regiment, so we were able to lay the rubber mats on the floor, ’cause the floors were aluminium and they make a lot of noise, but you put the rubber mats down, you drop something, you don’t hear anything. As I said before, guys were ripping out the filters in the cargo hatch vans so that way they could put in cans of coke or cans of beer and stuff like that. Yeah, so that happened a lot. I’m just trying to think what else. Putting in a little comfort seat behind
the driver’s seat, because where the driver sat, directly behind him was the bench seat for the infantry, so you’d actually make behind that like another little seat and you could make other different brackets, and I knew of a few troop sergeants who would actually use one of the water jerries that was on the vehicle, they’d fill it up full of port so they could have a few drinks while they were out on the field, ’cause in those days troop sergeants were troop sergeants and very prim and proper and they liked a port occasionally. They weren’t out there getting drunk and drinking and driving, but it was just very traditional, they would
have a bit of a wine and dine right out in the field and have a couple of ports and discuss troop sergeant things and stuff. But yeah, they used to customise them all the time, so we could get away with that.
in the field for a month, back for a week, in the field for a month, back for a week, in the field for six weeks. I was single at the time so I didn’t care less, but I think for the married guys it’s a bit hard. And at the moment you’ve got this political football with the troops in Iraq. Mark Latham [Opposition Leader] is saying, “Bring them home.” John Howard [Prime Minister] is saying, “Stay there.” Do you guys realise what you’re doing to the families? Using human life as a political football, what are you doing? I didn’t mind going bush because you
learn the tricks and traits and how to be comfortable very quick and we had a good time. I think it’s, once it’s the end of the day a month’s period can really drag out and, but being in barracks was good too. You’re back at home, and I remember once, I used to have a routine when I came back from the field, you’d come home and shower and change and that night I’d go off to a restaurant in the city called, it was Jo-Jo’s in the city. I don’t know if it’s still there or not but they always had really nice food there
and I always really enjoyed going there. I remember it was, like, we had a couple of days before we got home and I had these infantry guys in the back and they were sort of, “I’m gonna get home and get a Big Mac and a cherry pie and fries and a coke.” and they turned to me and said, “What are you gonna get?” “Well, I’m actually going to Jo-Jo’s restaurant and give myself some oysters and Barramundi Admiral and probably sorbet afterwards.” Thought I was very strange. So I sort of like the finer things in life, but I didn’t mind Macca's then, but not now.
ourselves up and everything. We were happy and good to go. Actually they put us, we sort of said, “This is what we do, these are the things we do.” They said, “OK.” So we established the flight operations within the helicopter school building itself, and at the time it was manned by the pilots and the loadmasters and they were glad to relinquish it because we said, “This is the work we do. You guys aren’t supposed to be doing this. This is what we do.” And they said, they were glad to get rid of it because they wanted to do the courses and wanted to go flying. They didn’t want to sit at a desk
and answer the phones, radios and maintain flight ops, and it was good because we got to work in close with the pilots. Acted as the personal aide to the officer commanding of the helicopter school, and got to work with the operations officer and learn how flights are done, so it was a different aspect of aviation. It was good. A lot of good trips. In fact probably the best trip I did was, there was a pilot by the name of Captain Dudgeon who was quite a character, and
we sort of got established within the helicopter school and he said, “Look, we’re flying to Sydney for the weekend. We’re flying a general up to Victoria Barracks.” and I always wanted to fly into Victoria Barracks. I’d seen helicopters land there when I was on guard duty. “Man, I’ve got to do that one day.” and he said, “Do you want to come up?” “OK, great.” So the general rocked up and we put him in the helicopter and I acted as sort of like his crewman to look after him, and we flew up there and we landed and we kicked him out. Then we went off to RAAF
Base Richmond, refuelled. The other pilot jumped out because he was meeting friends there and then we flew back, and on the way, on the flight back, he let me fly the helicopter for my first time, and it’s really pretty easy. He controlled the pedals and I used the cycling collective, and flew over the Sydney Harbour Bridge at night and that was great. We landed, shut down and went off and caught up with friends for the weekend and then Monday morning when we came back he said, I said, “Where’s the general, aren’t we taking him back?” He says, “No, no, no.” Said, “We’ve got to fly back for afternoon.”
Says, “Yeah, but it’s a weekend of partying in Sydney, come on.” So that was pretty cool. We flew back and [UNCLEAR] drive back, so it was great.
their sexual motives, but some guys are just really big on porn and stuff like that, but yeah, a good bunch of guys. Funny, always had the troop clown or whatever. We were always cracking a joke and the guys in general were good, the troop sergeants and the pilots were good hands. In fact we had to go down to, down south where that Nomad crashed into the side of a hill and we had to basically start at one end
of the airfield within the practising and do a walk through to try and find bits and pieces of the aircraft to see what happened and it just didn’t dawn on me when I got to the crash site, three people have lost their lives here, and you look at it and go, “Wow, this is a lot of damage around here.” So that was interesting, but it just doesn’t dawn on you when you do it what’s actually happened, even though you can see where it’s crashed through the trees and things like that. In fact we actually had
a crash in one of our Porters. A pilot by the name of Monaghan was doing parachute work, and I can’t recall what happened, but he crashed at a fairly low altitude. Everyone was OK, but just basically he got busted up and broken nose and a few other broken ribs and bits and pieces, but yeah, sort of crashes like that sort of, it sort of rocks the squadron a bit because one
of the officers, you know, who is a mate so to speak, has been in an accident. It’s just not a good thing. It’s not like a car crash.
and I thought that was nice of him ’cause aircrew, we like our chocolates and we like being big fat bastards and lazy. So he put them on the table and he said, “Guys, made you some lamingtons, help yourself out.” This is great, lamingtons, you know, so we’ve all grabbed a lamington each and I went and sat at my computer terminal and put it down. Subconsciously I’m going, “Gee this lamington’s light, oh, whatever, I’ll eat it in a minute.” and I suddenly turned around and all the guys are choking and spluttering because the lamingtons are made of foam. I thought, “Thank God I didn’t eat it.” But that wasn’t the best part, was when
one of the other guys came in and he was renowned for being a pig, just eating all the time, and he was lined up well and truly and Rod Knox said, “Hey Gerry, these lamingtons for anybody?” Gerry goes, “Yeah mate.” and this guy’s just gone, “Rah rah.” like a seagull to a chip, and just swooped in and grabbed a bit of lamington and he’s taken a bite, a bit tough, so he’s taken another bite and a third bite. He’s suddenly realised these are made of foam and we’re just all there pissing ourselves laughing and he goes, “I didn’t want to say
anything because I didn’t want to insult your cooking.” And we’re going, “Yeah, sure.” So you never trust a loadmaster and his lamingtons, I always say.
Channel 7 uses. It’s basically the smaller version of the Bell Jet Ranger. Usually a crew of two, you’ve got your pilot and an observer. The observer is a co-pilot but he’s usually a corporal or a sergeant. You can fit three people in the back. You can use it for medevacs but you can only usually carry one person, or you can carry one litter patient and one medic. They don’t have any weapons, although they can be armed. In fact, the
American Army have what they call their Kiowa, the Warrior, as it’s basically the eyes and ears for the Apache attack helicopters, and usually on the Warriors they’ve got the big baseball which is like an observation ball which sits on top of the rotor and that’s got all the thermal imagery infrared night vision equipment so they can spot targets at distances, and sometimes on the Warriors they’ll carry a couple of Hellfire missiles or a small automatic weapon. On our Kiowas they don’t carry
any weapons whatsoever. In fact there’s a video made by Bell called Kiowa, and it’s basically a piss-take of the Kiowa, talking about the weapon system which is a bag of rocks and the long range fuel tank, which is a couple of oil drums strapped to the side, and the very futuristic targeting system which is a coat hanger wrapped around the pilot’s helmet coming to a little circle in front. Yeah, and it actually, they actually do two videos,
one’s for the Apache and it shows this Apache warrior bristling with muscles and he’s running through the scrub with his bow and arrow and his spear and he’s jumping logs and parting trees and then they show the Apache doing the same sort of thing. But the Kiowa shows this fat, lazy Indian sort of running, tripping over logs and hitting himself in the face with brushes, and then they show the sort of Kiowa sort of moseying along and trying to catch up. It’s actually good, they make fun of it, it’s a good joke. Yeah, when they talked about the weapon
system there’s the observer, like, throwing rocks to the ground and that was quite funny. So it’s good they sort of make those videos. Makes a bit of a joke of the situation.
Darwin in early ’92 and I got a phone call from my squadron commander and he said, “Have you got a girlfriend?” He said, “Are you married at all?” I said, “No Sir.” “Have you got a girlfriend?” “Oh yeah.” “Would that relationship stop you from going to Cam?” He didn’t even get Cambodia out. I said, “Yeah, I’ll go.” Didn’t even think about it, which is a bit sorry for the girl at the time, but operational service you don’t turn down, and I said, “This is great. I want to go, can’t go fast enough.”
And then we went back to, the exercise finished. In fact, that was an interesting exercise because we almost didn’t get home. Being up in Darwin, being in the tropics, there was a cyclone coming in and we had all our vehicles and everything and equipment scattered everywhere and they said three o’clock in the morning or something, three o’clock in the morning said, “Pack your bags, you’ve got to go now.” and we were all really tired ’cause we’d worked all day and into the night and we’d only had,
like, two or three hours sleep. And so the whole squadron packed up and we started driving out of Darwin and I remember being in the lead vehicle with my troop sergeant and we were singing songs and howling and trying to get the windows down and get the fresh air and trying to stay awake. It was like, and unfortunately we’d a few beers that night as well, and fortunately I don’t drink so it wasn’t a big deal, but I think if we had’ve got pulled over a few guys would’ve gone DUI [driving under the influence of alcohol], but the squadron commander said go and we didn’t want to get wiped out by a cyclone. So once we got back from that exercise, which was eventful,
yeah, we started going through all the procedure, doing our paperwork, getting our official passports and inoculations and things like that and then eventually we were actually posted to the UN. We went down to Brisbane, did our training down there. We met up with the other guys who’d be going.
But other than that, the training, we did some PT, did a lot of PT, a lot of sort of bonding with the guys that we were working with. I think the biggest pain in the arse was the equipment we were taking. They said, “OK, you can take two ash bags and a trunk. OK, you can take one ash bag and a trunk. OK, you can take two ash bags and no trunk.” and then they started giving us weight limits, and we’re going, “Come on, we’re going away for a year,
give us a break.” and I thought, “Well, I’ve got to take my gear.” A lot of my personal gear is all customised because I found the military equipment was pretty crappy, and I figured, “I’m going away for a year, I don’t know where I’m going, I want to have the best gear.” So I had it all customised and packed it all up and it was all, basically my bags were full of military gear. I think I had a change of civvies [civilian clothing] and that was it. So it was all military equipment in my ash bags and they were bursting. Some guys had, took the two ash bags, but like
half their ash bag was half empty. I’m going, “How can you do that?” So I think some guys were just going to get reissued with new equipment over there, but I wanted my own.
They had UN civilians and they had UN police, and then they had us come in as well. We had infantry over there but they were Uruguayan infantry. I think we had some Cameroon infantry who were a joke. We had Pakistani police, very worrisome people, Indian police, even worse, had Sri Lankan doctors who really needed to take a shower.
We had the French Foreign Legion there, they were great. They were very professional, they used to cruise around there in the Land Rovers. They had a sniper, a machine gunner and two riflemen. So they made a good little fire team, so they were good to have around, and we had a few other countries over there as well. But basically once we got there, we were basically two or three or weeks in Phnom Penh, got acclimatised, went through the Ho Chi Minh two step phase where you got the shits and trots and you were sick as a dog for 48 hours. Everyone
went through it, and then you got your equipment and you were deployed by a Russian helicopter. But the weather was a deciding factor over there. It took us four times to deploy. Three times out of Phnom Penh we had to turn around and go back, and then the fourth time we actually got to our seat to command and then it took another two times to get to the village, so yeah, the weather was just horrific. Surprisingly like, if you do a comparison of the equipment that I would wear when I went to transfer to Blackhawks to what the Russian helicopter guys wear,
it’s vastly different. Like, we’d have boots and flight suits and gloves and vests and helmets and all sorts. They wore thongs, stubbies and singlet and a bottle of vodka, but they did a really good job. They flew very well, they were safe, good guys to talk to and yeah, they were a blast. They were good fun.
Probably a week, I don’t know, can’t remember, but it was about a week or so. I just stayed in Brisbane and just caught up with family and friends and just basically partied on and caught up with more friends and hit as many restaurants as I could and eat as much good food, because I wasn’t too sure what I was going to have over there. Yeah, that was it, just caught up with family and friends and eventually we left, and it was good because we flew over by 747 and it was just all civvy air. Landed at Bangkok, and then it was like,
yeah, Bangkok was interesting because we landed there, what was it, something like eight o’clock at night and we were pretty tired and we spent an hour at Bangkok Airport and they said, “Look, it’s a three-hour drive to the hotel, we’ve got to be back at the airport at three o’clock for the flight out.” We’re going, “Can’t we just stay at the airport?” But due to security and stuff over there they said, “No, you can’t sleep here.” We were all happy to grab our bags and go sleep in a corner somewhere, but we had the three-hour drive to the airport,
to the hotel, sorry. We got there, we were all really really tired as it was and some guys decided they go off and hit the clubs and pubs and just stay awake the whole time. I got three hours’ sleep, which I think actually did more bad than good, and then we woke up, had a really interesting breakfast. I mean, Thai food, Thai food’s great. Thai fruit really sucks. I had a mate who tried the watermelon after I told him not to and he spat it out and said, “Ooh, that’s pretty bad.” Their oranges are funny, and
some other weird fruit, and then we hopped on a Thai plane and flew into Cambodia, where we were served breakfast with the smallest croissant in the world. I didn’t realise they could make them that small. It was just minute. I took a photo of it. It was just amazing, and then we landed. We were picked up by trucks and taken into Ptheh Australie or Australia House which was the established base there.
What was your first impression of Cambodia?
Very hot, and the people are very friendly. They’re all waving to us and everything and we’re saying “Hello” in Cambodian to them. They were obviously, I think they knew we were there to try and bring a bit of good to the country and bring a few things there to make things easier. When we got there we were issued more equipment. We had, like, these big, was the big 20 by 20 tents and we got our magazines and ammunition and
Kevlar helmets and Kevlar body armour and additional stuff we needed. It was just a great time in my life. I was taking photos of everything. Like I had, like I just got all my gear, piled it onto my stretcher and all the new equipment and other shit and had to take a photo of that, and it was like new backpacks and rifles and kitchen sinks and Swiss Army knives and that night everyone was just exhausted. We just all crashed out, like I think it was by six o’clock we were just unconscious, and the next day
we sort of got up and it started. We started getting lectures on first aid, on how to look after ourselves medically, the tablets Chloroquine and quinine, how to take that. Try and drink tonic water because it’s got quinine in it so that’s a good thing. We were also given lectures, where we were actually staying was like a theatre. We were actually staying around the outside, but they used this theatre as, like, a lecture hall, and it was good because we were told the price of a cab from the
base to the city. We were told the price of jeans, we were told the price of Lacoste shirts because the locals knew we were there, knew we were cashed up. They were going to try and take us for a ride. They said, “No, no, no, this is the price.” and always haggle, haggling’s fun, and they told us the rules of the streets and stuff. Stay away from the prostitutes unless you want something falling off in public when you get home. Yeah, it was almost like these are the rules of David Jones, but it was good, very, very good, well prepared,
and we got to go out and sample the local food and they were quickly adapting to Western-style food because a couple of the places opened up, and they made a really good damn hamburger with chips. In fact it was a cheeseburger with chips, so we’d have a coke and a cheeseburger with chips. In fact, every time we came back in from our villages we’d always go to this particular restaurant and it was really nice, and the shopping was really good. I got some nice jewellery from over there, some nice gold, and you pay like
$50 or $60 here and you come back and have it valued at $200 or $300, and they had some funky clothes over there, and they conned on that we like our music, so, not so much the, DVDs [digital versatile disc] weren’t out then, but videos were just galore. In fact DVDs were in I think, or was it CDs? [UNCLEAR] when I came back to the markets. There was the Russian markets and the central markets and the Russian markets were smaller but they had better stuff.
They had the G-shock watches and the Lacoste shirts and the jackets and you always go there and see what’s going on, a bit of a haggle, the Rayban sunglasses and all that sort of thing.
troops, or Uruguayan troops that speak Spanish, and we had the Russian helicopter crews who spoke Russian. So my Cambodian got pretty good and I found that myself and my team, we developed a good hearts and minds relationship with the locals. In fact they would actually come to us for medical help more than the doctor. We had a Sri Lankan doctor and they would come and see us. We stayed within the village. Occasionally we’d patrol out a little bit but just to see, we didn’t sort of
really delve out too far and if we did it was in a vehicle. But once we got our communications established, we learnt that they deal with things differently over there. Like, over there a marriage tiff sometimes ends by the husband shooting the wife. That happened a couple of times, and it’s like, well, this is what they do, stay out of it. We had a drunken soldier threaten our provincial boss. He was
Eduardo Zenna, he was a Spanish chap who ran the UN side of things, and there was a drunken soldier outside his house with an AK47. We went down with two Austrian police officers who were GSG9 [Grenzschutzgruppe, Border Protection Group] which is the anti-terrorist team. They were just on posting to the UN, and we went down. I went down with myself and another, one of the guys in my team and the Austrian guys talked him out of it, but the whole time we had him covered with our rifles just in case he did something stupid.
There was a few killings in the village, a couple of old marriage spats and the husbands would kill the wives, but it’s just the way they did it over there. I don’t think it would go well in this society, but a lot of medical work. A little boy was brought to me and I didn’t realise fever could affect someone that bad. His toes were hot. He was five or six and he was just screaming fever and I spoke to his
grandma who was looking after him and I said, “What are you feeding him? What are the medications?” And she was just overdosing on medication and feeding him too much fat and grease, and the body just wasn’t getting a chance to clear out. So I said, “OK, change his medication. Give him this, this, this and this.” and I said, “Next week feed him this, this, this and this.” and four days later he was playing with his mates, and he’s actually, like, from what I could tell when I spoke to one of the doctors he said he was getting malaria but because I changed everything and just used common sense in his medication
and his diet it staved off him, and that really got me big brownie points amongst the locals. On the good side of things we got invited to weddings. The Cambodians really know how to wedding. They really, they just, it’s like a 48-hour thing, drinking and eating and dancing and them some more drinking and eating and a bit more dancing and drink and eat and if you’re still standing you’ll do some more dancing and things like that. We got invited to some lunches or dinners and the idea is to make you eat as much
as humanly possible. You never look away from your plate because if you do the plate’s taken away and replaced with more food. You’ve got to watch out for that one. They served up goat which is beautiful, it’s like a roast. The food over there is fabulous. It’s really, really nice. We got a lot of traditional food.
you had no choice. We had rations with us but we had to mix it in with the local food and you had the Ho Chi Minh two step, so what can you do. There was a restaurant there that was run by one of the grandmas and she was a fabulous lady and she would cook this vegetable satay meal to die for. I mean, it was just so good, and then she would do this pork. I don’t know how she did it but it was just so yummy, in a restaurant,
loosely termed, with dirt floors, wooden benches and rats would run along the rafters but we didn’t really care. And they always used to watch kung fu movies, these martial art, all put the volume up way too loud and you’re sitting there, “Come on guys, give us a break.” and that’s how the kids learned, and they did it pretty well actually. They’d watch TV and that’s how they learnt. But the food was good and you didn’t mind the rats, and they made enough money out of us to actually build a decent restaurant and it had lights, and the fairy lights
and was all lit up and was like, “Wow, this is pretty cool.” and they made the same food and the kitchen was slightly more hygienic and stuff. But yeah, and you’d sort of come in and you’d sit at a table and they’d have, like, a jar of chocolate-coated nuts and that was sort of a freebie to entice you in and we’d go up there all the time anyway, so being the only restaurant in the village. But it was great. We had a really good bonding with them.
are up there with the British in the peacekeepers.” So as far as I’m concerned from my experience the best peacekeepers in the world are us and the Brits. And we get a bond with them, like we play soccer with the local kids and we do medical work and we play cricket and we teach them things and we play games and speaking the language is a big thing. Once you learn the language you’re halfway there. You’ve got everything sorted out. We would meet with the chief of the village and get to know him and bond
with him and I used to sort of bribe him with some ration packs and say, “We’re here to do good.” and especially when I helped the little boy out with the grandma, that was big brownie points. I’d go to the markets on a daily basis and say “Hi!” to everybody, go around and sort of, “Hi, how are you going? What’s happening?” I established a relationship with a couple of the traders there. One guy would go across the Vietnam border for us because we were only 30 kilometres from the Vietnam border. He’d go off and get us chocolates and stuff that we’d like.
He got me a Vietnamese flag, a Vietnamese helmet, and also he was under the impression that we were better people than he was. He’d say, “You are so much better person than I am, you are smarter, more intelligent.” I said, “No we’re not.” I said, “You speak English, you speak Cambodian, you’ve got a business running here.” They were impressed that we showed respect, that we weren’t sort of belittling them and taking advantage of them, treating them like monkeys because they were nice people. In genuine, they’re hypochondriacs, they love the drugs.
They love to sort of get the medication and, “I’m sick, I’m sick.” Give them a Panadol, but in general, yeah, they’re nice people. They look after us and treat us well ’cause we sort of did the same thing back.
It’s very weird, and on their chips as well. I don’t get that one. No, they like sour cream on their chips and mayonnaise. It’s vile. But she was great, her name was Oon but we called her Baldrick from Blackadder [British television series], and we actually told her that Baldrick was a sign of respect but she didn’t know. But we looked after her very well. We paid her in American dollars. We were actually given an allowance to have maids. It was a good hearts and minds thing to bond with the local community and to boost up
the village economy so to speak, and she would cook and clean for us and wash our clothes, which was good because basically we wanted to be able to do our jobs and not, wanted to alleviate a few of the menial tasks. But it was good, and once she sort of cottoned on how we want things, how to cook and that, was great, and she wasn’t backward in coming forward in playing tricks on us, ’cause one of
my guys, Drew Pickett, he was just a character. He burnt her with a spoon; you know the old spoon out of the coffee cup, sssss. “I’ll fix this.” so she got one out of the boiling pot and got him and we’re like, “Oh my God, this is like, when are the knives going to come out?” Yeah, then it was the pinching, the pinching competition, the punching competition. She wasn’t sort of holding back there, but she was great, she was good value, and because we were actually living in this house, hut sort of thing we were
amongst the locals, so we got to know them and they were our neighbours and we’d go and say “Hello” and they loved having their photo taken. So yeah, so you really got in amongst the community and that’s where your language really built up, because you’re amongst them all the time, so you couldn’t no longer read from a book. In fact when we first used the language it was just a debacle. Our skills were just absolutely woeful and we went to a local restaurant. Actually there were two restaurants in the
village, that’s right, and we said to this guy, “Where do we go to eat around here?” He said, “Well there’s only a few places to go, try this one.” So we went in there and we were speaking to the guy with the book and I’m trying to do the language as best as I can and he’s just looking at me going, like, “He’s either playing with me, he knows what I’m saying or he doesn’t know what I’m saying.” and eventually we had to actually do animal noises to get some chicken and some pork and we pointed on the table, “We want some of that, we want some bread.” We gave it away as a bad joke and it worked. We got our chicken, we got some salads and we got the pork and we were very happy, and then as our skills built up we were fine
from there. But I’m sure he knew what we were talking about. He was taking the piss out of us.
Can you just explain for people that aren’t familiar with it, explain a little bit more about the hearts and minds work, what that actually means?
Hearts and minds is where when you come into a village the locals are looking at aliens. You’re six foot tall, you’re blond hair, blue eyes and you look nothing like the locals. You’re in a uniform, you’ve got weapons, and they’re just not too sure what’s going on. So you want to establish yourself amongst the community to say, “Hey, we’re not here to kill you, we’re here to be kind and help you out.” and usually having contacts helps. The SAS are very good at this. They
establish themselves very well when they go overseas, and what you do is you find out who are the local chieftains, you introduce yourself, you’re pilot, you’re courteous, you say, “Here, this is the reason why we’re here.” You have interpreters who tell you what’s going on. When you’re sort of talking to chieftains because of the language barrier at first or you’ve actually, with some of the missions that we’ve had you’ve actually got guys who are from the village itself who have established themselves with the Australian forces and then they come back to the village, say,
“These are the Australian soldiers. They’re here to do good.” We didn’t have that, so we just had to sort of meet the local chieftains and just went around bit by bit and spoke to the locals. Learning the language and doing medical work is a big plus, and then playing with the kids, playing some sports with the kids and that sort of thing. That’s really good. So you’re winning them over so they trust you, so you become like a, you’re sort of like the uncle for the village, like Uncle John
for the village. The pilot term, or actually a sign of respect is to be called Pu which is a bit strange here but over there they would address me as Pu John, so it was sort of like being called sir, but I really worked hard for myself and my team members to sort of learn the language and to be in part of the community, and that’s why we got invited to wedding and to lunches and dinners and stuff like that. And it just makes it easier, so if there are problems
within the village you can deal with them and the locals will be on your side more so than the other person’s side if they were causing trouble.
“We’re just here to do communications. We’re not commandos, we’re not going on a killing spree.” and I would talk to the locals at the markets and say, “Look, if you’ve got any problems let me know. If your kids are sick or you want a hand with anything let us know.” and it sort of built up from there. Especially once, with the little boy and the grandma, that was like big Brownie points. That just really established me amongst the locals big time, because she looked like to be a bit of a
senior person amongst the village, and I was kind enough to get, they had like these little elephant tusks and the local high priest blessed the elephant’s tusk for me. I’m kicking myself because I lost it, so it’s just like, it was better than a DVD player. Something you want to keep for ever and a day, but something I just lost on the way home. But they’re just, it’s funny, you give them simple things and we used to give like, share out lollies from the ration packs with the kids and they
really liked that, so that sort of established what was going on. And the maid we had, her sister had a little son and he was willing to give up his family. He wanted to come back to Australia with me. So it was pretty hard to leave ’cause he used to come around all the time and we’d play games with him and he’d hang out and used to come on some of the walks around the village with us. Yeah, he was almost like my adopted son. I’d like to go back one day but I just don’t see it happening. I’d like to see where he is and what he’s doing,
but getting to the village is, you can only get there by helicopter. There’s no way in the world you could drive there. It’s just not going to happen, especially in the wet season.
I actually got to meet a few of the guys, which is interesting ’cause they were very, not all Khmer Rouge were bad. That’s the thing, half of them just went along with the crowd and I think they probably knew the government and the Khmer Rouge and that was it. The NADK and the Kapaff [Kampuchean People’s Front] may not have been so well known. It’s, the villages were just really isolated. I mean they could be just across the river but there’s no telephone, there’s no TV, there’s no video, there’s no
internet and their life is, they get up in the morning, they feed the kids, they tend the crops, they look after water buffaloes, they have lunch, they look after water buffaloes, they play, they have evening dinner, they wash the water buffaloes. That’s pretty much about it. They, yeah, it’s a very basic lifestyle. It’s like you want to go live there yourself. It’s like, “Wow, this is a pretty easy lifestyle.” Sort of no doing your taxes and
no sort of dealing with government bureaucracy and things like that, so it’s very, it’s a very different lifestyle. I think sometimes we should combine our lifestyle with theirs to sort of be a little bit more relaxed.
and then we had a village across the river and another one further down, but pretty much the only way to get to it was by the river. The road down there was just impassable. Some of the Uruguayan soldiers had got a bit friendly with some of the local girls. They weren’t prostitutes but they were just local women, but some of the local lads
had a sense of humour failure and ambushed them. So we did a rescue mission that night and even though it wasn’t my job, we had Uruguayan soldiers up here who went down in boats. We’ve lost communications, they’re not going to be able to establish communications, we’ve got to go, so I just made the decision that me and my, the signal I had at the tech, we should go as well, so we went down there and re-established communications and we got down there
in the middle of the night and it was all over. We had the guys medevaced out, and anyway, we came back the next morning. We basically stayed awake for 24 hours just sort of re-establishing the comms and reporting back to base and we came back and we’d actually camouflaged up, which is obviously the thing we should’ve done, but at the time it’s like you work amongst these people, your mates are in trouble, you go, and when we came back, we’d come back from, we were walking through the streets back to our thing and people were looking at us and thinking, “What are these guys doing?” My mate’s sort of saying,
“Are you playing games?” And I said, what did I say? “Kon yum sum lup chow konum my konohom.” which means, “I’ve just been off fighting the Khmer Rouge.” and it’s like, the look in your face was like holy shit. So they’re saying, “Don’t fuck with the Aussies.” and I couldn’t think of another way to explain to them. We weren’t down there, there was no contacts, we didn’t fire a single round, but I was just trying to explain to the
locals what had been happening, where I’d been and what I’d been doing, but it seemed to be the most appropriate way at the time, and it was like, “Wow, you guys must be pretty brave to take these guys on.” But I met the Khmer Rouge quite a few times and a lot of them were just misled soldiers. They didn’t realise what they were doing. They were just like, “OK, we’re soldiers. We’ll just follow our orders and do our thing.” and some of these guys were still in the jungle. I mean the atrocities
that happened were long gone but these guys were still in the jungle awaiting orders to do whatever, and we told them, said, “Hey guys, war’s over. It’s all gone.” They said, “Oh, oh, OK.” So we convinced a few of them to hand themselves in and they got re-established, but I’m sure there were ones out there who were just like absolute bastards who did what basically the Germans did to the Jews in World War II, but a lot of them were just soldiers,
just following orders and didn’t realise, and they were following the propaganda and the rhetoric and they were just going, “OK, they’re bad people, we’ll kill them.” They had no idea, and when we spoke to them it was like, “Really? We probably shouldn’t have been doing that.” But some of the other Khmer Rouge we met were the full-on dudes. They were just, like, out for blood and wanted to kill us and there were a couple of standoffs which we managed to talk our way out of.
the Mekong? Up the Mekong. We had Zodiac inflatable boats and the tide was down a bit, but it was, sorry, the river level was down a bit but we were still able to get up because of the Zodiacs, and actually they’ve got dolphins in the Mekong too, freshwater dolphins. That’s pretty cool. And we came to a village. They dropped us off at one end and we started patrolling through the different villages and it was just myself, I had a radio back pack and my rifle and we had
a couple of Royal Marine commandos who were unarmed, one or two Royal Navy guys who were unarmed. So I was the only guy who was armed and when we got to the very end of the village we were just about to hop back in the boats and we met a fellow called, company commander from the Khmer Rouge, and he was sort of asking what was going on. We were having a chat and his, one of his sergeants came down with a hand grenade and he just wanted our blood. He said, “What are you doing here?” Blah blah blah blah blah, “Get out of our village.” So then it was just a stand off between me and him because he had his grenade and I had my rifle and
everyone was really cool and calm because we had Royal Marine commandos and they’re very well trained. The Royal Navy guys are pretty good too, and I said to one of the Royal Marine commandos, I said, “Stand aside so I can get a clear shot, so I can shoot from the hip.” because I can’t actually raise the rifle, it will just give the game away that I’m going to take the guy down, but he had a hand grenade. With the hand grenade you’ve got four seconds, which doesn’t sound like much but it’s plenty of time to get the grenade and throw it in the river so we can get away. But he never threw the grenade and we talked our way out of it, said, “Look, we apologise. We’re
just trying to help people out.” and explained we’re here to do medical work and I’m here basically to protect the others from bandits and that sort of thing, and they went like, “OK, we think you should leave anyway.” So we said, “Yeah, we’re out of here.” which is a good thing because when we went back down the river they had an ambush waiting for us and they had RPG7s [rocket-propelled grenades], two or three heavy machine guns, so they would’ve carved us up, but because we did the good thing, and let’s talk our way out of this, let’s say this is why we’re here and explain to them, they said, “OK, well we think you
should go anyway.” So we never went back, it was too heavily defended and that’s Khmer Rouge territory so we’ll just stay out of there. Another incident we had at the opposite end of the river two, we’d been speaking to half a dozen Khmer Rouge guerillas in the jungle. We’d actually been going in there and having a chat with them and saying, “Listen guys, the war’s over. Hand yourselves in.” you know. We actually took, one of the Royal Navy guys was seeing
a local girl, although she was UN staff and she was quite a pretty Khmer Rouge, sorry, she was quite a pretty Cambodian lady and she came down sort of dressed nicely and everything with the perfume and she’d say, “Guys, look what you’re missing out on.” and they’d go, “OK, maybe we should give this jungle crap away, there’s women there.” So we talked two of them into coming and handing themselves in, and they’d basically come to the edge of the jungle and we were waiting with our four wheel drives, did
a bit of a snatch and grab, so as soon as they came in we wanted to get the hell out of there and they were just about to walk out of the jungle when a government patrol came along and they asked what we were doing. We said, “Just taking photos.” They said, “OK.” Off they went, and then the guys came out and hopped in the vehicles and we just bolted. So I think we were just trying to establish peace and just trying to get it spread through what was left of the Khmer Rouge elements like, you know, “The UN’s here to help and you guys are living in the jungle really missing out on life.” and these
guys were later on established. So yeah, that was quite an interesting day.
What about the actual election process?
There was a mass hiring of the locals for this. The UN staff just did not have the manpower to do it. I think it was done for two reasons. Obviously they needed manpower or women power, and plus it was putting a bit of money into the Cambodian economy, although really like the amount of money that the UN use they waste a lot of money. It’s just unbelievable what they spend.
So it’s a sort of a double-edged sort of thing but it was good. My maid that I had in my second village asked if she could go off and work and I said, “You go for it, because you’ll make a lot more money than what we’re paying.” and I think they were paying something like $100 a week, $100 US a week which is a fortune for the locals. So we established election points, and on the first
day I was in the lead vehicle with Major Chris Lincoln-Jones from the Royal Artillery in the British Army and we were in the lead vehicle, and when we were actually heading out to the village, the problem with the villages is the villages are established in certain areas. Once you go outside that village you’re in bandit country. There was a Dutch patrol,
there were a truckload of Dutch soldiers which were ambushed by the Khmer Rouge. Not a shot was fired but basically they were stripped of everything. They took all their weapons, all their food, they took everything off them. We had Morris Catering over there, they got robbed on a regular basis. They just descended upon these trucks with shipping containers and took everything out and off they went. So we led the patrol out to the village. On the way out there we came across a, was he Yugoslavian
or was he Dutch? I think he was a, could’ve been Czech. I can’t quite remember, but we were going along, I said, “There’s one of the local soldiers, he’s a bit close.” We were going, like, no, no, no, he’s white, and we were like three or four kilometres out of the village which is bandit country big time, and basically it boiled down to he got drunk, was pissed from the night before and got the shits with the army and said, “I’m out of here.”
walking off into the Cambodian jungle, which is not good. So we said, “We think you should come with us.” so we put him in the vehicle, took him back and handed him back to his commanding officer and went back down and established the first election point, and when we got out there my maid was out there and she was so pleased as punch that I came out to say hello and everything. She was taking me around and meeting all her friends and it was like, “This is Pu John.” and everything. I’m saying hello to everybody. Of course, like, I’m six two and they’re four foot nothing and I’m quite large
and they’re just sort of like, and I had body armour on and my equipment made me look even bigger and they’re all going, “Oh, oh.” and of course they like to pat your forearms because of the blond hair, or they don’t have hair on their arms, so they like to do that. It was just nice to go out and visit the locals, ’cause I’d say she’d been telling her friends about me ’cause we just treated her well, paid her well and gave her food, any spare rations we had and we just, you know, she was looking after us, why not look after her?
But just getting the elections established, that was good, and once we got them up and running they ran for about two weeks while everyone went in and did their thing.
medevacs as well. In fact some of the guys who were over there, I actually met when I was posted to 5AO [area of operation], aviation. So, in fact some of the guys who were over there were actually on the same ground crewman’s course as I was. So from what I remember I think it all ran fairly smoothly. During the period we were over there, there were incidents before the elections of just trouble with the Khmer Rouge, trouble with
bandits, that sort of thing. We had one guy who talked 20 bandits out of robbing a village. They came to town to have a bit of fun and he spoke the language very well. In fact I think three weeks prior to being deployed to Cambodia he spent that time in a house with Cambodians down in Melbourne. He just hung out with them and his language skills were brilliant, so he managed to say, “Come on guys, this is not the thing you should be doing.” Said he wasn’t stepping back and he wasn’t going to lose his ground, so
he stood up to them and they said, “OK, we’ll head off.” I think because he just showed no fear and I think the Cambodians were going like, “This guy’s not backing down and it looks like he can take a few of us, so let’s just give it away as a bad joke.” We actually had a drunken soldier come into our compound. We had established quarters outside of the compound in one of the flats for want of a better word, but we had like an established UN compound and in one building we had the UN police
and in the more larger building we had the UN staff who were doing all the electoral stuff and then this soldier wandered in and he had an AK47 and a hand grenade and he was threatening people. I was on patrol when I heard about it, but he mouthed off and carried on and everything and eventually he just wandered out, but he scared the living shit out of the electoral staff. I sort of
felt a bit sorry for them. They were civilians and really, some of the things they went through, they weren’t trained to deal with it. We had, one night there was a lot of shooting in the streets and there was mortar fire going off and I don’t know if it was government troops against Khmer Rouge but someone was getting a little bit carried away with their weapons and we had like a little club within the compound, a little boozer or sort of
café, so to speak, and we just, a few beers and soft drinks, and we just got, half a dozen new UN staff had come in for the elections to help out and they were just terrified and I’d come in and I had my body armour on and my rifle and to sort of see what’s going on and how things are going, ’cause our communications were within the UN building itself with the electoral staff. They said, “What do we do if we’re under fire, under attack? What should we do?” I said, “Have a drink.” They went, “Oh.” and so they went,
“Oh well, he’s going to sit down and drink, we’ll have a drink too.” So they didn’t worry about it so much. We had fairly high walls so we were safe to a certain extent, but what more could you do? And because I kept my calm and made a bit of a joke they seemed to relax a little more and made things easy. Although one day we had four Australian backpackers come to my village. I’d come back from patrol, come up the steps from the Mekong River, I’ve got to tell you a good story
about that, and there were these four people. There were two guys and two girls and I walked up and said, “How you going? I’m J.J. Fraser, who are you?” And, “We’re from Australia, we’re backpacking around the countryside.” I said, “Are you kidding me?” I said, “Come on guys, this is not a good thing.” So yeah, we basically bundled them up, put them in a helicopter and took them back to Phnom Penh, but they’d just been trekking through and, “Guys, this is not a good thing to do.”
movie, Apocalypse Now, never get off the boat, well, don’t get off the road. I showed you the picture before about the truck that ran over the landmine. In the established area it was OK. There was a story of, in fact that photo I showed you before about the helicopter, on that same strip Khmer Rouge guerillas snuck in and planted landmines around the outside of the airfield but that was thwarted by a herd of cows. So they all turned into beef stroganoff, but
better cows than humans. It was a bit upsetting for the farmer because he lost all his herd, but it was just one of those things. There was an incident of a few people arrived in a helicopter and stepped off and didn’t realise they were actually walking through a minefield and some mines can be a little bit itchy and the downward draft from a helicopter actually can set them off. So, plus a lot of the landmines,
some of them were French made and they’re called Butterfly mines. They basically look like a butterfly, a green butterfly and they’re deployed from a helicopter and they basically come out and spiral to the ground and just drop and then they’re activated. So we’d had incidents of kids picking them up or people stepping on them and that sort of thing, and they’re the worst kind because they’re scattered. They’re not marked in the areas. You can’t mark them. If you throw them from a helicopter you don’t know where they’re going to land. Normally when you set a minefield it’s established and you’ve got a map
of where every single mine is and there’s patterns in the way you do certain things. I did an assault pioneer’s course and we actually set out a proper minefield on a parade ground and we set the mines in the patterns and then we were actually blindfolded and told to walk through, and you couldn’t walk through without tripping one. So those are the worst mines when they’re deployed by aircraft because you don’t know where they’re going to go. You can’t go and pick them back up. The kids think they’re a toy because they look like a little mini frisbee and they pick them up, throw it, their mate catches it and boom, there goes his hand. We saw a lot of
that. Kids with no arms or legs or saw a lot of the adults missing a leg or two. That’s why we did a lot of medical work in the last six months when I was in Krâchéh. A lot of the patrols would go out and deal with medical stuff. I met a little boy once and he had, you know the oil lanterns you get? And it dropped on top of him and all the hot oil and everything had gone down and burnt his back
and his back caught on fire and he just came up and said, “Can I get a bandaid?” I said, “Whoa, let’s have a look at your back.” I said, “That’s not good.” and we had what we called the magic spray which is like, it’s a very strong antiseptic, and this kid was so brave. I mean I’d actually used the stuff on myself and it stings like there’s no tomorrow, and I sort of cut off some of the dead flesh and sort of cleaned his back up and put the spray on and cleaned it all up and he was just,
he was incredibly brave and he shed a tear or two and then once the sting wore off he was OK, and I said, “I’ll be back in three days, come back and see me.” Came back and it had all started to heal properly, but otherwise he would’ve been walking around forever and a day and would’ve got an infection for sure. Another guy I worked on, he had, we were doing like a clinic and we were just treating basic sort of cuts and abrasions or gashes that happens
in normal everyday life. This guy had a boil or cyst the size of a golf ball down here on his leg, sort of near his groin, and the local medic had just given him a bandage. He was just a Cambodian medic, said, “Here’s the bandage, off you go.” I said, “Hang on, what are you doing? What is it?” And he took it off and like, “Oh, that’s interesting.” I said, “I think I’ll have a look at that.” So I got him to lay down on a table and pulled out my kit and basically just, like, lanced the
cyst, boil, whatever you want to call it, and cleaned out all the pus and it was just, oh, it was just atrocious. It was just like, but oh yeah, whatever, I had my gloves and no big deal, and cleaned all the dead skin off, got all the puss and the blood, cleaned it up, used the magic spray and I was having a chat and said, “OK, try and be as careful as possible.” and I said, “Yep, no problem.” It looked a lot better and I said, “See you in three days, come back.” He came back in three days, it was pink, it was healthy. It had gone down dramatically
and dressed it again and that and came back a week later and you could still see, it was like he’d had it, but it was well and truly on the way out. So they have certain things they just deal with. They just walk around with these cuts and abrasions and burn marks and they just got no other choice but to have it there and they can’t do anything about it.
At my first village we had a Russian observer. He was in the Russian military, he was either KGB [Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, Committee of State Security] or GRU [Glavnoye Razvedyvatelnoye Upravleniye, Chief Intelligence Directorate]. No one speaks five languages in the military unless you’re intelligence, and I said to him, “You speak that many languages, what are you, KGB or GRU?” “My friend, what is KGB? I do not know what you’re saying.” I said, “Yeah, OK buddy, whatever you reckon. You’re just a little bit too freaky to be normal army.” but he gave me his, he made me a trade. We had, I gave him one of my DPCU shirts and he gave me his colonel’s dress jacket
which I’ve got framed downstairs. I’ll show you later, and it’s just beautiful. It’s when you see, like, the Russian military on TV, the big generals and that have got their nice big beautiful coats. He gave me that. I’m going, “Score.” Another guy, I think they were Yugoslavian, they gave me one of their combat jackets and it was a nice camouflage jacket and a best friend of mine, I gave it to his nephew because I thought he would like it and he was a growing lad and he seemed like he really like it. My friend tried to steal it, so then I, “No, no, no, it’s for your nephew, you just
can’t have this.” Yeah, we traded a little bit here and there. Some of the other guys might’ve done a bit more than I did, but yeah, they were the sort of things I did. Little knick-knacks too, like on the board there I’ve got some of the money, a Russian rouble and some of the local money, the phone card that I had over there on the tour. I’ve got the address of one of the
Russian pilots who said, “When you come to Moscow, come on, we’ll party like it’s 1999.” He wanted me to come to Phnom Penh, “Come on, I’ll teach you how to drink vodka.” I said, “I don’t think my liver could handle it, mate.” But I’ve got an electoral T-shirt, which is too small for me but I didn’t care, I was going to frame it anyway. I’ve got a few other things. I guess I just don’t get asked that question on a regular basis, so it’s like I actually have to think about what do I have?
I’ve probably got a few other things here and there that I don’t really remember. They’re framed somewhere so I’ve got a habit of framing things ’cause I looked at it one day and they’re all scrunched up and I said, “Why should this be sitting in a bag gathering dust? It should be out on display.” So yeah, it’s framed, everyone can see it, I can enjoy it and it stays there forever and a day.
well, we flew into Sydney and they basically whisked us through customs. In fact we didn’t even go through customs, so I could’ve had half a dozen landmines and an AK47 and no one would’ve known, and we were taken straight to Randwick Barracks and my brother was there to meet me, which was good, and we were given our medals, one of the medals while we were there, so that was nice. But I had phoned my family in Brisbane. I had sent them letters saying, “I’m coming home, here are the times, here are the dates.” I’m pretty sure I phoned them from Sydney too. Got
to the airport and as we were landing I said to my mate, “I bet you my family’s not there.” I said, “Can I borrow yours?” And I hopped off the plane and there’s a big sign, “Welcome Home, blah blah blah.” It was for him, not for me, and my family wasn’t there. I was pretty pissed about that, like fuck’s sake. So I went down to the baggage claim and got my bags and my sister rocked up and she was by herself and I thought, “Thank God someone’s here to get me.” So yeah, it was, I was pretty disappointed. It was just one of those things. In fact the
lady on the plane, there was another lady sitting beside us said, “Oh, have you boys been off for exercises, have you?” I said, “No, we’ve actually been in Cambodia.” “Oh, that sounds exciting.” So it’s funny how the Australian public are in the dark about what we do sometimes, but that’s the media’s job and Cambodia’s old news and that’s fair enough. You’ve got to keep up with things.
inches and pounds. I think, too, the crew coordination and actually the flying part when you’re actually sitting in the back. You’ve really got to learn. When you’re on the ground, like in armour it’s like you’re on one plane, but up there it’s like a three dimensional plane, you’ve got the sky, you’ve got the ground, you’ve got mountains, you’ve got everything. So you’ve just got to be looking around everywhere all the time. When you do your job you’ve got to have a high sense of situational awareness. You’ve got to be not only looking, but listening to what the pilots
are saying, listening for what the other loadmasters are saying, processing that and putting it, “OK, they’re saying this, should I be doing that?” So you’re sort of all over the shop, but you learned. It’s a good course, and they take you from the basics and work you up to a good level of confidence, but it’s a high level so you’ve got to learn fast. Once you’re off, once you fail, you fail, you get taken off the course. I nearly failed a ride once
because when I was doing an approach into a pad I kept on missing a tree. Like this small, it wasn’t a tree, it was more like this large log that was on the flight path set fairly low, but I’d actually hurt myself prior to that playing soccer, and because I was trying to lean outside the helicopter where I’d actually hurt my leg was playing up, and after the third attempt to get to the pad I said, “Look, can I blow this off? I just can’t do it, my leg’s killing me.” and they said to me, they said, “Look, you’re lucky your leg was doing that because we were actually going to fail you.” So I would’ve had another go at it but still it was, like, “Thank
God, actually, that sort of happened.” But I think it was like I couldn’t concentrate properly because my leg was just hurting so much. So I went back and they gave me a couple of days off. It fixed it up, went back to the same pad and no problems. When you fly you’ve got to be fit, 100 percent fit. You don’t fly with the flu; you don’t fly if you’ve had an argument with your wife. You know like you see in the movies, the fighter pilots have got pictures of their wife in the cockpits. You never do that. That’s stupid, because you lose concentration all of a sudden. If you have an argument with your wife and you go flying,
then you’re putting the whole crew in jeopardy, and we actually get briefings on incidents where people have had arguments with their spouses, girlfriends before flying and crashed into sides of mountains. [UNCLEAR] exercises and killed the whole crew because the mind wasn’t on the job.
where the helicopters were and we used to dream of the day when we would be at the terminal across the road hopping in a plane to fly home because we passed the course. So yeah, we were pretty stoked once we passed. Once you get past Squirrels you’ve got the good tools to sort of, the good basic tools to do the Blackhawks. The Blackhawks are a lot more technical, everything’s a lot more faster, but in my opinion when you pass the Squirrel and you do it well, you can pass the Blackhawk. Totally different aircraft but you’ve got the knowledge to do it. You’ve just
got to do the transition. Unfortunately, we had a month between courses, which I didn’t really like because you’re sort of, you were brushed up to a good standard, you were good to go and then have that month break, it was like, oh man. We had a guy on my course who was panicking, freaking out about it. “Don’t worry about it, you’ll be fine, just shut up. Stop pissing us off, just relax a bit.” But it was actually funny when we left, we dropped off at the airport and we went through the metal detectors. We had our own helmets and we had knives and little Gerbers [brand of knife] stuff like that, and airport
security are going, “What the hell?” And we explained who we were and, “OK, off you go.” Nowadays it just wouldn’t happen, after September 11th, but it was good to sort of realise, pass the course, you’re out of here. So that was good.
Generally speaking the right hand loadmaster is the senior loadmaster. Once you’ve got dressed, you’ve got your helmet, your flying gear, you go to the aircraft, you do your pre-flight, you check your equipment, be it the external load hook or the rescue hoist, check your seats, check all the equipment you may need for the sortie, whether it be external load gear, rescue equipment, that sort of thing. Then you go through your start up procedures, all the equipment’s checked, the engines are checked,
the rotors are checked, that sort of thing. Then you take off. As soon as you start taxiing you’re actually giving clearances to the pilots, because the aircraft’s quite long. The overall length is 64 feet 10 inches and the rotor diameter is 53 feet eight inches. So it’s quite a large aircraft, and when you’re taxiing out you’ve got the tail kicking out wide, so you’re letting the pilots know the tail’s clear, right, and you clear the taxi forward left and clear the taxi forward right. Reason being is like you’re on a tarmac with other aircraft, so the last thing you want to do,
is plough into another aircraft while you’re taxiing along. When you go to take off you’re telling the pilots to clear up left and clear up right so you can actually lift off and roll away, because especially in airports there’s always fixed wing aircraft coming in, other helicopters, and in Townsville there’s FA18s every now and then. You also do, they’ve got the, what they call the TOLD Book, T-O-L-D, take off and landing book, and that basically what you’re doing
is, you’re doing the weights of the aircraft. With aircraft it’s all weights and the fuel ratio. The aircraft weighs a certain amount and that allows you to have performance with the engines at a certain amount. It also allows you to lift a certain amount. The more fuel you burn off the lighter the aircraft becomes, the more you can lift, the higher you climb depending on the temperature and altitude, the faster you can go or the more you can lift or the less you can
lift. So you have to take things into consideration, like the cooler it is the better it is. Like for every 1,000 feet you’re climbing you lose two degrees, so once you’re rolling away, doing up new performance charts because you’re climbing to a different altitude so you’ll have different performances, so the performances you have at sea level will be different at 2,000 feet and different at 4,000 feet. You start a fuel flow rate, so that way you’re sort of keeping track of how the fuel’s going, make sure everything’s in sync. That way if the controls start
buggering up you can sort of notify the pilots, well we’ve been going for a while and we’ve only burnt up 10 pounds, that can’t be good. And then when you actually get to the training area, you’ve already had a briefing about what you’re going to do, just tactical flying, navigation work, you’re going to go and do some approaches into some tight pads, do some hook work, do some work with the hoist, do some slope landings, that sort of thing. Get at the training area, run through some quick
safety checks, and then you’re into the mission and you go off and do what you need to do. If you’re doing some basic work like, say, like a tight pad, the job of the loadmasters is to inform the pilots. What they call the run so when you’re approaching into a pad you’re telling the pilots, you run through checks at the back, you sit in the back, you say, “Clear and left, clear and right.” which means he’ll clear into that pad. Then as you get to the area you’re actually clear to come straight down, you say, “Clear to the centre left, clear to the centre right.” and you’re telling
the pilots the height from the aircraft to the ground or at some stage, you’re actually saying, you’re calling distances that run heights below, saying, “400 a run, 40 below the aircraft to the ground or aircraft to the trees.” and we actually found that in the training area the trees were a standard height of 50 feet, which was good for night vision work because you use them as a reference and then basically just bring the aircraft to the ground. If you’re doing a sloped landing you’ve got to be basically allowing for the fact that the rotor will stay on an even plane,
but the aircraft will tilt down the slope, especially if you land on some of the sloped landing pads that are on rocks. So you’ve got the wheels all touching at a different time, so as you come down, you say, “One foot below the left, two feet below the right, four feet below the tail.” and you sort of call it down bit by bit, and as long as the pilot’s aware you can put the rotors, I think the closest I’ve put the rotors to the ground is two feet. That’s on a sloped landing.
That’s in some of the tight pads. There’s the combat survival pad up in high range training area and it’s fairly tight and in fact it’s a pain in the arse to find it because it’s amongst all the trees in the jungle, but once you find it you’re working fairly hard because you’re on the limits. You’ve got safety limits of 10 feet from the rotors to an obstacle, be it a tree or a rock or whatever, so you’re working fairly hard. So you’re the eyes and ears of the pilots. If you’re doing a hoist, you’re operating the rescue hoist and practising
deploying the sling down. Sometimes we take a jerry can to add weight to the sling itself because otherwise once it sort of comes out of the hoist itself it starts to spool around a bit and sort of fly all over the place and you may get it hooked in trees. If we’re doing external load work we usually using blivets which look like a big fat black marshmallow, weighs 4,000 pounds. It’s a fuel blivet and we go and actually hook the load up with some external load strops and then we basically manoeuvre the aircraft, hook it up and then we fly away
and do a thing from there. So it’s all accrued environment. If we’re doing external load work we’re managing the load, we change the performance figures of the aircraft and let the pilot know what the load is doing. Sometimes loads have a habit of becoming a problem. They did some flight tests on the cargo boxes that they use for the rotors for the Blackhawk to cart them around and they’re going, “Like, don’t do this. This is not going to be good.” and sure
enough they took off and rolled away and the thing started to come out of control. It was just flying out of place so they just released it and punched it off and basically destroyed a $90,000 rotor. That was the loadmaster’s call. He’s got a basic appender control and he can release the load at any time if the aircraft comes in danger. Internally it depends on what we’re doing. If we’re doing a medevac, if we’re just picking up normal troops, if we’re carrying stores, it’s the loadmaster’s job to ensure that everything is strapped down
properly, both forward and aft and laterally. If you’ve got passengers make sure they’re briefed, they’re dressed properly, they’re seated properly, they know escape procedures, safety procedure on the aircraft, and then it gets more complicated when you start doing work with the SAS or normal combat troops, but especially SAS and counter terrorist work. Pretty much when you put on your helmet and plug into the intercom system you don’t shut up from start to finish the whole time, when you’re flying along and if you’re doing air assaults, that sort of thing, it’s just,
you’re just talking all the time, safety checks and formation information and it’s like calling the aircraft into the target and it’s just blah blah blah blah blah. If you sat in the back you’d think we were speaking Chinese because we were talking so fast.
and people sort of question about the Blackhawk and is it a really good aircraft because of the crash the other day, but we’ve got basically 30 Blackhawks, not even that, for the entire Australian Defence Force. The Americans have got bases where they have 1,000 Blackhawks on the base itself. So you just can’t imagine that. We expect to have like, and even within the Blackhawks, halve them because half of them are dedicated to the SAS alone. So you’ve got guys who,
they want the Blackhawks for infantry work or they want the Blackhawks to go and move artillery pieces or they want the Blackhawks to go and work with the navy or we’ve got to deploy them to East Timor or whatever. So everyone wants a piece of [UNCLEAR] because of the Blackhawks and where you get tired. I think I’ve seen the squadron at full strength for one week only and it never happened again, and the reason things happen sometimes is when you get tired.
The concentration you need when you fly, it’s like a tightrope act. You’ve just got to focus the whole time. As soon as you put the helmet on you’re focussing, so when you come back you’re tired, you’re hungry. When you start doing more than two hours and four hours and six hours, especially in the field, and you’ve got to do night work at night, you don’t have the comfort of a nice air conditioned bed to come to, you’ve just got to sleep in the field and that’s when you sort of sometimes put your hand up and say, “I am too tired to fly. I need a break or I need more time
off.” So the regiment gets flogged fairly badly, but it’s just one of those things. There’s not much you can do about it.
qualified. They do all the day flying, and then we’ve got, everyone does day flying but the junior guys are trying to get a bit more day flying, and then you’ve got the senior guys, they do all the night vision work because they’re qualified to do that. The squadrons, there’s A and B Squadrons within 5 Aviation and C Squadron. A is Blackhawks, B is Blackhawks and C is Chinooks. A squadron is counter terrorist, B is what we call green role, work with infantry, artillery, that
sort of thing, and C is the heavy lift with the Chinooks. So pretty much we all work at the time, but we allow for the thing, like if you’re flying at night you will come into work in the afternoon and if you’ve flown the night before you come to work later on that day. You’ll come into work at lunchtime. There’s a formula that you use. I think it’s like whatever time, if you finish at midnight flying, you come in 12 hours the next day, so you come in 12 o’clock
that next day. And that’s what tires guys out, the continuous night flying, the continuous day flying and the fact we don’t have as many crews as we’d like and everyone wants a piece of us, and when we do counter terrorist flying, that’s the hardest and the longest and the most tiring and most dangerous flying you can do because you’re flying in tight ship formation and we don’t get to do that a lot. So that’s the problem with it.
toys and gizmos. We should’ve bought a more basic model and saved more money and bought more aircraft. Being based in Townsville too, close to the ocean we were having problems with corrosion and it’s only now they’ve established hangars for the aircraft. Each aircraft has its own hangar and they’ve got a wash point and they’ve got civilian cleaners and one aircraft is washed a day. In fact sometimes they do two a day to keep the aircraft washed. They’ve got like a, I suppose the best way to describe it is like an Armorall product they use on it to
sort of put on the aircraft. We actually were doing it ourselves and we had a lot of shiny Blackhawks on the tarmac because we were actually using too much stuff. It wasn’t affecting it as in, like, but it was making it, we were just getting a bit carried away with material. So we just sort of had to tone that down a bit. They handle the dust fairly well. Like, we really haven’t had the sort of conditions they have over in the desert,
but dust sort of affects anything, any sort of vehicle, be it Land Rover, tank or helicopter. Especially with the Apache, like it’s a very complicated piece of equipment. It’s all singing or dancing and you’ve got your firing rockets, you’re firing anti-tank missiles, you’re firing guns and the aircraft’s just a massive flying computer and even the Blackhawks have computers. You find you get a fair bit of dust in the cockpit, so a lot of the pilots would carry a paint brush and just brush down the console and keep it nice and clean.
In fact, when you fly at night under night vision goggles, when you come into a landing it’s like, you know those little sparklers you put on a cake? That’s exactly what it’s like, it’s sort of all, you can see all the sparks flying and the dust is coming up and hitting the leading edge of the rotors, so you can sort of see it with the naked eye, but under night vision goggles you can really see it. It’s like wow, that’s a lot of dust. But in normal Australian conditions we haven’t had
too many dramas except for the corrosion. That’s all fixed now.
it, and my helmet, I really liked my helmet. I just really enjoyed the work, just being in the squadron. I used to get to work early. I loved wearing my flight suit, being with the guys, going off and doing missions. I just really enjoyed flying 24/7, and especially when I got to do night vision goggle work, you got a lot better at day flying because your concentration at night was hyped up, more so than the day.
You just become more aware of everything at night, so during the day, you’re more aware, you become a better crewman. When we did the difficult stuff, like doing slope landings or doing a pinnacle landing where you basically bring the aircraft down and you’ve got to, say, touchdown on the top of a rock formation with one wheel, using the hoist, doing external load work. I just enjoyed every aspect, I suppose,
working with our customers like the infantry or the artillery, that sort of thing. When we did, like, open days when the families would come in or the public would come in, I was always put with the Blackhawk to sort of explain to people how things ran and stuff. So yeah, just every aspect, it was really good. Search and rescue work was good as well. I only did one mission in Australia. I did a few in
Timor but I think I was in the regiment for three or four months and they said, “We’ve got to do a search and rescue out on the reef.” So they sent along a senior sergeant and he came along to ride in the back but it was myself and another loadmaster, he’s a fairly junior loadmaster, Stu Bailey, or he’s more senior than I was, but compared to the senior sergeant he was very junior and we went out and we acted as the loadmasters and, sorry, hang on, no, I’ve got that wrong.
I was the left hand loadmaster, the sergeant was the right hand loadmaster. Stu Bailey was the wireman. He went down the hoist to do the rescue, and that was good experience. It was really good that they had the confidence and said, “Well, you’ve got to do it some time. Now’s the time to do it.” They put you with a senior guy and off you go. We had a medic in the back as well, and it was a good mission, very good mission.
24 hours and we were the only aircraft around with the legs to get out there. We had the range to get out there. So we flew out there, it was actually funny because we flew out there, we got set to go, we did a couple of, a bit of a reconnaissance to come in and then once we got established as Stu was going down on the hoist I hung out the window and just waving to him and he’s going, “You jackass.” and then when he got down he said, “OK fellows, don’t rush, just form a line and we’ll sell you some tickets.” They were pretty tired and cranky. They were sort of going, “Oh yeah, just get us up there.” and then
yeah, we just basically hoisted them up and took them back. But the thing is though, in that situation the reason we use a wireman, because if you put weight on the wire, on the hoist to go down so it’s fairly stable, you also carry a little kit with a rope in it so that when you’re sending someone up on the hoist you’ve got this rope attached to it. It helps sort of steady it, but also when the sling comes down
empty it’s not being flung around by the wash. You can just basically reel it back in, put someone on. When you’re the last person to hop in the sling, well you’ve got the weight on it, the hoist, anyway, so that will make it stable and bring it back up. So Stu went down and had a bit of a swim in the ocean and got the guys on the slings and away we went.
guys. We put them on the slings by themselves but he went down and basically said, “OK, this is what we’re going to do. This is how you do it. This is what we want you to do.” When you’ve got someone on a sling they don’t do anything, they just sit there and hang. We don’t want them trying to climb into the cabin themselves. We do that. We’re basically, it’s sort of like the friendly spear tackle to get them in. You don’t want them falling off the sling. That’s just a nightmare. So he goes down and tells them what’s going to go on, ’cause what we’ll do, we’ll come in over the
top of the boat, send the wireman down and we’ll back away and we’ll run out, pay out cable. I think we’ve got 425 feet of cable, I think, if memory serves, and that way he can sort of, “OK guys, this is the deal.” and then we can come back in and as we come in we retrieve the cable up to the hoist and then we bring them up. Single hoisting is always the easiest. The double hoist is a pain in the arse, but sometimes you’ve just got to do it. You don’t have much of a choice. And Stu came up with the last
guy. So it was a good day, good experience, got a face on TV and everything. I got a bit of ribbing because when the guys were taken out of the aircraft and sent towards the tarmac we were sort of joking, I had them in a headlock to make sure they didn’t wander off and I never saw the footage but apparently it looks like I had them in headlock, “Come on, go this way.” So, it was quite funny.
and, “How ya goin’ .” and blah blah blah, and one’s a major, one’s a captain and they don’t care. They’re there to do a job, very professional, very good at what they do, best in the world as far as I’m concerned. British SAS are on equal par, and even working with their own infantry. They’re very good at what they do. We’re treated differently to everyone else. Like, we had to do some work one day with an artillery unit
and we actually weren’t part of the exercise, we just went out there for the day to support them and move their guns around and we flew out there and artillery are very, very strict. I think they’re more regimented than infantry, and we flew out there and we landed and shut down and their battalion, sorry, their battery sergeant major was yelling orders and making guys run around and making them jump through hoops and stuff and we wandered
over, “G’day sir, how ya goin’? J.J. Fraser.” very relaxed, and he knew we were professionals and do a job and support them, and it was later on, I actually ran into the same battery sergeant major on a deployment and I was doing ground liaison work and I had to go along and brief these guys to fly Blackhawks and I met a sergeant who walked up and introduced me to him as J.J. Fraser, said, “G’day sir, I’m Sergeant So and so, this is J.J. Fraser.” and the battery sergeant major barked at the
sergeant, “We use rank in the army, sergeant, get the fuck out of here.” and off he goes and I go, “G’day sir, J.J. Fraser, remember me?” “Oh JJ, how are you going mate, how are you buddy?” So it’s like poor old sergeant got a kick in the arse, but sort of I’m this guy’s best friend, so we’re treated differently to everybody else. I think because it’s not so much the rank as the position we hold as a loadmaster on a Blackhawk and the responsibilities that we have.
formation flying, doing time on target, doing assaults to building, that sort of thing, without the SAS, getting our calls down pat, and then when the SAS rock up we then started from scratch again and just work up and do it bit by bit and work up the training. On the day itself I remember just going to work, being a normal day. We’d, yeah, everyone was quite relaxed and my crew, Kel Hales, John Berrigan and Michael Baker, we
were very slick at what we were doing. The crew coordination was excellent. We were a very high standard. We were reading each other’s thoughts, we were reacting to everyone instantly, there were no problems whatsoever. In fact Michael Baker was on a high because he just got promoted to corporal. I’d actually spoken to our troop sergeant, Mick Allen, and he said, “Look, what are we going to about Mick, he’s not a happy camper at the moment.” And I said, “Look, promote the guy, make him a corporal. It will beef him up.” I think Michael was looking for
some direction and he wasn’t very happy about the way things were going. He felt like he was just behind the eight ball with promotions. Make the guy a corporal and he’ll really improve, and he did. In fact he became quite competitive in a good way, which is a good thing, but as a crew we were like, very lickety-split. We did the –
you don’t change, but when you’re off doing normal flights you usually fly within your troop, but it’s known that sometimes you’ll fly with other guys. But on a counter-terror exercise the crews are picked at the beginning and that’s who you stick with. There’s always good crew coordination when you fly normally, but counter terror exercises, you’ve got to be above the board. You’ve got to be above average with crew co-ord. So that’s why they keep the same crews and use the same equipment. You always use the same night vision goggles. See, that way you’ve already adjusted
and they’re focused to the way you want them to your eyes, because everyone’s eyes are different, and your helmets are customised, as in, like, the fitting and the shaping of them and they’re checked regularly and you always fly with the same helmet. You don’t swap helmets and stuff like that because everyone has a different shaped head so the helmets can be different sizes. And they usually fly in the same aircraft too, which is a good thing. So they try to keep everything the same, so there’s
very few changes. We planned for the training mission that afternoon to do a practice run onto the target and everything went fairly well. A difficult target, because it was like a big open plain surrounded by trees and the targets were revetments for artillery pieces, so there was nothing that was really standing out, that was a good reference point. So that made it
hard, but still we got through OK and everything went according to plan. That night, we then flew back to Townsville in the afternoon.
So it’s like, let’s kick the tyres and light the fires. So yeah, they put these two guys on at the last minute, which was a tragedy because they both died, and it was just a last second thing. If they’d been left out of the aircraft they would’ve survived or maybe the accident wouldn’t have happened at all. In fact the aircraft was that full that a guy by the name of John Church, or Jonathan Church, was actually leaning against
me ’cause we sit in a seat and they sit on the floor. His whole body was leaning against me the whole time and I met his parents later on and it was just really quite sad that I was the last point of contact for their son, and he was put on the aircraft at the last minute. We took off and adopted the formation. We had six Blackhawks and we adopted a box formation so
Black 1, Black 2, Black 3, Black 4 and Black 5 and Black 6 which are the sniper ships, they were outside the box. Went through our normal procedures, because as we approached the target we give the SAS guys a 10 minute call, so that way if they’re using demolitions, say, if they’ve got to assault a building they’ve got to have demolitions to blow up the doors and that, or they can then prepare the demolitions and prepare the weapons and load their weapons.
The cargo doors are opened and pulled back and locked into position and the arms or the FRAD are extended out the aircraft. The FRAD is the fast roping and rappelling device which is the ropes on the pictures over there, you can see. They’re extended and locked out and checked. We then go through some more checks, and then we basically roll into attack formation and attack speed and we usually fly about 145 knots towards the target. We can’t fly any faster than that because the cargo doors are back
and that’s the VNE, velocity not to be exceeded. When they’re forward we can fly a lot faster but when they’re open and locked back that’s as fast as we can go. As we were approaching the target we gave the two minute call which means, “OK, we’re close to the target now so get ready to deploy.” The SAS guys have got their ropes ready to go, the fast ropes which are quite large ropes and they’re all coiled up like a snake. They just kick them out and they just drop straight down and they deploy. It was at that stage that I noticed that Black 2
was closing in on us, and when we fly we fly at a distance of two rotors from each other. So the rotor on the Blackhawk, the diameter is 53 feet eight inches, so you’re looking at basically 106 feet, 107 feet four inches. When you’re flying along at just under 250, 300 kilometres an hour and you’re only 107 feet apart there’s not much room for error. I got Kel Hales to move to the left, move the aircraft to the left, because we were closing in
on Black 2 or they were closing in us. It looked like they were closing in on us from what I could tell. We got things settled in the formation, we settled up again. I called, “30 seconds.” which means, “OK, we’re close to the target, about to deploy.” I scanned the formation three times to make sure. I was looking at the sniper aircraft and I was looking at Black 4. Sorry, I’ve led you astray there. We weren’t in box formation, we had three Blackhawks line abreast and Black 4 was behind us, so it was 1, 2, 3
and then we had Black 4 behind us and the sniper ships were on the outside. So I’m using the box formation from armour. Scan information, and then I had to look forward to the target because I actually had to call the pilots in to the target doing the heights to run distances below towards the target. When I looked forward I couldn’t really see much because we were going that fast and I couldn’t really get my head out further enough. So I just quickly put my head back to look through the cockpit windows, which is a practice I’ve done before
and it’s quite a common practice. A lot of other guys use it. Identified the target, and then I heard this grounding screaming noise and I looked back and all I could see was sparks flying everywhere. I thought, “This can’t be good.” but it just happened in the blink of an eye. Next thing you know the aircraft was just flipped upside down and I could just feel this falling sensation and then this almighty bang, I suppose, for
lack of a better word, and that was pretty much it. I don’t remember anything after that. I do remember waking up briefly in ICU [intensive care unit] while they were cleaning up my face but that was about it. They just got me on, they had these, like, little whistles they give you and when you suck on them you’re actually taking in anaesthetic
to sort of make you feel pain free. So they were giving me one of those on the way in, so they told me, when they were doing the medevac and that’s all I remember. But it was later on, when I was in hospital I just had this dream one night that I’d been pulled out of the aircraft and these four guys are carrying me away and I started to stir and get really unsettled and everything and they put me down
and it was like, I was like, an outer body experience, and I came down and said, “It’s OK, you’ll be fine.” and I settled and then picked me up and took me off to where the medics were and I did it again, and I said, “No, no, you’ll be fine, the medics are just there.” and they took me up, and there was a medic by the name of Stevo, Corporal Stevenson, and he was actually a medic in 5 Aviation but he’d been transferred to the SAS and he looked after me and he said to me,
he said, “Who are you, what’s your name?” Because it was pitch black, there was aircraft on fire, there was ammunition going off, and he’d actually lost his trauma scissors so he couldn’t actually cut my equipment off me, but I was renowned for having knives in my boots. I always had like a boot knife. He said, “Who are you?” I said, “It’s J.J. Fraser.” He said, “He always carries a boot knife.” So sure enough there they were, so he pulled it off and cut all the equipment off me and bandaged me up and got me prepped for a medevac straight back to Townsville. I spoke to Stevo later on and asked him about that
night and he said, “Yeah, that’s exactly what happened.” He said the guys who carried me said that that’s exactly what happened so it was a bit freaky but it just actually happened. I asked him to write down exactly what happened and I’ve got it on paper somewhere, but yeah, that’s exactly what happened, so he told me, and there’s a few other things that happened that I can’t quite recall now. Yeah, I was just medevaced
back to Townsville and what they were doing was actually redlining the engines. Within the Blackhawk cockpit they don’t actually work in numbers, they actually work in colours, so you’ve got green, yellow, red. Green’s operational, yellow is like pay attention, red is like what the fuck are you doing? And basically from
what I can tell they got approval to do it and they basically just pushed the engine to the max and red lined it all the way back to Townsville because there were guys dying as they were flying back and I remember talking to Danny McReedy, who was our RSM at the time and he was at home and he heard the Blackhawks fly over his house and he said, “That can’t be good.” You can tell the speed of a Blackhawk, what it’s like. I mean, he’s been in aviation for a long time. He’s an ex-Kiowa observer and he knew that can’t be good and no sooner he’d said that then the phone rang
and said, “There’s been an accident.” Yeah, and then basically it was like, I’m not too sure how long a period but I remember just waking up in hospital and I woke up and saw my family and the girlfriend I was dating at the time, she was there, and I woke up said, “I’m not feeling very well, can you get a bucket?” And these two nurses came up with a little kidney dish and I’m going like,
“You’re going to pay for that.” and I projectile vomited and just covered them in vomit at six feet. So it was a pretty good shot, I thought, and that sort of freaked everybody out because they thought I had brain damage, but I was just vomiting because I was sick as a dog and probably full of medication and they were just trying to bomb me out. So I went back to sleep and woke up a day or so later. But apparently people had been coming in to talk to me the whole time and I can’t recall a thing. It was probably three days afterwards I actually started to remember stuff. But
yeah, and that’s what happened. We lost 18 guys that night. On my aircraft all my guys were killed except for one of the SAS guys, Gerry Bampton, he’s in a wheel chair. And on the other aircraft I think they lost four guys, four or five, no, six guys, I think. We landed upside down in flames and nose down, which is just the worst way to go. They landed wheels down. If you can land wheels down in a Blackhawk your
chances of survival are, the percentage is raised dramatically. But upside down, no rotors, you’re screwed. So that’s why we lost the men.
they pin you. They put bolts and pins through your body to stabilise your pelvis. I was actually exceedingly fit. I was always in the gym always running, always swimming so I had like the washboard abs sort of thing and all that sort of good stuff, so I was very very fit and that played a big part in my recovery. I spent two weeks at Townsville General Hospital, never got operated on, was never pinned and I spent three months or so at
Parkhaven Private Hospital, where I just basically lay there, watched television and rested. But my body was in full recovery mode, so I spent a lot of time sleeping. In fact I had a habit of falling asleep in front of people when they were there to see me. I used to warn people, “If I fall asleep, you’re not boring, I’m just tired.” When they would come in in the mornings to give me breakfast and for me to have a shave and have a wash and stuff and get the nurses to bathe me and that sort of stuff, by
the time I’d had breakfast, had a shave, they’d changed the sheets on the bed, because what they actually had to do was they had to put this frame around the outside of me, slide these slats underneath me, lift me up, change all the sheets, let me go to the toilet, lower me back down, let me get cleaned up, clean my teeth and that sort of stuff, I was hammered, absolutely wasted. I felt like I’d run a marathon, so I’d go back to sleep. Wake up at lunchtime, have lunch, go “OK.” stay awake for a couple of hours in the afternoon and come dinner time, have dinner, watch TV,
until eight o’clock, nine o’clock and out for the count again. My body was just in mass recovery mode and I just needed all that time and energy to get better. And, like, I was eating well but I lost 30 kilos in weight, just muscle wastage. But hospital was interesting, like my commanding officer, Tony Fraser,
brought in a TV so I had TV and video, so I could watch movies because I had nothing else to do, and the nurses were pretty cool. They’d come in and look after me. I had burns on my legs which I had to get operated on later, I had to get skin grafts. But at the time I was not in a psychological state to deal with an operation. So I said, “Look, can you cut the dead skin off and hope for the best?” And there was a major by the name of Carmel Van Der Rijt from Laverack Base Medical Centre. She watched over me like an angel
and she said, “Look, OK, we’ll just see what we can do.” She’d come over and hold my hand while they cut off the dead skin. That’s right, I met her at Townsville General Hospital the first time. “I’m Carmel Van Der Rijt, what can I do for you?” I said, “Get me the fuck out of this joint.” Townsville General Hospital’s a very depressing place, especially when you’re looking at a brick wall as a view. Then they took me to Parkhaven and I thought, room with a view, room with a view, nice meals, more nice meals, room with a view. They wheeled into this room, had a view of the gardens, they brought me in lasagne with salad
and I had pavlova for lunch. It was like, whoo, thank God. So that was a big psychological boost, I needed that. But like, even in that bad state a couple of funny things did happen to me. I remember one time I was flat on my back, I can’t do anything so I’m totally reliant on everyone else. I had a little buzzer and I think, “What is it?” I could go
to the toilet in a bottle but if I had to do number 2s they had to take me up on a rack, which I really had no choice, there was no hole in the bed, and I went to the toilet once and I put down the bottle and then I knocked my buzzer down. I’m like, “Shit, I’m screwed, what do I do?” Then I got my little pick up stick, my little scratcher, and I dropped that. OK, well I’m well and truly screwed now. So I phoned my father in Brisbane and said, “Can you please call the nursing station.” which was 20 feet away from me, “and ask them to come in. I’ve dropped everything.” So he phoned from Brisbane
and phoned the nursing station in Townsville and they walked in and said, “A few problems, have you?” So they picked everything up and took the bottle away and I was fine. That was quite funny, I just couldn’t believe that one. What else happened? I had mates come in to see me. I’ve had a mate, Peter Cox, a funny bastard, he came in one night with his wife and they brought in Subway for dinner and we had some munchies and stuff and it was great, and he was just, he got me laughing and when you’ve
got a fractured pelvis you don’t want to laugh, but I just couldn’t stop it. He was cracking all these dumb jokes and he promised me we’d go shopping one day in a Batman and Robin outfit afterwards and go, “Holy hole in the doughnut Batman.” and get some special doughnuts and I was just in tears in laughing. “You’ve got to shut up, I don’t know if this is worth the pain you’re putting me through.” but it was a good night. It was just funny. I actually needed a break because I was going a little bit bananas. I mean, three and a half months on your back and you do go a little bit loopy. But I mean, the Olympics were on so I had to watch all that and I was giving the nurses the updates of who’s got how many medals
and stuff and that was pretty cool, and Friends had just started too, the television show, so I got to see that, and then after three months I was sent Laverack Base Medical Centre where I was looked after very well by the staff there and Carmel Van Der Rijt watched over me like a hawk and said I was basically her patient and don’t fuck with this guy. If I had any problems I saw her direct. I was then taken down to the physio department within the hospital itself
and I had three of the best physios, John Kirwan, Janet Donnelly and Andy Horricks who worked on me all the time. In fact when they looked at me and looked at the X-rays for the first time they said, “We don’t know where to start.” But they just worked on me bit by bit by bit. In fact it was interesting. With my left knee with all the fractures, all the scar tissue had built up so I couldn’t bend it. So what they had to do, they would sit me on the table once I was able to actually sit up, because
spending so much time, you’ve got no balance. So they actually started to sit me up higher and higher and when I actually sat up for the first time it was like, whoa, like a roulette wheel, place your bets, place your bets, and I’m breaking out in a sweat and I’m going, “Jesus Christ, I don’t feel too good. I think I’ll lie down again.” and actually they used to wheel me out on the weekends, out into this, sort of like a side car park area so I could get a bit of sun and everything else and people would come and say, “How the hell have you got a suntan?”
“Oh, they wheel me out in the car park.” and I used to do some light exercises like this, you know those handles you have on your beds? I used to like pull myself up and do some chin ups and stuff. I had nothing else to do. Yeah, they worked on me really well and when I first started to sit up, and when I actually sat up for the first time and they got me into a chair, whoa, the body was just going into mass overload. I was about to puke everywhere. I said,
“Whoa.” I was soaked in sweat and I was going to vomit. I said, “You’ve got to get me back down again.” So I got back down on the bed and I felt better. I said, “Don’t do that again.” but I had to get used it, and then eventually when I could sit up they put me on, like, the tables they have in the physio department and they put 100 kilos of sandbag weights on my leg. They’d wrap a strap around my ankle, run it underneath the bed and then Janet would sit in front of me,
push my leg towards the bed. Andy would be behind me pulling me on the strap and John would be leaning down, so I basically had, like, 160 kilos of weight on my leg trying to get the scar tissue to basically loosen up. It worked bit by bit, so it just took a while. There’s another way you can do it, where actually they do it under anaesthetic, but I thought, “No, I’ll just do it this way.” That doesn’t sound like much fun. It took a while and eventually I started walking very slowly. In fact at night I would cut laps
around the hospital on my crutches. I used to do it in the wheelchair to build up my shoulders again and then I, when I actually started walking I used to do it with crutches and walking sticks and then bit by bit by bit just built up. Yeah, I was just putting myself back together bit by bit by bit.
Pretty well. The physios basically said they’d never seen someone recover so fast with such bad injuries. It was just due to my fitness level and also my experience of weight training. I’d been training in the gym for about 10 years and your muscles basically have a memory so they were able to re-establish themselves fairly well. Just with my spine and my pelvis and that sort of area, that’s been really, I’m still working on that at the moment. I’ve had a few problems with it so I’m just
getting there. But basically I was able to get myself back to flying fitness. In fact I was able to pass the basic fitness assessments within the military, able to go for the runs and stuff. Did a couple of backpack marches, which I sort of paid for but I thought, “I’ll just suck it up and do it.” But within hospital, having the experience of weight training beforehand was a big plus.
In fact I remember the whole time I was horizontal on my back, flat on my back and they took me to a hydrotherapy pool and I went there in a wheel chair and for the first time in like three and a half months I was actually able to stand up, but in a pool, but it was just bliss and I had the freedom and I could swim around a little bit and it was like, this is the best thing ever. Just things like that that made the world of difference.
But I still totally depended on the nurses at the hospital. Like, they had to come in and stand there when I had a shower in the chair and I couldn’t dry myself down. I couldn’t reach my toes. They had to clip my toenails. I hadn’t had a haircut in three and a half months. I was starting to look like something out of the Partridge Family, so I got a haircut and everything. I had a pretty good set up. I had, like, one of the suites at Laverack Barracks. It’s a really a very good set up hospital. They’ve got, like, four rooms which are set up as suites so you’ve got your own
private room and private shower and everything which I needed, and I had video and TV and stuff. In fact, when I went to leave hospital it took two and half car loads. I just had so much stuff, videos and TV, just so much stuff there, clothes and books and magazines and what not and during that time actually I did some study. I did my Year 12 maths to keep myself busy. It was good, I’m glad I did it, but I actually wish I’d done a computer course instead.
It would’ve been more beneficial. Yes, I just tried to keep myself entertained and just basically try and keep busy. And then halfway between that there was the Board of Inquiry which I had to attend for the accident, and probably one of the hardest things was meeting the families. When I was at
Parkhaven Hospital I met Leah Rose who was Kel Hales’ fiancee at that time. They’d only just got engaged. In fact they weren’t too far off getting married and I’d met her once or twice before, but not really had a good decent chat with her, and she came in. She came in with my psych, Marie Reilly, who was an army major, a fabulous lady, and we sat down and we started talking. She wanted to know exactly what happened so I took her from
the very start of the accident and she was just in tears. She was very very upset and then I sort of kicked into another gear and said, “OK.” and I started telling funny stories and when she left the room she had a smile on her face and she was laughing. So I told her some funny stories about Kel and she was there for three hours and I was pretty wasted, but then Leanne Bigold came in and she was Michael Baker’s girlfriend. She just appeared out of nowhere and she popped in to have a chat as well. I’m going, “Oh God.” so I had a chat with her for
an hour and a half or so, and then I slept pretty well for two days. But I think it was just important that the families found out what happened and they found out that their loved ones died without really feeling anything. When I met Kel’s father it was like looking at a ghost. The similarities were just unbelievable, and I held it together the whole time he was there and we were talking, and when he left he
said, “Don’t blame yourself.” and that was hard to take. It was like, ooh, ’cause I did blame myself, that’s the thing. I was the senior loadmaster on the lead aircraft and an accident’s happened that wasn’t my fault. It took me about four years to stop blaming myself, and to this day I still ask questions of why.
Mum as well. She was a fabulous lady, Fay Hales, and, but Kel’s father was an RSM from the RAAF and a very strong man, very steady man. So yeah, but that really hurt. I met John Berrigan’s wife. She was a very angry lady, just angry at the whole sort of thing and actually blamed me for the accident. She accused me
of murder, but you know, she’s just angry. So your husband’s just been taken away, the father of your child’s been killed and you’ve got to point your finger at someone and I copped it. I met Michael Baker’s parents and his sister and they were very good. Actually, I still see them. The live up at Goodna short of Ipswich. I actually popped up to see them the other day after the Blackhawk accident that happened out near the RAAF base at Amberley just to make
sure they were OK, and they were good. They’re sort of dealing with things a lot better and Mrs Baker was actually really stacking on the beef and she’s gone on a big exercise program and got a good doctor and some medication, so she’s a lot more, lost a lot of weight and looking really good, a lot more mobile. But meeting the family, it’s hard, it’s really hard. One of the SAS guys whose sister is in Brisbane, and I pop out to see her and the kids every now and then and say “Hi.” and they appreciate a
chat and everything, and I had a chat with Caitlin about it and I told her everything that happened with the accident and the same as I did with Leah, and she had a lot of questions that had never been answered so I was able to answer all those questions which I think gives them closure. It hurts, ’cause all the guys’ parents you’re talking to are dead and you’re the only one left, and the other guy is a paraplegic, so you feel exceedingly guilty. You go through a lot of survivor guilt.
and Marie got me through the initial stage of trying to figure things out and get through the hard parts and Carmel just watched over me with the operations they did on my legs and she would ride her bike over at night, ten o’clock at night she’d pop out to see me and make sure I’m OK and how things are going. She was just fabulous and I just love them both to death for what they did.
And then I had, unfortunately Marie had to return to Brisbane. I was actually pretty pissed at her for that because I really, I got so dependent on her, and they brought me a nice lady called Jan Scott and she was just too airy fairy. So they gave me another guy called Robert Zamatis and he was what I needed. He was a good guy. We used to do counselling sessions in his car. We’d drive around Townsville, he’d give me a diet coke and we’d cruise around and that and that’s how we had our sessions, which was good ’cause he’d get me out of the hospital and get me away and talked about certain
things and he was a really good guy. I had a psychiatrist who I saw lately called Michael Likely, very nice chap. His father actually served in World War II, flying aircraft, so he had an understanding. Met a psychiatrist by the name of Richard Green, pretty harsh chap, didn’t like him very much at all. I’ve been through a fair few psychs; you just see them for different reasons. I had a psychotherapist,
Fraser de Groot, fabulous guy. Looked like Captain Pugwash with earings and everything and shorts and stuff. But got on well with him, very well, really got me through a lot of difficult stages. Tony Fraser, the commanding officer, watched over me and made sure I was comfortable, and a couple of my best mates, Ben Stanford, he was always there for me. Peter Cox would always pop in and say “Hi” and see how things were going
and stuff, and just the nurses, the nurses were really good. They’d come and have a chat with you, see how things were going, and I had my favourite nurses so the senior nurse would make sure that they were rostered on with me all the time. A couple of nurses I just thought, I didn’t like very much. There wasn’t a connection there so I said, “Please don’t give them to me, I just really don’t like them.” So I got my favourite nurses and that was good.
If I needed anything for the regiment I got it. They actually brought in a laptop computer for me, but I found it too hard to use so I sent it back, because the regimental quartermaster was actually one of the first people I met in aviation, so he said, “Whatever you want, you’ve got it.” So the support system’s pretty good. They
looked after the families and brought them up and flew them around when they needed to, got them accommodation. I think the disappointing part is like we were treated as a political football by the politicians, which is just quite sad. I loathe politicians. I just think they’re the scum of the earth. They just, especially like with the way they’re treating the troops in Iraq now. It’s like, give them a break. But in general, yeah, I was looked after pretty good,
especially when I had my private room. We had a couple of civilian doctors at Laverack Base Medical Centre and Dr John Simpson was one of them and there were two army nurses there, two lieutenants, who were trying to use their own psychotherapy on me and they were just pissing me off and getting under my skin and I spoke to him and he pulled them aside and said basically, “Fuck off and leave him alone, stay away from him.” and I never saw them again after that. But yeah, in general I was treated pretty well,
looked after pretty well.
fractured spine, fractured pelvis, post traumatic stress disorder, scars, and the accident was in June and I’m saying to the squadron commander of B, or B Squadron commander came in and I said, “I’ll come back flying in September.” I don’t think I was even walking in September. So I had no idea that I was going to be there for that long, but no, I wanted to go back to flying. I didn’t give it a second thought really
I just worked very hard at physio to do it and as far as I was concerned I was going back flying, and I remember the day I went for my first flight in a Blackhawk, was actually the regiment’s anniversary and it was the 10th anniversary I think, and I flew in the lead
aircraft with Tony Fraser. I wasn’t current with the flying. I was qualified but I wasn’t current, so an instructor flew with me, but it was just the best thing ever. I had a really good day and it was nice to fly. Like everyone’s standing around and like we took all the cooks flying and all the [U room? UNCLEAR] staff. We had all the Blackhawks and all the Chinooks up and a couple of Kiowas, and everyone was just standing around. I’ve walked out with my flight suit and my helmet and harness and everything else and they go, people just didn’t know I was going flying that day. They had no
idea, and when they found out that I’d got back and I was clear to fly again as I passed my examination with the medical doctor, yeah, a lot of people were very proud of me and said that was a great thing. A few of the sergeants didn’t even know in the regiment. They said, “We actually had bets that you were gonna make it. We knew you would.” It was hard. Like the day flying was easy. Night flying was very hard.
It just sort of threw me off, so they gave me some time, said, “Look, you know, I need some more time with this night stuff.” but over that period of time it was sort of, the warning signs were there that I shouldn’t be flying. I wasn’t a danger to the crew. I wasn’t doing anything stupid, but I had a couple of breakdowns and it just kept on coming back to plague me. But I worked hard, I got my night vision goggle qualification back. I did it very well. I was very happy with it,
but it did cause a lot of problems. I think I just pushed myself too hard with the night flying. I did an exercise in Sydney with the SAS and they had me doing evaluations on new equipment, so that was good. So I was introduced back into night flying in a good steady manner, I wasn’t thrown into it, but after that it was just like it was a little bit too much so I took some more time off. Then I came back to flying again, got my qualifications back and then I was deployed to East Timor after that.
“What the hell are you doing?” but nobody said anything to me. They just thought, “He knows what’s he doing.” I’d convinced my psychs it’s what I should do and they were happy to support me and I had a lot of top cover. There were a couple of colonels in aviation who watched over me and I had certain waivers to avoid certain things. Like I was given special, like I could do my own PT. I didn’t have to do
it with the squadron staff, or if I wanted to I could drop out whenever I liked and I pretty much had, sort of like diplomatic immunity. But when I flew I flew safely and when I was tested I was tested harshly, which is a good thing because it’s pointless going up there if I’m going to be a danger, if I can’t do the job properly. They pushed me and basically in the training they flogged my arse, so when I actually went back for my flying tests I was able to
pass with confidence and with ease, so to speak. It’s not easy, but it’s like the old sort of saying, train hard, fight easy. I was able to do that. The fact that one of the instructors, Clyde Payne, who was a loadmaster instructor, prick of an instructor, great guy, but he really, he pushes you to the limits and he had me out in the training area doing hoist after hoist after hoist, doing external load after external load and confined area after confined area, and this is all at night and had me lower an external load
into a creek and maintain the distance from the rotors to the trees on the side of the creek and he gave me three missions in a row and really flogged me severely, but when I actually did the final handling test to get back my qualification with the regimental standards loadmaster, I actually found it easy because Clyde had pushed me so hard. So that was a good thing.
I think the family thought I was totally insane when I went to East Timor. “[UNCLEAR] what the fuck are you doing?” But once again, “He’s a big boy, he can make his own decisions.”
this, because they’d already done it a couple of times, they’d killed the local priests and nuns. So we flew up there and pulled them out. We got told one day we had to go to Baucau to get a pregnant woman who was in strife, having problems with the pregnancy. Flew up there, no pregnant woman, but two militia guys who’d had a disagreement with each other. One of them said, “We should hand ourselves in now.” Other guy said, “No, I don’t think we should.” “Yes, we should.” “No, we shouldn’t.” and the next thing you know they’ve pulled out pistols and machetes and gone to down on each other. So they’d basically shot each other in the feet and the legs and hacked each other across the chest and the arms
with machetes, and when we got there they’d been bandaged up for a few days looking very sore and sorry, so we picked them up in the Blackhawk and took them back to Dili and put them in hospital, so it was very funny. But their bandages had been on for quite a while so when they were actually cut off the stench was pretty bad as it was dead flesh, but just part of the job. But we were deploying the SAS at certain points around the countryside, on the border,
and we deployed the 2nd Battalion, everything from bullets and beans to their vehicles and that down to Balibo. That took an entire day. In fact we overflew our flying hours that day. You were only allowed 10. I think we flew 11 or 12, but the whole battalion needed to be put in place straight away. In fact they recaptured Balibo in 45 minutes, so no sooner we dropped guys on the ground, by the time we’d come back they’d
captured the town and re-established things and when we got back there the second time there was all militia lying face down in the dirt with the zip ties on and they’d sort of met their match. At first we were just taking small steps and deploying out bit by bit. Flew General Cosgrove around a bit because he wanted to see what was going on, wanted to be deployed to certain areas.
site to deploy the troops or to pick people up, the other one’d basically fly top cover around in a circle. We landed in this big soccer field and we got into the habit of, basically everyone seemed to charge at a Blackhawk. They’d all come running into the Blackhawk and it was a dangerous practice because of the rotors and they just, it’s what we call rotor wash panic. When the rotors are engaged everyone seems to disengage their brain. They just don’t think, and I was trying to get out of my seat and out of harness and out the door as fast as
possible because there was an ambulance racing towards the Blackhawk and I had my torch out waving and the ambulance stopped a foot from the rotors and that really threw me. I was about to be turned into sushi, and the other guy, the other loadmaster, Dan Minton, or Door Gun Dan as we called him, he was absolutely livid. He wanted to pull his gun out and cap the driver for being stupid. I said, “No no, we’ve got a job to do, let’s just do it.” and so we got the guy in and flew him back, but the whole time in my heart was
just pounding and I was just really way exceedingly stressed. I got back and I had a chat to a friend and got it all out of my system and I was fine, but it really didn’t do me the world of good. On a training mission, we actually had to do a training mission around the airport. We were just doing laps around the airport and one of the pilots, we’d actually done a mission, done an insertion prior and we just had to run a pilot through some emergency procedures
just to get his currency up, and we banked out, we turned left and out over the ocean and as we were banking towards the runway the instructor pulled an emergency on the pilot and they were both looking in the cockpit, looking out, and we descended from 300 feet to 125 over the ocean basically at a 30 degree angle, and when you’re trying to stop 10 tons of aircraft in a hurry
it doesn’t work, and we were lucky not to fly into the ocean. I handled that one pretty good actually. When we got back the pilot said, “You’re just cool as a cucumber, JJ.” but these things were starting to take its toll on me. We extracted the SAS twice off the border after contacts, they’d been contacted. Those things didn’t bug me actually. I suppose I enjoyed them.
We sort of actually really got to do the real deal this time. Didn’t get to fire my weapon but the opportunity was almost there. But really, flying in under fire, the SAS was shooting back and the guys were shooting at us. I couldn’t see them so I couldn’t engage them, but we could put the guys on board and then we actually went hunting for them and try and find out where they were. Then the other aircraft flew back in to get the dead
bodies that they’d killed of the militia and then we flew out and flew away. Another mission where we flew down on the border once again, we actually snuck down through the valleys and we had SAS on board and an SAS patrol had been compromised and they were basically fighting their way back, but there weren’t any casualties on our side, but we snuck down the coast and basically at the last minute pulled out over the border where there was like a road at the end of a bridge and as we pulled out the militia was just running and you could see
them throwing their weapons up in the air and running across the border. Once across the border we can’t touch them, and I had my weapon trained on them. I thought, “Oh great, I can rack up a few kills here.” but they basically were just being chicken shits and threw their weapons up and ran. We were told there were two militias somewhere around the area so we went hunting for them and we basically, it was an afternoon mission which went to a night mission so we had to fly back to one of the local towns which wasn’t far away,
do a refuel, but while we were sitting there turning and burning doing a hot refuel we had to actually don our night vision equipment and get ready to do some more work and went off and completed the mission and it was good. We were sort of hunting for these militia guys. We couldn’t find them but we pulled up an SAS patrol and we took no casualties so it was a successful mission, so it was good.
fast as possible. So it’s the same sort of thing. All we did, once again the only difference was we had live ammunition, but once we got in we got the guys on board and then we were out of there. But then we started cruising around trying to find out where these guys were and we could actually see the border off in the distance and a truckload of guys were coming our way, and then realised there were two Blackhawks and some of their mates had already been shot dead, they thought, “We’ll turn around and go back.” So there was a truck of about 20 guys coming our way. I thought,
“This is going to get interesting.” but they turned around and, “No, we’ll give it away as a bad joke.” But really, I remember the day very clearly. It was in the afternoon about four o’clock or so and yeah, we just, I was with Dan Minton again, good guy. He was on the right, I was on the left and we just came in there and landed. The landing was difficult because there was a road there but it was also really, the
terrain was very undulating all over the joint, but you got in, got the guys on board and we were gone. So wasn’t a big deal. Yeah, we couldn’t see who was shooting us anyway. So it didn’t sort of phase us that much. I was concentrating on my job of getting their aircraft on the ground, not worried about who’s shooting at me at the time, and we had
SAS on the ground and they were taking care of them. So we were sort of pretty safe.
the horse, and Carmel Van Der Rijt was actually over in Timor. She was our medical doctor for the medevacs, and she decided that I had a virus and it was time for me to go home. I was due to go home anyway but I went home about five days early. So they flew me home and I actually had combat post traumatic stress disorder or combat fatigue. So I went home and had a couple of weeks off and I just met,
in between tours I’d met a girlfriend and just sort of started dating but things didn’t go really well, but I went down to Melbourne to do some dunker training at East Sale where you do the helicopter underwater escape training, the dunk, where they drop the dunker in the water and they spin it upside down and you’ve got to escape, and basically using some new equipment, your body armour, gas masks and helmets, that sort of thing and I remember feeling a couple of times in the last couple of runs I started to feel panicky.
It was just a warning signal saying, “Look, man, you’ve got to stop this crap, stop it.” But I came home and I got back on a Monday, Tuesday, went to work Thursday and I was feeling really stressed and wound up and very panicky and we were doing flight planning for next weeks, counter-terrorist sort of stuff. On Friday afternoon I saw my psychotherapist, Fraser de Groot, and man, I’m just not, I said, “I’m really starting to lose the plot here. I’m just constantly stressed and not feeling good.” and I saw him
Sunday morning. We organised a session for Sunday morning and I just broke down and said, “I can’t do this anymore, I’ve had enough.” I was just so stressed, I’m tired and I’m just really upset. I went back to my girlfriend, said, “I’ve just quit flying. I can’t do any more.” It was really the worst day for me, but I rang up my boss, my immediate boss. Spoke to Matty Hayes, Matty Hughes, told him. He said, “Look, no one’s going to hold it against you. We’re amazed you got as far as you did.” So they gave me some more time off
and I was having a lot of back problems. The medication was high. I was taking Valium and painkillers to try and deal with my back pain and they sent me down to Brisbane to a back pain clinic but I never attended it, because I actually got admitted back into hospital. The body just shut down, it was just basically all over red rover. My body was saying, “If you’re not going to do it, I’ll do it for you.” So I spent another few months back in bed
and had to slowly rebuild myself again for about the third or fourth time.
a lump sum payment from Military Compensation, but then deduct that from your pension, so they give with one hand and take with the other. I don’t get that. It’s not like the lump sum payouts are huge. The most you can get is $110,000. I got $70,000, not even that. I think I served my country fairly faithfully. I think I gave up a lot. It’s got to the point now where I’ve
actually had to engage my solicitors to deal with Military Compensation and we’re fighting over a bed, of all things, and a whole range of other things, but it’s just like they don’t seem to care. And we had a teleconference a while ago and Military Comp have been fucking me over for three or four years now, saying no to this and no to that. I thought, “You guys are not going to win this time. I just refuse to lay down and die here.” At the teleconference was myself and my solicitor,
a delegate from Military Compensation and their solicitor and the conference registrar, and my solicitor just spat them up, chewed them up and spat them out, and the medical reports were basically embarrassing themselves in front of us and the conference registrar. Basically my solicitor just tore them to shreds, so within half an hour we got things, I achieved more
in half an hour with my solicitor than I’d been battling for the last three years. I’d actually had to engage the help of Arch Bevis, the Federal Member from Brisbane. I’ve written to Ms Danna Vale, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, hasn’t written back. I’m going to write to General Cosgrove. I’m going to write to the Defence Minister, because the thing is, Arch Bevis put it pretty well. He looked at my request of items I need. He said, “Look, you’re not asking for a plasma screen TV here and a new DVD. You just want to be comfortable and try to be pain-
free.” And they withheld a lot of things from me. They’ve done a lot of lying, a lot of coverups just so they don’t have to spend money on me, which I find sad considering [Archbishop] Peter Hollingworth [former Governor General]screwed up the church pretty good and yet he gets $180,000 a year. They spent just under a quarter of a million dollars on doing up his office. They pay $83,000 a year for his rent. He gets a secretary, a free chauffeur and free first class travel, and all I’m asking
for is a new bed and a few other items. So I’ve got to fight for that, but my solicitor’s on the job and there’s a few other things I’m going to go for. So while I’ve got him now I’m going to go for the gold card and everything else I should require. I just found out about a place called Morris Surgical which has all occupational therapy aids, which I should’ve been told about three years ago which I’ve just found out. So things I’ve been buying myself that I should’ve been told about, I can now actually get them through my doctor which is good.
So it’s been fairly poor. In fact they closed my case pretty quick. They gave me a new pair of sandshoes; they gave me vouchers for 10 massages, like a massage clinic down the road, a 10 day gym pass and a pension. That’s it, see you later. I’ve been requesting things left right and centre. I’ve written to doctors who’ve written reports for me. I sent them a request of things with an occupational therapist report, a
physiotherapist report and a letter from Dr Peter Jackson who’s a muscular skeletal specialist who’s treating me at the moment, and it went in one ear and out the other, and they basically relied on their occupational therapist report of the assessment situation, which was good because when it came to the teleconference it really bit them in the arse. The conference registrar asked about why the actual overlay in my bed had not been replaced. They said, “That’s supposed to be replaced every 12 months.” She said,
“This report is 18 months old, why hasn’t it been replaced? We’ll get instructions, OK. What about the shower stall, that’s supposed to be fixed up?” “Well, we’re getting an orthopaedic surgeon’s report.” “That was 18 months ago too, what is going on? Why are you taking so much time?” So basically their own reports are killing them, and the fact that Wayne Hampton, who works for Quinn and Scattini in the city, he just had an absolute field day with them. So
it seems to be the politicians are very happy to be there when they send you off to war or to wherever they want you to go, but when it’s time to pick up the pieces for the ones they break they’re nowhere to be seen and when you’ve got to call in a solicitor to fight for what rightfully should be yours, that’s pretty sad, so we’re treated like crap. I’ve done group therapy classes at Toowong Private and you talk to the other veterans and they are treated exactly the same. You’ve got to fight for everything through Military Compensation
and it’s just like why do we bother to have these guys? All they ever do is ever say no, so what’s the point?
been in the firing line for my anger. I don’t abuse her or hit her or anything like that, but I just take my frustrations out on Natalie and it’s really unfair. She just wants to love and support me. We actually just had a spat the other day and it had nothing to do with her at all, but she just got in the firing line, so we’re going to see my counsellor and see my psych and get a strategy to deal with that because I love her very much. She loves me, and it’s just so unfair and it’s,
like, not her fault and it’s not my fault. But yeah, it’s a thing you’ve got to manage 24/7, and for the work I do with my counsellors, with my psychs, having PTSD is bad enough but I’ve got to deal with chronic back pain. I’ve got my left knee, my pelvis, my spine and my right hip and then PTSD, so you sort of, I’ve got the shitty end of both ends of the stick
here, and plus they play off each other as well. There’s a book out called The Body Keeps Count and what will happen is if you start to have panic attacks and anxiety attacks or your PTSD kicks in or your anger kicks in, the pain’s going to follow because you’ll basically be going, “Well, why are you having this panic attack? Why are you angry? Why are you doing this? Because you’ve got a fractured spine, because you were in an accident, because you’re getting shafted by Military Compensation, so we’ll throw some pain in to make it worse.” If I’m in pain it’s the same thing. Why are you in pain?
Why is your back hurting? Why is your knee hurting? Why are you physically shutting down and not thinking logically? Because you’ve got PTSD as well, so we’ll kick that in as well. So my strategy there is to basically whatever I’m doing is stop, get home as fast as possible, shower, a really good hot shower, a cup of tea, some pain medication, kick on the air con and watch a comedy movie with some friends or watch something funny. So I’ve learned to deal with it pretty well. I’ve never had a drink in my life. I’ve never taken illegal
drugs, and my best way to deal with it is usually like a vanilla slice and an ice breaker as well. They’re my favourite, it’s my comfort food. I try and follow a diet as best as I can and I exercise as much as I can. Lately it hasn’t worked, but now I’ve got my gym set up I can really get stuck back into things and also having my dog makes the world of difference. If I’m having a really bad day he’s having a sleep with me, he’s up there. He knows when I’m down. He can
read it, that’s the thing. He says, “Are you OK?” And he’s got his head in my lap. “I’ll just hang around you a little bit.” He gets more clingy. He knows when I’m stressed from the pain, because he sleeps beside my bed and he’s got his head on the bed, “Up you come.” So he jumps up and actually he actually takes a bit of pain away because he’ll basically nuzzle up to my back and his body heat will actually heat up my back for me so that sort of
helps take the pain away, plus having the comfort of him here makes all the difference.
and I hopped on mine and away we went and carried it up. That was pretty easy, you know, and then one of them challenged me to a race. They’d seen me run up and down the stairs, “Come on, I’ll give you a go.” Said, “You’re on.” I beat the bastard by six inches. He’s in thongs, I’m in Nike runners at my peak of physical fitness and this little bastard, I’ve only beaten him by six inches. It’s like, “Oh God.” and these guys are like muscly little vegemites, wash board abs and bulging biceps ’cause they’re carting
44 gallon drums up and down all day, that would do that, and I was taking, I had a foot and a half on him and I was taking three steps at a time and it’s pretty bad when you’re almost beaten by a guy in flip flops. That’s embarrassing. So there’s the naked story out in the field. It’s one of the big Kangaroo exercises and we were doing a lot of long distance driving the vehicles and it was taking its toll on the vehicles. So
my section commander’s vehicle broke down. One of the other section commander’s vehicle, his broke down. The troop sergeant’s vehicle broke down and another section commander’s vehicle broke down, so it was basically the Alpha and Bravo call scientific section and the troop commander were left and we were off in the middle of nowhere in all around defence and I was the section commander. There were only two vehicles but someone had to take charge, so that was just the normal thing. So it was eleven o’clock, midnight, or something
like that, eleven, twelve o’clock and I was called up to see the boss and get some orders for the next day and the other section commanders would do the same, or the acting section commanders would do the same, so I thought, “I feel like being a bit different.” so I put on my boots, grabbed my map, grabbed my weapon and nothing else and trotted across stark naked. So we got the orders and sitting there and the boss asked a few questions and any questions of us, and, “No, everything’s fine.” He actually gave them by torch light, by red torch, and then we were sort of just sitting around, we were just
talking. He said sort of says to me, he says, “Fraser, have you got any clothes on?” “No, Sir.” “What, you’re fucking naked?” “Yes, Sir.” “You poof, get out of here.” They were throwing cups of canteen and water bottles at me and I think a few weapons were thrown at me as well. So I was racing back around the compound. My driver’s there, Graham Cooper, he’s going, like, “You didn’t go to the meeting naked, did youse?” “Of course I did.” “You’re a freak, mate.” So a very worrisome boy.
What was the other story? What was the other one I was going to tell?
getting into the IT industry but sitting at a computer all day is too boring and my body couldn’t tolerate that anyway. So I started doing dog obedience with my dog, ’cause I refuse to have a stupid dog, and I actually found I enjoy it that much, I’ve got a knack for it and I actually found that, like, at the classes I tend to be basically like the top three or four amongst the whole school
and I thought, “This is what I want to do.” I got invited to do demonstrations at a Japanese training camp and help instruct there even though I’d never instructed before. So I went along and was teaching Japanese students how to train a dog, ’cause they didn’t speak very good English so that made it hard, but we did it and we did it very successfully, and then I’ve now started my studies to be a dog obedience instructor which goes well because also, Ben, my dog and I are a Delta
team with the pet therapy program, so we go through the Royal Children’s Hospital and go to Rosalie Nursing Home and visit the elderly and visit the kids. So it’s really rewarding, because you see the kids with their little broken arms and they’ve got their drips and stuff and Ben just loves kids and you do tricks with them and they get to play with the dog and have a bit of a chat and they all ask about Ben and he’s got his little red bandanna on. So, see, that’s where I want to go, in that sort of direction, because when you’re doing dog obedience you’re actually out on the park and you’re moving so
it’s a form of exercise, whereas with IT, you’re sort of sitting at a table all day at a computer. It’s a very stressful sort of work, so I do one-on-one teaching for Bardon Community Association and the money I make from that goes to charities. I go to the blood bank and donate blood. So one more donation and I’ve made number 40, and I don’t think I need any more challenges because I don’t think my body can keep up that much. So
I’m trying to maintain a relationship, maintain my house and catch up with friends so that’s where I’m sort of going, and dog obedience is what I’m really enjoying.
at some stage and I think it was our seventh day that we’d actually been dating and we’d gone off and seen the movie How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days. Probably not a good movie to see. No, no, actually it was really good. I actually said to Natalie halfway through the movie, “I’ve got another 20 ways to actually piss a guy off if you want to find out.” but no, we went down to Kangaroo Point and I said, “Look, I’ve got to tell you this because I’m really enjoying being with you and this could
make or break the relationship right now.” So I told her about my past and she said, “OK, whatever.” Didn’t really care. “I don’t care; I want to be with you.” So I said, “Whoo whoo.” So that was good. Occasionally I talk to my friends about it, certain things come up. But no, I don’t talk to total strangers. I change the subject or change the topic if it comes up. I went to a wedding a while
ago and we were outside of the church standing there and a guy came up and we got chatting and, “What do you do?” “I’m ex-military.” “Oh, what did you do?” “I was with the Blackhawk helicopters.” “What about that accident.” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and, “Did you know anybody?” And I said, “No, no.” changed topics and changed tactics and got away from it. They’re not interested in being polite and asking curious questions. They’re just asking morbid questions because unfortunately humans are inherently morbid. So only those who actually respect the
situation I’ll discuss it with. In fact when the accident happened, the one that recently happened, a few of my girlfriend’s friends were asking after me making sure that I was OK. So it’s nice to know that my girlfriend’s friends are checking on me too. So that’s really nice, and my closest friends called me up and said, “Are you OK, everything fine?” My solicitor’s secretary called up to make sure I was OK. So that was really good. So the people
who sort of know me in the community sort of were checking on me which was good.