Archive number: 1765
Preferred name: Robo
Date interviewed: 21 April, 2004
1 RAR Somalia
You are listening to the interview audio
Paul can you tell me a summary of your life to this point?
Summary of my life to this point? Spent most of my life in Middlemount, my Dad was a butcher and then a coal miner. My Mum was a housewife. Moved to Middlemount grade three stayed there until grade twelve,
Left home when I was seventeen to go and weed cotton in the cotton fields. Did that for a while. Moved into the city, Mackay, did fibreglassing in a fibreglass factory and then got a job in the army, joined the army at seventeen.
And how long were you in the army for?
Six and a half, seven years.
So can you tell us a bit more about Middlemount what sort of town it is?
It is a coal mining town. I think it’s black coal and they just mine coal, basically that’s it. Two thousand people at its peak but I am not sure how many are there now.
And what about your family, how many people in your family?
I have got two brothers older than me and a sister, I am the youngest in the family.
And mum and dad what are they like?
Mum and Dad are split up now; they split up in ’97.
Normal parents I suppose back in the days when Dad was boss, Mum was a housewife, that’s the way we were raised.
And what's your Dad like, he is in the mines?
No he is retired now. What’s he like? Cranky, yeah he’s cranky.
In spurts or generally?
I suppose like everyone’s Dad,
everyone’s Dad is cranky, they’re the boss that’s it and he is the boss. I suppose he is from the era where old people know best, adults know best and kids should shut up, he is from that era.
What did you like about growing up in Middlemount?
Not much really, that’s why I joined the army so I could get out and most army bases are near the cities or in the cities, that’s why I got out because there is not much to do there.
What are some of the fun things you did?
Get drunk. I
used to play football, touch football, any sort of sport, boxing anything to keep me amused that was about it. That’s about all we did.
What was the biggest sport in town?
Rugby League, footy.
Were you part of a team in town?
I started playing footy when I was four and I played until I was seventeen.
At the age of thirteen I started boxing and I did that as well. And I still do that now.
What division were you in?
Light weight, sixty kilos I think.
And was that a big thing in town?
Boxing, no there was only about five or six people that did it.
Where would you compete?
We would travel around to different towns and have different boxing tournaments, go to Brisbane, Emerald,
Rockhampton and stuff like that, just cruise around.
And did you enjoy that?
Yeah it was all right, but then you have got to make money so I wanted to go to work so I went to work.
What did your Dad want you to do?
I have got no idea, anything I wanted so long as I went to work.
What did your brothers go into?
Everyone in my family
applied for the defence force and all got accepted, but along the line some mines offered them jobs as well. The eldest is a diesel mechanic; sorry my oldest brother is a baker by trade, a pastry cook by trade. Now he works in a prep plant in a mine, preparation plant, they prep coal before they go on to sell it. My sister she was working in a mine as an assistant as some sort of secretary or something. And then my other brother Rodney
got a job as a diesel fitter and now he is an IT [information technology] expert in the Theiss office in Brisbane.
And did your sister try to join the defence force as well?
Yes my sister and every one of my brothers. Everyone did.
Why was it an important thing in your family?
Because it was a job, money.
Probably an education as well, a style of education and to actually get away and grow up a bit, but I was the only one that actually followed through with it.
What was the school like in Middlemount?
I wouldn’t know because I haven’t been to any other high schooling or schooling. Pretty ordinary, normal I suppose.
Was it a small number of students?
Yeah it was pretty small. I think there was thirty five, forty in my grade twelve class so it was pretty small.
So you got pretty close to the other kids?
Do you want me to be honest there? They’re a bunch of fucking idiots. Fair dinkum they’re a bunch of knob jockeys.
Why do you say that?
Well if you didn’t play football you weren’t in the in crowd and if you didn’t smoke drugs, and suck piss every weekend you’re not in the in crowd.
So you really were pretty keen to get out of there?
Oh gees yeah.
When I left the army I went back to Middlemount and got a job in the mines there and I felt like a social leper. I had nothing in common with anyone at all. That’s why I didn’t like it, I still hate it, hate the town, good cash but.
Did you hear anything about war while you were growing up in Middlemount?
I didn’t really watch the news because I was always doing boxing training and things like that. I didn’t really get to see much television. Now that I look back on my life now, I have seen the documentaries on ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation], I actually do remember seeing that stuff on TV [television] and it is ten, twenty years down the road that I remember seeing it.
So what did you think that you would be doing when you got in the army?
I don’t know, I joined the army, different
concept all together to what I thought. I thought it would be the Les Hiddens [Vietnam vet who became a television presenter] sort of thing, eating bush tucker, but when I joined the army it was nothing like that. But I don’t regret joining the army now, I don’t regret it.
What about at home was there anyone in your family that was in any of the wars?
No I am the first to actually, and in the Robins side of the family to actually join the army and
go through it.
So did you do anything on Anzac Day in Middlemount?
We only went to one Anzac Day there and that was ’98, was the first one I went to, I just went to the ten o’clock thing and went home. Pretty much what everyone else does on Anzac Day, returned servicemen get drunk and go home.
And what were the pubs like in Middlemount?
There is one pub, a golf club and a bowls club. Pretty ordinary, coal miners talking the same stuff every day, same people same stuff every day.
Did you get to go down in the mines much when you were growing up?
No, because you have to be eighteen to go underground to start with. The only mine I went to was the open cut and you just drove around it in a bus and had a look and go home.
What did your father say much about working in the mines?
Not much, we didn’t really talk about it.
I didn’t really start talking to my father until I got out of the army in ’97.
Really so you hadn’t talked to him about any of that work experience he was doing?
What did you talk about?
With my father, not much in my entire life until I was about twenty three.
So who were you closest to in your family?
With my Mum, that was about it, my Mum.
What about your brothers?
They used to beat me up. Sibling rivalry. As they say shit rolls downhill, what happens to them happens to me so if they got a flogging they would come and beat me up.
That mustn’t have been much fun?
Well it is pretty funny now when you think about it.
But awful at the time I suppose?
I sort of look on my life as ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ [TV comedy show]. Whatever happens rolls on down hill and if they get in trouble they come and put it onto me. That’s what happened.
What about your sister, how did you get on with her?
Didn’t really talk too much, didn’t have much to say to her, she was a girl in a house full of boys. I always seen that she was looked after like a pet –
on weekends we would be outside in the yard working and mowing lawns and things like that for the old man, and my sister, Wendy would be inside with Mum doing nothing. Well she would have been making beds and cleaning and things like that, but we didn’t know what was going on inside because we were outside doing stuff. My family were big on work ethics.
So what happened when you finally left Middlemount? Where did you go first?
I went to Emerald and I think I lived in a caravan there for three months picking cotton. Well not actually picking it with my fingers, like pulling the weeds out before the cotton machines were come and harvest it.
And that was sun up to sun down every day.
What did you like about that job?
Not much, heaps of cash, but it wasn’t a good job.
So why did you decide to do that then?
Just to get out of Middlemount and to get some cash, some money.
Can you describe the cotton farm and what the job entailed?
The cotton farm is kilometres and kilometres of paddocks and you just line
up at the start of each row of cotton and you just walk down and pull the weeds out in between the cotton plants that’s basically it and you get paid good money to do it, about a thousand dollars a week.
What about the other blokes what were they like?
The blokes I lived with they were all right at the time, but as time passes and I joined the army you just get to see how much of idiots they really are.
you grow up and they stay the same in some ways I suppose. You mature a lot faster in the army.
So how did you come to leave the cotton farm?
They had like a wet season and the work was put off for a while so we had to go and get work somewhere else. So me and another friend moved into Mackay and after a while I got a job there in a fibreglass factory. Making
boats and stuff.
Can you tell us a bit about that work, what you had to do there?
What I had to do, well when I first started there I had to repair fibreglass pools you know the ones you stick in the ground? I had to repair them. And you have got to grind, where the pool is cracked you have got to grind them down so you can putty them up and fix them all up, fibreglass them. I was just a basic labourer as well as an assistant fibreglasser. We used to make fibreglass water tanks, anything fibreglass, that’s what we used to make. Boats, water tanks, shower accessories,
rubbish bins, everything fibreglass. They just got big moulds, you wax them with car wax, spray the stuff on and pull it off and it is made.
What did you like about that job?
Not much about that job. I was just filling in time because I actually applied for the army six months before hand and I was just waiting to see whether I got accepted or not.
Just going back a bit, had there been anyone come out and talk to you about being in the army while you were growing up?
When I was in grade nine ten they have the normal career thing where the people from the navy, air force army rock up and they tell you all about it. Didn’t really take much notice, thought it was a joke like the rest of the kids. After year twelve my Mum said to me if I didn’t actually get a job before the end of the holidays I should go back and repeat year twelve and get a better score and go to uni [university] or something. I wanted to go to uni to start off with and be a marine biologist.
But I had to wait until some bullshit story they fed us, I wanted to go in at grade eleven, and they said, “Yeah you can come in but you are too young so you have got to go away and come back.” So that’s what happened and I got stuck in the army.
Why did you want to be a marine biologist?
I just liked the sea life, snorkelling and diving that sort of stuff and that’s what mainly my pastime is, it is pretty relaxing and that.
How often did you get to do that in Middlemount?
Never, but I do a lot of it now. I like fishing, snorkelling, spear fishing and stuff like that.
Ddi your family get away on holidays?
Yeah we used to get away on holidays but as the kids got older holidays become less and less because everyone was working and stuff like that so holidays were pretty well non-existent by the time I was sixteen, seventeen.
And where did you go when you were young?
We used to go into Mackay with our relatives in Mackay. Brisbane, Yeppoon where there are beaches and things like that. We did a lot of camping when I was real young.
What was your favourite holiday place?
I would say Brisbane. My Mum and Dad would stay in Middlemount, my brothers and sisters had left and got jobs and
were doing other stuff, so they used to pack me on a bus and send me down to my grandparents and I would go down there for however long school holidays were and cruise around and do my own thing. So they were the ones I liked the most.
What did you enjoy about being in a city after?
You can do stuff. You can just go and do stuff, Brisbane mall sit and watch people, go to the movies, instead of sitting at home looking at trees.
Did you get on well with your grandparents?
Yeah I suppose I did otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed there I don’t imagine.
And when you finally moved to Mackay what did you like about it?
Just being out of Middlemount I could do things, go to the beach if I wanted to. It sounds strange but there are actually waves in Mackay, you can do a bit of surfing there.
Just stuff like that, you can actually do things, and I was actually my own boss, I wasn’t on time limits, but I knew I had to go to work so I wasn’t doing stupid things.
So you did learn to surf?
I did a little bit.
So what happened when you finally then joined the army? How did that come about?
Well the army got in contact with my
parents and they got in contact with me. I think it was mid ‘91 they got in contact with me. I went back to Middlemount for two weeks, got all of my stuff together ready to go, got on a bus and went to Brisbane. Went to recruiting centre, joined up.
What was that process?
Well the army, they loaded me on a bus, went to Brisbane
I could have stayed in a motel for a week by myself but I stayed with relatives in Brisbane. Went to the recruiting centre, they do a final test, final med [medical] board stuff like that. And if you’re right they ring you up that day, see you later.
Can you explain a bit about the tests?
Just aptitude tests, and a physical, eyes hearing stuff like that and then away you go.
What was involved in the aptitude test?
Grade nine maths, English, real basic stuff.
Did you have any problems with that part?
And what were the guys like who were doing all of this stuff?
Sales pitching, pitching the army, navy and air force to you, “This is good.” They show you a video, “This is what we do. It’s great.” The biggest lie they tell you is that you can take golf clubs and stuff to Kapooka because there is a golf course there.
You never get to see golf, you don’t get any time off while you’re there. They make it out to be a great time and good fun, but Kapooka is pretty hard.
So what happened after that initial process?
They loaded us on a bus that day, took us to the airport, flew us to Sydney and then flew us on from Sydney to Wagga Wagga, and we got to Wagga about ten o’clock at night. And it is just like you see in the movies, the drill sergeant and that.
Standing there waiting for you,
Can you tell me exactly what you saw and experienced?
When I got off the plane at Wagga Wagga I saw a man in a drill, like an American drill sergeant but Australian, a sergeant an instructor. He is dressed in battle dress, he has got his little pace stick and a hat. And he is nice, he is not yelling and screaming like an idiot, he is nice to you. They load you on a bus and take you to Kapooka.
We got off the bus at about half past eleven at night and then they just say, “Right oh get your gear, upstairs.” Tell you where to go they lead you in there. And they give you a hot box dinner which is dinner like a fast food dinner from the mess in a box. When I went to Kapooka the Queenslanders used to rock up a week before everyone else and we would get all of the rooms ready and things like that. And they would be nice to you through that, semi-nice.
Then once Kapooka starts they are not nice any more.
What were the guys like that you were with?
I didn’t know anyone because I was the only one from Middlemount, everyone else was from Brisbane, Mackay things like that so I didn’t really know them. After seven days the people from the rest of Australia started rocking up and that’s where we started to get a lot of idiots, getting a lot of clowns aye?
What do you mean by that?
It is an army thing a macho thing, like everyone in the army is a champion boxer, a kick boxer,
karate, everyone is the toughest dude in the world and that’s what it is like. You’re all seventeen, eighteen and everyone tries to stand over each other.
And how did you feel about that?
Well I wasn’t really worried, my Dad was pretty strict so I seen it as if I can get
myself through Kapooka I can’t get the sack they cant kick me out, so that’s what I focussed on actually getting through Kapooka.
When you say the Queenslanders had to set up, why was that?
I have got no idea why that is but we rocked up and we were there seven days before everyone else and we had to get all of the live in lines ready, like sweep mop, get it all nice for everyone else to turn up and then everyone else rocks up and you get all of your stuff issued to you. That’s how it goes. On the first night they take all of your civvies off you
all of your clothes off you. What you’re left with is a couple of pairs of undies and a singlet I think and then they issue you with PT [physical training] gear, a couple of shirts and a couple of pairs of shorts and that’s it. And as I said all that’s left of yours in undies and maybe a singlet, some socks and sandshoes and maybe your shave gear that’s it. You’re not allowed access to your civilian attire until after a month,
until you went through your first four weeks.
When you walk into Kapooka can you explain what you see? Describe the camp?
What I see, we went through the front gate and we cruise up to a big parking area for a bus. That’s what it was, BHQ, battalion headquarters, and they dropped you off in the main square there and you get marched up to your room . You don’t get to see much aye? It’s just
how could you say? When I went through it is four people per room, just block accommodation.
What were the other blokes like in your room?
Well they were complete and utter idiots and I was in charge of four blokes. One bloke was thirty two, one bloke was nineteen, the other was twenty four or something. They had no idea. One bloke got
back squadded, he was from Tasmania, he actually got back squadded three times, he actually got kicked out of the army because he couldn’t get past week four. The thirty-two-year-old, me and him had to get split up because we were fighting all of the time.
Physically yeah. He tried to choke me one day and I was laughing, yeah we had a big fight.
Why did he try to choke you?
Because he was an idiot and he liked to try and stand over people, big man syndrome. He didn’t like that I was seventeen
and I was room commander. That’s how it was but he didn’t like it, he thought he was the oldest so he should be in charge, whatever happened, like you’re a room commander that’s how it worked when I was at Kapooka, but I was a room commander in charge of these four dudes and whatever happened in the room that went wrong I would get the blame for it. And when I was there they used to do a lot of group punishment, if someone makes a mistake everyone gets punished not that one person.
How did you come to get chosen to do that?
I have got no idea. I actually fronted the secos [section commanders] at Kapooka, because you get to go and have section one interviews once a week and I went and asked, “I have had a gutful. I don’t want to do it.” they said, “No, you’re more responsible than the others you can do it.” “Right oh then whatever.” I did it, I had to do it.
What did you find the hardest about?
Kapooka? Hardest bit for me was the shooting.
I was a bit of a dodgy shot, bit of a clammy shot. Other than that it was easy, I had done PT my entire life since I was five years old playing littler kids footy right up until I joined the army. I had no trouble with the physical side or the learning side. I used to set myself up for four weeks’ block, learn the stuff, do the tests and if I passed I would worry about the next four weeks.
Because we were there for three months.
When you said before that your mum and dad were strict what sort of things would they do that you said helped you later on?
My Dad was big on work ethics; you have got to go to work blah blah, all of that sort of stuff. We always had our little household jobs we had to do. If I think on it now, I was washing dishes when I was eight, so I have been washing for twenty two years and that was my job every
night of the week. Mowing the yards, things like that. Every kid has got their chores. Because I was the youngest in the family it obviously went down hill, my brother started washing dishes and then my other brother and sister and then eventually it got to me and I was the last left and I was stuck doing them. That was it. My other two brothers and my sister, the way I see it they were allowed to run wild. They can go out and get drunk, no time limits, get into fights, do
what young fellows do. I had to be home by ten o’clock couldn’t drink and all of that sort of stuff. And that’s why I actually thought I was getting ripped off I wasn’t having a good time like everybody else.
And what was the discipline at home if you did something wrong?
We used to get floggings when we were little, get smacks, like all kids back in them days when smacking a kid was normal. We used to get flogged. But once we got to a certain age
we would get like a talking too. Me and my brothers used to get a lot of floggings. My older brother Rodney he complains that he got hit more than anyone else in the family, but he was the naughtiest so.
So back at Kapooka what was the discipline like there ?
They used to scare you into the box; they had this thing called the ‘box room’.
If you were really bad they would take you in a box room and you used to get beat up. The NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers] would give you a bit of a touch up, that was if you were really bad, but otherwise they would stand about half an inch from your face and scream in your face. Call you names, call your Mum names, stuff like that.
What sort of names did they call you?
What can you imagine? Anything you can imagine. That was it.
Give us an example?
I have got no idea, I
didn’t take much notice. They would call you useless, weak, dick sucker, faggot. “Your Mum’s a whore. You’re a waste of fucking space. The best part of you ran out of a crack in your Mum’s arse.” You name it, it came out of their mouth. The army has got terminology for stuff like that, they call you ‘jack’. And for group punishment if someone made a mistake, I remember one, I will give you one incident, the funniest thing was someone went to the toilet and they left the toilet roll on the toilet holder thing at Kapooka, they didn’t bother changing it.
Everyone knows you’re meant to change it. They left it on there and they didn’t bother to change it and the NCOs found out and they knew who it was but they got us all out in the hallway, I think it was about nine o’clock at night, and they asked whoever did it to own up, and if they don’t own up we will be standing there all night. I think we stood there until about two o’clock in the morning, right dressing, do you know what right dressing is? Right dressing is when you put your arm up and you right dress all in line and we stood there for four or five hours like
that over a toilet roll, that was the funniest thing. That was one group punishment. Push ups. Push ups with your webbing and pack on and a rifle. They pick a tree in the distance, maybe five six hundred metres, if you don’t make it back in thirty seconds, you’re not going to make it, impossible, even sprinters don’t run that fast, you would go again and they just run you into the ground. Cyclone training. Jump on the bed and throw all of your stuff out of the window, mess your bed up
and if people didn’t shave in the morning, if they thought they could cheat the system and shave at night, and they would get caught in the morning we would have to go through morning routine over and over again. Sometimes just keep going until they got sick of it. So you could be doing morning routine for about two hours. Shaving. Everyone has to shave, get back, make your bed; this goes on over and over again. And they give you two minutes and then a minute and a half and then thirty seconds and you can’t do it
so you start again. Over and over again.
Did the toilet roll offender ever own up?
No the toilet roll offender never owned up. I actually asked the NCO, “If someone owns up can we actually do it?” And he said, “Yeah.” and I said, “I did it.” and he said, “No you didn’t, we know who did it.” I just wanted to go to bed, because we used to go to bed at ten o’clock at night and be up at half past four or five in the morning. And that’s when we did our morning routine, shave, have breakfast. And they give
you ten minutes for breakfast and you have actually got to physically march form your room down to the mess line up get it, eat it. And march back in that ten minutes. You can’t do it, its impossible. And so you get there, stuff your food in, and you’re looking at three or four hundred, maybe five hundred recruits in the one mess having breakfast. You could be in the line for five minutes. So you have got to eat as much as you can and get back before group punishment starts again.
And when you said you did your morning routine, what did that involve?
Morning routine was get out of bed, stand in the hall way, pull your sheets off your bed, you don’t actually leave your bed as it is, stand in the hallways with your sheets over your shoulder and they check to see that everyone is still there, no one had gone AWOL [absent without leave] or done anything to themselves. And then they do a hallway thirteen or a hallway twelve whichever you’re in at the time and each person counts off, you have got your own special number in the line. Like I might have been twenty two, if someone is missing it might go nineteen, twenty one, twenty two so they know number twenty is missing.
They know who that person is straight away. That’s the morning routine, and they say, “Right, you have got twenty minutes.” And four people have got to make four beds, shave, clean your room, have breakfast and back ready for PT, if you have got PT or whatever lesson straight up. That’s what you have got to do. You might have PT or battle PT, which is webbing and all of that gear that you wear.
What was involved in PT?
At Kapooka a lot of running sit ups and push ups when I went through. Sorry when I went through Kapooka a lot of running, sit ups, push ups and chin ups. Chin ups were a big thing when I went through Kapooka.
And did any blokes not cope well with PT?
Heaps of people couldn’t handle it. A lot of people don’t perceive what they’re going to get into. They join the army and go to Kapooka and Kapooka is basic training, everyone in the army is trained to be a basic soldier,
infantry soldiers, that’s what the basic training is, and they don’t perceive that. They join the army and because some people get corps enlisted, for instance we had one bloke who was corps enlisted to the padres, he was going to be a priest. Another bloke was corps enlisted to be a bandy [member of the band]. They had no idea what they were getting into poor buggers. You have to do seven chin ups to pass your first four weeks, that’s minimum pass, some rocked up and they couldn’t even do one and in four weeks they have got to do seven.
They can’t do it aye?
How did you go at it?
I used to do chin ups all of the time at boxing so it was no worries, too easy.
You said when you first got off the bus that sergeant was quite nice to you, did he continue on?
Oh yeah it’s their persona, they have got to get you in there. Once the training starts there is no nice, it is “Recruit Robins, Recruit whoever…” and that’s what you’re known as until you march out
and then they’re nice to you again. They are just trainers, that’s their job, that’s what they are trained to do. They’re instructors that’s it and the way I see it they were still training proper soldiers. Today they can’t stress them out as much, whereas when I went through and the blokes before me, the years before me were a lot harder. Tapered down to where it is today where they can’t stress you out. Because they actually have to, they do break your personality, a lot of people
Did you see that happening around you?
Yeah we had one bloke slash his wrists. I think he tried it three or four times. One bloke locked himself in a cupboard. The platoon above me one bloke jumped out of the window to break his legs, didn’t work. They marched him back up to his window to make him jump out again. That’s what it was like, but it is not like that any more.
So with the bloke that tried to kill himself a couple of times, did you know him or hear about it?
Yeah he was in a platoon below us because it was three platoons per building. And I think it might be six platoons per company. I am not sure I can’t remember off hand. The bloke that jumped out of the window was above us and the bloke that locked himself in the cupboard was in my platoon and the bloke that slashed his wrists was in the building below us yes.
So what would happen, how would you hear about things like that?
They would tell you, because sometimes as the time goes on at Kapooka
it gets easier and they give you more time off. The first four weeks are the hardest where you have to learn everything and they instil into you timings and thing like that. After that it gets easier and you think, “I can cheat the system by doing this now.” and in the old days they used to make us spit polish our boots. If you were good at spit polishing your boots and no good on your polys [polyester khaki uniform] you would start doing deals with other people, and that’s what I was doing. That’s what smart people do. That’s how I see the world going around, you start doing deals with
people and doing things for them and they do things for you. And it starts giving you spare time. And that’s actually where I met one of my best friends, Dale Thompson; I first met him at Kapooka. He was in a platoon below me I think and that’s how you hear it, as you actually progress up. They actually let you go to the wet canteen once or twice while you are there and you get to meet the gold tabs and the blue tabs, you don’t get to meet any red tabs because they’re at the dry canteen, but that’s how it works.
Can you explain that, the tabs?
The red tabs are blokes there for the first four weeks and they just get to go to the dry canteen. And once you get through all of your tests at the end of the first month you get to go into town for three or four hours and everyone else does, because as civvies you suck a lot of piss, well young fellows do anyway. Then you go into town, get drunk, they bring you back and then Monday morning you go blue tabs. Same thing happens again but then
you start you might get Saturdays off and as time goes on they make it easier for you and you get a bit more time.
So for the first four weeks do you have any time off?
Nothing. Only time you get off is if you go to church on Sundays and that’s where, your friends talking to you.
That’s okay I didn’t explain that.
No worries the first four weeks you do your stuff and then you’re up to blue tabs then,
and you get to go to church. Basically red tabs get time off to go to church. Because everyone went to church but if you didn’t go to church you could stay back and do your own stuff and a lot of people think all right you get time off from doing all of the crap I will have a rest and go to church for an hour or however long church is. I used to look at in another way, everyone else has gone to church so we can spend time here by ourselves, we can catch up on everything I have got to catch up on and that’s what I used to do and it would eventually create spare time. It might only create five minutes
to start off with but it eventually creates more time as you go along.
Can you tell us a bit about how they taught you these routines to begin with?
Morning routine is how it starts and then if you got a lesson, every lesson might go for thirty five, forty minutes, whatever the time limit is, you have got to march there and then you have got to be there five minutes before it starts and it takes
ten minutes to march there so you have got to leave fifteen minutes early, to be there five minutes before. And that’s how it works they bring routine into you. Common thing was spit polish your boots, brass and stuff like that we will give them to you and they would give you a time limit to do it and if you didn’t make it you would start again. That’s how they beat it into you.
How did they teach you to march?
They wait until everyone rocks up, they shove you in a big line and they march you until you can march properly, they just keep marching you.
I suppose you might march five or ten ks [kilometres] the first day until everyone can march with their arm going right. And then they march you everywhere. Run everywhere after that.
Were there any instructors that were harder than others?
The PTIs [Physical Training Instructors], they’re the hardest instructors. Physical training instructors, that’s their job, they’re the hardest the fittest.
Everyone else has got their own little job, ones that do drill; infantry tactics stuff like that, just basic infantry stuff. But the PTIs are the hardest; they’re the ones that run you into the ground.
You said you had friction with the guys who were in your hut, did you ever feel that with the ones that were instructing you?
No I wasn’t really fazed by them. No one could dish out the stress my father dished
out I tell you. And that’s why I think I found Kapooka so easy.
Your father was worse than the instructors at Kapooka?
I am not saying that he was a lot crankier and a lot stricter. He wasn’t yelling in your face, but you knew if you stuffed up you were in trouble. He wouldn’t beat us with a stick, he wasn’t doing child bashing or that sort of stuff but he was a pretty strict sort of person.
What about the other guys did you see any of them go AWOL or leave?
Yeah we had a few people leave, but when I went through Kapooka you could join up and they worked out a system where you put your discharge in but you still had to stay there anyway and still have to keep training up until your discharge date, you don’t just sit back and do nothing. And they actually got one poor idiot in my platoon he didn’t like any more, and he put his discharge in and he actually discharged the day we marched out and he did everything we did. And they give him the opportunity to pull his discharge
and he decided to leave the day we marched out of Kapooka. So that’s how they keep you there, they keep you and train you the entire time no matter what.
Okay that’s the end of our first tape.
Interviewee: Paul Robins Archive ID 1765 Tape 02
Just now after you had gone in there you have been in there a few weeks can you describe a little bit more about what it looked like on the base?
Just a lot of buildings lined up that’s all I said before. A platoon per level of building, three platoons per building. Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, and then they had like a rehab [rehabilitation] platoon because we had injuries.
A big PT area, a couple of footy fields a range, a movie hall a mess, and like a canteen and a boozer [bar] and that was about it. And they had like a gas training area where they used to do gas training years ago. When I went through they never did that with us. And then you had the area down the back with the ranges and that was where you went and played army men and things like that.
And what was the PT area like?
was like a big gymnasium. Basketball court, weight room, we never got to see that.
Why is that?
Because when you’re an IT [Infantry Training] you don’t get to see that stuff, you just get to go and do PT with the PTIs what they tell you to do. A lot of obs [obstacles] courses and like I said a lot of running, up through the hills down the back and that sort of stuff. A lot of sit ups, push ups and they just teach you the fireman carries and things like that that you need for your assessments.
Through your army career. When I went through there was a lot of rope work, climbing up and down the ropes.
I know you were fit but did you find any of the PT stuff hard?
A lot of running was hard because as people fell back, you might do a five k [kilometres] run, it might say five k run on your program to do it and you were allotted to do the five k run but as you run because some of the people were unfit they would fall back and one of the tricks of the
NCOs and the PTIs they would let them fall back, they might fall back five hundred metres, and they make you wheel back and pick them up. And they know damn well they’re going to fall back again in the next hundred metres and you just keep doing that and you can do that for the rest of the five ks and end up doing seven or eight ks instead of five. And that does start to wear you down. And we used to do a lot of that up and down hills, and you go up hills and as people
fall back you come back and pick them up, go up, until you get to the top. And that’s pretty hard doing that all of the time.
Would you slow down?
They instil in you that everyone trains together fights together and that you can only go as fast as the slowest man, but what they do because the slower man is getting slower and slower all of the time to wear them out they make you run harder to start with and I suppose that’s idea of making you fit.
Did anyone actually collapse?
Yes we had one where we had people collapse, one time where a bloke tore ligaments in his ankle, just stuff like that, minor stuff. No one actually went down.
Can you describe where they teach you to use the weapons? Because you found that difficult you said?
Yeah well I hadn’t really shot a gun before I joined the army.
They teach you in lines, they teach you basic stuff to start with, how to strip the weapon and how to clean it. And I think that’s what you learn in the first couple of days or weeks you’re there. And then they teach you your IAs [immediate actions]. And that where you might have a
blockage in the weapon, a double fed round into a barrel, no rounds in a magazine all of that sort of stuff. They teach you that and they give you a rifle, drill rounds and a magazine, the stuff you need. And they take you out to these little training sheds and they sit you down and train you how to do it and you just go through it and through it. And then at time they give you a pamphlet and you read it and teach yourself and then when a test comes along if you don’t pass
the test you don’t get to go to the range.
And did you pass the test at that stage?
Yeah no worries, the only problem I had was the shooting. That was my final shooting but it was common knowledge at Kapooka because the recruits that are doing the shooting their mates are in the butts as well, so if you know someone is a pretty crappy shot you look after them in the butts. You stick holes in the target so they can get the points to pass. And that’s what a lot
of people do, they look after each other.
And did that happen for you?
No. It didn’t happen for me, but it happened for a lot of people and I did it for people too. Because you have a thing where you might have to get thirty points, whatever it is and if you don’t match that score you don’t pass, and that’s the way it is.
What happens if you don’t pass?
You get retested and you keep getting retested, up until they have a
deadline, they might have a retest on a Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and that’s it if you don’t pass by Thursday that’s it you get back squadded back to next platoon back, not week three or four, you go back to week one the start.
Were many people around you getting back squadded?
A lot of people do get back squadded, not just because they’re useless, injuries. Me I was useless at shooting so I got side squadded, I got put in with the injured
platoon until the next platoon came up. I had done everything, he only thing I didn’t pass was my final shooting test so I got put sideways until the next platoon come up and I could do the testing and I could fall in line with them and march out, that’s what happened to me.
Were there many fights that broke out between guys in training?
How could you say it? Not really at Kapooka although I had two fights when I was there. One was over a broom
oddly enough and one was the first day I was there when someone from Victoria rocked up. That was it. Three fights sorry.
What happened with the broom?
The broom was morning routine, the big fellow I was telling you about, the thirty-two-year-old, he got moved to another room because we were fighting all of the time. He was in charge of the SALs [?], you have got your own little bit you’re in charge of in the morning and
he was in charge of the SALs. I was in charge of the hallway and so I got there and had brekky [breakfast] before he did got back and started sweeping the hallway and he wanted the broom off me. I told me he could wait until I finished and he wasn’t going to let me pass with the broom so I hit him with it. He is thirty two and I am seventeen and he is a lot bigger than me, and so I hit him with the broom and kept hitting him until he fell over and then I kept sweeping the hallway and that was it, it was all over and done with.
And what happened to him?
Not much because you don’t have to say anything. A lot of people are sooks [weak] and they have a bit of a whinge
about it, but I didn’t say anything, he didn’t say anything and that was it.
So you effectively won?
The broom incident? Yeah I effectively won the broom incident.
Did you get into any trouble for it from the officers?
No one was there, because the NCOs were down having their breakfast as well. There might be one NCO left to look after the lines while the rest have breakfast he might have been somewhere else doing something else and there was just me and this other fellow. Unless there was an NCO that I wasn’t aware of and I just don’t know.
I just hit him with the broom and that was it.
And what about the Victorian incident?
Oh the Victorian karate man? It was the first day there, he was some Australian karate dude and I had done boxing for about four years and I was Queensland state champion and he was doing his karate stuff and I gave him a bit of a clip, because he actually tried to kick me in the head over nothing.
Saying, “I am karate.” “Yeah mate, whatever.” and he kicked me, I beat him up a bit and that was it, it was all over. He sat in his bed and cried.
Were there other people around?
Yeah he was in my room. There was four people in my room, there was me, the thirty-two-year-old fellow, the Victorian and a bloke from Tasmania.
And when a fight would break out, would other blokes try and stop it?
No they would watch it because
you don’t get to see much entertainment, you don’t have TV, radio, nothing. They just let it happen.
That was the fun?
It was pretty amusing. There was one other time we had one fellow moved to our platoon and he was a big sissy and he just wasn’t playing the game, we were getting a lot of group punishment and he got stuck in my room. And the funny thing was we were all sitting there spit polishing our boots and stuff, because you’re not allowed to sit on your bed or anything at night time and he sat on the bed, so we were all going to get punished.
And two other fellows seen it and I just sat there and didn’t say anything, and they just came in and gave him an absolute towelling [ a beating] and he never sat on the bed again but that night he slept in the hallway, and when the duty NCOs comes around to check to see that everyone is there he was sleeping in the hallway. “What happened?” “I got beat up.” So everyone got group punishment again. He thought that was a way of getting back at the two blokes that beat him up and that’s what happened. I don’t think he marched out, I think they got rid of him.
So a towelling is?
An absolute flogging, beat up big time.
Big time as in what would he have been like at the end?
Bleeding beat up, he was pretty sore put it that way.
And what happened with any of the fights where the officers would get involved did they actually try and break them up?
No there was none, we tried to do it without them looking, there was none.
How did you feel yourself changing in that time?
I would try to say to myself they’re not going to break me. I thought they weren’t doing it but you don’t realise until a few years down the track that they were changing you. They tell you at Kapooka, the instructors and the NCOs they tell you that you will change, you’ll go home and
realise the people that you went to school with and grew up with and that will be the same boring people that they were when you left and you will be a different person all together. And you don’t realise that because it is a lifestyle and a lot of people in the army ,the older people who are still in the army, the officers and sergeants and that sort of stuff, they will say it is a different sort of soldier now, whereas when I was in the army and they were, it
was a way of life and everyone was exactly the same. Where as now it is just a job. Confidence, everything is completely difference, you see things in a new light.
What sort of person were you when you went in?
Pretty quiet I suppose, that’s about it, shy and quiet.
But strong, you had been a boxer?
Oh yeah. But I was didn’t really go around telling people about that, you don’t want to go around bragging
about that sort of stuff, you want to keep that to yourself until you need to use it. Then it works to your advantage and stuff.
And what about the other blokes what sort of guys did you really start to connect with?
Just the quiet sort of fellows. You get to where you can weed people out, there is the jack people, that just care about themselves and there are people who will look after
one another help other people out and they are the people that I started to hang around.
Like this best mate of yours?
What was he like?
He is like me, pretty easy going. Straight down the line, “If you don’t like what I am saying, don’t listen.” And that’s pretty much how everyone I talk to or am associated with are.
Did you have a girlfriend when you joined the army?
Had you had any girlfriends up to that point?
I will say no.
So where there other guys around you that had left girls behind?
Oh yeah everyone does, everyone has got their girls that they left behind and they carry little photos, and their girlfriends send their knickers and the perfumed letters and all of that sort of crap.
And what did you think of all of that?
Didn’t worry me, didn’t interest me, I didn’t care.
So what sort of understanding about sex did you have up until that point?
I pretty much knew what I was doing.
Was it talked about at home with you?
No, my parents were pretty much like, “Find out for yourself, learn for yourself and then when you make the mistakes you have got to learn to accept the consequences of your actions.” That’s how I was brought up.
But did you know about contraception and all of that?
Oh yeah I knew about that sort of stuff.
We have heard from other blokes that they did VD [Venereal Disease] courses and so on in training, did you have that?
To be honest I can’t remember, but I know at Kapooka we weren’t allowed to fraternise with the female platoons. If you did that you got charged, went to the cells but that was for everyone, instructors and everybody. Instructors couldn’t fraternise with the recruit ladies, couldn’t fraternise with them. Straight
out that was it. But I believe, so rumour goes, that they put this stuff in your potato or your food that doesn’t give you the urge any more. Controls the urge while you’re there for the three months. That’s what the rumour is.
Where did you hear that from?
That was the rumour going around recruits, but I just believe they ran us into the ground so that you couldn’t be fucked doing anything else, just wanted to have a sleep.
So you didn’t really feel the urge over that period?
No not really.
with a bunch of men,
It is just all men, there is a girl platoon but you can’t fraternise with them, you can’t talk to them. Can’t talk to them at the mess in the mornings, nothing at all.
How many women were there?
When I went through Kapooka I think there was one female platoon when I went through.
How do you think the guys dealt with that not being around women?
I have got no idea, I was just worried about getting out of Kapooka.
I just saw it as a job, can do whatever you want and they still can’t sack you unless you do something really stupid, and that’s how I saw it. Security and employment and you get to go places.
Did you ever hear of gay [homosexual] men?
At Kapooka or anywhere else in the army? Gay men at Kapooka I didn’t hear of it, might have been there while I was but we didn’t hear anything.
Were men accused of that?
Every man calls his mate a ‘fag’, every man calls a man a ‘poof’.
So all of the time yeah everyone gets accused of being a poof.
So when you got into the later weeks of training what sort of stuff did you start to do then?
PT gets a lot easier because you get fitter. Did a lot of shooting, sections attacks which is like basic infantry stuff.
What would be involved in that?
They would teach you mind infantry tactics which is all round defence.
What to do on a contact drill, sections drills.
Can you explain what you would do on a contact drill?
At Kapooka they teach you field signals, this all leads up to your contact drill, field signals, target indication, rates of fire, two or three round bursts, single shots and things like that, that’s what they teach you. Because everyone at Kapooka when I went through had SLRs [self loading rifles]
and that is what they teach us. I was a forward scout and so you might be patrolling along and the NCO he will fire his rifle with a blank in it. You go to ground, do a target indication, might be sight right hundred and fifty metres two enemies at the base of the tree line. That the basic target identification. And everyone will go into all round defence or contact drill. There will be a forward scout out the front,
number two and then rifle one, rifle number two, number three and one gun number two, number three and the NCO and signaller in the centre and that’s basic contact drill and they just keep instilling that into you.
How did you get into the position of forward scout?
Luck of the draw. Pick numbers, big bloke carries the gun in the old days big bloke carries the gun and then it is just the luck of the draw.
Did you like that position?
Why is that?
Because you’re up the front basically.
I learnt later in life to like it. At Kapooka I didn’t have enough understanding, but later on in life I learnt it was the best position.
What were some of the things that you were starting to enjoy about the army at that point?
Not much at Kapooka, it was pretty cruisey [easy]. Once you get the gold tabs you just cruise you don’t do much.
You just got to do what you have got to do and that’s it. I am not like a high achiever or low, I am just a cruiser. Do what you have got to do to pass and that’s it and that’s what I liked, you didn’t really have to impress anyone.
So what other sorts of things were you enjoying?
Did you get paid well?
No way in the world. I think we were getting three hundred dollars a fortnight, three hundred and fifty dollars a fortnight if that, and you do a lot of hours for that money. Like I said, you start at half past four five o’clock in the morning and go through to about ten o’clock at night. Later sometimes if you get punished or lines inspection where you have got to clean the lines and you can work right up until on or two o’clock in the morning. Only get two hours sleep. That’s just the way it is, so you don’t get value for dollar.
Did you ever get put in the box?
The box room? Yeah I went there once over a chin up incident.
Can you explain what happened with the chin up incident?
Well chin up incident at the end of the month they doa physical training test. When I went to Kapooka it was a hundred dorsal raises, a hundred sit ups, five k run in under twenty five or twenty six minutes, something like that, and a minimum seven chin ups. But from doing my boxing
and footy training before I joined I could do twenty chin ups anyway. So I did my twenty chin ups which was top of the line a hundred points, they used to have a hundred club, if you got the best of whatever you could do you got a hundred points. So I did twenty chin ups, a hundred dorsal raises and a hundred sit ups and I knew that I had enough points and I just had to pass my run and I would get a hundred points. I did my chin ups and the bloke behind me counted wrong. And he counted wrong and what happened was you all sit down in ranks,
everybody sits down in a line, I think there might have been fifty in a platoon or something when we first started and we all sit in lines and you do your chin ups and the bloke behind you counts. And this went on. I went through and I did mine and the bloke behind me counted wrong and I blew a valve. “Mate, I did twenty!” “Oh, I must have miscounted.” And I got in trouble; I got a face ripping [ screamed at] for that. And when we got back to the box that was when I got in trouble.
What did they do?
I had one NCO in front of me and one behind me, one pushing me in the back and one pushing the front. Trying to intimidate you but I wasn’t really intimidated, I have got a lot more dramas in my life than those silly buggers.
So they didn’t punch you?
Oh yeah. That didn’t worry me.
What sort of stuff were they saying to you to try and break you?
Called me a liar. Just all sorts of crap, weak, poofter, normal man stuff, that’s what it was.
How did that sort of thing affect you psychologically at that point?
It didn’t worry me. I had been beaten up by my brothers. Boxing, I trained with Australian champions, I had been beaten up by Australian champion pro fighters, it didn’t worry me, I was training with Australian champions when I was seventeen years old, so it didn’t worry me, they couldn’t hit me that hard. It was amusing to see that, they had no idea so it didn’t worry me at all.
Did you see some guys came back from that pretty rattled?
Oh yeah some guys got pretty rattled. The funniest thing I seen was thirty year old men break down and cry over push ups, I was seventeen. I thought sixty push ups was nothing because we did that all of the time. The big thing in my household, go back a bit, my father used to make us do push ups. The used to make us do push ups, and my brother Rodney that used to complain that he used to get smacked a lot because he was naughty, he
used to brag when he was ten years old that he could do a hundred push ups straight. The old man used to make us do push ups every night. Physical training never worried me, but a lot of people that didn’t have that sort of upbringing like football and boxing and getting beat up by elder brothers and stuff like this, it messes with their minds and they start to crack and they would give up after a bit.
So what would you other blokes do when these blokes would break down and cry?
A lot of people would laugh. Tell them to shut up, not much. They wouldn’t do much, some people just give up the ghost aye, they bung a turn on [create a fuss], they think if I bung a turn on they will leave me alone, no it just gets worse for everyone, that’s the way it worked.
What were some of the worst things you witnessed?
I seen the toilet roll incident. There was this one fellow he just wouldn’t play the game. When he first rocked up, the Victorian fellow I was telling you about, he was in the army reserve or the cadets at the time, he was only eighteen or nineteen, recruit instructor of cadets and so he through he had some knowledge of the army. He didn’t have a clue when he turned up. So all of his stuff would get thrown out of the window, his bed, his cable
all of his gear would get chucked out of the window and they would give him five minutes to get it all back upstairs. Set it all up again inspection order, out of the window again. If you’re socks weren’t smiling, for inspection we had little smiley face socks, if your socks weren’t smiling and they weren’t happy all of your kit goes out the window and you have got to get it all ready again. Cyclone training, we ran to the range one time with packs and webbing on and
something happened at the range, I can’t remember but it was something pitiful. And we ran back from the range and we did push ups in the lines I don’t know how long for, we did them for a long time with our packs and webbing and our rifles strapped to our backs. It was a long time and people were crying and breaking down .and at PT, if you stuffed up at PT in the pool you used to do things called tea bags, they would get you on the end of the pool,
put your hands on the edge of the pool let yourself down like that and then push up and you just keep doing them and push ups was a big punishment too. Heaps of push ups, that was the worst, a lot of people would break doing push ups, start crying and stuff.
What was in your pack?
Nothing, water rations and a sleeping bag and a hootchie [personal shelter], I think that was it.
What about weapons and stuff?
We had an SLR. When I was a recruit we had SLRs and that was it until gold tab when you marched out. The section gunners were given ARs – automatic rifles – they are just a jacked up version of an SLR.
Were there any of the sergeants that you really respected at that time?
There was a Corporal Boatwright, I remember him, he was an infantry section
commander. I used to come on Saturdays and stuff and he would rock up with AK47s and show us all of the good stuff, all of the good poop. The rest were like cooks. Cook instructors, transport instructors, bandy instructors, just in the army, how it works in the army you get to a certain rank and if you want to get to a corporal or whatever it is part of the posting requirement, you have to go to a training establishment. So they send them to Kapooka or wherever they go. So you end up with
cooks, bandys and they have got no idea. And they are teaching basic infantry skills and they have never done them themselves, they did them ten years ago. Before they actually went back to Kapooka as an instructor, that’s the down side to it.
So what happened at the end of Kapooka?
End of Kapooka you march out, section commanders are your friends and everyone gets drunk and then shifted off to initial employment training. What happens is when you first go to
Kapooka you fill out an IT form and an aptitude form and they tell you where you can go, your choices are and then you get to make a selection of what unit you want to go to and if you are a good recruit you get the one you choose, bad recruit they pick one for you.
What were you interested in doing?
First I wanted to go to water transport because it was on the Gold Coast and I thought that would be cruisey. And then because
I got side squadded and I failed my shooting, the rumour was if you got back squadded and side squadded you were going to get infantry anyway so I thought bugger it and that’s what I went for infantry. I went to Singleton.
What happened when you were at Singleton?
Singleton when I was there I went through like a Christmas period, a downturn type of period, we were there for six months in that platoon, week duties and then a week learning and this went on for six months.
We had to learn basic infantry skills again except the next version of them and we learnt section’s stuff, platoon. And they made pretend company stuff; you just did your own platoon stuff. They made the other stuff up around you. We dig in; we dug pits to fight in and all of that sort of stuff. When I went through we had SLR,
M16, M203 which was like a little grenade launcher on the bottom of an M16, M79, grenades M60 and M58 they were the weapons we had to learn before we could march out.
And were your shooting skills improving then?
Yeah a little bit because they gave us better rifles to use then, M16s and stuff like that. Not quite as good and an SLR but for someone like me they were a lot easier to use, I found I was a better shooting with an M16 than I
was with an SLR because it was a lighter weapon.
And did your mate from Kapooka go on to Singleton with you?
Thommo, he was in the platoon above me at Singleton. I was in the platoon below him at Kapooka and I was in a platoon below him at Singleton yeah.
So he was in infantry too?
Yeah he is infantry as well.
And what was Singleton like?
Singleton is a coal mining town, population of twenty thousand and it is primary coal mining and a lot of wineries and stuff, obviously Hunter valley.
When I went through Singleton it was pre-Vietnam housing for the ITs to go through. I went through there at the end of winter, I went through Kapooka in winter and I went through Singleton the end of winter into summer and it was bloody cold. We had, I think there was fourteen blokes to a building in a section, sections’ buildings
and you had a bed space, a table space and an aluminium locker, that was it, that’s all you had. And there was no doors in your rooms, just a door on each end of the building, windows and an oil heater, you were allowed an oil heater. It was bloody cold.
How did you keep warm then?
Blankets, stuff like that because you’re out bush most of the time so it didn’t really matter.
What would you do when you went out bush?
Basic infantry stuff. Mind infantry tactics, do a lot of patrolling, section attacks half platoon attacks, platoon attacks, nav [navigation], they teach you nav, they teach you a better version of navigation than what they did at Kapooka, they teach you navigation. Obviously you had to do your target indications a lot better. Grenades, you go to the range a lot more shoot a lot more weapons. Just basically
infantry stuff at the time.
You had a few run ins [troubles] at Kapooka, how did you got at Singleton?
Well yeah Singo [Singleton] was a lot better because by then they had weeded out all of the dickheads, got the soldiers they want and at the IT anyway that’s where they got the soldiers they want. No fights at Singleton, they had a boxing night. They don’t have it any more for ITs,
they must be weak or something, they used to have it when we did it. And they pair you up with someone and you get to beat the crap out of people and that’s basically a character building thing there.
How did you go?
I won that no worries yeah. And they take you to Stockton, I don’t think they do that any more, run the sand dunes for PT in the morning, shoot weapons all day, run the sand dunes in the arvo [afternoon]
and then go to bed at night, that’s basically your week except the last night there they let you have a fight and then suck a bit of piss that’s it.
Was it important, the alcohol aspect of it?
I don’t know in them days it was, it was common practice in the army them days and when I first came to the battalion up here it was common practice but it is not any more, I believe they have changed the policy now I don’t know.
What do you mean by common practice?
Well common practice was like Australian attitude, a barbecue and everybody gets on the piss and that’s the way it was. Whenever there is a celebration like a week four, they would take you down to the boozer, few beers, week eight, down to the boozer, march out boozer, few beers. Singleton every time you’re allowed to go into the town you’re allowed to go to the boozer, it is just like a normal job at Singo so long as you’re back on base in time to start work in the morning. Can go to the boozer any time after work,
go to town any time, that’s just the way the culture was.
And did you drink much before it?
Before the army? I would say no.
So that kind of changed you?
I used to suck a fair bit of piss. I used to drink a lot of alcohol, after overseas I started to drink a lot more.
And what about the other blokes who weren’t drinking did they get treated differently?
No you pretty much had your own little group, everyone has their own little groups and that’s just basically how it is. And a lot of people they just focussed on doing their training and getting to their unit and getting out of their, that’s what everybody wanted nobody worried about anybody else.
So in the six month period at Singleton what other sorts of things were you learning?
Just infantry stuff because that was our IT; you learn your drill and just infantry. Enemy weapons stuff like that that’s basically it.
Can you describe some of those exercises you did?
We used to go field we would go field from Monday to Friday every week was a one week, until our final fling
they call it and I think you go out for two weeks. When we did it we used to dig in for the week, gradually progress, our pits make them a lot better, and that’s how it was, you dig in, put up wire, put up ,they would teach you had to do trip flares, claymores [mines], things like that, basic infantry tactics and that’s what you learnt. Standing patrols, a lot of radio procedures.
What were the radio procedures?
Phonetic alphabet. How to talk on a radio properly when you have contacts or if you want to talk to someone on the radio, just proper ratel [radio telegraphy] procedure where they say words twice or you can talk once, might be, “Bravo, this is Alpha, over.” And they will come back and that’s just
how you talk on the radio, basic stuff like that and obviously that progresses as your army career goes on.
And are you still doing a lot of physical training then too?
Physical training like running and stuff gees yeah. When I went through Singleton we still used to do a lot of PT at least once a day sometimes twice a day, and we would march outfield or we would march home and then we would do runs, push ups, chin ups, you do a lot of punishment
again group punishment like push ups, just to build your stamina up.
And you had classroom work?
Yeah we sat in a classroom and they just did basic stuff like theory, theoretical side of stuff and then you would go outside and do the practical. But a lot of our classroom work was conducted in the field because it was infantry work. We used to just sit out in the sticks with a notepad, write stuff down learn stuff and then go out and do it.
What sort of stuff did you do?
Cam [camouflage] and concealment.
Can you explain that?
Cam and concealment is like camouflage on your face. Your pack, like when you dig your pits, cam and concealment of your pit, just basic infantry stuff they teach you.
Did you like the feeling of being an army man?
Yeah it was all right, it wasn’t too bad. It gives you a lot of confidence. I think from my home
town, out of Middlemount there was only three of us that joined the army. And I think one or two others joined the navy so there wasn’t many of us.
And what sort of advantage do you think it gave you at that point over the other guys in the mines?
In the mines? In nine months, I left Queensland, gone to New South Wales, even when I was in IT at Singleton you got weekends off, I would go to Sydney, Newcastle I would go everywhere,
and they were still stuck in the mines in Middlemount, some of the guys I went to school with they had been there, well they are still there now. Same job, same place, they might have moved to the mine up the road which is thirty ks up the road. Same mine, same place doing the same stuff, that’s it.
So what sort of things would you do when you would go to Sydney?
Oh we used to have a good time like young fellows do, get drunk,
get in fights, run around like lunatics, that’s basically it what young fellows do anyway.
Did the pay increase by that stage?
Not a real lot, you don’t get paid real well. When I was there you didn’t get paid real well. Only get paid about five fifty a fortnight or something like that, wasn’t a real lot.
What was your actual role at that time were you give a specific….?
Yeah when you go through Singleton you have to learn everybody’s job so one week you would be a forward scout, the next week time you go bush you will be one rifleman you work your way through you don’t actually get stuck with the one job.
And of all of those what were you enjoying the most?
Forward scout was all right, that was the best I reckon.
And what did that involve?
Obviously you have got a bloke at the front of the section, as they say in the text book you’re the eyes and the ears of the section and that’s basically the
best part about it. I like being up the front, you get to cruise around and basically do your own thing sort of. You just cruise around, the section commander tells you where he wants you to go and you just do your own stuff.
So are you in radio contact with the other guys?
In them days no, we didn’t have radios we had field signals in them days, they probably still have field signals now I imagine they would have. But no, we didn’t have section radios and that then, inter section radios, just a lot of field signals and whispers.
What were some of the field signals?
Enemy, good guys, come here, lots of quiet, shh. I can’t remember. There is like guns, all sorts of stuff, and then there is all of the stuff you make up yourself that makes it easier, it is pretty cruisey. Paces, how far you have come. Stop. Down. Whatever you can say the army has got field signals for it.
Excellent. That’s another tape.
Interviewee: Paul Robins Archive ID 1765 Tape 03
Paul you were speaking earlier about the blokes in training who were pretty well idiots, why do you say that?
They just really switched on, they were doing silly things, getting group punishment for us, go out on the town and get drunk, and they would do stupid things on the drinking. We would get group punished or they would do a stupid thing at work
and more group punishment. They were just idiots. Three months at Kapooka you think they would have switched on to the group punishment thing and to play the game but they just weren’t playing the game.
Were there any blokes who were really violent?
Yeah there probably was. Not in my platoon, but in the platoon above me there was a few violent sort of people.
And how did they behave?
A lot of fighting in town, a lot of inter platoon rivalry in town. Once again the army instils in you rivalry,
to be the best section, the best platoon. Best company, best battalion, it’s esprit de corps, they call it, and that’s basically what they do.
Did you like that?
Yeah once you’re switching on and you start to get good at your job you start to see the mistakes everyone is making and you start to see that you might be one of the best sections.
So you like that rivalry that went on?
Yeah it makes you train harder, switch on a lot more, like learn a lot more.
And so you joined the army to have security and a job what about some of the other blokes?
I imagine some for security, other people their father and grandfather and uncles and so forth were in the army before them. It is a family trait.
I just seen the army as a way out of Middlemount and a job, so I took that opportunity, took that way out.
When you joined the army did you expect that you might have to one day kill somebody?
Yeah I imagined I would one day. I hoped that I would go overseas one day and serve my country, that’s what I always wanted to do, do something for my country. And going overseas would be a good way of doing it.
So I thought, “Gees, yeah, why not?”
And during training do the blokes talk about that?
When I joined the army no one had been overseas since Vietnam. Cambodia was the next one before Somalia. There was a lot of little ones in between Fiji and places that they didn’t go into but they were in line to go to. We didn’t mix much with those people until we got to the battalion and that’s when we seen the
soldiers that had been overseas or who were online to go to Fiji or wherever they were online to go to at the time.
But in training do people talk about it?
Oh yeah everyone wants to go overseas and shoot people when they’re young, they have got no idea what they are talking about. But that’s what they teach you, they teach you a lot of bayonet and fighting and shooting things and the targets look like people and the bayonet things look like people.
So people actually want to shoot people?
Oh yeah, people join the army to kill, that’s your job.
Basic infantry job is to kill people.
And some people are keener than others?
Oh yeah a lot of people have got this, I suppose they are crazy, they might want to do it. I am not saying everyone, but some people do join the army to do that.
What makes you say that?
I have worked with people who say it.
What do they say?
It is the chance of a lifetime.
Being overseas myself, people jump out of planes and say it is the biggest rush, race car drivers, everyone says it is the biggest rush. There is nothing like hunting people, that’s the biggest rush you can do.
Okay after Singleton where did you go form there?
After Singo I got posted to 1RAR [Royal Australian Regiment], to Townsville to RAR.
Can you tell us about what you were doing there?
It was official battalion I started off as a rifleman and eventually through postings and people moving to other platoons and things like that I became a forward scout.
So how long were you in Townsville for?
I was in Townsville for five years.
So what sort of operations were you involved in what sort of work were you doing?
We did jungle warfare up
here in Tully, did jungle warfare, low level ops. Urban warfare and conventional warfare and we did a little bit of riot training and things like that.
When you say urban warfare and convention warfare, what did that involve?
Conventional warfare is out in the bush, out in the Australian bush patrolling, urban warfare is like suburbs, houses stuff like that.
When I say urban warfare we did VCPs, vehicle checkpoints, and when we were doing it they didn’t have little towns we could train at whereas they have got the townships now they can train at. We just used to train around the lines, the battalion area. We would get the mogs [Unimogs] or the transporters or whatever and they would play the enemy. They would pretend they were locals and we would have to do VCPs and evacuations, and
practise all of this stuff and that’s what we would do.
So you’re basically still training in a sense?
Oh yes you’re all of the time training so when it actually does happen you can do your job you know what you’re doing.
So you were posted by this time to 1 RAR? How did this change for you, how did this differ for you from your other training?
It’s your job now, you have to know your job. You have to switch on up here to know your job.
I believe it is a different army, infantry unit up here 1 RAR, 2 RAR, when I was in the army to the other battalions.
In what way?
It is a lot more regimental up here; they are a lot more straight down the line. They instil into you your job, esprit de corps all of the stuff doing stuff.
So what about the blokes with you in Singleton were any of them with you?
Yeah a lot of them come up to 1RAR and 2RAR, I think two fellows came into the platoon with me; you get split up over the battalion. And that’s basically how they do it and you get split up into sections and you go your separate ways.
Had you made some good mates?
When I was in the army I guess they were but when you get out and start getting PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder] and stuff like that and your mates are still in the army that have PTSD but don’t want to talk about it, and the army has swept it
under the carpet for a few years but now it’s coming out and it is starting to be a big factor so they are trying to look after it. And your mates are too long into their career to say they have got PTSD and things like that so they don’t want to acknowledge it. So you don’t really talk to them and that stuff.
What about at that time, were you quite friendly?
Oh I had a few mates yeah.
Anyone in particular?
No not really.
And what did you do together?
Play army men, or we would go to town and get drunk. That’s basically all the military personnel do in Townsville, the young blokes anyway.
So how drunk would you get?
Pretty drunk. Are you talking dollar value there or how drunk?
Well what was your condition?
Condition? I would be blind, spend about two hundred dollars a night. And I would drink Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. We would start drinking Thursday afternoon at
about twelve o’clock. That’s when we would knock off and play sport but some of us wouldn’t go to sport we would go into town, back in the old days not everyone had to play sport, you could go and watch, so some of us would go into town, get drunk, go to sport, get drunker and go out, come back about six thirty in the morning. Start work seven, go to work.
And when you were drunk what sort of things would you do?
A lot of fighting we would get into a lot of fights with civilians.
Because civilians up here don’t really like the army, try and pick up sheilas [women] I suppose, try to be really nice and jag [pick up] women and more fighting. That’s basically what we used to do.
How bad were the fights?
Some were pretty bad.
Can you tell us about those?
People going to hospital and stuff, some fights were pretty bad.
Can you remember any specific ones?
I will say no to that.
But you said people went to hospital?
Yeah people have been in hospital.
What sort of injuries?
Cheek bone sticking out of their eye sockets, broken limbs. People beaten until they are a pulp. You have got no idea; some of the stuff was pretty bad.
And who were the people who were injured?
Obviously not us.
Some of us got beat up obviously, a lot of us got beat up.
So they were civilians?
Oh yeah civilians and other army personnel yeah.
Oh yeah from other units, people from your own battalion, your own company, everyone gets drunk and says the wrong thing. People take it the wrong way and get beat up.
What sort of stuff would you fight about?
Blokes would fight about women; navy blokes would come into town so we would fight with them. I remember, I think it was ’94, a US [United States] marine boat come to town and they had a unit parade, told us we couldn’t go into town and get into fights with the marines because of this reason and they stood thew whole battalion on parade because of that. We would fight the bouncers.
How much do you think that fighting had to do with alcohol?
A lot of it had to do with stress from work. It is a stress relief. They train you to go off and kill people shoot people, blow them up and stab them and all of this stuff to people and every Thursday you have got to stop work go down to the boozer, go and get drunk, go and play sport, aggressive sports. Everyone in the army is aggressive and everyone gets drunk,
there is quiet drunks there is aggressive drunks all of that sort of stuff. Everyone gets aggressive and stuff.
So it was what you were being trained to do?
Yeah it was an accepted society at the time, it is not like that any more I believe, but it was an accepted way of life.
So when you came into town people must have been a bit scared of you?
I wouldn’t say that, I don’t know. I wouldn’t say that because you’re looking at ten per cent of Townsville’s population is defence force, there is heaps of people.
And this was happening all of the time and it still happens today.
How big were the fights?
I seen one Flinders Street one time, the whole of Flinders Street was blocked off both ends. I have been in the Criterion nightclub two occasions where they shut the doors and we were punched out outside.
That was ’94, ’95 something like that. There was fights up to a hundred people, pretty excessive.
How did you feel about those fights?
Survival of the fittest, prefer to get out of there if you can without getting hurt because that’s the only way, I don’t really like getting beat up, no one likes getting hurt I believe.
How much did you participate?
If I didn’t have to for self protection I wouldn’t, but if I had to, survival of the fittest.
When you said people were beaten to a pulp what do you mean by that?
They went away in ambulances. They got a pretty good hiding [beating], a lot of people went away in ambulances.
Did that worry you?
Once again no, because that’s the line of work you’re in, that’s the job you’re in.
Were there ever any repercussions?
For me there was none, I got away with it. But I didn’t go around beating people to a pulp either. There was one occasion when a mate of mine was confined to barracks for seven days, he put a bloke in hospital. He was on some intensive care or something in hospital. That was one occasion that I know of.
Did anyone ever die?
Not that I know of.
And was anyone ever charged?
Over fighting, everyone gets charged for fighting all of the time.
Yeah that’s common practice yeah.
So were you ever locked up?
For fighting? No.
What about any of your mates?
Yeah a few got locked up for fighting it was common practice aye.
And so that didn’t bother them?
No it was funny, we found it amusing. It was amusing at the time.
What was amusing about it?
They were stupid enough to get caught and get arrested for it. They punched police officers and stuff, got out of hand and the cops tried to arrest them and they beat up coppers as well, it was pretty funny.
What was the worst thing you saw?
The worst thing I saw?
No I can’t talk about that, I won’t say that.
You don’t have to name names.
Worst thing I saw, a fight broke out, one fellow tried to run away and another fellow chased him up the road, and those light poles you know around the middle of Flinders Street? Smashed him head first into that and then proceeded to punch him around the head. That’s the worst I have seen.
Did anybody try to stop him?
Did anyone in the army every try to stop these fights?
No it was a way of life. Everyone knows what Townsville’s like in town on the piss. Young fellows on the piss, everyone think they’re tough,
everyone is the toughest man in the world, that’s the way it is.
When you said you were pretty blind drunk, what would you have been able to do in that condition?
Gees, it depends I know I could drive a car because I have driven drunk before.
I mean could you walk straight?
Yeah no worries, I mean I believed I was doing all right.
I imagine I had the wobbly boot on [was drunk] but I supposed I was doing all right.
So how much luck did you have with the girls?
Pretty damn good.
What do you mean by that?
I was doing all right.
So every week would you pick up a girl?
Oh gees yeah, every week, twice a week easy. But it is different now to what it is then.
So was it just girls who liked army blokes?
Oh yeah heaps of chicks like army blokes. Dig the uniform as they say.
So it wasn’t hard?
No pretty easy. There is a lot of women who have been hurt by army blokes and they hate army men, and a lot of fellows hate army fellows and that’s where all of the violent stuff comes in yeah.
Did you ever hear about any of the blokes being violent to any of the women that they picked up?
I will say
yes, I won’t say violent but doing degrading stuff to them yeah. Silly things like fire hosing them, kicking them out of lines with no clothes and then fire hosing them. Exposing themselves to the sheilas, all of that sort of stuff.
Why did they do that sort of stuff?
I don’t want to be a whistle blower here, but because it was funny, they thought it was funny; everyone else thought it was funny so long as they didn’t get caught, it was funny.
So when blokes were picking up chicks every week, were they practicing safe sex?
I have got no idea I didn’t ask, none of my business, they can do what ever they want.
What about yourself?
But you knew about AIDS [Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome]?
I knew about AIDS and all of that sort of stuff.
It didn’t make any difference?
Young and stupid, I thought I was safe.
What sort of girls were you picking up?
Were they skanks [whores]; is that what you want to know?
I don’t know, not skanky, not dirty women, women who worked and had a job, a life normal people. But you never know.
Did you have any actually girlfriends?
So just two girls maybe a week?
Yeah cruise around have a good time get drunk, if you meet a sheila good if you don’t you don’t.
So that whole drinking culture that was instilled in you from the beginning?
Oh yeah I remember when I first got to battalion, the first sporties [function] in battalion they used to have a thing called ‘Terry Turbo’ like a five-litre funnel that you put fuel in your car and on the end was an inch and a half piece of hose about two foot long. And that would hold a six pack of beer. So someone would stick their thumb in and fill it up with beer and then hold it up above you. And you had to skol it [drink it all at once] and if you couldn’t do it – you had to do it in front of the whole battalion –
and if you couldn’t do it you had to do it again. Some people chose, they didn’t like beer so they would have spirits. After that six pack you’re pretty drunk, put it that way. And that was in place until about ’93, ’94 something like that and then they got a new brigade commander up her and he was a reformed alcoholic and he got rid of it because non drinkers weren’t being forced to do it, but it was in my platoon, but it was. When you came to the platoon you had to buy a six pack for the Terry Turbo, that was for you and a carton for the platoon.
That was a standard practice.
Kind of an initiation?
An initiation sort of thing yeah.
And did any of the blokes have trouble doing it?
Oh yeah, I nearly drowned doing it and you get pretty drunk doing it but you have got to do that in front of the whole battalion, six or seven hundred blokes standing there yelling and screaming at you so you have to do it. You might get thirty or forty new fellows in a battalion
and they have all got to stand up out the front and do their turn. But they canned that after a while.
So you do that individually?
Yeah individually it did.
And everyone is cheering you on?
They were yelling and screaming like maniacs yeah.
So was anyone ever sick?
Oh gees yeah, that’s a six pack of beer going down pretty quick, ten seconds for a sick pack of beer, a lot of people get crook.
Do they get sick while they’re doing it?
So people were throwing up?
And how does the battalion react to that?
(Cheers) like that, like idiots. It’s a man thing.
So who was the commander when you joined the platoon?
My platoon commander was Peter Connelly.
And what was he like?
He was a good platoon commander. He was regimental, strict, wouldn’t waver for no one and he was a good platoon commander.
So who told you about this initiation thing when you arrived?
Oh no one tells you until the first sporties, you go to the first sporties, you rock up and they say, “Oh yeah you have got to buy a carton for the company platoon and by the way here is Terry Turbo you have go to buy a six pack for that.” “Oh yeah no worries.” A lot of people try and fight it, don’t want to do it but you end up doing in anyway it is better to just get it over and done with.
Did anyone ever get out of it?
I don’t know honestly. I think they did, when I was up here some people did, but yeah that’s when they started to can it after that because people started to complain about it.
So your platoon commander was all right, who was in charge of the whole battalion?
Lieutenant Commander Hurley.
And was he the fellow who basically….?
No the brig [brigadier] was higher than him; I have got no idea who that was. I pretty much just focused where I was in the battalion. I didn’t worry about the fellows around us. I believe a lot of infantry fellows look at it like this, in that the rest of the army is there for the infantry, they support us, they’re not the ones going and doing the job, everyone else supports us.
And that’s how you saw it?
That’s how I saw it and that’s how a lot of people I believe see it.
And so the brig would have been in control of that situation?
No he wasn’t there at sporties, it is a battalion sporties, each unit has their own little sporties, on a Thursday or wherever they have it now. Each little unit has their own sporties and he would be at where ever his was and we would have been at ours.
But you said the new regimental commander came and changed everything, who was in charge of operating this?
It was just done by the men.
But they must have known it was going on?
It was common knowledge it was going on but it got passed down through brigade orders that it had to be stopped. People were, there were a lot of alcoholics in the army and all of that sort of stuff. They had a detox centre for them there too.
Oh no they sent them down to Sydney, to detox [detoxification] centre like if you were really bad, drank piss all of the time they would send you to detox, like an admin [administrative] nightmare, they
would send you away and get you fixed up, bring you back.
What sort of person was an admin nightmare?
Someone who couldn’t pay their bills, getting done drink driving all of the time. Normal everyday life dramas just going on all of the time for them. They just couldn’t get their stuff squared away.
But if you and your mates were drinking Thursday afternoon to Sunday night, how many of you guys got done for drink driving?
I know of two. That’s about it.
And so did you consider yourself as excessive drinkers?
No it was a way of life that’s what we used to do. Blow off steam that’s the way it was.
Did you enjoy it?
Getting drunk? Gees yeah, there is not a really lot to do in Townsville,
in them days there was no football team. I think the only football team they had was Townsville Sun Basketball team and they were hopeless, that was about it. So we just used to get drunk, go to Maggie [Magnetic Island] get drunk, go into town get drunk, go to the uni boozer and that was about it.
And what about the fights, did you enjoy those?
I wouldn’t say they were good fun, but yes they are good fun when you’re young fellows.
Apart from Terry Turbo what other sort of initiation things were there when you joined the platoon?
That was basically it up here.
Were there any other major changes when you come up here?
Oh yeah you have got to switch on a lot more, you are not learning your job any more you have to know your job and you have to do it. When you first come to battalion they do a week of SOPs [standard operating procedures]
and you run through how the platoon does everything, how the section does everything and then away you go, you go into the field and start playing the game.
So can you tell us the places that you did it and the sort of things you did in those years?
In Australia, I have been to Bindoon SAS [Special Air Service] training facilities.
What did you do there?
Urban warfare and conventional warfare.
High range, out the back there that was nowhere, Tully, Weipa, Singleton, Kapooka, New South Wales. That’s in Australia. Overseas, Thailand, Bali, Singapore and Africa.
So you went to Thailand while you were in Townsville, what did you do while you were there?
We had an exchange program with the Thai Army and we went over there and
did army man stuff with the Thais, played conventional warfare with them.
So what does that mean?
Just like section attacks, they were enemy for us and we were probably enemy for them I can’t remember but yeah them versus us with blanks and pretend grenades and stuff like that. Army training.
Do people get injured in these?
Oh yeah people twist their ankles, all of that sort of stuff goes on. Knees, ankles, normal injuries.
But no major accidents?
No major catastrophes with people going to hospital or dying, none of that sort of stuff.
What was the most interesting part of those few years for you?
Outside Africa I would say going to Thailand. That would be it.
What did you like about it?
It was good because you obviously get to go and see it for free.
And we had a week off before we went field and then we had another week off and went field and then another week off. So we got three weeks off in Thailand. Taxpayers pay for it, we got to cruise around check things out.
How did you spend your time?
Once again getting drunk. No looking at stuff, and getting drunk and cruising around, doing the touristy thing.
What about girls in Thailand?
No, I don’t particularly like Asians myself.
So you didn’t pick up any chicks there?
No, you have got to pay for it there.
So you didn’t want to pay for it?
And so during those years apart from Thailand what was the most challenging part of the work you were doing?
Challenging? In what way.
What was the hardest thing if you like?
Gas training was the hardest. They still do it now, but they have pepper spray and stuff now, but when I was a dig they would take us up the back of the hills these little huts and they have got CS crystals, CS is tear gas and they would burn them and they would fill these huts full of gas. And you would do top three training, and that’s when you have a gas mask and stuff, they would line you up march
you into this little hut with the gas mask on, let the gas on and you do gas training, that’s about it. That gets you used to the gas so you can see what it does to you, how it is and then you do gas training.
What was that like?
You start crying, a lot of people freak out because the gas is that thick it is like white dust in the air, you can’t see. A lot of people freak out because it burns your throat, nose your eyes start watering your noise starts running.
That was physically the hardest thing you have to do I reckon.
How did you cope with that?
I used to like it, it was funny, a lot of people would flip out because they didn’t like the sensation of it, it was pretty funny.
What do you mean flip out?
I seen a digger, he was a big fellow at the time, kick the door off the hinges and run straight over to the CSM [Company Sergeant Major] because he wanted to get out of there.
Because they would send us in there without a mask to start with, take a breath of gas hold it and them let you out, punch everyone through, and then the next stage with no thing and put your mask on and they let you all through. Eventually you get to the stage where you go in with your mask on, take your mask off, take a deep breath, say your name regiment number, name where you come from, put your mask back on, clear your mask and march out. And it gets to that stage and a lot of people can’t get to that. Don’t get that far into it,
they might start stuttering and stuff because the gas is getting into them. That’s the funny side to it.
So you found it okay?
It did hurt, but I wasn’t going to start stuttering and stuff like other people were. I didn’t want to do that.
But it made you cry?
Oh yeah it makes you cry, makes your nose run.
And it hurts, where does it hurt?
Your throat and in your lungs.
So it gave you a taste of blokes who had been gassed?
What it’s like yeah.
What it is like to be, without being biased, what it is like to be a Jew I imagine.
How often did you have to do that?
I think we did it once a year or something aye? We didn’t do it every two weeks or anything, just once a year.
How did you find doing that warfare with the Thais, how did you find they operated? Were they different from you?
Oh gees yeah, a lot different to us. We went over there to do some training, they came over here and trained with us and we went over and trained with them and they taught us some stuff and we taught them some stuff yeah.
In what way were they different?
They weren’t as disciplined as us as soldiers. I have worked with a lot of different armies around the world like Belgians, French, Americans, Italians and they are different to us, they are just not as disciplined as we are as soldiers.
And the Thais were like that too?
Oh gees yeah, they were all over the shop [messy].
In what way?
Like Australia had a set pattern when they do their section attacks,
and the men that do it in the platoons and the sections and that instinctively know their job and they just do it. The Thais might do it and they are all over the shop. They get up and run, we do file movement, we know, we are trained to get up, run a couple of paces, dive down roll left or right and shoot. Aim and shoot and that’s what we do, bred into us. Whereas they might do it for a couple of hundred metres and then just get sick of it and start running and shooting from the hip. They work on mass numbers and
that’s how it works, doesn’t work for us because we don’t have that many people.
So in those conventional warfare exercises with them was there a winner and a loser?
I have got no idea, you actually practise going in and withdrawing, there is no fight to the death, you go in and then you withdraw yeah.
But were you spoken to afterwards about how it had gone?
Oh yeah you do a debrief and talk about what you have done, but you don’t really say, “Oh yeah we won. This is what you did wrong, this could have gone better.” It will start at the top and work its way down through the digs. Platoon commander, down to sergeant and then the sergeant will tell the full tracks and the full tracks will say this is what was done and what was done wrong. Fire support might be in the wrong position
or something like that. There could have been a better way of doing the section attack, stuff like that. That’s how you get debriefed. You don’t say yeah we won the battle.
Before you went to Somalia did you go to any other overseas places?
No that was it.
The other places you went to have been since Somalia because you mentioned going overseas somewhere else?
Bali and Singapore, yeah they were just like stopovers on the way
to and back from Thailand, but that was after Somalia.
So Thailand was the main place?
And within Australia when you went say to Western Australia, what sort of stuff were you doing there?
Conventional warfare again, we flew over on Hercs [Hercules] and we spent a week on a US amphibious landing craft. Like a big ship with planes and helicopters and crap on it. Spent a week on that and then we had some time off in Perth.
Before that we spent a week at Bindoon, three days in the bush, conventional warfare, once again for trailing, section attacks and all of that sort of stuff and then we did two or three days of urban in the SAS buildings.
What was that like?
That was good fun.
What was good about it?
It’s more exciting,
urban warfare is more exciting, it makes you think a lot more than out in the bush. People can just hide behind trees and stuff out in the field, whereas in warfare they can be out in the corner of the room, out of a window. It makes you think a lot more you have got to be more switched on.
So can you describe an exercise you would have done?
An urban warfare one?
A conventional one you just go field, like
up here we would go to high range or something like that. Walk in, patrol in, find your platoon harbour, harbour up for the night, do gun picquet through the night. Play army men ,do section attacks through the day and just patrol all day, harbour up night time, patrol day, section attacks, platoon attacks, company attacks and that what you do for the whole week. And then obviously you come home.
Sometimes you do APC [armoured personnel carrier] training, same thing but you get to drive around in APCs. Then you do helicopter training, same stuff again but you get to fly around in helicopters and that’s basically it.
How did you like flying around in choppers?
Yeah it was all right. Pretty rewarding, pretty good sort of stuff.
And what about the urban warfare exercises?
You do VCPs, cordon and searches, where you cordon a building put up a fence or a perimeter around it and then you
send your search team in and go from room to room searching, and that’s pretty interesting.
In what way?
Well you have got doors and stuff and you have got to clear rooms and it is a lot more intense.
Was it exciting?
Oh gees yeah, urban warfare is exciting, I reckon it is. It’s more intense, shorter spaces.
So how do you feel when you’re doing these exercises?
Oh the adrenaline is going. I would say you’re pretty
switched on. You have got to switch on. As much as you have got to pretend, one day you might be doing it for real and if you haven’t practised when you do it for real it is not going to come to you. So you have got to pretend it is real, make it as real as possible for yourself. In your own mind you have got to pretend it is as real as possible.
And that’s what everybody did?
I imagine so. I imagine some people said, “Oh this is jack.” After a while you get sick of doing the same thing over and over again, same time every year.
So you get a bit bored with it?
Sometimes you get bored with it, especially conventional. You know you’re going to high range, go to the same place, do the same crap, no bad guys and it does get a bit boring after a while and that’s where a lot of people start to get disillusioned in the army. They start to lose the track of what they are doing.
Did you see people like that?
Oh yeah, every day people complained, it is common practice for people to complain.
What do they complain about?
Anything and everything. Complain about doing PT, complain about going bush, the rations, digging holes anything, soldiers just complain. That’s their job.
So it is part of the culture as well?
Oh yeah everyone complains.
We were talking about drinking before and the culture of drinking is that from the top down?
A long time ago it probably was. It used to be two beers per man per day in the army in the ’70s and ’60s and then they canned it, so I imagine back from them days it has. And I imagine as the old blokes have gotten older and left, it had lessened and lessened.
But when you were there and you guys were all drinking, were there senior officers there drinking?
Oh gee yeah. Sergeants, they have mess parades they have to attend, they don’t have to drink but they have to be at the mess. So yeah. They have to attend and we used to have to attend. Until midnight you would have to attend. That’s where you get dressed up in your nice clothes and you bring your girlfriend or wife at the time and you go there and sit around and toast the Queen and the King and your regiment,
battalion and everyone.
I will talk to you a little bit more about that.
Interviewee: Paul Robins Archive ID 1765 Tape 04
Okay so can you tell us a bit more about this mess parade?
They have to turn up to this mess parade and that’s just part of the deal, they have got a sergeants’ mess, an officers’ mess, they have to turn up, that’s just part of the deal.
And you go along as well?
Oh no we don’t go to sergeants’ mess or officers’ mess; we have got our own little mess we got to.
And you had your own little mess parade?
Yeah that’s sporties on a Thursdays.
Can you explain that for us?
What happens is, the battalion stops work, we used to stop work at twelve o’clock on a Thursday if we went out field, if there were blokes out field they would stay out field. But everyone on base would either go and watch sport or play sport. And then once the sport had finished it would usually finish up about three o’clock and you would go back to the boozer, and then you would wait for the scores. Sports they would play would be like rugby, Aussie Rules, water polo, cricket, all sorts of sports,
soccer, basketball, and then you would get the scores and then I think the scores would get read about half past four or five in the arvo. After that you can go home if you want or stay.
But some of you didn’t even go to that at all you would go drinking instead?
Yes. Some of us wouldn’t go and watch sport because you knew you could get away with it.
Did you ever get into any trouble while you were in Townsville?
No none. I never got charged or nothing. Nothing in my entire life in the army.
In those big fights in Townsville, how senior were any of the people involved in them?
Section commanders like corporals and lance jacks and right down to digger. I suppose the platoon sergeant was there and if one of his diggers was getting beat up he would have to help him, that’s the culture it is. You’re taught to look after
each other and you might have to one day, that’s why they try and instil in you. You might be overseas one day and have to help your mate, and if you can’t help him in town you’re not going to help him overseas.
What happened to anyone who didn’t want to drink?
Nothing, if they didn’t want to drink, they didn’t want to drink that was it. You don’t want to drink, stay in your room, don’t drink, simple as that. No one was ever forced to drink or beat up, nothing like that.
But did you ever see anyone who really just couldn’t handle the Terry Turbo thing and just copped out of that all together?
Yeah a few blokes did yeah.
Nothing happened to them?
“Oh you poof.” abuse gets yelled at them and that’s about it. At least you have got to have a go, if you can’t do it you can’t do it, but you have got to have a go.
You spoke earlier about blokes in training some people sort of breaking down basically and guys who jumped out of windows; did you see any of that here in Townsville?
I did see, well I heard of it. It was in the same company as ours, the company I was in. He tried to kill himself, took some drugs overdosed. He had only been in the battalion one day. Didn’t like it, didn’t like the lifestyle, been there on day made a quick decision and tried to kill himself. Senior digger found him and took him to hospital and that was
about it. But before I came up there to 1 RAR fellows had gone AWOL out of my platoon, just got sick of going bush, just left their gear on the parade ground, got in their car and drove off.
What happened to those blokes?
He went AWOL I don’t know if they found him. When we come back from overseas another fellow went AWOL. Not much happens; the army just cuts them away.
And the fellow who tried to kill himself, did he survive?
Yeah he was all right but now he is a soldier in the army, he is still in 1 RAR.
So he is still in the army?
Yeah he likes it now, loves it. He is a senior digger now, he is not in battalion one day and it is seven or eight years down the track, he is actually starting to enjoy the lifestyle.
He did that after just one day with the battalion? Is that first day that bad?
I don’t know I don’t think so. No I would say it’s not that bad.
What about blokes who were unable to cope with the situation in other ways, did you see people losing it, going a bit nuts?
What do you mean?
You said something before about people going a bit crazy?
There is a lot of people in the army who are nuts,
they wouldn’t be in the army otherwise.
Did you see any of that in Townsville before you went to Somalia?
People skitzing out [going crazy]. Not really. They didn’t have any dramas to deal with, before we went over there we still had all of the values in life, all of the values in life were different back then to what they are now.
So on those exercises urban warfare and conventional warfare, what sort of rations were you living on?
Living on rations they were tinned food, dried biscuits. Little blocks of chocolate and tin fruit. It wasn’t real flash. Condensed milk and stuff like that it wasn’t real flash. Some of them were really old, it wasn’t uncommon when I was in the battalion to get rations that were five years out of date six, seven.
It wasn’t uncommon.
Did people ever get sick?
Oh yeah people get sick from it but that’s just what we had, we didn’t have new stuff.
Do you think that those training exercises gave you a real taste?
Yeah it was the theory side of it and you leant the theory of how to do it so when it came to do it you could adapt what you had learnt to the situation you were in to do it.
So you felt you were pretty well prepared?
Yeah I imagined we were.
So can you tell us about when you first heard about Somalia?
When I first heard about Somalia was the start of ’91.
What did you hear?
That there was a war or revolution, something going on over there. That was it basically, didn’t really pay much attention to it.
And when did you start paying attention?
We were meant to go to Thailand in ’91, instead it got cancelled, and when I think back on it over time it seems a bit suss [suspicious] that we were meant to go to Thailand and then they sent us to WA [Western Australia] to hang out with the Americans to spend two or three weeks with them, and cruise around. And it was an exercise with us to go with the Americans and you get resupplied by them. It seems a bit suss
ten years down the track that we did that thinking about it, and three months down the track we were in Africa getting resupplied by the Americans, seems a little bit weird doesn’t it?
What do you mean?
Well we were going to Thailand, we were all set up to go, and then all of a sudden, “No, you’re not going. You’re going to Western Australia to be on an American warship to do infantry stuff with them and be resupplied by them.” And then all of a sudden three months later we are getting briefs to go to Africa.
And we’re flying into Africa and we are with the Americans and they’re resupplying us, giving us all of our gear. So I think it might have been on the cards for us but they didn’t tell us.
So you went across to WA, what did you do with the Americans?
We spent a week or two weeks I think on their boat, the whole time we were there and they flew us around on baby Chinooks and did section attacks and battalion attacks with them and then they flew us back to the boat, flying around in Chinooks and stuff.
Just learnt the way they worked and they learnt the way we worked.
How did you like the way they worked?
Exactly the same as what you see in the movies, everyone gets up and runs forward shooting from the hip, exactly the same. Same as you see on news footage, they’re all cowboys; they’re not disciplined as we were as soldiers. Like their Special Forces might be, I don’t know, but from what I have seen and worked with they are not disciplined like we are.
And could you see that when you first did that training with them?
Oh yeah you notice straight away.
What did you think?
They were a bunch of idiots, they work on mass numbers, there is shit loads of them and hardly anyone else.
What exactly did they do that makes you say they were idiots what were they doing?
Running along saying, “Yahoo.” Firing from the hip as they run at their target and we’re actually had some enemy over there in Western Australia, but when we had a brigade attack, like us and them, there was like a little pit of enemy
and the Australians go forward, our company would go forward like that with one in reserve and they would stay in reserve, whereas the Yanks they lined up beside us doing the same thing until everyone gets sick of it and they just get up and start running .and as we stay like that and move through the objective, they all get up and run through the objective as a big spearhead, everyone wants to be the one that gets the kill. And that’s how they were operating and we couldn’t believe it, they shoot across each other and
it is ridiculous.
So did it occur to you then, were you thinking then about the possibility of going overseas at all?
No idea, I was young and stupid, only eighteen, I was an idiot. I was still getting used to the concept of being in the army and playing army all of the time.
So the way the Americans operated, was that scary to you in any sense?
Yeah it was. For the last eight or months of my life we had been doing this training and it is instinctive to do it. And you believe that they do the same sort of training and they just throw it out of the window when they want and start doing their own thing.
And when you say everyone was ruining to the front to be the first to get the kill, how would you describe that?
It was just like a mad rush; they start off in their line and get smaller as everyone starts
converging into where the baddies were, the one place.
So how would you describe them as soldiers from what you saw there?
I would say undisciplined, that’s what I would say.
Did you get on with them?
We didn’t really spend much time with them. When we were out field they had their part, we had our part. When we were back in Perth they did their own thing. Some were nice and others were Americans.
How much time did you spend in WA with them?
Three weeks I think.
And was that a useful exercise?
It was all right because we got to use some of their tactics, fly around in their helicopters and have a look at all of the good gear they have. Learn about their gear, it was a knowledge sort of exercise.
If you were flying around in a helicopter what would you be doing?
I would be sitting there, that’s all you do, you just load on sit down and that’s it. The helicopters have their own loadmaster and that, we just sit there, we are just cargo.
So after those few weeks you came back to Townsville and what happened then?
We started getting debriefs a few weeks down the track. We had a British officer, he had been in the Falklands, Ireland, he came over,
he was on a long orc, an exchange program. He was giving us debriefs about urban terrain, what they did in Northern Ireland and that. We were taking all that in, didn’t think much of that just thought, “Oh yeah we will just learn that sort of stuff.” Then we went field and it was rumoured that we were going overseas somewhere. But you didn’t really believe rumours and we were out field somewhere and it was on the radio.
We heard on the Townsville area, one of the platoon commanders or sergeants took a radio field and it said that soldiers based around Townsville were going to get sent overseas to Africa. We were out field and then within about an hour of that being said over the radio they called us back from field. We just dropped rations and packs where we were, except for our weapons, which we had to have and ran back to the rows so the trucks could pick us up and drive us back to battalion.
So you actually heard about it the first time on the radio, what did you think about that?
Not much, I didn’t think much of it, I was just excited that I was going , this is what I had trained for, this was it.
So you were pretty excited?
Oh gees yeah. Everyone was. Like Vietnam was the one before us, this was it, this was our chance. My platoon
sergeant had been in the army fifteen years and this was his first chance to go overseas on active service. So you can imagine guys that had been in the army, fifteen, nineteen years they were keen to go. We were getting blokes ringing up from down south to come up as reinforcements, reos, because they couldn’t go, to come to the battalion so they could come over.
So what were people saying when you found out?
Everyone was just keen to go, really happy excited. Everyone was. A lot of blokes wanted to go in my platoon, blokes from other platoons were scared. People were scared, obviously you didn’t know what you were getting into. A lot of people were scared, some people joined the army for career not to go overseas, and when this comes along it just didn’t look real good for them.
How did you know they were scared?
were saying it, they were saying they didn’t want to go. Blokes were crying, they didn’t want to go. People went AWOL. One fellow got his wife to run his legs over to wreck his leg so he couldn’t go. One other fellow hit himself in the knee with a shovel so he didn’t go. This is people were scared of dying because that’s what they thought.
So people actually inflicted injuries on themselves?
So they didn’t go yeah.
And the bloke, he got his wife to run over him?
How badly injured was he?
He had a broken leg so he didn’t go. I had one friend, he had a girlfriend at Airlie Beach that he used to go and see every night, four hour drive from Townsville to Airlie Beach. He would drive down, drive back every day before work. He didn’t get to go because he got caught speeding too many times so they wouldn’t let him go. He was an admin nightmare, so they didn’t let him go, kicked him out of the army.
That was the punishment because everyone wanted to go.
He wanted to go?
So most people wanted to go?
Oh yeah. Most people wanted a chance to go overseas and serve their country.
And you said earlier you guys trained constantly to be fighting and you’re not doing that, how does that affect you? How does that affect people who have been in the army for fifteen years being trained for something and they’re not doing it?
They get real cranky aye? A lot of people are real aggressive. Back when I was in the army a lot of warrant officers, I am not saying they are now, but a lot of soldiers have a short fuse, really short, because you have to switch it on, like what they call controlled aggression in the army. Switch it on and switch it off and once you have been doing it all of your life, it is pretty hard to switch it on and off.
And what sort of training do you get in the army to control that aggression?
None. Nothing. Well when I was in you had do bayonet fighting, into you about getting aggressive, you have got to be cranky, prepared to kill, go, go, go, go, go. Instil it into you, once bayonet fights are over, that’s it go back to the lines and be normal. That’s how it was.
Grenade range same thing. Throwing live grenades, there is explosions, all of this, “It is real war, this is it, make mistakes and you will die, switch on blah, blah, blah.” Once it is over get back in the trucks, go home relax have a beer cool off.
So you never had anything in training?
Nothing to calm down no, beers, have a talk, sit around and spin warries [war stories] with your mates.
They never spoke to you about how to deal with that psychologically?
No psychological nothing.
That’s where I think a lot of the violence comes from.
And when you say people became aggressive, how aggressive?
What about actually among the soldiers on the base, were people aggressive there?
Yep, at the boozer. If you
stuffed up out field people would give you a touch up, get a flogging. All of the time.
How bad was the flogging?
Not real bad. What the army used to call it was dead ground training. That’s what it used to be called. Dead ground is like a creek line, normal ground is where you can see as far as you can see, dead ground is where you can’t see.
No one could see in a creek line so they would take you to a creek line and beat the crap out of you, dead ground training.
So it was totally accepted?
Yep it was.
Was it encouraged?
I wouldn’t say it was encouraged but it was accepted. Everyone knew about the culture they grew up with it.
So you found out you were going to Somalia, then what happened?
We started doing briefs
about the country, history, people, politics, religion types of weapons we might encounter, type of vehicle we might encounter, type of landmines and grenades we might encounter. And then basically that was it.
How long was that training for?
A few weeks. They give us a brief about you
can’t just go around willy-nilly and shooting people. Laws, ROEs [rules of engagement], operational something, operational rules of engagements that’s what it is and they give you that. And then they send you on your way basically.
What were you told about what to expect?
We were just told about the militia, technicals and stuff they have over there. We didn’t know a real lot, so you could say we were open minded. You could say open minded, we were thought what they could teach us, what they knew and then they sent us on our way.
What did you know about what was actually happening there?
Oh what I learnt, we learnt the bad guys were taking the food off the children and I understood that. That’s what I understood and basically that’s why we were there to help them.
And if need be with ROEs and all of our off cards and stuff, and if need be we could shoot people if we had to.
Did you expect to have to?
It’s part of your job, that’s it.
Basically it was about getting the food to the starving people?
Yeah, trying to get the country back in order. To stop the bad guys
or the Somalians, Somalis or whatever they are from taking the food from people, shooting people for food and water, killing people in the streets for fun stuff like that.
Had you known much about Somalia before this time?
Not a thing.
Did you know where it was?
To be honest no, I wasn’t real good at geography at school, no.
And so during this training period when you were learning about where you were going and what you had to do,
did anyone who had been keen start thinking twice about it?
I imagine a lot of people were thinking about it, not saying much, but I imagine a lot of people were thinking about it. I was really keen to go, I wasn’t thinking about not going I wanted to go. But I know a lot of soldiers that were forward scouts didn’t want to be forward scouts, they wanted to change their position further back because they thought
they were going to get shot or blown up by landmines first. They didn’t want to be doing that and a lot of people were worried.
But did anyone say anything?
And you were a forward scout, so what did that mean when you were going to Somalia? What were you going to have to do?
On patrol I would be the bloke out the front, everyone else would be behind me.
Eyes and ears, I would be the bloke up the front doing the best I could so the blokes behind me could do the best they could without them getting taken out.
Was there a reason you have been chosen to be a forward scout?
No just through postings in the battalion I worked my way up from number three rifleman to there and that’s where I wanted to be I enjoyed it.
What did you enjoy about that?
Because you get to be up the front, you get the
first chance to actually put rounds down the range if you had to. That’s the way I seen it.
So did you think about the possibility of being killed or wounded in Somalia before you went?
You didn’t think about it at all?
What did your family say when you told them you were going?
My grandparents didn’t want me to go. I imagine they were worried, that’s as much I can imagine that they didn’t say much.
What about your mum and dad, so your grandparents didn’t want you to go?
No they didn’t want me to go, they didn’t want me to join the army, it’s not a Robins thing. No Robins joins a uniform, we were not allowed to be in uniform and I was the
first one and then to be sent overseas they didn’t like it.
What did they say?
Frankly what my grandfather said was, “Who was the fucking idiot who signed that form?” That’s what he said, they didn’t want me to go and I imagine my parents were worried.
Did they say anything to you?
“Can you get out of it?” That’s what they said and I said, “No I want to go, that’s it.”
So how many blokes do you reckon actually did get out of going?
I would not have a clue.
But there were a few who went AWOL or injured themselves?
Oh yeah a couple went AWOL and that.
How did the rest of the blokes react to those guys who injured themselves for the purpose of getting out of it?
I suppose they alienated themselves. That’s what they did because you pretty much join the army for one thing,
and when it came time to go they didn’t want to go so I imagine they were a little bit alienated.
Do you remember anyone speaking to them afterwards?
Was there any sort of sympathy for them?
Did you understand it all?
No, didn’t care I was going overseas, this is what I wanted,
this is what ninety per cent want.
But could you understand those blokes who just couldn’t go?
They were just weak hearted, this is your country, this is what you get paid to do, I look at it like being a baker or a mechanic or something training all of your life and never getting to fix a car or cook a pie or something, what’s the point of doing it? That’s the way I see it.
During those few weeks of training, were you doing physical exercises?
You do PT every day in the army.
But a lot of briefings about the culture, what about language?
They give us a language book for minimal phrases, one phrase is “Hook adie?” which is, “Where is your rifle?” Basic phrases like ‘get off the bus’, I forget what that is.
Just heaps of basic phrases they taught us, that was about it.
And did you learn all of that before you left?
A little bit and then you get over there and you learn you can adapt it and you learn other ways of talking and you can pick it up off them heaps easier when you’re doing it.
So can you tell us about actually leaving?
We left on a boat, we were the advance party and we left on a boat the 24th of December 1991.
In the morning, had a bit of a parade, some politician had a bit of a spiel, I forget who it was. I think the battalion commander had a bit of a spiel. Some sort of hierarchy had a spiel and then we were loaded on a boat and sent away.
Do you remember what that commander said?
I have got no idea, I have got news footage but I have got no idea.
And what was the mood amongst the troops then?
Excited, a lot of people crying because they were leaving their wives and kids and stuff. A lot of people were excited to go.
Where did the boat depart from?
And that was the Tobruk?
Yeah I think it was.
And so how many people would have been aboard?
Probably a hundred and twenty to a hundred and fifty. That’s soldiers and then you have got navy personnel.
And was there quite a crowd of civilians?
Yeah quite a few people turned up aye.
And people were crying?
Crying and hugging, all of that sort of stuff, you see in the warries, the movies, all of that stuff going on.
Was your family there?
No, they were on holidays in Brisbane.
When did you farewell your family?
Never. Spoke to them on the phone, said, “We’re going to see you in three weeks.” That was it. Three or four weeks and that was it, I went overseas.
So how did you feel about leaving Australia that day?
A little bit ripped off, I reckon my parents could have turned up, they only lived seven hours away. But they had already booked their holiday and paid for it, they went on holidays so they couldn’t come. I felt a bit ripped off.
And what were your thoughts that day as you left?
Had to spend three weeks on a boat, and it was a bloody slow boat, longest boat ride of my life.
Why was it?
We were just going really slow, just felt like we were going really slow. Left Townsville, stopped in Darwin, I think we stopped in Darwin Christmas Day. Had a couple of hours in Darwin and then went onto Diego Garcia and then we had a couple of hours there.
And what was that like?
This is a bit red, it was an international incident. We had to stop to get a new water pump for the boat, on the boat on the way over a water pump broke and the army were only allowed to have a five minute shower each and the navy were having ten minutes and stuff and we weren’t left with enough water so we had to stop in Diego Garcia and get a water refill and a new pump, and the pump was flown in from Singapore. So we had a couple of hours in town and then the pump was delayed, they
couldn’t get it to us so we had to stay there twenty four hours. So our first orders were, “Go into town, don’t drink, have a good time, come back.” And then the pump wasn’t coming so, “Go back into town, get drunk, have a good time, do what you want, back here by 1600 or 1750 or something, spend the night in the boat so we can leave in the morning.” We proceeded to get drunk, beat the crap out of each other and then beat the crap out of the navy fellows, then wrecked the bar, like a pub, we wrecked that, attacked each other,
attacked the navy blokes. And there was US-like MPs [military police], there was shore police because it is a British isle run by the American Army, marines, and we proceeded to wreck the joint.
Why do you think that happened?
Just a lot of animosity aye? We were only allowed to have two beers each a night and the navy could have what they wanted. And they were getting blind and we were only having two beers, and
then it came down to we couldn’t have any beers and they could have two because the animosity was starting on the boat. I think it was two weeks or something like that on the boat at a time. And then Diego Garcia and you could buy like a litre bottle of Jack Daniels [whisky] for five dollars, so people were buying that and fights provoked and it just got worse and worse.
How many people were involved?
A few, probably fifty, sixty, probably more.
Couple of blokes didn’t make it to Africa, a guy went to Singapore to get his jaw rewired, he got kicked in the head, heaps of people were charged over fighting. But it is the normal Australian thing to do, it is just what we do.
When you say you wrecked the bar?
So what was the condition?
Wrecked. Fans were ripped out of the roof, windows smashed, just destroyed, pretty much wrecked.
Was that sort of behaviour a little bit unusual?
A lot of testosterone I suppose kicking around everyone was excited to go to war so a lot of testosterone. Alcohol fuelled because we really hadn’t had a drink for two weeks. In the sun drinking straight Jack Daniels and Wild Turkey [whisky] and stuff, gets kind of out of hand I suppose.
Were you involved in that?
I sat back and watched.
Where were you when it happened?
I was sitting in the bar having a few drinks with mates watching.
You watched them wreck the bar?
Yeah laughing, it was pretty amusing.
And people were being injured while this was going on?
When you say it was an international incident?
Oh yeah it was pretty bad, after that every Australian that flew into Diego Garcia, the rest were flown in, they had to sit in the plane on the tarmac while
it was being refuelled. And everyone had to stay in the plane, no one was allowed off the plane at all. We wrecked the joint, it was pretty bad.
And what was the situation with the Brits?
I imagine our CO [Commanding Officer] would have got a chat over it. It came down in orders that no Australian
was allowed off the tarmac, no Australians. And when we did come home we actually flew home and we weren’t allowed outside the tarmac, they marched us to the doors of the airport and that was it, as far as we were allowed to go, we had to stay on the tarmac.
Was there media coverage of that incident?
Nothing in the news back home?
There was pistols pulled and stuff, only control people.
So how was it brought under control?
The marine shore police and the
American MPs brought it under control.
Yeah using .45s [.45mm calibre pistols] and stuff to bring people under control. People usually stop fighting when you pulled a .45 on them.
In that brawl or any brawl back in Townsville were weapons ever used?
No. Bottles and chairs and stuff like that but that was about it.
Was that the worst brawl you had seen?
Diego Garcia? No I have seen worse brawls than that.
Back in Townsville?
The worst one was in Singleton with ITs; that was the worst.
And what made it the worst?
A couple of ITs got into a fight with a couple of civilians. I was down there training, helping train ITs and they got into a fight with a couple of civvies and it got out of hand and I think it was two or three platoons of ITs and
you’re looking at fifty or sixty guys in a platoon, in town fighting in a night club, and civilians. And it was one of the main streets of Singleton; I have forgotten what it is. It was chockas [chock-a-block – full to capacity].
Many people injured?
There was a few hurt that night, but that was one of the worst I have seen with lots of people.
So after the international incident, what sort of briefing did you get after that?
Pretty funny. A lot of people
got charged, a lot of us got warned and there was basically a bit of a slap on the wrist, we were going overseas anyway there wasn’t much they could do. No alcohol that was it, except for Anzac Day, Anzac Day we had two beers and then we had to lock our rifles in the connex [container].
How did the relationship develop after that with the navy guys?
Oh they hated us and we hated them.
We had New Year’s Eve on the boat as well, they kept to themselves and we kept to ourselves and that was that. and we only had two beers, that’s all we were allowed to have, two beers per man.
New Year’s Eve? What sort of New Year’s Eve was that?
And what were you thinking about that New Year’s Eve about what was to come?
What was I thinking? I would have liked to be back in Townsville sucking some piss for New Year’s Eve that’s what I was thinking,
but I was only allowed to have two beers, so I just had my two beers and that was it.
Did you think much about what you might be encountering?
Oh yeah I used to think heaps about what I might encounter. They used to give us little maps, I used to sit there and read them constantly until I knew word for word, what they were. We did little scenarios where we did
VCPs on the board, we just pretended we had cars and that. That was pretty amusing; to pretend we had cars and stuff. We just practised all of the time.
Were you worried at all?
No I wasn’t worried. I have got a philosophy on life and that is every day is a new day, so don’t worry about it, whatever happened today it could be a complete shocker, tomorrow you wake up and it is a complete new day.
So it is no good carrying things on from yesterday.
So it felt like a pretty long trip?
Oh gees yeah three weeks. And we did picquets as well, fire picquets on boat. So you could get woken up two times a night to go and do fire picquet on vehicles that might never catch on fire and never ever will catch on fire but you just have to sit there. There is navy blokes awake as well, but because we’re on the boat they made us clean the boat and do the jobs they had to do. Strip
the paint so they could repaint it and all of that sort of crap, just to fill in time.
Was there any more fighting between the army and navy?
No not after Diego Garcia, we were only on the boat for another week and a half,
So everything cooled down?
Yeah everything was pretty quiet after that.
So can you tell us about arriving in Somalia?
We sat off the coast of Somalia for about two or there days. Looking around at all of the boats
and the American stuff, they had shit loads of boats like the aircraft carriers, and all sorts of junk cruising around and we were just sitting there thinking “Fucking Jesus man, look at this, this is the most firepower you have ever seen in your life.” And we were sitting there looking at this and there was helicopters flying around. Awe inspiring, unbelievable to see it, nothing quite like it ever.
Was it a bit of a surprise?
Yeah it was.
In what way?
When we got into the harbour it was a surprise you could see it, it was nothing you could possibly imagine.
Interviewee: Paul Robins Archive ID 1765 Tape 05
Description of arriving?
I am lost now.
That’s okay, you were in the harbour.
And then our boat docked and while we were docking there were shots fired, people believed they were shooting at us, but it was off in the distance so they could have been shooting at anyone. I wasn’t real fazed by it.
What other things could you hear?
Vehicles, helicopters, heaps of different types of armed forces, American, Canadian, French, everybody was there. The French Foreign Legion was there, they were cruising around.
What did they look like?
Khaki shorts, boots, khaki shirt, hat.
Cruising around in little jeeps, .58s, shotguns mounted.
You mentioned really way before you came over that there was a plan for the rules of engagement, can you explain what they were?
ROEs, they’re just so you can’t just go shoot people willy-nilly. Basically it was if you felt threatened or the people
you were protecting felt threatened in any way you could use reasonable force, fire warning shots, whatever was necessary.
Did they outline those rules of engagement?
Can you remember any more detail?
What they had to deal with was the amount of firepower you could use, if someone has got a machete you can’t shoot them with a mag [magnum] .58 or machine gun them to death.
If you can get the machete off them without killing them, that’s in the best interests of everybody. They were designed to use the minimum amounts of everything.
So even though you said you were trained a couple of time to kill, how does that affect a peacekeeping mission?
It makes it real hard, to actually go into a situation and do what we do, it
makes it difficult because you have got to make pretty rash decisions pretty quick. And to hand the power to someone to take lives is a pretty big decision to give someone and they have got to make that decision straight away and live with the consequences afterwards.
What did you know of the aggressors and how they would react?
We knew they were young ex-military or some sort of force, some were ex-military, police. They were aggressive in the afternoon once they started chewing their khat [shrub with narcotic qualities], they weren’t willing to stay and fight, we had a fairly decent background on them, what they were like. And then yeah, that was basically what the Australian Army trained for
for the last three years, before we went over there.
And what was the brief how were you to approach it initially?
Before we went over the breech? They took a company at a time into the briefing room, showed us on a world map where it was, and then explained like I said before, politics, how it got to this stage,
and basically all of the intelligence they had on the country they fed it into us as much as they could. The briefs I suppose were pretty intense.
What was the worst case scenario that you were given?
Shooting people, worse case scenario is always killing people and that’s what they give us, worst case scenario.
Was there a concern that it would escalate into war?
We went over there as peacekeepers and eventuated into peacemakers. We went over there with the perception of peacekeepers, but once they started shooting at us and stuff like that the Australian Government had to make the decision to change it.
What’s the difference between those two definitions for you?
Difference is we initially went over there to restore peace and help people stuff like that. And peacemakers
you have to do what you have to do to keep the peace.
So that’s escalated level?
That’s gone up another level yeah. There is a red card and a yellow card, off cards. And we might have been on the yellow to start with and then because we had gone up a level we went to the red off card.
What did they tell you about the Somali civilian population?
That they were starving, they had been starving for ten years. They were friendly sort of people, I can’t remember exactly what they said. They just gave us a basic history of what we needed to know, they didn’t go right into it.
So when you first got onto land what were your first impressions?
Jesus it was pretty wild. We were in Mogadishu in the harbour for two or three days and it was just unbelievable aye to see it. There was shipping connex piled three high as a perimeter around where we were, around the harbour. It was phenomenal and the people were up there looking for food and outside you could hear gun shots and all sorts of crap going on.
What else could you see in the harbour area?
What we were doing, we were unloading stuff, a lot of military activity, people getting ready, just basic prepping, military preparation going on.
And what did you do from there?
We went from there to the Mogadishu airport.
How did you get to the airport?
In the back of the trucks, back of vehicles. That’s when we first drove through the streets in Mogadishu. We were on action when we drove through the streets.
And what does that mean?
Basically what it means is magazine on your weapon and your weapons is cocked ready to fire it is just on safe that’s it. You can shoot people if you have to. Drove through the streets, went to the airport.
What could you see driving through the streets, what were the streets like?
Total just devastation. It was wrecked, holes in it like, large buildings holes in them the sizes of cars where bombs, people had been shooting at each other with tanks, bullet holes everywhere and cars burnt out. Everywhere was just wrecked and brunt out.
What were the people like?
Really because we were in American trucks they didn’t like Americans I know that, they were a bit offish, but it was an awesome sight to see.
What do you mean by offish?
Well they didn’t like the Americans at all, so…
So they were making signs and gestures?
Oh yeah chucking rocks and things like that. They were just looking at you and staring at you, kind of weird.
Were you afraid at this point?
No that was my job, what I was paid to do. Give you weapons, you know you’re allowed to, if you have to shoot someone if you can get away with it.
So what happened then?
Went to the airport, spent a night in the airport and then flew out to Baidoa.
In the airport sleeping?
They had tents set up on the airfield, I can’t remember whether it was an air force air base or an airport. But we spent a night there and then in the morning flew out to Baidoa. In the airfield there was just wrecked planes and everything was wrecked.
Hangers were wrecked. There was those MiG14 planes, miles of them destroyed, just row after row. All of the planes were destroyed, everything was wrecked.
What had you heard had been the situation prior to you getting there? Who were the aggressors and who were fighting who?
The warlords were fighting each other. They were just warlords,
trying to run the country. One was from one tribe and one was from another I believe now.
And how long had it been going prior to you getting there?
It started to collapse, Somalia started to collapse, I seen a show on it the other night, ten years before we got there Somalia started to collapse. Actually I read a book about it and the day that it all started,
one of the warlords, he was the chief of something, and he had some relations in the air force and because they are tribal and stuff he got them and they bombed the city with their air force planes, and everyone after that started to grab all of their stuff and going back to their own tribes. So the police took all of their stuff out of the armoury, everyone else took their
stuff, the army took machine guns and howitzers and anything they could get their hands on, all of the warfare gear and left and it pretty much went on from there.
So the country was really in a bad way?
In a bad way when we got there, yeah.
What were some other things that you noticed?
There was no structure. Everything that was structured like buildings and that was wiped out, and what I found
strange, they were pulling the buildings down to make shelters for themselves, that was a bit strange. But the bandits, Somalis or whatever they were, the people with the guns, they had total run of the joint.
Where were they? Where could you see them?
They were anywhere, food distribution points, wells, anywhere, they were the law.
And what were you instructed to do when you saw them?
Disarm them. But if they shot at us we could shoot back. We had to basically protect the starving millions and disarm the bad guys.
What was most confronting to you initially?
The children, the women and children are most confronting because
they are the first ones that die. That was it aye.
And it what way did it feel confronting?
To see little kids, no parents, they are three or four or two, no parents living on the streets. But they’re not like kids in Australia, they are like little people, they are like us but little,
they can fend for themselves. To adjust to that was a bit weird, you’re used to seeing little babies in Australia that are three and four cry because they fall over and bump their knee and things like that and these little kids they have got no parents, they go nowhere to live, they are in refugee camps and there is a thousand people, two thousand people in the refugee camp whatever it was, and they’re fending for themselves. It’s just weird.
What happened when you first came into when you left the airport where were you heading?
Baidoa, what happened when you got there?
We flew in, moved to a safe area like inside battalion area and that was it, we just waited to get handed over to the Americans.
When you say set up, can you describe that process?
Set up was there was a building with no roof on it,
windows or doors, it had just been devastated and that’s where we stayed for a week, probably a bit longer a week and a half or something. And that’s where we lived and slept. 2 Platoon, that’s where we lived and slept.
And what were you waiting for?
For the handover from the Americans and for the rest of the battalion to turn up.
And what happened at the handover?
They just did a parade, American commander said he was handing over to us, our commander said something, did a bit of military stuff, they lowered their flag, we lifted ours up and that was it, it was handed over. Basically a parade.
Were there many civilians around to see that?
No it was just soldiers, it was like an army base, we had interpreters or people that we needed and that was it, we had minimal people there.
Did you get a chance to socialise at all with the Americans?
No they pretty much a lot of them left, there was some left but we didn’t get to socialise with them because we had our own little jobs to do.
In the initial week what were some of the jobs you were doing?
We did urban patrolling, VCPs, vehicle checkpoints,
I believe that was it.
Can you try and describe to us a day from start to finish in that initial?
Well when we first got there a day from start to finish was we would go out on section patrols,
you could go at any time, you could go on patrol from two o’clock in the morning to eight o’clock in the morning. So you get up and go for patrol, come back,
How far would you patrol?
Oh just patrol through the city, through the streets, obviously looking for the bad guys so you could disarm the population. So we would do that and then come back for morning routine, might be breakfast, have a shave, have a bit of a kip [sleep] and that was pretty much it, that’s what you had to do and before you know it, it is your turn to go out on patrol again.
You have got to do picquets as well, sentry picquets to keep an eye on the perimeter, in between morning routine and cleaning your weapon and things like that as well. Morning routine is shave have a feed, clean your weapons, whatever jobs there was. Refilling water bottles, all of that stuff that you need to do before the next time you go out.
And what was the camp like when you got to it?
Just American tents that’s all it was. There was one building and that was BHQ and that had no roof on it, once again a building with no roof on it and we had one building which later became the mess and that’s where we were for a week or so until the cooks and that rocked up.
What happened after that?
We moved out and took over an area from the marines and they left and we took over their tents and it was,
I think thirty men to a tent and I suppose you had a metre wide by two and a half metres long that was your area, that’s all you had.
Was that hard to adjust to?
Yeah, no not really I didn’t find it so hard to adjust to. But that’s all you had, no lights, no water, we had rations,
and that was it.
What was the climate like?
The climate was heaps like Townsville aye. That was it, nearly exactly the same as being here.
Can you explain that for people who don’t live in Townsville?
Oh right Townsville is hot, thirty three, sometimes up to the forties.
So not a real big weather adjustment for you?
Not at all.
What about the terrain, what was that like?
Terrain was desert with a tree called camel thorn and it is just sparse, sparsely forested, there is not many trees at all, rocks, heaps of rocks and that’s about it.
So when you would go out of the camp can you describe what the city area was like? What you would see when you were patrolling?
When we were patrolling we would go out through the front gate and you would come to an intersection, a big roundabout intersection. To the left was down towards the hospital. Forward was into the city, everything worked on big intersections, you would patrol from one intersection down and where a water distribution point where the bridge was an main pump and
and that would be a big intersection and there was little market places everywhere. It was a little city, but not really, it was just wiped out.
And when you would get into the city part of it, what would you see?
A lot of stall markets, markets like, when we first got there, there was no shops nothing, no lights, very sick and starving people in the streets.
Occasionally see a dead person, occasionally see a dead child. Lot of dead animals. Everyone was gaunt-looking. After a while shops started opening up, markets where they were selling food and stuff.
Were you responsible for doing anything with
the bodies when you saw dead people?
How would they dispose of the dead body?
Their relations would come and get them or in-laws, whoever was close enough would come and take them away. We did nothing about them.
Was that the first time you had seen dead bodies?
How did you deal with that?
Didn’t have time to think about it at the time, because I had to do what I had to do and I wasn’t really worried about them, I was worried about staying alive. If that situation did happen I had to be switched on for that. I wasn’t really concerned by them.
What do you mean by that?
Well they’re dead; there is nothing I can do for them.
When you say you were on alert, how in danger did you feel?
We didn’t really know, but the chances were there and I was not real keen on dying, I am still not keen on it. You have just got to be prepared, have to be prepared.
Do you remember what the very first patrol was like?
The very first patrol we went out about two or three in the morning, I can’t remember what time, it was dark. NVGs, night vision goggles, and what do they call them? No, night vision scopes. We had on our Steyrs and we went out and it was very scary. It was dark, couldn’t see and that was it.
And you were forward?
Yeah I was out in front, forward scout. That was it, it was strange. You had to be, adrenaline was pumping. You move slow when you patrol and you actually do learn to sneak, that’s what they teach you in the army, they try and teach you to sneak around when you’re doing a patrol and you can walk without making a noise.
And when you do it for real you learn real fast how to do it, it was pretty scary aye.
How do you deal with that fear? What do you put in place in your head?
Dealing with the fear is survival. Survival instinct takes over. Australian Army, it is bred into you that you are the best soldiers in the world,
and you just hope to crap they can’t shoot as straight as you. You hope that you have been trained well enough to do what you can do and it will be second nature, you won’t have fear, that’s what you hope. That’s what I hoped and it is pretty lucky.
And that night did you think you were trained well enough?
I was excited, I was excited yeah.
You have got to believe in yourself, you have got to back yourself otherwise you’re wasting your time.
Could you detect that everyone in that group that night was a bit afraid?
You can because it’s just like you see on the TVs and the movies, the actors try and portray it, but people just sit there and they are dead quiet, they have got their own things going on in their minds and they are thinking about it. It was a two k walk to the front gate from
where we were, dead quiet, everyone has got their own little thing going on in their mind, what they are going to do. It’s just dead quiet aye. There is no jovial mucking around, you’re not mucking around in Townsville, you’re doing the right thing.
And what happened that night? What sort of things were you doing physically?
patrolling, I was just moving real slow, that obviously your job. You use the shadows to your advantage, patrol between the shadows, don’t walk in the streetlight, obviously there was no streetlights, but you don’t patrol out into the street where there is fire lanes, you patrol against the buildings, you’re calm, you look at intersections, you do your ossicle crossings, all of the stuff you have to do and that’s what you do.
Were there many people around at night?
No, but they didn’t sleep much over there, they had khat markets, like they had night time markets later on. And they had, but there was people awake, but there wasn’t many people.
So you said they don’t sleep much?
No the young fellows don’t because they chew that khat and it keeps them awake.
What is that?
It is like a weed, it is a plant of some sort and they chew it and it gives them hallucinations, they hallucinate and get aggressive. I imagine it is like speed, but I don’t know.
You didn’t try it?
Did any of the other guys try it?
I couldn’t tell you.
So when was the first time you came into contact with a conflict situation?
Patrolling, because a lot of people still had weapons and they were cruising around the streets with weapons and they don’t know any better, you ask them to put there weapon down and they turn and point it at you. ROE says you can shoot them but that’s the choice you have got to make. You have got to ask them to put it down and take it off them, that’s when you have got to switch on the aggression and be the aggressor, you can’t
for one second let it up, you have to do it, throw them to the ground, stand on them, whatever you have to do to get the gun off them, that’s what you have got to do.
And when was your first experience of that?
And what happened on that one?
We stopped a vehicle because we seen weapons in the vehicle and we stopped them and somebody asked them to hand their weapons out,
and they started pointing the weapons at us and handing them out the window. And I went to instant, put the rifle to their head in the window, I am not going to die for them and that’s what I did.
And they just?
We got the weapons off them and that was it, took them off them.
And were you being told at that point what to do, was anyone a CO there?
No, the section commander he pretty much
stands back, he is there, he has got his men on the ground and we see the vehicle coming towards us so I will stop the vehicle and I will go to one side and the other soldier will go to the other side so we don’t actually shoot each other in the back or shoot across each other. And one soldier will stay at the front while I go around the side of the vehicle and he will have fire into them and I will have to fire in the side, if that’s what needs be.
And while I am in position he will move to his position and then a section commander will do his job and put his men down, manoeuvre his men around the vehicle so they are all defence around the vehicle and no one can get us from behind while we’re not looking and we will sort the situation out then.
When you weren’t patrolling what did you do?
There was patrolling, VCPs, long range patrolling and food distribution, we were rotated between the four.
What was the VCP?
Can you describe your first vehicle checkpoint?
We used to have two APCs, one parked on one side of the road, one on the other, so it is like a blocking force and the vehicles have to drive down and do like an S bend to get into the centre. And mounted on top of the APCs a fifty cal [calibre] and a thirty cal and they face outwards. There is a search party in the centre and two members at each end of the VCP and members resting on the side. And what happens is the two members
at the front, whichever way the vehicle comes from, they stop, halt, get everybody out. Move the vehicle into the VCP, get the driver into the VCP and it gets searched and what happens after that is entirely up to the people who do the VCP.
What would happen if you would find….?
If we would find weapons we would detain them and take them back to BHQ, battalion headquarters and get them, the intelligence mob would interrogate them and things like that. Find out where they come from,
if they worked for a care organisation, if they worked for food distribution, if they were security or anything like that. And they would do all of that because we had little photos of the suspected bad guys, we had all of that and if they were suspected we would take them and detain them as well.
How did you go with the language and the culture?
Culture is different to Australia, heaps different. Men do nothing, women work. Men don’t do anything. Women are second place to camels and livestock and all the men do all day is look after their camels and chew that khat. And the women go out and got food and make bread and all of that stuff that they do. It is a different culture all together. The language wasn’t too hard once you start doing it.
And did you actually go into their homes?
Yeah we actually did cordon and searches as well. You got in and cordon and search a house or a village and go through and look for weapons and check stuff out, yeah we did that.
What were the houses like? Can you describe what you would see when you go in?
Well outside the city in the city too, they didn’t really live in houses like we do in Australia, well they didn’t. they live in humpies, houses made out of sticks
and tarpaulin over the top. And that’s what they live in with a fire in the centre. And they had got big rice pits, they have got big holes underground where they store their food underground. Put stuff over the top. That’s basically how they live.
And how did they respond to you going into their homes?
Some didn’t like it. Obviously if they were a bit hassled about it they had something to hide. But some weren’t real worried and some didn’t like it. We were allowed to go into the mosques,
and stuff. We were allowed to search them.
In the initial stages of it what were some of the worst things you experienced?
The children, seeing the kids after a while you learn they were actually doing it to themselves,
they were actually killing their neighbours for their food, relatives and it is part of their culture. They can go and kill each other and take their camels if they want so long as they pay the family a debt for doing it, and that’s their culture, that’s how they do it. You feel sorry for the children. After a while you learn that they are just going to grow up to be idiots like the adults. That’s the sad thing about it.
What evidence did you see of people being aggressive to their neighbours?
At the food distribution they beat each other with sticks; they beat the children with sticks. Everyone carries a gat, a rifle or a sword of some sort to defend themselves. They take what they want. They charge money for water.
They shoot people at food distribution points before we got there. We went to a village where the bad guys had killed everyone in the village. So that was one.
What happened at that?
What happened there they rounded up the entire village; it was only a small village, rounded up and killed them, took all of their food and killed them, that’s basically it.
And what did you see when you got there?
Just dead people. We captured a vehicle while we were over there that was used in the wars, it was an armoured personnel carrier, but a rubber-tyred one, like an LAV [light armoured vehicle], 25 they had in Australia, and some of the bad guys were running people over with it. Driving around and running people over with it. There was a lot of stuff that went on.
So when you got to the village and everyone was dead, what were you responsible to do at that point?
Nothing, that was just where we had to go. We did a thing called a ‘road runner, which is just cruise up and down the main highway between Baidoa and Buurhakaba, a certain section we just had to go up and down where there were ambushes going on and we just got to a village where that happened. There was
ambushes along that road and people were shot, they would ambush, shoot everyone in the vehicle, take the vehicle, run people over.
So was it difficult to deal with that amount of death for you?
No not really. Not really back then.
And how about the other guys? Did you have a physical
reaction to seeing those dead people in the village?
It stinks, the stench is pretty strong.
Did it make you throw up or want to throw up?
No you have just got to do your job, have to do your job.
What about the atmosphere in the camp, you have talked about some of the training camps in Australia and Townsville, how different is it when you’re in a situation like that?
People change. Because you have to rely on each other, people change. There is not so much animosity towards each other. Everywhere there is a work atmosphere there is little animosity towards certain groups. It is not like that any more,
when you go overseas it is the real thing and everyone just bites the bullet and does what they have to do. There is no animosity.
What other changes did you see in people?
People become a lot more politer.
Towards each other that is, but towards the bad guys they are pretty aggressive, they have to be pretty aggressive.
Australians are pretty good at using humour in certain situation, what are some of the funny things you have seen?
Hard to think now.
Did you have as much access to alcohol?
No none whatsoever. Can’t have alcohol and live rounds just in case no alcohol.
And would you have leave where you could go and you know?
No pretty much
you’re either resting or doing your job that was it, or preparing to do your job. I think the only time we were back on base we had one day off, we had half a day off before they give us four days off in Mombasa. And then the whole time we were there, I had four days off
in Mombasa and that was it.
And what did you do in Mombasa?
What everyone else done, got drunk. People got drunk yeah.
So really apart from Mombasa, that entire six months you didn’t drink at all?
That’s a huge life adjustment anyway because it was part of your everyday life here?
It didn’t really faze a lot of people I don’t believe. You had other things to occupy your time with.
What did you like about being in a real situation?
It is not the same repetitive boring stuff and it is not pretend it is the real thing. And no matter how tired you are you still get up and do it and you know you want to do it, you just want to be there.
Interviewee: Paul Robins Archive ID 1765 Tape 06
Paul you spoke earlier about the Somali people not liking the Americans, do you know why?
I don’t believe they were as compassionate as the Australians, that’s what I believe, but I couldn’t be sure.
What makes you say that though?
We were more like a people sort of unit, we actually got out and patrolled amongst the people, got out of our vehicles. Whereas the Yanks didn’t, they patrolled in their vehicles. They didn’t get in amongst the crowds and cruise around to see what was going on.
Did you actually observe that yourself?
Yeah I actually went on a patrol with the Americans and it was a vehicle mounted patrol whereas the Australians didn’t do vehicle mounted patrols, we did foot patrols and that the big difference.
And how does that make a difference in terms of the work you’re doing?
It is a lot harder to do
your job when you’re in a vehicle because obviously you’re moving a lot faster than you do on your feet and you can’t really get in amongst it. Get amongst the place you’re supposed to be patrolling and really get right in.
So do you know why the Americans did it that way?
I believe that was just the way they did urban terrain.
So it was quite different to you?
It was heaps different; they never went out and did patrols in the dark. They never went out at night time; they always did it during light hours. Patrols were always staggered, day, night time, any time you could see an Australian patrol out patrolling somewhere.
So they never got out of their cars?
Not really no, they never got out and patrolled like we did. Their patrols were always a set patrol. Whereas were always staggered, could be any time of the night, you could see us cruising around.
And do you think
the way the Australians did it was better?
Yeah I believe it was a lot better, we seem to have not as many contacts, people seemed to be more frightened or respectful to us because they knew if they did half of the stuff to us that they did to the Americans, that is, they threw rocks at them, steal stuff out of their vehicles, it just wasn’t going to cut with us. We weren’t falling for that sort of stuff.
When you say you didn’t have as many contacts, what do you mean by that?
The bad guys were more afraid of us, they weren’t willing to get amongst it, shoot at us. Unless they were cornered or they thought they had superior numbers they wouldn’t do it. With the Americans they were ambushing them, all sorts of stuff was going on. Stuff was getting stolen out of their vehicles at road blocks. They were losing stuff all of the time.
When you say they were ambushed, what sort of stuff would happen?
The Somalis would set up an ambush, they would shoot at them, once again they would not like shoot them with rockets and stuff, shoot them with rifles, sometimes just rock the hell out of them with rocks. Most of the Marine vehicles, the American vehicles had wire mesh on their windscreens and doors because they had no windscreens left from the rocks,
they had rocks smashing their windscreens all of the time. They never really got in amongst the people like we did I believe.
And how important was it to get among the people?
It made the job a lot easier; I believe to us it was important. We actually got in amongst the people and did what we were trained to do. And it made it; we weren’t scared of them,
even though there was a shit load of them, we weren’t going to be intimidated by them and I think they respected us for that.
So they weren’t as afraid of the Americans?
No I don’t think they were. They were more upfront but they never did that to us.
Did you ever have anybody throwing rocks at you?
We were in a riot situation once where we had to go and get a connex of some Somalis
and it got out of hand and there was a couple of hundred of them and thirty of us and they were throwing rocks and sticks and grenades got thrown and shots were fired and it got a little bit out of hand.
And how did that situation come under control?
Just training again. We obviously did riot training in Australia, go over there. Fix bayonets, come up to barrier with fixed bayonets. We had a big forklift lifter
come to pick up the connex, they tried to ram our connex lifter with a front-end loader of theirs. I had to climb up on the front of their front end loader and take aim on the bloke who was driving it. Tell him to stop, he wouldn’t stop I had to ask three times, the section commander said if he doesn’t do it this time you have got to shoot him. No worries, that’s what I have got to do. He stopped it because there was me with a rifle pointed at him from the
bonnet and the section commander rifle pointed at him from the side. They made us fix bayonets and push them back. So it was pretty hair raising I suppose.
So he stopped it finally and you didn’t have to shoot him?
How ready were you to shoot somebody in that situation?
I was pretty ready.
If I had to I would have done it.
How hard was it not to actually pull the trigger?
It is pretty hard, and with your ROEs, you can’t just go shooting people willy-nilly and if you do you’re going to go to gaol so you have got to be, there is a fine line between taking somebody’s life and letting them live. You would much rather let them live than shoot them.
But if you have got a riot situation going on and you are being threatened by somebody else pointing a gun at you or someone in your unit and you have got all of that going on around you how do you stay calm?
Just your training, you just go back to your training, you concentrate on what you’re doing and your mate concentrates on what he is doing, everyone just concentrates on what they’re doing and it just works. You don’t really think about it until
further down the track, whenever down the track.
Were there soldiers who were more inclined to want to pull their triggers?
I don’t know I couldn’t say.
Did you ever see any soldier shoot anyone in a situation where they were forced to?
I never seen that. Yes I did, we had to go
on a pick up recon [reconnaissance] one night, they were in a contact and they had to shoot someone, we had to pick up recon and the victim.
What was that situation?
We had to go out, I was the Unimog [truck], we went out to where the recon was, we picked them up, picked up the victim and recon went off and did their thing again
and we took him back to the hospital. It was a contact everyone was pretty jumpy,
But the shooting happened before you got there?
Just before we got there yeah.
And what did you hear about what had happened?
He pulled a weapon, they fired upon recon, they ran, warning shots were fired, he kept running and got shot.
But you never actually witnessed any soldiers having to?
No. I never witnessed that.
When you were out on patrol with the Americans what were you doing?
I only went on one patrol with the Americans and it was a hand over sort of patrol, we went in Humvees and I was forward scout on the roof of the Humvee with twin forty mills [millimetre] mounted, twin forty mill grenade launchers. Just over, “This is basically Baidoa.” Blah blah, whatever and then we come back.
So were the Americas actually winding down their operations in Somalia when you got there?
They were winding down their operations in Baidoa and mainly concentrating on Mogadishu.
And what did you hear about what was happening in Mogadishu?
We just got intel [intelligence] reports every day but not a real lot. A lot of our reports were about where we were, our operations.
And what sort of reports were you getting about what was going on?
It might have been a patrol that went out and might have had a contact, they would tell us about that. What other companies were doing and where they were and what was going on. Just so we knew what the big picture was.
So can you tell me a bit more about the food distribution points and how they worked?
Well food distribution point we would go out to a village somewhere, before we got there somehow the villages knew we were coming,
I have got no idea how they did. The aid agencies might have passed information on and people would come from fifty sixty kilometres around, they would walk to where we were. And so what we would do, we would put up all around protection, run out barbed wire around the vehicles so people couldn’t get in amongst the food. And then what we would do I think fingerprint people, and they would have a little passbook and they would
come through and get their bag of sorghum and that’s how we would go through it and we would be there nearly all day. One bag per person per family I think.
I am pretty sure it was just sorghum, that’s all it was.
Where did that food come from?
Australia, America, just world aid.
And how was it brought in?
Got to us on trucks, I have got no idea how it got to Mogadishu, on planes I imagine. But it got to us on trucks and we unloaded it then.
So you took it in your vehicles to these places?
We were actually security for the aid agencies, they had their own little dump truck with their own little forces and we would go to town’s perimeter,
You worked with the aid agencies?
So can you describe how the aid agencies worked?
Their main job was medical food and like clothing and blankets and stuff like that. They just cruised around distributing that stuff for people so they could have food shelter and stuff like that.
Were they always being protected by the army?
No before we got there they were being protected by the Somalis. Which we discovered some of the time were the bad guys anyway and before we got
there the bad guys used to just go and take the food off the aid agencies before anyone could get it. That’s why the Americans and us started going with them as security.
Did the agencies actually tell you that?
What did they tell you about that how did they take it off them?
They would drive up their technicals and just start shooting in the air and shooting at people and people would usually run away and I was talking to one aid worker over there and he was saying they pulled up at an air strip and they unloaded all of the
food and then said, “You just stay here and look after the food and we will be back in an hour or so time.” As soon as the plane left the bad guys rocked up in their technicals, said, “This is our food.” basically, “What are you going to do about it?” And he said, “Nothing you can have it.” So they took the food. He is one bloke and they have got machine guns, he is not going to die over it.
Who were the Somali technicals?
technicals were vehicles, Land Cruisers and stuff with machine guns mounted on the back, anything sort of rifle or weapons they could get they had mounted on the back.
Where did they get that stuff?
When it collapsed from the military they just took what they could carry and went. Just mounted on whatever they wanted.
So they were cruising around the country in these vehicles?
Threatening people and so on?
Threatening people shooting people did whatever they want.
The whole time you were patrolling you were dealing with this situation?
This potential situations yeah.
And did those guys in those vehicles when they saw you how would they respond to you?
They would usually go away very fast. We chased one in APCs, but obviously they were a vehicle we were an APC, they outran us. They wouldn’t stay and fight. None of them would ever stay and fight.
Going back to the food distribution point
what did you observe about the success of the aid agencies?
I wouldn’t say it was a success to start with, when we got there, there was people going through all of the time. They weren’t going through once they were going through three or four times, getting three or four families worth off food and taking it home and then the bad guys would come and steal it off them anyway. So that’s where we would come into it and try to stop them anyway.
That’s where we start to work it out so instead of people coming through three times fingerprinting them, and giving them little books and stuff so they could only come through once.
You said people would walk up to fifty kilometres to come and get the food off you and you don’t know how they found out,
I imagine it was the aid agencies would have passed it on and it would have got around through the grapevine.
So how many people would you be giving food to a day?
We would only do one food distribution a day and it would be up to, I would say thousand, I would imagine a thousand people.
And how did people behave in that situation?
Sometimes very erratic. It is a long day sitting in the sun with no water waiting for food. And fights would break out, that was before they got the food and then fights would break out when they got the food and people would try to jump the queue and
this would always go on and you would have to deal with each problem as they arose.
What sort of fights?
Mainly the women would fight but they would fight with sticks and knives and stuff and you would have to break it up.
Women fighting women?
Yeah because the men don’t carry the food the women do.
So those food distribution points were always women?
There was men there but they never carried the food they sat back and watched and the women did all of the work.
Did the men get involved in the fights?
So it was all the women?
All the women the men are pretty lazy aye. The men are pretty lazy.
Did children come to those?
Oh children would always come and we would give them left over rations, what ever we could find we would give to them.
How did they behave towards you?
They liked us. All little kids like military sort of stuff, they like army stuff little kids.
They are no different to little kids in Australia.
How did you deal with so many of them though wanting stuff from you?
That’s what the barbed wire was for to keep them at bay so they wouldn’t over run you. You would just have to try and not get really attached to them or associate with them. That’s how I dealt with it, just tried to not really talk to them and stuff.
You said you gave them left over rations and stuff did you have enough to give everybody some?
Used to chuck it over the fence, first in first served.
So what was the scene like over the fence?
Pretty wild they would nearly kill each other for it. But you have only got so much to give you can’t give everyone a piece.
And what did you think about that situation?
I felt sorry for them because it was bad. There was times when you could hand food over the fence if you wanted,
to but you handed it over the fence and you have got a million hands trying to grab it whoever gets it gets it and then if he gets it, someone else takes it off him and someone else takes it off him. It just escalates and there is not much you can do about it once it goes over the fence.
Did all of the peacekeeping forces do that? From what you observe?
I have got no idea but I know Australians did.
And was that good thing do you think?
It was but then they came to
rely on it, every time the saw us they would ask for food all of the time. Every time they seen us they would be asking for food and water, the last patrol might have given them something and they would be asking us again and again.
How did you cope with that?
After a while you begin to hate them, not really hate them but you get sick of them asking, get really annoyed with it and so you just tell them no.
So at those food distribution points you would spend the whole day there?
And you were basically in a self imposed prison to protect yourself?
And so how many people from your unit would be working there?
I think it was a platoon at a time, a platoon at a time would be in a food distribution point. One section
might be perimeter defence, another one would be in charge of food distribution and another one would be in charge of getting everyone ready so they could go into the line, force them, work everything out.
How did you stop people from fighting or jumping the queues?
We had Somali interpreters. That was mainly their job. We had soldiers at the start of the queue and if anyone jumped the queue and if anyone jumped the queue and we would send them to the back and the interpreters would have to sort it all out.
Did things ever get really violent?
Sometimes it did yeah where you had to push people back with sticks and all of that yeah.
Did you ever have to use your weapons to threaten people?
At food distribution points no.
How would you describe the atmosphere in that kind of a…..?
It’s pretty erratic and it sounds bad to say it, but they are like wild dogs, they could do anything at any time to get their food and that’s how it felt. One minute could be normal next minute going berserk, anything. And as soon as you give an inch, they just keep coming. You can’t really give them anything.
How hard was it to stay calm in that situation?
You don’t really think about that, you don’t think about staying clam, you just think about your little job and your area, so you just concentrate on what you have to do.
What was your own job in those food distribution points?
Sometimes I was security, sometimes I was on the front gate letting people in. I broke up a few fights,
your job could be anything running out wire, sitting in the Unimog could be anything.
So one bag of sorghum, how big was the bag?
And the women carried those?
Yeah little strap and stuck it on their melon [head], the strap went across their forehead and the bag of wheat hung on their back. They would carry that and a pit of water on their head or a pot of water in each hand, and they would
walk for miles with it.
Fifty kilos of sorghum strapped to their back, and how much water on their head?
At a guess I would say fifteen to twenty litres and it wouldn’t be water we are used to in Australia, clean water. It would be dirty muddy water it looks like it would fall out of a car. And if that’s the cleanest water they could get that’s what they would drink, and they would carry that on their melon and their water bottles would be like a water bottle in Australia it would be like an
old twenty-litre fuel container. An old oil bottle stuff like that and you could see oil floating on top of the water and that’s what they would drink.
So they had twenty kilos on their head and fifty kilos on their back, how did they appear to be able to do that?
I have got no idea.
I mean what was their physical… How did they do that?
They weren’t staggering, they were doing it easy. No worries, two people to help them lift it up and then after that no worries off they would go.
And the men in their family?
Oh the men would just cruise along do nothing, cruise along with his donkey or whatever he had.
So they were able to stand straight?
Oh they were able to stand straight and cruise around no worries.
And these were people who were hungry?
These were starving people. Oh, do you want me to turn that off?
So you were saying these women were hungry?
Yeah I imagine so. They would carry it no worries, that’s probably what they are used to their lifestyle I suppose.
You said that most of these people were starving, how could you tell that?
By the way they looked and acted. So we were led to believe I believe that’s what they were.
How did they look?
Typical starving, gaunt, big belly, skin and bones.
Not real healthy.
How stressful was it for you to observe that sort of thing?
It was fairly stressful, but it was part of the job so I didn’t think about it much.
Did you find those days hard in any way?
No I was just glad to get through the day every day is a new day,
if you can get through the day with no dramas it’s a good day and that’s what I concentrated on.
So you had a platoon of people basically and their jobs divided how many people from the aid agencies would be there?
They would have their food distributor the bloke running the show, some security, I imagine
about ten at the most of the aid people there. I can’t quite remember but I would say ten.
And what aid agencies were working there?
There was [Medicins] Sans Frontieres, Christian Relief Charity or somebody, there was four or five, I can’t remember them all.
How did you get on with them?
Yeah all right. We didn’t really mix with them that much, but they were doing their job we were doing ours so that was the way it was.
Part of your job was to keep them safe?
Were there any aid agency personnel injured or killed while you were there?
I can’t remember.
And so where were those people from?
They were from all over the world, Germans, Swede, Canadians, Americans everywhere. They were just volunteers.
Were they professional people?
I believe some were doctors, stuff like that, obviously they take people who have got some sort of medical background to help them out so they can do the medical side and all of that sort of stuff.
When you say that it hadn’t been all that successful before you got there but it got better, how did it change?
It started to get a lot more organised and people weren’t being so erratic, they realised that this was the way things were going and that was it, and no matter what they did it wasn’t going to change. And it started to work a lot better. People started to flow, they had ID [identification] cards and everything was starting to come into line and it was working a lot better before it was just the aid agency and a thousand people trying to unload a truck and
so it would get out of control.
Would come and take their stuff so it would be a waste of time really wouldn’t it?
Did you ever have bandits come to the FDP [food distribution points] while you were working there?
I will say no, they could have been in the crowd incognito but I will say no.
But there was no…?
No technicals and people rocking up trying to steal the stuff no.
When you said that one
section would be involved in securing the perimeter of the area, how would they secure that area?
They would run the wire out, bounce the wire out, we put wire between the three vehicles, the three Unimogs, they would run the wire pout and then just station people around the perimeter and around the fence. That would be their job for the day.
And how were they armed?
Typical section weapons, Steyrs, a Minimi and a .79, that’s it, grenades, Claymores stuff like that.
And those vehicle, can you describe those vehicles, Unibogs?
They are a big four wheel drive with a flat tray and they used to have centre seating. And we used to sit in the centre and look out, that’s basically it, they’re a cargo vehicle for carrying stuff.
So you said the Americans didn’t really get out of their vehicle, were they involved in the food distributions?
I don’t believe they were, I think we were the first ones to do it. I don’t think we were looking back on it.
So you were the first ones to help the aid agencies?
Yeah otherwise I think the Americans just did security and that was it, left them to themselves.
What did you know about how many people were starving in Somalia?
I had an idea it might have
been over a million. But since then I have read some books and Baidoa itself was three hundred thousand alone, so I have got no idea.
And when you say skin and bones, what kind of health problems could you observe in them?
Could see cancerous sores, everything. Every sort I suppose,
there was pneumonia, all of that curable sort of stuff was out of control.
What did they wear?
Mainly sarongs, that’s what the women wore, bright coloured sarongs. Men wore slacks, loose fitting shirts and thongs made out of camel hide and stuff like that. Just whatever they could get their hands on they would wear.
And the children?
Sometimes the children wore nothing, sometimes they had no clothes, but once again maybe a t shirt and that was it, whatever they could find and scrounge.
And these women who had very young babies were they also carrying?
Oh yeah they were carrying stuff too.
And would they be carrying a baby at the same time?
So can you tell us what that was like?
It was amazing, they would have wheat on their back, the water and a baby strapped across their front. Breast feeding at the same time, that’s what they would be doing. Australian women have got no idea how easy they have got it.
That must have been pretty amazing to see?
Yeah it was, you relate your lifestyle now back to them and you think some people in Australia don’t realise how easy they have got it
compared to other countries in the world, you have to go somewhere to see it, that’s why your values change.
What did they do with the sorghum?
Grind it up and make little bits of bread like pastry sort of stuff, like a strange gruel sort of thing, so for the people or the children that couldn’t take solid food, they could force-feed them gruel.
I believe that’s it.
Was it enough to sustain them?
Yeah I think that’s was the whole idea behind it, it was enough to sustain them with out all of the additives and stuff in food, preservatives, so I think that was the idea behind it.
While you were actually there, how did seeing these people starving and eating the way they were affect you when you were eating?
Didn’t particular worry me because we were starving ourselves, we were getting good food anyway, we were on rations and we had to make our rations last until we got the next resup [resupply], so yeah it didn’t really concern me.
What were you eating?
Tinned two fruits, biscuits and chocolate. Not Cadbury chocolate, like ration chocolate.
And that would only be six blocks for the whole packet and you have got to make that last a day. Freeze dried rice. Tins of army ration food, like beef and tortellini, stuff like that and then they give us MREs, American MRE [rations], meal ready to eat. And they had stuff like ham steaks and apple sauce, you name it they had it, it was better than the Australian rations.
So the new could get the Australian ratios and give them out and keep the American ones for ourselves so it was a lot better.
How did those conditions you were living in and what you were eating affect your health?
Lost a bit of weight, everyone did. I don’t think it affected our health that much.
So physically you were quite well?
Physically I felt all right,
but I did lose a bit of weight.
So at the end of a day in the food distribution point, during the day did people come and go, how did it progress?
People would come and go, get their food and leave, and once the food run out, we couldn’t feed no one else, we would pack up our stuff and leave.
Were people still there trying to get food when you had to leave?
So how did they react to you?
There is not much they could do. Obviously they would beg for food or do
whatever they could to try and get food, but we had none to give so we couldn’t help them.
What did you say to them?
Left that up to the aid agencies to sort that out.
So how many people would be there at the end of the day trying to get more food?
Right now I can only speculate, maybe a hundred, hundred and fifty, something like that. I can only speculate.
Where did you actually set up those points?
We would go out to the outlying towns around
Baidoa and Buurhakaba and the people from nearby towns would come in, get their food and go off.
Can you describe the towns what they were like?
They weren’t like towns we’re used to in Australia, they are like little humpy communities, little villages. There might be ten families to a village, or whatever and they might all be closely related cousins and brothers and stuff and they would come in, get the food and leave.
How did they react when they did get their food?
Pretty happy, they knew they were getting a feed, they were just happy they were getting a feed for a while, food distribution would only come once a week or once a month or whatever and they were pretty happy to get their months supply of food or whatever supply of food.
How did they express that happiness?
They just said, “Thank you.” and left, that’s all they could say.
I just wondered if they had any special way of thanking you?
Dancing? No, none of that stuff.
No culturally different ways of showing you?
No I don’t think they were too concerned about that and neither were we, it was a pretty busy day trying to get all of the people through.
So that’s was the principal thing you units were doing there, trying to get all of the food to people?
Yep. That was basically what we were there for, to try and protect and get food to them.
How often did you do that?
Food distribution? It was rotated around through the companies and battalion and while your company was doing it, I think it was every day, and it was constantly rotated. So I think you would do a week at a time or three weeks, every day and then you would rotate onto
patrolling or VCPs or long range patrolling, which was ambushing and another thing called road runner was patrolling up and down the highway things like that.
How did those food distribution days compare in terms of the level of stress with other days?
Oh they were pretty cruisey because you were back on your battalion headquarters, you were back on your base. And you could go back to your little bed space and you just have to get up and do food distribution and that night come back and do your picquet, and it was a pretty cruisey sort of
sort of number compared to the rest.
So can you start to tell us how an urban patrol would work?
You would either go out on patrol day or night and after a few weeks of being there we broke up into groups of four and we would go as a whole section
out on patrol and if we went down one way they would go in the other. So we broke into blocks of four and patrol around in blocks of four, four men per each block and that’s how we would patrol around.
And what would you personally be doing?
I would be the forward scout of one. Basically I would be up the front patrolling and everyone would be behind me doing their stuff.
What would you be doing with your weapon?
Obviously your weapons points where your eyes go, so if you
see something you are prepared, you are ready to fire, you haven’t got that half a second mucking around aiming, you point at it straight away.
So you’re constantly ready to fire?
So where would you do these urban patrols?
Baidoa, Buurhakaba, that was the main places we did urban patrolling.
Okay so what sort of people were living in this town?
Or what were they doing there?
That’s the township they lived at, I don’t know what they did before we got there, I think they were farmers and stuff before we got there.
What were you looking for?
Weapons, bad guys anything. Trying to make people feel safe so they knew they were safe that they weren’t going to get, like before we got there
people walking down the street with AK47s everyone had a weapon of some type, but after a while of us being there, there weren’t so many weapons and markets and schools were opening and shops, it was starting to get better.
So how often would you confiscate weapons in urban patrols?
Could be once a day, three times, four times, could be many time on a patrol it would depend how many times you came across someone.
So how did you know when you came across a bad guy?
You didn’t necessarily, like not everyone was a bad guy, if they had an AK47 and they didn’t have a permit for it, you would take it off them. If there was only one or two of them and they have got AKs and there are six of you they aren’t going to put up a fight. So you just approach them, ask them for it, if they had papers, if they didn’t have papers you would just take it off, because a lot of them carry swords and knives, all of that sort of junk. Used to approach them and basically take it off them. Ask them, wrestle them to the ground and
take it off them, try and be as polite as you can.
So people would be walking around with these weapons?
Yeah for self protection, that’s their society, that’s how they work.
We might pause there.
Interviewee: Paul Robins Archive ID 1765 Tape 07
What were the most stressful elements of your job?
Night patrolling would be the most stressful, patrolling at night time and we did ambushing there for a week where you had to go and set up and ambush and if they actually rocked up you actually had to fire on them. That’s some of the most stressful. And picquets at night time.
Why was that stressful?
Because there are only two of you and everyone else is asleep. And if it starts getting pretty bad, you have got no microphone, if it starts getting pretty bad you have got to start capping people.
What do you mean by that?
Capping? Oh shooting people.
That didn’t happen to you though did it?
No it didn’t happen to anyone during picquets.
What did you do for entertainment?
There was none.
You could go to Sally [Salvation Army] man’s hut, but I never went there I never seen Sally man’s hut. I just listened to my walkman radio and read, I started reading overseas.
What was the hut?
The Sally mans hut? It’s Red Cross, they have got a little Sally man, he is what they call a Sally man, he goes where the soldiers are. I think it is Red Cross, might be St Vincent de Paul, I can’t be sure which one it is. He has hot brews for the fellows, cold drinks, biscuits, just so you can relax and sit back.
And why didn’t you go there?
Couldn’t find time. It was much easier to rest, rather than walk down to the Sally man’s hut and read I could just read a book on my bed and have a kip.
Did you have lots of books around?
Just the ones you brought with you overseas. All of the ones, some people got some sent to them. I just read the ones that I took with me overseas.
Was there anyone that had musical instruments?
Yes there was, a lance jack in my platoon had a guitar, he learnt to play the guitar overseas.
And did you have a sing along with it?
No we just sat around twiddling his guitar trying to get better at it. He had three or four months to learn so he sat around playing that.
What about the local people did you see their entertainment?
They had like a movie theatre,
they would go to that and everything would be in Somalian.
Did you ever got along to that?
No we didn’t have time to. Cruise past a few times patrolling when they had movies on, strangely enough they had Rambo playing I remember that, that was about it. They usually would just dance and sing and do the stuff the Africans do.
What was the experience
of seeing the number plate of the wanted fellow?
We were on a VCP and a vehicle came down and before it got to the VCP it turned around and took off. And we recognised the vehicle because we had orders the day before to be on the lookout for this vehicle. So we chased it in an APC and caught it and caught the bloke and it was the bloke we were looking for in the vehicle. And what we did was myself and another forward scout got in the vehicle with the bad guy and we took him back to the police station that we had established
with the locals and before we took him back we made him drive around the town with us sitting in it so the bad guys could see that we were in a vehicle with him. Propaganda sort of thing, they would think he was with us. And that’s what we did. And it was a massive adrenaline rush straight away, you’re bored and instantaneously you have got to switch on, you can’t think about anything, you have just got to be able to do your job instantaneously.
And how did he deal with capture?
He tried to lie, talk his way out of it, whatever he could because he knew his number was up. Whatever he could to get out of it but he didn’t get out of it.
Before you left for Somalia you were talking about going out a lot, drinking a lot and the work that you were dong in Australia, how did you change then when you went into that situation in Somalia?
You didn’t do as much useless stuff. You didn’t gin around doing stuff that you didn’t have to. You just went out did your job, came back and rested because you didn’t know when you would be going out again. Some days we would work up to twenty hours a day. Only get four hours to ourselves and you would never get a full night’s sleep, your sleep would always be broken. Sleep for an hour, be awake for three, sleep for another half an hour be awake for another two.
Always broken like that.
And how did that broken sleep affect you?
For the first couple of weeks it knocks you up and then you get used to it and it doesn’t matter.
And like chasing that guy through town and getting him what were some of the other memorable experiences that you had there?
We were patrolling one night and we went into a back alley and we were going into a known market where the bad dudes hung out. And we stopped in the alley for a sec and the section commander was giving us orders, I was crouched down in a shadow in the corner and my job was to watch out, I could still hear what was getting said so I was listening and keeping eyes front looking, and I seen two bad guys come through the door with AKs and if they hadn’t have seen the section commander we would have had them, but they
spotted the section commander and started running . So we had to stop the orders where they were and started chasing them. The sad thing was if the Australian Army had chest webbing then like they have now we would have caught them, but the webbing and everything we were carrying was slowing us down. We are running with an extra fifteen kilos strapped to us and they’re running with nothing. So they just run away. That was pretty exciting. Just patrolling and ambushing at night time. We were doing what they called ‘hot drops’ out of APCs.
You drive along in an APC and they lower the tail gate of the APC and it slows down to ten or fifteen k and you run out the back and run off into the bus hand play army men. We were doing hot drops for ambushes, that was pretty exciting.
Did you have an ambush that brought any people in?
We did. We were compromised,
so we didn’t actually get to do our job so.
What does that mean? What happened?
They found us before we seen them so we had to pick up and move. So we were compromised, it wasn’t very good. One other time we had to go and stop a propaganda radio, they were broadcasting propaganda. We were given orders to go in and take this radio from this hut. And that’s what we had to do and yeah
we cordoned around the house, four different sides of the road and the command to go was when you could hear the APCs coming and you could hear the APCs coming miles away. When you could hear them coming and when you could see their searchlights that was the time to go in, and it was exactly like you see on TV. Kick the door in, run in throw people around, stand on them, rifles to the back of their heads, get the radio, APCs pull up, lower the tail gate. We run, get in,
take off. That was one of the most exciting things.
With the guys that you were holding down, you took them away with you?
No we left them we just took the radio; we took the propaganda we had to get. So that was one of the most exciting things we did.
Can you tell us the lead up to something like that, who briefs you?
The platoon commander gets the order from higher, goes to him, come down to section commanders and then it comes to us. And then it gets broken down,
it might be a five phase operation say, one is going to, two is setting up, three is execution.
So can you talk through those stages with that particular operation, what each of those stages involved?
Stage one would be getting briefed and practising. Stage two would be moving into situation where we have got to be. Because when we get briefed and we do a dry run through we just pretend, walk and sit down and make out like you’re doing it.
So you know where to go. And when you’re doing all that they would have a little mud map on the ground with little houses and stuff that they make out of sticks and you work out where you have got to be and what's going on. Stage two will be moving into the situation, you will move up to the FUP [form up point], you will move to there and wait there until it is time to move in. move into your spots. And phase three will be execution. Let’s say at seventeen fifty for arguments sake,
that’s the time it is going to start, as soon as it hits seventeen fifty you go no matter what. You do that. Phase four will be leaving, and phase five will be the brief afterwards. So you will go and execute what you have to do, phase four will be leaving, phase five will be back home being debriefed .
Do they give you some kind of option if something goes wrong?
If you get lost there is form up points and other form up points, like they have got time space windows. If something happens and you get separated they say go here, and a window will be open at this time and you will have to get from there to this one spot, the window might be open between 1830 and 2430, that’s the time space the window will be open and if you make it in that time space they will come and get you. If you don’t then you have got to wait until the time space opens then you can come in.
That’s basically how it works.
And what's the brief at the end like?
The debrief you just go in and the people ask you what happened and you just tell them what you did. What you seen what happened and they will take all of the information and do whatever they do with it and sort it out from there.
And so what were some other more involved things that you did?
Just personal experiences?
Another one was you do a lot of information gathering as well, reconnaissance sort of stuff. We did a long-range patrol where we had to cruise into a village.
Myself, the section commander and two others went into the village and then we split up, patrolled up, two went left and me and the section commander went right. Then we were patrolling up, using shadows and the moonlight and all of the good stuff. And we used like a pepper pattern, he moves forward then I move forward, that’s how it works, and we were pepper pottering in up to windows, listening to
what's being said and what's going on. The worst part of it was when we were peppering pottering out we had to go across to another part of the village and the only way we could get around this open ground was through this dead ground which was a sewerage drain, an open shit pit and we had to crawl through it and we crawled through it, you had to cross the road and we actually had to lie still while some people walked passed us, I could have grabbed them on the foot if I wanted to and they didn’t know
we were there, so that was pretty exciting. There was that.
Did you get any information out of that?
I have no idea thinking back to it, I imagine we did. Another one was we were on a long range patrol and we had to go into this village and when we were patrolling in we had to cross this open ground and I stopped, the section commander came forward and
we looked down and saw footprints and saw the butt of a weapon down on the ground beside the footprints and it was an AK47 or an M16 some sort of rifle. And we spent five hours just cruising around following these footsteps, hunting, tracking, but we didn’t find anything, but it was pretty freaky for five hours, MPGs on instants the whole time.
What were some other incidents?
There was a landmine incident we were reaction force and we just happened to be out cruising around in our Unimog and there was a large explosion .and we went over to see what it was and it was a woman and a couple of children had found an anti-tank landmine, that’s about fifteen kilos of explosives and they proceeded to hit it with clumps and sticks and it went off. And we had to fix injuries, there was
the woman was trying to walk and she had no calf muscle. It was blown off from the top of her heel to the back of her knee, it was just bone and skin hanging off, fragmentation injuries,
Was she screaming at the time?
No she just couldn’t work out why she couldn’t walk, just stunned, couldn’t work out why she couldn’t walk. Fragmentation injuries. A baby had got hit with a bit of frag, cut his hand in half,
part of his hand was hanging down here. Thumbs and stuff missing from the frag from the landmine, just that sort of stuff.
Were there many landmine incidents?
I could not be sure but I imagine there was landmine victims and stuff like that, that’s the only one I was basically there straight after it happened.
So did you hear it?
Yeah we heard it and drove over there in our car. We secured the area, did first aid for them.
How much damage can a landmine do, what did it do to the area?
Flattened the hut, blew the hut to smithereens, that was gone. They were shell-shocked, and it is an anti-tank landmine it is designed to blow a tank off a track so it is pretty big and can do a fair bit of damage, they were just I suppose lucky in some way.
Did you have to be careful yourselves?
Yeah you had to be aware of landmines. But
with that many people running around you could say to yourself that it was safe. But there were roads where we were ordered, “Don’t leave the road.” because there are landmines and stuff.
What about back in the camp? Can you tell us some stories about people hearing news from home how that happened?
We got mail once a week I think and that’s how we got stuff from home. The only other thing we had was a short wave radio and that was Radio American or Radio Britain, that was a short-wave band and that was the only other news of the outside world, that was it that was all we had.
What did you miss most at that time?
I didn’t really miss much, I
didn’t want to come home, did not want to come home at all. I was getting paid to do a job that I liked and I enjoyed it.
Didn’t miss the pubs?
No didn’t worry me.
Did you manage to get correspondence from your own family?
I got letters from my own family the whole time I was there, but that’s about it.
Did you write back to them?
Yeah I wrote back.
What was your section commander like?
He was all right, he wasn’t a bad fellow.
Compared to some of the other fellows you had had?
Yeah pretty stressful for everyone I would say aye. So he was pretty stressed too. I know they were thinking about splitting our section up when we were over there because we were too friendly with the section commander and the 2IC [Second in Command], the hierarchy didn’t like it, they thought we were getting on too well.
So it came down in orders that we didn’t have to be so friendly to each other.
Why is that a problem?
I have got no idea, obviously they are in charge of us. As they say shit rolls down hill.
Did you have a best mate over there?
I had friends that I worked with, they were all right in my platoon, but I socialised with people outside my platoon
and they were in different companies.
Who were they and why did you come to socialise with people outside the platoon?
I just did through ITs and stuff. That’s just how it was, I liked going out to my platoon and stuff but I liked having variation. If you work with people you don’t always want to socialise with them at the same time as well. That’s just the way I was brought up, if you work with someone socialise with someone else and that way it is not conflicted interests.
You seem to have a pretty good experience there and you were satisfied with the work, were there other blokes who were mad keen to get home?
Oh there was heaps. All of the married fellows, blokes with wives and children, girlfriends and that, they were counting down from day one. From the day they left Townsville they were counting down, they worked out we were going to be there seventeen weeks, a hundred and whatever days it was, and they counted down every day we were there. I couldn’t see the point in that.
Did you get sick over there?
I got carbon monoxide poisoning from driving around in APCs and I think that was it.
How did that affect you?
I was really crook out on an ambush, I was off for a day or two days back at base and then I went out field again straight away.
What were some of the other sicknesses?
Some people got really bad diarrhoea form the food and the adjustment to the lifestyle. My friend got shot.
How did that happen?
He was on patrol and they were doing an obs crossing, he was a radio operator and he got shot. That was about it aye.
Where did he get shot?
He got shot in the shoulder,
and it came out under his arm, it wasn’t like a real bad wound so he did all right out of it. He got shot and Shannon McAliney, he got shot over there and died.
Were you there when that happened?
That was Delta Company.
Before we move on the camel killing can you describe that a bit?
The camel markets where they kill the camels? Basically they just
herd the camels in, tie their feet up, push them over slit their throats, let them bleed to death and then they chop them up and use their hide for clothing and shoes. They chop their feet off and they throw their feet into the hot coals and they peel the pad of their foot back and dig there marrow out with a spoon or the cushy part, whatever that is they pull that out and eat it. They eat everything, nothing is wasted.
Did you see them eating?
Yeah we saw them eating.
And how did you first react to that?
It wasn’t too bad because there was a lot of people in the section dry retching and that and it was pretty amusing to see them being crook. So it didn’t really worry me.
Do you associate a smell with being there?
Can you describe that?
I don’t think I have smelt it in Australia.
No I haven’t smelt it in Australia, I don’t think I can describe it to you. You can smell it; you know what it is straight away.
So it is a distinctive smell?
Yeah it is like people say Vietnam, Thailand all have their own distinctive smell. It is a distinctive smell. Yeah you can smell it.
You were saying when you first got there, there
was a lot noise and chaos, was it the same where you ended up? What was happening towards the end of it?
It was starting to settle down a little bit by the time we left. But we weren’t allowed to cruise around the streets and have a good time. It was still bad but a lot better than when we first turned up.
What were the rules about moving outside the camp?
We never went outside the camp. We just went in sections and that was it.
If you went outside you were patrolling that was it, you never went anywhere unless you were patrolling.
Was there any evidence of AIDS around?
I have got no idea. We had four days off in Mombasa, I am lead to believe eighty five per cent of the African continent has got AIDS or something like that, so there probably was, I have got no idea.
So there was never discussion about that?
No, when we went to Mombasa and had our four days off we were given condoms and a brief about it; no I don’t think there was. There was like syphilis and stuff, like that that was pretty much everywhere.
What was Mombasa like?
If I am right, I could be wrong; I think it was like a little
island of Kenya, and we went there for four days. I think all of the military personnel went there for four days off when they were in Africa.
And what was the atmosphere like there?
Like the Gold Coast, but an African version, high-rise buildings on the beach. Whatever you wanted you could get, anything you wanted.
What were the brothels like?
There was none but
there were escorts everywhere. Any sheila you wanted you could buy.
They had strip joints?
I don’t know, but I know there was, wherever you went in a bar there were bar girls you could buy.
And what were the blokes saying about the girls?
Was there much talk about?
They were getting amongst it yeah.
Was it expensive?
About five dollars Australian, a pretty good deal.
And what were the women like?
They were fairly attractive, they were quite nice. There was white Africans as well as black ones, they were all right.
And what about the bars?
The bars were pretty good, not like Australian, no dress standards, wear whatever you want, do whatever you want. They had signs at the doors, no weapons allowed in night clubs and there were signs of little guns and stuff. But the bouncers did have .45s and all sorts of stuff.
And did you leave weapons?
When we had four days leave we never had any weapons, we just like our PT gear or whatever we had at the
time to go out, civilian attire.
And how did you come to finally leave Africa?
After our time was up, Baidoa we handed over to the French, flew to Mogadishu and then we pretty much
we flew out pretty much that day. We were the first to fly out because we were the first in country, Alpha Company was, so we were one of the first lot to leave and then after that each company started leaving after that.
Was there an option to stay?
Yeah I volunteered to stay and a couple of other fellows did but because we were first in country we weren’t allowed to stay. We volunteered to stay and then come back on the boat, but
that was given to other people because we were first in country.
How did you feel about that?
A lot of people were happy to come home, I would have liked to have stayed, I didn’t want to come home. It would have been good to stay.
Why is that?
Because it was good being there, it was good fun, I liked it.
What was satisfying about it to you?
Actually getting to do my job, I was getting to do what I was trained to do.
And what did you see that as in that situation?
Basic infantry soldier, all infantry stuff that’s what we are trained to do and that’s basically what we were doing. Ambushing, digging in, everything we had trained to do we were actually doing it.
And how did you get home?
We flew home,
Paul Keating at the time was the Australian Prime Minister; we flew home on his plane.
And how many people were on that?
Alpha Company, I think there was a hundred and twenty of us.
And was there alcohol on the plane?
I think there was four beers per man through to Diego Garcia, weren’t allowed off the tarmac, refuelled there, flew into Western Australia, into Perth. They shut down
Perth airport for us, cleared everyone out. A few hours in Perth airport doing duty free shopping and things like that, they opened everything up for us so we could do what we wanted. And then flew us up to Townsville, and we got to Townsville seven or eight o’clock the next morning or something.
And what was the reception like at Townsville?
They had a band playing, everyone’s family was there. My parents were there. I didn’t want to get off the plane,
it was quite a surreal, I didn’t want to be in Australia, I didn’t want it to end, I just wanted it to stay how it was. I knew it would never be the same again.
So what happened when you did come back to Australia what happened to you then?
We did another
couple of weeks in Townsville just winding down and then they give us leave, and I went on leave for eight and a half weeks, nine weeks something like that.
So what’s involved in the wind down?
Just debriefs, they give us a bit of a psychological spiel might go through if we have any problems we can go see these people. No one seemed to have problems at the time.
What was involved in that spiel?
Not much, it ended up to be perfectly honest, it started off a little bit about people we could go and see at the time which was not much and ended up what the army might be getting us, the new packs, new webbing, if we wanted to change rations or what we wanted to change in the equipment we had overseas, that was about it. So we didn’t really get any debrief for psychological stuff that was available to us.
What was the hardest thing about adjusting back?
Well you just spent four and a bit months of your life living with weapons and live rounds and being aggressive and all of this stuff, and coming back to Australia and they expect you to fit back into society. That’s the hardest thing. The next hardest thing is the platoon commander you have had, because they rotate the platoon commanders every twelve months, two years in the
army. So you get a commander straight out of ADFA [Australian Defence Force Academy], straight out of army school telling you how to do your job and you have just come back from overseas doing VCPs, urban patrolling, all of the stuff that you have just done and he is trying to tell you how he learnt at ADFA to do it, and you’re going, “No Sir, that’s wrong, that’s not how to do it.” You are getting told to shut up by section commanders and platoon sergeants that were there with you because he is an officer, you can’t tell him that he is wrong. That’s the sad thing, that’s the hard thing and that’s why a lot of soldiers start to get disillusioned when they come
back from overseas. They have got the experience, but no one is willing to listen to them.
What do you think a better way to approach it would be?
Probably get the blokes who had been overseas to actually teach the lessons, not because he was a platoon commander who has been at ADFA. But I think the army is slowly coming around to that way of thinking now. That’s one of the hardest things, yes.
And do you think it should have been a longer period overseas?
Now that I look back on it, yeah it should have been, because the shows I have seen on ABC, I have followed it obviously because I went there, I follow it, read books and seeing documentaries on TV, it is no different if not worse than when we were there. It’s almost sometimes as if it didn’t happen, you didn’t change anything. And no one knows about us, no one knows about Somalia.
It’s hard for a lot of people to comprehend. We never march on Anzac Day; there is no flag, no nothing for us. Without taking away from the World War I, World War II Anzacs there is nothing for anyone else. It is just them and that’s it.
And what do the other guys say about that sort of thing?
A lot of blokes say the same sort of thing but a lot of them,
don’t march, a lot don’t go to Anzac Days, a lot of people keep away from that sort of stuff.
What are you most proud of having done that?
I suppose we were the first ones since Vietnam, which is something I suppose. I was in the first section to go on patrol since Vietnam, I think that was something. Just going overseas for my country I am proud of aye, that’s it.
What happened in that six week leave when you came back?
A lot of drinking just trying to come to terms with what we had done, that’s was it.
What about this culture was hard to get used to?
To the Australian culture?
There was a lot of people bitter in the army when we first got back that 1RAR went, there was a lot of people bitter, “We should have went.” “I have been in the army twenty years. I should have went before you.” It’s just, everyone has got a hard luck story how they should have went and a lot of people were bitter towards us that we went and they didn’t go. Little did they know ten years down the track
they would be going everywhere. That was the sad thing about it.
What do you mean by that?
Everyone was bitter. It was the first thing since Vietnam, everyone wanted to be part of it, we were just lucky enough, I suppose you could say lucky enough to go off and do it and when we came back there was animosity towards us. Especially down low at digger level, we were the only ones with ICBs [infantry combat badges] and
other soldiers who had been in fifteen or twenty years had nothing. And the only other ones were the fellows from Vietnam, they had ICBs and we were the next ones. And there were a lot of other infantry units and people who were in the infantry who were bitter towards us.
How did you feel back toward them?
I was angry.
Once again it is hard to wind down from being overseas. I couldn’t see their point why they were so upset. It was just the luck of the draw, right place right time, it was just the battalion they chose. So I was pretty bitter, I was pretty angry at them.
What about talking to your family, did you find it difficult adjusting?
I haven’t spoken to my family about it.
You don’t really want your family to know what you have done, so I really haven’t spoken to them about it.
What do you mean what wouldn’t you want them to know?
Just what we did and seen. Stuff like that; it is like it’s almost to protect them from it, like I am the one who has got to deal with it so they shouldn’t have to put up with it.
You said that your values changed, what sort of values did you come back with?
I went over there with values to respect people and always try and be nice all of the time. And you try and it just doesn’t work, you see the men over there making the women work and they sit back and do nothing. They beat the women,
they do everything. Stuff we hold in Australia as values just doesn’t count. It is nothing for them to go and kill someone. When a girl becomes of age thirteen, to cut her clit out so she can’t enjoy sex. So she is just there to have babies, that is their culture. And to hear that and to see the aftermath of that, it is mind boggling to see it. And that’s when your values start to change about
lifestyle. You actually respect what you have got here. And I think that’s why I find it so hard to deal with a lot of people in Australia; I don’t go out of my way to talk to people.
Did you find it difficult to talk to guys that you hung out with before you went over there?
Yeah. Like I said I grew up in Middlemount before I joined the army, I had friends and that, didn’t go back to Middlemount until after I came back from Africa.
Nothing in common, nothing. Seven years down the track when I gout out of the army and got a job in the mines I could work underground for fourteen hours at a time and not say a word to anyone. Had nothing in common with them. I just have got nothing in common; I don’t talk much to people, nothing in common.
When did you meet your wife?
When I came back from Africa.
How did you guys meet?
Drunk, no, at a nightclub.
And what how long were you seeing each other?
Pretty much, well we have been together now for ten years and been married for five. Pretty much going out for two years, got engaged, engaged for three
years probably longer, got married in ’97. So we have been together a long time.
And did you talk to her about your experiences over there?
She only knows a little bit. I don’t tell her a lot.
What was her response to what you had been doing?
Strangely enough I have never asked her, I wouldn’t have a clue.
But you have shown her photos?
Yeah she has seen the photos and stuff but she
kind of goes emu today puts her head in the sand, she didn’t want to be here today for this or when me and my mate Thommo talk about it, she gets up and leaves the room. But we rarely talk about it.
Why is it upsetting for her?
I don’t know if it is upsetting for her. I know she did know Shannon McAliney before he died; she had a few friends that went overseas with me as well, I don’t know that.
But I don’t, I imagine, I don’t know if it is upsetting for her. I imagine it would be, friend with Shannon McAliney, he died, so I imagine she would be upset by that in some way. And she has to deal with the drama I have every day in my life. She has to deal with that so I imagine it would be upsetting for her.
Might have a break.
Interviewee: Paul Robins Archive ID 1765 Tape 08
So after you came back, how did you find yourself changing in any way?
I started drinking more, you find it hard to wind down. I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since I was eighteen. Like when I say full night I mean like most normal people have eight hours’ sleep and sleep from the time they go to bed until the time they get up, I don’t have that.
I will be awake, I will have broken sleep about five or six times a night I will get, on a good night three and a half hours’ sleep. That’s been going on for twelve years now; I expect it to go on for the rest of my life. I found I was more aggressive, shorter temper, really short fuse.
Just was really starting to get sick of the crap, the repetitiveness, it was just boring, the army was boring. Once we had been overseas I found it boring.
So how did you come to leave the army?
Back in ’96 I applied for the SAS,
two weeks or three weeks before the course I twisted my knee playing touch footy and they said to me it would take six months to get it strong enough to do it again. I said, “I am not going to apply for the course again. I will apply for a job in the mines.” And I got the job in the mines, applied for a discharge, got accepted for the discharge but my platoon commander at the time suddenly mysteriously lost my application
for the mines and it went missing, so I didn’t discharge from the army and missed out on that job. Had to stay another year, put in to discharge and I just left because I was just sick of it, sick of getting ginned around.
And what were you doing when you came to marry?
I was working underground at the mines when I married my wife. That was ’98, ’99 I think.
Did you notice these changes in yourself?
I noticed a lot of changes in myself like hyper alertness I suppose, always edgy, real light sleeper, all of those sorts of things.
When you say you wake up several times, what wakes you up?
I have got no idea, I imagine from overseas it was bred into us waking up and doing picquets and stuff. Sometimes I have nightmares. Intrusive thoughts, stuff like that wakes you up.
What sort of nightmares?
Going overseas getting killed, seeing dead people.
Intrusive thoughts, them as well. Mainly me getting killed or me killing my friends anything like that, flashbacks to overseas and that’s what wakes me up.
What sort of flashbacks?
Seeing dead people, being on patrol, seeing things different, like what could have happened
and you might be on patrol and you will have a section contact and you dream that’s what happens and it just wakes you up.
And when you wake up?
Normal nightmare stuff, cold sweat can’t get back to sleep. I will stay awake for about an hour afterwards and then I will go back to sleep. Wake up again, pretty much what happens.
When did those nightmares begin?
When we got back from overseas, when life started to settle down and become normal, to fit back into society, that’s when they started. You don’t think much of it at the time but as you get older you start to think about it more.
So you didn’t have these nightmares when you were over there?
No too tired. Obviously sleeping when I could sleep.
And so when you got married what was your condition like then?
With PTSD, I don’t believe it was too bad. I didn’t know I had PTSD, I had no idea, it was an underlying factor, I believe it was for my aggression and stuff like that. I didn’t know I had it until 2001, so it went on for ten years now,
nine years without being diagnosed. I got diagnosed with PTSD when my daughter was born. So I was pretty happy at that time in my life.
How did that come about that diagnosis?
My daughter was born and when people have children everyone cries, and everyone is happy. I wasn’t crying, I wasn’t happy, it was just another day at the office, just go to work another day. My wife is crying and everyone else is crying and I was like, “What are you crying for?” No love, nothing, just another kid.
That’s what I had and I thought there is something suss here and then 2001, when September 11 was on, on sorry before then I was working at the mines and I used to get really cranky with people, punch people, attack people at work stuff like that.
My wife got post-natal depression and we got a social worker around to see her and she was speaking to my wife because we were working out at the mines at the time, she was speaking to my wife and she just turned to me and said, “There is something wrong with you, what’s wrong with you?” I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “There is something wrong with you.” I said, “I have been overseas, Africa.” and she said, “Can you go and see this person?” Put me onto to see this bloke and I went to see him and he said, “Yeah you have got post traumatic stress disorder.” And so that’s how I was diagnosed,
because my wife had post-natal depression.
What was it about you?
I have got no idea, I wouldn’t have a clue, I imagine she felt intimidated or something when she was talking to me and she said, “Can you go and see this person?” And that’s how it was I got diagnosed.
What was happening in your relationship with your wife?
I don’t know
we were pretty happy, pretty normal. Everyone has their fights, we were pretty normal. But I think back now I can see why we fought; I can see what was going on. We were a normal PTSD marriage. Normal post traumatic stress disorder lifestyle, we had a normal one like that.
And what’s a normal one?
Fighting all of the time, a lot of friction,
I have got no idea what a normal one is, but I know mine was pretty bad. It’s not real good now, but it is coming along a lot better.
So there was a lot of fighting?
Oh there was a lot of arguments over nothing.
When you say you were aggressive, how did you show that aggression?
I used to smash like furniture, punch things,
be really angry, go down to the pub get drunk and get into a fight.
And what about violence with your wife?
No not really.
But violence with other people?
Yeah that’s when I thought something was wrong, I was getting really angry all of the time and there was nothing I could do about it. Really, really angry, all of the time angry.
What was going through your head?
Now that I look back on it frustration. At life, at because I had lost my army career because of PTSD, because I didn’t know that I had it. We tried to seek help in the army and were basically brushed aside, swept under the carpet. Just people thought it was a normal practice and that underlying factor lead to the frustration
which lead to me getting angry and cranky all of the time.
When you say you tried to seek help form the army but it was swept under the carpet in what way?
I moved, my wife and I were living tighter just engaged at the time, we separated, I moved onto base. I tried to get help, I went and seen the padre, he spoke to me for a few hours, my wife
went to counselling at one of the army community defence officers and went there once and that was it, that was all they had for her, one interview they said, “Look, go away. There is nothing we can do for you, see you later.” That was it.
They said there was nothing they could do?
There was nothing they could do for her. And I was brushed aside, “Yeah, don’t worry about it it’ll be right. Life is
So how did you react to that at the time?
I sent my wife to Brisbane, well she went to Brisbane to her mother and father because it would be best for us to be apart for a while and then she came and visited me for the rest of my time in the army until I got out. And then that’s when we started to get our life back on track.
Looking back, how do you feel about the way you were treated by the army then?
It was plainly obvious what was wrong. I was, I used to
go off at work, I used to go right off. Tell people they were fucking idiots, people above me, could have easily gone to the cells for it. If that didn’t work I would wait until Friday after work and punch them in town. I would punch people in town, not my platoon commander but section
commanders, you name it I have done it. I come back from bush one time I had a brain snap, had a skitz at work and threw an SLR across the cleaning bay and got in my car and drove off, nothing was done. I should have been charged and thrown in a cell straight away, got back to work Monday morning and nothing was done. It’s just a shame.
Why do you think they didn’t react to you?
I have got no idea. Another incident I did, I wanted to get out of, I was down at Singleton at the time and I wanted to get out of Singleton that bad, I took an army rover, I was authorised to drive it but I didn’t get authority to drive it on the day and I just took it and drive it and I moved my stuff back to base. Happened to get done for it, the fellow who was helping me do it, he was looking at going to the cells; I just took the responsibility for it,
nothing happed. I got seven extras, that’s all I got, seven extra duties. That’s all, I stole an army car. And it was over an Easter period. Myself and my friend that was with me we got seven on seven off. He did seven days, I did seven days, just rotated one day each. Not only did they give me the keys to the yard the rover was in the first time,
I had the keys to the armoury, the armoury being where the weapons are kept and the ammunition dump where the ammo was kept. I had the keys to everything and I was in charge to phone calls in and out of depot company Singleton, for over the Easter period, nothing was done, I wasn’t charged, nothing.
What do you think your mental state was like at that time?
Not very good, I don’t think I was very good at that time.
Do you think you were a danger to anyone?
I don’t think I would have went out and shot anyone willy-nilly, but I was pretty bloody cranky and pretty upset but nothing was done.
Were you a danger to yourself at all?
No I don’t think I was a danger to myself, but I was pretty violent to other people. I don’t think I was a danger to myself. Later on when I got out of the army when I did have the big culture shock that was is accepted practice in the army is not accepted practice in civilian lifestyle, people see things differently.
How did you adjust to that?
Not very well. I went home, got a job in the mines, but felt like a social leper. And I spent a lot of time by myself with just my wife and it wasn’t real good.
And when your daughter was born you said you had no connection?
I had nothing.
For how long?
At least a good
few weeks, nothing.
How did that affect your relationship with your wife?
I imagine it put a strain on her, but if you ask my wife I was a good Dad, because it was my job to be there to help her look after my daughter and all of that, husband stuff.
I did and still do a lot more than most other Dads do, that’s the way I perceive it, but there was nothing there. And there is still nothing there. When my daughter falls over and hurts herself, nothing. I have got nothing for her. People run and pick their kid up and cuddle them and tell them it is all right, I have got nothing and that’s the hardest thing, I have got nothing. I just sit there and watch it.
You have no emotion?
Nothing, I have got nothing for her.
That’s the hardest thing, that I have nothing for my daughter, and when my wife gets crook I have got nothing for her. That’s the hardest thing to deal with.
What do the doctors say about that?
It’s PTSD, they give you drugs to try and keep you calm,
try and make you adjust to society. I have done courses to learn to accept other people, be more tolerant of other people. I have done them all and it only works in a perfect world, I have still got nothing. And that the hardest thing to deal with in my life when my daughter falls and hurts herself whatever, I have got nothing.
What about anger do you still feel that?
I don’t feel anger often a lot of frustration. There are something that make me angry, utter stupidity I just can’t stand idiots, that do stupid things, admittedly everyone does dumb things but there are some people that go out of their way to do stupid things and I get angry at that. I get angry when people
put a value on life, that makes me angry.
What do you mean?
One incident, when I was working underground at the mines, we had to do a facial ignition underground, I was the coal miner underground. Coal has methane gas, all of the gases in the world and they’re pretty explosive and we had two ignitions underground. And what happened, after that there was we had a bolting rig underground which used to
bolt to the roof. Anyway, the methane trip cable on it was safety device, if there was too much methane gas in the air it trips the machine because the machine is electric, it can’t create a spark and can’t blow us up and kill us. The cable got severed and we had an investigation about it, no one was blamed for it and the boss of the mines said to me, “Is there anything worse?” Because when
you’re down it is like a million dollars an hour, he said, “Is there anything worse than being down at a million dollars an hour?” And I said, “Yeah, fucking death, my life is worth more than a million dollars an hour.” And that’s what makes me angry, he is concerned about a million dollars an hour and there is thirty blokes on a shift, and when people put a value on life that makes me cranky.
What about the army, what are your thoughts about the army now?
From the outside looking in it’s not a way of life.
I have spoken to a lot of people in the army who are still in. It is not a way of life like it used to be, it’s just a nine to five job. That’s the way I see it and people are just in it for a job now.
What are your thoughts about the way the army treated you?
I am not real happy about that but I can’t change things now. At least the Department of Veterans’ Affairs said, “Yeah you got it from overseas; we’ll help you.”
That’s the bit I am happy with. The army could have been a bit more aware of it but they’re slowly coming around so hopefully they won’t have this problem any more.
Before you were diagnosed with PTSD, what did you know about that disease?
Nothing, not a thing.
Had you heard of it?
So did that come as a bit of a shock?
Yeah it came as a bit of a shock to go from working,
I thought it was just me, had nothing in common with anyone. A lot of people thought I was arrogant, a pig, but I talk straight down the line that’s it. I don’t pull punches, I don’t intend to pull punches, if people don’t like what I am saying, don’t listen. That’s just the way it is and it was a big shock to me yeah.
So that was some years ago, how has your condition improved with treatment?
With treatment I am happy, I am not happy, I would say I prefer my life at home to be happy and the rest of the world out there can wait. When I get this sorted out in my own house I will start trying to go out in the world again, but my house is first. My little daughter, my wife, that’s it. So they live in a home that they know is safe, I am not going to explode, go off that sort of stuff,
Do you still explode?
I still get cranky yeah. I don’t swear as much as I used to because of my daughter. I try to control myself because it costs a lot of money breaking stuff, so I try not to break stuff as often and smash stuff. I do a lot of PT, a lot of exercise, go to the gym and stuff like that and that helps take the aggression away.
What do the doctors tell you about why you have PTSD?
They haven’t told me nothing of why I have got it.
Do you have any theories?
I have watched a few shows on TV about it, a few documentaries. Someone mentioned a special chemical in our brain in a special situation and that’s what causes PTSD, that what they are lead to believe,
that’s one theory behind it. I believe they just throw you into a situation; you’re in a situation that you can’t control it, you do whatever you can. and then if you seem like you perfectly all right ten minutes, half an hour or a couple of days afterwards they go, “Yeah you’re all right.” A lot of people don’t realise it is going to come a few years down the track, and that’s where it sneaks up on you, I am led to believe.
What does that mean to you, PTSD?
It means a lot of frustration. Like I said before I have got no feelings, just numb to the outside world, numb to what goes on around you, numb to what happens.
If something goes really badly wrong, no worries I can handle that, like that, no worries, no drama. But I have got no feelings if someone is injured or like that. Like I was saying those ignitions we had, two face fires underground we were mining coal six metres wide three metres high, the face ignited twice and one time the flames were rolling over the top of our heads, and nothing. No fear.
I had nothing, I knew I could outrun it, I knew I had no where to go, all I could do was stand there and try and put it out. No fear, that’s straight out I had no fear.
You mentioned briefly, but you didn’t follow on from it about September 11th, how did you respond to that?
I think that’s what made the PTSD worse that’s what made it worse. I seen that and I thought, “Gees,
it’s the Third World War coming here. We’re all going to die.” That’s what I was thinking and it was pretty bad for me to see that, just a waste of life for nothing. I was thinking I will have to join the army, go overseas have to do it all again. And in some ways I was excited, I was hoping. But I didn’t know I was going to nutter out; I didn’t know
I was going to go crazy.
How much does the fact that you were involved in a peacekeeping situation rather than an actual war, how much does that contribute to your frustration, do you think, in terms of how other people might view this?
No one knows about Somalia aye, you would be surprised. I have spoken to people younger than me.
Older people than me, they watch the news they should know this stuff. Nothing is ever in the paper; we are almost like the forgotten soldiers in some ways you could say. It’s not like we’re the only ones, they forgot about everyone, East Timor. Rwanda, Cambodia and I have been in town, I have been to the naval museum in Townsville and
I could be wrong on this but [HMAS] Tobruk and Jervis Bay left town to go to Somalia. And you go in there and there is no plaque for the Tobruk and the Jervis Bay to go to Somalia. It’s Vietnam and then whatever afterwards, nothing for Somalia. It is a slap in the face for a lot of soldiers that have served overseas in Somalia; it is just a slap in the face for them.
And how does it affect you personally?
It makes me bitter and twisted. A few weeks ago I watch a show on Channel Nine and it was a twenty five year thing of it and it was, “Yeah this is the places we have filmed, this is the places we have been.” and they showed everything right up to now – no Somalia, no nothing. Another slap in the face there, and it is just a disgrace, this is Australia
and they have forgotten about us.
What do you plan to do on Anzac Day?
I am not doing what I do every other year and get drunk I know that, I am thinking of not doing that. I don’t know if I will march yet, I don’t know, this is the first year they will have a Somalian veterans’ march, I don’t know I am thinking about it.
It’s the first time?
First time in ten or eleven years yeah.
Who has organised that?
Ex 1 RAR Somalian veteran organised it by himself, no one helped him organise it, it was his idea. He got sick of marching every year with the RAR Association and seeing Somali veterans standing on the sidelines watching.
And why are you not sure that you will participate?
I don’t know. I will see, I think it’s, I don’t know why if I will or I won’t. It’s a big thing, for me I am not really good with big crowds and stuff so for me it is a big thing to get out and march. So I don’t know.
You said you usually drink a lot on Anzac Day?
I don’t think I will this year, pretty well had a gutful.
Do you still drink a lot?
Not as much as I used to, because of my daughter. No not as much as I used to I don’t.
How important do you think Anzac Day is?
It’s very important. I believe the Australian soldier; returned servicemen don’t get the acknowledgement they deserve. I don’t think they even get a quarter of what they are entitled to I believe. They get a day, that’s all they get, a few medals, and all of the other shit that goes with it which isn’t much.
Looking back on your experiences if you had your time again would you still have had your time in the army?
Oh yeah I would have had my time again and gone, but I don’t think I would have went, yeah I would have went, no worries I would do it again.
I just wished they had have had something in place for people who suffered from PTSD. There are still blokes in the army with PTSD they are still in, they just haven’t been diagnosed yet.
So when you look back on your time in Somalia, what are the things that come to mind the most?
The first day there and leaving. And the patrols.
The patrols were the best thing to do and as they say the warriest, the warriest thing to do in the army is patrolling. Yeah just that. Arriving patrolling and leaving that was it.
And leaving, why leaving?
I did not want to come home. No matter what, if I had have kicked my legs and thrown a tantrum like a little kid and it would have got me to stay I would have done it. I didn’t want to come home.
You said you really enjoyed your time there, some people would find that hard to understand? What was it?
It’s the adrenaline rush. Everyone says it is the adrenaline rush, coming out of a plane, being a parachutist I suppose they keep going back again and again because they like it that much. Adrenaline is addictive and it becomes addictive after a while and I think that’s where the aggression comes into it, you start to
get the adrenaline run and it gets addictive, that’s the other theory on the violence and stuff.
What did you learn from your experience there?
Don’t take anything for granted because that sort of stuff can happen anywhere in the world at any time. And it could happen in Australia any time and I have always thought that since I have been back it could happen any time.
What is your view on the way war and those kind of situations you were in of the way they are depicted in moves and on television?
With the age of digital stuff now it is getting pretty realistic,
the pictures are pretty realistic now.
Are you able to watch those things?
Am I able to watch them? Yes but I get angry and my wife doesn’t like me to watch them or let me watch them any more, because I start to get a bit shirty.
What are your hopes for the future?
Hopefully to get better. Have a child that grows up that is not going to be affected by this PTSD, that’s all I hope. Like I say to the psychs [psychiatrists], I just hope in ten years time I am not sitting in the same room with my daughter beside me nutted out because of PTSD. That’s all I want. No me, that’s all over for me.
You can’t get better?
I want to get better, I went for me good job to this, to nothing. I lost a house, a boat, good money. Because I was thinking a mental illness that could have been sorted out years ago and it is only getting sorted out now. Hopefully it will get better and I can go back to work one day.
And what would you like to do?
I don’t know now, something cruisey, no stress, where there is no real drama, no real stress real drama, just a cruisey number.
You were talking about your daughter before, what sort of child is she?
What sort of child is she, she is four. She is a good kid.
I am big on manners, please, thank you, using knives and forks properly and I am big on being nice. And it has paid off, we get compliments wherever she goes, she is nice, she says please and thank you. On numerous occasions we have been told that children don’t say please or thank you any more, people have never met a child as polite as her. We instil in her to be
nice to people, manners and to respect her elders. And to have good work ethics, I get her making her bed and stuff now.
No, not push ups.
Are you planning on having any more children?
Not at the moment, maybe next year or the year after but not at the moment.
I meant to ask you earlier what sort of medication have they given you to help?
Over the period I have been on it?
Since I have had PTSD I have had anti-depressants, sleeping tablets and epileptic medicine to control the mood swings.
And what sort of side effects do those drugs have?
The first lot of anti-depressants I was on I would sleep for four hours, awake for two, sleep for four hours, awake for two. And every time I was awake I would eat, and I ballooned out from eighty kilos to a hundred and thirty.
And in the end I said, “I have had a gutful of this.” I couldn’t walk to the letterbox, I couldn’t play in the backyard with my daughter, I was absolutely buggered so I just said, “Fuck this.” told the psych I was going to punch him in the face if he didn’t wake up to himself. He took me off the drugs, I took myself off the drugs went through the side effects of coming off the drugs, cutting them. And I trimmed down to ninety kgs [kilograms] and then
that’s one of the side effects. I have had heaps, you have got no idea. It has been a bit of an ongoing battle.
Can you specify some of the other side effects?
You get downstairs doesn’t work, you get that. What else? Sleeping tablets you take them and you wake up and you can’t eat because the food tastes like crap.
Everything tastes horrible. Can’t drive a vehicle, I had to get my wife to drive me everywhere; I couldn’t drive a car because I was stoned out of my mind. Short-term memory loss. You can’t remember, I asked my wife in the morning, “What’s for dinner?” Ten minutes after that, “What’s for dinner?” Again, ten minutes later after that, “What’s for dinner?” And in the end she will basically want to slap me in the face but that’s
what it is like, hot flushes cold flushes, sweating. You’re a guinea pig, they don’t know what drugs are good for you they just keep trying ones on you. It is unbelievable.
Have you had any success?
I am on a drug called Lovan.
I seem to be having some sort of success with that. But once again I got to the gym for an hour and a half a day, weights and running and that helps me a lot. And I am on Epilim to try and control the mood swings, but I try to control them myself without going nutty. I have done lifetime enhancement courses,
PTSD courses, whatever course there is available to do I have done it, and I try and use whatever tools they have given me to put in place to try and not have so much friction in the household.
So you’re trying hard?
I am working pretty bloody hard but it doesn’t seem to be paying off for me. It does in some ways but in other ways it is not.
Do you have a final comment that you would like to make, put on the record?
Any comment at all about your own experience or just to all Australians, any advice you have for anyone or…?
No I haven’t, sorry, I have got nothing.
Any advice to young blokes who are over in Iraq now?
Its just, be wary of the signals, be wary of the way you are when you come home, be wary of that because it is your whole life aye? That’s it I think.