Archive number: 2030
Date interviewed: 11 May, 2004
2/4th Battalion RAR
You are listening to the interview audio
We will get you to introduce yourself with your name and date of birth and then give us the book sleeve of your life.
My name is Martin Carr, I was born 15th of the 9th, 1952, I was born in Brisbane, I grew up in Brisbane
with the early part of my life at Wooloowin, I went to Wooloowin State School and then we moved to the beach. When I was about six or seven or something, moved down to Shorncliffe, went to Shorncliffe State School, then I went to Sandgate State High School and went through to Grade 10, left school at Grade 10 went and did an apprenticeship as a fitter and turner, and I did that up until
I joined the military in 1971. Joined the military in 1971, went to Kapooka, where most of us went, even though I think there was other places for national servicemen. Spent my recruit training there came home for a little bit and then went to Melbourne to do my basic medical training, I went into the medical corps. Did that and then I came back
to Brisbane and did my nursing training at the First Military Hospital in Yeronga. I went over to Enoggera, which was a holding unit for Vietnam. I stayed there basically for a couple of years, the Vietnam War ended, which was all pretty good.
At Enoggera, stayed at Enoggera for a couple of years and then got posted up to Townsville to the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, which is an armed
unit, spent four years there and whilst I was there I was detached to the 2/4th battalion and did a tour in Malaya during that period. From Townsville I then moved down to Canungra and spent a couple of years at Canungra at the training base down there and basically I ran the medical centre at Canungra. I went from Canungra to Watsonia in
Victoria involved in the medical centre there and from there I went to the School of Army Health as an instructor, spent about four years there, I was an instructor and a training development officer. From there I went to the 3rd Battalion where I foolishly jumped out of aeroplanes, and that was pretty interesting, but I was a bit old for that but it was good at the time.
From there I went to a preventative medicine company. In between time, I had sort of changed trades, if you will, to become a health surveyor or health inspector, and I went to a preventative medicine company in Randwick in Sydney and from there I went overseas to Namibia, spent nine months there and then came home to Brisbane. A part of the deal of going there was that I was
to be posted home to Brisbane, that I would be posted home, because at that stage I had done about 18 years and I was probably looking at getting out. The deal was I would come home and have a posting here at the 4th Preventative Medicine Company and then see out my time. Other things happened. I went to the Gulf War in 1991, came back, and then spent another couple of years basically stayed in to finish off my masters
degree and another university degree from South Australia and transitioned from the military back into civilian life basically under my terms, as opposed as to what they wanted me to do. When I left the military, I basically joined the state government, first of all with the Queensland Health. I spent a year there and then I went to the Transport Department,
now Main Roads, and I have been there ever since. And I currently manage the Occupational Health and Safety Unit for the Main Roads Department of Queensland. That keeps me pretty busy and I enjoy it very much. That is a synopsis of where we are now.
Let us go right back and tell us what your earliest memories are?
I was born in Brisbane, my early life was in
Wooloowin, an inner suburb of Brisbane. My father and grandfather both owned hotels in Brisbane. I think one was in the Valley [Fortitude Valley] and one was somewhere else, so I didn’t see a lot of those because they were always working in the pub and I went to Wooloowin State School. In those days we didn’t have TV [television] so we kept ourselves occupied by
trundling around from one friend to the next and tended to walk everywhere, did a lot of walking as a kid, and we went to the movies religiously every Saturday to see the flicks and the serials that used to be shown, and we would come home and play whatever was on the movies. During that period was when television first came out and we lived in
Wooloowin and nobody could afford TV, but the local TV store down the corner used to put a TV in the window and Mum and Dad and all the other neighbours would trundle down there with their deck chairs and sit out the front and watch TV, because they had it in the window with a little speaker underneath and we would watch a bit of TV and just generally do what kids do. Play. That was pretty much the way it was
until we moved up to Shorncliffe, which was in the middle of primary school, and that was a completely different environment, going from inner-city life, if you will, to living at the beach. I can always remember it was a bit difficult as a transition because you have to make new friends the environment was completely different, it did take a little bit to get used to, but once I got used to it, it was pretty good.
Just before we get onto Shorncliffe, what do you recall what Wooloowin was like?
Well, we still had trams then. I can remember the trams going past because the trams used to go from the Royal Brisbane Hospital out to Chermside and we were on a tram line, so periodically we caught trams. That was always pretty interesting I can remember my kids when they were small they all
wanted to go on a train ride and I always wanted to go on a tram ride. Trams were pretty interesting that was my most vivid memory of Brisbane was all these trams trundling around. As a kid we just walked everywhere and we made up our own fun.
Who were your playmates?
Just kids from school I can’t remember their names, I remember one was the doctor’s son, up the road, I can remember billy carting down the hill with him one day
and we had a awful smash and I damaged the leg quite badly. Lucky he was a doctor so we got free service that day so that was pretty good. As a kid I always seemed to be going home with bumps, bruises, cuts. I can remember, and I was really small, I must have been six or seven, we did weird things, all the kids were down one day playing in the park, and for some reason the memory is hard, but for some reason we had a
half a brick we tied it up in a bag and we were pulling it up and down a tree. I was looking at it and that day I went home with half a brick through my head sort of thing, more cuts and bruises. As a kid I just remember just always falling over and coming home with cuts and bruises. We lived in a really big house in Wooloowin, an old Queenslander, big verandahs. I can remember I didn’t have a room,
I lived on the verandah, so it was just sort of like a closed in section of the verandah, so it was really totally different to what we know today. Listen to the radio a lot, my grandparents did, and my father and mother listened to the radio I suppose, because that is all they had to do. Whenever you went into the house the radio was always going, and they liked the horse races so you didn’t get to hear much music. As a consequence, when I was a younger person,
before we moved down to Shorncliffe, I had friends who were older and they were always listening to rock and roll music then and Johnny O’Keefe, but it didn’t really mean anything to me, I used to hear it but it didn’t really mean anything to me, which is a bit different today, all the kids have their walkmans and they listen to music non stop.
Did you have any brothers and sisters?
I was an only child, and as a consequence, that is probably why I was never home.
I didn’t have any siblings at home to play with, so if you wanted to play you had to go and find somebody. It wasn’t hard because it was the baby boomer period so everybody had kids. You didn’t have to go far a couple of houses here and there. In those days I didn’t have really one friend, I had lots of friends and I just used to go from one to the other. You just sort of moved around from one friend to the next,
did what you wanted to do, so if I got a bit bored with one, I would just move on.
Where would you go to the movies?
There was a little cinema right up the top end of Wooloowin and it had the old canvas seats and all that sort of stuff, which again a really good memory of going to the movies, half a dozen kids would virtually lay around in these canvas seats.
You couldn’t afford to roll Fantails down the aisles or whatever those things are down the aisle like everybody tends to do. That was pretty much it, and it was cheap to go I think it was 10 cents.
Any favourite movie stars?
No, mainly into cowboys and Indians and whatever was going, didn’t really understand the term ‘stars’, just went to the movies.
Probably because all the other kids went there, didn’t really go to see a movie, it was sort of an event, you went there because everybody else went there, and you didn’t even sort of, to this day I don’t even remember what movies I saw, too busy having fun.
Were there family events that would happen, places you would go with Mum and Dad?
Yes, a couple of times as a small kid I can remember going I can always remember going to the cricket with Dad,
it was obviously a social cricket thing, and we went in the back of the ute, and I can remember this because when we came home it was pouring rain and we were still sitting in the back of the ute so we got really wet coming home, a couple of things like that. I can remember going to Victoria Point or somewhere like that for a weekend away. When we got a bit older eight, 10, 12 or something like that, a big weekend was coming to Bribie, you would jump in the old
FJ [Holden car] that Dad had and we would come to Bribie and that would take two hours to get here. I can always remember stopping at the old Berthenberry Park, which is still there, not the same as it was then, and we would always run around the Berthenberry Park for half an hour because it was such a big trip you had to have a stop. Crazy.
What do you remember about Dad’s old FJ?
It was just a car it sort of got us from A to B.
We weren’t rich at all, I think we were inevitably poor, I don’t even know where he got the money to buy an FJ. It was an FJ or FX round sort of thing, and it was red, that is about all I can remember about it. I don’t think too many people owned cars in those days. I can remember not a lot of my friends had cars, you didn’t need them either. You didn’t need a car because most people
lived and worked in the city, so if you wanted to go to work you would jump on the tram. It was pretty basic sort of stuff when you lived that close to the city, I suppose that is why people are going back to the city. The public transport then was beaut, you could get on a tram and go anywhere. A car was something you didn’t need, and why Dad got one, I really don’t know, because we didn’t go sort of like that often, as I said, it was a big event to go to Bribie.
You said your Dad worked a lot so you didn’t get to spend a whole lot of time with him. What sort of man was he?
It is a good question, what sort of man was he. He was about six foot and about 70 kilos so he wasn’t a very big man, but he was very good at swimming because he grew up in Brisbane City
he had never been out of Brisbane apart from when he was in World War II, he had never been out of Brisbane, he had lived his whole life in Brisbane, and my grandfather lived his whole life in Brisbane. He used to take me to some of the places that he grew up with like he went to St James’ School in the Valley, so he took me there a couple of times to see what the school was like. He took me to the Spring Hill Baths, because that is where he learnt to swim, and we went swimming there a couple of times and that was
pretty interesting to go and they are still there today, and I still go down and have a swim occasionally at lunch time. They bring back good memories of him teaching me to swim at the Spring Hill Baths. Why we went there I don’t know because you had the Olympic swimming pool up at the top of the hill. I suppose he wanted to share those memories as well. He was a pretty good sort of a person.
Can you describe his personality?
Happy-go-lucky. He certainly didn’t have any drive or ambition, he was just happy to go to work and do his work and come home and go to the pub on Saturdays as everybody did. Go to the races as everybody did. Sort of – I didn’t want for anything as a child, even though we didn’t have a lot of money, I can remember I didn’t really want for anything being an only child.
That was sort of strange, too, sometimes, because you would go to school, they used to send little envelopes home and you were supposed to put 5 pence in the envelope and I would always go with 2 shillings, and always feel embarrassed because I always seemed to give more money than anybody else, and that was sort of a bit disturbing in those days because nobody in those days had a lot of money to spend and to throw a couple of bob [shillings] in an envelope and take
it to school. I would always sort of want to hand it in because all the kids would say, “How much did you give? How much did you give?” And I said, “3 pence,” or whatever and not tell them that you gave them 2 shillings or whatever it was.
Where was that money going?
Just to the school, they would have bribes to do things, I suppose. Wooloowin State School when I went there, and I still go past there everyday, always have a bit of a look.
It had its own swimming pool as well. I think it has still got it, it was one of the only schools that I had been to that had its own swimming pool. It had one from way back when and we did swimming there and that is why Dad taught me to swim, because we had swimming carnivals. Very embarrassing if you go to swimming carnivals and you can’t swim. It is a bit strange.
Were there very strict rules for you growing up?
No, not really.
In actual fact, I am a hell of a lot stricter on my kids than my parents ever were on me Primarily because both of my parents always worked. As an only child you had to make your own fun, you had to go and find friends, so when you went home from school, because no preschool and after school care, when you went home you would just wonder off to your mate’s place. I can always remember getting a bit of a flogging once because I got home about 8 or 9 o’clock at night
I had come out of, I was only in grade three or four, I come out of school and everybody is lined up to get on this bus and I said, “What is happening?” “Oh, they are all going up to Channel 9 to go to the Jim Eyelett show,” which was the afternoon show. “Good enough for me.” Jump on the bus and go up to Channel 9, get the lollies, get the ice creams, get the drinks, again because all my friends went,
saw the TV show being made and came home and they dropped us back at the school because I only lived up the road and around the corner. I wander home at 9 o’clock at night, thinking nothing of it and of course Mum is frantic, “Where have you been? What has happened?” Dad’s always saying, “You know what he is like, he will be all right,” and Mum gives me a flogging and I got a lecture as usual. The next day do the same thing, just wander off.
I was always wandering, and if I needed to do something, I would just go and do it. I had a lot of flexibility, but a lot of it was self brought on – I would just go and do things.
What did Mum do for work?
She used to work at the Northgate Cannery back in those days doing whatever people did at the cannery. Sticking pineapples in tins or whatever. She did that for
20 years and my Dad was a storeman and packer, even though his father had a pub, but he was a storeman and a packer, he was mainly on the wharves so he was a wharfie, so he was a wharfie and Mum used to work at the cannery.
Did you ever go to work with Mum or Dad?
No, which is probably a good thing.
How would you describe your Mum?
She is still around and 82 or something, hard as nails, she will probably live forever, just a person who worked the better part of her life, a very strong personality. All people back in those days, both my Mum and Dad smoked, Mum smoked for the better part of 30 years and then just decided one day that she wouldn’t. So she didn’t
No Nicobate patches [nicotine], no nothing, “I am not going to smoke anymore.” And didn’t. Very strong person, very strong personality, very strong mentally and physically, and it has done her pretty good, and she is 82 and still reasonably well. She came from a family of eight or 10 or something. Most of them are still around.
Whereas my father was the same as me, an only child, and he died when he was 54 from a heart attack, so I have that sort of history, so as a result of that I have tended to sort of look after my health a bit better than he did.
How were special occasions celebrated in the house like birthdays and Christmas?
Birthdays I usually got a cake or something like that.
I can remember Christmas were the standard sort of thing, nothing was talked about coming up to Christmas, it was always very down in the dumps just before Christmas because they had forgotten, can’t find any presents, and then all of a sudden Christmas morning you would come out and a swag of presents there and you would think, “Oh, they didn’t forget.” That was pretty good.
Somehow they would always manage to buy you what you wanted, I don’t know how they ever worked that out, not until I was a teenager I learnt to start dropping hints, but as a small child I seemed to get what I got.
Did you have a favourite toy or game as a kid?
Yes, probably I had a gun, a cowboy gun and holster, and that
was the sort of toy – we didn’t have a lot of toys back in those days, we improvised. If you wanted to go out and play cowboys and Indians, you would go out and grab a stick and it was as simple as that, so it wasn’t a case of, “Hang on, we are going to have a game of cowboys and Indians, let’s all go home and get our gear.” You just improvised and went and got what you had to get. That was pretty much the way we did things.
You tended to play a lot of games that didn’t require tools, you would play hide and seek, or those type of games, or bat and ball out the back, but you never used a real bat, you just had a stick and a tennis ball or whatever you could find. It wasn’t stuff, like, I can always remember I had a little plastic boat and I used to like to go out when it rained
and watch it go down the gutter, real simple stuff.
Were you into sport?
No, only basically playing school sport until I was a teenager, and I got into sport a bit more but as a small kid I wasn’t really in sport apart from what you did at school. Again, there wasn’t a lot of organised sporting things going on back then, either, there weren’t little athletics. There
probably was but we didn’t know about them, there was not a real lot of formalised football and that sort of thing.
Speaking of school, do you remember starting school at Wooloowin?
Yes, I can remember this is about the only memory I have of school, of going to grade one and sort of being plonked in a room and my Mum leaving and me crying a lot, but it was pretty good, too, because we only lived around the corner,
and I think it must have been the day I started school because I didn’t last very long. I think it must have been around morning tea I decided, that was enough for me I went home. Mum had to drag me back. That happened a few times I believe. I wanted to go home. I decided it wasn’t much fun, I would go home, and she would drag me back.
What were the teachers like at school?
I don’t have any real vivid memories of teachers,
pretty strict. I remember they used to throw dusters at you if you didn’t do as you were told. It was nothing to get a clip over the ear, get the cane. You could easily get bashed at school by a teacher if you didn’t do as you were told. They had a bit of an air of authority about them.
Did you have a school uniform at Wooloowin?
No, primary school just
wore what you wore.
What was a typical school outfit for you?
A pair of shorts and a shirt and no shoes. I don’t think I ever wore shoes at primary school. Some kids did, but most of us didn’t wear shoes.
What was the style of the shorts and t-shirts back then?
I don’t think we had t-shirts, it was just a button up shirt, and a pair of shorts
Did you have good clothes as well?
They were the good clothes that is what you wore, so what you wore at school you wore at home and on the weekend. I don’t think that there was a great deal of difference.
Did the family go to church?
No, not that I can recall, we weren’t churchgoers.
What sort of things were you learning in primary school?
The basic reading, writing and adding and subtracting. I was sort a bit like my youngest son, where school was somewhere where you went to go and meet friends and the rest of it was an inconvenience, so I only tended to do as much as I needed to do. As a consequence, always sat down the back, hid as much as you could,
always in trouble for not doing homework and stuff like that, because I never did it. Primary school was a bit, it was back in the days, I can always remember back in those days you went through primary school and then when I was at primary school they had this thing called scholarship and that was it you basically did, this scholarship thing, and then
went and got a job basically. It was only when I was still at primary school that they changed it and you went on to junior and senior. We didn’t have much of a choice then. We went to grade seven at primary school and went to grade eight, nine and eleven and then you went and got a job. Only the really, really rich and smart kids got to go to grade twelve.
Do you know what prompted the family move from Wooloowin out to Shorncliffe?
Yes, I think it was a lifestyle change,
and I think it was more done by my Mum than my Dad. My Dad was always a real heavy drinker and I think it was my Mum’s idea to change the lifestyle to sort of get my Dad into an area that would be better for him. It was probably worse because there was two pubs in Shorncliffe.
As a child, was that disruptive?
No, because it was the norm. It was pretty much the norm. If you went with your family to a friend’s place, the first thing they would do get a couple of tall bottles out and throw them on the table, so they would always have them. No matter where you went, to visit friends my Dad’s friends, they were always like that, so wherever you went there was always tallies around.
We used to stack them up in the back and then the bottle man would come around once every six months, and I used to get my pocket money selling the bottles, it was good.
Moving out to a new school, what was that like?
It was pretty daunting, I made a couple of fundamental errors when I went to Shorncliffe State School. The first thing you do, they drag you in and basically throw you in a classroom and teacher says to you,
“Where are you up to?” so you big note yourself. And then find out that, “Hang on, I have big-noted myself and said, ‘We are doing this and that,’ and, ‘I am up to that,’ when I really don’t do any of this stuff,” so as a consequence my teacher thought I was a lot further along than I really was. You just fall into a big hole after that and try to dig yourself out. I went there in grade five so it was
pretty daunting and you had to learn and new friends.
What was that like – trying to settle in with a whole lot of new faces?
For me it was fairly difficult. I’ve always been a person who doesn’t make friends easily, so the ones I’ve made are fairly long-term friends. It was difficult, and there wasn’t the volume of kids in Shorncliffe where there was where we lived back in
Wooloowin, so there wasn’t that many kids, and they were a lot further apart so it meant a lot more walking, but then again, you just, went down the beach on Saturday and Sunday, and that is where you met all your friends. Once I did meet some friends, they have been sort of life-long friends anyway. Good bunch.
How was the lifestyle different in Shorncliffe?
It was sort of, like,
over the top of the hill was the beach. We had Cabbage Tree Creek so I learnt to fish at a very early age, I used to go, it was nothing to go home from school and grab a fishing rod and go down the creek and go catch some fish. I can remember doing that when I was really young and I did a lot of fishing as a kid. We had friends that fished so it was
just easy. I can remember taking both my kids out and try and teach them how to fish, it was always difficult, I thought, “Gee, I can’t remember when I didn’t throw a worm on a hook and go fishing and I didn’t catch fish and chop their heads off and gut them and clean them all and bring them home.” My kids, they wouldn’t put prawns on and they wouldn’t cut the heads off. It was difficult,
it is a transition, but it was really good in the sense that you could do those sort of things, you could go fishing you could go to the beach. The beach was good, too, because Shorncliffe Beach back in the 60s, it was sort of like it had a shark cage thing and it went out from the beach so it was a very safe beach to go and swim at and it had a big pier
and it had a penny arcade on the pier. I can always remember going to the penny arcade. Every weekend or every other weekend there was always picnics at the beach, but they were company picnics, and so we used to go down the beach and wonder around and become part of that company’s picnic so you would get free ice creams and you would go into the foot races. I was always really fast as a kid, I always
did very well in the foot races and so it was nothing to come home with a microscope. I can always winning a microscope set, winning 2 shillings. “Who is your parents?” “That guy over there.” The parents at all these company picnics, whether it was the storemen’s and packers’ picnic, they would all go to the Shorncliffe beach because it was very safe and the husbands would be all over at the bar tent and the wives would be all over doing this and
Peter’s Ice Creams would be there, and they had the big bag like a 44 gallon drum, but it was a big padded bag with dry ice in it, and they had the little cups of ice cream. When the day was over they would throw the dry ice on the ground and we would sort of go and pick it up and not get burnt and take it down and put it in the water and let it sit there and watch all the bubbles come off the dry ice. That happened probably once a month, myself and
another friend who will remain nameless who is now a detective inspector of the Queensland Police, and we used to run in the races and we used to become a part of whatever picnic was going.
Did Mum or Dad change jobs when you moved down to Shorncliffe?
No, and I think that was one of the reasons, because Mum could get the train from Shorncliffe station and go straight to the cannery, which had its own railway station so it was
quick, and Dad used to just catch the train and go into town. It was very convenient being at Shorncliffe because it was at the end of the line. We had the old choo-choo trains then, which were really interesting.
The steam engines just going, and when I went to high school, if I didn’t ride my bike, I used to
go on the train three stations and to go to high school. Steam engines, I grew up with steam engines. As a matter of a fact, we lived right behind the railway line, the steam engines were always there, and now if you want to see steam engines you have got to go out to the museum.
Do you recall what sort of price the train fares would be?
No, not really, I can remember when I first started going to work, I think a weekly ticket
was 2/-d or so, which is a bit different today, $50-odd if you want to go today.
Most of the kids at your primary school out at Shorncliffe, would they have gone to the same high school as you?
Yes, there was only one high school, it was Sandgate State High School, so it was a district high school. I think when I was in grade nine I think they opened up the Brighton High School or whatever it was, but
everybody from Shorncliffe right through to the highway went to Sandgate High School. It was a very big high school – still is, I think.
Did you like high school?
No, I didn’t. Again, it was somewhere where you had to go, I wasn’t a schooly person, much to my distress later in life when I had to go back and do a lot of these things. I just went to school and
didn’t really know what I wanted to do, had no idea. To me, I just went to school, and when school was finished I would probably go and do something else, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I had no idea, and it was I left high school in grade 10 and I didn’t get a job until about February, March I got a job when Mum told me basically to, “Get out and get
In those couple of years at high school, how did your social interests change. Did you start going to dances?
No, still went to the beach every weekend. Nothing really changed – took on more of an interest in football, I suppose. I used to play football in the park,
what we didn’t play when we were a bit younger, and that was about it, I didn’t really have a great deal of interest outside of going to the beach or going to a friend’s place.
Did you get into any mischief at high school?
No, not really. Just more or less went to school,
did what you had to do, and went home again, because the Sandgate High School, by today’s standards, is probably five or six kilometres away, so if you rode your bike it was a half an hour ride, so you rode to school and rode home or if the bike wasn’t working you would catch a train and walk probably a kilometre or two, so you were really a long way away from school, and being at Shorncliffe, it is at the end of
the line so there is nowhere else to go. Probably got a little bit more adventurous by the time I got to grade 10, my mate and I, we used to go to Redcliffe but we would ride to Redcliffe. We would jump on our push bikes and ride from Shorncliffe over to Redcliffe and ride around the peninsular, over there they had sort of a beach fair thing. I can always remember going
to the sideshow exhibition, they had one of those at the beach at Scarborough so we used to go over there occasionally – and since then I have actually done that ride a few times with my family and others, it is a long way, you don’t realise how far it is. We used to just jump on our bikes and off we would go. If we didn’t want to go swimming down at Shorncliffe, we used to go to the old Sandgate baths
where now it is like an adventure water park, it was just an old 25-metre swimming pool stuck out from the foreshore and it was a salt water pool, so it just sucked salt water in from the sea. We used to go there a lot on weekends and have a swim. Right across the road was the Sandgate picture theatre so we went there a fair bit as well. If we needed to go to the movies we would go to the Sandgate pictures, we would bike ride down there and you could leave your bike out the front nobody would pinch it
that was good.
Interviewee: Martin Carr Archive ID 2030 Tape 02
At that time when you were coming through high school, was there ever any consideration for you going past grade 10?
Absolutely not. All I wanted to do was get out of high school as soon as possible. If I could have got out at grade 9, I would have. Back in those days, even to do most trades you didn’t need grade 10.
If you wanted to be an electrician you needed grade 10, but most trades you didn’t need it, but my parents said, "No, you will be there until grade 10,” so I said, “Righto.”
You said you didn’t really know what you wanted to do. Did many of your friends have any idea what they wanted to go on and do?
In general terms, I don’t think so. A couple did. I had one friend whose father was a lawyer so he was going to be a lawyer and one was a doctor so he was going to be a doctor, that was the way it worked. If you father was a doctor, you
would become a doctor, whether you had good marks or not, I think. I don’t really know how it worked, but one is a doctor and the other one is a lawyer, it obviously works and it did back then.
You left high school and then you said you had a couple of months off before your Mum – ?
Yes, I just didn’t do anything went to the beach and
basically my Mum said, “When are you going to get a job?” and I said, “Oh, do I have to get a job?” “Yes.” “I will start looking,” so I started looking and basically found an apprenticeship and just went and did it.
What was the recruitment process for the apprenticeship?
Look in the paper, find an ad, and go and have an interview. Basically, when I went to the interview,
the interview was, “Here is a ruler, show me the four inch mark, show me the five inch mark, take a measurement over there,” and this and that. If they could think that you could use a rule, basically add up, you got a job.
Where was that first job that you got?
In the Valley, in town working at a place something Hudson, but I don’t know, but they did remote control
windows, and back in those days a remote control window was something that you wound and the louvers opened up and closed and it was all mechanical and it was all hand made. We had lathes and everything out the back and we sort of did our own tooling and all that sort of stuff. It was a job. Again, it was something I did Monday to Friday to give me enough money to go surfing on the weekend.
There was that sort of transition from the little beach to the big beach, I went from Shorncliffe Beach to basically the surfing beach.
Where is the surfing beach?
North coast, south coast, however you could get there. Used to bum rides with friends or just – however you could get there.
What surf board did you have?
The first one I got was sort of like a plank,
just bought it at the second-hand shop and just learned to surf, it was pretty easy in those days because you had something that was about 12 foot long, nobody had short boards for a couple of years until a couple of years after that. If you got a really rough day, you used to get a bit of surf at Shorncliffe enough that if you had a 12-foot board, you could sort of go in on. Pretty much we all had the same
half a dozen mates that I started to hang around with and we all had exactly the same outlook. It was then and I only joined what is called YCW, Young Christian Workers, and it was a sort of a social club annexed to the catholic Church and I only went there because my mates went there and it was a good place to pick up chicks.
Go to pick up chicks at the YCW, don’t go to the pub. It was great, and that group, we used to go to YCW sort of on a Monday night, we then, as part of that, we started our football team, so we played football and played cricket and we used to all go surfing and that was pretty much the
group that I hung around with until I was 17, 18 or 19.
Was there a big surfing culture?
Yes, it was the old rockers, mods and surfies. You were either a rocker, a mod or a surfie. The rockers all had pointy-toed shoes, the surfies basically had long hair, the mods, I can’t really remember what they were like but they were in between.
Definitely a cultural divide there, if you like, and we were surfies, and we were actually surfies because we went and actually did surf. It was great, because when I was 17 I got my license and my first car, and because you had to have a panel van, of which we all did of some description, either a kombi or a panel van or something like that,
and you would go away for the weekend. If you went to somewhere like Byron Bay, which was always a good place to go, and to go to Byron Bay was like a really big trip. Now we can go from here to Byron Bay in two hours – then it took five hours because it was just dirt roads. It was fun, it was an adventure. Everything was cheap. Petrol was like 10 cents a gallon or something.
I can always remember going to the Point, Danger Café, which is a café that sits on the point at Point Danger, which sits on the point at Tweed Heads there, and on a Sunday morning we used to go there and for 50 cents we used to get bacon and eggs tae and coffee, toast, marmalade jam, and it was enough to keep you going all day. On the way down we sometimes used to go to Surfers Paradise and have chip buddies, which is go and buy a bag of chips
and a couple of bread rolls, and we used to be able to go to the coast for $1 or $2 for a weekend. You only earned not $20 a week or something, but it didn’t cost you much to go for a weekend and you would go for the weekend, eat very little, couldn’t afford to go to the pub much, so you didn’t go to the pub, and basically you would surf crack of dawn, all day
you would be too tired to do anything at night, and then you would go and try and find somewhere to sleep, so it was down the beach somewhere and hope the ranger didn’t come along to try and get a feed out of you. That might impinge on your 50 cents for Sunday morning breakfast. That was pretty much it – or we would go to Noosa, but most of us went for the south coast, we would go to Noosa on occasions but
it was always down the south coast, and pretty much did that right up until I joined the military.
Was there music that was specific to the surfie culture?
Creedence [Creedence Clearwater Revival], that sort of stuff. Again, I wasn’t a real music buff but I had mates that were. I was quite happy to go to their place and listen to their records, I didn’t have records, we didn’t have tapes back then, we only had 78s.
I didn’t have a record player so I didn’t have records, so if I wanted to listen to records I had to go to my mate’s place, which was cool by me.
Do you recall getting your license?
Yes. It was a shock, it was the old standard – my Dad knew a copper over at Petrie. Dad had taught me to drive in the old FJ, and not on his FJ, but another FJ,
and basically said, and then I went and did a couple of driving school things and Dad said, “Are you right to go for your licence?” and I said, “Oh yeah, what do we do?” He said, “We will go over to Petrie, I know this guy over there,” so basically we went over to Petrie, the copper came out and we jumped in the car we drove up the street and we came back and I didn’t manage to hit anything so I got
my license and that was it. It wasn’t really tough at all, it was pretty good.
Where did you have your first drink?
I don’t know, could have been down the coast I think. We didn’t really drink a lot I suppose. We used to go to the occasional, because back then
you had to be 21 to drink, so if you were 17 and you looked 14, you had no hope of getting into a pub, but if you went to New South Wales you could get in there because it was 18 year olds all went to Tweed Heads because the pubs in Tweed Heads were 18 and you would just try and get in the door and you would walk through and sometimes they would kick you out and other times they wouldn’t. It was pretty hard to drink in Queensland because you couldn’t drink until you were technically
At that stage, when you are out of school and in your first job, was Vietnam in full swing at that stage?
Yep, didn’t know about it, didn’t really watch a lot of TV, even though we had a TV, but it was something that I knew about and I understood because my cousin went – didn’t really know much about it to be honest
until I turned about 18, and suddenly people started saying, “What are you going to do next year when your number comes up?” “Hang on, what is all this number business?” And that is when you learn about conscription and you go, “Okay. So what is going to happen?” And it was just, basically it was a lottery and if your number came up that was it you got to go. I had a couple of friends whose numbers came up and I
decided, “Well, why wait for the number?” I had a couple of mates who joined up about six months before me, they were saying how great it was and they were enjoying themselves and I wasn’t that happy doing what I was doing in my trade so I went and decided to join up and I wanted to be a motor mechanic. I went to the recruiting office off my own bat and I didn’t tell my parents, just went to the recruiting office, and
said, “I want to be a motor mechanic.” They said, “What do you do?” I said I was a fitter and turner. “Oh, we have jobs for fitters and turners, we need fitters and turners,” but I said, “I want to be a motor mechanic.” “No, you have got to be a fitter,” so I said, “Okay, I don’t want to join.” I came back in two weeks time and they said, “What do you do?” And I said, “I am unemployed.” “What do you want to do?” “Oh, anything,” so they just joined you up and that was it. Then I went home and told my parents.
Your Dad had served, hadn’t he?
Yes. He served in World War II.
What had he done?
I am not sure really. I know he did a lot of service in North Queensland, I think he went to New Guinea but he never spoke about it. A bit like my wife’s father, he served in New Guinea and his brother was killed in New Guinea and he just never talked about it, my father never talked about it.
It is not something you pressured them on.
Did you have any other relatives that had served?
Yes, my uncle served in Korea the 3RAR [Royal Australian Regiment] and later became the unit I went to, and he never talked about it much either. As a matter of fact, my wife’s father, when he came home he gave his medals to the first kid he saw, he didn’t want anything to do with it. I didn’t,
married to my wife probably 10 years, and I said to him one day, I said, “Have you still got your medals, because I really think when Darren grows up it would be really good if you had those mementos,” and he said, “No, gave them away,” and he didn’t want to talk about it and that is when he told me about it. It was about three or four years later,
he came out to me one day and he handed me a box and he said, “That is for Darren,” I said, “I thought you gave them away?” And he said, “Yes, but they gave me another set,” so he just wrote away to the wherever you go and they just sent him a brand new set just in a box and so I gave those to Darren. His father served in World War I so we have got his as well and my uncle’s medals so we have a whole stack of them in there somewhere.
When you joined up, had you learnt anything about Vietnam in high school?
No. Basically the recollections I have are very minimal because we didn’t hear much about it. It could have been on TV but I didn’t watch a lot of TV, I didn’t read the paper so. I didn’t really know much about it apart from knowing that my cousin went. He was five or six years older than me
I think he went in about the mid ‘60s and he went and came back, so it couldn’t have been too bad, he went and he came back. He didn’t talk about it much either. I think it was one of those things we all knew about but you didn’t sort of worry about it, it didn’t worry you until it happened, and either your number came out or it didn’t. I remember as
I came into my 19th year I did become more conscious of it and I became more conscious of a lot of the demonstrations going on and the anti-Vietnam movement was in full swing, but you sort of got it, “We you don’t need that when you are at the beach. Every weekend.
What was your understanding of what the war was about?
I had no understanding of what the war was about, I had no idea why we were there or
what anything was about. It was politics, and to be totally honest, politics was a bit like school, I didn’t want to know anything about it. I was probably in the army two or three years and I still didn’t understand why we were doing it.
Some men we have spoken to have said that before they got their conscription notice they didn’t have any idea of where Vietnam was. Did you know?
No idea, knew it was in Southeast Asia, somewhere.
wherever that was. Up until I joined the army I had never been outside Brisbane, Apart from going to the beach, going surfing. That was it, born and bred Brissy. Brisbanites, the Brisbane culture the north and south of the river. There was a culture when I was a kid that you
either born north of the river or south of the river, and if you were born north of the river then you rarely ever went to south Brisbane or went over that side of town and vice versa. You just didn’t know. People today don’t really understand it, this north and south of the river business, but we understood it as kids.
Before you joined up, had you just had that one job or had you had a series of jobs?
I sort of left school and I started doing wool classing but I didn’t do it very long that’s why I didn’t sort of mention it but I did that for a few months and decided to move on to the other job.
Where were you doing the wool classing?
Down at the wool stores at Tanarif, which are now units, I periodically go down and have a look and think, “Yeah, I used to work in that building and now people live in it,”
What did that job actually entail?
Basically just what they did in those days wool would come in from wherever it came form out west and it would go upstairs to the top floor show room they would open it all up and the buyers would come in and look at it and class it and sometimes
if some batches had bad stuff in it you could remove it so we used to do a bit of that but basically it was bagging and tagging the wool, it wasn’t really exciting stuff so it was good to get out of that.
At the time you got old enough to realise that you could be called up can you recall what you thought when you first found that out?
It could be an adventure
you would probably have to look at it as an adventure you didn’t really know that there was a likelihood you might actually get killed that came later. At the same time it was a given. I didn’t know anybody that actually protested. I think the protesters were usually university-type people.
Our circle didn’t know any of that so I didn’t know anybody who protested to all, myself and my friends, it was a given you went, it was black and white, there was no areas of grey so what was to get flustered about, it your number came up you went and did what you had to do for two years, back then when I was first
when my time came it was two years. Then again you thought, “Well, what the heck, it is a job.” You didn’t sort of really understand that much about it.
The mates that you had who went in before you either through volunteering or being called up what sort of things were they saying to you about it?
That you basically got three squares a day and they paid really
good money, it was good money back in those days compared to what you were getting as a third or fourth year apprentice it was good money. They paid for your room and board and you got three square meals a day and the work was good. I had one friend who went into the medical corps and another one who went into the signals corps and that was about it and nice uniforms and nice shiny buckles and badges
it was all pretty cool. Didn’t like the haircut much, wasn’t real keen on that I had hair sort of decked down to here and wasn’t real keen on the hair cut but I thought I would probably get used to that, and back then of course everybody had long hair, it was a long hair culture – if you had short hair you stuck out like a sore thumb, not cool.
You went in and joined up,
Didn’t tell Mum and Dad till afterwards – what was his reaction?
Again, they saw it as a job, they saw it as possibly a career some direction in my life that I probably hadn’t had previously, they weren’t anti. My Mum was very apprehensive because Vietnam was still going on, the questions, will you go? What
is the likelihood – ?” And, “Yes, well, I don’t know if it happens it happens.” I didn’t feel overly uncomfortable to because at the same time, when I came back from my basic training we learnt a little bit about it and I understood the politics a bit more, I basically knew that there was a likelihood that there weren’t it was going to finish reasonably
Shortly within in a year or two and I basically I thought that and it didn’t concern me greatly.
When you said that you went in to join up and they asked you what you wanted to do and the first time they said, “Fitter and turner,” and you said, “Mechanic,” the second time, why did you not be more particular about what you wanted to do?
wanted to basically get in, I did want to have a trade, I either wanted to be a mechanic or an electrician or something, I had a mate who was an electrician and a mate who was a mechanic, I was always swayed by what other people were doing so I thought a trade would be good, but at the end of the day I also had a mate in signals corps and a mate who was in the medical corps. “What the heck – that sounds all right,” so
I was quite happy to go in and do that I didn’t want to be a grunt, I didn’t really know what a grunt was either, an infantry person, so it wasn’t until I was at Kapooka half way through my basic training when they then ask you what you want to do and the realisation became wow they need a lot of grunts because all the grunts go to Vietnam, 90 percent of everybody that went through basic training
Became a grunt the odds weren’t looking good and I suddenly realised hey I might not get what I want so my first choice was medical corps and my second choice was signals. As it turned out, I got myself and one other guy out of a platoon of 30 got what we wanted the rest went to grunts so that was pretty good.
Before you went to Kapooka what was the actual process here in
Brisbane so you went in and said I want to join up?
Yes, went in the recruiting centre. Basically you went in there and got one of the best sell jobs, these guys should have been used car salesmen they, and most of them were Vietnam veterans, so they had the ribbons and they looked the part, but it was just a straight used car sale, everything was positive, “It is great, it is fantastic.” Nothing about you're likely to overseas and get shot at and
killed, it was all, “Great,” it was hard sell because they needed people, so everything was a hard sell, they would bend the truth, I suggest, to get people to join. When you went in there, you would sign on the dotted line before you walked out, they wouldn’t let you walk out until you had signed up basically, but you still had to go home and get your parents to sign because you were too young.
I think there is a lot more truth in how they sell the Defence Force these days than the way they did back then.
Did you have to do any convincing to get Mum and Dad to sign?
No, it wasn’t that hard.
What happened then?
I went to my Dad. And got him to sign.
So Dad signed the papers and then?
It was pretty much a week later Dad took me back in there with a bag
and a hair cut.
You had a hair cut before you went in?
From here to there, worse mistake I ever made in my whole life. He took me in there and I got a handshake and then you went through the swearing in ceremony and then they took you over to south Brisbane and plonked you on a train and choofed you off down to Kapooka, so you went by train
Brisbane to Sydney sitting up all the way, very enjoyable train trip, I got to meet some friends on the train who subsequently were in my platoon so that was pretty good. Then you went to Sydney hung around there for a few hours and they stuck you on a bus and sent you basically straight to Kapooka. I arrived at Kapooka where everybody is running around in green stuff with super short hair cut,
number ones, and we sort of all turn up looking like surfie bums with long hair and they basically said, “The barber doesn’t come for three days,” so you will have to wait “Cool, that will be great.” Every time you walked into the mess hall, bang their knives and forks. I could not wait to get a hair cut. It was just
Peer pressure to the nth degree. It was really funny when you sit down and the barber from hell there is about four of them. “What would you like, Sir?” “A little bit off.” “Yes, no problem,” straight down the middle. “What would you like now?” “Could you even it up, please?” It was a classic, and that is what they did. Once you had that hair cut, and by then they had given you some uniforms and stuff,
you start to feel that you belong, and when you went into the mess they didn’t bang the knives any more that was really great. The next week when the new batch came in you would sit there and bang your knife.
Was anyone saying anything when they were banging the knives?
They would be yahooing and whistling and all that sort of stuff.
Did you have to have a medical in Brisbane before?
Yes, you had a medical, you know, just basically a physical
to make sure that you can jump and do all the funny things you have to do. I can’t remember what the medical was like. I can remember the needles, just an endless supply of needles at Kapooka, needles, needles, needles.
All on the one day?
You would get three or four in a go, I don’t know, I can always remember, because when I became a medic I was the one giving the needle. I thought
I seemed to have got a lot more than I give.
Did any blokes not handle the needles very well?
Some people didn’t handle the training well and some people didn’t handle needles, they would fall over and feint and that sort of stuff, which happened from time to time. Some people didn’t handle separation that well, sort of didn’t bother me because I had always been reasonably independent, to me
it was a big adventure. We were there for awhile, I think it was 14 weeks back then, so it was a long time, and normally halfway through you would get a four-day leave, but we never got a four-day leave, I can remember that, so we did 14 weeks straight. At the end of it, you came out pretty fit, I know that, but I thought I was fit before I got there, but I was really fit when I got out.
Apart from the harassment about having long hair, do you recall your first impressions of arriving and getting off the bus?
Yes, it is a bit like the movies. They get you off the bus and line you all up, and before you know where you are, they are yell, yell, yell, “Straighten up!” Square up and all this sort of business. There was a lot of yelling in that first week, or so the discipline
Was this convergence between a surfie bum and being very disciplined came very quickly and a lot of it was peer pressure, it was all based on peer pressure. If one person did something wrong, the whole group was penalized, so you learnt very quickly if you stuffed up, your mates were going to give you a flogging. It was all based on peer pressure. The whole
Aim was, everybody had to get through rather than the individuals getting through. Your instructors basically told you, “So and so is not pulling their weight,” and I was only watching the other day the Tom Cruise movie, A Few Good Men, it is very much like that. I think they called it Code Red but we just called it a flogging. You did, you would get the boys in the shower and you would give them a flogging and they would give you a flogging if you
were not pulling your weight. At the same time, you made good friendships, and I suppose you learnt a different culture, a different style of friendship that built on trust, reliance on other people, so that was an interesting concept to try and learn.
You got your uniform issue in the first couple of days?
Yes, and it was very
like going to the tailors. You would stand there with your arms outstretched and they would take your measurements. Like hell! You walk up and some guy looks at you and he says, “This will do you,” and you walk out and that is it, that is what you got. If you were really lucky you got stuff bigger, which meant you could always pull it in but if you were really unlucky it was small and you didn’t ask for any changes. I got bigger stuff – that was all right. The only thing they actually allowed you to do was to try your boots on.
That was it. The stuff they gave you when you first got there was all second hand and it wasn’t until sort of like halfway through that you got real uniforms, like brand-new uniforms, and I am not sure why they did that. Probably because the first few weeks was really hard yakka in terms of a lot of physical stuff, a lot of crawling around on the ground, and they probably didn’t want to give you new stuff then, I suppose, in case you did a runner, too. A few people did that.
A few people did runners?
Yes, but those days you were at Wagga Wagga, and it is not a big town. The MPs [military police] would pick you put in a day or two and bring you back and get in the guard house. Then they used to have this thing which was called ‘back squadding’, so if for any reason you could not achieve something you had to do at the end of the week and it was mainly because you were sick or in the case of guys going AWL [absent without leave], then they were back squads, so you would
go to a platoon that was a week or two weeks behind you, so it was a production line. Every week there would be a march out parade and that is how many people they were putting through. Every week there would be like four platoons that would march out – 120 people a week would march out a week constantly, and it was really great because that was your end goal, you could see, and they used to take you down to the march outs, and every week there would be
this group marching out and that is all you wanted, you just wanted to get out of that place by marching out, so if the word ‘back squad’ was mentioned, it was not very pleasant. It meant you had to go back a week or two weeks and do it all again.
What were your accommodations like?
They were really quite good two guys to a room. A room probably a bit bigger or smaller than this one with a bed on either side and a petition in the
middle, no, four guys to a room with a petition in the middle and two beds on either side, so there is four guys in one room. The accommodation was good communal showers and all that sort of stuff, but again you become very close with the guys in your own room and again, you
would be expected to pull your weight in there as well because everything when you got up in the morning you went and had your shower and all that sort of stuff, and when you come back you had to make your bed and your bed had to be made with these things called hospital folds, they had to be right to the millimetre, and the instructors would come around with 20 cent pieces and they would measure the bed, and if it bounced up and they could catch it, then was a good bed, that meant that all the sheets were folded
In so tight that it would bounce. When you came back at lunch time you would lie on the floor, you wouldn’t lie on your bed, and you wouldn’t go near the bed until probably eight o’clock at night after the last of the inspections had finished and they would come through. Everything in your locker had to be lined up and it was that was pretty tough to sort of get over when you are an only child who is spoilt and a sort of a slob.
Having come from a fairly relaxed
Having to learn to iron your clothes yourself every day, polish your boots and polish your brass and all of that stuff, but it didn’t take long to learn. It sort of was, and then you had to, and the other thing which was interesting was in between that being for one week you had a duties’ week, which you didn’t do anything, you just went
and did duties so you could be doing ground maintenance, or in my case working in the kitchen, and that was pretty good in that it was a break away from doing all the training. We worked hard there, too, I worked in the kitchen and that was hard work, but at the same time it was away from all the other stuff so you didn’t have the inspections, it was just a week where they left you alone, it was good. Then it is a culture shock to come back to
going back to that other style of things.
How did you find the army food?
It was great. I couldn’t believe when I went in there that at any meal you could have three or four or five or six choices of different things as much as you could eat. At Kapooka they let you eat as much as you needed because you needed 3,000 calories a day just to keep yourself going, so food was
no object, they didn’t care you could eat as much as you could eat and you did because you were so bloody hungry. You would be up at the crack of dawn at five o’clock and you would be out doing PT [physical training]. Then you would be doing 40-minute lessons for six or seven hours a day, and in between that you’d be doing marching and running and you were just hungry all the time.
Between every period of instruction you used to have a 10-minute break, and again, it was a culture thing, and I can always remember because I have never smoked in my life, I have always been a non-smoker, but down there at the break they would say, “It is a break now,” they would say, “Smoke them if you have them, and pretend if you don’t,”
and that was the culture, they actually, you went and physically had a smoke break, and if you didn’t smoke you pretended you did, which I always found a bit annoying.
The blokes who didn’t smoke, did they have to hang around and do extra duty while people were of smoking?
No, not that I recall. I think in my platoon there might have been me and one other,
hardly anybody who didn’t smoke so it was very much a culture of smoking.
Was there any drinking at Kapooka or was it dry?
No, there was drinking, which was pretty good because in Queensland you couldn’t drink, but down there you could, down there they had a principle that you could join the army at 17,
if you could join you could drink on barracks, but at Kapooka you couldn’t drink until you passed week eight or something, that is when you were deemed to be two-thirds of the way there, and then they would give you a couple of hours twice a week where you could go to the canteen. But again, it was very regimented when you could go and how long you could stay there for,
and when you did go you would be deemed to be a senior recruit type of thing. Again, when you first got there, you would see all these senior recruits drinking and think, “We will be there shortly.”
Interviewee: Martin Carr Archive ID 2030 Tape 03
We were talking about the different training that you did at Kapooka what physically were you having to do there?
As I said you got at the crack of dawn and the first thing you did was PT, about 20 or 30 minutes of PT, and it was always based on using a rifle in some capacity.
Basically what you are saying all the training is sort of based around using a rifle?
We used to get up in the morning and we would go down and do PT and it was always rifle PT and of course if you didn’t do it right they had you holding your SLR [self-loading rifle] out like that, it gets heavy. Everything was worked around that so wherever you went from morning to night you took your rifle with you for obvious reasons you need to
learn security of the weapon and we were all training basically for Vietnam so everything was all about weapon security so never put it down and if you did you were always in trouble.
At what stage did it dawn on you yes we are training to go to Vietnam?
All the instructors were ex-Vietnam instructors so
every one of them had a war story or two so everything they did was related back to their service in Vietnam. If you were doing camouflage and the reason you are doing this is because over there you do this and this is, it was constantly reinforced that the reasons and the whys and the wherefore about what you were doing. Because there is a war going on you take that sort of stuff reasonably seriously, were as kids
today they don’t. The other difference that I notice between me as a 19 year old then and the 19 year olds now is back then it was if they said jump you said, “How high?” Now if they say, “Jump,” they say, “Why?” So it was very much when they taught you things you learnt
to obey them and that was it.
What did you enjoy most about your training?
As much as I hate running and still do, I enjoyed the physical fitness side of it being fit. I think the other thing that I liked the most of achieving something every time you did something you achieved something. Every time you went out and did a 40-minute lesson at the end of it you have achieved something. It was just one achievement after the other.
You were continuously on a high you were always achieving something. I would not have thought of it then, but that is what I think now, and to me that was really a positive thing, so you were always going from one achievement to the next achievement. You never thought and I suppose you were programmed to never think that it wouldn’t be an achievement.
How good did it feel to get to the end of that training?
Great you have achieved this you are now a soldier you are not a recruit any more and all those other people there are recruits and you are a soldier, you are actually now a rank, you are actually a private. You had achieved something you had gone from a nobody as a recruit to being a private. Wow.
Did anybody come down to the passing out parade?
None of my parents did, but a few did,
not that it wasn’t – because they were happening so regularly it is not like they are now.
At what stage did you find out what corps you were going to?
About two weeks before the end. In that they – basically can’t remember how they did it, I think they banged a list on the notice board if I remember.
That must have been a bit of a relief?
Yes, it was only, it didn’t really matter as long as you didn’t become a grunt [infantryman], that was the primal thing.
Did you know at that time where your corps training would be?
Not really no, I knew that basically you went to Melbourne and that was about it.
Didn’t really know. Again, I never bothered to find out much because to me it was a moving forward I knew you went to, the shattering part was you had gone to this level of finishing recruit training, you are bullet proof and you're feeling on a high and then you go down to your corps training and it just starts from the bottom again a bit of a culture shock.
You walk in down there and it is as if you were back at day one at recruit training, you have to work your way up through the next structure.
What happened after Kapooka?
Went home for a little bit, I think it was about a week because we didn’t have a period in the middle, and it was over Christmas, somewhere about that period, so they sent us home for a week and then I had to go to Melbourne so again it was catch the train from Brisbane
Sydney, Sydney to Melbourne and then catch a train from Melbourne to Healesville get off a train in the middle of nowhere and go what do I do now and basically didn’t know. I didn’t know that you could pick up the phone and ring the orderly room and they would come and get you. We walked form the train station and lobbed up there. Going from the barracks at Kapooka,
like three-storey buildings, brick building you got to Healesville we were living in bloody tents down the back of the boonies [‘boondocks’, remote areas] and that was a shocker. Put you in tents, “What is this? This is our holding place,” but that is our corps training. In the medical corps, the first part of corps training was a med orderlies course,
I think that was six weeks, and basically it was like a super first aider. From there they would somehow define what you were good for whether you were good for being a med assist, which is like a nurse, or whether you were good for being a hygiene person or something else. I only ever wanted to be a medic anyway, that is all I was interested in.
It is 6 weeks there super first aid, again very cold even in summer I was there in February/March and it was bitterly cold, living in tents, very not cool.
It is like going from being on a high after being at the top of the thing at Kapooka and then going to Healesville and almost being a recruit again. Did you find that you were treated differently there?
Yes, it was again like any training establishment, it was made up of all people who had either just returned from Vietnam or who maybe had served in Malaya, in some cases we had Korea people still. If you think about it Korea was 1951-53, and it was now 1970, so a 20-year person, and in some cases we had a couple World War II guys, so
very revered, but most of the guys were recently returned guys from Vietnam and some guys had done two tours. Again, they had all the knowledge they had been there done that, so you basically you took everything they said as gospel. I think pretty much every training establishment worked the same way.
The only thing that then dawned on me was I had some sort of career structure planned out down at Healesville, I was going to do this med ords course and then I was going to go to wherever they sent me to be a medic and then I was going to do my medical training, I was going to move on, but when I got down to Healesville we had med ords that had been there for six and seven months and were mowing lawns, and I am going, “And what is going on here? Is this going to happen to me? Suddenly
This plan may not work out.” That was a bit of a culture shock, being stuck in Healesville doing whatever they were doing for the next how long is not part of the plan, but I was lucky, I just did six weeks and boom they sent me back to Brisbane. When I left, one of my mates who I went down on the first train to recruit training together, we did our med ord course together, he ended up staying there, he stayed there.
Didn’t see him for about three years and he finished up staying there for about 12 months after that. I went, “Wow!” Then I did my six weeks.
What stands out amongst that six week training for you?
There is a bloody great hill at the back of Healesville and we used to run up and down it day-in day-out and it is a hill like that and that stands out. The other thing that stands out because
The old army barracks backs onto the back of the Healesville Sanctuary and one weekend this mate and I, we didn’t want to go on the grog or anything, we said, “Let us go down to the sanctuary, we hear it is really good.” We got some directions from obviously some guys who have been there awhile, “You go down, turn right 50 metres, 100 metres up the road there is the front gate.” We went down and turned right and walked and walked and walked.
It was turn left we walked the whole circumference of the sanctuary and in the bush it is like chopping jungle down we only ever went there once and then we decided we would go to the pub from thereon. It was just running up and down these big hills, it was cold, living in tents, it was bloody freezing at night.
What about the training was it hard?
It was like super first aid training so everything was about
interesting and it was about gun shot wounds and bomb wounds and all that sort of stuff. Great too, because towards the end they would go out and do battlefield simulations and they would bring Hughies in because it was all about airlifting getting injured soldiers off the battlefield because you had to learn how to strap people into Hughies and into Iroquois helicopters
and all this stuff so you got rides in helicopters. I have never been in the air in my whole life and suddenly there I was flying around in a Hughie so you would do anything you could to be one of the wounded ones because they wounded ones always got a ride in a helicopter.
Do you think that is where your love of flying was born?
I certainly loved it, and I am scared of heights and you can’t get me on a ladder for love nor money, but I love aeroplanes and I love
those sorts of things. You can’t get me on a roller coaster, I hate any structures of any kind. You put me in a plane in control different story. Certainly once I got in the helicopter it was great, “This is not bad.” I even thought about joining the aviation corps not long after that but I didn’t.
Was there any fanfare after finishing the six-week course up there?
No, no march-out parades there basically finish today and gone tomorrow back on the train back up to Brisbane.
I guess you would have been pretty happy going back to Brisbane as opposed to – ?
Again, I just assumed that was going to happen, it was not until towards the end of that med orderly training that I found they do medical training at 2 Mil [Military] Hospital in Sydney and 1 Mil Hospital, which is in Brisbane.
I always thought, “Hang on, you just go to Brisbane,” because that is where my mate went and I assumed Brisbane was where you went, so again, this is a good way to get home. I didn’t know that they could send you to this other place, but I was lucky I was sent to Brisbane. I went from straight from my med orderly training straight to the hospital to do my medical assistant training, and it wasn’t until that sort of finished and I went to the holding unit at Enoggera that there were guys there who had been there for nine months as med orderlies
and had never done this training, so I must have been in all the right places at the right time and I don’t know why or the reasons for it but it was just lucky.
You said you had a plan, you actually signed on as a regular soldier. What term had you signed on for?
I just signed on for six years I thought, “What the heck. None of this three-year stuff, what would you learn in three years?” So I decided 6 years.
When I joined I basically thought if I can get through six years I could probably make a career of this, and if I can’t I will only be 25 and I could probably move on and do something else, so I sort of figured that its probably it is probably worthwhile looking at a career providing I liked it. I never thought that or did it dawn on me that I wouldn’t like it, which is in retrospect is a bit crazy.
A big sign-on, six years.
You were lucky enough to go to 1 Mil, what accommodation – was there live-in lines there?
Yes, there was. There was live in accommodation and it was really nice accommodation at Yeronga, the military hospital was at Yeronga, which is right on the back of the Brisbane River. It was fantastic, but then again, my parents lived at Shorncliffe so I sort of lived between both. I mainly
stayed in but I used to go home on weekends because suddenly you went from this physical training all about guns and all about that sort of stuff and then you went into more academic training, the nursing training or med assist training was more academic, and again I didn’t realise the failure rate was fairly high as well, so they would lose a lot of people. When you finished that training,
it went for six months, it was long anyway and when you finished you came out what was called then a level three, and what really bugged me once was we had a whole lot of people who would drop out along the way, every two weeks you would have these tests and if you failed a test you were gone. I can remember a couple of days getting hoofed out about week four, and week 12 they are back.
They then sent them off to transport and they become drivers, they came back as drivers on level 4, and I am still there and I hadn’t finished my training yet and when I am finished I am going to be on level 3. Not cool, not happy. That was a bit weird, I thought, you can fail something and actually come back earning more. I could never work that out.
How many people did the corps training at Healesville?
There would have been
40 or 50 something like that.
What about when you got to 1 Mil?
1 Mil – 20 or 30 maybe at the most.
The classes were getting smaller and smaller as you went?
Yes, I think we graduated with something like half of what we started as I can remember.
It wasn’t a case of doing the back squadding like Kapooka if you fail you are out?
Yes, that is it. Fail, you are out.
You get basically get two shots at it your first test and your second test. I never did any second tests, I don’t know what it was like. That was it, you were gone.
Did it still make you think what happens there if I get booted off the corps?
Then again, it was hard sell if you got booted off the course, you basically went to the grunts, that is what you were told until these other two dudes came back as drivers and we thought, “Hang on, this is not working out the way they keep saying.”
Did you have the same situation at 1 Mil that all your instructors were veterans?
Yes, pretty much, and basically had, and this is the first introduction we had to nursing staff, as in female nursing people. We had a couple of lieutenant nurses, a sergeant med assist [medical assistant] who was deemed to be God and a heap of corporals, and all these corporals were in there mid-30s and I,
“Am I going to be in my mid-30s when they are going to make me a corporal that doesn’t sound real good?” Again, they were guys, and as I found out, I got to know these guys really well over subsequent years, they had actually had injuries and really couldn’t go back to the field so if you couldn’t go back to the field you basically stayed in the field hospital or in the hospital situation.
You said you had planned your career. What had you planned from there?
Whilst I was at the military hospital, and as part of your training you did specialist training as well so you did some time in pathology, you did some time in the theatre, and when you did time in the theatre you actually did it in the theatre assisting with operations, but watching operations, so you did time in x-ray time in pathology and time in theatre and then you did time in the wards as well.
They were the basic four streams in the long term that you would go into. I got to know a few people and ask around and decide what I wanted to do and I had a hankering to do x-ray, I basically thought, “What I will do is I will finish this med assist training, I will stay here at the hospital, I will work in the ward, nice safe environment, they won’t send me overseas, you beauty and then I will
apply for one of these other jobs and all these other jobs were like level 5, big money.” Much better, so that was the general plan, and apparently I had the aptitude to do it, they said, “You can be a theatre tech [technician] or you can be a path lab [pathology laboratory] guy, you can be whatever you want to be.”
That doesn’t sound like the army at all does it?
They gave you a choice?
Again what they don’t tell you, like, with x-ray courses, they only run one a year,
one every two years, pathology they run a few. That was the deal, I thought, “That was easy, I will finish this course, I will go and work in the wards and be a med assistant in the wards and wait for one of these other courses to come up,” before you march out when your course finishes they tell you where your posting is. I didn’t get the hospital, I got 11 Field Ambulance, which was basically
a combat unit. Not cool.
At that time had you seen people going off and coming back from Vietnam from there?
We had seen people go, we hadn’t seen any people come back. People had come back, not people we knew though, so you didn’t see anybody go off and come back, we weren’t just around long enough for that, but we certainly saw people go and when I went over to 11 Field Ambulance.
It wasn’t until I got there you were told, “This is the holding unit for med assists who go to Vietnam.” “Wow, thank you very much.”
Looking back when you look at the rest of your time in the corps training and everything you were doing was it really geared more towards Vietnam as opposed to the run-of-the-mill stuff?
Yes, certainly, the field work was the hospital work is just hospital work.
Certainly you were allowed to do a hell of a lot more in the military than you were ever allowed to do, outside unbelievable what we could do and what we had to do. We had to know how to sew, God knows how many sewing jobs I have done over the years, thousands, and you did it as just part of the normal course. As a med assist down in any unit, you are actually
like a quasi-doctor, you had to make decisions on people and those decisions would determine whether a person would stay with the unit or left the unit or went off to see a doctor, so in hindsight, you think we had a very high level of responsibility. These days you just wouldn’t be game. Back then no litigation, no people getting sued, if I was out in the bush,
And somebody came in with a gash up their arm, and I said, “Right, sit down and I will sew that up no qualms,” that was it, part of the course, but these days they are suing people right left and centre.
By the end of you career, how would you see things changing as far as the roles and responsibilities that blokes have in the corps?
Completely changed, everything became very
black and white or grey, you just couldn’t do, that is one of the reasons I decided to get out of the trade, but you couldn’t do the things that you could do before for the fear that you would get into some real trouble.
That is obviously a turn for the worse as far as the soldier and field is concerned isn’t it?
I would think so. I would think when I was a young med assist, then a corporal and then a sergeant that my level of expertise,
when I say expertise, not in terms of knowledge and skills, but in competency in knowing how to do it in the field and being able to do it and make the decisions, being able to sit down and say, “Right, I am going to sew this guy up.” I can remember having a guy out in the field for five days with a head injury, put over 40 sutures in his head and we couldn’t get him out. We nursed the guy for five days
in the field until we could get a chopper to the point where we could get this guy out. That didn’t worry you because you knew you had the skills, you knew you had the competency, you knew you could do it, you knew you had the complete and utter support of your mates and your senior officers. You knew, it never dawned on me when I worked on people that they wouldn’t survive. It was just, you just had, I don’t think young blokes today have that.
What did you think when you go that first posting you must have thought, “Oh, there is a chance of going to Vietnam now?”
I did, but again I was probably more politically astute then, we did know a lot more we also knew that there was an election coming up and there was a possibility of a change of government, and Gough Whitlam has basically said that ‘if I get elected it is all over, red rover’, no more.
perhaps tell us what was the general vibe amongst the people in the army in that stage, whether they wanted to keep Australian’s involvement in Vietnam?
Regular soldiers didn’t really care. We were there because we joined up, and in my case, it was touch and go whether I was going to be conscripted anyway, basically the conscripted soldiers weren’t real keen.
We had in the holding unit I was in there was 60-odd people, 40 of which were conscripts, the other 20 were regulars, and most of them at the drop of a hat if they said they were going, they would go. There was no anti sentiment in that unit, it was a good bunch of blokes,
everybody got on well together, it didn’t matter if you were Nasho [National Service] or regular, there was no dividing line, it was quite good in that respect.
Before, when you were doing your training, was there any Nashos doing training with you as well?
At Kapooka we had a few Nashos, but the Nashos mainly did their training at Singleton. Probably about half or less than half down at Healesville, and
certainly probably about half at the military hospital were Nashos.
Even those what was the relationship between regular soldiers and Nashos?
There was no difference. The only difference was I signed up for six years and they were in for 18 months once they brought it down, and other than that, most of them had jobs to go back to.
You were still there when the elections were held?
I was in the 11 Field Ambulance, and they got us all out on parade one day and they basically said, “Righto, this is it. There is three options,” I think they said, “For all you national servicemen, there is three options: you can leave now, you can basically stay to the end of your 18 months,
I forget what the other option was.” They basically said, “If you want to leave now, you can leave, you can hand back your gear, but if you want to stay and finish up your service, these are all the benefits.” We went from 60 guys to 30 guys in one afternoon. I just stood at the end of the verandah, and said, “Want anything?” I said, “Give it to me,” as regs we did all right, we got all this gear they just gave us to it. They got nothing signed out, guys just
said, “See you,” walked over to their cars and we never saw them again.
That must be a serial thing to see?
From a discipline point of view, it was pretty awesome, and at the time – I only went to this guy’s funeral late last year – our officer commanding was Major Dave Collier, Dave the Dog they used to call him, a short bloke about five foot four and he had hands like a plumber,
came up through the second world war, Korea, Vietnam, Malaya, he had been absolutely everywhere, he was a regimental sergeant major and they said basically, “Dave, we are going to make you a captain.” Not cool for this guy. They made him a captain and then made him a Major and he was in charge of our unit. When you went in front of this guy it was horrifying, it was the most horrifying experience when he promoted me to corporal, it was horrifying. Least of all, if you got
into trouble, and I had never seen a grown man literally cry as this guy did to see his whole, half his unit just walk out on him.
Was it perhaps related to his personality that so many walked out?
No. It was quite amazing when I went to this guy’s funeral, he was in his 80s or something, he held a tremendous amount of respect,
people respected him, they feared him, but they respected him, they just had a great deal of respect for the man. I think that from a person who had spent his whole life in the military, and primarily, and I don’t know that he could ever handle the concept of conscription, well, he must have because he was in World War II, just to see people walk out like that was
a bit hard on him, I think. That is what they did, all did a bolter, and the other guys stayed and finished because they would have done 12, 13 or 14 months. What is another three or four months? No Vietnam, and at the end of it they get all the benefits, so a few of them, basically, “What the hell,” live in Brisbane. Most of the guys who lived outside of Brisbane said, “No, that is it, I want to go home,” so they did and a few of them stayed to the end of the week and
organised themselves, but it would have been a good half of them just walked off the parade ground and jumped into their car and went, didn’t even bother to pack their gear.
How did that affect the unit, like, overnight losing half its guys?
It sort of made it pretty tough. It meant, for those who were left, a lot more work, because basically it was a holding unit. But it also meant, I quite liked it there because you went to all other units, when people went on leave
if a corporal medic went on leave or something, you would go and work there for three or four weeks. You go here, you go there. For the couple of years that I spent there it was great, I had an absolute broad range of experience in a whole pile of units, and I gained in two years what other guys might gain in 10 years. So from there it was fabulous. I went and worked with artillery, I worked with armed corps I worked with grunts and I worked with blanket folders and it was really, really good so you got a
good broad range of experience very quickly and that is what helped later on in my career.
Are there corps-specific related injuries like lopping off their finger tips in the breaches and things like that?
Not too much of that, but in artillery you get a lot of hearing damage, because back in those days you used to wear ear plugs but that was all.
When I went to armoured corps, I didn’t realise that you see a hell of a lot of armoured corps guys with big scars across here because when they are driving and if they hit the anchors too quick this much of you out of the turret and bang it on the turret and rip it open. When I went to the 3RAR parachuting, half the unit was always off with some sort of injury.
Ankles and knees and things like that?
Yes broken legs, bones
Did you enjoy going to particular corps over others?
When I left 11 Field Ambulance in ‘74, I think it was, and I went to armoured corps up in Townsville and I spent four years there, it probably was the best four years I had in my career, I really enjoyed the armoured corp. It is a very close-knit unit and it was
an ex-Vietnam unit, so the whole unit had been in Vietnam and come back from Vietnam, and most of the guys in the unit were all ex-Vietnam guys a very close-knit unit. Only a small unit, 130-odd blokes, so I spent four years there, and I was there about a year and they said, “Righto, what do you want to do?” And I said, “I would like to drive one of these things,” so they sent me off and I did what is called a driver sig course,
so I was then effectively like that, and a year later they sent me off to do a crew commander’s course. I was an armoured corps person wearing a medical corps beret. It was at that stage that I really thought, “I like it here, I am going to corps transfer,” so I was actually very seriously thinking of transferring from medical corps to armoured corps as I was fully qualified, I did everything that they did, the only thing was I used to work in the RAP [regimental aid post].
If you had a corps transfer, would you effectively
maintain that role that you had or was it gone?
I was a corporal at the time, so I would have corps transferred as a crew commander corporal, probably would have sat me in a seat for a driver sig corps for six months and then I would have been doing what I was doing as a crew commander. It would have been good.
What changed your decision on that?
They decided to promote me so they said, “You can go somewhere else
and be promoted,” so what the heck.
Obviously now all the years have passed since Vietnam and the blokes having problems with PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder], looking back on that, did you ever notice when you were working with those blokes who had all been to Vietnam, did any of them have adjustment problems in that time immediately preceding?
No. What I did notice, depending on what people did in Vietnam.
You have got to sort of realise, too, that we had 50,000 troops over a period of 11 years in Vietnam, of that 50,000 troops maybe a quarter actually saw any sort of real combat service. There were grunts, medics that were attached to grunts actually saw, most of the people were in places like Vung Tau
and Saigon military bases. Most of the guys I know now that went to Vietnam never fired a shot in anger or saw a shot fired in anger, but a lot of the medics that worked in hospitals saw all the injuries associated with that and that did affect some people. A few of the medic guys that I know that were attached to infantry battalions saw,
again, never talked about it, so they obviously saw things that they perhaps couldn’t cope with, I don’t know. I think when you are still in and you are serving and you are still working under that disciplinary role, things like PSTD don’t tend to surface, they tend to surface after the event, and I work now with the Vietnam Veterans’ Counselling Service.
In my role as president of the peacekeepers up here, and you do tend to see all these things start to boil to the surface after the event, and in some cases a long time after the event. Probably when people have too much time on their hands and too much time to sit around and think about things that they have probably have suppressed for some time. Directly after the event, I didn’t see too many guys that were affected like that.
Were you still in Enoggera in ‘74?
Did you do anything in regards to the floods?
Yes, I worked on the Brisbane floods. I did primaries mainly over at the St Lucia area, which was interesting. It was just clean-up work, we didn’t do any medical work. I had done a detachment just prior to the floods
with the water transport unit, and they use larks, which are these big things with big wheels you can put in water, and I did it up at Dickies Beach, which was a great couple of weeks, we were a reserve unit and I was the medic for them. I got to drive a lark, go fishing and it was a fabulous couple of weeks, and I got to know one of the guys there really well, and in the floods, as an army reservist, this particular guy took his lark and ran into a light pole and was electrocuted and drowned.
Amazing, it still sort of that haunts me today, more than anything else, because here is a guy that I got to know pretty well in those couple of weeks, hell of a nice guy, young family, out doing community work as a reservist during the floods and drowned. We did work on the floods and I worked at St Lucia. A couple of vivid memories there
the water must have been deep over there, because I remember working in Woolies [Woolworth’s], one day the water was over the roof of Woolies, and the reason we know that was when we were inside cleaning down the roof, which was a suspended ceiling, obviously, as the water went up the roof went up and as the water came down, the roof came down and there was all bits of packets of stuff hanging out of the roof, so it must have been that high. If you can imagine
with a Woolies’ supermarket has been under water for a week or two and then goes down, it took a fair while to get in there and clean it all out, and it was pretty awful job, but that is what we did, so we did a heck of a lot of work in the post-Brisbane floods.
Interviewee: Martin Carr Archive ID 2030 Tape 04
You got married about this time, too, did you?
Yes, the first time. I got married in ‘74, and my wife and I, she worked for the bank so we decided, “What are we going to do for a honeymoon?” So we decided she had some she worked for the Commonwealth Bank, and they had some bank flats on Magnetic Island,
so we said, “We will go to Magnetic Island, that will be great,” and I was posted in Brisbane. 6 months later I got posted to Townsville, what a waste that was.
That is when you went up and did, spent all the time with Cav?
How long did you spend there?
Four years all up. I was only there five minutes, virtually, and I got an offer to go to 2/4 RAR,
which was an offer too hard to refuse back then, so I had only been in the unit a month or something and word came out that they were looking for some troops to supplement a company over at 2/4 to go to Malaysia, so I put my hand up and said, “I will go.” I went over there and they said, “We need another medic,” and I said, “I don’t want to go as a medic, I would rather go as a
section commander, as a grunt,” and they said, “All right.”
All this other time you had avoided being that?
I just wanted a change, but as it turned out, I went over there and I was a section commander, but they only had a private medic, so when I got to Malaysia, even thought I had a role as a section commander, I spent more time being a medic.
What did you notice was specific for Malaya
as far as medical treatment was concerned?
We were at the Butterworth Air Force Base, which was quite a big base in those days, and we had good accommodation, and we had people to wash our gear and do all the stuff, and you paid pittance for it, and it was really good. But it was still a very
risky time because there was a lot of insurgency going on locals were getting bumped left, right and centre, and Malaysian troops were constantly being dropped left right and centre, so even though you were out there doing something, there was still a risk involved. It didn’t really associate it too much, but it was there.
Before the offer came up to go, did you know what was going on up there at the time?
Not really, again,
I heard they had a company up there and a few people had been over and come back, yes, great, well you had better put your hand up.
Did you take your wife up there?
Did you know how long your deployment would be?
Normally It was three months, but we spent four months there, and primarily that was because at that time it was when at the beginning of ‘75 was when they were moving out of Vietnam
and there was a lot of issues going on that because Butterworth is the air force base and a lot of Hercs were transiting from Butterworth and Saigon and back and Hercs were flying in with holes in them and all sorts of nasty stuff. Then all of a sudden our silver Hercs turned up one day painted white with new ensigns on the side they thought it might sort of stop some of those problems but it didn’t.
As a result of that, they had to get people out of Saigon or wherever, they were getting them out of so somebody came up with a really good idea, “We will send a platoon of guys over there to keep the aircraft safe,” and I got picked for that job. Again, because I was a medic, and we took some doctors and some nurses from the Butterworth hospital and we got on this bloody Herc
and off we went, and that I was going to be another big adventure. We were in the air for about six hours and then suddenly we landed back at Butterworth because somebody said to the Australian government, “You can’t land armed troops in Vietnam,” so we got sent home. It was a pretty interesting trip.
Yes, it was very interesting. It was all fun, too, I can remember being on this Herc
and my job was to train some nurses and a couple of doctors in small arms handling. I suppose they had used pistols before, but they didn’t know what, they were for the better part of six hours I was stripping and assembling and showing these doctors and nurses how to use a pistol and what they are supposed to do. It was frightening, I think it would have been,
if we ever landed on the ground I think I would have just given it to them with the magazine empty because they were dangerous.
When you were in Butterworth, did you actually see blokes coming back from Vietnam?
No, it was over then, it was all over. It finished at the end of ‘72, late ‘72 and this was in the beginning of ‘75 so it was all over in terms of troops coming home,
but civilian staff and attaché and embassy staff, that was what they were worried about during that period, which – as I understand it.
When you went up to Butterworth, did you go up through Darwin?
We landed at Darwin to refuel just after Cyclone Tracy had done the business, and we were on a 707 and that was just awesome, to be at the Darwin Airport with upside down
planes and hangars flattened. When we took off, they did a bit of a circuit around Darwin and then flew off to Butterworth. It was it just looked like Hiroshima at the end of World War II, it was just flattened, it was unbelievable. Just to fly into Darwin Airport and see all these you-beaut planes upside down and sticking out the side of hangars, you just think, “Wow, and people lived through that.”
Did you end up doing patrols and things like that?
Yes, we did border patrols, it was just non-stop training, primarily. When these issues were going on with the Hercs, it was really heightened to the highest level of security that you can get. Everybody was fully armed all the time, there was no weekends and all that, and we had patrols around the airport all the time,
and everybody all the patrols were armed, and that created a few problems. The security was very heightened and we did a lot of border patrols, and we did a lot of patrols with the Malayan troops as well sort of like partnering, and then when things quietened down again it was just
full-on training again. At any one time we had a company of 130 people there, at any one time at least half of those would be out in the bush somewhere training. You would use Johor Bahru, which is the state just north of the Singapore border, as one of the training grounds and tropical rainforests and that sort of stuff. Hard
really physical training, so a lot of that went on as well. It was very enjoyable we had a lot of free time and got to travel and all that sort of stuff. It was great. I took a road, I was part of a road party that went from Butterworth down through KL [Kuala Lumpur] through to Johor Bahru and then when I came back I came on a DC3, which was just amazing.
To sit in an old DC3 and two radial engines purring away, people pay big money for that now.
Did you get to interact much with the locals when you were up there?
A bit like, a bit like going to Bali, I suppose. They will sell you anything, but it was really good. We had a lot of locals on base, obviously the tailor shop, and it is amazing just to go into the tailor shop
and you would go in here and buy a – shirt off the rack, there you went in and everything was made even down to shoes, you could have your own shoes made and it cost you nothing, it was absolutely cheap as chips. You could have a really good time and it virtually wouldn’t cost you anything, it was really good.
How hard was it being newly married and being away?
It wasn’t that hard, it was sort of – write letters to each other
ring up occasionally, and I did other things. I learnt to scuba dive there, and you always again back into fitness, always running, and when you have free time you went and had a few beers with your mates, so it wasn’t that hard. My, sort of, my wife knew what she was in for when she got married.
It was a pretty good first overseas deployment for you?
It was excellent, it was an experience never, sort of, Brisbane boy never been out of Brisbane basically apart from going to Melbourne and coming back, so it was just a big adventure to go to another country and see another culture. I am a bit of a culture buff, anyway,
where I could, I liked to get out and have a look at the local shrines and stuff like that, and where I could I always got out, and even though I wasn’t allowed, I used to always sneak out,, and have a feed at the local as opposed to the local tourist local.
Was this one of the things that the medical corps was telling the blokes not to do?
Yes, I was part of the advance party, too, and
being the medical guy I got over there first, had a hand-over from the previous medical bloke, and out of a company of 130 people, 133 the company before me, they had 80 cases of venereal disease, which is pretty high, so obviously as soon as the boss gets over, I said, “Look boss, there are 80 cases of VD [venereal disease] over a three-month period, the same guys two, three, four times,
you really have got to do something about this.” And he said, “What do you want to do?” I said, “Well, we need to give them some education and need to heighten the fact that we have boxes of condoms here and they are free and whatever, but we have got to get this message through otherwise it could be embarrassing for you as the commander to go back, this other commander is not going to be highly thought of going back with over two-thirds of his troops with
a case of stuff they really shouldn’t have.” He was really good, he said, “Righto, we will do that,” so we went and had a talk to the company sergeant major and he said, “Yes, leave it with me, I will fix this.” Everybody lobs into Butterworth there and it was a closed camp, we weren’t allowed out. The first Saturday night, the CSM [company sergeant major] came up with this great idea we will have a porn and prawn night.
He put on the seafood and the beer, and they got porn movies from somewhere. There was guys climbing the fence on the first night they were there. I had to go back, “Look, with all due respect, Sir, I am only a lowly corporal, but I don’t really think that is the education that I am really trying to get through to the guys?”
There was a slightly different take on it?
How hard is it to educate young men in those regards?
It is not that hard at all. You just get them all together as a group and you say, “Right, if you go out there, the local population,” and I learnt to do this a lot better as time went by, especially when I went overseas in later times, but back then, again, boys will be boys and it was part of the culture, the culture was to go out and drink and go to the –
and in Malay every place that you go to drink is a knock shop, they are there, and the girls come up and rub your knee and before you know where you are the troops are gone, you can’t find them for love nor money. I saw, always had this thing in the back of my head, you had the responsibility as their medico, “I can’t come down with a load, it wouldn’t be seen to be professional.”
I made sure that I did the right thing, and you just try and educate. What we basically did was, we also understood that boys will be boys, they are going to go, they are going to do it, well, load them up with freebies before they go, and that is what we used to do. It worked for us, because in the four months we had less than 20 cases.
What is the treatment for the blokes who do get it?
Basically we used to go down to doctor-something, he was a Malaysian doctor but a very nice guy, you whip them down in the morning a quick blood test, they get 3,000 or 4,000 units of penicillin or whatever it was, tetracycline up the backside, and you send them out that night. It was that quick, and a dose of pills for about four or five days, but it wasn’t that bad,
Providing you didn’t got the nasty strain, but if you just got the standard stuff, if was a quick shot up the backside and tell them they shouldn’t do it, but you knew they would.
We often here of the PCO [pussy cut-off], there the pussy cut-off date for blokes in Vietnam, was there a similar thing in Malaya?
Yes, there was, basically, that sort of came around about a month before we were due to go home, and basically got the whole unit out together and in one foul swoop, basically,
“This is the way it works, if you get it even though you can have a jab today, you will be susceptible for possibly seven days afterwards, it is not a good idea to go home with a great lot of tetracycline pills because your missus is going to ask you what are they for,” and you would basically lay it out in those sort of things. We basically said, “Keep your dick in your pants for seven days before you go home and you will be okay.” Most guys
did that, I know guys were still doing it, they barely got there to catch the plane in the morning. That was just the way it was. Most of the single guys had an absolute ball, and a lot of times I was over there I wished, “Gee, I wish I wasn’t married, I could be out there having a real good time.” As it turned out, you could have just as much fun even though you weren’t doing thing. I had a mate of mine and he introduced me to this concept and he had it down pat.
He actually went to this place, and they all had funny names, we used to call one called the Sneeze Bar, and it was called Achoo, so everybody called it the sneeze bar, and you had the happy bar and whatever, and my mate used to go to this bar every weekend and would just sit there and he, the girls climbing all over him and he would just sit there and read the paper, and after about a month he had free accommodation, free drinks, free everything
simply because he was a novelty, he was different. This works for me, “Free room and board and drinks, why not?” The other best job that you could get, I was lucky, I got one of the early ones, was to go around with the MPs [military police] and that was the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] MPs, and the idea was you went around all the bars and make sure the guys weren’t playing up. And these guys, it was graft and corruption of the highest order.
It was basically a free weekend on the grog, free accommodation anywhere you went, because as soon as you walked in there with those MPs, tables would be cleared and guys would come out with the best, whatever you wanted to drink, and when you went back it was a weekend completely spoilt when you went around with these MPs. When you went back it is a shocking weekend, but I will do it again, it was pretty good.
What sort of local food would you eat?
I would eat anything that wasn’t nailed down, simply because I like Asian food, and the only thing I was never excited about was these things called chapatis, which are a bit like a very spicy pancake, I was never into them, them and curries. It was there that I learnt, and it has stayed with me to this day, that when you eat hot
food, you always have a cucumber with you, you have a piece of hot food and a slice of cucumber, it nullifies it. That was a really good lesson to learn, after just about when we were ready to come home. I should have learnt that on day one.
Had blokes been instructed not to try the local fare for fear of food illnesses and things like that?
Yes, basically the nod was, “If you are eating off-base,
then eat in known establishments and you were less likely to get a dose of food poisoning.” You are never going to get a dose of food poisoning by eating cooked food, you get a dose of food poisoning by drinking the water. The smart thing was always eat cooked food and drink beer, in comes out of the bottle, very safe.
Most blokes would be happy with that description?
What about the food on barracks was that local contractors and things like that?
No, it was all RAAF had their own cooks, and we took cooks with us as well. No, it was just like eating back here. It is a closed community when you are on base, so it is like you are just back in Brisbane.
Other than the MPs, what other interaction did you have with the RAAF blokes up there?
We used to play football against them. We had like a company Aussie Rules match, and
only one-offs here and there. Other than that you would meet, I got to know a few guys because I did a scuba diving course and got to know a few guys there. Other than that, not much, because you were right down one end of the place and they were all up the other. You tended to congregate with your own guys anyway. You were always told, “Don’t get into a biff up with them,” but a few of those happened from time to time.
Were there any other forces up there from other countries?
Were you a bit sorry to see your time over there or – ?
I was pretty keen to go home by the time it was all over, but at the same time, I really enjoyed it. And if I had the opportunity, I would have gone back again, and a lot of guys did go back. In actual fact, a lot of guys went back and married locals
that they had met there, so it was very enjoyable time, and again, you develop some friendships and it was good.
So for you it was back to Townsville?
I came back to my real job, so that was pretty good.
Were you living in or living out at that stage?
I lived in for the first month or so, or week or so,
about a month, and then I got a flat in town, and I barely moved into that flat when I then went over to the battalion, and pretty much when I was with the battalion I only went home on weekends. Even when I was at the cav regiment, back in those days, we used to do an awful lot of training, and all our training was up at High Range, which is at the back of Townsville, so it was nothing to go away for three or four
weeks at a time. Being a medic, you would have different troops out, and they would always want a medic, so you tended to spend more time out there than the other guys did. I did a few courses and stuff while I was there, so it was nothing to go away on a promotion course and be away six or eight weeks, so you tended to spend a lot of time away from home.
How were you accepted by the people of Townsville up there?
Not very well, but then again, back in the mid ‘70s, AJs, ‘Army Jerks’ or whatever they were, they were not highly regarded, Townsville was a dual community. There was civilian population and military population, but I was fairly lucky because my wife worked for the Commonwealth Bank, so we didn’t live in the married quarter in the beginning, we lived out in a flat,
and we spent a lot of time with her friends from her work so we had civilian acquaintances, but not a lot of guys did. It was pretty hard for a lot of other people, but for us it was great because we lived in two worlds, I suppose.
Was four years considered to be a long time to be at any one place?
Most postings were for about two years, but I asked to stay. I was really happy there,
and I had an opportunity to go about halfway through and I said, “No, I would prefer to stay.”
Do you think that promotion was to keep you sort of in?
I don’t think so. I had a very good rapport with the unit, I did a good job and my reports showed that. But when you are in a very close-knit unit like that and you do a reasonable job, you are highly thought of, and your
reports reflect that, and that allows you to get a promotion probably a bit quicker than you needed to. Again, it was good luck.
What are the perks of being a medic attached to another corps?
I don’t know. You get to start early because you have got to be there 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning to run your sick parade before they actually start work, but the perks are that
once your sick parades are all finished, usually by nine or 10, that is pretty much the bulk of your work done, a bit of admin work and plenty of free time being not, my unit was here and my RAP was here. We used to share a RAP unit with an engineer unit so I had my unit, so I was working with engineers guys as well, so the perks were, you were sort of disassociated
from your own unit so you could go and do other things if you wanted to.
Were you practically your own boss there?
Yes, pretty much I had a sergeant, there were only two of us, a sergeant, and a corporal sergeant and myself, so there was two of us for the unit and I had two bosses when I was there, and both of them were excellent, they let me loose to do my own thing, and that is why I didn’t want to leave. You had too much flexibility I suppose, too good a job to leave.
Was it your decision to leave?
Yes, they offered me promotion and I said, “Yes, I will go.”
My wife wanted to go back to Brisbane anyway. That was at Canungra so we lived here in Brisbane and I commuted to Canungra every day.
Really where from?
Crazy, Bald Hills.
How long a drive was that?
I used to drive over to Enoggera and we had a bus like a Hi-Ace. It left Enoggera at six in the morning – about an hour and 20 minutes,
30 or 40 minutes, and then it used to leave at four o’clock to come back. Bloody long day.
It wasn’t so bad you weren’t physically having to do a terrible lot of driving, it was just riding in the bus?
Yes, and I used to stay down there one or two nights a week just to break the week up a bit.
What was your work involved there?
I got promoted to sergeant, and I was sergeant in charge of the medical centre at Canungra.
At the time Canungra was one of the major training bases for jungle warfare. It used to be called Jungle Warfare Training Centre, so it was also for promotion courses, so you did sergeant training, warrant officer training, so at any one time we had probably at least 200 trainees on the ground at any one time.
The promotion courses were very full on physical stuff and a lot of the jungle training was full on physical stuff. We used to get a lot real interesting injuries there. It was a full on medical centre, it had a six-bed ward, an isolation ward and a full trauma centre. It was good.
Was it part of the drill, having arrived there, they put you through the course so you knew what to expect?
They tried that a couple of times, and in the whole time I was there, I never went through the obstacle course. The closest we ever got, and a mate of mine was the health sergeant there, and I got to know him pretty well, and he had never been through it either, so I figured if he hadn’t been through it, he must know why so I teamed up with him and I said, “Any time you want me to go through the obstacle course – ” because they made everybody go through it once a year, “I will just go with him.” Because
He never went through it, and what used to happen, we would be told Tuesday, “You are going to go through the obstacle course,” and on Monday he would go down and close the bear pit and do a water sample and say, “It is contaminated.” After a couple of years, leave these guys alone, because every time you try to get them to do it, they close it, they contaminate the water, they do this, they do that, so I never actually did it until I had to go back and do my promotion course there.
What sort of injuries – obviously the training
pretty full on and hard?
Yes, we had a lot of broken bones, especially dislocations, heaps of them, just all any manner of trauma injury that you are going to get when you are jumping over things, crawling around in the middle of the night. There is always potential for gun shot wounds because there is a live firing range there.
The intelligence mob had a terrorist building, it wasn’t called the terrorist building back then, but I think it is now. It is a building where like you see on TV where the coppers go through and they come out from behind doors and all that, so we had to have one of us down there whenever they were training because they were hopeless, they would shoot things that didn’t need to be shot. There was the potential for that sort of thing to happen, and of course we
got involved with local rescues and all that sort of stuff as well. We were also on call for local road accidents and I used to do some time, I started up there, we used to do some time with the local ambulance service there as well just to give the guys more full on trauma training, so we used to go and do six-week stints with the Southport Ambulance and all that,
so the guys physically got hands-on.
How did you find like being on the other side like training blokes?
It was, we didn’t have that much training, we weren’t involved in the training per se, I used to get involved in training primarily for snake bite and all that sort of thing, I was deemed to be a bit of expert in that area, I was bitten a couple of times so they figured
if you have been bitten, you know what it is like. We used to go out and do that sort of training, especially with overseas troops. Americans especially Very scared of snakes, they don’t like snakes at all.
We keep hearing this repetitive story about Canungra and about how the Americans found it extremely difficult?
It is a pretty nasty place, you go down to O’Reilly’s and that is pretty much the training area.
It is completely up and down, it is very dangerous country, it is tropical rainforest and it is freezing cold in winter and boiling hot in summer, it is not just a very pleasant environment and the yanks, they never sort of really did attune to it, but they hate snakes. I used to love going with them
I used to have, part of the deal was, I used to have all these snakes in bottles and stuff. I would always take the bottled ones out and I would put them through the different types and the taipan, you had to really tune them into the fact that if these things bite you, you are not going to die in two minutes, which is the way they believed – if they bite you, that is it. We had to tell them that their rattle snakes were pussies and these things were literally a rattle snake, and
the whole idea was that you would try and tell them how the venom works and it goes through the lymphatic system and it doesn’t go through your blood system, and if you put a pressure bandage on you will never die, and the idea being that you don’t want them going off crazy thinking they are going to die in two minutes so you could do that. Then you would show them what the things looked like at the end. I used to have this bag, I would always bring a bag
and walk into the room or usually it was just done in an outdoor setting, and I would have the bag there and I would put the bag down behind something and they would all be looking at the bag, all the way through, looking at the bag and then right at the end, you would put them through and give them some demonstrations of how to put bandages on and then say, “Righto, boys, now I suppose you were wondering what is in the bag,” and I would always bring a big welding glove and put the glove on, comes right up to here, and open the bag dive the arm in
and would come out with this big rubber snake and I would throw it amongst them. I had a guy one day wrecked a M16 beating this thing to death. He tore the butt off it and everything, it was absolutely hilarious. I used to love it. People used to come just to watch this, they would all sit up the back and kill themselves, the bag would be coming out and everybody would know what
was going on, and the Yanks, their eyes would be like this, and you would throw this rubber thing amongst them and they would bolt out windows if you were in a room.
When did you first get bitten by a snake?
I got bitten twice when I was in 2/4 RAR doing training up in the Lamington area past Townsville. Once in a creek bed
walked over a creek bed, and I knew I stood on this thing, and it got me in the leg, and the second time was about a month later the same thing happen, done twice, medivac twice.
What type of snake?
I have no idea. I think one was a red-bellied black because I did see a black thing, but I don’t know what the other one was.
If you don’t know what sort of snake gets you, how do you treat it?
You treat them all exactly the same, and that is a pressure bandage, try and
slow the heart rate down, try and keep the wound lower than the heart and it is just pressure. The first one wasn’t too bad because it got me in the top of the boot, it went through my boot, which meant most of the venom was on my boot. The second one went through the trouser leg and it had two defined puncture wounds in my calf, so I knew that one had got me, the first one I wasn’t sure,
you just put the pressure bandage on and go and sit in the hospital for a couple of days and wait and see if anything starts to happen.
They don’t necessarily always require antivenene.
You don’t use antivenene unless it absolutely necessary – it does more damage than good. Ninety-nine percent of the time, if you put the pressure bandages on you are fine. Sometimes you might get a bit sick or something.
Obviously you know how to treat snake bite, but being
bitten, is it possible to keep your heart rate down, I mean, your natural instinct is to get excited?
Yes, I suppose one thing I did learn from that is, it is not much good being a medic unless the people around you have at least some level of skill, because that was a prime example of I stood on one and I said, “I have been bitten by a snake,” and
they did exactly what boys will do, and that is – they just scatter and just leave you there. and then they start beating everything to death and it is 10 minutes before they come back, so by then you need to get yourself in order. You grab the nearest one and say, “Get the bandage on, do this and do that,” and just wait your time.
I have probably treated 20 or 30 in my time.
In a training sort of sphere of things, is that a fairly common injury – snake bite?
They seem to go through cycles. Around August, September, October is always a bad time because they are coming out of the winter months, coming in the summer months they get a bit frisky, there is a lot of them around and there is a lot more possibility,
and if you haven’t been into a training area for some time there is more possibility, because they do tend to do runners, they feel vibrations, they can tell when there is people around and they get out of the road, and when you haven’t been there for a while and they are congregating you seem to go in spurts with them. We had an exercise out at Charleville, when I was with 11 Field Ambulance, and we had a dozen guys in a space of a week of choppers.
Then you might go for a year and never see anybody with a bite and then you will just get a whole pile of them again.
In training, as far as training is concerned, is there always a helicopter on call sort of thing for medivac?
That is the ideal world is it?
That is the incidence that you spoke about that you had a bloke in the field for five days with a head injury?
Yes. A lot of times you would be out there on your own,
you might have a vehicle coming in and out every couple of days to resupply food or whatever, so a lot of times you could be stuck out there with somebody.
Is that a priority thing where it was definitely, sort of, life or death situation, that is was one that could be gone from somewhere?
You wouldn’t get a helicopter but you could always get a vehicle of some sort. We were fairly lucky in Townsville because we had the wreckage squadron there, which
was Kiowa helicopters. If you were lucky they could get a chopper to you, but then again, they have to know where you are, so that didn’t help a lot either. Back in those days, radio communication was not very good probably good for a couple of kilometres, but other than that –
At Canungra there, you said they do a lot of night training there, working longer hours?
We had the medical centre was operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, so you were pretty much there. We had staff there all the time, and just to break the monotony I used to do night work, weekend work, and mainly to help the other guys out, too, because otherwise you had the diggers working all the time. If we had an activity on
that was high risk, and we normally always had at least two on in the med centre, and it meant if we had guys in the ward, you might sometimes have three on. It meant you need one to look after the guys in the ward and one to be on call to go out and pick up somebody, so sometimes you could be working big hours because we only had a staff of 12 or something there, so you could do a lot of work down there sometimes.
Interviewee: Martin Carr Archive ID 2030 Tape 05
After you came home from overseas service over in Butterworth when you got back were you wanting to go again?
If the opportunity arose I wouldn’t have said no, but at the same time I wasn’t that sort of eager then, I was back a year or so and I got the posting to Canungra, so I was happy to go on the posting. A posting is like
a holiday, you get to go somewhere new.
So then After Canungra?
Went to Watsonia, which was pretty much the same as Canungra but a bigger medical facility with a bigger bed capacity. We also had our own x-ray facility there, which we didn’t have in Canungra, and
it was at Watsonia, the School of Signals, so again it was a training facility, but nowhere near the likes of Canungra, so we mainly had there sick people and we worked very closely with the repatriation hospital at Heidelberg so if we had any really serious stuff it went there directly. Again,
a couple of years pretty much doing the same sort of work that I did at Canungra on a slightly bigger capacity. Probably a bit more boring in the fact that we didn’t have a lot of the interesting stuff we had at Canungra, but at the same time, when I was there I instigated a program with Panch, which is the major trauma hospital in Melbourne, Preston [and] Northcote General [Community] Hospital, and we sent people over there to work
in emergency centre for six weeks at a time and we all did stints over there. That was very good because that is the major trauma hospital and they have everything there from car accidents, gun shot, knifings, muggings overdoses just about everything just like ER [Emergency Room] on TV, just about everything you could think of, it was very good because we have a lot more flexibility than
civilian staff. They let us do a lot more, so that was very good, and it got all the guys a lot higher level of training and that was interesting doing work there. Other than that, I was pretty glad to get out of the place.
Does life get monotonous in a role like that ever?
Yes, it does a bit because you are doing the same sort of job week-in week-out, and the only difference was we had moved into a higher
technology era where they actually come up with pagers which were a nightmare and we were on-call most weekends with a pager, so it didn’t matter where you went, the pager always went off, and the younger guys that were on the ward for the weekend, if they didn’t know something, they would page you and you would have to give the instructions over the phone, so it used to be, it sort of bugs you a bit. Other than that, same stuff day-in day-out.
Before pagers came on the scene,
if you were on a weekend, were you just pretty well uninterrupted on a weekend?
Yes. They had your home number and there were three or four of us senior people and they had all the home numbers so they would just ring around until they got somebody, and then when pagers became available, then suddenly we got a pager. Not good fun when you are out at the markets on a Sunday morning and your pager goes off because then you have got to go and find a phone and
you have got to carry change in your pockets, and you never got reimbursed for any of that stuff, and it was generally an inconvenience, but at the same time, it was good because younger guys felt highly of your expertise that they would ring you and ask you questions.
Then how did that posting come to an end?
Basically I spent a couple of years there, and then they asked me what I wanted do I want to do. I said, look, throughout my career, to that date, I had always done snippets of training here and there and I was a qualified trainer in the army and I said, “I would like a posting,” and we bought a house in Melbourne, my second wife and I. During my period in Canungra I got separated from my first wife, and after a year or so met my current wife, and
she moved to Watsonia with me and after awhile we bought a house in Greensborough, a neighbouring suburb, and she worked in a bank down there so we decided we wouldn’t mind staying, but I didn’t want to stay in Watsonia but I wouldn’t mind going up to Healesville and it is only like 40 minutes away on the back road, so I said, “I would like to go up to Healesville and be an instructor,” and they said, “Yes, fine, you can do that.” So
I went up to Healesville the School of Army Health, and I was basically an instructor on the old med ord [medical orderly] course that I had done many years before, the same place, the same tent, nothing had changed. I also instructed on the theory side of the Med Assist course so what they had done then when I had originally done my training at the military hospital, what they then did was that
did the theory side of medical assisted training and then they sent them off to a military hospital for a six months practical experience, so we did all the basic the anatomy and physiology and the general theory side of it, which was probably a smart way to go, because if you couldn’t handle the theory side there was no sense in sending them off to a ward, to waste peoples time. I did that for a couple of years, got a hankering for it and then I moved into the training and development area. I got involved in higher levels
of training developing training courses, writing training packages and as part of that I did some CCTV [closed circuit television] training up in Sydney and that allowed us to produce a lot of our own productions, especially stuff trauma involved where you wanted to get close in shots and show people how to do certain types and techniques of in
field medical training, and we used to do a lot of training not only with medics but with the SAS [Special Air Service]. So I worked with the SAS both in Healesville and in Perth at the SAS Regiment, and doing training for those as well, which was very interesting to say the least. A lot of fun there.
In what way was that interesting?
The SAS in terms of just how they operate, because they tend to operate as
small six man teams or thereabouts, they have to be highly independent and out of the team, every single member would probably carry three or four qualifications. An infantryman, a radio operator, they would have some medical qualifications, another person might have very high-level navigation skills. All their skills were at a high level so we would have to take basic
first aid training and take it to a new level where they could actually do very high level medical procedures in the field. Whether it was incubating, that is, putting tubes down the throat, putting drips in them, sewing people up, all that sort of stuff that they could do in the field, to keep their small team operational without having to look for support.
Those sort of courses went from six to eight weeks.
As opposed to having a medic with them, they would each do their medical?
They would do their own, and then when we went over to, we used to go to the SAS regiment usually once a year and do what we call continuous training. Continuation training that was re-train the guys we had already trained before. They were always fun because they were very professional,
they weren’t rookies, they were guys who were career soldiers and probably would have been career soldiers for 6 or 8 years and they knew what they were about, but they liked to play games, so we used to go along with their little games. The best sort of story I have got is two of them came home and they changed identities, and we knew something was wrong but we couldn’t pick it, and it was right to about the last week when we finally twigged
it looked like these two guys had completely changed identity with each other and that was sort of their little bit of fun. We actually did some research back with the SAS regiment. They don’t give much away but we had a couple of spies over there who filled us in and once we knew who they were, we thought, “Okay, how do we get them back.” That was pretty easy, we just failed one. The one who got failed was
the other one, and one of the things the SAS hate doing is failing anything, that is definitely no-go place, no-go territory, and we held it right up to the end of course party on the night before they left, we let these two guys in on the secret that they both passed, they had not failed, so it was good fun.
Did they eventually fess up that they had swapped?
They were going to leave right up until we put them on the spot and then it was all very humorous, lots of fun, lots of laughs.
Apart from the SAS training you were doing when you were training the new recruits coming in, did you notice any difference between the young guys coming through then to how you had seen yourself when you were coming through?
A higher level of education, and we were training males and females then
we had suddenly become this new army with males and females very – they were training males and females at Kapooka together and suffering problems. We were training males and females together there. That sort added a new dilemma to training because a lot of training that we did was physical. You had to carry people, you had to be able to get people in and out of choppers, you have to be able to
carry them for extended periods in the bush, you have to be able to make improvised stretchers and carry people out and to suddenly throw young ladies into that environment and expect them to do exactly the same as the guys, and we would see everybody equal was a bit hard. Harder on them, but hard on us too, and there was involvement between students and students,
There was involvement between staff and students, and that added a completely new paragon to the whole training so there definitely was a different structure in training. The discipline was less certainly when I said before, when I was there first time around if they yelled ‘jump’ you said ‘how high’ if you yelled ‘jump’ they asked ‘why’.
When people become more educated they want to know why they are doing things, as opposed to just do them. That is probably when I said, “I am not sure, I don’t know whether I want to do this for much longer,” and that is probably when I started looking for another change of career.
Before we move on to your next posting, that whole dilemma of women joining the forces and the range of dilemmas that that posed, how
did you find a way around that, or how did you approach that problem?
I think everybody had different methodologies for approaching that. My methodology was simple – treat everybody equally, treat people the way you want to be treated, with the amount of respect that they require, and try not to get involved. Leave well enough alone which is probably the best idea.
It is one ideal to say that everyone is equal but women aren’t as strong as men, so how is that?
I suppose during that period, I would say a large percentage of the young girls had an attitude that they had to do twice as much to be considered half as good, and that created problems for them and for us as well because
They would always want to be at the front, they would always want to be carrying the loads, they would always want to be doing stuff that they really should not be doing. If they want to do that, you have got to let them have their heads sometimes and just pull them back when they need to be pulled back, but it was a dilemma. They could be taken advantage of fairly easily because if you have got someone up the front who wants to do all the work, there are always a heap of people who are prepared to stay down the back and do nothing.
It was good fun. We used to try and make our training a little bit realistic where we could and we used to shoot people in classrooms and have realistic wounds just to shock value that used to always be good fun. They used to always get me to be the sucking chest victim. In other words, I have got a hole in my chest and sucking
and I would always have stuck away under a rock or a tree somewhere, I would always have a nice big bowl of cereal and plenty of carrots and all the green stuff in it, and I would always have a nice mouthful of that and do the old spew routine right over the top of them just when they are going to give you the old mouth to mouth. That was always good fun to see especially the girls, that’s when you would tell the girls from the boys. Boys would usually just get in and just do it and the girls would be too busy gagging or throwing up and all that sort of stuff,
we used to try and make stuff probably more interesting for ourselves because you are doing it day-in day-out, week in week out so you had to have some variety in it just to keep yourself sane. I used to get great enjoyment in doing all that sort of stuff, it didn’t matter to who, but as long as you did it.
When you were looking for another opportunity, where did you find yourself?
was sort of hankering to do something different and I had an interest in health surveying or being a health surveyor, which again was another army trade, so I just put my hand up and said, “Look, I want to be a health surveyor.” Whilst I was at the school they let me do the training and then they said, “Where do you want to go?” And like an idiot, I said, “It would be nice to go to 3 RAR, I am 35, I haven’t really
done anything silly for a while, let me jump out of aeroplanes.” So they said, “Fine, we just don’t get people who put their hands up for that sort of stuff, off you go.” Completely ridiculous, and my wife was really spitting chips because she was the adventurous one out of the both of us, she loves doing all the crazy stuff. She loves the roller coasters and all that stuff, so when I told her, “Listen dear, we are going to Sydney and I am going to the parachute battalion,” that was very cold for a while.
Had you ever done parachuting before?
No. When I was at the school I had done a lot of rappelling and stuff, when I was with the SAS I did a lot of rappelling, that was pretty interesting stuff, doing rappelling off 200 foot wheat silos and stuff, and like I say, I am really scared of heights.
That, to me, was one of the biggest hurdles that I ever managed to get over, to go face down the side of a concrete silo, but again you sort of push yourself to the limits on these things. I felt that jumping out of the aeroplane wouldn’t be a big deal because I was flying then anyway, and I didn’t know whether I would much like the getting out bit but I knew once I was in the air and I was in control of the parachute I would feel all right again.
If I am in control I am all right, so I didn’t have a real problem with that, so I was keen to go and do it because it was something I had always wanted to do.
How did you those two roles come together of parachute battalion and health surveyor?
3 Battalion Royal Australian Regiment is an infantry battalion but it is a fairly independent battalion because it has the operational capacity to go anywhere
because of its airborne capacity, so within that regiment we had obviously we had a higher level of medical support than most other units, even though there is health people in most other units as well. Within the medical component of the unit, you have a doctor, a staff sergeant medic, usually a sergeant medic, a sergeant health and the rest of the diggers, and being dual-trained both medic and health,
they saw that as an asset to the unit because I could do both roles. When I was there that is exactly what I did, I used to do both roles. Primarily your role is to make sure that when the troops are on the ground you keep them healthy, they get clean water, good sanitation, good food, you make sure they look after themselves disease wise and when there is issues, in other words, people start getting sick, then to be able to do
an analysis to determine why. What causes it, what micro-organism, how you treat it and then you go to the doctor and you basically tell the doctor what he is going to do.
In a way is it the role of the health surveyor where the medic is treating people after the fact your job is to make sure?
Before the fact. That is right. I know I have done my job well if we go on a deployment and we all come back and nobody has got sick, then I can say, “Yes, I did my job.”
What sort of operations would you be going on?
For the time I was with the regiment, they didn’t do anything. The only thing we were on call for was when they had the first this was in 1988, I think it was Fiji we were called on to deploy an airstrip in Fiji.
We did about a week’s solid training and everybody was geared up ready to go and then we didn’t go. Pretty much that is what we always did. We did a lot of standard army training with other units, a lot of parachuting that is all they ever did was parachute, parachute, parachute. Because I was at that stage a reasonably senior sergeant and I worked with what they called the headquarters.
When some of the company sergeant major wasn’t there, I took on the role of an infantry company sergeant major, which was pretty good, and I really enjoyed that role. It was very diverse, just parachuting, and it was a very physically fit unit I would probably say, and I was 35 when I went there, It was fittest I was ever in my whole life, I was fitter than when I came out of Kapooka.
The unit just worked on severe discipline, and you have probably seen over the last few years a lot of instances where things have come out of 3 RAR, my old unit, and I would go, “Yes, that is the way we used to do it. And they are still doing it.”
Like what sort of things?
How they discipline people. There is a set of rules that state how people are to be treated,
after a military tribunal you are supposed to do certain things. We had a regimental sergeant major who was, he was as hard as nails, and if you weren’t confined to barracks, his version of confined to barracks was you would march down to the Q [quartermaster] store and get your Q record and the soldier would have to have everything that he was issued and if he didn’t have it he bought it again. He would then take everything and move to the guard room and he would put a hoochie up, which is
a little lean-to tent, and that is where he lived for the period that he was on confinement to barracks. So If he lived in the lines, he moved out of his room, completely closed up and moved down to live in little lean-to. If you lived with your wife, that was it, you didn’t see her for the confinement to the barracks. Nothing like cleaning parade grounds with toothbrushes and all this sort of stuff. You virtually worked from sun up 6 am through to midnight every day
and all the way through that period they would be having different inspections, very hard unit. The physical regime was, I just forget the sequence now, but every day was a theme day. Monday was run day so it didn’t matter what you did, wherever you went in the unit you ran, so you didn’t walk anywhere, you didn’t march anywhere, you physically ran everywhere.
Tuesday was I forget, Wednesday was always pack day. It simply meant that everywhere you went, even if it was going from this orderly room to that orderly room, you went in complete field gear including all your jump gear not your parachute and all the other additional gear including your weapon. Every day was a theme day. I used to go work in the morning at 7 am and the first thing I did was go for a 5 km run. I used to run with the RSM [regimental sergeant major] a lot.
A good way to get on the right side of the big man, but that is what you did to keep fit and you had to. Again, a different culture when you first went there, it didn’t matter what corps you were in, you wore a green beret, because that is the colour of infantry, and all the guys who were jump-qualified had maroon berets. It was a different culture, and if you wore a green hat you just weren’t one of the team.
I had the smarts enough to organise through my senior posting people to get me on a parachute course basically just after I got there so I was only in the unit about a month and I went on my parachute course and did what I had to do just so that I could come back and put a maroon beret on and feel as if you were part of the team.
That is pretty interesting stuff, and it is very much a lead by example organization, so irregardless of how old you are or how fit you are, you are expected to lead by example. If you were a senior NCO [non commissioned officer], you are expected to be the first out the door. Very much hierarchical, the more rank you have got the closer to the door you become. I was always lucky, I had a tall lieutenant in front of me so I didn’t get to see much when I went out the door.
We used to have do operational jumps and that was pretty exciting, to see 600 guys in the air at one time. Very dangerous, people coming out of Hercs one after the after in a very small location and they come in, in waves. They take off at 2 o’clock in the morning, 12 or 14 Hercules will go everywhere and they
converge out at sea at a low level at a given point in time, usually about 5 mins before sun up, and they all come in one behind the other and as many as they can get into the drop zone, which is normally three or four, and they just line up one behind the other they all go out. As that mob is going out the next wave comes in over you and they are coming out. You are down the bottom and pulling your shoot in looking at people over the top of you because they are not steerable canopies, so you are at the mercy of the wind. You have a little bit of
capability to steer. If something goes wrong the first thing you do is get rid of your pack, and if you are carrying, because I used to carry about a 90 kilo pack because I used to carry a lot of medical gear as well, and it is coming from 800 feet and it will just drive you through to the ground like a nail so you always looking around. Helmets would come off people and the riser of the parachute catches you and just rips it off your head and the helmet coming down, guys would throw their weapons away, throw
their packs away. You would be landing – it is not like Lang Park where it is nice and flat and smooth, it would be scrub and there is usually trees so high and people are landing on top of each other or landing on logs. We would average about 20 percent injuries per jump. Mainly little stuff – sprained ankles and stuff – but every good jump we would have at least a couple of broken legs, arms
dislocated shoulders. The way the unit operates is usually anything about a week before they send a SAS team in and the SAS team would jump about 10- 20 kilometres from the DZ drop zone and they would come and basically rec [reconnoitre] you, and if they are happy the night before they would get a small team of 3 RAR pioneers to jump in the middle of
the night and they would secure the airfield and then the whole unit would come in at dawn and just drop onto the place that’s the way they did it. Many a time, and I can remember one big jump where I went in early and the Pioneers came in the middle of the night, we didn’t find one guy for six hours, he was just hanging in a tree. We had to call off the jump and everything until we went and found this guy.
He was strung up in a tree for six hours, so it was pretty interesting stuff when you are in and around t high canopies high trees and stuff and you have to have techniques and we developed techniques for getting out of these, and it is really tough, if you have a guy up in a tree with a broken arm or a broken leg and he is still hanging 25 or 30 feet off the ground.
How would you get them down?
If you could do it yourself
you would drop your reserve chute and un buckle and slither down the reserve chute, but if you have a broken arm or a broken leg you can’t do that. We would skivvy up trees and tie and rappel and try and get them, it would be nothing to spend four or five hours getting a guy out of a tree. We used to have a lot injuries. Whenever there was a full operational jump, we also had
a full medical team a surgery team on board as well. 3 RAR has lost a number of soldiers in non-operational jumps, parachutes not opening, and as they say, it is the going out of a Hercules either right or left-hand turn is the quickest turn you will ever do in your life, you are still doing 120 knots and you have nine seconds from the time you go out the door to the time you hit the ground if your 'chute doesn’t open. By the time you go out the door
and three seconds for the chute to open, so it is 1,000, 2,000, 3,000, it is 250 feet and then your chute is not working and you have to deploy the spare chute and if you are real lucky it usually deploys about the 200 foot mark. It doesn’t take a lot to get it all wrong. We used to have a lot of injuries, luckily when I was there we didn’t have any deaths, but a lot of good interesting injuries. But a very close-knit unit, and everything would stop
when something like that happened. You would get them off really quickly, but that is all we did was jump after jump.
How long were you there for?
Just about a year and a half, and then had a friend of mine who was in the postings area and he rang me up one day and he said,
“What do you want to do?” I said, “I would like to go back to full prevent med [preventative medicine] in Brisbane as a health surveyor.” “I have a job at the end of the year at 2 Prevent Med down in Sydney.” I said, “Yes, I will go,” so I went there, which is an army reserve unit, and at that stage, and I had a couple of bad accidents jumping. I was on crutches for about three months at one time, I did a bad knee injury
and I was starting to get hurt a bit, so I decided it was time to go and do something not so hard. I went down to Randwick, which was in Sydney, 2 Prevent Med and took up residence there as the senior RAR person on the staff. That was a really good unit, and again I got back into training started to
do Health Surveyor Training. Because it was army reserve, we used to run training courses for army reservists from all around the country so I got involved in that, which sort of whetted my appetite and then I also decided then, that is the reason I wanted to stay in Sydney, I needed some civilian qualifications if I wanted to do something outside so I went to Sydney Technical College and I did my Health and Building Surveyor.
In my own time, part time.
From then how far in the distance was Namibia?
Not far. About a year again a friend of mine he was still in the directorate and he rand me up one day and he said, “We have got this thing Namibia coming up, it is an engineering thing, we want a health surveyor but we want somebody with medical quals [qualifications] – have a guess what, you are the only one.”
Basically he said, “We want it to be a good operation.” Other words he didn’t want me or somebody else to do something stupid, so I said, “Yes, count me in, I am happy to do that.” We had a guy that went over before me on the first contingent, I went on the second contingent, and they just wanted, I suppose, somebody they could trust, I don’t know.
When it first raised its head, what did you actually know what was going on over there?
I didn’t know anything really, I had heard about it that it was United Nations job but I didn’t really know much about it until I got advised that yes I would be definitely going, and I did some research on it finding out what it was exactly about. When I went there it was the more interesting part because it was actually
both as a primarily as a health surveyor but I also went as a senior medic and I did some election monitoring because we had the elections while we were there and that was the sticky part I suppose.
When you say once you found out you were going you did some research yourself, what sort of army training or – ?
I started getting fit again but about three or four months before I went basically on and off went over to Holsworthy to the engineering unit over there and did mine demolition, I did three or four demolition courses, primarily for mine demolition, mine awareness because Namibia is just one big mine field, it was all mine awareness,
that sort of training, it was back into infantry mine attacks and all that sort of thing in case you got into a fire fight. Again getting your weapon skills back up to speed.
What about through the actual official channels, what training was there for you about what the actual political and cultural situation was?
Not a lot until prior to deployment where we had some
formal training in terms of what it was about and who the good guys were and who the bad guys were, and I went over a bit early and my primary role for going early, I wanted to actually go and talk to the South African people in terms, and this came back to me from my time in Malaysia where, and from my research,
I knew that HIV [Human Immunodeficiency Virus] was very prevalent in South West Africa and then when you started delving into the pure statistics of it, it was quite horrific. My main aim was to get over there and get as much information as I could and then get back to my new commander and say, “This is the problem you are going to have if you don’t get on top of this quickly,” and then I again reiterated previous my Malaya service where if you let it get out of control the difference will be
, these guys won’t just get a load, they just won’t get VD, they will get HIV, and if they are really unlucky they will get HIV positive and they will be dead in a couple of years, so that was a real eye opener to my new boss and he couldn’t quite believe that it was going to be like this, and I said, “I hate to tell you,” and that is when I laid out all the statistics of basically 90 percent of the local black prostitute
population are HIV positive, 60 percent of the white prostitution population is HIV positive, 60 percent of the local indigenous population is HIV positive. And you start going into the world Health Organization statistics, the longevity of this race of people is not very good, and it was really sending my commanders a very hard-nosed message about the fact that
if you let any of these guys get out of control, they are going to go home with something that is not going to be good for them, and it certainly won’t be good for your career if you go home with half a dozen guys or more who are HIV positive, especially if they happen to be married or who have girlfriends or whatever, so that was the message I needed to get out very, very early, and that to me was more important than the potential combat complications, of gunshot wounds
of people stepping on mines, to me that is an easy fix, if somebody steps on a mine that is fine you go and give them immediate first aid and you pack them off to a hospital and they will be repaired but they will go home and they will survive and they will live, if they get HIV they will go home and they will get very sick and they might die, so to me that was more important in my role as a health surveyor. There was a lot of issues I got involved with in terms of food health
working with local communities, distributing food that we got that we didn’t use and that sort of stuff that would normally go to a tip.
Before we get into the work that you did when you actually got there, before you were saying that you had some training as to who were the good guys and who were the bad guys, what was that about the goodies and the baddies?
Basically, you know, what we
did learn was the fact that South West Africa as it as then known, as it is now known, as Namibia was basically a province of South Africa, it was part of South Africa, the South Africans themselves had been fighting a 20-year war with the South West Africans People’s Organization, which was called SWAPO and they primarily lived in Angola, which was north
of the border, and they would come down and they would do things which insurgents would normally do, which we now call terrorists, and they would be fighting a 20-year war with this mob, they had conscription for 20 years, I went over there and you just didn’t know these things. We knew nothing about South Africa because of Apartheid we had never heard of it, and to go there and find that these guys had been fighting a continuous war for 20 years, they had conscription for 20 years and they had lost a hell of a lot of, they made Vietnam look like
a kindergarten, it was really quite up there in terms of being a nasty place so we were basically told that the SWAPO were the bad guys, they primarily insurged from Angola, we also didn’t know, before I went, we knew a lot of Communist states had been involved in this little fracas for
a while, the Cubans had over 40,000 troupes in Angola training all these people to be insurgents. They had tank battalions supplied by the Russians, they had all the mod cons. they had all the modern weapons and the likes and they were pretty switched on. The South Africans had a lot of good stuff too, so we sort of knew you weren’t dealing with a rag tag bunch of terrorists running around
with a couple of old .22s. These guys were running around with 1990s weapons, 1990s missiles, 1990s everything being supplied from Communists countries, so you weren’t dealing with a bunch of yokels, you were dealing with hardened combat troops who had been doing it for 20 years. We had to sort of be a little bit aware.
Interviewee: Martin Carr Archive ID 2030 Tape 06
When you went over with the advance party who else went in the advance party?
The doctor, myself, company commander only about six of us, six senior people who went and just basically spoke with the previous mob that were leaving and I specifically said to the doctor that was going,, “I believe I need to go and talk to the local health surveyors and
the like,” and he agreed. He was a very good doctor this guy, and he was very attuned to preventative health and he said, “I agree,” so that is what we did.
How did you get over?
I went over on a Qantas flight, flew from Sydney to Perth, Perth to Harare
in Zimbabwe and then from there to Johannesburg, and then from Johannesburg up to Windell, I think that was the route, something like that.
You were there as a military team, like, wearing your gear and stuff?
The whole contingent, and there was 400 Australians there, and they were primarily all engineers.
The first contingent’s role was to basically develop sites for election monitoring. We went there and in our group was to finish that particular role of developing and building facilities for election monitoring. But at the same time they were building sites for other multinational force, part of the multinational force that was there, it was a very diverse force. We had Australians that were primarily engineers,
we had a medical team that was primarily Swiss, great bunch of losers they were. Don’t ever go to Switzerland, that is all I can say. We went over there as a military contingent, this is a military operation, the Swiss, they do it in a contracting basis,
they say, “We have got to set up a medical team and we are going to wherever,” so they put an ad in the paper and people turn up and they say, “What do you do?” And they say, “Oh I’m a doctor, good, you can be a captain, there is your uniform,” “What do you do?” “I am a nurse.” “You can be a lieutenant.” “What do you do?” “I am a storeman.” “Oh, you can be a sergeant.” No military experience, slap uniforms on, and these dudes used to walk around with their long hair, sandals breezing around, that is why we had our own doctor and our own medical facility. And
the other problem with the Swiss is being such a small nation, but the Swiss medical contingent, some of them spoke German, some spoke Italian and some spoke French, and some spoke a bit of French a bit of German, and some of them spoke Swiss, and half of them could not talk to each other. It was just crazy, and I used to hate going there. I used to absolutely hate going there, and I had a bit of a, the doc used to use me for a bit of a
agro point, but I had a thing on the back of my shoulder that turned nasty and I went to the doctor and he said, don’t like that “We will cut that out and send it down to the capital to get it biopsied.” So that was alright. Cuts this big thing out the back of my shoulder, mole type of thing, sends it down. A couple of weeks goes by, no results, went down to the Swiss medical unit where are my results, “Oh, I don’t know.” I went back to the doc and I said,
“This is not good, I am going to talk with my mate,” because I actually lived with some Danish guys and they were in charge of the transport, so I said to my Danish mate, “Can you get me a flight to the capital?” “No problems,” he says, so I went to the doc, “I am going down to the capital and I am going to get the results.” He said, “Enjoy the trip.” I went down there and I went up to the head medico and I said, “I want my results, I want them now and I won’t leave until I get them.
There will be issues if I don’t get them.” I was carrying a loaded weapon and I was prepared to shove it in somebody’s face. They went around and about half an hour later they came back with some results, and to this day I don’t know whether they were my results of, or somebody else’s results, it was negative in terms of the biopsy being clear. That was the sort of issues we had. The logistics were run by Poles, we only had two guys in the whole Polish contingent that could speak English, so all your
logistics were forever being late, stuffed up. We used to get UHT [ultra heat treated] milk, which was always three months out, so we never even bothered with that, we used to get it on pallets so I organised to give it to local orphanages and stuff like that. It was a very crazy situation, a multinational force and half of them couldn’t talk to each other always problems.
That is a pretty big statement you are making there, that multinational forces are very
A lot of different, different nationalities didn’t interact much with each other much, the Swiss were there as a medical unit and that is all they did, the Poles were for the logistics, that’s all they did we were engineers and that is all we did, had very little interaction with anybody else. Had a lot of East African nations, they got them because they were cheap, as infantry and you never saw them because they used to hold up
in these little compounds and never come out because you had a lot of South Africans there as well, and they have a sort of a German-Dutch origin, a very nasty bunch, and they used to act as a civil militia so they don’t like anything dark skinned, so they would have no problems bumping off another African regardless if he
was one of the good guys or the bad guys. You didn’t see them much, they stayed in their compounds. We had British there, I actually had a British sergeant working with me and for me, and I had a Canadian sergeant working with me and for me, and they were two health guys. One from the British group and one from the Canadian group, and because you couldn’t go anywhere in the country unless you were fully armed, escorted and you had to go in at least minimum of twos or threes. So the way we got to operate was
We got to operate in this team of three and that let us go anywhere that allowed us to do our own troops do each other’s troops, and as the consequence of that, we managed to maintain a very high level of health, and those two guys were brilliant, they were at least, if not better trained than we were, in some health aspects they were very good. We had a very good rapport, we didn’t work, we would act as a team, we didn’t supervise each other or
I didn’t supervise them and it was really good. That was probably one of the highlights of it was getting to work with these other people that were very, very good.
Besides the Danes, Poms and the Canadians, what forces did you work closely with?
We had the Italians that were flying planes, if you would call it flying. They were different. I can remember going up to an election post when I had to do some
election monitoring and these Italians, and it has nothing to do with the Italians, I suppose it was very nasty up on the border, and we had a couple of planes that had been shot at with rockets, small arms fire was, quite common, so they did tend to go low level everywhere, and I was in a Herc, and low level in a Herc is not fun, but when you are low level, and I am looking out the window and the big whirly things are chewing the tops of branches, it was not fun, that was just too low level for me.
I had a couple of quiet words with a couple of pilots one night and told them what I thought. That was pretty interesting.
When you first got there, what did you think of the place?
From a country, it is virtually no different – if you went out west it looks exactly the same, except the wildlife is definitely different and some of the bushes are definitely different, so
from the landscape perspective it is just like home. The weather is almost similar, except it does get pretty cold in winter and a bit hotter in summer, but as far as the population goes, absolute – I couldn’t, I find it very hard to describe the local populations, they were that poor, that miserable. The South Africans didn’t do them a great deal of favours. They used to look after themselves very well, had brilliant roads and brilliant
airstrips, but it was all there as the logistics for there military operations, and the locals just lived on what the locals could get. Where we could we did try and interact with locals in terms, if we had spare, like UHT milk that we would not use, then myself and one other, actually the priests organised to distribute that to where we could.
Because the joint is lousy with land mines, you see heaps and heaps of kids with one legs, they were always getting blown up, and that was pretty tough – seeing children that you know you can’t do anything with, you can’t help them in any way, that was really sort of very tough.
Was civil aid part of the charter of being there?
The UN [United Nations] were there of course in charge. I suppose I should be politically correct in my
assertions of what I think of the UN. But in general terms, the UN wouldn’t go anywhere unless they had an air-conditioned four wheel drive and at least a three star room to stay in, so you didn’t see them much, they would breeze in and say a few words of wisdom and then they would breeze out again. They stayed in the capital, which is Windook, which is right down in the south. We were right up on the border, up the sharp end as it were, you never saw them.
They did work up there, and the ones that we did get to work with were very good, but the head administrators. I didn’t have a lot of time for breezed-in breezed-out got paid big dollars for doing it.
Were the Australians wearing any UN insignia or anything like that?
Yes, we wore our full camouflaged uniforms with the blue beret or the blue peaked cap,
which is all we ever used to wear. We had a UN badge on our shoulder with a yellow kangaroo underneath. We always found if you tell people you are Australians, they tend to leave you alone for some reason.
You don’t know why that is?
I think because we tend to do things in a different way, tend to look after people, we tend to make sure we don’t take adverse risk with ourselves and others
we are reasonably highly trained and we didn’t go anywhere unlike the Yanks, and I found this in a number of operations that I have worked with Yanks, where the Yanks go everywhere armed to the teeth, we were armed to the teeth, but you never knew it. I didn’t go anywhere without 300 rounds of ammunition on me, but it was in a bandoleer, I had 10 30-round mags strapped to my gut under my shirt and
an M16 fully loaded on safety all the time, it was pretty much the way we operated, low-key armed to the teeth. In the event something went wrong you had it all with you, you didn’t wear flack jackets, didn’t wear any of that stuff, too hot, slows your mobility, and when they start dropping mortars over the fence, then you can move fairly quickly, that is the way we operated.
Did you get the feeling then that Australians did do things quite differently?
From what you have just spoken about, in what other ways did we do things differently to everyone else?
Engineers, and I have worked with engineers quite a few times, engineers have a basic philosophy ‘they work hard, they play hard’, they work hard all day and they will play hard all night, and in between that they did weird things to keep fit. We had a little camp at a place called Rundu which is up fairly high to the border, it would not have been much bigger
than a high school grounds completely surrounded barbed wired in all the gear, but the guys made a running track around the inside of that. It was really strange because we used to go up there once a month, and when I was up there I used to always sit on the fence for a couple of hours just to give them a hand. You would be sitting there in a weapon pit on fence and the guys would be running past you, just with a pair of shorts and a pair of runners on and a weapon.
It is crazy, and they had aerobics going and all sorts of stuff they used to do to maintain a level of fitness, to give them something else to do, because that was all they did up there. I was very lucky because I had the flexibility of getting all over the country, because wherever we had troops, and we had them scattered all over the country, I needed to get to all of them and I even had to go to the capital on rare occasions
even though I didn’t like going down there it was just a bit trendy for me.
What vehicles would you travel in?
We took a lot of our own vehicles, but I had a UN four-wheel drive and air conditioned.
A big white one?
Big white one, Toyota Land Cruiser, she was a beauty.
When you went out travelling around like that
besides having to go fully armed, were there any protection parties assigned to you?
We always went anywhere with a minimum of two vehicles and at least a minimum of two people per vehicle, and both guys always had to be armed as a minimum, and that was a bit frowned upon, they really did like to have minimum teams of three and at least two vehicles, so it was pretty hard to go anywhere
unless you were down towards the capital, but certainly up on the border post it was really frowned on going anywhere so you had to make contacts with these other people. I knew some guys from the Danes and I got to know some guys in the Finnish battalion very well, I went on some UN leave with one of those guys, so where we could we interacted with those guys and we would sort of get together and say, “What are you doing for the next month?”
“I need to go here,” so, “I need to go there too,” so, “How can we work out so we can all go on the same time?” Again, the Finns were a bit funny, too, they sort of operated in a quasi-contractor basis, and I got to know one of the Finns pretty well, and he had been on a couple of these UN missions, and a place north of Rundu, they had a big airstrip
and he took me up there and it was chock-a-block full of cars. The deal with them was, they could buy a car, import it to Namibia, keep it six months and then take it home and then sell it. Mattie was this guy’s name and he had a brother who was living in LA [Los Angeles] and he got a brand spanking new Chevy Corvette and it was parked up there. Went for a drive in it down the main runway, a nice big red Chevy Corvette brand spankin' new.
He reckons when he got it home he would sell it for US$100,000 plus, that was his bonus. They got paid bugger-all when they were there, but they made big money on all these cars they brought over, and we never got any of that.
What would a bloke get what is the bonus for an Australian?
We, basically we were on a pretty good deal when we went there. We got our normal pay, I think we e were on US$15 a day
allowance, but then we were on tax-free, so the tax-free part was the bonus, so nine months over there tax-free dollars was pretty good. We used to basically live on the UN bonus, $15US a day, that was about anything up to $20 given the exchange rate, so you could quite comfortably live on that considering you couldn’t go anywhere you had nothing to do.
When they did open the boozer up it was pretty cheap anyway because the breweries used to send over pallet-loads of grog so that was pretty cheap.
Was it a multinational compound that you lived in?
We had primarily the main compound, which was at a place called Group Fontaine, which again was an old airbase, primarily
there was us, the Swiss medical team, some Danish guys that were in charge of transport. We had some, when the fly boys did fly in because they didn’t stay there, they parked the planes there, the planes always stayed at Windook and they would bring the plane up when they needed them. We had a few Brits there because, wherever you had a base the Brits were in charge of communications so they had radio posts and all that stuff
and some Poles and that was about it. We had our own MPs with us and they used to love it.
Who looked after the defence of the air strip the compound itself?
We had a defence area defence ground mob which was some of these African – I think they could have been Congo or something but you never saw them. They were on the gate and they were out there but you never saw them.
It was pretty hard, you couldn’t get in and out of the place unless you had ID [identification] and all the other stuff, you had to have, we had special UN identification apart from the fact you looked like a soldier, but you had special UN identification badges and all that sort of stuff. It was fairly rigorous to get in and out, and every time you went in the gate they were underneath with all the mirrors to see that you didn’t have mines stuck to your vehicle.
What was the
standard weapon at that stage for the Australians?
M16. I had an M16, weapon of choice, I carried an M16 my whole military career, so it was my weapon of choice. You basically got a choice, and I wanted an M16, so I got an M16.
Was that more practical because you had to carry usually so much other gear?
Well, it is light,
the rounds are a lot smaller so you can carry 300 rounds in a bandoleer strapped to your waist, you really couldn’t tell they were there. It was convenient. I used to carry a strap on it and throw it over the shoulder. It is pretty hard to put it down. I can remember one of the Brit payroll guys lost his pistol. That created all sorts of chaos. He went home in big trouble over that one.
He just got out of the car one day and put his pistol on the roof and then drove off, apparently t i [?UNCLEAR]. You learnt, I learnt in the battalions that you just didn’t put your weapon down. A M16, nice and light a good weapon of choice.
What did your wife think when you first told her you wanted to go over?
She didn’t really mind,
she had known me, I was a sergeant when we met so she had known me my whole military career and we had spent a considerable period of time away from each other with all the different jobs I had, so she was pretty much attuned to it. I was away from home because I was doing college four nights a week so I had took with me all this gear and I was doing college correspondence while I was over there. It sort of kept me out of trouble a bit,
she was pretty attuned to it, she has never been difficult with that sort of stuff. The only issue that arose was that Darren was born like three months before I went, so it was a case of moving from Sydney to Brisbane and the furniture was supposed to have arrive on the Monday and
I was supposed to fly out on Wednesday. The furniture got lost, didn’t arrive until the Wednesday, I had to get an extension for one day to get her into the house and then basically jump on an Ansett flight to Sydney, to get this flight out. Basically got a house over at Albany Creek and plonked her in it and said, “See you later,” but it was okay, her parents were here and everything so she was pretty right.
I must admit with Namibia, the engineers, they were brilliant, they had a support group here who used to meet every three weeks or couple of weeks and have barbecues and all that stuff, a very good support network for all the wives who lived in Brisbane. The one thing that I found with Namibia, my deployment, was that, that side of it was managed extremely well and we had very good communications over there, a direct landline into to
barracks so they could ring us if needed be. We used to have times where you could book the line for 15 minutes and I would book it at Tuesday morning at 3 o’clock and I would always book it for a night I was in the ops room so she would ring me at 3 o’clock over there which was some time here. We would get to talk every couple of weeks
and we sent a lot of mail, so that side of it was good. As we got on later in my career and technology became a bit better, it became a lot better.
What news would you receive of home, any – ?
She used to send, periodically she would do a video and send a video over, which I didn’t like much because it was too confronting. Seeing Darren walk for the first time, that
sort of stuff, I got a couple of those and I would sort of slither off in the middle of the day and find a video recorder and watch it and have a little sob here and there as you do, sort of put it away. Christmas, I was there over Christmas, that was a bit tough but the engineers, they work hard they play hard, boy did they put on one hell of a Christmas party, it was unbelievable.
We actually found a swimming pool that they had filled in so we got it and we dug it completely out I worked on the filtration system, we got this swimming pool completely up and running and for the Christmas party, it was an all in affair, they had pallets of XXXX [beer], pallets of
Foster’s and pallets of Carlton Draught and we didn’t drink any of it because we used to drink the South African beer, and it was really nice and it didn’t give you a hang over. So we used to save all this stuff and like the Christmas party when all the other nationalities came over to this Christmas party they would drink it all and we used to just drink everything else. You would be grogging on a whole day and it was getting late in the afternoon and it was pretty hot and somebody fell in the pool and before you knew it we had 200 people in this 25 metre swimming pool.
Shoulder to shoulder covered in beers, it was kind of fun. Politicians used to come and visit us all the time. I was never one for pollies [politicians], but Tim Fischer came over and I didn’t mind Tim because he is an ex-veteran of very high regard and he was genuine – he was a genuine guy, and he was there on this particular day or just
before it and they had a bit of a boat race and Tim got involved, and of course Tim didn’t finish his drink and, he didn’t pour it on his head, bad mistake with the engineers, they just poured beer all over him and bodily carried him out and threw him in the duck pond just outside. I can always remember Tim Fischer sitting there like this in the duck pond going, “What the hell has happened to me?” with an old piece of duck and water plant hanging on his head,
the head boss is there, the full colonel is there, yes fair enough, Tim’s pollies are going, Tim thought, “This is great fun, I am enjoying this,” and he got out and he was just one of the boys after that. That sort of stuff sticks in your mind as being a good thing.
What about media over there did you see much of them?
No, I didn’t see too much. I believe down at the capital they had a lot of that stuff but not where we were, they weren’t allowed up there.
I didn’t take much photos. I was never one for taking photos.
Were you allowed to take photos?
Yes. You sort of wonder because you see all these photos coming out of Iraq at the moment and you wonder, if that’s a good idea “Are they taking photos and sending them home and irate mums and daughters, especially if they are conscripted start leaking them to the press?” But most people had their cameras with them at all different times and took
photos of different things.
Were things different there to what you had expected? To what you had been led to believe?
The period up to the general election I found was a bit different. They said to expect all these things to happen and nothing really happened, it was very quiet. Got on very well with the local population, but within a month of the election
things started to hot up and suddenly it all turned a bit nasty, but up until then it was pretty quiet, and I suppose you were lured into a false sense of security somewhat. Within a few weeks of the election, especially doing the election monitoring, you really had to have your head screwed on.
Can you tell us what sort of things you had to do during the elections?
Primarily it was just act as a guard on a monitoring station
because the UN brought all the election monitors in, their role was to try and identify that Bill is Bill and that Bill doesn’t come through five times and vote continuously and that people weren’t harassed into voting a particular way and you could only do that in the small village that you were operating in, and the other thing was to secure all the votes.
You could only do that within the confines of where you were, but you knew outside that the party that wanted to win was doing what it needed to do to get people to vote, and I don’t know how the UN managed to do it. I can remember seeing the same face 10 times, it was a different coloured shirt on each time, but that is all you had to do. You just had to be there
in case a ruckus broke out, and there were heaps of those where different political parties would be yelling and screaming whatever they were yelling and screaming about at each other, and half the time you didn’t know whether they were two, four, six, eight, this is great or we want to do each other over, so you just had to be there, it was a bit nerve racking at times.
After having been there and seen it, what is your opinion on UN-run elections?
I think they do as
good a job as they can do under the circumstances. It is certainly not an easy task. I suppose people here don’t really understand, it is not like when you go down to vote. You go down and it is a nice clean booth and everybody’s given how to vote cards and you go inside and they ask you your name and they cross it off neatly. Half the people can’t read and half the people can’t write, and 90 percent can’t read and write,
it is an X, how do you know who they are? How do you know if they are real or unreal? From a purely election-monitoring point of view, a very tough job. They do as well as they can do it, and to me it was run as honestly as it could be run. I came away thinking well once the election is over and SWAPO won, which they did and suddenly
the bad guys were the good guys, you say it was a fair election as far as I was concerned, the area I was in was run fairly.
How did it feel to be part of the United Nations Force as opposed as being part of the Australian Force?
It was special. Just from the fact that is multinational,
we, General Prem Chan from Pakistan or India, he was the head guy, and there was all levels of multinationals through the whole force so that was pretty interesting. We had our own hierarchy within the 400 Australians, very much Australian-only, but above that it was multinationals, it was interesting, it was
unique, it is something that I can say I worked for the UN in whatever capacity. It was good.
Did you ever have to discharge your weapon?
Not in anger. Had to discharge it a couple of times, but not physically in anger. A few incidences where we were under fairly tight control in terms of what we were allowed to do. Your were virtually
had to dodge one before you were allowed to give one back, and at the time, and I think to myself, and a lot of other people felt very constrained, but in hindsight, I think it was probably the best option, because I think you can’t advertently, I think Iraq now gives a very good demonstration of if you get out there and start spraying the countryside with loose rounds, and then you will get sprayed back at you. Having very tight, and they were governmental controls, that was not a military control
it was a government control of our, what we were allowed to do. In hindsight it was a very good option and probably kept us very safe as opposed to others who did let weapons go left, right and centre, they used to get a lot back.
Did you feel that was the case when you were dealing with people you don’t necessarily trust and you don’t know whose side they were on?
I didn’t trust the whiteys let alone the others, so, I mean South West Africa is a
very unique area, the whiteys aren’t real white, they are a sort of cross culture between Germans who apparently went there after World War II mixing with Dutch, they have their own unique language, a lot of them refuse to speak English so they were very hard to
deal with, very hard cases. Everywhere they went, they always went armed. Every single one. I never met a white male that didn’t have a pistol on him somewhere, and they weren’t afraid to use it. They were really quite a nasty bunch. The poor old locals, the dark people, they were just very poor peasants unless they want to throw a rock at you or something.
They were very pleasant people. They were just out scratching for a living, and very rudimentary as well.
You said, like, when you went to Malaya you were very interested in finding out more getting really in touch with the culture. Did you manage to do that there as well?
We actually, mainly when I went down to the capital, and I was down there I would always go and visit the local padre and he would set up
a thing with the local orphanage, and if I had some time I would like to go out there and give them a hand and wherever I could I would bring down a lot of excess milk and stuff like that and we would try to give that to the right people as opposed to the wrong people. Where I could, that is what I liked to do. I must admit I wasn’t too keen getting involved in the local food culture, that definitely was not a good scene, not good at all.
What was the deal there?
Their version of a butcher shop – at 5 o’clock in the morning you usually hear a crack, that is, they are lucky enough to own a gun that would be knocking off a cow or hitting him over the head with a big axe, they just chop him up in the dirt and throw him on a dirty old piece of board on the side and sell him off and hopefully he would be sold off before it got too hot.
If you went into a local eatery, that is probably what you were eating so you could never tell the quality of the food it was not a good idea. No refrigeration, no power, no anything, so it was never a good idea to eat locally. Not there anyway.
How did you guys go with food and water?
Very well looked after, and I must admit the Australian Government was very good in that
regard. Once we identified that some of the issues with the food that we were getting, they actually subsidized us so we could get local fruit and vegetables and local milk and that sort of stuff sent up from down the capital. That side of it was very good, I must admit, the government did a very good job. The government strangely was very good to us over there, they looked after us from the tax benefits. They looked after us in terms of
getting us mail and all those sorts of stuff both to and from. It was very good. It was nothing to get a letter out of there and have it home within a week. In that regard you felt like you were being looked after.
How do you see the Australian Army being different on deployment to what it is like back in Australian barracks?
You certainly go on deployment with everything you have never seen back in the barracks.
When we went we got the very first of the new camouflaged uniforms, all our weapons were virtually brand new, everything we got was new and basically before we came home they said, “You have two options,” they said. “you can throw them away or burn it, or you can take it back.” It was all written off before we left. Most of us just took it back because it was better than the gear we had back here.
I bought all mine back because it was written off – it was mine.
A lot of blokes we have spoken to have said just operationally the army, when you are on deployment, is so different, no mucking about?
It is. You mentally have a different perspective. It is fair dinkum life and death, it is not pretend life and death, so you do tend to go into it with a different attitude. Regardless of
What some people might think, but Australians are very highly trained and we do a very good job when we have to do it, and we don’t take risks doing it. One of the things that comes out of the training is that you don’t take risks. Where other nationalities maybe higher on the risk taking, we don’t take risks, as a consequence we don’t tend to make to many bad decisions or too many bad mistakes. And as a consequence, we don’t have too bad a track record of
bringing our people home.
What was the worse thing you saw there in regards to things that happened to Aussies that were there?
Not a real lot, really, we didn’t have too many bad situations at all that I can recall. I think we had more, I can remember it was a month before we were due to come home.
Interviewee: Martin Carr Archive ID 2030 Tape 07
You were about to tell us something that happened just before you came home?
It was about a month before we came home and it was after the elections and everything was quietened down and it was in transition and there was a bit more free time we were still working under similar criteria that we were doing having a bit of a break, I suppose, and in between
I was lucky enough to get four or five days of UN leave and I went to Zimbabwe to Vic [Victoria] Falls, which was good fun. We were just having a game of touch football and somehow one of the guys went over and he snapped his patella, his knee cap clean in half and it was a bit of a nasty sort of an injury and the doc took one look at it and said, “I don’t like this,” and took him down to the
Swiss medical team and they came up with some really weird diagnosis so he immediately rang up Australia got on to an orthopaedic surgeon in 2 Mil Hospital and basically told him what he had done and told him what this mob wanted to do and they just said, “They said, “No, get him home we will do it here.’” He came back to me, “We have got to get this guy out of here, do you want to take him home?” I said, “What is the deal?” He said, “Well, take him home, we’ll dump him at
to 2 Mil and then you will come back.” I said, “It is no good to me,” I said, “I live in Brisbane,” and he said, “Yes, what do you want to do?” I said, “Send Clarke,” the other medic, I said, “Clarke lives in Sydney and he might get an overnighter there, or his missus might come out and see him.” “Mumble, all right [?UNCLEAR],” he said, “organise it,” so I said, “Righto.” To get this guy home we had to get him out of the country. So I
organise from my Danish mates, I could get him to Harare, and then from there we had to get him the rest of the way home. The way they did it was we got him to Harare, a flight from Harare to Johannesburg to Frankfurt, a night in Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Singapore, overnight in Singapore, Singapore to Sydney turn around and he came back the same route. Well, that was the plan. I organised through the payroll
guy I knew very well and we got him a block of cash US$10,000, that is your wad of money, bring back receipts if you can get them and have a good time. Clarke went, we used to call this guy ‘Mother’, for obvious reasons “Yes, all right.” Clarke went off and took this guy and about eight or 10 days later Clarke lobbed back on the door step,
black eyes absolutely looked like he had been put through the ringer, he reckoned he hadn’t slept in days. “What was the deal? What happened and how much did you bring back?” He brought back most of this $10,000. “We went to Harare and jumped on a plane and went to Johannesburg and had to stay there for 8 hours or something,” and we had this guy not in a cast but in a
back slab and he was pretty comfortable, we just couldn’t put him in a cast, because in an aeroplane your leg swells up and we had him fairly well medicated. I said to the doc is, “What you have given him’s not going to affect him alcohol wise, he will probably want a couple of drinks.” “No, she will be right.” I said to Clarke, “Make sure you feed him and dine him and wine him well,” so in
Johannesburg, no they wouldn’t give him a drink. Then they shot up to Frankfurt, he locked him up in the room, he wouldn’t let him out. Made him eat takeaway room service. He reckons by the time they got to Singapore this guy was just about ready to tear his tonsils out so he had to let him out in Singapore and then they went to Sydney and they couldn’t do it in Sydney, so they immediately put him back on the plane and flew him to Brisbane.
His missus didn’t get to see him at all. Dumped him at Brisbane at 1 Mil Hospital and back on a plane, so he was back in another four or five days. The doc said, “Yes, you could have gone on that,” and I said, “Look at him. Do you want me to look like that?” I said, “The difference would be that I would have the biggest hangover in the world and I still look like that.”
You would have more fun?
With your part of the role being to ensure that all the food was fit for consumption and all that, specifically how was it done?
Primarily it is just ensuring that you source everything, so it was mainly test and tag basically everything that came in, I ensured but primarily through the catering staff that
everything was up to date package-wise that any of the fresh meats that we got I had already sourced and tagged as being acceptable, the distributor was okay. We had a history of where the food had come from and that was okay. Having said that, I did get involved with a couple of interesting ones. They had UN wheat coming in for refugees, and I
had to go down to the capital and check some of that, and in one afternoon I disposed of 10 tonne of wheat because it was weevil infested and I basically said to them, “You have two options here, you can either treat it or dispose of it.” Basically their answer was, “But it is only going up to, you know, where a few weevils won’t hurt.”
I said, “That is not the way we operate. You either fix it or you can dispose of it.” “How do we fix it?” I said, “Well, if you have an arsenic spears you put an arsenic spear in it and it will kill all the weevils.” “Oh, can’t do that.” And if they were going to put locals in there to do it without any safety gear. We used to do stuff like that, also got involved with any food aid programs
that we checked a lot of the food aid so we got involved pretty much where we could get involved politically sometimes, after that incident I never got an invite back, to do any of that sort of stuff again.
When you are talking about sourcing fresh meat to make sure it is okay, how do you source meat in a completely foreign country?
Primarily linking, and that was one of the reasons I wanted to go early was to develop a rapport
with the local health surveyors because they do have South African health surveyors up there, and we did develop a pretty good rapport with the guys there. And basically you could only go on an assurance that they would give you that this distributor was okay and this was the methodology they used. Again, we only took on stuff that we knew was going to be cooked.
We would not take on cooked product, we would only take on fresh product that we could cook and ensure basically a sterilization process through cooking. That is about the only thing you can do in a foreign country. It can be difficult.
Apart from HIV, which we spoke of earlier, were there other diseases that aren’t really prevalent here in Australia that you have to be particularly careful with?
Yes, there was
two different types of malaria strain up in the north where we were. Primarily, one was a meningeal malaria, which attacks the brain cells, the stem cells in the brain, very nasty, so again I spent a lot of time, I was doing a trial for the Preventative Medicine Unit in terms of
impregnating our uniforms with a new type of insecticide which would kill the mossies when they landed on it, so I was involved in a research program while I was up there. I also did some training with the malarial research unit. Before I went so, I had my own microscope, I could do blood cell testing, I could do my own scans, so if we got somebody that
we weren’t sure of I could take some blood samples, I could plate it up, I could view it and if I wasn’t sure about it, what we used to do, completely illegal here of course, was to wrap it up and shoot it back home to the malarial research unit in Sydney and get them to run a scan on it and I could usually do that on diplomatic mail and it would be there in about 4 days of days.
Why is that illegal putting blood samples through the mail?
We are talking about our troops here and the troops lives and their potential health. If you have got to cut corners, you have got to cut corners, and that’s what we did. There was a lot of endemic diseases up there, not uncommon if we were working in Papua New Guinea, so again all the standard preventative measures through what you do after hours when it gets on to dusk, wearing long sleeves and
putting on your mosquito repellent. Again, talking engineers here, engineers wear shorts and singlets. What do they wear after hours when they are on the grog? Shorts and singlets. What do they wear in the weapon pit? Shorts and singlets. You go up on the main wire at Rundu or up on the line up there, you go to there other joints, they would be all in their gear vests, flak jackets, the whole lot, and you go to our blokes, shorts and singlets and a machine gun.
Was malaria an issue?
No not for us We didn’t get any known cases, but having said that, the guys were pretty good, even though they sat around in shorts and singlets, they did wear the, and we had some pretty good skin protection that we took over there and we got it here and took it there rather than use the stuff they had Rid and Raid and all that sort of stuff.
We didn’t have any real problems, but then again it was very dry when we were there too, it was extremely dry so there wasn’t a lot of spare water laying around. The mossies population weren’t as heavy as they could have probably been.
Just to touch back on the whole HIV problem we spoke of before, we talked about it mainly from the prospective of
Your outlook of it before the troops really got there, once they arrived what happened was there an infection rate at all?
No, our infection rate was pretty low. We had a very solid education campaign extremely solid, we did that before we left, and we did it when we got there and I did it continually the whole time I was there, and once I got
the numbers, and I put the numbers in front of the troops and the troops started to listen and then I also had the numbers from other contingents and their numbers were alarming. Some of our northern hemisphere neighbours their incident rates of HIV per thousand were in the 20s and 30s, it was just unbelievable.
Are you talking about the general population or the forces that were deployed there?
Yes, the forces that were deployed there.
They had 20 to 30 per 1,000 per 12-month stint. To send 1,000 troops over there and have 20 or 30 come back HIV positive is not good. You start putting those statistics in front of your guys, “Yes, go out and do what you want to do, but this is what you need to do to protect yourself.” In most cases, a lot of them weren’t in a situation where they could. Ninety percent of our troops were all up on the border.
Ten percent of our troops were down in the capital, and a lot of us were sort of in between so there was not a real lot of opportunity for guys to go out and play. The only time they got time to go out and play and if they were lucky enough to get UN leave and they went somewhere else. About half way through our stint they actually opened up the South African border and allowed people to go to Cape Town and places like that. I chose not to go there, I wanted to go
and see something that I had always wanted to see which is Vic Falls, so I went there.
You are aware of, what sort of numbers of men did we have over there?
We had 400 at a stint.
Not that I can recall. To be totally honest, I don’t know, but I don’t think so but not in our contingent but there was women there from other forces,
you have got me again, but I can’t recall ever seeing an Australian lady in uniform there.
Before you left, did you know how long you were going to be deployed for? Was it for a set period?
We had a vague idea but it was all subject to the elections being run and won and then a bit of a quiet down period and then of course we had pack up all our gear and
send it back home, all our gear went by ship most of the troops, well I did, and 90 percent of the other troops went by plane and a few went down with the gear and went back with it.
Were you on the plane?
I was on the plane.
What was it like coming home again?
It was really great because the whole lot of us basically left at once and they flew us up to Harame in Zimbabwe where we got on a
Qantas jet, a 747 to Perth, and if you can imagine, you know, a fairly large group of people, a couple of hundred, might have been more, it might have been 100, but one of the things I always remember, we were in the plane in Harame, we were on the plane, the first thing that the captain came up to us and welcomed the contingent from UNTAG [United Nations Transition Assistance Group] who were going home and the plane
went into cheers and he said, “Yes, we have doubled the booze supply for this trip home, please drink and enjoy,” and of course the hosties came out and did their pre-flight check, and you can imagine 100 guys in green uniforms, and every time she does that everybody does that, everybody does that, it was a killer, and these girls were just killing themselves in the aisles. It was a great flight back.
The boys had a fabulous time.
You came back to Brisbane via Sydney or – ?
We flew into Perth and were demobbed [demobilized] there, basically customs cleared there and then they flew us back to Sydney and then we basically just disappeared, I
caught another flight home to Brisbane, and the flight home to Brisbane was an absolute shocker because I got on a Qantas flight at 7 o’clock in the morning, I think there was about six or eight of us basically, I told the boys we are going home an hour flight from Sydney to Brisbane, we were on a 747 because it was going Sydney
Brisbane, Cairns, Ontario, and I said, “We will be home in an hour, stay off the grog and we can have a fabulous flight coming home, be sober, get off the plane and meet the rellies and do all the right things.” They all went, “Yep.” Seven o’clock came, no plane no start. Eight o’clock came, no start, nine o’clock, came no start. In the end they finally came up, “We have got a toilet blockage on the plane.”
They started having an aisle party and we didn’t leave until about 11 o’clock, then half this flight is full as googs, they had to hold it for another half an hour so they could reload it full of grog, and I hadn’t had a drink all day, had been drinking coke, you have got all these yobbos around you having an aisle party. I said to the hostess, “This is going to be an absolute
shocker for you guys.” She said, “This will be a fantastic flight,” she said, “look at them, they will be asleep by Cairns.” We sat on the tarmac, I think we got back to Brisbane about lunch time or thereafter, and all of our rellies had been waiting there since eight o’clock in the morning. It was a pretty good reunion other than that.
You had been away for nine months, what was that like coming back, because your son was born just before you left?
Yes, I came back
after leaving something this big to something this big. He was walking and doing all the things that kids do and nearly a year old. He didn’t know me from a bar of soap, I was just this person. It took awhile, it always takes awhile to get back into the feel of things. We had a heap of leave to take
and then I was going to a new unit back in Brisbane so I had a month off or something, before I had to report to my new unit.
What was the new unit?
4 Preventative Medicine Company in Brisbane. Again it as an army reserve unit but we had an ARA component, an ODF [Operational Defence Force], operational deployment force component where we had myself as the senior health inspector and then I had
a team of healthies, which is one section of six, I had a laboratory section of scientific officer and two lab techs and we were deployable literally anywhere in the world with 48 hours notice. Our primary role was there to manage the unit on behalf of the army reserve, also do this deployment who could go anywhere to do preventative medicine or health work, and my headquarters was in Sydney.
From time to time I had to fly backwards and forwards to Sydney and do tasks with them, and we used to do exercises with them as well. The good part about being part of that little force was you got really good exercises. We used to go to New Zealand and all over the places to do these little exercises. If something came up in the Solomons we would go there, we did the Charleville floods, which was really
probably one of the best counter-disaster jobs we did. I could always remember it vividly because it was Anzac Day 1990, I think it was, and I got a call at four o’clock in the morning and my team and I were on the road at eight. We overnighted in Mitchell, I think, and we were out at Charleville the next day. If you can imagine the whole of Charleville
and the only part that was dry was the airstrip, and nearly 5,000 people living on an airstrip in tents, and everything that was set up. When we got there, there was the sanitation, they just didn’t do anything right, and it took us a couple of days to tidy it all up and get that part of it right, and then as the water subsided I got to work with the local health surveyor out there who was really doing a fabulous job considering he was on his own, and as far as his council
was concerned up to that point he was nothing better than a dog catcher, the dog catcher was the guy with all the knowledge and we had all the gear that he needed to get this town back on its feet, so we did all the shop inspections and we did all the eatery inspections as they were coming back on line we did all the potable water, we did all the sanitation, we were there for six weeks. It was excellent, by the time
we left there that was a really good job because you got it from start to finish, and what it allowed us to do was it really allowed us to fine tune our own method of operation, and we didn’t find a lot of gaps in what we did, and gaps out there were fairly easy because I just made a phone call back to Brisbane and they would fly it out but then I thought, “Gee, if I am in the Solomons or if I am in New Guinea,
I may not be able to make a phone call, I have got to fix these problems,” so that whole six weeks for me was a learning curve on how to make this thing work so we don’t have those problems, and we did, and we fine tuned that and it was less than six months later that, that team went to the first Gulf War.
Being involved in something like that of helping civilians in your own country, is that a different kind of reward than say
when you went to South West Africa?
Yes, I am not sure it is a reward – when we work in other countries, and it doesn’t matter if it is the Solomons, New Guinea, and I have worked in both of those doing the same role, it is in Africa you are dealing there with people who on a day-to-day basis live on nothing, no sanitation, no clean water no anything, and they survive very, very well.
You suddenly take somebody out of their home and stick them on an airstrip and tell them to sleep in a tent and do their business in a port-a-potty, within three or four days they are a complete and utter mess. They can’t cope. They don’t know how to do it, they get sick very easily, they complain constantly, everything is too hard, you cannot tell them what to do
because they know better, and they are just very difficult to deal with. You have to adopt different methodologies to deal with these people, in some cases you have to be really hard nosed about it because when you are dealing with people in other countries they want your help, anything you can do for them is a bonus, they live this way day to day so they know how to live this way,
without anything. You take yourself and put you in a tent in the middle of an airstrip and say, “Right, we will feed you, we may clothe you, you will use that port-a-potty, even if it is overflowing,” and then you think to yourself, “How long can I do that for?” It is a bit like Survivor, and you think, “Could I do that for 39 days?” And most people don’t cope very well after day three. The wheels fall off very quickly.
You have a constant battle, 5,000 people who do not want to do what they are told, do not want to go to the public convenience where it is because it is too far to walk so they will do it out the back of the tent, and suddenly the whole place is a rampant cess pit, Australians, white Anglo-Saxons, are not nice to deal with. Very difficult. It makes life very miserable.
I would rather deal with other people from other countries at any stage than dealing with people who know how to live that way. Not fun.
You said it was only about six weeks after that?
It might have been six months or 12 months after that, we had a few more deployments between then to fine tune and we didn’t have very much time.
I got told on a Monday we were going and we were gone on Wednesday, so we had two days to get packed up and go and then we had all the bureaucracy problems, which we had never encountered before. In order for us to do our job we need certain things, we have to have Bunsen burners because we need to run a laboratory, we have to have
Certain t types of equipment, you have to have generators to run, and all the stuff we had up until then was antiquated, it was very hard to get. Even though we were operationally deployed unit, it was very hard to get the money to get the good gear. Suddenly we are on a deployment, get told on the Monday, Tuesday I have got my containers all packed ready to go and I have some yob from the RAAF come out and say, “We are going to do an inspection.” “What do you want to inspect?” This is a;; going
like overseas, I have got to do an inspection, I have got to make sure there is nothing on there that is going to harm the aeroplane. They want us to get rid of our generators, they want us to get rid of our gas bottles, they want us to get rid of all the stuff, all the chemicals that we need, “You can’t put that on a plane, you can’t put this on a plane.” “Hang on, what is going on? How do we do our job?” And this is the sort of internal bureaucracy that you suddenly had to deal with. These yobs. They didn’t know anything about anything.
That all got turfed out and we got sent to Sydney and lob in Sydney, the first thing I do, I said, “Right, I am going to talk to somebody,” so I go straight to the big boss and say, “You can send us to Iraq, we can’t do anything for you.” “What is going on?” I told him the story, he instantly gave me a credit card and said, “Go and buy what you need.” So I went out and bought all new generators, I bought everything, spent $30,000,
it was great.
All the stuff the RAAF guys were telling you couldn’t take on the plane, is that all the stuff you already had on planes to other places?
Yes, but because that was internal, you could do that in the country, this is going external. The trouble was, the reason they were arguing was because we were going on a Qantas plane, suddenly you are dealing not with the RAAF but you were dealing
with Civil Aviation. As it turned out, all our gear went to Iraq on the Internob [?], which is a Russian aeroplane. We took all our own vehicles, we took all our own gear, everything went over on the Internob so the Internob landed in Sydney, everything was packed on to it, we went over on a 747, 70 of us on a 747, which was pretty good.
Was that a Qantas plane?
Why do they use a Qantas plane and not – ?
They just hired it, it was cheap because there was no commercial flight to where we were going, so we, I can’t remember the route, but I think it was something like Sydney, we went up somewhere north, I think we had to go through Saudi Arabia, I don’t know, and landed in Incirlik in Turkey, which borders Iraq,
because the Gulf War was on, they had to go certain ways to get you there safely. We arrived in Incirlik at the US Air Force Base and the war is going nicely and we were living in tents at the end of the runway with jet fighters taking off every 2 minutes and landing every two minutes, but you got pretty used to that after a day or two, and then we were waiting for our gear. Suddenly we are in Incirlik, it is an American
Air Force Base, and we have a Russian transport plane. There was problems, we had to wait nearly a week for this thing to turn up. It turns up and we get all our gear and we are missing a Land Rover. “Where is the Land Rover?” “Go and have a talk to the Russian crew.” “Where is our Land Rover?” “Big weight problems.” The reason they had the weight problems because the front of the Interlob was loaded with washing machines and refrigerators
they got in Australia to take back to Russia, one of our Rovers got the heave-ho for their washing machines and all the other stuff. So we started our little journey one vehicle down as I am led to believe and that was like the start of it, so we were in a US Air Force Base in the middle of Turkey, nothing much to do, enjoying ourselves because I must give it to the Americans,
they really know how to put an air force base together, it has absolutely everything. Hamburger joints, bars, restaurants fantastic place.
Just to back track, how far into the Gulf War when you were deployed?
It was towards the end, it was still sort of kicking around and it was near the end.
What was the first warning that you got that you were going to be deployed?
I got a phone call on the Monday morning to say, “You are going Wednesday.”
There had been no rumour of it beforehand?
We had heard that Australia was going to get involved and they were going to do something. I had a pretty good gut feeling if we did get involved, a preventative medicine team would go, we were the only operational deployable team so I figured we would be in with a reasonable shot of going,
and as it turned out it wasn’t just my team, we actually finished up taking two teams. We had my team plus another team which we brought together under the umbrella of our own unit, and we had health officer with us as well, which we normally didn’t have, so it was about would have been 15 or so healthies that went.
When you said that you thought
when Australia got involved, they would send you as well, Australia wasn’t involved at that time?
No, it was all the political hoo-ha what was going to happen, Australians had people in the Gulf War itself but they were all attached to other forces so they were either attached to American units or British units, we didn’t actually have any people there independently or as an Australian force. Our force was purely humanitarian,
that was the premise of it.
What was your opinion of the war itself?
Again, only from what I got off the TV that was that Saddam had probably been doing the dirty for awhile and he needed to be taken a peg down, so as far as I was concerned, it was okay.
What was your understanding of what your actual task would be?
We knew before we went once we got to Sydney and we spent a few days in Sydney getting organised, we knew then pretty much what our task was going to be. From that we could sort of work out what we had to do, and it also gave us a little bit more flexibility in terms of preparing for that by going out and purchasing what we needed to purchase
for the role we knew we were going to have.
What was your understanding of what that role would actually be?
Primarily we were told our role would be again interacting with the local multinational force. There were 70-odd that went primarily it was medical staff plus 15 or so healthies, so we operated independently of what they did,
they were going there primarily to look after Kurdish refugees who had been up in the mountains of Turkey and were supposedly coming down and our role was to look after our own troops but also to look after the British Forces as well as the American forces that were there and do a little bit, and as it turned out we probably did more for the
Kurdish population than we did for the Brits or the Americans.
Is your mindset different going into something like that, that is actually has been declared a war as opposed to going somewhere where it is civil unrest?
No, not really, I was very fortunate I had already been in Namibia and I had been in very similar circumstance,
I knew basically, I had a feeling that I knew what the circumstances were going to be like, that was mainly what I tried to communicate to my staff and my own troops, even though we would be working with the local population, you don’t know who the good guys are, you don’t know who the bad guys are, they all wear turbans, you don’t really know so you have to have your wits about you, you have got to play the game, you’ve got to be fair dinkum, you have got to be
on the ball all the time otherwise you might make mistakes and mistakes cost lives.
When your gear arrived or caught up with you in Turkey and then where did you go to?
Then we did basically a road party through the top of Turkey and we came in through the top of Iraq and then down into the middle of Iraq, so we did the whole thing by road. I must admit the Yanks were very good, they gave us all the gear and it is pretty amazing, the stuff the yanks have
from this whole road party which was a couple of hundred kilometres through Turkey and another 300 kilometres into Iraq, and we had these little devices with us that could call, basically, we were like, help devices and the basic criteria we were told activate one of these things we will have a jet fighter over you in two minutes max, we will have a medivac chopper to you anywhere
within 15 minutes. That is pretty good stuff. We had one of our guys injured going into Turkey and we had a blast come up through one of the vehicles. He wasn’t hurt bad but he did get a splinter in one of his eyes, within 24 hours they had him on an operating table in Germany and we had him back within a week.
They were just amazing stuff, the logistics that the Yanks can put in place is really, it is mind blowing.
Those little things like an emergency beacon?
Exactly, and we had GPSs [Global Positioning Systems] and all the other stuff so we knew where we were, we had very good maps. Our maps were better than the Yanks, and I got to know again
some Americans very well while I was there, and one of the reasons I got to know them was part of their airborne division was there and I got to know a couple of their medics really well and they knew I had an airborne background, friends for life jumping out of aeroplanes. They said to me, “We are doing a jump tomorrow, do you want to come and jump?” I said, “What are you jumping out of?” They said, “A Chinook helicopter, you know.” I said, “Yes, I wouldn’t mind.”
And I was going to do it on the sly because I know my boss wouldn’t give me the approval, to go and jump with these yobs, so I thought, “I will meet you at such and such,” the team I planned a reccy, for a job we were going to do a few days later which happened to be where these guys were doing their jump and I said, “I will meet you out there.” So I took the team and went out there and the team is saying, “Why are we going here?” “Don’t worry about it.”
I get out there and I am looking at my maps and I am looking at this Chinook and the guys are jumping out of it and I am going, “This is not good,” and I quickly got over to this guy and I said, “Where is your boss?” He said, “He is over here,” and I said, “Get him quick,” I said, “There is my map, and there is your map and that is a mine field. These guys are all jumping in and around mine fields.”
Guys were already landing there?
Yes, they had guys actually out there
and then they had guys on the fence line yelling and screaming, “Stop! Don’t move, don’t walk,” and they had to get choppers in to airlift them out. That was it. “Thanks guys, catch you next time.” We did everything very safely, my reccies were second to none prior to going anywhere, and the bloody Yanks they were stepping on mines every second day, every second day they were blowing each other up left right and centre. They love pilfering things and finding trinkets and toys, and Saddam’s mob were really good at doing little booby traps and they were forever doing it, and our mob never got one more good luck than good management, I think, and just the way the Yanks operate. They are very professional but they are very loose.
Interviewee: Martin Carr Archive ID 2030 Tape 08
How long would that drive have taken?
A better part of three days or something like that.
What were the dangers along the way?
In Turkey it was mainly, I don’t know what you would call them, pirates. The joint was lousy with them, especially up there in the mountains.
It was really lousy with mobs that would just want to steal stuff, and they had all the gear all the weapons to do it. We never had any problems and into Iraq even though Saddam and his mob had been rolled over, there was still a lot of insurgents around, a bit like now, people who felt that they hadn’t lost and a lot of people they didn’t even know it was over.
As far as they were concerned it was still going on, it wasn’t too bad. Back then, it is not like now, Saddam really got rolled the first time. It was a big shock, and we were in the north of the mountains. All the really big stuff happened around Kuwait, around where we were not a lot of real heavy stuff went on.
Did you feel threatened by it any time during that drive?
No, not really.
Purely and simply because you knew and the whole time we were there, it didn’t matter where we were, and we were in a place called the Geurie Pit Valley [?], we had fighters who used to fly over three, four or five, six times a day, so they were always there, they were always in the air, you knew you could basically call them at any time and within a couple of a minutes they would be over the top of you.
From being in Incirlik, and seeing the F14s taking off and just the, what they used to carry no, yes, if you got some small arms fire you would have probably feel threatened, but knowing what these guys could bring in to assist you was very comforting.
Where did you say you were going to in central Iraq?
About 200 kilometres north of Baghdad.
What was there?
Basically not much, it is a Kurdish area and what Saddam did when he got rid of the Kurds, he levelled everything, there was nothing and we were virtually in the middle of nothing. There was a lot of ruins around and within 50 or 100 kilometres radius there
were major towns but our group was smart enough to stay out of the towns we stayed in the valley, basically it was on the main road that had British and US forces around us. It was nice and open and very flat and we could develop a perimeter very easily and we had all the mod cons, night vision, so even at night when we had to do our own perimeter monitor
sort of stuff you could see.
Where you were actually staying, what sort of accommodations were there for you?
None It was just we were fairly lucky on the way through we spent a night with an
American base that were looking after a large population of Kurds, 100,000, so we scored a few big tents and stuff there. We took all our own tentage, we had all our own accommodation ourselves. We were fairly lucky, we had three or four engineers with us and those guys were pretty switched on. Within probably three or four days
we had found an old Caterpillar D6 grader got it working and we used that to do all the fences and perimeters and put roads into our own network. We had a couple of electricians, we had our own huge generator, within a week we had our own little community and the Yanks they used to come and look at it all, they could not believe how we set up. My guys who
had been with me for a couple of years knew that scrounging was part of their nature so we used to go on scrounge patrols, any time we were out we were always looking for anything we found that the Yanks had, we would politely ask them if we could have it, if they said, “No,” we would come back and nick it later on. It worked.
Where you were was a sort of a multinational force and then, was it near a set refugee
camp or was it – ?
We had when we first moved into Iraq and when we were up towards the Kurdish border, and that was, I wanted to go home, I just wanted to leave, I said, this is no good, I can remember coming over this hill in our little convoy and as far as the eye could see in every given direction across the whole landscape
Was nothing but little tents, and I believe in that area alone there was 150,000 Kurds, they had all started to move, and I was just gobsmacked. “I can’t deal with this, I don’t know how to deal with this.” Luckily we didn’t stay there, we moved out South, so when we got south of the bands were breaking up more into their
clan groups, village groups and they were moving back into their own settlements. All r the way you went, and the Yanks were dropping in air lifts all the way, so you would come along and it might be a group of a couple of thousand Kurds on the side of the road and they would have big cargo parachutes that they are using for accommodation and that was the cargo chutes that the transport planes had dropped
relief on. They would stay there until all the relief was used up, and once it was used up they would move on. You would come across pockets of those, and after awhile they started to settle back to where they were. That is when we got involved in the individual small towns and started looking at potable water and stuff like that. That was really the part that I liked because it meant very close
inter-relations with the Kurds and it meant really understanding or getting to understand or getting a knowledge of how they are as a people or how they operate, and you had to understand the cultures and the cultures of dealing with the town elder and having to sit down and go through what you call the tea ceremony and basically building and developing a rapport. These guys were all carrying AK47s,
you didn’t know whether they were the good guys or the bad guys, they were Kurds so you assumed they were all the good guys but you didn’t know. It was very much a developmental phase of developing a rapport with these different people and try and do what you could, we didn’t do much with them, we didn’t have a lot of resources so it was really a case of trying to educate
Through interpreters because we had to have interpreters with us, and that was very comforting, to know that at least the interpreter could tell you whether these were the good guys or the bad guys and then basically trying to develop a ground up strategy of how you could get potable water and convince people it is not a good idea to bath and crap in the stream that you are drinking out of, all this sort of stuff. It was very unlike Charleville, we had all the
resources with a phone call away, in this case we had very limited resources and we had developed strategies that we could try and deliver to these refugees that wasn’t going to cost us a lot of resources. That was myself and the boss and the team, we used to sit around at night discussing these issues of what are we going to do and how are we going to do it and how are we going to do it
without using the resources, and if we have to get resources, where are we going to get it from. The only place we could get it from an American base and the Americans weren’t keen on giving to much away, so you had to develop strategies about getting gear out of Americans who didn’t want to give it to you. It worked pretty well.
How was that done?
Covertly –..It was a game,
it was a fun game, it was a good game. It was a game of how can we get what we need without really having to go through the political dilemmas of getting it. The Yanks had countless resources. I can remember going into one of the bigger Yank bases with an eye of getting some Coke, the boys hadn’t had any Coke for awhile, we had fridges and all that,
We didn’t bring any soft drinks, and we knew the Yanks had it because they don’t go anywhere without their Coke, so I went down there and had a bit of a chat and found out where the supply shop was and went up, one thing I always did learn if you want to get something out of the Americans you find a big black one because big black ones really like Australians, white Americans don’t like black Americans and black Americans don’t like white Americans but all Americans love Australia, so I would find a big black one.
I would have a bit of a chat, “Any chance of getting a couple of cartons of Coke?” “Yes, go and see so and so,” who happens to be another black guy, and then you go over there and you say, “So and so sent me over,” “Yes, yes, come around the front of the van.” “Is it all right if I get the boys to get a couple of cartons to put in the van?” Right, go around the front show them your slouch hat and have a bit of a chat, show him this, show him that. I think the best we did was 42 cartons of Coke in one haul. We got as much in there, we levelled it out and loaded it up. Then we would always put a couple in the front and say, “Thanks very much boys,”
so we were stealing this stuff in pallets, they didn’t care, but they always thought they did. The Americans are funny like that, they got resources to the nth degree but they have to keep figures on everything, I don’t know why, come leaving they throw it all in the hole. Whilst they are there they have to tick things off, and whenever we wanted something we would just go and talk to the right people, and if necessary do a
bit of I don’t know, whatever we have to do to get it. We were never without Coke after that day, always had cold cans of Coke in the fridge. A couple of American guys used to know the health guy and their medics and they used to come around and they couldn’t believe it, we had wooden floors because we went out and we sourced marine ply and we had engineers and we built
floors in our laboratory so we had electric lights, we had power generators, we had everything, and I never ran out of fuel for my genie because we always had fuel, we could always get fuel for the genie even though some of the Rovers ran out, my genies never ran out. We always had cold Coke in the fridge and people used to come and see us all the time.
These guys know how to live, I think that is the difference between us and others, Aussies will make, go out of their way to make a good deal out of a bad deal, even though once we got this D6 Caterpillar working, I went and sourced gravel so we went out and got half a dozen tippers of gravel which I just happened to get off an American engineering group,
you came into our place, there was no dust in our place, the road in and the road out was complete gravel. You did all these little things to make life better for yourself and we did it well.
When you were talking about earlier, about going to see the Kurds and having to talk to the elder, can you tell us a bit more about that process about the tea ceremony?
First of all, what you would do is discuss what your mission for
that day was going to be with your interpreter and say, “We have got to go to this town and this is what we want to do in this particular town, do you know people in this town?” He would say, “Yes, I do,” “No, I don’t.” “Okay, if you do who do we need to talk to?” And it was just a process. If you didn’t know anybody in the town or he didn’t know anybody and then you would basically start from the fringe of the town and work your way in through the interpreter until you got to the head person.
When you got to the head person, through the interpreter you would introduce yourself, and it didn’t matter whether they had nothing, they would find something to have a cup of tea this Turkish tea or Kurdish tea, very strong black stuff, sweet as hell, you would have to sit down and through the interpreter you would be crossed legged on a rug in a, if you were lucky enough to be in a town that had some buildings it could be in a
building or it was just in a lean to type of thing and you would sit there. The head guys would all sit on this side and you would sit on the other side. It was a tiered structure within the community so you would have the head guys in the front and the others at the back and all the guards would be filtering around the sides and fringes and the guys in here would have the nice new weapons and all the weapons would lay in the middle, being polite
basically take the sword out and put it in front of somebody and that means you are not going to cut their arm off. We would do the same, we would put our weapons down, even though I didn’t have my beloved M16, I had one of these new weapons, and I didn’t particularly like it much but we had it and we would put it down there and they would want to play with it because it was new, so you would take the magazine out and you would make sure you didn’t have one up the chamber and let them play with it. You would make sure that somebody else
had one that was ready to go. They would give you their AK47 and you would play with that and through this process of playing with weapons and feeling comfortable it might take half an hour, it might take an hour, suddenly you would start communicating and drinking tea, and basically through the interpreter they would say, “What do you want?” We would say, “We are here to help.” They would say, “How are you going to help?” And we would say, “What do you want?” “This is what we can do,
we can get the medical team to come back tomorrow, or if you have people who are sick or if you have youngsters,” the medical team were mainly looking after kids and stuff like that, we found out if you look after the kids it brings everybody else in and brings everybody else on board and suddenly you can make a very good situation out of nothing. Once you got to know people reasonably well and you would go back there from time to time.
On one occasion I went back and I didn’t like it but I felt very privileged with the fact that one of these relatives of the head guy had died and he asked me to go to the funeral and I participated and I said, “Righto.” I asked the interpreter, “What do I do and how do I do it?” and what do I do to make sure I am not offending anybody. That to me was good because that meant that you had been accepted, and they had accepted you into their culture and you just went out of your way to make sure that
you understood their culture reasonably well through your interpreters to make sure that you didn’t do anything that was going to offend them or offend anybody else. It was always a process of learning, and to us, I used to enjoy, that part of it the interaction with the locals was to me as good as it got.
Was there every a situation for you where any of those interactions were tense or dangerous?
Just about every time you started a new one. Every single time you started a new one, you never knew which way it was going to go. I got turfed out of a few buildings, basically told, “On your bike, not interested.” “Fine.” “Just hit the road Jack and go.” As word of mouth spread that didn’t tend to, in the early days it did. It was very tense I mean, you didn’t know the true alliances. Even though these
People were Kurds but there were a lot of Kurds who were on Saddam’s side so you didn’t know the true alliances of who you were dealing with. You weren’t even sure if they were the original people from that village, they could have been different people so you didn’t know. You didn’t know if there were Iroquois interacting or being involved and you didn’t know that the hold that Saddam had reached and he had a very hard hold over these people. He ruled by
having insurgents in every village. There were spies and people who were taking notes on other people. They didn’t know who was who in their village, they had a good idea but in general I don’t think they really knew. When we were operating which was north of Baghdad, which was a strong Kurdish stronghold, a lot of these people were very much pro
the United States or pro anything that wasn’t Saddam Hussein, but you never knew. Every time you went somewhere new, or you went back to another village and there had just been new people that had come in and then within the village itself the hierarchical structure may change. A lot of these Kurds were not attuned to being bandits themselves, you had to always be on your toes.
that whole process to be able to give them assistance, was that ever frustrating?
It was incredibly frustrating when you come across 100,000 people that are just there and you go, “Wow, how are we going to deal with this?” Luckily we moved on. I just had no idea how you would deal with that.
You are also dealing in a country that is very dry, extremely hot, when we were leaving it was 50 plus in the day very dry heat and I can distinctly remember, because I took a road party back at 9.30 at night it was 45 degrees; 50 plus, I had a barometer that only went to 55 in the middle of day it was always 55, so it was hotter than that. It was really hot, it was
wasn’t humid so luckily you weren’t sweating all the time, and you are out dealing with the local populous who don’t seem to find this all running around in turbans and long things and you think how can they do this and then, “I am dealing with the Yanks who are running around in full gear and flak jackets and all the other stuff off.” We sort of didn’t work like that, we tended to work like the old Namibia days
of not being seen to be armed to the teeth and trying to adopt a lot more carefully, carefully approach as to a big, look at us we have got everything. The Americans are quite amazing because they never went anywhere without their flak jackets on, 55 degrees in the middle of the day and these guys are wearing tin hats and flak jackets, it is just crazy. I had a shirt on.
much of an impingement was the language barrier?
It wasn’t too much of an impingement, every now and again you would bump into somebody who could speak a bit of English. Even our interpreters, their English wasn’t that good. I don’t know it was a few weeks before we even got the communication down pat with our own interpreters, so it was
pretty difficult to start with but once you, they find it very difficult too and even Americans find us difficult because we speak English very quickly, the Americans find it difficult to understand us and if you have been with them long enough, I came back from Namibia my poor old wife couldn’t understand me because I was speaking a sort of half version of South African, Australian, but very slowly
you learn to slow your speech right down and you tend to articulate your vowels and words a bit clearer and you have to do that with the poor old Americans because they can’t understand a word and our slang, which you tend to do, and they have no idea. You are talking to some poor old Kurdish interpreter who barely speaks English and we are speaking 100 miles an hour and constantly throwing in all our slang words and they are going, no idea.
It takes awhile to get that out of your head and start, you have got to speak slowly and you have got to use words they can understand.
That process you described of the very Australian way of doing things of going in and studying the culture and making sure you don’t offend and making sure you know what you should and shouldn’t be doing, did other forces do that or do you think we were unique in that way?
That was my methodology. I am not even sure that the rest of my team operated in that
way, that is my way of doing it and I think I just learned that in doing preventative medicine that I had operated in. Other cultures don’t do that the Americans up the front storm in and storm out, but they paid a heavy price for not doing the right thing, too. We got called in on a number of
occasions to various American encampments where they had massive food poisoning outbreaks simply because they were a bit like those people in Charleville, they put them all in a place and they don’t have the sanitary conditions that they are used to and they are notorious for digging holes in the ground and living in them, there is a perfectly good building there that you could put your backside in and they will dig a hole and live in it for a couple of weeks or months or years, or whatever
and we never had any food poisoning outbreaks and our people lived very well, extremely well while the Yanks were living on hard tack, what they call hard tack, hard rations, stuff in boxes and cans, dehydrated rations, and when they did supplement it what they thought they were getting good food they supplemented it with fresh vegetables, and in those sort of countries their vegetables are
sprayed with water that is contaminated, it is usually fertilized with different faeces from different animals, it is just a nasty piece of ground. You can buy a whole pile of this stuff thinking they are doing the right thing by their troops and half the unit or nearly all the unit comes down with food poisoning and vomiting and diarrhoea and all that stuff, so you go in and do your job and say, “Look guys, you have got it all wrong this is what you have got to do.”
Where were you getting your food and rations from?
We had our own rations that were coming in and a lot of the American stuff that was hard tack, but we had our own cooks with us and Australian Army cooks they can make a three-course meal out of a tin of bully beef and dirty old dried potatoes, they are really good cooks,
and they know how to make an enticing meal and they go out of their way to and even though we were on hard rations and a lot of that stuff our cooks could really cook up different food that was very palatable whereas the old Yanks they just add water throw it in and eat it. We used to get a lot of people coming over to our camp on the pretext they were coming for a meeting and the next minute they would be down in the mess
tent eating the good food.
Apart from health concerns about sanitation and food that was safe, what sort of civilian casualties were you seeing of the war?
Nearly all were Kurds, and you
didn’t see too many trauma-type situations because these people had been down trodden for years. Saddam had hunted them and done everything else, they had moved up into Turkey they lost thousands or perhaps tens of thousands of people on that march up and the march back, so by the time they got back into what was left of their villages or where they were, people
did die from time to time but you never really saw a lot of sick people. You would come into a village and they might be going through, like every village every day had a funeral service of some description. Part of their culture is if somebody dies you basically poke them straight in the ground, don’t hang around too long. We saw a lot of that but you didn’t really see a lot of trauma-type injuries like I saw in Namibia,
from land mines and all that sort of stuff.
Were land mines an issue?
Not really. There were areas that were mined but we had maps for those, you pretty much knew where you were, but at the same time common sense dictates that you stay on hard surfaces, you stay on sealed roads, if you go in and out of buildings you make sure you are looking for trip wires and all that sort of stuff, you knew,
so it really again paid dividends to not go where you don’t need to go.
Some men have spoken to us about doing similar sort of aid work but one of the most heart breaking things is dealing with the children. Was there much of that, that you saw?
A few times we went out we used to cohab with the medics, with the medical team
and they had doctors, nurses and medical assistance and that was their sort of role and they would turn up and they would basically have a doctor and people would come like magnets. You would see them sort of gathered around those people and everywhere we went people would come to us because you had stuff to give them and stuff like that but you only ever really see the fit people. The fit people are in the front, all the sick people are at the back,
it is the fittest type of thing so you didn’t really see a lot of that but the medics did and I have known a few medics that have since had very bad post-traumatic stress as a result of it. They were more involved with seeing people with injuries, we were more involved in seeing fit and well people because they are the people that run the places and then we would use them to get out and do our health work.
It was not something that you go looking for because there is nothing you can do. That is the dilemma for me, the medics anyway, I am glad I wasn’t a medic there, all these people with trauma, all these people with illnesses all these people with diseases and you have got bugger all to use on them, it becomes very frustrating.
When you were saying you would go in somewhere and people would come in thinking that you had hand-outs,
did that ever get out of control?
No, pretty much kids, the kids did that, and the villagers themselves where you had an organised village under the control of a head person or persons so they were fairly well under control, it was mainly the ad hoc sort of side of the road little encampments where it could get out of control and you just tried,
Once they knew you didn’t have anything or you weren’t going to give them anything, they would virtually leave you alone and you learnt very quickly if you gave one something you had another 50 there that wanted it. Before you know there is 150. You had to take a bit of a hard, I could do it because I had done it in Africa, but a lot of the guys found it very difficult until they got hardened to it.
How were communications with home different thare than in Africa?
No communications with home. We had a mail service that used to come periodically, and as you can imagine it has got to get from here, there to there, and there was aircraft that flew in and out periodically, maybe every couple of weeks you might get a letter. We had a satellite phone which gave us satellite communications virtually anywhere you wanted
but you couldn’t use it for private purposes. I had a big stink with the boss over it, because we had, apart from ourselves we had some RAAF guys with us as well, who were healthies so our little contingent wasn’t only army people, we had army people plus they had some RAAFs as well, and one of my guys come up to me one of the sergeants came up to me and he said got a bit of an issue, blah, blah
he said, “I got a letter, my wife went into hospital, I don’t know what is going on,” and I said, “Leave it with me,” and I just went straight down to the boss and said, “I have got a sergeant with a crook wife wanting to ring home.” I just basically said, “Well Sir, I’m sorry if it is good enough for your officers to ring home in the middle of the night and talk to their wives, I think it is good enough for my sergeant who has a wife in hospital, do I need to take it any further?”
“No sergeant major, you can bring him down any time you like.” The boss and I didn’t get on very well after that, but at least we got the point across that, that is what it is there for. He was happy his wife had gone in and had an operation, she was well and his mind was at rest and as far as I am concerned that is my role as a leader of those people to make sure they are happy all the time. Where we could we had to do things like that.
How challenging were the conditions do you think for most of the blokes?
I think the conditions as such were not challenging. My team including the engineers were very resourceful people, I mean, within a week we had a very nice compound which, within 2 weeks we had showers, we had in-ground toilets set up,
we had kitchens set up, we had floor boards down, we had gravel down, hot water built up a big mound and on top of this mound we had put a big water tank that provided water to the showers which was then under pressure, which meant we had actually turn-on showers, and it wasn’t hard to find the parts for.
From a living condition our little camp was very good, it was the envy of all these other people who used to come in all the time, and primarily we did it through scrounging, we did it through borrowings and we did it with the bits we had, but we also had a couple of engineers who were very good. My healthies were very resourceful because that is the stuff we do for people,
you have got to do it for your own staff first, and if you do that for your own staff that maintains their morale and if their morale is high they can then get out and do their work at a good level.
For you what was the most challenging part of being there?
I was the 2IC [second in command] of my whole group, so the most challenging part for me was to lead by example and not show the frustrations,
not show the trauma that you tend to feel by going and seeing those things that you don’t want to see, you get involved with these things that you don’t want to see, and luckily my boss, who was a captain health officer, who was also a very good friend of mine, we had been diggers together, and we would actually go away and sit together at night and we would chat about we would take our frustrations out on ourselves.
It didn’t show on the troops, and I think that was the major dilemma. If the troops got frustrated they would have an argument or they would yell or they would go out and kick a tent and then you would have to go out and calm them down, sit them down and have a little discussion with them and if necessary apply some discipline, and that was the problem, as a leader you are sort of in that circumstance,
you have to be doing it 24 hours a day. You can’t let off steam, you can’t let your guard down you can’t be seen to be weak. I found that very difficult continuously seven days a week, week after week.
What was the most rewarding part of being there?
The most rewarding part was as time went on seeing the development at our own camp, how good it really got,
and I suppose the other big reward was developing those relationships with the Kurds that we did develop with and seeing how we did improve their lives in simple ways without expending great deals of energy without expending great deals of dollars s, but just doing stuff at a very basic level that made an improvement on their lives. The most frustrating part
was at the end of this, I am going to leave and it is probably all going to go back the way it was.
Did you ever have a sense that it was a job that could never be completed?
Look, day-in and day-out, at the end of the day we knew we would stop, we would leave and it would probably go back to the way it was.
Were you warned about that before you went over?
No, but I had dealt with it in Africa and
I knew when we left Africa it would be the same. I had dealt with it in New Guinea and I dealt with it in the Solomons. Things are always going to go, like Charleville, they are going to go back to the way they were. You have a period there where everybody is working together everybody is trying to achieve the same outcome, the local health surveyor is suddenly risen above the tag of being the local dog catcher. You know that within a couple of months of the council being
back in charge that he is going to be the dog catcher again. That is a bit frustrating that is one of the reasons why I could never go into local government as a health surveyor.
When you come across an obstacle on a particular day, does that sense that never going to get the job completely done, does it ever make you want to give up?
No, those little challenges that come along from day to day, and they
are there every day, they keep the brain ticking over, you have to come up with different strategies to overcome them, and that to me was always the good part of the job. How can we do this? One of my strategies was that I always found that you could do it better if you involve everybody rather than be in control – I have got all the answers, I have got all the answers to the problems – but I haven’t, but I always find that
if you involved all the people in your team and you have regular team meetings, and it seems a strange concept for a military unit to have team meetings, but at this stage I was halfway through my masters degree, a building degree, a health degree and a human resources degree, I was just a uni-holic so my concepts were different. I should have been getting out of the army
at that stage. Instead I was in my 22nd year working in Iraq, what a dope I was, but my concepts had changed dramatically and I was used to using different mental processes. I was used to using civilian processes in a military concept. My team used to find that a bit strange that I would get everybody together and say, “Righto
guys, we were out at the village today, how did you feel about that, what did you do?” They would be thinking that I would be psychoanalysing them all the illicit information but at the end of the day the lowest of the low have all the answers to the problems, that is an old quality proverb that if you want the answer, go to the guy on the shop floor cause he’ll have the answer.
Interviewee: Martin Carr Archive ID 2030 Tape 09
You were promoted just before you went to the Gulf were you?
Yes, a little bit before I got promoted to warrant officer.
Were you happy with that?
Yes, it was good. It was even better over there because a warrant officer in the American Forces is deemed to be an officer rank and we could drink in the officers’, we used to drink anywhere, drink in the officers’ mess drink, in the OR’s [other ranks’] club,
a bit like we were talking then you chose the appropriate rank appropriately. The Yanks really don’t know, they would see a crown here and they would say, “What is that?” “You’d say “I’m a major.” “Oh, okay.” You could manipulate people because they didn’t know. Americans are very narrow, they are very narrowly focused in everything they do, they only know their own scope, and we are very, and I suppose that is why we are better in doing things because we have such a broad scope of training
military understanding and general knowledge and we are good at scrounging and good at pulling the wool and it is amazing what you can get away with if you have got enough front, as we were just talking about you can get away with just anything.
Not so much about the front, but what sort of conversations were you able to have with people by going into their messes?
a pilot, I love having drink with pilots, so when we got to Incirlik, I couldn’t get into the mess quick enough and just sit around and have a drink. They would see you were an Australian because you were in an Australian uniform and they would all be up wanting talk to you, and I got to know a lot of both F16 pilots and anti tank pilots and had some really interesting
conversations with them. I must admit it was really good for me because I got a totally better understanding. I am a questioner, I always have to ask questions to validate my understanding of things. One of the things that I have always been interested in is the way American pilots, whether they are navy pilots or air force pilots, go about doing their business. Even in Incirlik when I was driving around, just driving you would see the F16 Tomcats come out of their hangers
and you would see all these guys, they would run out and they would form a line and they would be in a pair of shorts and a singlet and no shirt on and they would have their hats on sideways and they would all line up and all of a sudden they would do this immaculate salute. It was fantastic, I just love the way the Yanks do their salute, and you would see the Tomcat drive past and the pilot is in there and he goes, “Whacker, what is this all about?
What is this?” And I said to one of the Tomcats, “What is this all about?” He said, “Well, that is my crew saying farewell and this is my acknowledgement of my crew for their doing a good job of getting my plane together.” That is the way they think, they may not come back. I said, “Well, what happens then?” He said, “They get a new pilot.” You have to ask all the questions. Like,
the guys I used to drink with, because they were flying missions daily into Iraq, and I would say, “What is it like? Have you ever had a sand block?” And everyone says, “Have you ever had a sand block?” And it happens like this, you are flying along and you get the beep, beep, beep and that tells you it’s a lock on. I said, “What happens then?” He said, “You put the pedal to the metal and you pull the stick back.” “What is that all about?” He said, “You put the after-burners on and you pull the stick back and you just let it go
and you wait and listen for the beep,” and he said, “when you hear the constant tone that means they fired it.” I said, “What happens then?” He said, “We have to try and outrun it.” This is day-to-day stuff, and I am thinking, “How dull is my life?” They are different, I could sit and listen to those sorts of stories and anecdotes all day, they are so genuine,
just in the way they go about it. Now when you watch things like JAG and all that I look at the behind scenes stuff and get more enjoyment out of the behind the scenes stuff than I do out of watching the program. It is built on so much reality. I suppose that is the disappointment I have about the Australian way of how we do business, in the military sense, we are so laid back, we are so lackadaisical
that we, and I was never one for acknowledging authority very well, but my officers, if they managed to get a salute out of me they were doing pretty bloody good, so to see the Americans go about the way they treat every rank above their own is really quite good. When I first joined, as I said, if a lance corporal said, “Jump,” I said, “How high.” A sergeant was God. And when I got out
As far as a digger was concerned, a warrant officer was not much more than a shit kicker, and I didn’t talk to anybody unless they were a lieutenant colonel or above, especially doing my role as a health surveyor, because if I had to go and kick ass I had to kick it at the highest level. I didn’t go and talk to anybody unless they were the boss.
How hard is it though to have that feeling towards
the authority and then suddenly being one of them?
Before I got out I had to make a very large decision and that was – did I stay in and become an officer? Or did I get out and go and do something else? Because the offer was made, “Do you want to become an officer? We will make you a captain, in six years’ time you will be a major," and I thought, “Yes, that is something I have aspired to my
whole military career,” and now suddenly I have to make this decision and I thought, “No, I don’t want it.” I didn’t want it for a few reasons – one, I felt t the time was right to leave and I had already invested all this time and energy over the past 15 years to develop theses degrees and masters degrees to allow me to go out and do what I want to do in civilian life. In the last two years coming back from the Gulf war it was a wind-down period and
my mate the boss, and strangely enough, we both left the unit within three months of each other. He now works for Brisbane City Council and I work for another government department and we both just spent that last two years getting completely getting ungreened, going completely away from the system, because I had seen so many of my friends who had got out of the system and couldn’t cope
because they didn’t know how to leave it alone, they didn’t know how to reindoctrinate themselves into society outside the military, so I made a conscious decision, “Okay, I am going to go. How do I do this?” And it took me two years to wind down to the point where I felt very ungreen and then the offer came along and at this stage I was ungreen, I just wasn’t, green anymore and I just said very easily, “No, it is not for me.
I am heading out of this system.” The system was changing the rank structures. Didn’t mean anything, people were questioning what you had to do and how you went about doing it. There was always a risk and a political risk and I found it had become very political. They would quite happily roll you over, put you into the dirt to save their own backsides, as apposed to what would have happened years before.
I am not sure if it is like that now, but then I went back in ‘89 because I was asked to go back in my capacity as occupational health and safety expert hygienist to work on the F11 reseal-deseal enquiry and that confirmed to me then the political system and I was very happy to stay way and be out of it,
so I think I made the right decision at the right time, I was lucky I got out when the getting was good.
I want to talk a bit about that, but first I want to ask you a few things. You had the Steyrs in Iraq.
They were brand spanking new at that stage were they?
Very, I was never comfortable with them. They don’t like dirt, they don’t like dust. If you put them down the wrong way, it turns the safety catch off instead of on,
they are prone to discharge not a nice weapon. Mind you very accurate, nice bit of punching power, but give me an M16 any day.
You must have been the first blokes to be issued or to even use them?
It would have been close. I don’t know.
Did everyone have those?
Yes I think so, I think I was wrong I think we got sties when we came back. I’m pretty sure I had an M16 I can’t remember would have to go and have a look at a photograph.
Were you aware at the time how much covering the war in Iraq was getting?
No – from being over there?
None whatsoever. To be quietly honest, when I came back I really didn’t want to know much about it either. It was one war too many for me, I think, and it was certainly one war too many for a lot of my colleagues who are now suffering post-traumatic distress orders and all sorts of things. Some days I get down a little bit too, but
I can deal with it and manage it a bit better than some, but a lot of people find it very difficult.
How was the welcome home when you got home?
Very political, got off the plane had some politician of very high regard standing at the bottom there handing out ribbons and stuff. I must admit that didn’t excite me greatly, I would have preferred to have
the family in Sydney, I would have preferred if they had spent the money to send the family to Sydney than sending some politician from Canberra to say g’day.
You landed in Sydney, then how did you get back to Brisbane?
The same thing. They bang you on another flight and send you to Brissy. The whole team.
Good to get home?
Yes, very much so, only because for me it was an inconvenience.
But it was an enjoyable job and I was really glad that I went and all that stuff, I was two-thirds through a masters degree and really I had my mind e focused on that. Luckily I only really missed one semester and it didn’t take too much to catch up.
What assistance were you getting from the army in regards to your outside studies?
I must admit that was very good in terms of military support.
They gave me all the time off I needed to go and do it, but then again I was in the position where I could virtually do it anyway. They gave me financial support to do it so that was very good. That was in the days, too, before HECS [Higher Education Contribution Scheme] and all the other stuff, so you could do those sorts of courses and it wasn’t that expensive. I would hate to be a person doing it now.
Was there a reciprocal deal in that they expected they were giving you they wanted something back?
No, that was only in the case if you did full-time school. I never did full-time school, all my schooling was part time, in my own time.
Who knew that you were starting to think about stepping outside?
My boss knew but he was doing the same so it didn’t really matter. Because I worked in an army reserve unit our bosses were army reservists who
were civilian health surveyors, they were the contacts, they were the people we used to get all the things we needed to get our jobs outside. It is up here to thinking when you are deciding it is time to leave.
When did you made the actual physical decision to inform them you were getting out?
When I got the job. Basically what happened, I was applying for different positions here, there and everywhere and I got a position
in a government department and I then said, “What am I going to do now? How am I going to work this?” Being cautious as I have always been, I decided I would go and try it for a bit and if I liked it then I would do the business. I took leave and went to work and spent a month there on leave doing the job
and said, “This is for me,” and simply went in one day and wrote out a discharge signal and sent it to Melbourne.
What was your last day in the army like?
It was pretty disappointing. Basically, I then wasn’t at my unit anymore, they send you over to Enoggera and you get discharged from Enoggera and I just said,
“Look, I am working for a living, and if you want me you call me and tell me you want me for something,” and I found that a bit difficult, but that is how I was operating at the time. They rang me up and said, “Can you come in on such and such a day for your discharge?” I said sure I came in the morning and handed all my gear back and go down to the discharge cell where some major was supposed to say farewell and say what a great bloke you are
but he had gone to lunch so it turned out to be the local warrant officer that I knew and he just came said, “How are you going?” “Yes, good thanks, can I go now?” That was it did the runner, but then I got invited back to my old unit for a dinner and all that, they did which was very nice and it showed some appreciation and I was very happy to do that. As far as the military was concerned, I don’t think they could have given two hoots
whether I was there or I wasn’t there.
What was that job that you went straight into?
An occupational health and safety adviser for one of the government departments up here in Queensland, which is what my masters degree was in so I didn’t want to do health surveying, so I went and did postgraduate studies in occupational health and safety. Basically I went there and enjoyed it immensely.
I spent a year in that department and went to another department which is my current one and spent some time with the Queensland Police as a senior hygienist, really enjoyed that so it has been doing that ever since.
How did you find things that you learnt in the army, how did they carry over or affect working in Civvy Street [civilian life]?
Forget everything you learnt in the army,
and again I treated civvy street like I’ve treated going to another country. I needed to learn the culture, so I needed to learn the culture of the public service, I needed to learn the culture of how I operate with people. You can’t go around telling people what to do and how to do it. It is very much, luckily from all my uni studies I had learnt that anyway, I think that is where ex-army guys or military people get themselves into trouble. Their transition to Civvy Street is exactly the same,
especially if they get a management job or something like that, where they can just tell people what to do, and it just doesn’t work that way. You get yourself into a lot of trouble. For me that transition was fairly easy, and I don’t know whether I have broken the mould there or it is something new, but everybody does it that way I don’t know but I know it worked for me and it is still working for me.
How did the deseal and reseal enquiry fall in your lap – ?
Again, I had another mate of mine who worked in the medical corps and he was one of the senior, he was running the administration side of the program, and he just rang me up one day and said, “How are you going?” “Good.” And he said, “Don’t you do some of that occupational stuff?” And I said, “Yes.” He said, “Come up and see me.” So I
said, “I will come up and see you.” I was a bit like this – long hair and goatee – cruise up there and I am in front of the commander and a lieutenant colonel and they are saying, “What are you doing?” And I am saying, “I am an occupational health and safety person with a masters degree, I have worked with the Police Department, why?” They said, “Do you want to come and work for us?” I said, “In what capacity?” And they said, “You can either be a consultant or you can
come back in uniform.” I said, “Okay, what is the role?” They said, “We want you there as an adviser on a medical team,” and I said, “Okay, I will do that.” I went back and spent.
As a civvy?
No, I went back in uniform again, just as a warrant officer HAD [health advisor] for major so I thought that was good and spent three months on the reseal deseal program.
What other members were on that board of enquiry?
I worked within one of the legal sections but primarily medical records, so myself and a captain and a couple of navy lieutenants, our role was just simply going through medical files of all those people involved in the reseal-deseal, identifying where they may have been contaminated
and linking that back to say a medical appointment or one day when they were sick. If you don’t mind sort of reading between the lines of medical records for three months, it was pretty exciting stuff. It drove you nuts.
Were there any air force blokes working with you on it?
It was army, navy, air force, the gambit of the three services.
They were all lawyers and all that sort of stuff. I must admit I was working with a navy commander and an army lieutenant colonel, they were just wonderful people to work with, they were lawyers. It broke the mould, and they were army reserve people too, but they were really switched on with how they go about doing that sort of investigation,
and it was just, the three months to me was just really good in experiencing how that style of investigation was run.
For people who don’t know, can you explain in a nutshell what deseal-reseal, what that was?
The good part was that I got to go out and play with F111s for a bit too, and for a pilot that is pretty good stuff. In effect, an F111 is a flying fuel tank
that is all it is cockpit, two engines, the rest is fuel, fuel in the wings, fuel in the fuselage, fuel up the tail, so the only thing that doesn’t have fuel is the elevators at the back so the whole thing is a flying fuel tank. Behind where the two pilots sit is nearly a small room and you can get in there, and it is quite large so there is no walls between the fuel tank and the outside skin of the aeroplane, the skin of the aeroplane is the fuel tank, so it is one layer.
What they did was, when they put the layers of aluminium together like so, put a sealant between them and then they riveted them, and then on the inside there is another coating. What they found out over time was that inside coating reacts with the sealant between the gaps and eventually it eats itself away and the thing starts dripping fuel. After a period of time they have to get that coating off and re-coat it, so
it got people inside the aeroplane, they would split the wings apart and they had people working on this for months on end. Can you imagine sitting inside the fuel tank of an aeroplane and some of it in the back you can barely get in the hole and you could only get very small people to do it. All this stuff is very toxic and we are now finding out it is quite hazardous to your health, it is not very nice, and the warnings back then were
people’s skin was turning orange, they smell because the stuff was coming out of their pores. People wouldn’t sit with them in the mess, and as a consequence, and other things were happening as well, that went on for a period of some 10 years or so. Only now, again we are becoming a more litigate society, people are suing people and
people were getting very sick, that were involved in this program, and when you see a lot of people dying prematurely, and you can’t say categorically as a result of this, but certainly anecdotally at the time a lot of people seemed to be dying very young. A lot of people were getting very sick very young, a lot of people were not having children correctly and all sorts of weird things were happening to this group of people and then they decided we have got to have an enquiry and we have got to
find out is this a real problem? Did it really happen or didn’t it really happen? Our involvement in that was simply to review medical records against the chemicals try and identify links.
Some people might say is it right and proper for any military arm to investigate their own problems? What would you say to that?
Is it okay for a civilian to be tried by another civilian, I don’t know
the answer to that. I suppose it is a military system, it needs to be managed in a military sense, and it is a political problem as well there was potential there for a lot of bad publicity and there was a lot of bad publicity. It was run as a formal enquiry, the head of it was a judge of the Supreme Court,
it was done with lawyers, and everything was, as far as I was concerned, very above board, very formally done. I played a very small role in it, looking at medical records and trying to make links and giving information to other people so they could then categorize the information. To me it was very interesting.
What was the findings out of that?
I am not 100 percent sure, to be
totally honest, by the time I had done my bit and left I wasn’t that interested, I really wasn’t, I became very cynical during the process as well.
In what way?
Cynical in the way that the whole way the process of reseal-deseal had been run from whoa to go, and I am not sure,
and again we tend to do everything on the cheap in Australia, and it could have been done a lot better, and if it had been done a lot better a lot of people would have been better off now. I don’t know the answer to the question, I don’t know what the outcome was, yes I think they found something and they agreed that they were going to fix them and make sure they never happened again. We have been saying that for hundreds of years.
At the end of that it was back to?
Back to the real world and basically the confirmation of that was enough for me and I am never going back. I think that little period did sort of hone it up in my mind that definitely the military is not military any more and it certainly not a place I wanted to be involved in any more.
How do you look back and reflect on your military service?
If you would ask would I do it all again,
without a doubt, it was great, I enjoyed more than a large percentage of it. I look back and I think, and I have asked myself this question many times, “Would I do it again?” and the answer is, “Yes.” The military provided me a lot of things I needed in my life. It provided stability, it provided me with direction, it gave me an education,
if financed an education, it found me a second wife who is my best friend and I wouldn’t be without, so you look at all that and you think, “Was it all worth it?” Undoubtedly, and would I do it again? Yes, and would I recommend somebody else to do it? I would say, “No.” If my kids today said they wanted to join the military, I would take them out the back and give them a good bashing because I don’t think the military today is the military that I started with and grew up with. Today it is a job, I mean, they don’t
literally join up anymore, there is no pension at the end, it is no more than a job.
What do you see as being the biggest factor that has changed the defence force?
I think politically it is different there is no longevity to it, you don’t do your 20 years and get out with a pension any more, it is just a job. You are there, and if you want to leave after three years, you leave, and even if you stay 20 or 30 years, you don’t get a pension, you just roll it over. People are more
highly educated, people question, and I think people at every rank, it doesn’t matter if you are a lance corporal or a brigadier, every rank is questioning what they are doing, and why, and what are the political ramifications of me doing it? Look at the TV and look at Cosgrove and there is a classical example of a brilliant strategist, a brilliant senior officer
who was bound and gagged by political issues. That is a bit of a worry, and I think the defence force is very fortunate to have someone like General Cosgrove because he is a soldier’s soldier, he is fair dinkum, he is real, and I believe he would honestly support his soldiers. I am not sure that anybody that comes after him might do that.
Was there ever an inkling in the years after you got out like things like Timor, “I wouldn’t have minded being involved”?
Yes and no. You always look at it and say, “What could I do?” And I have known a few people that went to Timor and that, but no, in hindsight, I have done my bit and that is enough for me. How much have you got to do to feel good about it?
When you look back on your career, what stand out as the highlights for you?
There is all sorts of different highlights for me. Changing career mid strength, or halfway through, changing direction, as a result of that sort of going doing training and development at the school, back in 1975, set me on a course to do my first degree in human resource development.
If I hadn’t have done that, I probably wouldn’t have done that, which would not have given me – I mean I left at grade 10 in school and I had to do a few night courses to get my senior and then that rolled on to being able to do uni to do the first one. To get my masters degree was a long hard road, and I certainly could not have done it if I hadn’t have been in the military, I don’t believe. To me, it did give me a good career but at the same
time. I have seen a heap of guys who really didn’t do a lot with it simply because they fell into the military culture of wine and dine, at the end of 20 years, they go, now what do I do now?
Have you imagined your life if you had just waited for your number came up?
I don’t know what I would have,
at that stage of my life I was reasonably directionless, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I probably would have amounted to not much at all. Have I amounted to anything now, I don’t know, but I certainly would not have amounted to. Who knows I was fairly directionless, I was in my mid-20s and it was just lucky I happened to be in the military and the military at least kept me in a direction, but I still really didn’t know what I wanted to do.
At one stage I thought, “I want to do nursing when I get out,” and I thought, “I don’t want to do that, and eventually I fell into the health surveying role and at least that gave me some permanent direction.
Have you joined the RSL [Returned and Services League]?
Yes, I am a member of the RSL, I have been for ages. I am a member of the Vietnam Veterans’ Association, Bribie branch only, because I have got a couple of mates who are Vietnam veterans and they invited me to join so I did. I don’t go out of my way to go
over there but I go to the annual dinner and I get together when I can.
They must enjoy your Hercules stories?
I don’t know about that. They all have their own stories as well and they are pretty interesting bunch, they are a good bunch.
What about Anzac Days, have you marched?
Yes, because I am the Queensland president for the Peacekeepers and Peacemakers’ Association, I have led the march in Brisbane
the last three years. Didn’t do it this year, I needed a break this year and I went away. I go to the dawn service over on Bribie and I must admit that just gets bigger and better every year, if nothing else, that to me is a very positive outcome of where our society is going. I have noticed over the years that the dawn service at Bribie Island just gets bigger, every year
there is more young kids turn up every year and this year I think there were thousands there. And you look at Gallipoli and the government says, “Don’t go to Gallipoli, you might get blown up,” what did they get – 18,000 there or something. That is very positive for us as a society, I think it is very positive, it makes me feel good about being a returned serviceman. I think of all those hellish years that those Vietnam veterans
went through, where they weren’t considered to be returned servicemen in the public’s eye, and how that has all turned around. I think a lot of that comes from peacekeeping missions, the public now sees the work that the defence force does in a very much positive role as apposed to a negative role and everything that we are doing at the moment, whether it is in Timor or whether it is in Afghanistan, or even Iraq or even in the Solomons,
it is positive work. The good part, too, is that for us it is not just peacekeepers, being military people it is being policemen and women and who have served and have been serving in places like Cyprus and Timor and the Solomons, and it is all those other people who don’t get acknowledged for the service they do when they go over there.
How did your involvement in the Peacekeepers’ Association come about?
A friend of mine who happened to be in Iraq with me who was one of my lab sergeants by the name of Wayne Lyons, him and a few other guys actually got together one Anzac Day about five or six years ago over a couple of beers in the Canberra Hotel in Brisbane and formed the Peacekeepers’ Association. It is just grown and grown and grown from basically, “Let’s get together after
the march for a few beers,” to now where we are getting, we don’t get great numbers every year, we probably get 100 every year, but we march under a big blue banner which clearly identifies all the peacekeeping missions. The crowd go wild when you march past and that says something positive for the future. The RSL has come around and starting to think a bit positively, too, by now allowing kids of veterans to march,
which they never did in the past, but kids used to do it anyway. I think that is a positive. I think in general terms we are as a society becoming more aware. I am, just hope I will be around for that 100-years celebration of the landing of Gallipoli, and I reckon by then, as a society,
it will be the event of the decade or the event of the millennium.
In your career did you feel like you are part of that Anzac tradition?
Most of the time no, I don’t really think that we did. When I joined in 1970, and in the ‘70s and ‘80s it was very much that period post-Vietnam where being in the military was not deemed to be kosher and
I went through a very long period where people asked me what I did and I said I was a health surveyor, I was never in the military. I basically said, “I am a health surveyor and I work in the military,” or, “I am a nurse and I work in the military.” I was not a military person. That was some times a bit hard to take, and you would always go to parties and stuff, especially in the ‘70s, and you would try and
gauge the feeling of people before you told people what you did, because the last thing you wanted to do was give them some argument with a yobb who had dissatisfied with what the government were doing, that part of it was not good. In the ‘90s, suddenly with all these things that were deemed to be good, it was great.
Having been in the first Gulf War,
what are you opinions on Gulf War part two?
A big shemozzle, to me Gulf War part one was only half done, but in hindsight, the politicians decided that you can’t get rid of one megalomaniac to put another in charge and they found the folly of their ways there. Afghanistan showed us, it is a different war.
911 showed us it is a different war, and what we see day after day, today it is a different war. Who is the baddies? Nobody knows, everybody is getting blown up by everybody, I wouldn’t be there for a million dollars today. You have got to be a crazy person to be over there. I think only through very good military leadership that our people at the moment have not suffered a casualty
and it is good to be involved and it is good to be seen doing our bit and I think from a perspective whether you agree with the government or not they were very astute in the way they went about it they put the SAS in. Boy if you want to put anybody in you put the SAS in those guys are good and they proved themselves. Everybody thought they did a wonderful job so that heightens how good we are as a defence force, and then of course
the people over there are doing a little bit like we did, they are there in more of a support role and they are doing their jobs well, they are being supported well, and I just hope it doesn’t urn into another Vietnam for them, and people adopt a very cynical approach irregardless of how I feel about whether we should or should not be there, I am there to support whoever is there 100 percent and I would never say anything against them.
Given that your kids and grandkids in the future may get to read this, are there any parting words you would like to say?
No, I suspect in hindsight I did my bit because I felt it needed to be done at the time, I wanted an involvement, even though I didn’t really know why, it set direction for me, it was very good for me,
and I hope that should the occasion arise, and God forbid that it doesn’t that my grandkids and their kids would stand up and do their bit if they had to, and to me it was a great time in my life and I am really glad that I did it.