was serving in the army at the time. He had had air force service and at that stage he was qualifying as a surveyor. We moved to Victoria for a couple of years when I was about two. My brother and sister were born there and we moved back to Western Australia when I was about four and half and my younger sister was born there. I went
to school at a place called Pickering Brook, that is up in the hills in Western Australia about twenty-five mile from Perth. And I went to high school at a place called Kalamunda, again in the Darling Ranges. Did a little bit of work initially as a wood cutter in ’64, ’65 and started to think, “What am I going to do with life?” Got interested in the air force and basically joined as an airfield defence guard,
which is air force infantry. Did that for six years got out for another couple of years, went back to WA [Western Australia], got involved with the sports club, had various jobs and enjoyed myself but got itchy feet, wanted to travel and get paid for it. So I joined up again in ’75 as a supplier, basically that job has taken me all around Australia, to overseas places
such as Butterworth, Bougainville, Timor, and then the previous six years had taken me to South-East Asia to places such as Thailand and Vietnam. And now whilst in the supply days served in the Northern Territory amongst other places and had remote locality leave travel which we utilised to go across to the [United] States [of America] and had about three weeks over there.
Had quite a number of postings and that took me to places in Victoria, Canberra, where did I go? New South Wales and Katherine and of course to Amberley where I have spent the last five years of my permanent air force career. I am still located at Ipswich and I now a member
of the air force reserve and doing some work with the 23 Squadron at Amberley and more work with a joint movement control organisation at Enoggera. Fairly short and sweet.
come to have a look at what we were doing and asked me a question about somebody else’s car and that is a big turn, down so the guy I was shooting arrows with decided we were going to get some breakfast, and my darling beloved had some how got my phone number and she rang a couple of days later and the rest is history. We married in a civil ceremony at Butterworth and
our son Darren was born at the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] hospital in ’79, ’80 I think, yeah ’80. How time flies! And I have got a daughter who is, she is a Mexican – born in Victoria, south of the border. And there is seven years between them, almost to the day – both born in April. My son is doing his own thing and regretting that he didn’t finish high school and
our daughter is doing well in high school in Year 12 and has just been offered a scholarship with a TAFE [Technical and Further Education college] through the Minister for Employment and Training. I am quite happy she is going to go to uni [university] though. But it is a great kudos for her, though.
of them aren’t very pleasant. As I said, my father was ex army and at the time he was a serving army officer who had also spent time with the RAAF. He in fact had qualified as an air gunner but didn’t see operational service, qualified just before the end of the war. Now I don’t know the circumstances but at some point in time he and Mum split, as things tend to happen.
So from about the age of five I was I guess the man of the house, and that has a bit of an impact on a young fellow. So the place that we were living in initially was without power, without indoor toilet facilities all that sort of stuff, and in fact when it came to that sort of stuff, if it had to be done, I had to do it. So go down the yard and dig the hole and bury the stuff. Yeah that was good for a five-year-old.
I initially went to primary school at a place called Beaconsfield in Western Australia and went from there to another primary school at Jandakot when my Mum met and got involved with a prison officer who was living at a place called Bartons Mill, which is up in the Darling Ranges, so we went and lived in the married quarters of the prison farm.
Probably about a year after they got together, cause Mum went initially as a housekeeper I guess and cause he had three kids of his own and Mum had four of us. So between his, hers and ours, when they got married there was nine of us in the family at one stage. Nine kids I should say, so you can imagine what it was like. Very rough. The eldest one of the lot, my stepsister was a year older than me
and in the mid sixties she went nursing so she was out of the house most of the time. A couple of the houses that we lived in were fairly rough and ready and the old place was a former timber mill that had been converted to a prisoner of war camp and then to a prison farm. The houses were old and decrepit but we got by. And we had buses to take us to school and sorts of stuff. We were fairly free,
we kids, used to get out on our bikes and just go for miles out in the bush and take this road and that and get back never get lost, never get worried by anything. And we would get involved with the prisoners in their sports afternoons or their cricket matches or whatever. And you’d be down watching a game of football and the guy next door to you might have been a murderer or something but you were prison officer kids so it didn’t worry us.
And yeah, different lifestyle. And in the area we were at, lots of orchards just down the road from us and there was always fruit, and in fact in the married quarters area of the prison farm, we had two different types of grape vines on trellises. So you can imagine what it was like for a kid, one family had big fig trees, another had loquats and another one had apricots so as kids were always knocking on doors saying, “Excuse me, can we get into the loquats?” or, “Excuse me, can we into the figs?”
And I kept in contact with my grandmother, his mother. She used to live in Victoria at that stage at Carrum Downs, and after I joined the air force I was on course and I had dropped in on transit to visit her and told her where I was going and what I was doing, and we were in the middle of lectures one day and I had a message to
go and answer the phone and it turned out it was my father. He had tracked me down. And I visited he and his new wife and had some additional half brothers and half sisters that I hadn’t known about too much and we got on all right. They still live in Queensland. I haven’t been in contact with them for quite some time, but that’s me. I guess I never really
did forgive him for separating. It wasn’t my business, but you know, I guess that is something that I have got to work through.
prison office and the prison hall and the hall was where all the visitors used to come on weekends. But it was also there for concert parties and film evenings which were open for the prisoners themselves. But also to the families. So we used to go along to the film nights and in fact I saw, I can’t remember some of the films
with Geoff Chandler and people like that in it at that theatre. Now that hall had been decorated by one of the inmates who was doing an arts course, and he was given approval to do the arts course on the basis that he decorated the hall. And he was sort of I guess an impressionist style if you will, or sort of what do you call it,
where the characters are all angles and that sort of stuff. And he did a lot of good work. Now I think he was, from memory he was in goal for murdering another crim [criminal], and eventually he got released and I last heard he was working as an engineer on a fishing trawler up north of Western Australia. But going back to his art, most of it reflected life of a prisoner in some degree or other,
and the prison officers were depicted as rats and things like that and it was quite interesting. There were a lot of religious connotations in it and things like that. And this same guy was a trusty who looked after the water wells for the prison and quite often at ten or eleven o’clock you would see a light bobbing through the scrub down below and it would be Herman, going on his
rounds and checking on the pumps for the prison. In those days the prison didn’t have an electricity supply from the West Australian grid so we had, they had generator sets, so somebody else was looking after those. And when TV first came on, we got a TV set but to run it we had to have an adapter set up out the back to convert from one current to another.
up. And as I said there were a number of trusties who had tasks that meant that they would go out. The main task though for all the prison was providing firewood for the hospitals and what not around Perth in either foot logs or three foot logs, and my stepfather used to supervise the work gangs on those. And they’d go out with maybe thirty guys and they’d set up camp and
clear firewood and cut it up and bring it back, stack it. And at some point in time a truck would take batches of it down to Fremantle and to Perth to the various hospitals and whatnot. We had three different houses at various points in time at the prison farm, and of course with a reasonably large family. There was a reasonably large house at the time that was being occupied at the time, was being occupied by one prisoner officer and his wife.
When they moved on, we got the house and there were twenty-two single bedrooms. So we were quite happy. My stepfather wound up getting half of the hallway blocked off so we only utilised eleven of the bedrooms. But it was still bliss. You got a single room to ourselves. In the other houses he had adapted verandahs and things like that to provide sleep-outs and might have been a little bit snug and cold but.
And what about your stepfather, how did he talk about the prisoners?
I can’t really say too much about that. He had his… I guess he had his troubles with them. But then he had been a bit of a boxer at one stage or another and he was a reasonably solid sort of fellow, and in fact I guess he was the man that they tapped on the shoulder if Joe Bloggs was playing up a bit. “Merv, take this man around the back and teach him the error of his ways.”
I mean those sorts of things don’t happen, do they? But he was always there if something was called on. In fact he was the man to go to if anything happened, even if he was crook as a robber’s dog [unwell], he was called on. And one of the prisoners in the prisoner workshop one day, my stepfather was on sick leave – he had contracted a recurring bout of malaria or something like that – and he was
pretty bloody crook. Excuse the French [swearing].
took off. I think it was a Vanguard in those days – probably went as fast as it had ever been. And they got to the hospital in pretty damn good time, about twenty-five minutes, which you would normally take even today to make that trip, so he must have been fairly flying. The trusty who was in the car to help, my stepfather had said to him to try
and get attention of any police that he saw and try and get an escort and sort of. They went past at least one copper who sort of waved at them and let them go on their way. They never did get their escort. But they got to hospital and the guy got sorted out.
Yes. When you finished school, first jobs I mean.
Look, I didn’t know what I wanted. I probably still don’t know what I want. But I became a woodcutter. And as a side line I was working at that stage for a timber contractor so my stepbrother and I were cutting firewood for him, had our own chainsaws and whatnot. We had an old Hillman, a 1935 square back Hillman that I had learnt to drive in. Got my licence in a
three ton truck – beautiful.
and saw that maybe the air force could give me something that I wasn’t getting as a woodcutter, obviously. I this was sort of in the early stages of Australia’s involvement with the Vietnam situation and nothing that I was offered because of my educational grades – I was offered clerk supply, supplier, and cook’s assistant –
none of those particularly sort of grabbed at me. And airfield defence seemed to be something that I could do. And my stepfather was with me at the recruiting office and said, “Well why don’t you join the army?” I said, “Oh no, no, no, I don’t want to join the army.” Essentially I became an air force soldier for six years.
that went from there to about there and with buckles on them. Oh yeah, just what you want. You learnt a lot. You had to learn how to make bed rolls and things like that, and your bed was made in just this particular way. And your cupboard was laid out in just that particular way. And if the staff
said, “Jump,” you didn’t stop to ask why or how high, you just jumped. It was different, it was cold and it was wet too and I was a long way from home. I guess it was a bit of a challenge. And in fact at one stage I got pretty crook with pneumonia. It wasn’t quite pneumonia, but it was close to it. But we got around a bit and saw a bit. Went out on
exercise on the course, and in our spare time when we were allowed to go off base we went and saw the sights of Adelaide and I started to develop a liking for Chinese cuisine and stuff like that. The normal thing for a recruit course, graduating in a big graduation parade. In our particular case that didn’t happen because Edinburgh and Wagga and Point Cook and a
number of other training units, including army units, were closed to inwards outwards sort of stuff because a bout of infectious meningitis I think it was, so our graduation parade didn’t happen – bugger. We had trained hard for that and it just didn’t happen. It was just one of those things.
which took you down to places like the clothing store and equipment store and things like that. A road straight ahead that went to the messes and to the accommodation areas and another road that went further off to the actual airfield side of the base. And they had operational aircraft there at particular times. I can’t remember what aircraft types were there. And at that stage in ’66
the Royal Air Force had a considerable number of people operating out of Edinburgh and I think transiting between there and Woomera. So you saw Australian air force uniforms, you saw army uniforms and you saw RAF [Royal Air Force] uniforms. And for a young recruit trying to think, “Who the hell am I saluting here?” You’d be wandering down the road, sorry, marching
down the road in your boots and you got these metal bloody studs on the bottoms and to make the noise and it’s raining and you slip on the concrete and fall arse over apex – good stuff. It was all a bit of an eye opener for a young bloke.
But yeah, in fact the guy that ran our DI, drill instructor, I caught up with him at Amberley about three years ago when he came to visit his son I think, and it had been a long time since I had seen him. And in fact he and I, he was a drill instructor but he became an airfield defence guard after I had joined up,
because drill instructors, airfield defence instructors and ADGs [Airfield Defence Guards] were all merged to become one. So he became part of my mustering subsequent to my course finishing. The fellow that was our course orderly, he was like a… A course orderly is a senior member of the course who may have had previous experience, who’s trusted to provide all the course admin [administration]
and provide info [information] to the course members as to when and where they are supposed to be and all this sort of stuff. Well our course orderly was a bloke named Arthur Mackenzie who had been a drill instructor himself, and he’d been out for a couple of years and come back in and become the course orderly. Well Macca, I lost track of him for a long time, too, and he’d come back in as a drill instructor but also became a airfield defence guard when the merge
happened. And I lost touch with him until late last year when I caught up with him briefly at somebody else’s funeral, and then regrettably early this year he passed away too. Damn. At least I had a chance to catch up with him. Some of the other fellows I met again at various places over the years but the last of them would have been when
I was at Richmond back in the ’80s and a couple of the fellows that had been on my course – one was at Richmond working in a hangar next to me – and I talked to him briefly. He has gone back to Western Australia. And another fellow that I sort of hung out with I think wound up in Darwin and I haven’t seen him for a very long time. I didn’t have a great deal of association with a great lot of them.
There were about thirty of us on course, we were the first course to take part in an exercise while still on course and in fact we went from Amberley up to Rockhampton per the Rockhampton mail train. In those days the airfield defence mustering was very, very new and in theory we were to get
military style webbing and equipment and jungle greens and stuff like that, but we were still operating in basically an overalls and what they called boots and gaiters. So we did what we could but we really didn’t look like jungle green, we looked like air force blue. Anyway we went up to Rocky [Rockhampton] as
an exercise, carried our weapons on the train with us. It is funny, we trucked from Amberley out to Roma Street Station where we caught the train. We were assembled on the platform. Our instructor, the flight sergeant, assembled us all and we had some time before the train went and he said, “Look, I know some of you are going to drink. There is a bar down there. Go and get a few beers if you want but don’t take anything on the train.” Well some of us were delegated
to look after weapons and I did that cause I didn’t drink in those days, and the others went to the bar. And while they were in the bar some of them identified that there were some small bottles of scotch whisky that would quite easily tuck into the top of their gaiters just into the boot, so some of them quite cleverly got some of those and a bottle of Coke [Coca-Cola]. Anyway, they got these things on board and we were in little cabins – there was about four or five to a cabin –
and most of the guys developed card games. And the scotch or bourbon or whatever would come out and be filled up into a little glass or whatever with a topping of Coke and they’d be on their merry way. They’d tuck the bottles back into their gaiters and our flight sergeant would be doing his rounds and he knew damn well that these blokes were drinking but he never, I don’t think he ever did twig as to where the booze was.
But we got to Rockhampton and we did the exercise. It was an exercise called Barrawinga, and we were set up at an airfield which I think, I don’t know the name, I think it was Samuel Hill but I am not sure. It was a very dusty place, we were camped opposite an army engineers’ unit and every time a truck went past you’d
be full of dust. We had one night-time incident, we had rifle pits set up for defence of our area and we had one incident where the enemy came through our wire. And I think it was just an exercise set up to show how easy it could be done. And it was done very easily, I might add. But it showed us what could happen and how fast it could happen. On a lighter note, we
were in an area where there was availability of beer. Two cans per day per man perhaps and it was something called Max 3X. Max was subsequently taking over by Castlemaine Perkins, but it was beer – only just. And as I said, I didn’t drink in those days, and a couple of older hands scrounged beer tickets from me and other people and got their fare share. And one particular night
these two particular fellows have got their beverages and they are sitting on a log outside the back of a tent having their beer and baying at the moon because it seemed like a good idea at the time, and the orderly officer was an old warrant officer, probably much younger than I am at the moment. But he came round wondering what the heck was going on. He said, “Okay you blokes, what’s happening?”
And they said, “Well it’s like this, sir. We are sitting here having our beer and baying at the moon.” And this bloke, so the story goes, scratched his head and said, “Hmm, sounds like a good idea, Here, give me a can.” Anyway, we got through that. We went back to…
There was one fellow on our course, a bloke named Pat Crimmin, who was probably shorter than this fellow so Pat did all right – the rest of us, we could do no right. Later on as I went through postings as an airfield defence guard there was a couple of guys who I did really admire. One of them was an ex RAF officer who was the epitome of an officer and a gentlemen but did know his job, so he wasn’t just
a toff so to speak; he knew what he was doing. As did most of them, but they all had their quirks and foibles and some of them you just didn’t get along with, but that was just life. We had one… On the initial course we covered all sorts of things. As you can understand we are trained to be basically as an infantryman. But we also on my particular course did things like air photo reading and just a basic coverage of
that. You have what they call a stereoscope and get the aerial photographs and line them up and look at them and you used to get a 3D [three dimensional] view. That ran for my course and another course, and I think it was subsequently discarded, but it was interesting. But one of the instructors in battle and minor tactics was a flight sergeant. For the life of me I can’t remember his name, but he had, he was rather older at that point in time.
And I don’t know what his service had been. I think he had been in the army, I think he had been in World War II. But he had a lot of tricks, you sort of got into synch and the shoulder would go up and the eye would twitch and then you were sort of waiting for the cycle to happen. Trying not to laugh or whatever, trying to sympathise with him, but at the same time it was very distracting.
And I distinctly remember somebody in our group capturing a python and offering that around. Apparently it tasted like chicken but I can’t really say, and of course we are not allowed to do those sorts of things but it happened back then. It was fairly brief and I don’t remember a lot about it. I recall at Amberley
being out for nights on exercises where it was absolutely teeming with rain. And we would be trying to do battle craft and minor tactics at night and you’re freezing and wondering what? And Amberley hasn’t changed. And I remember not all that long ago being out there on another exercise and freezing my arse off, so yeah, it’s yeah. We had
some interesting things, we used to go into Ipswich to have a beverage [beer] or two, and when we had a chance, this might be mythical or not, we had a fairly large guy on course with us, a bloke named Pete Fiddler who was fourteen pick handles across the shoulders, and he was having a beer in one of the bars and apparently a couple of the locals decided that they didn’t like air force types and wanted to chiack him, and so
he decided to take a walk out to the gents and do his business and hopefully they’d go away. Well allegedly they followed him and started to carry on out there. And as the story goes he got teed off with this and reached up and pulled a pipe off the wall and they quickly vanished. Pete subsequently became a helicopter crewman, got shot down in Vietnam and medivacked
back with a broken collarbone and that was about the time I was flying, and subsequently died in ’74 in a helicopter crash during the floods in Queensland. He was a great bloke, he really was. What else about Amberley? I remember coming back from… We had been out for about eight days doing fieldcraft and
I had a room to myself and I remember walking into the room and thinking to myself, “Something has died in here.” And then I realised it was me. I stank. I am not sure whether it was the same exercise or not, but I had had a shower and I decided that I’d have a little lie down before tea, and like about an hour and half nap, and well I woke up twenty hours later! So you can obviously think that they kept us fairly busy
and fairly sleep deprived over the… Cause they would go out too and we’d set up night defence positions and stuff like that, and we’d be out on patrol and we’d harbour up for the night as any military formation would do, and the directing staff would harass us during the night and set off flares and all that sort of stuff and generally keep you awake. Yeah.
How was it viewed by the other departments of the air force?
The average comment, particularly when we got greens, was, “Oh hell, there’s a tree walking past,” when they saw us in our jungle greens and stuff like that. Yeah, they, most other areas of the air force thought that ADGs were not a requirement. But what the heck, we had a job
was all part of what had been either a sergeants’ or officers mess’ in days gone by. One of the blocks is… I think in fact it might have been the block that I lived in at the time. And one of the blocks is still at Amberley and is the admin area. Guys just outside us, we had a number of gum trees where we had set up ropes and whatnot
for obstacle courses and things like that, and we used to have to crawl from tree to tree and make a crawl across. Great fun, particularly when you have a rifle and webbing and all that sort of stuff. You wonder how you do it. But anyway, at least in one of those trees were mummy koala and baby koala and one of the fellows on course with me, in fact he is still in I think, he decided one night,
being substantially, one night being substantially well lubricated [drunk], that he would go and get baby koala. Anyway, so he climbed up the tree and mummy koala disagreed with him and scratched him quite severely so he wound up falling out of the tree hitting the deck and breaking his collarbone. He still had baby koala with him when he the deck. I don’t know what happened to him eventually but he got back coursed to the next course
while his injury healed, and subsequently passed and graduated with them. Eventually he re-mustered to become a PTI, physical training instructor, and I think got out last year. And one other fellow from my course, a bloke named John Hansen, he is actually still on duty as a warrant officer in training, in the training school at Amberley where
he and I had trained together, he is now the trainer. Got an age extension last year and I think that might run out this year. So he has been an airfield defence guard since 1966.
This fellow, we were the armoury, and ground defence section in Vung Tao was right beside the area that was the cinema. Anyway, I was on duty, I think cleaning weapons or whatever, this particular night and this fellow came in, one of ours, airfield defence guard, and one of our corporals
at the time was rather large, probably you might say obese, and these two didn’t get along all that well. Anyway, something had gone on and the one fellow was shall I say three parts cut [drunk], but the problem was he had a submachine gun in his hot little hand and he has come into the guardroom chasing this other fellow and saying something along the lines of, “Where is that big fat so-and-so? I am going to kill him.”
And of course he has got a loaded weapon in his hand, bodies went everywhere, people went out the window and whatever. He wound up being court-martialled and spending quite a period, and I think it was two weeks, in the army corrective establishment at Backbridge in Vung Tao, and that wasn’t a place that you wanted to be. Apparently when he marched in there as a suspended soldier so to speak he was given
a very large empty large boot polish tin and he was told that that would be his mirror, and he had spit polish it so that he could see his face to shave in and he had to shave every day, so you can imagine what it was like. And I in fact saw that boot polish tin when he finished his stint and you could use it as a mirror. Allegedly while he was in there, one of the things that he had to do was go over to an area of the compound and built a sandbag wall.
And of course we were instructed to build sandbags, they had to be this sort of shape they had to be patted down and built like bricks, and you built the walls as much as you would build a brick wall, tuck the ends under and stuff like that. And he was given instructions that this wall had to be so long and so high and in such in such a position. And so the story goes he built the wall and the staff came along to inspect it and said words to the effect, “Very, very good.
However, it is six inches out of alignment. Pull it down and build it all over again.” So he didn’t cause any further troubles. And that didn’t give me any sort of thoughts of wanting to go through that sort of procedure myself. I guess I was some what of a goody two shoes [well behaved]. But as I said, I was probably a little bit timid and shy and if I came to that I couldn’t fight my way out of a paper bag [couldn’t win a fight] if I got into a brawl anyway – you just step back and let them
my course got posted from Amberley to Fairbairn where we set up a rifle flight, which was essentially thirty people under headquarters element, as a sort of holding area. Initially we would run the armoury and stuff like that, do our own exercises, and we did in fact do a couple of exercises out Fairbairn but initially we were there as a holding area before
orders came to move us overseas. And in those days we were posted either to Fairbairn, Amberley, Richmond, Williamtown and Darwin, I believe. I am not sure about Townsville. But certainly I got posted to Fairbairn, as did guys off the following course. Other members of my course more or less went straight from the course
to overseas but my turn came later on. We had about six months, five months at Fairbairn up until March of ’67. We did a training exercise in the hills outside of Canberra, we did a couple of training areas, in fact one was a exercise
where we did a river crossing using rope bridges and the particular creek was rather cold and it was a bugger of a day. During that training exercise one of the fellows on the course, or on the exercise with us, lost his watch, and the creek was flowing that rapidly and it was that grotty [dirty] cause there had been a lot of rain recently that he couldn’t locate the area or make out the watch, anyway. Subsequently,
we back there some weeks later to the same area and the river was much clearer and we found the watch. So he was lucky; he got his watch back. Went to another area for about a week to conduct a ground defence area and it was in an area by another river in through some private property where we had
got approval to go. And we set up camp on one side of the river and defensive positions on the other side, and in between the area that the river flowed downhill into a pool area which was quite large and then flowed down through a little sort of series of rapids. And we were using this pool area, obviously, as you do, for swimming and all that sort of stuff.
And a civvy [civilian] came in – he obviously got approval to come onto the property too – and he was setting up to go fishing just down the rapids area from where we are swimming. And we said, “Oh mate, we have been swimming here all morning. You are not going getting thing there.” And he did, well about half hour into it. He came up with a trout about yay high. I thought, “Damn, there are fish in this river.” And in fact we’d go
down the river and have a look at some log areas and you could see the trout, you know, in the shallows and whatnot, so they were definitely there, and they weren’t too worried about us. But they knew that we were there and we knew they were there. And yeah, that was just more and more exercise.
or in his early days anyway, and Singapore really was a dive. It stank, dirt everywhere, rubbish everywhere. I remember distinctly walking over a bridge over a creek/main drain, and it stunk like the dickens and it was just total filth and all that sort of stuff. So it was an eye opener to a poor little Australian who had never been anywhere, and you know
to see beggars and all that sort of stuff. And we had a night there and then hopped on a series of planes to get from there to Penang and eventually to Butterworth airbase. And we stayed at Butterworth in accommodation with not very much money. In fact we begged, borrowed and stole the money too while we were there to keep ourselves amused,
and I think we had to wait for five or six days before we could get on a RAF aircraft, I think it was a Dakota, to get from Butterworth up to Ubon in Thailand so that had its moments. We were accommodated next to a block that had I think a unit of Ghurkhas. They had a pet monkey.
I have got a photo over there actually of myself and another guy and I have the pet monkey on my shoulder. And I was much younger and much thinner than I am now. We saw a little bit of Penang, we went and did some sightseeing and saw a bit more of the base because we didn’t have a great deal of money.
financial accounts officer that he would give us an advance and we would pay it back when we got to Thailand, which we did, and it worked out to about, oh, I don’t know, about thirty pound each. Sorry, thirty dollars each. Pounds and shillings and pence had only just gone out when I first joined up. Bugger. So pretty much I did have one sort of night in Penang and in those days to get from
Penang, from the mainland to Penang, you actually had to go through a customs checkpoint and I don’t remember when the customs checkpoint was stopped. But Penang Island itself was a duty-free port. So you’d hop on the ferry from Butterworth and go across, and then coming back from Penang you’d have to go through customs and declare what you had bought on Penang Island and all that sort of stuff. So
we had a day sightseeing and riding the Penang ferry, and I have got photos of that and all that sort of stuff. Essentially, as I said, we were fairly broke so for entertainment we went to what was called the Malcolm Club, which was a canteen run by the RAF, or else we just stayed in the block and read, or in a couple of cases climbed up coconut trees and knocked coconuts down for something to do, and this was while we were
waiting as I said for the aircraft to take us up to Thailand up to Ubon Ratchathani.
when I signed the dotted line, he said, “You’ll be right, mate.” Probably a standard line he used with everyone. He said, “You’ll be overseas within a year.” And I was thinking to myself when I hopped on the plane to fly out of Australia it was ten months more or less from the time I’d first marched in to getting on that plane. And I thought, “Hmm, well okay Mr Recruiting Sergeant, I am on that plane. Thank you very much.” But it was still sort of
a wide open, sorry, an eye opening exercise for us. Because you know I am just a country boy or a boy from the close in urban areas and I don’t know too much about the rest of the world. And damn, there are beggars and there is hot and wet and sticky and all this sort of stuff, and lots of people, and what am I doing?
my initial training up period. And I travelled from Perth to Adelaide by train and you had to change trains at Kalgoorlie because at that stage the standard gauge didn’t go all the way through. And I remember we were at a siding called Grass Valley, or Grass Patch or something, and waiting for whatever reason and I hear this knock on the window and it was my stepsister, who knew I was on the train, and
she had come from where she’d been living to this station to try and catch up with me and by chance had found the right carriage, and so we got to have a bit of a yak at that particular stage. But as far as saying goodbye to the family for my overseas trip, no I don’t remember a great deal about it. It’s a long time ago.
their task was to provide air defence for Ubon airfield and for the assets there, and as part of what was then I guess the SEATO, South East Asian Treaty Organisation requirements. Now bear in mind that the Americans had multiple aircraft over there. They had amongst other things a lot of Phantom fighter bombers, which were operating basically twenty-four hours a day.
They had transport aircraft, they had Super Constellation type aircraft that were fitted up as radar type aircraft. They had Hercules and mini Hercules, which were set up to provide flare droppings type things. And all the aircraft operated from one side of the airfield and the Americans had their domestic area and the Thais themselves had their domestic and fly on areas on the other side of the airfield
from where we had our domestic area, so we lived on the other side and we had basically full support services. We had, apart from airfield defence we had everything that would be taken to run a unit on a deployment, right down to a carpenter, an electrician, a padre, the cooks, bottle washers and all that sort of stuff. We had communications experts, even equipment type people,
we had a couple of locals who acted as interpreters for us. And as an ADG we worked in association with Thai air police and worked directly beside them in our tasks, and in fact for that matter linked in with the American Air Policing through their radio network and whatnot.
Yeah, we were told pretty much what Australia was there for. And as said, the aircraft were there to provide close in protection for the base, should anything come across the borders with hostile intent. Not that I am aware of any of our Sabres getting involved in any action of any shape. There was one
particular story were they were alleged to have done some work where maybe they might have gone across a border. I don’t know that that ever happened. But from our role as airfield defence guards we were to provide standing patrols, main gate guards, roving pickets around the aircraft lines and the domestic area, and we were also permitted to work off base, up to five miles
off the base, on patrols. And we would go fully armed on those patrols and apart from the Thais and the occasional military policeman we were the only force doing that. There were some stories about American aircraft being shot at from outside the base. And I give full credence to those stories being accurate and to the point, where on a number of occasions we were tasked to go out, find a particular location
where it was believed that things were happening from and hope to stop those things happening. Well we never actually found anything but we did develop a relationship with local villagers, and on one particular occasion in our mixed pidgin English Thai conversation developed along the lines of the villager talking about hearing a helicopter type noise
some nights previously, shortly thereafter the noise of a larger aircraft and followed by the noise as he described it of as obviously of a heavy weapon firing as it, as that other aircraft passed over, and then the helicopter type thing flying away later on. So we worked out that somebody didn’t necessarily like the Americans and somebody was flying in with some sort of heavy weapon, popping off a few rounds and then shooting through.
Now who those people were, hmm, don’t know. We tried to find them but we weren’t successful.
And one of the phases had something to do with your mother and a dog and all that sort of stuff. They have got some fairly coarse sorts of things. The problems with those areas over there, you can say one word, or one sentence in a particular area, say Ubon Ratchathani Province, but you’d say the same thing in Bangkok and it has got a different context entirely so you had to be fairly careful about what you did say.
Yeah, there were some funny things that happened over in Thailand. The Americans were operating twenty-four hours a day with Phantom fighter bombers and quite often they would come back with holes in them. One aircraft took off at twenty past two one morning but as he was taking off, I was on the main gate guard, as he went past my line of sight he obviously had problems because his back end was burning.
Anyway, the captain of the aircraft was telling his navigator to get out and not getting any response, and he turned around and there was nobody in the back seat and the aircraft is still rolling, so he got out and got away from it. And this is an aircraft with a full load of bombs on board, it’s on fire, so you can imagine that it is not a very good situation. The fuel exploded and about a minute or so later the entire bomb load
blew up, and this was happening from where I was around about four hundred metres away. It wound up blowing a hole roughly twenty foot wide and twelve foot deep in the runway. Nobody got killed but there was a couple of reasonably serious injuries. One American who had insomnia had been sitting on an upstairs balcony on the second floor smoking a
pipe, and he got picked up by the blast wave and knocked onto the ground and jammed the stem of his pipe up through the roof of his mouth. And one of our fellows was on roving picket around the Sabre lines and he got picked up and thrown against a galvanised iron fence and so he had a few bruises and whatnot. But overall we were lucky. We had a couple of people who were illegally
hiring bungalows down the road from our containment area. One bloke was asleep in bed doing what you do, so to speak, and a chuck of engine went through the bamboo wall above him. Padre was going down to commune with nature and a chuck of engine landed about three feet in front of him. How nobody got seriously injured I don’t know, but that was…
was a tin roof structure, open sided, with canvas sort of deckchairs and it was up against our far fence which was close to our runway. I guess the runway was about one hundred yards or something like that. So you can imagine what it is like trying to watch a movie with every fifteen minutes a flight of Phantoms taking off, “Right, okay,” or even longer. And we had
the support guys, or not the support guys, the techs [technicians] from 79 Squadron, the fitters and whatnot. They had been having a party and the party had been raging pretty well, and this is still twenty past two in the morning and they were still at it. Anyway this thing is burning on the runway and they are lining the fence, “Burn baby burn, come on.” Now one of them got an excellent photo of it as it exploded, it knocked him flat on his arse. Then they wanted to go through the fence
and start collecting souvenirs. But what they didn’t realise at the time was that some of the bomb load was what they called CBUs, which are a cluster bomb unit, and the bomb that carried these things had obviously shattered and these bomblets were everywhere in the grass and everything, and these blokes wanted to get souvenirs. The military police sorted them but.
a group of fire fighters over there and they had an old Rolls Royce fire truck and they took pride in beating the Americans to any incidents. Now I am pretty sure that they did on this particular occasion. But as one of our duties at night, picture the scene, there is a front entrance that is open all the time and controlled by ADGs and Thai air police and there is a back gate between the fire section and the runway and whatnot which is not open all day –
it is locked at night. If an incident happens our job, get the key, get down and get it open before the firies go through it. And if we weren’t there in time they would go through it. Well on at least three occasions the fire truck just went straight through the gate because nobody had got there in time to open it. So I am fairly sure that on this particular occasion they successfully got there and did whatever they could to help out.
Yeah, but it was a bit of a hairy moment. One of the guys in the block that I was living in, because my block was one of the closest ones to the runway, Pat had had a pretty heavy night and he was well asleep and he was well pissed [drunk], and apparently the shock wave picked him up and threw him out of bed, and of course everybody had been evacuated from that
but nobody had realised that he was still there. And the following morning somebody picked him. I said, “Pat, what’s happened? Where have you been?” “What you mean? What’s happened?” “An aircraft blew up! What have you been doing?” “Come on, no, no, no, you’re kidding me.” So I dragged him out and showed him the smouldering and the crane operating and all this sort of stuff. “Ohhh.”
And in fact when the pilot and navigator escaped, how did they escape?
Presumably they pinned their, put the safety pins in their ejection devices, opened the canopy and got out and went. It maybe mythical that the navigator got out first, but anyway they both got out and left the aircraft to its devices and took off as best they could, and as I say, they were
and the scaffolding they used was bamboo. So you can imagine three to four storey buildings with bamboo scaffolding, “Hmm, how safe is that?” But that was quite common. I guess there were a lot of different sights that you wouldn’t see – the average Aussie kid doesn’t see water buffalo in the streets and all that sort of stuff. And you saw lots of those.
The villages were fairly grotty if you would. So it was quite different to our sort of lifestyle. From what I could see of the locals they were reasonably friendly, more so when the water festival came round and they would be very friendly, particularly if they could get you in their sights with a can of water, they would hit you with it.
But yeah, it was very, very different for an eighteen-year-old.
at the time some degree of troubles with communist terrorists, certainly in Malaysia, definitely Laos, Cambodia and in some degree in Thailand itself in the jungles of Thailand and it was perceived that some of those people would provide a threat against the base. So that was part of what we were doing.
Now much of that would have been sniper type units coming on to disrupt central charges or whatever. Some of it would have been per standoff attacks per rocket or mortar, and in fact after my time there some of those attacks did take place. There weren’t a huge amount but they certainly did take place.
come down the road you’d come into the gate, you had guard box off to one side. Off to the right-hand side was a big bunker for protection, if need be. Right beside the bunker was the guardroom, which was a weatherboard and galvanised iron place which we operated from. Initially it was fairly basic. It had office space and control room space. By the time I left
we’d incorporated bunks for the on duty section to sleep in rather than sleep in their own blocks so there would always be somebody there on call. You would work rotating shifts where you might spend a couple of hours on the main gate, you might spend a couple of hours monitoring the radio, logging events. You might do the back gate,
you might do roving picket on the Sabre lines on the other side of the base, or you might in fact be on a section doing an off base patrol. And occasionally we did off base patrols at night, going out as I said up to about five miles off the base.
That’s not the word to use. But we would go out as a fighting unit prepared to fight if necessary. We weren’t expecting that we would have to because essentially there wasn’t, there shouldn’t have been too much around. But as I said we were the only unit apart from the Thais themselves and some service and military police
that carried sidearms. But we went out fully gunned up, up to SLR [Self Loading Rifles] and M60 type weapons, and I think M79 grenade launchers. Our sections would go out as an infantry section would do, with the same sorts of equipment, the same sorts of firepower available. So if any thing did happen, we had the radio sets and we could call in our contacts
and hopefully pretty well acquit ourselves if need be.
with villagers that indicated what we knew was happening – that somebody, some organisation was definitely coming in and taking potshots at aircraft from time to time. To this day I don’t really know, it may very well be that it was Air America, CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] whatever trying to stir up the pot and get more involvement, but that’s, who knows, conspiracy theory. I don’t know.
But there were certainly people taking shots at aeroplanes from Ubon.
funny maybe. I mean we went on a… My section went on a patrol one day and we were basically to do a semicircular arc starting from the base and walking through the villages and familiarising ourselves with the area. And as I said, we went out fully gunned up and webbing and whatnot, rations and stuff like that, and three to four water bottles. And obviously you got to re-hydrate and that sort of stuff. At a point in
time we decided blow this, we were on a road at the time, we knew that local buses passed through and the next one that came along, we’d flag down and bum a ride back to Ubon, paying our fare of course. Anyway one came along and my section commander had got on board and said in pidgin English, negotiated with the bus driver, “Do you go up to Ubon?” “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” So we all got on board
and paid our five baht for the fare and travelled down this dusty dirty bumpy country road for quite some time until we came to a little village. And everybody got off and the bus driver got off, “Hey, hang on! You going to Ubon?” “Yes, yes, tomorrow.” So we wound up walking back to base anyway. We had a bus ride for a while.
not, I don’t know, or whether it was results of liaisons from previous times. It was amazing in some villages the number, for example, of redheaded children running around. And I thought, “Hello, what’s been going on around here and how long ago was it?” Because you can understand that 1966, 1967 it wasn’t all that long after World War II and so who knows, some of these kids couldn’t have been results of, hmm, mixed marriages, shall I say.
But yeah. No, look, in general the population was pretty good to us. Now we understood, though, there were people that didn’t like us there, they didn’t like particularly the Americans there. It was a more or less recognised fact that there were a number of the local population who observed for, shall we say the other side, and they would pretty much every morning
they would stroll past, position themselves in a particular area up near the end of the strip and basically be there all day counting aeroplanes. So the service police and the American air police were reasonably happy to have them there, cause they figured we know where they are and we know what they are and we know what they are doing and what the hell, so as long as they are there we know nothing is going to happen here.
along those roads when they made a phone call to the guardroom when I was on at the time and asked to speak to the boss, and sought his approval to acquire all this equipment and he gave them, he basically said, “No,” because he didn’t know how to bring it on charge. Hello. But yeah, they were, in general we worked in well with them. You know, you do, some of them are a bit overbearing
but then so are some of us. Some of them talk a bit funny but then so do some of us too.
and if you weren’t on duty you were able to go there. Even the duty section, you know, we’d be on what was called alert stand down, but if we were called up we had to be at the guardroom within five minutes, fully gunned up and ready to go. It was not uncommon to be sitting down having a coke and playing bingo and the PA [Public Address system] would come across, “Alert section to the guardroom, alert.” You know you’d be, “Hmmm, hmm,
hmm.” And off you’d go. And of course everybody in the room would, “Yeah, bloody stupid ADGs,” and things like that and away we’d go and do our thing. But at the bar they sold Tiger beer and various other, Carlsberg I think was available, Fosters and VB [Victoria Bitter] and stuff like that. Now a couple of our ADGs liked beverages and one of them liked to sleep in a fairly
unusual position when he got a little bit full [drunk]. In fact there were two places that he liked; one was on the bar when he got a bit pissed, so some wag on one end of the bar had drawn in texta a black cross and the words ‘Kiwi RIP [Rest In Peace]’, because Kiwi was the man that used to… But this same fellow would also climb up into the rafters. Now picture this, it is an open type ceiling place with rafters and fans, and
one of the fun things for us to do was when we were drinking our beverages was to build can pyramid and some of them got seriously high, as you can imagine. You are bored, you are not doing anything, and a group of 79 Squadron techos had been pretty much building a pyramid all day one Saturday, I think it was. And our friend was up in the rafters asleep and this can pyramid had gone seriously high,
it was probably about seven or eight cans, and Kiwi falls out, straight on to the pyramid, knocks it everywhere, knocks the techos everywhere, picks himself up, wanders back to bed, “Excuse me, fellows.” And then techos just looked at it all in disgust and picked themselves up and walked out. Wrecked their day for them. You did things for fun. The Americans had a
fellow named Robin Olds who was the Wing CO [Commanding Officer], he was a colonel and he became a fighter ace while he was over there – he shot down five MiGs. And his crew techs took one of the fuel tanks on, one of the wing tanks off one of his aircraft and had it mounted on a concrete plinth outside the squadron headquarters with a tin
cutout of Snoopy [dog -– cartoon character], done up with his flying goggles and his scarf because he is flying his Sopwith Camel, and this was a tribute to Robin Olds. Well a couple of my mates one night wandering around, driving around the hardstand area in the truck wondering what to do, and they drove past this thing, because it is floodlit and quite easily viewable, and they decided that it would look very attractive on our side of the
house. So they went back and got a couple of willing helpers and went over back over the flight line, lifted this thing up and put it in the back of the truck, and there was about five feet of it hanging out the other end. So they proceeded to make their way back to our place via the taxiways and runways and having to give way to Phantom jets taxiing for takeoff and all this sort of stuff. And the Americans are wondering what the hell these Aussies were doing and all that sort of stuff. Now
they set it up on the lawn across the road from the guardroom and put it up on its block and all this sort of stuff, and then got in touch with the American radio station. “Oh, g’day mate. This is the ground defence section at the Aussie side. Um, we have got Snoopy and if youse want it back, it is going to cost some cartons.” Well it was almost a
diplomatic incident! I am not sure that the cartons ever got paid, but we certainly had Snoopy for a couple of days before he went back. It was quite a hoot. And that was just one of the things that you did to entertain and amuse.
bender and that was Singer beer in Ubon Ratchathani probably mixed with some bourbon and stuff like that. I should know better at that stage, didn’t, but I certainly do now. And I tell you what I was a very, very crook boy. We had guys that were employed to do our laundry for us, hut boys, they were paid so much by us each week. Hut boy was not
impressed with me the following morning – I was one crook puppy. And there were certain elements of my life that I do not remember a thing about from that particular night. So eighteen, I think it might have been around about the time I had my nineteenth birthday. But I got seriously pissed and that was on Singer beer and that was the first time ever.
So sometime before that you had started drinking?
Yeah, not hugely but I did enjoy a Tiger or Carlsberg or whatever in the airmen’s club and sit down and have a beer or a coke or whatever. I drank a fair bit of coke in those days. We also had in the club a couple of pool tables so know you’d play a bit of pool, maybe some darts, just to while the time away if you weren’t on duty. Or else you’d be wandering around you’d go into Ubon
and go to one of the little restaurants and have something to eat. Now for a young kid just out of Australia, it was unusual to walk down the street and see the local butcher on the sidewalk with his, you know, with all his chopping blocks and whatnot. Not airconditioning, no freezers or anything, ugh.
but it was reasonably large. But there was, as I said, as I mentioned earlier, there was bamboo scaffolding and all that. There was a lot of construction happening. It was situated on the Moon River, which I think becomes part of the Mekong system. And the Moon, as it flowed through Ubon Ratchathani the Moon was fairly
wide. Now I really can’t remember, but probably more than a hundred metres wide, you know, where the road bridge went across. Ubon… Obviously Australia had been involved in there from about ’64 through to ’68 and I was there in ’67, so Australia had a
fair bit of a presence there but nothing in comparison to the Americans. And the town itself, sort of a lot of the business aimed at getting money from the Americans. You know, there were places that would sell jewellery, places that would sell watches and stuff like that. And you could always do a little bit of haggling to beat the price down. You would never get a real good deal but you knew that you could knock off a few dollars here and there and
maybe you bought a watch that didn’t have bamboo springs and whatnot. There were a lot of photography shops that people would get in and get all their picky [picture], taken and a couple of them were developing a trade in I suppose black market photographs, photographs that had been provided by, developed for pilots who had been over North Vietnam or whatever, and
I have got a number of photographs there of Phantoms dropping bombs over North Vietnam and stuff like that, and these were just readily available for sale at the photograph, photography shops. Whether it was kosher or not, I don’t know. What the hell.
in some cases although they did it illegally. At least five of my mates hired bungalows and shall I say hired girls that lived with them for a time that they were there as housekeepers, if you will. Whatever went with the housekeeping. Now technically they weren’t supposed to be off base doing that but everybody knew they were. And quite often we had curfew hours you had to be
back on base, but if you were on shift and you had to get back to your room and your curfew was past, well tough, so you just walked down and went to your house. But so there were quite, four or five who that did that.
When you said before that technically it was illegal to live in… Was it illegal to be living off the base or illegal to be living with a Thai woman?
Let’s put it this way, I think it was probably frowned upon. I don’t really know whether or what if anything the headquarters personnel knew about what might be happening. I suspect they had a reasonable idea, but of course you wouldn’t go blabbing it around. Your mates you might know about. We
had restrictions on us where they, a curfew existed from about 2200 to 0530 or something like that were in theory we shouldn’t go off base. But as I said, some of them had hired bungalows and if they came off shift at two o’clock in the morning they just wandered down the road to the bungalow. They shouldn’t have been off base, maybe,
but that’s where they were.
And you knew about this because you knew these blokes, or you were friendly with these blokes or…?
A couple of them, one of them in fact I am still, he lives out at Happenbar [?] and I know him well. I don’t know that his wife knows what happened over there, I am sure she does, but you know, he didn’t know her at that particular point in time. He and she met when we came back from over there, so.
there were obviously paddy fields and all that sort of stuff. And the farmers, the local farmers, were letting the water buffalo drink and wallow and all that sort of stuff in the weir. And the locals would also catch little fish from this weir. But right beside the weir on the banks was the local Mekong distillery, and Mekong is like a rice whisky or something like that. And they used
to make the whisky, they used the water supply from the weir. Allegedly they employed a guy to go round to the Mekong whisky vats and pulled the dead rats out before they bottled it. Now obviously that sort of thing wouldn’t happen in Australia, generally speaking. So looking at how they lived and their lifestyles and whatnot is so vastly different to how the average young Australian grows up.
But you just don’t sort of believe it, but it is there. This is how people live. If they need a leak [urinate], they do it right there. In Malaysia, it wasn’t uncommon to see men and woman dropping their dacks [trousers] in a main drain and defecating. “Oh okay.” And just walk on and ignore it. It is so totally different it is hard to describe.
the back of the guardroom, assembled us there and he said look he wanted volunteers to go to Vietnam at the end of our Ubon tour and basically asked for volunteers to step forward. And from that about ten or so of us did. Now I honestly can’t remember the flight from Ubon to Vung Tau, except getting to Vung Tau, except getting to Vung Tau, sorry, Saigon airport
and realising that it was a whole lot different, but that was it. He just wanted to volunteers and we were to go to Vung Tau and augment the rifle flight there.
We knew that you might look at somebody wandering down the street or you might have a haircut from the base barber and they base barber might in fact be a Viet Cong at night. And as subsequent things happened that was proven on a number of occasions, particularly at Phan Rang base where the base barber by day turned out to be a Viet Cong sniper at night and was killed doing an on base raid one night. So,
strange. We there with the expectation that we were helping the South Vietnamese in their defence against the communist hordes, so to speak. How many of them actually wanted to defend South Vietnam and how many didn’t want to was another matter. But it wasn’t,
it didn’t work out in the long run, did it? Certainly not for us.
But Saigon, Ton San Nhut airport in those days was a takeoff and landing every three seconds, twenty-four hours a day. Now they had at least two parallel runways north and south and I think they had a couple east and west type of thing. And they had every type of aircraft that you could possibly imagine from civilian chartered 747s of about seven different
airline type organisations up to and including Qantas, Pan Am and all that sort of stuff, to light observation helicopters, Phantom fighter bombers, Star Fighters, you name it. And quite often there was bombing and strafing happening right at the outskirts of the airfield while your aircraft was taxiing down the runway, so it was a bit of an eye opener. And then of course
you’d get off the aircraft, you’d been in an airconditioned cabin, same in Malaysia and Thailand, and the heat just knocks you for six. And you think, “What in the hell are we doing here?” And then of course all the noise and the confusion, people not knowing who the hell you are and you not knowing where you are and who you have to see, and until somebody marches over and says, “All right, you blokes need to be over there get to that bus. Get to there and we will get you where you are going.”
Some of them were used as taxis, some of them were used as utes. In fact I saw one of them in Vung Tau at one time with about nine 44-gallon drums on it. Now how the hell… It must have been empty, but how the hell they got them on there I don’t know. Now you see that, you see people on bicycles, you see people in all sorts of dress, military personnel, people, civvies wandering down the streets in black pyjamas with straw hats and you think, “Hmm, Viet Cong?
No, I don’t think so.” Yeah, so you just didn’t know who was what. The kid polishing the shoes on the sidewalk could have had a hand grenade in his shoebox and quite often did. So you know, sort of watch yourself and get used to it.
I mean what went through your head at that time?
I think I just wanted to basically get to where we were going, get settled down and get the briefings and get on with the job, pretty much. And learn a little bit about it or, yeah it was certainly an eye opener with all that aircraft traffic. People gunned up all over the place. And often in the background you’d hear
artillery arcing up or you’d see tracers going up in to the air and you’d think, “Hmm, hmm, we are in the dodo now.” And in the Saigon streets life is just going on, you know. “What’s going on here?” But then I guess life had to go on, didn’t it.
from memory we got a ride on an American aircraft called a C123, a Provider, which was basically a small version of a Hercules, so that is a twin-engine jobby. I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about it because it leaked oil like you wouldn’t believe and it didn’t make me too happy. And we marched on and we were sat on the floor and told by the load master to grab hold of a
tie-down strap and hang on. And that is quite literally what we did, sit on the floor, grab a tie-down strap and hang for the takeoff and landing. And it took us about I don’t know about forty minutes I suppose to fly from Ton San Nhut to Vung Tau. And yeah.
of the RAAF involvement, they were not necessarily accommodated on the base proper. So we had an area we called a containment area which became our domestic area within the base perimeter. But initially we had people living in what was called the villa which was in Vung Tau itself
just off, just beside the harbour. It was a great place to be. But one of my jobs was as a main gate guard for that, and also a roving picket. There was another place called the annexe which was down a lane and was basically a series of bungalows that had been occupied, and again we had roving picket and main gate guard control duties for that. We also used to provide
convoy escorts and whatnot for people going into town on the bus, and we would provide convoy escorts, watchtower duties and whatever else, roving pickets around the aircraft lines at the base itself. Now I think the villa and the annexe, we ceased operating them some time in ’68 and everything moved out onto the base at Propantaw [?] we had our own base set up.
The blocks were basically two-storey high buildings of galvanised iron and weatherboard. Again we had the mess facilities. I think from memory everybody ate in the same mess. Lots of frozen chicken cooked up by the cooks, lots of dehydrated eggs, “Dehydrated eggs, hmm.” You’d get
bacon, tomatoes and whatnot for breakfast in the morning. We ate reasonably well. But you still went into town from time to time and had a helo [helicopter] ride or whatever from time to time just to ease the boredom.
most of our stuff was main gate guards and watchtower duties and roving pickets around the aircraft lines. The other things that we did would be convoy escorts. And we might have, for example, somebody who might need to go from Vung Tau to Bien Hoa, which was roughly speaking forty miles. Or they might have to go to Nui Dat or something, yeah Nui Dat to the Australian
Army unit. So our ADGs would escort them and we usually had a Land Rover, there would be maybe three of us in the Land Rover, one driver, obviously, one sitting shotgun and somebody sitting up with a twin mounted M60s at the back as the gun baby. So we would provide a reasonably amount of protection. And I remember I think I was on the M60 one particular day we were going to I think Bien Hoa
and driving down past this paddy field, and somebody off in this paddy field was firing an AK47. I think he was only firing it up in the air but we didn’t stop, we just went hell for leather. We didn’t take any rounds so we just kept on going and didn’t do anything about it. I presumed at the time that he was a South Vietnamese army type because they had all their little guardhouses and whatnot around the place. So there were a lot of them around
but you never really knew, and in fact it wasn’t uncommon if the South Vietnamese unit members didn’t like necessarily like Aussies they could sort of pop off a stray shot at us cause they had sympathies with the Viet Cong or NVA [North Vietnamese Army]. Quite often over there one brother would be a Viet Cong sniper
and the other would be in the South Vietnamese army, crazy.
In Thailand there wasn’t that expectation. Thailand was reasonably relaxed, reasonably carefree, although we knew there was a possibility that somebody might dislike us and take action, but to a large degree it didn’t happen. It certainly did from time to time but that was mostly from a standoff type of view where they would lob a few mortars, few rockets. Now in Vung Tau, not necessarily in Vung Tau
but certainly in Phan Rang and other areas, that action would be not just necessarily just standoff rockets and mortars, but sniper patrols coming through the wire and taking out aeroplanes through satchel charges and things like that. So you had to be a damn sight more aware. And as I said earlier on, the base barber could be that sniper coming in at night, and in fact at Phan Rang he was, so.
Part of the ADGs’ duties were to defend the base. And in certainly in Phan Rang those duties did include going off base, setting up night ambushes and being in position to prevent those incursions or certainly prevent incursions in their area of control. And again they were linked in with the American air police and with their security
network, and we just looked after a small section of fencing. Imagine for Phan Rang you are looking at…
brothers who were on opposing sides and it made if awfully hard to know who the hell was doing what. Just going to back to our situation there, we had a number of ADGs had both Phan Rang and Vung Tau providing airfield defence. And in the latter stages additional ADGs at Vung Tau to act as gunners
for the helicopters, and in fact at Vung Tau the establishment of ADGs was increased for that purpose. And some of my mates went back to Vietnam as crewmen, they volunteered to become crewmen on helicopters – they remained ADGs but were on flying duties. Going back to Phan Rang, in both my tours to Vung Tau I had attachments
to Phan Rang and I had attachments to army units at Nui Dat or the Horseshoe. I spent a month at Phan Rang and it was just as the Tet offensive was happening in ’68. Now the boys at Phan Rang, Australia was operating Canberra bombers out of Phan Rang in conjunction with Americans and they were used over North Vietnam, they were used
anywhere in South Vietnam where they were directed to go and drop bombs, and for the two squadrons, the history, their strike rate was exceptionally good and in fact they had the best strike rate of any unit under the American wing at that particular time. Lost two aeroplanes, shot down, and in fact…
And in fact two pilots, pilot and navigator were missing in action – never been found. Back to the ADGs though, again they would man watchtowers, they would do roving patrols and they would do off base ambushes. Now during the day Australians the RAAF manned two watchtowers over a section of fence line
about probably a kilometre. At night they would man an additional one and so you would be manning this thing for about eight hours at a time, on your own, which is enough to give you the heeby-jeebies. Every shadow out there had got an AK47 pointing at you. So you can imagine what it would be like. But the boys would also go and do off base patrols. There was a low lying set of hills just out the fence line,
and quite often they would do a patrol out past those hills, set up a night ambush and on at least one occasion and a several others I believe they had contacts. One of those contacts was with an NVA engineer unit that the guys were sappers that were coming in with satchel charges to blow up aeroplanes. Well they didn’t make it because our guys bumped them.
One of my mates was a machine gunner on one of those patrols and he had distinct impressions of action about to happen before it happened, the hairs on the back of his head stood up and all that sort of stuff before anything was happening, and then of course the contact happened. And as things do, things got messy. But nothing like that happened to me on an active patrol, whether I am happy about
that is another matter. But it certainly was an experience for some of them. Things got down right hot and messy and very, very scary with rounds going both ways and people getting hit and hurt and all that sort of stuff. Some of our casualties were casualties caused by the Americans. One patrol coming back actually got artillery rounds called on them because the guy, the American
on the watchtower, was not doing his job and forgot who the hell was where so he called in shots on our guys. Another fellow coming back from a patrol hit an unexploded M79 grenade and basically blew the top of his toes off, but the GP [General Purpose] boots that we had, boots general purpose, they had a steel plate in them and the fact of a steel plate at the sole wound up saving this guy’s foot more
than if he hadn’t had this he would have lost half his foot rather than just a couple of toes. Accidents are war. But Phan Rang was as I say different. One of the biggest problems for ADGs in Vietnam was boredom. There were stories about one bloke who would unofficially cam up [wear camouflage paint and uniform] and go out seeking the Viet Cong you know by himself. He was a bit of a nutter
and subsequently spent time in a psychiatric ward anyway. Came back to Amberley and he was on parade and air officer commanding this parade, and you can imagine it’s a big deal, and all of a sudden this voice comes out from the crowd, or the people on parade, “Help! Get it away from me!” And all eyes focused on this fellow and there he is with one hand around the other, “Get it away from me!” You know, they marched him off
to a psychiatric ward. I don’t know what happened to him subsequently, whether it was all an act to get out of the air force or not I don’t know. So Phan Rang, while I was at Phan Rang on that first trip the Tet offensive happened and that was a sort of scary timeframe. But most of what I knew about it was what you read or saw in the papers because quite frankly Vung Tau and Phan Rang didn’t get hit. Vung Tau probably because
it was used as a resort by all sides. So you know, the NVA and Viet Cong didn’t want to dirty up their own little nests.
there were a lot of them. That a lot of them would be getting trained in, sort of NVA being trained in North Vietnam and then walking down the Ho Chi Minh trail and being sent out to the areas to fight, that the local villages might be a… Viet Cong cadres would be supporting them, guiding them where they had to go and all that sort of stuff. If they were
positioning for a battle with an Allied unit, particularly at night, they might use tracers, green tracers as a sort of a signalling device to guide their people to where they need to fire up and all that sort of stuff. But we didn’t get a great deal of info but you just picked up as you went, so to speak. We did have some lectures before we went
about the sorts of village layout and how the Viet Cong might use the village well and the river and all that sort of stuff for their tunnelling systems and things like that. And in fact as I understand it the tunnels of Cu Chi were very close to and if not in some cases under Bien Hoa airbase, so they may well have reached out and been able to get into Bien Hoa, I don’t know for sure. But they did a lot of work
and a lot of tunnelling. You got to admire them.
There were people selling souvenirs and all that sort of stuff. You could buy various types of cigarette lighters, Zippo lighters and all that sort of stuff. You could buy Vietnamese dolls to send home to your girls, you could go up to the American canteen and buy stereos and all that sort of stuff and send them home. And if you wanted to go for a swim you went across to what they called Back Beach, which the Australian Logistics Support Group area. They had a place called the [Peter] Badcoe
Club that was set up as an all-ranks entertainment area, had a downstairs area, upstairs area with a bar whatnot. And you could look out over the South China Sea and if you wanted to you could walk a couple of hundred yards and go for a dip in the sea or you could take a dip in the pool at the Badcoe Club.
I had some time at an army unit called the Horseshoe, which was a fire support base about ten ks [kilometres] from Nui Dat, it was set up in an old volcano and erosion and whatnot, it was pretty much just a horseshoe-shaped hill but it had been a volcano. Living in bunkers for the week or whatever going out
on patrol with the army guys. Mainly group clearing patrols where you would go out in the morning and just do a circle of the perimeter just to make sure that everything was hunky-dory, there had been no tampering with your fences lines and things like that. Did a couple of small duration, short duration patrols with an army unit at the time and then basically went back to Vung Tau and got on with the other duties. Applied
for, applied to become a helicopter gunner on that tour but I wasn’t able to get an extension of my time. So I basically did the six months in Vung Tau and went back. But during that first tour, I say the annexe and the villa areas were closed down and all our people went back onto the base proper to our domestic area on the base.
Now we had one area, as I said, we had main gate guard duties to do, we had own our gate guard duties to do. We worked on the main gate with the Americans, we did escort duties again, did roving pickets on the Caribou and Iroquois lines. From time to time our friends in the pyjamas would lob
a rocket from Long Son Island across onto the base. They were never expecting to do very much. Generally speaking there wasn’t a great deal of damage done, lots of noise and maybe some broken up earth or something. I think a couple of times they might have hit an aeroplane or something like that but not one of ours. Our Caribous certainly did get hit by fire from time to time. In fact one got totally destroyed but that
was flying into an operational area elsewhere, where they landed to drop supplies and got bracketed by mortar rounds and basically blew the aeroplane up on the runway. The crew got out of that. But we did lose Caribous, we did lose Canberras and we did lose Iroquois when we were over there. And that all had its sort of points, particularly on my second trip
when I became a gunner. You know, when I was waiting to go on training for them a couple got shot, and after I started flying a couple of them got shot down. And it is not a good feeling, especially when mates die and all that sort of stuff. Or when you go onto to a dust-off [medical evacuation] aircraft and pull wounded on board and stuff like that. It is a sort of different sort of feeling.
starting up when you were there the first time?
Not so much in ’68, certainly by ’69, ’70 it was getting fairly raucous and ’70, ’71, when I came back in ’71 it had been big time, very much so, to the point that people doing welcome home parades you know where they would get blood or paint or whatever spattered on them as they are marching down the streets. You’d have protestors as they did at Newcastle in one
of the parades we did where one bloke was dressed as an Aboriginal or something like that with spears and whatnot and he was intent. He wasn’t intent on damaging us but he was intent on disrupting us. And it was a real, you know, pissed off experience. We were there doing a job from the government of the day and, you know, unlike press-ganged people from other countries we were in a democratically elected country in the armed forces
of that country doing a job that you are paid to do and you would expect to get support. But some of it was really crap. And there were a lot of army types and some of my mates just haven’t forgiven some elements of civvy side of the house for what happened. It wasn’t very good. Particularly you know
as things progressed in the war, people quite literally would… The army, for example, they would be in the middle of a firefight and some of the guys would be literally pulled away, the same day put on an aeroplane back to Nui Dat, “Pack your bags, son. You’re going home.” You know, and within forty-eight hours they would be back in Australia after having being in a firefight during the morning sort of forty-eight hours before. And with the conscripts,
quite often back home two days, “That’s it. Your time’s up. Here’s your marching orders. Piss off. We don’t want to see you any more.” Hmm, it had its moments. I mean that wasn’t so bad for me because I was full time but. We felt like pariahs at times when we came back, that’s for sure. Not a good feeling.
No, not at all. How did you feel coming back the first time?
You know, it wasn’t bad. We were, we went into a, we had a big parade through Sydney with army units that had come back and all that sort of stuff and generally it was looked on pretty well. But it was from pretty much then onwards that things started to markedly deteriorate, and as I say the guys and girls that came back
got, decided to get treated like lepers, “Oh, you baby killer,” and all that sort of rubbish, you know.
shopping one day back in Pickering Brook and it is a country area, fair enough, but she looked at me a bit strange and she said, “What are you doing?” I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “You’re on the right-hand side of the road.” “Oh, check.” Back on to the left-hand side of the road to drive her to the shops. But fortunately for me that area there was not a great deal of traffic. But you had to watch for that sort of stuff. You’d hear a car backfire and you’d
hit the deck because somebody was shooting at you. It didn’t unduly worry me, and it never has because I didn’t have the types of activity happen to me that lots of other people did. Certainly the army types and some of my mates who did get into some heavy stuff, even with the helicopters or the guys at Phan Rang that got into those attacks up there. Now,
maybe if I had gone through some of their experiences I might be worse off. But yes, you certainly react to unusual circumstances and unusual noises by being very bloody careful.
Did you see any of those guys either when you came back to Australia or when you were still in Vietnam the first time, people that went through some of the conflicts, did you see any reactions that were difficult to deal with?
Not that I can say straight off understand. But one of my mates was on a chopper, now they were flying supplies to fire support bases and on the way back from a fire support base a hot box, an empty hot box fell out. The captain of the aircraft asked him to move from his side,
because he sat in a chair, a seat on the left-hand side of the chopper. The captain asked him to move forward and straighten up everything else so nothing else would fall out. In doing so, because the side doors of the Iroquois were pinned back because we had weapons on the side and we manned those weapons, on moving forward to straighten up the rest of this freight he fell and went over the side, and we had what was called a monkey
strap which was secured to the fuselage of the aircraft and that saved him. He was essentially dangling by the skids. One crewman and I think the co-pilot, the co-pilot got out of his seat and came back and helped the crewman pull him back on board. And I saw him in the airmen’s club later on that night and it was like about six hours later at that stage and he was fairly well pissed at that stage and you could understand why. But he was still white and he was still shaking. Now
I believe from that incident the he got a stress fracture of the spine and stuff like that. That he may not have realised at the time, but certainly manifested later on down the track. While I haven’t seen him for a long, long time, I have spoken to him or emailed him, I believe that he was certainly affected by that incident and certainly on the day, he was definitely a mess,
you know. Had blokes that got shot at, a couple of blokes got wounded, aircraft went down. Again this was in my second trip. I in fact was on a chopper that had a what they call a chip detector, warning light came on, and if one of those came on, you get
somewhere and land as quick as you can. Well we landed in a paddy field or something. Fortunately for us it was a relative secure area and even more so that there was an Australian Army patrol close by. But the crewman and I had to be extra vigilant until those guys came into situation. And yeah, that has it moments when you are sitting there expecting that the sides of the paddy field, the bush is
going to open up on you and you can’t go anywhere because your aircraft is broken. And as it turns out nothing happened and the army guys did get to us and provided the defence force while we were broken, but yeah. I had one other aircraft that we’d come back from a mission and the captain was doing a walk around and found at least one bullet hole in the chopper. Hairy moments. But we as gunners
we would rotate through as tasked by the gunner officer and ultimately the goal was to go onto helicopter gun ships, Bushrangers, and I spent a lot of my time on those after I got trained up. But that took its time too.
and they all amassed certain amounts of hours, but somebody then made the decision that the task required skills that ADGs had and that that they would then increase the establishment at Vung Tau by about sixteen or seventeen to provide those additional gunners type positions. And that is what happened. And once a guy was posted in to Vung Tau, at certain times night squadron would call for volunteers
to be trained up as gunners and you would apply for that. And they would have a talk to you and determine whether you were acceptable for them and then you know, it wasn’t a cut and dried thing that you would get it. And if you were accepted you went under a period of training. But it was on the job training on a slick. A slick was a normal troop type carrying helicopter that was fitted with weapons, just one single M60 on one side
and one on the other with a thousand rounds of ammo [ammunition]. And you had the load master, crewman on one side, on the right-hand side you might have passengers being dropped off to a fire support base, and you had a qualified gunners and the trainee sitting beside him. And that would last as long as deemed necessary until the trainee met the criteria and got his qualifications and was approved to fly solo so to speak.
different support capacity we could provide, and in fact particularly the gun ships of 9 Squadron became very heavily involved and the troop carrying aircraft in 9 Squadron became very heavily involved with the SAS [Special Air Service] providing them with their insertions into their patrol areas and quite often hot extractions, and the hot extraction was that some bastard was firing at you. So they’d be running for their lives to the chopper
while people were coming at them aimed with doing them not the very best of good. I didn’t see too much of that, although the choppers that I was on, particularly the gun ships, we did get involved in some action from time to time.
Nui Dat I spent another week or so at Nui Dat. I went out on patrol with army units up there. But the area that I went patrolling in, that was for four days or so, was relatively secure, but who knew? You are out there on patrol you have got to man weapons when you are in a night harbour you still have to have people providing protection for you
while the rest get a bit of sleep. You have all these sights and sounds out there. You got a dark night, your leaf litter and stuff is phosphorous and since you have never seen it before in your life and you wonder what the hell it is. You hear a tiger coughing off in the distance and you hear artillery rounds flying over head and they make a sort of rattling noise and you think, “Yeah right, what I am I doing here?”
And when you are out on patrol you carry everything that you have got with you. If you need water you might have to get water from a stream, you need purifying tablets, you got to make sure you use those purifying tablets otherwise you are going to wind up with all sorts of gunky stuff happening to your insides. Typically though you might have five or six water bottles, we didn’t have camel backs in those days,
so you might have a two-litre water bottle and six, four or five one-litre water bottles or something like that. Water re-hydration in those sorts of areas you have got to make sure you keep it up to you, and if there is no fresh water available and as I say you get to the stream, you do what you can with what you have got available. By all means use the purifying tablets and taste like shit.
army guys. They’d have a giggle hat on, the jungle green hat, I’d have a neck band made out of scrim, just sort of green woven material, jungle green long sleeve shirt, jungle green trousers and GP boots. I’d have a pack, I’d have webbing with maybe a one hundred and twenty
rounds for my SLR and typically I’d carry maybe two hundred rounds of belted ammunition for the M60 for the people on the gun so if we got into an action, the gunner and his sort of assistants had their rounds, but they had spare rounds available throughout the section. You might also have two or three hand grenades in your webbing.
it is basic infantry patrol type tactics. You’d have a scout out forward, he would be closely followed by the section commander and you’d, depending on the type of terrain, you might be travelling single file, five to ten yards apart or if you were going across paddy field or whatever you might be in an arrow head formation with a reasonable spread between first and last
and a reasonable width to the patrol. Lessens the impact of a potential weapon opening up you. You know, if you are bunched up then you are all going to get hit. If you are spread out, then…
I can remember a couple of things on watchtowers and I’ll go through those shortly. But my brother was a conscript and he was saying that when he was on patrol, the forward scout came up with a… Cause most of the stuff you do is done by hand signals and you have got signals for enemy in sight and skipper come to me and all this sort of stuff. Anyway, the
forward scout couldn’t come up for a signal for the problem. Anyway the section commander came up to him, “What is the problem? What is the blockage?” And up in front of the forward scout the blockage was a thumping great snake, a python that was out of sight, both sides of the track. The forward scout couldn’t work out how to describe it. Yeah, so that was a… They had tigers in Vietnam,
not tigers, sorry, lions. I was right the first time – tigers, panthers and various types of deer. And in various areas they had I think bear in some areas. The area around Phan Rang in thousands of years ago was the emperor’s hunting ground so you had all sorts of stuff there, little mouse deer and things like that. I remember being on a watchtower in Phan Rang and hearing a
tiger roar off in the distance or a panther or whatever and a obviously an American, obviously a southerner, a voice yelling out, this is two o’clock in the morning or thereabouts and supposedly on a watchtower, “Be quiet, pussy cat.” It cracked me up, oh dear.
We were on a task, I had to resupply smoke grenades into the chopper we had a connex that stored all our smoke grenades, and I was pulling smoke grenades out of containers that they were in and taking them across to the chopper, and this blasted scorpion bit me on the finger, and it stung like a bull ant! In fact I had the rest of the afternoon off because of it.
On a rest day we were doing some sport and whatnot down at Back Beach down by the Badcoe Club, and we were actually out in the South China sea, having a bit of a swim. Some of the boys were playing around with the volleyball and I was off on my own. I had sort of decided that I would head across and join them and sort of floating on my back and my foot touched down onto the sand
and I think it was a stingray that got me on my left foot. And it really got me, I had blood going everywhere, my foot within a matter of minutes had swelled up and was bruised from the foot right up to the knee! And I am heading off to the beach, yelling and screaming, “I have been bit! I have been bit!” and all my mates are looking off at me, “Oh, look at Smithy. The stupid bastard.”
And then they saw the blood, “Oh shit, he really is in strife.” So they bundled me into a Land Rover and got me up to the army hospital and I got treated for it. Bloody Viet Cong stingray and a Viet Cong scorpion have attacked me in separate incidents.
a slick, which is a resupply aircraft, the day after and then maybe go on to a reserve Bushranger, 73, 74, 75. Or go onto the main light fire team, which would be Bushranger 71 or Bushranger 72, purely up to the tasking officer at the time. A couple of things happened. I was on dust-off, we were operating out of Nui Dat so you would spend basically twenty-four
hours there. If you had a night-time call there, you went. And we had a call during the day to an army unit that was in contact. They were in a rubber plantation, the firefight was still happening and it was actually the Anzac Company the combined Australian and New Zealand company. And we were hovering above the trees and I think it was rubber trees and we were about ten foot above them. And the crewman was winching wounded people up
and I was maintaining a guns alert over the intercom, and with the pilot talking to the people on the ground you could still hear the contact happening, machine guns rattling in the background, and on our communications channel we heard a flight of American Cobras calling in and asking what they could do. And these were helicopter attack gun ships, somewhat different to the
helicopters that we were in but very well armed. Anyway as it transpired they did a strafing run which came in from our left rear and we had totally forgotten about it because we were engrossed in what we were doing, which was getting wounded up. And they opened up with Gatling guns and rockets out to about three hundred yards away from us on a parallel with us. I think there were four sets of stained underwear that night because it scared the hoopdy-doops out of us.
And when we finally realised we sort of had a bit of a laugh with ourselves, but when you are tense, you are concentrating on things, it does, it doesn’t take much to rake you out. But everything was okay, we got onto the task and got the wounded back to Vung Tau to the hospital. In a couple of other things…
was on and the guys on the ground were communicating direct to the chopper, I could hear the background noises, the gunfire happening and the machine guns opening up. I don’t recall what I could specifically hear that over the normal clatter without the radio side of it. I don’t know if I would have heard it over the noise of the helicopter otherwise. But certainly when the Cobras opened up, we heard that, because it is a distinct ripping sound, and then of course
the high explosive rockets exploding and that is quite a distinct thumping sort of sound too. But when you get a Gatling gun, which is a multi-barrelled machine gun firing between four and a half and nine thousand rounds per minute, when they open up it has, verooommmm, sort of sound and you know all about it. It is very distinct.
They were doing the right thing then, there wasn’t anything wrong with what they were doing?
Yeah no, nothing at all wrong with, but as I was saying we were concentrating on what our primary task was, which was a dust-off for the day, get the guys up, get them into the chopper, get them to hospital as quick as possible.
medivac was Dust-Off, Dust-Off 1, Dust-Off 2 whatever, whereas the gun ships were Bushranger 71, Bushranger 72, Bushranger 70, Bushranger 73, 74, 75, if we had five or six whatever. For the troop carrying hash and trash general purposes type tasks, the call sign was Albatross and that Albatross is 9 Squadron’s emblem. Albatross 1,
by shrapnel. He subsequently lost the sight of his eyes and all that sort of stuff, which led to, this was later in the piece and we were coming to closing down, and when we wanted to work out what we were going to do with assets of the airmen’s club, the financial assets, we thought of providing them to the Guide Dogs Association and I am fairly sure that a fair bulk of money went to them. We were hoping that
it would go to this particular guy, but that couldn’t be specified. So we did think about these guys and what had happened to them. As I say there were people who’d had legs cut off, blown off and arms blown off and stuff like that, shotgun wounds whatever. Not good. We had to do a dust-off one day to a place called Courtney Rubber, where one of our armed personnel
carriers, they had been patrolling down a track and they had a group of soldiers inside and on top of the APC [Armoured Personnel Carriers] they had the usual stores but they also had some supplies of Claymore mines and stuff like that. Well an NVA or Viet Cong sniper threw a satchel charge, it landed on top of the APC and just blew the roof in and killed about five people on board that. And we got involved with a dust-off for that.
Saw another APC that had an armour-piecing rocket go through its armour on the side and essentially the rocket, the warhead had circulated around in the inside of the thing, cut off a bloke’s arm, another bloke’s leg and that sort of stuff and then caused damage that way. Not good, but these things happen.
Do you remember how you first reacted to seeing perhaps the first dead person in Vietnam? You hadn’t see anything like that?
I tried, I don’t know, I tried, I guess, not to look at him. I think in fact in this particular instance it was a Vietnamese civilian, or maybe a Viet Cong, they had been in an area where they won’t supposed be, and in what was essentially called a free fire zone and
or October ’71 initially with what I had seen as the biggest operation that I would get involved with and it was. It was called Operation Overlord. It was the same name as the Dunkirk landing but the planners decided to use that name. And it was a big operation for the Australian Army in Long Khanh Province where basically two to three battalions of Australians were out and about in the reeds and seeds,
were around Long Khanh Province. And they were supported by every helicopter we had available and I think from memory we either had four or five Bushranger helicopters up for that particular operation and the rest were either medivac or slicks. So at the time I think we had sixteen Iroquois helicopters available and I think every one of them was available for the task that day, so that is a fair bit of helicopter. But
in conjunction with it. The Americans were providing big heaps of helicopters for support, everything from two-man Hueys, observation helicopters which were called a Roach and they used to just fly just about the treetops with a pilot and with an observer hanging out over the side ready to initiate a contact, Chinooks, big Sky Cranes, there were more helicopters that you could poke a stick at
and it was just unbelievable the amount of stuff that was flying around Nui Dat that particular day. It was a hectic day for us, obviously, but even more so the guys going out into the field. You know I think, in my six months on choppers I think the longest working day I had was about thirteen hours of actual flying time, and in a helicopter that is a lot of hours in a day. You have got to come back and refuel and all that sort of stuff. So you can imagine the sorts of pressures the crew were under.
And I know of at least one pilot that didn’t have a break for something like three weeks. So you know you do what you can, you have got tasks to do and they need to be done. The other one was it had been October ’71 and I was coming to the end of my tour. And we were loading a battalion from Nui Dat and flying them out to HMAS Sydney in Vung Tau harbour
and the bulk of these guys, half of them would get on board my side of the helicopter and half of them the other side, and as they’d get on, everyone would say, “G’day mate, have a beer a for you in Sydney.” I didn’t have the heart to say to them well I would be having a beer for them in the seven hours I flew over there in following week because they would still be trundling down in HMAS Sydney. But saying goodbye, waving goodbye to my brother a couple of times, out of a chopper. He was with Headquarters Nui Dat as a Nasho [National Service soldier]
and he went down on operations a couple of times. He was all right, his experiences, not that he got into any heavy stuff. But his experiences set him back a little bit. But we both came out of there alive so. But it was a bit of a trying time you know, there is your brother going out in the chopper and you are here, what is going on? What else?
That is just the fortunes of how you get tasked for the day. One of the guys I was on course with, Peter Vidler, he was over there at the same time I was. He had a pilot who was in his fourth air force, sorry his third air force and his fourth different war, he was a South African.
They were called in to supply a resupply to a unit in contact. At some point in time the aircraft went in. Whether Lofty was, Lofty Lance, the pilot, was hit by a round and killed and subsequently crashed or whether they misjudged and flew into a tree or what, I don’t know. Pilot and gunner were killed and crewman and co-pilot were seriously injured and medivaced back to Australia,
and Pete the crewman had a broken collarbone from that incident. But he subsequently died in a chopper crash in ’74 in the floods in Queensland. So you know, when your time’s up, your time’s up. But he, Lofty Lance, had been in as I say four different wars and got shot down in Vietnam for his pains.
and to go on with tasks as required. Now if it had come to the fact that some bastard was shooting at me, I am going to be shooting back at him. I am going to be hoping like the dickens that I am right. And I have got a, I am wearing a chicken plate, which is an armoured vest, I am sitting on piece of armour and I have got a piece of armour down by my foot to stop any rounds that might come through my seat or the floor of the aircraft. But there are no guarantees.
And in fact one of our helicopters came back one day with about twenty-two rounds that had impacted, including one that had passed through the co-pilot’s side, knocked out his survival radio and exited through the roof. So you know, he said a couple of prayers that night and maybe had a couple of stiff whiskies. You know, it is all relative. One of our choppers just about the time I started on them was called out to support a Vietnamese unit that had Australian Army
advisers with them including a radio operator. And this was in the Long Hai Hills and they got hit by a round or a rocket as they were winching, or as they were about to start winching, and basically the chopper crashed. And I think one person on board was killed and the radio operator, the Australian Army radio operator down below was trapped by the wreckage and he was also killed. Your number’s up, your number is up. I don’t think on that particular one,
the pilot and co-pilot and almost everybody else got out except for the two guys.
I said I wasn’t terribly sure about it. But my memory is telling me that in fact I travelled by Herc from Thailand directly into Phan Rang, sorry, to Vung Tau, and that we landed on what was called a perforated steel platform runway which was just metal planking, and my second arrival there was via Manila on a chartered
Qantas 707. But yeah, going back, on both times we flew out civvy. As distinct to our army mates who either went by ship or noisy Hercules, we got the 707. Some army people got on the 707 but generally speaking we flew out on the 707.
Australia in March ’68, yeah, and left again in October ’70. I had been doing at Amberley; I had been doing a section leaders and general service instructors course prior to going the second time and I wasn’t doing extremely well. There were a lot of instructional techniques involved and a lot of drill and all that sort of stuff, and I was losing my voice and I wasn’t confident in what
I was doing. And the chief instructor, who coincidentally was Glen Honch who had been my OC [Officer Commanding] in Canberra and Thailand, he was the chief instructor and he came up to me one day, “Smithy, look, you know you are probably not going to pass this course?” And I said, “Yes sir.” He said, “You can stay on and probably fail or you can take the posting that I am going to offer you.” And I said, “What is the posting?” And he said, “Well, you can go to Vung Tau.”
And I said, “When?” He said, “You’ve got to be there next week.” And I said, “Okay, I’m going.” In fact I didn’t even have enough time to go on pre-embarkation leave. So it was basically, pack my duds [clothes], arrange for my stuff at Williamtown to be stored for the duration and hop on a plane and go and that’s what I did. So I was away for another year. And I got posted back to Williamtown from Vietnam and I had done the same sort of thing in Vietnam the second trip –
go to Phan Rang for a month, go to Nui Dat for a week or so and those sorts of things.
you don’t necessarily know who your enemy is. Certainly over there anybody could have been the enemy. I mean in general we are wide eyed Aussies or Americans or whatever and we are fairly distinctive. Vietnamese as a rule, one Vietnamese is one Vietnamese. My
wife says, “All you wide eyes look alike,” you know. You didn’t know whether the shoeshine boy was a potential grenade in his shoeshine box or the cab driver was a potential sniper at night, as I said, or the barber or whatever.
threw the orderly room into a flap because they hadn’t thought that I was getting out. Anyway I wound up going over to Pearce in May of ’72, discharging from there – Pearce is in Western Australia – and basically becoming a man of leisure for three months. I was at a local sports club, got offered a job for a plastering contractor, and took up that job worked with him for a while. Worked as a builder’s labourer
for a while converting a restaurant, sorry, a grocery shop to a wine bar restaurant. Worked at the wine bar as a wine waiter for a little while before I sprayed wine all over the owner’s daughter and got fired not too long after that. Went to work for a place called Jason’s or Lazy Boy International making sub assemblies for Jason recliner rockers, did that for about eighteen months, got itchy feet and decided
to travel and get paid for it and so I joined up again into the air force and became a supplier, which is in the logistics sort of area. And essentially as a supplier I have been all over Australia with the exception of Tasmania. The job has taken me to a whole lot of areas, but probably the most meaningful experiences I have had have been in relation to what they call air movements, work where
essentially the teams that I have worked for, or have been part of or have led have been what you would call the ramp supervisors and loading coordinators out of civil airport for example. Where any freight, baggage etc., is loaded on it is controlled by your team, and in fact for our military purposes we also initiate all the weight and balance paperwork for the aircraft. So I have spent twenty-
eight years as a supplier, and probably about thirteen or fourteen or more of those as being involved in the air movements organisation at Richmond in New South Wales, at Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne, at Katherine in the Northern Territory and here at Amberley. And in the meantime I have also had two short-notice deployments to Bougainville
and an additional one in between the Bougainville trips, a six month tour of East Timor with a unit 383 Expeditionary Combat Support Squadron which deployed for the first time ever with me as one of the load team leaders on that particular deployment which was six months in the year 2000 the last June to December of 2000.
So what were the significant experiences at Bougainville?
Bougainville I was operating as part of the peace monitoring group under Operation Belisi. We were an unarmed organisation. The only weapons of any type that we had for our protection were, would you believe it, pick handles and axe handles and things like that. So we had no rifles, pistols, shotguns, and now that is a fairly unique situation for a military organisation. Now we had elements of navy, army
and air force operating there, elements of reserve units, and then we also had on my first tour, it was a fairly big operation where we had teams right through out Bougainville Island and we had a number of different civilian, sorry, governmental organisations including federal police and other government units who worked as part of our peace monitoring group.
And just the looking at the structure of the island, what had occurred during the years of conflict and you are looking at eight to ten years or so of conflict between the Papua New Guinea government and the people of Bougainville who had a grievance against the operators of Panguna Mine, and the traditional owners essentially believed that they were getting robbed and not getting enough money coming back.
You went from… Although having said that, the island, and in particularly our and other areas in Bougainville, they had good health services, they had good schools, they had a reasonable level of education. And it went to hell in a hand basket [was ruined], essentially, where over the years of the conflict just about every government building, school, lots of shops and things were totally destroyed. Especially around the Arawa and Loloho areas and
lots of other areas in Bougainville. Lots of locals got killed over the time of the conflict. The New Guinea government used helicopters that had been donated by Australia as helicopter gun ships so because they were in camouflage colours, so once the truce happened and then peace monitoring group took place and started to fly people around in helicopters
because the Bougainvilleans associated camouflaged helicopters with gun ships that would shoot them and kill them, our helicopters were unarmed and they were painted jaffa orange, would you believe? So there was no way in the world that they were anything other than an unarmed helicopter just supporting the mission. Very disturbing to see everything just totally destroyed. The kids with no schools to go to and all that sort of stuff. And very
similar with the sort of destruction that was imposed on Dili by the militias and by the Indonesian Army and whatnot so.
blotted the copybook by providing those choppers and weapons and ammunition to the Papua New Guinea Defence Force. Now Bougainville natives are very dark skinned, they are very proud of it, they are black. Mainland New Guinea natives are much less so. So the Bougainvilleans tend to refer to the Papua New Guinean natives as red skins. True,
true. In fact I was at a house with some guys from the Arawa Hospital, one was a Papua New Guinean native and he was reasonably lightest skinned and the other was a Bougainville native, and they were chiacking each other around about red skins and all that sort of stuff. They are very conscious of their colour and they are very proud of how dark they are over there. But they were very suspicious
and as things wound up they grew to know that we were doing something for them. But if they thought there was an opportunity to acquire something, they would do it. And that quite happened quite often so we were constantly having problems with stuff being missing. If we employed people for security and they were being threatened by other people with big machetes, then they’d go to water [give in] and say, “Oh take it, it’s not worth it.”
And it is not uncommon in Bougainville, everybody carries a machete, even the three-year-old wandering down the street has a machete that is as big as him or her. Quite happy, it’s just cane cutting or whatever just to clear the road. But they have all got machetes.
Loloho, which was where I was based, was the port facility that had been set up for the mine. And we were operating, we were living in fact in the old storage shelter for the stockpile copper ore which had obviously been cleared out, and we were in tents underneath the main roof. Very uncomfortable, very hot, very humid when it rained, and when it rains in Bougainville, it pisses down and that brings a story to mind. But we had support through the navy,
through the navy through the LCHs, landing craft heavy, and stuff like that. There was always at least one or probably two LCM-8 [Landing Craft Medium] or LCHs around. The LCM-8s were operated by the army, the LCHs by the navy. And the difficulty from an air point of view and from my point of view as an air moveo [movements person] was that the airfield was forty minutes’ drive away, over extremely rough road
and everything had to be freighted out to the airfield. The aircraft would be loaded, unloaded, everything loaded back onto trucks and then freighted back to our operating base at Loloho and you couldn’t leave anything at the airstrip. And in fact when I first got there, the old terminal buildings and whatnot were just ruins. There were no toilet facilities. If you needed to have a piddle you
found a blank corner and did it. Subsequently they built what they call a sack-sack which is just a sheltered type area where people could just sit and relax but initially you relaxed on the grass underneath a tree and hoped that the ants didn’t get you and stuff like that. And eventually they actually refurbished one of the old toilets in the wrecked terminal so that people could use that. We still had to provide water for it and stuff like that, but at least we still had some
degree of comfort. That was in my second trip.
is and Kieta airfield I should say is in some places very hilly and prone to landslides and we had had thumping great rocks on the sides of the road. One day you’d drive past and there would be nothing there and the next day half the road is blocked. Anyway, this particular day we had had three to four days of rain and I had an aircraft coming in in a couple of days time and I was concerned. So we got approval to grab a radio and drive out as far as what was called Kieta wharf, which was where
it had been a port facility for loading copra and stuff like that. Anyway, I got about a kilometre away from there heading towards the airfield and the road was totally blocked. I had a landslide that was about two hundred metres long by about ten metres tall. It was full of rock, mud, rocks, trees and all that sort of stuff.
So essentially for the two aircraft that I had that particular week the passengers and freight and forklifts and whatnot had to be detoured around that per loading them onto LCM-8s and then doing a beach landing further down towards the airfield. So that was working out. We had to do a site survey, go for a ride on the LCM-8 and work out where we were actually going to land and how we would do this. And at that
particular time I was having trouble with one of my knees and before I had had an arthroscopy and I had in fact been given a crutch to utilise, and so here I am doing a beach landing, jumping onto the sand with my crutch in my hand sort of stuff. And that’s fun yeah, but then it is even more fun when you have got to load your passengers and your aircraft pallets and your forklifts and trucks and whatnot onto these
vessels to get them to the airfield. Yeah, I don’t know if any other supplier or air movements type has had that experience. But it was a one day we had this beach that they decided to use a landing one of the army types that’s part of the ship’s crew. He’d gone across the side of the road, and the road ran very close to the beach’s edge and he had a tree that he was going to put some marker panels up in,
just basically painted triangular pieces of tin and he had gone up into this tree and he is hanging there sort of halfway upside, he is wiring this tin into position so it is there as a landmark for him and he is spray painting it red, and as he is doing this a hornbill flies along and landed in the tree on top of him and, you know, looks down, you know. That is priceless.
You wouldn’t see that happen anywhere. This bloody hornbill, “What’s this bloody stupid person doing down there?” Quite a funny sight.
chopper support provided through the Australian Army, refuelling support was providing through the Kiwi [New Zealand] air force. So we had Australian Army, Australian navy, Australian air force, we had defence civilians, we had government civilians, we had Kiwi army, Kiwi air force and Australian Army aviators so plus Australian Army sailors plus Australian navy sailors so.
You know, what a combination! And most of us living and working… And in fact we also had Australian SAS who were providing protection, but as I said they weren’t armed and they were looking after what was called ground maintenance, and I wondered for the life of me what the hell ground maintenance meant when I first got there and then somebody said, “Listen, this is the guys and they are teaching us how to defend ourselves, if ever…” And occasionally
there were things that happened that led to the ground maintenance and self-defence teams being called out, maybe over a hostile situation, and they would go out. Certainly in the latter stages they were getting all the good sort of armour-plating protection and stuff like that. And there were instances from time to time, even on my second trip over there, where choppers were shot at by the locals. Where one vehicle going
from one village passing through an area of very high elephant type grass they had a round of some sort go through the vehicle behind the driver, exit – come in one side and exit out the other. It was obviously a high-powered rifle of some sort that had been used. But they just got on with it and did the job. What can you do?
we like to think of ourselves I think as training for peace but prepared for war, if you will. And quite frankly if the normal average person whether he is Australian, Mohammedan, Indian or whatever, male or female, you really don’t want a war unless you are an out and out raving lunatic.
You have got your own sort of goals and you want to do this, that and the other and you absolutely detest your next-door neighbour then you don’t want a war. You want to try and live peacefully and in harmony. And there had been a hell of a lot of trouble in Bougainville and hopefully we helped to redress some of that trouble. How successful that may have been, who knows – the future will tell. There is a lot of potential in Bougainville but there is a lot of work
required to get it back to where it could be. There are a couple of active volcanoes on Bougainville. You fly past a volcano and you think, “Hmm.” There is lots of potential eco-tourism sorts of stuff, there is lots of potential dive tourism sort of stuff but it takes money. And they have got to start somewhere. And they were very badly done by, partly by their own stupidity because inter-factional or
whatever a lot of damage was done, a lot of damage. You just can’t understand why, but it was.
out the headman or head woman and getting approval if you wanted to have a look around the place, and that is a common courtesy. Lots of people don’t do it. But for our purposes they were quite emphatic that these sorts of things would happen and they would deliberately find out the head honcho. All the places on Bougainville that we couldn’t go, and one of them in particular was Panguna Mine, which was held by the leader of the BRA, Bougainville Revolution Army,
and he hated Australians. Whether he still hates Australians or not I don’t know. But it was a dedicated, no go, and no fly zone. I think there were one or two others like that, but in general our people went everywhere, but if they did they would negotiate. And as I said, if they wanted work done, they negotiated with the various people involved, and in fact the people who provided security and grass
cutting and whatnot for the airfield were allegedly ex BRA members. One of the guys that used to regularly come out to see the aircraft come in as I am told was a former school teacher who was the BRA historian. He lived by road, by walk, about two hours away from the airfield. But at one stage when I knew him
he could tell you every time that one of our Hercs had come in, how many times that particular tail number had been on the deck and if something came in that he hadn’t seen before, he said, “This one has never been here before.” You know, amazing. And they are ignorant savages! No, I don’t think so!
that. Nevertheless, people did from time to time. But if they were found out, they were on the next plane out, and that was how strictly it was viewed. But look the LCM8s and the LCHs, if there was a Sunday spare you might go out to one of the little islands and have a barbecue. In fact in one of the little islands about
forty minutes by LCM8 away around the harbour, it had been a resort and during the days of the conflict… It was like a Club Med type of situation and it would have been absolutely spectacular. But during the days of the conflict it was just totally destroyed, absolutely, unbelievable. And there was a lot of stuff like that, why?
car dealership and things like that, the whole administration block, the big sort of Woolworths equivalent, the bank buildings, they are just all totally destroyed. When I first went there the PNG [Papua New Guinea] police had a presence on the island and the PNG army and they basically lived in blockaded style. And the police in particular had
was called Fort Apache, which had been the old courthouse-police station. Across the road from it was a walled, what had been an garden area with walls around it which was the execution site, so when the BRA or whoever was caught they were taken to the courthouse and tried, and some were sentenced to death and march across the road and shot. And you could still see the bullet holes and whatnot. And I don’t know how many times that happened, but it happened often enough because there are a lot of bullet holes in that bloody
wall. And the in the first trip there, the PNG police that were manning that place, they had it all fenced in with barbed wire, they had generators running floodlights at night and they really didn’t travel out very far around the place unless they had some Aussies with them.
I think most sons at some point say something like that to their father.
But yeah, look my son was born in a RAAF hospital. He lived in Malaysia, obviously born there, he has lived in Richmond in New South Wales, and he has lived in Sunshine in Victoria, in Canberra, in three different houses in Canberra. In Katherine and now in Queensland. Jessie is, my daughter is seven years younger than Darren,
by seven years and a couple of days. And she is a Mexican, born in Sunshine in Victoria, so south of the border. And she has travelled everywhere we have gone to so.
And what was the marriage like? Was it more Malay than Australian or…?
We had the actually wedding ceremony very informally. It was sorted of a civil celebration performed by a RAAF chaplain at the time, who subsequently became an administration officer, got out of the chaplaincy field, don’t know why but there you go. And then we held a sort of reception type thing. The wedding was held on the base at Butterworth and we had a reception on Penang Island and invited
family and friends to that. And then went to Phuket in Thailand for our honeymoon.
Amberley in ’98. And in fact in Katherine I had been involved as an air movements officer for two years and became a stores officer for a year. And that was at the year of the Katherine flood, so I got involved in the Australia Day flood of Katherine, in sandbagging Katherine town and all that sort of stuff. And you sandbagged the streets to the one in one hundred flood level and it goes to the one in five hundred flood level, which goes from being knee high to
over your head high. And you think, “Well okay.” Anyway, we got posted to Amberley in July of that year, in the August, sorry in the November, October. November that year was when I got my first notification of going to Bougainville, which she objected to initially because, “You just got here. You can’t go. I don’t know my way around this place.” Anyway I went. She learnt how to drive herself around
Ipswich and when I told her I was coming back in April, March April. She said, “You can stay there, you bastard. I know how to get around.” Anyway when Timor happened, I had been posted to Amberley in an air movements capacity and at that stage I had an air movements officer… As the senior movements officer I was heading one of the loading controls, sorry, one of the air loading teams
and had a flying officer heading up the second load team. We had a major exercise happening which was Crocodile ’99 and the bulk of our people had deployed to Townsville for this exercise, and then all hell broke loose and people decided that well we need people over in Timor.
So from a seventeen man section I wound up with myself and four others for quite some time running the show while everybody else had gone across to Timor from my team. They went to various places in Timor, primarily to Dili but also to Suai, Baukau, and to various other areas to do the air movements type tasks, loading and unloading any type of transport aircraft up to and including chartered civilian jets and things like that, cargo freights and things
in various roles as an expeditionary combat support squadron member for the air force including all those guys and girls that had been working with me and guys and girls from other areas. And just putting it back into… In ’99 a new unit had been formed in the air force. It was called Number 1 Air Terminal Squadron, which handled all the air movements types of things.
Now the unit was tasked to provide air movement support and so essentially I had gone from being a member of one particular unit doing the same job to controlling, being controlled from another base but and with a different squadron title. So I became the OIC of the squadron, sorry of my detachment, at Amberley and essentially
supported all operational taskings out of Amberley which were continuing to support Operation Belisi but also we were providing a lot of support through to the people in East Timor, as were the people in Townsville, the people in Richmond, people in Pearce and people in Darwin. So lots of activity, lots happening and lots of activity happening overseas. And we were all, or the majority of us anyway, in the air movements organisation
were maintaining a deployability status where we would fire weapons at least twice a year, where we would be physically fit and we would be medically, dentally and all that sort of stuff ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. And in fact most of us had twenty-four hours’ notice to move for a long time, or forty-eight hours’ notice to move for a long time. And certainly we all had twenty-eight days’ notice to move requirements to meet. I knew at some time in time
if it lasted that I would go across, and I was looking forward to it. I believed that as Australians we owed the East Timorese a lot, particularly from World War II because they supported our soldiers and in some cases laying down their own lives. And I believed that in ’75 or thereabouts when Indonesia took over that we had done them a severe disservice, and I was quite happy that action had
panned out the way it had. Mind you, if Indonesia had decided that they didn’t want Australia coming in then we could have been in a lot of strife. Anyway, as it turned out, various other people went and various other units deployed and until such times as I was told, “Okay, you are going to go. You are going to head up a load team as part of Number 383 ECSS [Expeditionary Combat Support Squadron]. E383 was
based at Amberley, initially. It had a skeleton structure with basically only about twenty or thirty full-time people to run it, and initially the bulk of it was formed together as a cohesive unit for the first time at Townsville prior to deployment. So we did some pre-deployment training at Townsville in May 2000 and we deployed from Townsville across to East Timor where we arrived
as a formed unit operating for the first time in June 2000, and we operated as a unit there until mid December 2000. My job there was heading up an air loading team and we had two teams under the control of a flight lieutenant, John Deally and we basically worked
morning shift or afternoon shift. We’d get some time off from here and there. And it was essentially loading personnel baggage and equipment onto whatever task was happening. Where it was the UN [United Nations] chartered civilian version of the Hercules, the old 100, going and bringing people to and from Darwin, or choppers or Caribou aircraft of 35 Squadron,
whatever was required. From time to time we got involved with loading and handling bodies, which is always a bit of a problem. And we also supported the medivac choppers as they did their tasks to the point of assisting the medics to offload patients quite often. One kid had been
gored in the throat by a water buffalo, ladies with pregnancy problems where there is lots of blood and gore, people from accidents, lots of blood and gore, and the quickest available thing was get them on a chopper and get back to Dili and get them to the hospital. So you see lots of things, but you get on and do it.
East Timor was still in a state of flux. After we arrived they got the administrative side of things going and they were starting to head in the right direction, but they had a long way to go. There was still a severe state of destruction around, buildings that had been totally destroyed and whatnot whether by militia or by the Indonesians
or whoever. It was quite depressing in the initial stages. Things started to clean up as I spent longer and longer in Timor, but it really was chaotic. One of the things we did, as a unit we provided support through food supplies and material goods to a group of mums itself in Dili
and to an orphanage up in the hills outside of Dili where we would provide them bread and various types of packaged foods and stuff like that, or clothes and things like that. The orphanage, the stuff we provided weekly for the orphanage, they would actually have a mass feeding of the orphans and whatnot from the local villages and it was probably the one good meal a week that those
kids would have. And then they would be out on their own trying to track down food and whatnot. So I think we were doing a little bit of good in some areas.
you wonder why people do those sorts of things. Okay, so there is a difference of opinion, but do you really have to go out and vandalise, burn, destroy, loot and pillage, all that sort of stuff? It happens all round the world, I know, but it is still depressing to see it. But there for the grace of God… We could be in the same boat. Or whoever is up there, whatever, you know what
I mean. We are so lucky. The average Australian kid just has no know idea at all, they moan and complain and say, “Oh, life is so tough.” Be buggered it is, they have no idea.
How had that experience in East Timor differ from what you had experienced in other countries in terms of the destruction that you were seeing?
Bougainville was on a par with it. The difference of course between Bougainville and Timor was in Timor I went everywhere fully gunned up, tight down to even if we were going to one of the local restaurants, I had a nine mill [millimetre] pistol and a Steyr rifle. I took them everywhere. The only time I didn’t have my Steyr was when I was out on an aircraft. I’d have my pistol with me, though. Now we’d lock our…
When we were working on the airfield we’d lock our Steyrs in the office on a weapons rack but we’d all still have pistols with us. So in the terms of that, the destruction – fairly similar and fairly pointless, but as I said Bougainville was deemed as, well we were unarmed, but East Timor people could have been shooting at
us. And in fact army units were shot at while I was there. And in fact while I was there, one, you might have heard of it, one of the Kiwi soldiers was beheaded in a contact. Now that does sort of tend to make you sit back and think, “Hmm, some people don’t like us.” Yeah, and then you have to deal with from my point of view, I was an air load team member, I dealt with that man’s body when it came through
and we had to do formal ceremonies and all that sort of stuff. And we did that with some Portuguese that got blown up in an accident. And there were the civilians that were massacred in Oekussi I think it was. We saw all these guys and girls, their bodies coming through, and at some point in time handle them. So some of the boys and girls had some problems with that. Some of the boys and girls had problems with the accident victims.
The kid with the throat that was gored. The ladies that would come back with medical problems, pregnancy problems and things like that and bleeding everywhere and stuff like that. And then when you put them onto ambulance and then take the stretcher over to the side of the hardstand and find some water and wash it down. You know it can be a bit unsettling for some people.
But one of the tasks as I said was to provide water suppliers to all the units. And one of the big assets we had there was a Russian type helicopter that was operated by the Peruvian air force and it was an MI26 which at that stage was the biggest helicopter of the world. And we would load palletised cartons, aircraft pallets onto the chopper, and our forklift would go up in the back of this chopper.
An air movements forklift doesn’t normally go into a helicopter, I mean it is inconceivable. But to load our pallets or the Caribous or whatever with these cartons it was basically chain gang sort of stuff, and these things weighed forty two pound at a time. And if you are moving six or seven hundred in a day, you are doing a lot of bending and lifting so, one hernia resulted from that. Good stuff, good souvenir, of Thailand, Timor.
Used to keep reasonably fit, lots of walking or jogging around the airfield, but even if you did that you took a pistol or carried your rifle with you. So you’d be running in shorts and a T-shirt carrying your rifle, or if you had a rifle and pistol you might leave one in the guardroom and say, “Lock it up and I’ll be back.” And say, “I’ll go for a run around the airfield and I have got the pistol with me.” So we had some funny things.
The airfield for general purposes had been a shortcut for the local population. But when we got there, there had been fences put around by the Indonesian air force or whatever, but we still had people trying to cut across the airfield and whatnot to the point where one day one locals decided to come on base – through a checkpoint, I might say – and just got on and drove down through the taxiway invert onto, or rode his bike, I should say, motorbike, down on the runway and
started heading down towards the local beach area. This is when we have got a plane about ten miles out and we had to get him out of there fairly bloody quickly. Down at one end of the airfield was an area where we used to go swimming. It wasn’t a bad sort of area, not the world’s greatest beach, had lots of sort of concrete bollards that had probably been put there to try and protect it from erosion and stuff like that. But in that general area
about halfway through my tour there, people going down to the beach one day, they found two bodies. And I thought, “Oh crap.” These guys had been executed, they’d been tied and gagged and whatever and just executed and dumped in the beach. I am not sure who did it, possibly the militia. Yeah that wasn’t fun.
It’s just a reminder call that there are other funnier things happening in this world.
But I guess the militia still have some problems over there. And while there was no overt action from them in and around Comoro and Dili while I was there, they could have been a problem. And you did get intel [intelligence] briefs on who was doing what and who wasn’t paying the rent and all that sort of stuff. But the biggest challenges were to
get Comoro airfield back up and running as an entity. Now we went in, and 383 and the various other RAAF units operated that airfield and provided every service that you could want including firefighting capabilities, air traffic control, perimeter defence, and we had our own cooks, bottle washers and all that sort of stuff. We did a job that probably no other military unit
could have done and we did it pretty bloody well. But the biggest thing was that you had to get the Timorese back into running their own country. And to that point we were training people up even as my guys were there. We had Timorese air traffic controllers being trained up by our air traffic controllers and things like that. Timorese firefighters working with our guys and learning a
one stage just around the airfield alone, police – there was an American policeman, there was a New Zealand customs official, there was an Australian AQIS [Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service] type person, there was Australian air force, there was Australian Army, there were Timorese civilians, there was a Russian, there were Siberians running the helicopters, there were South Africans running the United Nations chartered
jet aircraft, there was Australian civil airlines, Air North and whatnot flying in, there were Indonesian airlines flying in from time to time from Oekussi and from Bali and whatnot. So there was a mix and match. At any one time you could have had in the air terminal alone, depending on what aircraft was going out, say it was the chartered, the L100 going to Darwin, you could
have had thirty-five different nationalities on that aeroplane. And in fact one day I think we did have. Try and make them all understand, most of them speak some degree of English but it is impossible for an English speaking person to speak thirty-five different languages and get these people going. But they all had their own quirks and personalities. Some of them are good, some of them are bad, some of them are bloody arrogant. Jordanians, for example, they are bloody arrogant.
Not to mention, never mind, allegedly. But yeah, look I did a couple of deployments to a place called Baukau where we did rotations of the Thais and Portuguese and the Jordanians from Timor out to their home countries. The Thais were interesting to me because their aircraft were operating out of Ubon Ratchathani into Baukau, and I thought,
“Huh, I’ve been to Ubon Ratchathani.” And that was quite different. And watching them, because they were in at Baukau, the Thais provided security for the base and watching them play sit-back tackrour [?], it is quite interesting. I don’t know whether you have ever seen that game, but it’s like volleyball with a cane ball, but they use their hands
and they use their heads and they kick the ball and this sort of stuff and it is absolutely amazing what they do with this ball to play the game. And how they don’t kill themselves has got me beat, but yeah watching these guys play this game. We went up to Baukau and we were living actually in the old control tower because there was nowhere else for us and I heard this barking one day and I thought, “What the hell is barking?” So I went out, out in the grass just
out from the tower there is this two little deer, “raff, raff, raff.” The Thais had them as pets, I don’t know where they had come from, and I could have sworn that they were dogs but they were deer. And in Timor I got… As in Thailand, this is the first time I had heard it was in Thailand, there is a gecko called an ‘F You’ lizard, and when it barks that is exactly what it sounds like, “Fuck you,
fuck you.” I remember in Thailand trying to get to sleep and this thing arcing up in the rafters above me, “Fuck you.” “And same to you mate, now let me get to sleep.” And you’d be on watch in Timor up in the control tower just doing a night watch or whatever and you hear this thing out in the palm trees doing the same thing, “Yeah common mate.” But
fair dinkum if you ever hear it, that is exactly what it sounds like, yeah righto smart arse.
but it was unwieldy and it was cumbersome and there was a perception certainly by the Timorese that lots of money was going into the country but most of it seemed to be in airconditioned UN cars and airconditioned UN office buildings and stuff like that. Yeah, there is a perception that is probably semi accurate that lots of money is being poured in but none of it going where it is needed out in the weeds and seeds helping Joe Blow the average
citizen to get back on his feet. How much, if any, of that has changed? I know there was a lot of… what do you call them? QANGO, Quasi Autonomous Non Government Organisations involved in one or another. Some with what may have been deemed as fairly radical hair-brained schemes and others with what might have been deemed as good schemes, like the Queensland organisation that wanted to send fishing boats across and in fact I think they have sent a few across.
They got some help through the RAAF and some help they didn’t get through the RAAF. But Red Cross did a lot of work and other organisations. They have been fairly beneficially, but a lot of them got hindered along the way by bureaucratic red tape and all that sort of stuff.
provide to the nuns in Dili and to the orphans and whatnot up in Dare. And getting out and about taking a drive up to Baukau from Dili and just having a look at the country and seeing how they live in grass huts out in the country areas. How they farm and all that sort of stuff. I don’t know if you ever
remember the poem, ‘The Man from Snowy River’, But the man from Snowy River’s horse was a part Timorese pony so, you know. So, “Okay, this is where the part Timorese pony came from and all that sort of stuff, yeah.” You pick up on things. You get on the hills outside of Dili heading up towards Baukau, the road is very narrow, very winding, very twisty and you could quite easily have an accident, and when you are on the passenger side
looking eight hundred feet straight down to the water below you and thinking, “Oh, please!” Yeah, most of it was good, but like I say just helping the kids and the nuns, they got a lot out of it. And I hope we did some good out of it.
You have had years of experience prior to getting to East Timor, you’d had many significant experiences in Thailand, Vietnam, Bougainville, etc., and lots of expert training. Is there anything in that experience and training that prepares you, even after all of that, for seeing that kind of death and destruction that you saw in East Timor?
No, I think the only thing that prepares you is actually being
there when it happens or just after it happens and doing whatever you can to get on with the task and get the task done, and if you are halfway sane you are wondering why people do these sorts of things. I wondered that in Bougainville, I wondered that in Timor. The Bougainvilleans to a large degree did it themselves, but the Papua New Guinea government had a lot to answer for through the helicopter gun ships
and stuff like that. In Timor it wasn’t the Timorese, apart from the militia types to a large degree but they continued to deny it, it was the Indonesians that were largely responsible for what happened there. And there were some absolutely shocking bloody things that happened over there. A lot of it can’t be proved but you know – when you find mass graves and all that sort of stuff.
You know, there were people whose families that have just disappeared. And why did they just disappear? Because the militia or the other occupying people had them disposed of.
had a different aspect on how I would handle things. You know, when you have people on guard duty you expect them to stay awake. When you wake them the first time, that is fine. When they go to sleep again and you contact their commanding officer and he comes across and literally pistol whips him and all that sort of stuff and you think, “Maybe I should have handled this a different way.” Life is cheap in most other countries, certainly in
the South-East Asian sorts of areas. People have a different expectancy on what can be done, certainly the ruling classes think that there excreta doesn’t stink and it does, sorry about that. And they believe that they have an expectancy that they can get away with a hell of a lot more. People like the Jordanians, they have got different
cultural habits, they are also very arrogant. They believe that they are right at all times, particularly the officer class, “I am an officer, you are an airman, you piss off, and I will do what I want to do,” and all that sort of stuff. You know, that doesn’t work with me. I had my differences but there you go. For the most part, the general troops that I would work with, no
matter from what culture, was reasonably okay. We might have had language difficulties but you know, if you are working together you work together. But just as you went higher up the chain of command it just proved to be more difficult.
we went over as a unit and we travelled back as a unit. We travelled back in fact, I think some travelled back by air, as I did on the L100 and other travelled back per the, I can’t remember what name they gave it, but the hydrofoil or whatever it was, the catamaran that was operating – the one that had been leased from the Tasmanian company, and I have just lost the name that it operated under, but it did a
lot of work and moved a lot of equipment and people between Darwin and Australia. And some of us flew back as I said and some went on the boat.
of the squadron. I believed that we should have additional officers and that my position should be more of a supervisor position and that I should have more senior NCO supervision around the places and that my senior NCOs were unable to do what they needed to do. So at that end I made some comments and made some suggestions about restructuring the squadron for my particular detachment.
My fifth most preferred option was the one chosen, which they elected to create a second in charge 2IC position at flight sergeant level, which is a rank below mine, and reinstate a flight lieutenant as an officer in charge. It still didn’t satisfy the requirements that I believed we needed to have but that was the way of life. So I sat in that 2IC position for quite some time,
effectively until I came back to, sorry I went Bougainville for my last deployment and then came back into that 2IC position and effectively that is the position that I was occupying up until the September of last year when I reached the retiring age for permanent air force personnel of fifty-five and
opted to get out and not seek an age extension, which can be done now. But that is only recently that that could happen. I have since however joined the active reservists, can now go through to sixty, so I continue to offer a little bit in the air movements field and I get involved in a movement control organisation at Enoggera through the army doing some work there.
I have been asked to get involved with some instruction for a modularised air movements course which is primarily aimed at reserve members and they want to teach reserve members the air movements organisation, the air movements courses. They want me as a reservist to be qualified to teach them. I need to do an instructional techniques course but I have had some involvement with that course already in assisting the instructor
type role. And that is where we are at the moment.
broadminded, maybe I am a little bit more cynical. I am certainly a bit heavier, I am certainly a lot greyer. I have got family that we sort of love each other. Certainly I have had a very good relationship with my daughter, my wife and I we have our moments, son and I we have our challenges.
If I could there would be things that I would change, but as you and I both know we can’t go back and change it because we don’t have that time travel, and even if we did we would probably wind up with the same mess anyway so.
When I got out in ’72, the things that I did when I was out, I got involved with the sports club, I got involved with kids football and kids soccer, kids cricket, got involved with the senior cricket and all that sort of stuff and senior football and I got involved with the social club committee of the sport club at home. And I met a lot of people and did a lot of things that I wouldn’t have done otherwise. When I joined up the second time, again, there are lots of things that I’d done,
places that I have been to. I have looked out over the Grand Canyon with my wife and kids. We have been to Hoover Dam, Las Vegas and things like that. We have been to Kakadu and around most parts of Australia with the exception of Tasmania. Joe Civilian can’t normally do that unless he is a teacher or something like that, and generally it will only be in the state that he is with. It has cost us in some cases, maybe
my son could have turned out better if I had been more stationery, if I had been a better Dad, but hard to write that pamphlet on being a Dad.
have had since about October about seven of my working comrades, colleagues, pass away and a couple of those I never did just catch up with and I regret it. One who went to a funeral in October with us, I caught up with him during that funeral and then in January he is dead. I was happy… Because this guy had been my course orderly, I was happy that I was able to catch up with him.
You know, I can’t say that we were the world’s greatest friends but we worked together, we lived together, we did what we had to do to get on with the task.
that are related to my service career in some way or the other. Crook back, dicky ankles, hernia, dicky knees, loss of hearing, etc. But you know, I don’t sleep well at the best of times so I might go to bed at midnight or half past one, and if I go to bed at midnight I might do a crossword or something until one o’clock or listen to the radio or whatever.
Like last night I think I turned the light off at one o’clock and my alarm went off at five thirty or whatever and even then I didn’t sleep very well at all, so, you know.
probably more so then the National Serviceman, for example, that quite literally came out of the J [jungle] one day and is back in Sydney the next and is becoming a civilian again, yeah. I mean they went through some fairly horrendous crap. And I am first to admit that I didn’t go anywhere near the stuff they did. Some of what I did over the years here, there and everywhere was somewhat traumatic, but when you talk about
people in a heavy contact situations where they are talking about seeing walls of fire coming towards them and walls of green lights and you know that every green is a tracer bullet and there are four other bullets in between, you think to yourself, “Yeah, they did it a bit tough.” And then when you read the description of what happened at Long Tan and yeah.
or whatever you like to call it, they can quite literally wield their power and at the drop of a hat execute even their own brothers and things like that. To have somebody like that running a country, what sort of situation is that in? I have difficulty in understanding the factional problems and it comes back to religious type factions that exist over the there. The Sunnis and the Shiites and all this sort of stuff.
In my view they are all Iraqis, why in the hell are Iraqis bombing other Iraqis as is happening at the moment? Theoretically they are aiming at the coalition partners, but most of the people that are dying at the moment are Iraqis, not Americans. Even though there is a lot of Americans that have been dying, but it is primarily Iraqis. And the people that are doing a lot of the bombing and stuff aren’t Iraqis, they are Jordanians. What the hell is going on?
Why are the local Iraqis putting up with it?
What’s the goat, hoopdy-doop, over in the east who hates all infidels? The guy that was in charge of the 9/11 [September 11 2001 attack on New York and Washington] thing? You know, they want the whole world to be Islamic and they want to do it at the point of a gun. Well I’ll be buggered to that and
while I am still drawing breath in this country as far as I am concerned, if the Islam law becomes rule throughout this country then we have failed and I don’t want that to happen. I have got nothing against any religion, Jew, Arab, whatever, Islam. You can be a Calathumpian Bible-basher as far as I am concerned. Technically my wife is
a Mon, a form of Buddhist, and I have got no problems with that as long as I can live in peace and do what I want to do and that Joe Bloggs, the average Australian citizen, can do what he or she wants to do in his or her own time and don’t you dare impose your brand of bigotry on us and expect us to live with it.