Archive number: 2135
Preferred name: Mossy or The Cat
Date interviewed: 12 July, 2004
You are listening to the interview audio
Well Robert I’d just like to start by asking you if you could tell us a little bit about your life as a young man, where you grew up, the things that you did as a kid.
I’m one of five boys born in Brisbane and raised there. Holiday around
the traps, you know. Brothers are all in the building trade, or one’s a cowboy, but I’m the odd one out because my father said I could never get you a job when I started cooking at an early age. So he said, “You’re different than all the rest.” I went to Cairns for a three week holiday originally, and ended up staying nearly a year and a half there and I wasn’t working
and I thought, I’d better do something, and get a job. And I went back to Brisbane and Dad said, “If I was you, I’d join the army.” And I thought, ‘I’d never thought of that.’ So I went in for three years just to start with and ended up staying over twenty one, so I must’ve liked what I found, so yeah.
What suburb in Brisbane did you grow up in?
Mount Gravatt right on the border of Holland Park and Mount Gravatt actually, so our front yard’s actually in Holland Park and the back yard is in Mount Gravatt.
And what year were you born?
So what did kids do in Holland Park, Mount Gravatt when you were growing up?
Oh rode horses because we were the end of the tram line; in them days it didn’t come any further than Holland Park. Played the normal games as boys and in the bush. Lot of bush, yeah cowboys and Indians and chasing around
and mud fights and also it was great when you had, they don’t have it in Queensland any more, but cracker [fireworks] night. We used to have a lot of fun. Everybody used to take their letterbox off in their street because otherwise it wouldn’t be there the next morning. You’d get what was called a threepenny bunger and put it in there and then run like hell.
Have you ever done one of those?
Oh yeah heaps. Being one of five boys yeah.
The eldest leads and you all follow.
So where were you amongst your brothers?
I was the second eldest.
And which school did you attend? What was school like for you?
Mount Gravatt State School. Yeah good, not a real good student, me. I couldn’t see the sense of always going to school and they didn’t have things – oh they had in high school, Mount Gravatt High School, like technical drawing, woodwork and metalwork for the boys and they had cooking for the girls
and I always thought, ‘Why can’t you choose? I’d like to go to the cooking.’ And while at high school the girls had a competition to make a sponge and they said, “You come over and see what happens.” Anyway I made the best sponge cake in the school amongst all the girls and they, like the girls, had to learn the recipe and the boys had to do the mixing of the sponge cake, so it was good and I enjoyed that. And I got an apprenticeship pretty young. Actually I left school, high school and got
an apprenticeship with the Hotel Cecil in Brisbane in George Street and stayed there for a couple of years. It was winding down. Business wasn’t all that good and I moved to Cairns.
Can I just ask you, your passion for cooking obviously started at a young age. Can you tell me when you first felt that and maybe where you think you got it from?
I don’t know actually where we got it from. Mum and I tried to work that out over the years but right through, right at high
school, even before, I was not very good at woodwork or metalwork and I thought, as I said before, ‘Why can’t I go and do the cooking classes?’ ‘Cause it was easier for me to remember and go from there.
Did you ever hang out with your mum in the kitchen as…?
Not really. She was there always busy in the kitchen, cooking for five boys and Dad but I used to watch how she did her things
but never really at home. I remember after I started my apprenticeship I helped this lady up the road peel some potatoes and she said I wasted too many potatoes so she wouldn’t let me do it again.
Even though you didn’t perhaps cook when you were young, do you remember having a curiosity about food at all and flavours and things like that?
Yeah, I liked different food to the normal household that Mum prepared. I always had a flair for curries and still do
so Mum would have half a teaspoon of curry powder and she said, “Oh, that was too hot for us.” And I’d always say, “Oh can’t we put some more in?” or something like that, for different foods. Yeah curry is probably my, and chilli, are my two weaknesses.
Holland Park’s quite multicultural today. What was it like when you were growing up in the fifties?
No, no. A few Europeans used to live at
Holland Park East but apart from we had some Aboriginal friends but the rest were normal everyday Australians. I can’t remember any, oh one aunty I had, she was from Europe. She was the only foreigner, for want of a better word in our area.
Tell me about your Aboriginal friends.
The Watigos. Tribes of eight children, eight
or nine children. We used to go to school together and just play at a place called “the paddock”. It had horses and a creek running through it and we used to have to cross it to go to school. So in the morning you’d meet there and of course there was no shoes to wear to school, to junior school anyway, so we could run around and play in the paddock in the afternoons. They were always good people to play with and
good fighters. Their father taught them all boxing so it was. I think everybody did in them days, everybody, all the boys went to boxing school.
Did they share any cultural things whether it was regarding to the bush or anything like that?
Only fishing. They’re a lot better fishermen than us. Their father did. Tony used to catch fish and they’d cook it whole with the skin and that on it. They wouldn’t
scale it like we did.
Did you find that interesting, the way they prepared it?
Yeah. If you were lucky enough you could get a feed off them. There was that many of them, they didn’t share. They had the normal meal at school, the same as us, you know, sandwiches or that. They used to tell us different things that their father used to do or their mother would cook for them.
So how old were you when you left to do an apprenticeship?
‘cause I did about six months at the Cecil and then Mum said, “You should really go back to school and get your junior certificate.” So we arranged and I did go back and complete that but my heart wasn’t in it once I knew I had a job already.
So the Cecil was where you did your apprenticeship?
Is there anything about that hotel that is worth mentioning in terms of…?
Oh just that the chefs they were – we had one chef who was an excellent cook, very. Used to make a lot of stuff but wouldn’t tell the apprentices the secret. He’d let you get all the ingredients together and then shoo you out of the way and go and make it and create fantastic ice cream cassata, beautiful Italian stuff but he wouldn’t tell you until you were so old, you know, fourth year apprentice, how to put all the ingredients together. He kept it secret. “My secret,” he used
to say and that was it.
Is there a lot of secret chef business that goes on in the industry?
Oh I think little things. Today there are a lot and you can see especially the garnishes that people use because I know when I did my basic training in the army, I was used to garnishing food already and nobody else there had done any of that. When we
had to put a dish, create a dish, and present it in a certain timeframe and I was first out there, then nine or ten would come out exactly the same as mine. They’d all imitated my dish in the end I learnt I’ll be last out and see what happens.
So just talk me through before we get to the army, so you go back to school and you complete your junior and then is that when your dad says to you maybe you should…?
No I went back to the Cecil for
another two years and then as I said, they were slowing down a bit and they changed chefs and I wasn’t really getting on with them, so I went up to Cairns for a holiday. And I thought, ‘Well I like this place.’ and I got a job in the sawmill, the Hancock Brothers sawmill and, oh, off and on for about ten months. Then I got a job on Green Island at Coral Cave Hotel working out there as the third cook. I didn’t take up my apprenticeship.
I went there as the third cook and that was a good job. And one of the chefs there said that he would take me on as an apprentice and I could finish my time which was really great, but unfortunately he had a heart attack and had to give up work so I didn’t do that. Then I went back down to Brisbane because I was getting married then and that’s when Dad said, “Oh a good job if you join the army.” And I went and tried and got in.
Why do you think he suggested the army
He was in just after the Second World War and always maintained he should’ve stayed and my father-in-law was a soldier during the Second World War and he said that he should’ve stayed too, so I had both people pushing me. Oh not really pushing, but saying it’s a good career and the money was good.
So were you joining with the thought that you would still like to be cooking?
Yeah only, yeah when I had
an interview I said – they said, “What do you want to do?” And I said, “I’ll be a cook.” And they said, “What do you want if you don’t get that?” And I said, “I don’t want anything else, I’ll leave.” I didn’t know that you just couldn’t leave so they said, “Oh well, we’re always looking for cooks so you’ll probably – you’ll get a good chance of getting your first choice.”
Did you father ever talk much about his war experience at all?
No he was only stationed in Australia and didn’t
have any war experiences but my father-in-law did. Only on Anzac Day and if we had a couple of beers or something, when there were no women around he’d say, “But don’t you tell your mother this.” Or, “Don’t you tell anybody.” He was always a real gentleman like that.
So even though your dad was stationed in Australia, he didn’t tell you anything about what they did at that time?
No, just that up early, work long and bed late, you know.
He was a pretty secretive sort of person, my father. He often found it hard to relate and tell people things.
What did he do in the army?
Now you’ve got me, I don’t really know ‘cause he never said what he did. I know, I’ve got some of his records after he passed on. I went to Schema and got some of his records and
I just found he was in 7 Field Ambulance in Brisbane. I don’t know what actual job he did there.
So okay, you’ve joined the army in the hope that you’ll be a cook. Tell me about your basic training?
Basic training at Kapooka or basic cooking training?
Well you had to do both didn’t you? So, talk me through both.
I had to go to Kapooka for three months to start with, a real
shock. My father told me, I had hair fairly long by the standards there, and he said, “Get a haircut.” So I went to the barber, the civilian barber, and got a haircut and he said, “Go back and get another one.” And I got another one and he said, “Go back and get another one.” So I had three haircuts in a week and I shouldn’t have worried because as soon as I got to Kapooka they shaved a number one to everybody irrespective of what length of hair you had. Everybody got a number one haircut for free.
And then you learnt how the army does things. How to set your locker out, how to make a bed properly or according to their rules and then you know teamship, always working together and you learnt all your military skills and I enjoyed it. Physical fitness and working together as a close knit team because if one bloke stuffs something up, everybody got into trouble so
you had to pull together otherwise it was just a complete balls up all the time.
Did you find that your personality [was suited] to the discipline or was that something that took a bit of time?
No, no, I didn’t have any trouble adjusting to it. It was just a routine. Once you established a routine it just seemed to flow with me and, I don’t know, we had a couple of blokes who didn’t make it through Kapooka but you
could see that right from the word go. They just didn’t fit in, so I think if you adjust quickly and go with the flow.
Do you think it helped, the fact that you’d sort of worked a little bit before joining up, in terms of being in an organisation before that?
Oh well, most of the people in my platoon were not straight out of school so that everybody, I think, had worked somewhere. We
had a couple of older fellows, you know. One fella comes to mind who was an ex-British serviceman and nobody knew how to polish their boots to get them really shining but he did. He must’ve had twenty blokes in his room all trying how to find out how to do it properly one night, and he said, “Oh leave me alone please.” We drew on his experience a fair bit in the early parts.
So how come he came to be joining up in Australia?
I think he just came to
Australia after serving in the British Army and couldn’t find a job, he said, so he thought, “Well I know how to be a serviceman.” so he just joined the Australian Army and stayed in.
And at what point did you find that you were allowed to be a cook in the army?
About ten weeks into the army you get corps allocation and they just said, “Yeah, you’ve got catering.” And I thought, ‘Well that’s good, that’s what I wanted.’ Some
people were a bit unhappy that they didn’t get their first choice but they mulled it around and said, “This is pretty good for you.” you know so.
Did you ever think what you would’ve done if they’d given you something else?
No, I don’t. Possibly at the time I would’ve been a bit dismayed but I think I would’ve settled into whatever job they gave me.
‘Cause how long did you have to be in the army if you signed up? You said you wouldn’t be able to just leave.
No. Six years
or three years, so I started off on the three years scheme. I thought three years. If I didn’t like it, it was long enough.
So what was basic cooking training? What did that involve?
Well, basic cooking training was … We went to Broadmeadows in Melbourne and the first day in the classroom was so much classroom work and then we were going into training kitchens where everybody had a little bench, a little stove
and they had all these things written up on the blackboard, in them days, about kitchen equipment. And they said, “Any more kitchen equipment?” And I said, “Oh yeah, we have got a salamander up there and we haven’t got this and we haven’t got that.” And he said to me, he said, “Oh you’re a smart arse.” And I said, “No,” I said, “You just haven’t got it there.” So I got fronted the first day to the captain and he asked me what I did before and I said, “I was
a cook in civvy street [civilian life].” So he said, “Oh well, you don’t know nothing. We’re going to teach you the right way, the army way, so just go back to the classroom and we’ll start afresh.” So I went back there and I asked a few more questions and they said, “You’re being a smart arse again.” And I said, “No, I was told to ask questions and now I want to know.” So– one of the things was, they had a group of things, soups and sauces, sweets, meats…
and they said, “What do you think is the easiest bunch to cook?” And I said, “Soups and sauces.” And they said, “Why?” And I said, “Because you only have five basic sauces. The rest are all derivatives so if we make five, we can make a hundred from that.” And they said, “You’re a smart arse again.” And off I went to the boss again and anyway so they – we finally came to – they must’ve come to a compromise. Not that I was involved in it. They said that
I could miss all the classroom work and when we went to do the cooking, I would just find out what– we had about thirteen dishes to do a day- and they’d say, “Which dishes haven’t you cooked?” And I’d say, “I’ve cooked the lot.” And they said, “Well you can go off to the sergeants’ mess and cook the lunch for the sergeants.” And I said, “But you said I didn’t know how to do anything.” And they said, “You’re right, you just go and cook lunch and do it that way” so…
How did you feel about that?
Were you glad to be doing something different or did you feel like it would’ve been better to sort of join with your group and …?
I was still with them because I hadn’t done any bread products in my civvies thing, so we had a lot of that. So I was in the kitchen in the mornings and then I’d go to the sergeants’ mess. And there was a couple of other blokes who were skilled that got farmed out also, not constantly. Like when we came to the bush phase I was totally ignorant of how
the army cooks in the field and everybody was, so we were all included in that. So that was a large percentage of the eighteen week course.
So you said they were doing thirteen dishes a day. Could you name, just give me an example?
Oh well you might start of with the breakfast dish, like first thing in the morning you’d cook poached eggs, grilled bacon and grilled tomato. Then you’d make scones for morning tea and then you’d do a couple of lunch
dishes. You might have to do hamburgers or you have a casserole in the oven at the same time. So you’ve got two dishes going, or three dishes going, at the same time and you make a sweet [dessert]. There could be a cold sweet so you’ve got thirteen lots of sweets sitting in the fridge cooling down and doing that and then you’ll go on and do another couple of dinner dishes. So it was pretty constant, full on stuff, and all the time they’re honing you’re knife skills, you’re learning all your equipment.
So what’s a typical army kitchen, not in a field, just on a base somewhere, what does it have? What are the basics?
Oh now they’re palaces. They’re really…
But when you started?
Oh they were good. We had a lot of equipment. They had deep fryers, bells, steaming bells, steamers, grill plates, ovens, hot plates, toasters, salamanders, you know, everything was in there and they were large and all the equipment to go with it.
So how many men would you be cooking for and what would the kitchen staff consist of?
Well, catering works on, well it used to, I don’t know if they still do, one cook per fifty, two per hundred, three per one twenty five and then goes up from there. So if you work on one per fifty, is a good rule of thumb. And then we’d have – all depends on what unit you
were- you would either have civilian employees in the kitchen or if you were in the field force unit in them days, you would have army people in the kitchen. Diggers [soldiers] doing the duties, peeling potatoes, washing the dishes, clearing the tables, setting the tables, cleaning the floors, everything. [They’d] do any job that was tasked to them.
Would some of those tasks be punishment duty for people?
Oh, not really, no.
They would have them at night time. If you had a punishment detail you could work them in the kitchen after hours, but normally you would get enough staff during the day from what they called the duty platoon or the duty company [who] would have allocated x number of staff per day to work in the kitchens.
So during your eighteen weeks basic cooking training were there times when you had to cook
for a large number of people as a group? How were you assessed practically?
Assessed individually on cleanliness, preparation, taste, texture, presentation of each meal that you actually did. Yes, we were farmed out into different kitchens of a Friday night normally, when they’d have functions in the sergeants’ and officers’ mess or dining in night, to assist and
prepare vegetables for a hundred and fifty or so, or some other dish under the guidance of a sergeant or corporal cook in them days. Then they’d show you how they wanted it done, how to prepare it, how to help cook it, how to present it and you were always rewarded with a couple of beers after the night was over. So yeah, a lot of bulk stuff and presentation
during training but it was all after hours stuff but, you know, we didn’t have any timetable like seven to four or something. It was from when you started to when you finished.
Who decided what the men would eat for the week?
Oh there’s a twenty eight day cyclic menu, or in my day it was, and you would order different
rations on different days. You’d have a two, three, two breaks per week so you get two days worth of rations on Monday for Tuesday and Wednesday; three days on Wednesday for Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and two days on Friday for Saturday, Sunday. And the menu was actually designed and balanced in co-operation, not only with catering people, but also medical and ordnance corps people
who order all the food and issue it. It was a long – it was highly involved and a long and laborious job if you were ever tasked to work with the ration scale committee.
What about cleanliness in the kitchen? Did you have people come and inspect?
Paramount signs, “Wash your hands”, “clean as you go” was the old motto and always a sergeant or somebody peeking over your shoulder, “Clean that up now.” you know,
“Don’t leave it lying around.” and not only would you get the sergeant cook or the corporal cook in charge telling you what to clean up and carry on, you’d also get the caterer coming through during the day and the duty officer would come through and inspect the meals and the kitchen had to be clean at all times. Then at night the whole kitchen facility got inspected before you could go home, so you learnt to clean as you went, as you go, and keep everything tip top and
everything in its place.
So the army sort of has its own health inspectors in a way, internally?
They certainly do, yeah. Medical corps come in and inspect the kitchens and the facilities all around. Not only the kitchens, the dry store, the ration store, the garbage room, the vegetable, preparation area, the lot.
So you’ve got a vegetable preparation area that is separate from the kitchen?
joined to the kitchen. A couple of places I went weren’t joined to the kitchen but normally for storage of vegetables, we used to have an outside for the cooler area and flow through ventilation because everything was kept in bags.
So is that where you’d chop up vegetables or you’d bring them in?
Yeah you’d bring them in.
Now I just want to know if you’d ever get people who were hungry all the time and be coming to the kitchen?
people would say, “We’re just coming to visit you.” And, you know, talk about this and, “Oh what have you got to eat?” or they’d ring up you know like, “We’re having a little happy hour now, you’re invited of course.” “Oh thank you.” “Could you bring some food down for us?” And things like that, and if the boys wanted to go out, the single blokes wanted to go out, the single blokes wanted to go out for a barbecue they’d say, “Oh could you do us a barbie [barbecue] pack up?” “Oh how many?” “Oh four of us.” “Oh yeah.”
“We’ll bring you a six pack.” It was always, everybody always wanted something. They wouldn’t come to visit you just to pass the time of day.
So you were a fairly popular person as one of the cooks?
Oh yeah, yeah, all the time, yeah. “Can you give us this?” Coffee is the biggest trading thing in the army. Everybody wants coffee and of course they can only get it from one place and that’s the kitchen so they
all come to see you, “Can we get a little tin of coffee or a big tin of coffee?”
Are there any times, say some people can bend the rules as far as giving someone some food, have you ever come up against people who are really strict and won’t let people have it? I guess kitchen politics [is what] I want to know about.
Oh yes. I can remember. One sergeant comes to mind straightaway. He used to carry a book around just like you, and if you did something wrong he would say,
“You’re on a charge, you’re on a charge.” That was his favourite thing and he wouldn’t let anything go out of the kitchen. You’d have to say, “Come down at two, he won’t be here.” So yeah. It was just funny that he was like that. He must’ve got caught or something, I don’t know, or had a strict boss. He never told us, but everybody was always in trouble with him every day.
How important is
food and the kitchen to the smooth running of an army?
I think it’s paramount because you get a large percentage of the living-in staff for breakfast and if it’s not ready on time and it’s not hot and it’s not like … they start off on a bad foot, so they’re going to take that to their place of employment with them. Lunch is always very popular in the army
so you get a lot of people that don’t actually live on base who, in my day, used to come in and pay for a meal to have lunch with their mates. Then evening meal again, it’s normally the living-in soldier that comes in for the meal. I believe it plays a large percentage on the wellbeing of any unit and you have to be all, make sure that you keep everything nice and clean and
neat because if one person gets sick in a unit they automatically come to the kitchen, “It’s got to be food poisoning, it’s got to be.” Not that he went out the night before and got drunk and had four pizzas and a hamburger or something, but, “No, it’s got to come from the kitchen.” so we’re always getting under the microscope of people saying, “There’s a sick digger and he’s got diarrhoea. It’s got to come from the kitchen.” But it’s something you’ve just got to live with.
Have you ever experienced it yourself, or heard of it in other kitchens in the army, where a whole lot of people have become sick because of food poisoning?
Only of oysters and that was at a dining in night, I heard it. I wasn’t there. They had some oysters, I think from somewhere in New South Wales and they all got sick. Everyone one got sick and the government then banned those oysters because something
in the water wasn’t pure, and of course they filter the water, the oysters, and everyone got sick that attended the dinner and the only thing they put it down to was the oysters. But I was fortunate in my whole career that we never had a food health scare from any kitchen that I worked in.
Were people allowed to suggest different kinds of meals? I mean you yourself, did you ever get sick of the food on the twenty-eight day cycle?
Oh no, because there’s
enough rations that you can vary the menu as much as you like to suit the temperature, the nationality of the troops. We feed different nationalities, you could vary it. Some people put in the suggestion book that they might want a different sort of buffet. We used to have a buffet once a week and they’d say, “Oh can we have a Chinese one?” or an Indian one or
you know, just some dishes on that. There was plenty of scope for you to vary the menu accordingly.
Now did you ever come in contact with say, older cooks in the army who were very like … maybe a particular type of food they were used to cooking and then I guess the younger ones coming through might be, or there might be menu changes? Was there any of that kind of culinary…?
Oh there were some old sergeants that were very set in their
ways and that you couldn’t change now. They would prepare the menu and they’d say, “It’s Tuesday we’ve got to have this on today.” and I say, “But you know we didn’t get that in today.” And they said, “Oh, we’ll go and get some.” And yeah, they were very, very set in their ways and it was like a culture thing.
What sort of food is it? Like meat and three veg… [vegetables]?
Like what sort of food are we talking about?
Well originally it was meat and three veg
and of course soup and dessert, but yeah that was the traditional thing to start with and then they got into the – we used to serve them up in the early days. They’d come through with their plate and you’d put, you know, the meat and three veg on their plate and then they’d go away and then they come into the self service system where you had up to nineteen choices on the bain-marie for the dinner and they’d pick whatever they like. A couple of grills per
day, crumbs, wet dishes we used to call (UNCLEAR) stews and goulashes and stroganoffs with either noodles or rice or anything and they would select what meal they would eat for themselves.
It sounds a lot better than all the World War II bully beef stories we’ve been hearing.
Oh we still had bully beef but mainly on forced issue and we used to have to make bully beef fritters, which I still made in my
career, so they were still around but not as much I don’t think.
Could I just ask you now about your field kitchen training, if you could talk me through that?
Originally when we first went to the field we had a Wills cooker, a big trailer truck. A trailer that was run on gas. It had fire. You had to feed it wood all the
time and it was run on steam and you’d have to keep pumping it to keep the steam at a certain pressure and if you let off too much steam when you were doing the vegetables in huge baskets, they would just blow to pieces and you’d have nothing but a watery soup in the bowl so you had to be very careful. It had an oven in it, very good, and we had what called solid fuel stoves, again which is like an old copper and you put wood underneath and you’d cook stuff in there.
And then we had immersion heaters which were petrol driven water heaters to boil water for making brews and for cooking and everything else and then we had an M-37 petrol and air driven stove that you could bake, roast, grill and everything in all different departments. Very
good but very dangerous ‘cause of using fire and petrol in the small confines of a kitchen every day.
Very dangerous? Did you have some kind of like safety drills or precautions?
Yes. As you got used to them. Everybody was tentative to start with them, so safety was paramount and we would be just very careful. We had buckets of sand close by,
extinguishers and have a pressure release valve if the pressure gets too high the valve goes off automatically. Sometimes they went too quickly beside the stove and the gas coming out of it was compressed fuel and so it would burst into flames. We had a few mishaps.
It just caught fire very
quickly, you dragged – undo the frame and dragged it outside and just… it cools down very quickly.
Gosh. So how big is a field kitchen and how many people would be working in it?
It depends on the number of people who actually go to the field.
What would be an average say?
In a battalion, say a company would go out, there’d be one sergeant, a corporal and two privates to cook for a hundred odd
people in the field. And you’d take two M-37 or 59 cookers with you, a grill plate, three immersion heaters to boil everything, three or four and some folding tables, and all the ancillary equipment to go with it but that would be your main – main cooking thing. And a bain-marie if the unit could get one made up to help keep things nice and hot for you.
So is there like a truck
with all this stuff in it or is there a store that you go to and you say I want…
No the caterer actually has a store and you go there and you have to load it and you do a load list and you give it to the caterer and he used to go through and say, “You’ve got too much of this.” Or, “You haven’t got this.” and you have to have camouflage nets, tent poles, you know, and everything, fire beaters, rakes for fire. You had to rake around the kitchen, make sure there was no grass that could easily catch fire.
So you loaded all the equipment, then you’d get to the site, unload it, erect it. Plus there were other soldierly duties too that you had to do, like guards, gun picquets during the day.
So once you’ve finished the morning meal say, do you – I guess depending on what exercise they’re are on, I mean, do you have to pack up and you follow them along?
Sometimes yeah you move with them. They’d say,
“We’re moving after breakfast and we want lunch at two o’clock at our new spot.” so you’d have to pack everything up, wait, sit on the truck and wait like everything else, and then they’d say, “Right, we’re moving now and we’ll get you a new spot.” unload quickly. Sometimes we used to move, in artillery, three times in two days. You were never in one spot at any given time. Big
exercises, real big ones, you might stay for a week or longer in one period.
And I guess you’ve got those stoves and they’re firing away, it might take a while to pack everything up?
Oh well, you leave the burners till the last. You can put the stove away quite warm. Everything’s positioned in the truck, everybody knows where everything goes and so you don’t have any trouble and then you just put your burners on at the last.
Interviewee: Robert Moss Archive ID 2135 Tape 02
When you joined up, obviously the Vietnam War was under way. What were your thoughts on it when you were in the army? What was your perspective on things?
Like everybody else, everybody wanted to go. It was actually, I applied to go very early, just after I finished basic training but they weren’t –
they were using a lot of National Servicemen to go to Vietnam and we were held, not actually in reserve, but held back for a while and then it was later in the piece that I was actually offered a posting to go over to Vietnam and a friend of mine said, “We’re not going, we won’t be going.” And that they’re just closed down. But everybody tried. There were a lot more people around, a lot
more training, intensive training and I, like everybody else, just wanted to go but never got the opportunity.
Did you feel disappointed that you couldn’t?
Initially yeah there was a bit of, “Why shouldn’t I go when some people had been three times?” But no, after a while you just seemed to learn to live with it.
What were things like in the media at the time?
I remember once during basic training we got into a bit of a scuffle in Melbourne because we had to wear uniform on leave in those days and some university students were protesting and when we come round the corner one girl actually spat at this friend of mine. So, a fight ensued and the police grabbed one of our friends and was about to throw him the paddy wagon [police van], saw he was in uniform, dusted him off and said,
“On your way young fella, you’ll be right.” We were – that was the only one trouble. The media was beefing it up a fair bit but we were told don’t worry about that sort of thing from higher above.
Those protesters would’ve been about your age too wouldn’t they?
Yeah, or a bit older. It was just – it was only the uniform
that caused the – yeah.
Did it feel strange to have people about your age to be, kind of, on completely different wavelengths or how did you feel being in uniform and representing your country?
Well I was proud and always will be, so it was that somebody would actually degrade you and just because you were doing a job.
We’ve talked to some
of the World War II veterans about what the uniform meant to them. What did wearing the uniform mean to you?
Oh a sense of pride, always, to belong to an elite and I don’t use that word lightly either. It always went in a camaraderie or together, men and women always blended in. Well, you could
relate to another person in uniform and to old diggers. They would, “Oh come in son. Come and have a beer and we’ll talk about this. I’ll tell you what happened in World War II or Korea.” And you can look forward to that type of thing. Always a sense of pride.
Did you ever talk to any World War II cooks at all along your way?
Oh, a couple, yeah.
Actually one of my bosses was a World War II cook and Korea. They said they did it tough, really tough, and I thought, I don’t know if I would’ve been able to survive under the conditions though, that they did. They said that, not him, but other people said you eat bully beef and biscuits for weeks at a time
and then maybe a shoe or something but… I think you had to be there. They could relate and I think they always relate the good times rather than the bad times that they had, but they always had a sense of humour when they were relating the stories so you took it on and thought, ‘Yeah, maybe one day I’ll be able to tell somebody something like that.’
those stories that are passed down help if you are, maybe working in a difficult sort of situation, yourself to think that people before you have…?
I think it always does because the older soldier would always relate to a tougher time than what you were actually having when things got down. When you had to do long hours, maybe a move, do a gun picquet with the infantry, come back cook your breakfast, pack up
move and they say, “Oh you’ve got it so easy these days.” you know. Like some bloke’d say we didn’t have a truck we used to have to carry all this or something like that, so I think they use it wisely and bring out the best in the junior soldier.
So once you’d finished your basic training in both your cooking and your army training, can you just talk me through maybe some of the highlights of your career before you left?
I was posted to
1 Military Hospital in Yeronga, my first posting. A small unit that did a lot of work because they were receiving casualties back from Vietnam then, so we were cooking hospital-type meals for diets. We had a dietician cook and he would train us to help him to do other meals, plus cooking for the normal staff, so it was
a pretty full-on [demanding] job.
I don’t understand what hospital-type meals would be. Could you talk me through that?
If you had a diet for an ulcer patient, a no salt diet. Low fat diet’s pretty common now but back in the early seventies I don’t think they were all that common and we were cooking that type. You might have a person with a broken jaw and you had to puree everything for them so they could suck it up through a straw, so all
different types of meals for hospital patients.
How demanding was that, because I guess every patient has their own needs?
They certainly – it was it was a full-on job. You had to be aware and you had a lot more, say, smaller-type saucepans and that on the go at one time. You had to make sure that you knew which meal was in which saucepan, or which part of each meal was in each saucepan,
‘cause everything had to be labelled and then sent up to the wards and you had to make sure that you knew exactly what you were doing at all times.
So in that kitchen, how many of there were you and who would take the meals up? Would it be a nurse or it would be kitchen staff?
Oh they had civilian…
Could you talk me through the structure of that hospital?
All right. In the kitchen we had a sergeant, two corporals and four diggers. Four privates who prepared the meals,
not only for all the staff, but all the patients everyday, three meals a day and we would have – they had ward people. Civilians would come down and collect the meals in a hot trolley and then take it up and then serve them up there to the patients.
How many patients were there at Yeronga Hospital?
There were three wards, up to thirty people in each ward at any given time.
So even though it was a sort of smaller number of people you were cooking for, it was more complicated?
It was. It was a full-on job all the time. We also had the staff. Three different messes: the sergeants, officers and the diggers to cook for everyday on top of that.
So how would you structure that, because obviously the patients would have their meals at a certain time and then the staff and the regular diggers would have their meals at a – how would you co-ordinate the kitchen?
Well the meal times were set, laid down and the wards would eat early, say half an hour earlier than the normal diggers would eat, so there would always be that time. The ward staff would have to roster their staff so some would go down right on time and then, half an hour later, the others could come down so we had to make sure that we had plenty of food
for the whole meal period to feed the staff.
Was that hard, in terms of the menu, or did you just adapt? Like, did you just adapt the patients, what you were making for the patients?
No, we used to get special meals for the patients. If they wanted veal and that, then we’d get it in ‘cause it wasn’t available. It’s called ‘hospital extras’, and so the caterer would order in and he
would know in advance that he had to have this stuff on-hand at all times. If we got a patient in that wanted some special requirement then he’d have it on-hand and he’d send it over to the kitchen that day and then you’d prepare it. So his job was intense and full-on too.
So patients would have a few extra rights in terms of what they wanted was that…?
Oh yeah. They even got beer on issue.
After so many days the doctor would say, “Yeah you can have a beer.” And they would get a stubbie [small bottle] on issue and we had stout and we had whiskey and they’d get special jellies in and like soft stuff for them. Some people were on weight increase diets or weight decrease diets and so you’d have to, you know, give them more calories or less calories
depending on the diet per day or per meal. So you had to take all that into account too.
Did you ever have people wanting to see you or give compliments to the chefs or anything like that?
Oh, mainly most of that sort of stuff is passed directly to the head, the caterer, and then he would pass it on down and you receive recognition via
those means, more than directly. Or the CO [Commanding Officer] might even come into the kitchen and he says directly to you, “I’ve heard you’ve being doing a good job, keep it up, well done, keep up the good work.” so yeah. I have during my career received a few personal letters from high ranking officers complimenting me and my staff on an excellent function that they attended. Yes, so that always went over very well and we used to always get photocopies and
put it on the digger’s file so that anybody browsing through their file would see that, yes, they’d received some sort of accolade for their efforts.
‘Cause I guess it’s very nice, isn’t it, because it’s too easy to take food for granted and overlook how much effort goes into feeding a whole battalion for example?
Yeah. I think some people may pay lip service to it, but normally the people like the CO and that who
have to be aware of what’s happening, and the senior officers and the senior warrant officers, always heaping praise on the cooks for a good meal.
I was just wondering if you ever had any contact with the diggers who’d come back from Vietnam at all in the hospital while you were cooking there?
Oh only to go up and see them about special requirements they might want for. You know, you’d have a
menu that consisted of special dishes that they might want so you might go and say, “What would you like for lunch today?” Apart from that, no not a great deal because they were in the ward and we were in the kitchen.
Were there any unusual requests or particular things that they were probably missing from…?
Well they might’ve been missing but they were actually on a strict controlled diet so
what they could actually have was restricted, a lot of them. So unless they were just on a normal meal they might’ve had a shoulder wound or something like that. But most of the people we had were pretty badly injured. They weren’t just flown home for just anything, and so we didn’t get to see a lot of them. Some had diseases.
I was just wondering, are there certain foods that help you recover from, say, particular injuries. Like, do you need a high protein diet or do you need anything like that?
I think most of our diet was high protein, low carbohydrate. High protein type diet to build them back up, a lot of them. We used to get a lot of milkshake requests too so the ward staff used make them. We used to just supply the
ingredients but there was a thing called Horlicks [hot drink] that they used to give them too and Bonox [hot drink]. Yeah, a lot of Bonox.
In your career at all, were there ever any cooking competitions amongst the different units?
‘Salon Culinaire’, yeah they still, I actually … Hopefully they still run them. We used to have inter-unit then
on a small basis. Then they’d have a big area and even cooks went to compete against their civilian counterparts in bigger Salon Culinaires, so yeah. In the unit we used to have a lot, especially if there was a function coming up. Margarine modelling so…
What would you model margarine into, would it be army themed?
It all depends. Some
units wanted themes, others were left to designers’ own whims but some wanted a truck, some wanted a tank. You know, “Can you make us a model of a tank? We want to put on the centre of the table.” So it was. Things were just… sometimes it was the theme of the function so it varied a lot.
Do you have
a favourite function that you catered that you were really proud of what you did? Or maybe was an unusual theme or something?
There’s so many because you do, over the period of time, you do so many things. Just to assist, you mightn’t actually be on the ground at some of them to finish off the product that you might’ve done a lot of the preparation for, or your staff went and assisted and
so they’d be too numerous to mention.
So what was next for you when you left the hospital?
I went to a posting to Townsville to 4 Camp Hospital in Townsville itself and it was more of a rehabilitation type hospital than surgical or that. We had no operating theatre so people would go to
the local hospital and the doctors would treat them there and then they were sent out to us for rehabilitation and physiotherapy and things like that. So we prepared just mainly normal type meals for that patient because they’d already had their stay in the civilian hospital before they came to us but they were longer term-type patient. So just cook again. Just three
meals for three different – three different messes and the patients themselves.
Would the patients be on a twenty-eight day menu cycle as well or how would that work?
Well the ration is twenty-eight day cyclic and the meal, as I said before, can be varied. So if you get a piece of topside you don’t have to do the same thing with it everyday. You can do, you know, you can roast it. You can make
beef rolls with it or you can crumb it or you can make beef stroganoff. You can turn it into so many different things that you can make sure that you vary the menu, even with the same type style of meal. And as long as you have a wet dish, a dry dish and some of the sort of thing and the three veg or four veg a day, then you were in the constraints of the ration.
Are there any extra things to consider in a hospital kitchen as opposed to just a normal army kitchen?
No. Under the dietary ones, if you’re working with diets – but normally the cleanliness is still the same. Food and preparation is still the same just probably not as big a meal if you’re serving up. If you’re plating up to, say, if you had an engineer coming in for a lunch he’d eat
a bit more than the person that is laying in a hospital bed recovering would eat. That’s about the only thing that comes to mind.
Is there anything else that comes to mind about your time there in Townsville?
No, just that we had a cholera scare. A person had come in from overseas and
they thought he had cholera so they evacuated ninety percent of the hospital except for a doctor, a nursing officer, two nurses, two cooks and a driver and run up the yellow flag to say that nobody was allowed in the base and was to drop the food outside the base and drive away, and was to go and pick it up. But that only lasted a week till they sent the blood test down to Brisbane and confirmed
that he didn’t have cholera. He had something that wasn’t as bad as originally thought, but we were locked in camp for a whole week.
What was going through your mind, were you panicking?
Well, he was in isolation and the meals were presented on throw away disposable trays and they were picked up by a nurse and everything was rubber gloved so we didn’t actually come into contact.
We came into contact with the nurses and the sister. We were feeding them and even though we were feeding the patient we never saw the patient and they disposed of everything. I think they burnt everything that came in contact with him. So originally we didn’t know what was going on because we weren’t high up the scale. It was just that the quartermaster came in and said, “Oh, which cook can stay
here for a week?” And I said, “Oh anyone.” And he said, “No, I think it’d better be you.” So he said, “Tell the others they don’t have to come for a week.” But originally, because nobody knew what the yellow flag was for, only the quarantine officer who was stationed inside the base knew, he said, “Oh I’ll tell youse all about it.”
He told us all that night when we were all sitting down. He said, “I’ll tell you.” And
we just said, “Oh, we didn’t know why we didn’t have any patients in the ward.” Because they farmed all them out and he said, “Oh, we’ve got a cholera.” I thought, “This is nice. Do we have to get any needles?” He said, “No, youse’ll be right.”
And fortunately you were.
So how big was… Is the Townsville Army Hospital within the main base?
It is now. It wasn’t when I was
stationed there. It was, we were out at a place called Pallarenda which is out at the beach where the quarantine station used to be. We were actually inside, with quarantine stationed out there and everything had to come to us by vehicle along the road. When the cyclone came, Althia, it actually washed an ambulance off the road.
When was that?
Oh 1970 [actually 1971],
I think Christmas.
And you were there?
No, I wasn’t there. I came up in the February just after the cyclone but they had photos and everything.
And what was the reason for the hospital to be separate from the base?
Oh I don’t know the real reason. It’s just that it was for recuperation and you couldn’t have got a better area. There were kangaroos in the grounds and it was
beside the ocean and they could go for walks and things like that. I think probably because it was already built and the army didn’t have to build one, but no, I didn’t know the logistics of it.
So after the hospital how long did you stay there?
Did you ever cook at the main base as well or only at the hospital?
No from there we moved over to Lavarack
and then we went into a large kitchen area and the hospital meals were just then taken out by civilian staff three times a day. They made morning tea up there and afternoon tea. We actually moved into Lavarack [Barracks] ’73, ’74 I think.
What was Lavarack like in ’73, ’74?
Big, really big. As big as, oh not as big as it is now,
but there were two battalions, an engineer regiment, artillery, armoured, aviation and all the ancillary units that go with it: fire station, police, dentist, picture theatre, chapel. Everything that you could think of. A mini-city, yeah. And so we spent –
I think I spent another year there and then I was posted to 2/4 RAR [Royal Australian Regiment] which is a battalion within Lavarack Barracks itself which involved a promotion for me to sergeant which was good. I was coming up the ranks. A lot more field work and a bigger area, a bigger mess to cook in and more people everyday.
And I spent two and a bit years there and I had one good trip while I was there. I went to Exercise Long Rock. I actually went to Germany for four months. A British solider came out to my unit and I went over there, so it was a real eye opener and a pleasant exchange and I had a really good time. And to note the difference of a different
nationality cooking, even though they were British they – smaller meat component in their diet, larger potato. Much, oh nearly a pound of potato per day per man and I think we were getting about… $1.76 a day for eating their rations because there wasn’t sufficient meat in it for us, we were getting extra meals provided
So how many Australians were there with you?
I was the only one on the base.
You were the only one?
I think two hundred or so went over on the plane and they were farmed out to all different units.
And the Australians were getting more meat allowance like across the board?
Yeah, extra money. Not more meat on the plate but more money for feeding for the rations.
the difference in the British kitchen compared to the Australian Army kitchen?
I was in an older one in Germany but very laid out, economical and had all the right equipment. Very good equipment-wise: pastry ovens and everything and they were really well looked after. Their catering schools have an apprenticeship scheme and they actually go in very early and actually do their
apprenticeship there and then go out to the units later on and they’re very well trained and very well versed in their duties and more regimental than the Australian soldier too I have to admit.
Within the kitchen and how they run it or…?
Oh no, not so much. The kitchen is all run normally and the same but they’re just … outside of the kitchen they
seem to be… I think it’s tradition with them, more so than Australia.
What about any particular meals for special occasions when you were cooking with the British in Germany, like any traditional kind of things that you had to cook?
Oh yes. I remember one they used to like was they used to have a scallops of veal a lot and which was a veal mince type
thing, crumbed. They used to like that and roly poly for a sweet- like a jam, like a jam steam pudding. They’d always say, “Can you make us a roly poly?” And I didn’t even know what it is until I asked one of the blokes. I said, “What’s this roly poly?” And he said, “Oh come and I’ll show you.” You know, but they have a lot of different types of food because their climate’s different. It was a colder type place. More starchier foods
than we had. I didn’t see any salads. Like in Australian we have salads on everyday. It was a good experience, very good.
What was the highlight of that time in Germany?
Oh I think just the countryside. I’d never seen snow so if they asked me what I wanted to see and I said, “Snow.” And they said, “You’re joking.” And I said, “No, I come from
Queensland. We don’t have any snow.” And they said, “Oh.” And I said, “I’ve never seen a castle.” And they said, “Oh we can take you. We can look after those two.” Just things like that. They took me around and showed me different things. And I think the cleanliness of the whole country. No rubbish really. The people have got a real sense of pride in
their environment. More so than anywhere else I’ve been in the world.
And did you eat much German food while you were there?
Oh yeah. I put on weight actually, eating sausages, bratwurst and fricadellas [meatballs]. I still remember all these names and drinking their beer that was the big highlight yeah. I put on a couple of stone [imperial weight measurement] actually.
Did your mates notice as soon as you came back?
Oh my wife did first off. As soon as I got off the plane she said, “My God what happened to you?” But it didn’t take long and it was gone again.
So at which point did you meet your wife Lyn and get married?
Before I joined the army. We were seventeen years old when we were married. Very young. I met her in Cairns.
How did you meet?
At a dance ‘cause, as I said I had long hair in them days, which wasn’t the fashion. We just couldn’t afford to go to the barber. That’s all it was, and all these blokes in Cairns said, “Who are you? Who are you?” And I said, “Oh I just came here.” And of course all the girls were going, “Look at him, look at him.” So she told me later on, but that’s how we met and just
came back to Brisbane and got married and then I joined the army from there and left her for about ten months at home because she couldn’t come with me then.
Was that when you went to Germany?
No, when I went to training - the initial training. She couldn’t come down ‘cause it had to be over six months or something and I was going to two
different areas for shorter periods so she just had to wait in Brisbane.
Is there any sort of support for army wives? I mean you wouldn’t know what you were getting into really.
It’s very good. Now they have areas that are just staffed completely for those types of things. If there are any problems, any sort of problems, they can deal with them now. The family liaison officers
are very good. They have women’s groups and childcare and everything so it’s very good now. Initially when we first joined it wasn’t. It was unheard of. Probably they’d send the padre around to see you if there was a problem but there was nobody else.
I guess they had to support each other more than the initial kind of thing?
Yeah, close knit communities, yeah.
So did you generally live on base?
No, only the initial training part. No I lived about two kilometres or something from Brisbane. Very close in Townsville- less than a kilometre. I had a married quarter which I stayed in right through my whole time in Townsville and then I had a – when I went to Puckapunyal as a sergeant instructor at the School of Catering we had a house
within the Puckapunyal area itself which was good. Then I went to Darwin and we had a house on base. At Larrakeyah Barracks, within the base, they had a married quarter patch there and then – and then Adelaide I had a TRA, a ‘temporary rental accommodation’, to start with because there were no houses available but after about twelve months
they built a new one and we moved straight into a new house within walking distance to the base.
So when you came back from Germany where did you go after that?
I went back to 2/4 RAR for awhile and then I was posted in ’77 to the School of Catering as an instructor.
Okay, what was that like being an instructor after being a cook for so many years?
It was a different –
completely different because you had to learn not to touch the food, not to say, “Move over and I’ll show how it should be done.” You’d demonstrate the dish at the front of the class to start with and make sure everybody knew exactly what they had to do. Then they’d all go away and you’d have different syndicates and somebody would weigh up, some would clean up and then you’d say, “All right, everybody ready to start?” And then you’d talk them through step-
by-step if they were a brand new student, say straight into the army. Sometimes we used to get what we called ‘corps transfer’ people from other corps and you might have an engineer who’s used to mixing concrete and he’s right into it and you’d say, “Oh you’ve got to be a bit gentle here.” Then you had to taste every dish and you have to find something correct
with each dish irrespective of whether they put a peanut of salt instead of a pinch. So you’d say, “Oh a lovely colour” or something like that. Just encouragement. If it was really bad, yes, you can tell them how to come around a bit. Always a little bit of encouragement every time just to keep them interested and hopefully they’ll progress along from there.
Did you remember what it was like for you when you started? Like did you have any
fellas that had a bit of cooking experience and annoy you a bit?
No, no. I was, maybe, more fortunate than them. Most of mine were brand new, straight into the army and never had any. But I did have one of the corps directors who’d started off as a steward and came into one of my classes and he – I said to him, “And what are you going to do in the army?” And he said, “I’m going to be the corps director.” And lo and behold, after a few years later, he made it. He became a lieutenant colonel so
he knew exactly what he wanted. So, yes, very set in his mind and very mindset. He achieved all his goals. But I found that very interesting at the School of Catering, as I said, everyone liked their morning tea. It was – people used to ring up and want an invitation to a morning tea or to a buffet
or to a mixed drinks afternoon or a beer afternoon. We used to have to – the stewards had to make all these drinks to pass their trades test. They’d sit around a table and they’d say, “I’d have a grasshopper [cocktail],” or something like that and they had to go over to the bar and make it and they’d be assessed on how they – if they got all the ingredients right. Somebody was watching them at the bar
and then they’d bring it over to the table and there was four people at the table and they had to make sure they got the right drink to the right person and it was presented well and they gave you a bill and these things. They took away the ashtray if nobody was using it or cleaned it if somebody was using it. Then you’d have to change your drink every time because otherwise they’d get into a routine. So by the end of the afternoon everybody was very merry and sitting around saying, “Oh yeah you all passed.”
It was a bit of a … everybody wanted an invitation to a mixed drinks afternoon but it was more – it was restricted for staff because it was a training thing. Occasionally a boss would let some outsiders in, just to see what happened. But no, everything at the School of Catering was an eye opener for me and I enjoyed my time there.
Having met so many students
coming through do you think that cooks are called and what does it take to be a good cook?
I think dedication and be very interested in your job and want to be there. The days have gone that, “Oh he’s no good as a rifleman, an engineer or a tankie, we’ll put him into catering.” Them days, I believe, have gone and we’re only getting the people that want to
be there and you can see that in the professional now. The dress standard, the meals that they prepare and present and, you know, just some of the functions that they put on, they are on a par with their civilian counterparts. There’s no worries about that.
I guess they have to be because Australians, the Australian palate is more educated now as well so you have to…?
Oh yeah, yeah most certainly is. Gone are the days of the meat and three
veg. It’s different cuisine and varied and you have different nationalities in the service now and they all have got to be catered for everyday.
So just as well as different, I guess traditional dishes or flavours or whatever, do you ever have to cater for different types of meals because of religious reasons at all?
No, not so much in the army that I’m
are of. We had some Ghurkhas [Nepalese soldiers] come when I was in 2/4. They brought their own cooks. We had to get all the food but their cooks actually cooked their meals to their beliefs and things like that. We saw it all but we didn’t have a hand. We might’ve help carry a lot of the stuff but we didn’t have a lot to do with the cooking of it. They did it all themselves.
As for religious, I know there were provisions to have religious meals sent in by air but I never came across anybody that had to have one, no.
Interviewee: Robert Moss Archive ID 2135 Tape 03
Well it’s from Puckapunyal you went to Darwin is that right?
That’s correct yeah. I went up there as caterer on promotion to warrant officer class 2. Totally different job than what I expected because the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] controlled the catering and all I could do was order it off them and they would supply it to us and we would cook it
for three different messes everyday. But we had to have a cyclone emergency reserve at all times up there and it included everything that we needed: paper plates, plastic knives, forks and spoons, serviettes, little bottles of milk, everything, just in case the power went off. All UHT [Ultra High Temperature – ‘long life’] stuff. So we had to have that on hand all the time.
a measure brought in after Cyclone Tracey?
Yeah, yeah. It was the engineers on base who actually built a bunker which had bunks in it for cyclone preparation and training and we only had to use it once on a cyclone, I think called Tom, but it didn’t eventuate to anything in the time I was there.
And the base
Headquarters 7MD [Training Company] at Larrakeyah itself. It was the only army base at this stage – at that stage, but I believe it is so big now that there are three or four bases there.
Was it in some way attached to the RAAF?
No it wasn’t. It was independent of the RAAF. Just that they were the – we were such a small number that they
had the facilities at the RAAF Base Darwin and used to supply us. We had to actually had to have the RAAF butcher shop within the army establishment so we did pretty well out of it. We could walk over and see the butcher whereas they had to drive over, so we used to get the prime cuts first thing in the morning. It worked out well for us.
And on a personal note, I guess becoming a warrant officer takes you that much further away from the kitchen and what you started out
It certainly does. There’s a lot more paperwork involved and you don’t have the hands on responsibilities there, but you had the responsibilities every day of making sure everything’s prepared correctly and served and that. Otherwise … because the first person they come looking for, they don’t come to the private cook first to kick his bum, they come to you so you’ve got to … not hands-on, but aware, fully aware of the situation everyday.
And visit the kitchen on a regular basis, before each meal, after each meal, in the morning, at night so it’s not a job that has set hours to do. And if there’s a function you’ve got to be on-hand to make sure, late at night, to make sure everything’s alight. You don’t have to be the last to leave but you have to make sure everything’s well under way and everything’s finished to your standard
before you go anywhere. But a varied job, very demanding but a very rewarding job in the same light.
Did you feel that you were ready? That you wanted to move on to that sort position or were you ready to leave the hands-on aspect of the cooking?
Initially, no I didn’t think I enjoyed it and I always still wanted to remain as a hands-on type person and to work with troops.
This was a progression throughout your rank and the career as the corps director saw which way you were heading and when it’s fully explained to you, it’s the right way to go but I was fortunate that I could still have that personal touch and that with my staff.
So was the career progression something that was important for you?
I think it’s important for everybody.
You don’t want to stagnate. It’s always challenging and rewarding to want to do better, to want to do better for yourself and for your family and in the long term it’s money in your pocket. The better rank you get, the more money you get and I think if you’re making the army your career, or any service a career, you’ve got to look to progress otherwise you’re just going to stagnate and get into a bit of a
And how was your family coping with the moving around so much?
Oh they loved – they didn’t like the move to Melbourne so much but loved the move to Darwin. They thought that was the bee’s knees [good] for us. It was such a carefree laid back town in the early ‘80’s that was still getting over the cyclone, still rebuilding and you could go around and see different things
and things like that. It was a whole different lifestyle. It was like it wasn’t part of Australia. It certainly was and it was just nothing like it. During the wet season you couldn’t do anything, and then as soon as the dry came there would be tourists and backpackers and everything. I used to think “Where have all these people come from?” The town, you know, you can’t walk around the town. Certainly a different lifestyle and if you
were fishing, oh the best fishing in the world, it has to be the [Northern] Territory and I really enjoyed it up there.
Was that a really sort of strong culture within the services, sort of getting away and going fishing that sort of thing?
It was. You need your own individual and family time, so if you have a hobby to give you a break and to get a bit of sanity back in your life, we used to say, and take the green [uniform] off for
a while, you had to do things like that. But nine times out of ten, you were still associated with people from the army. It’s just that you weren’t there for that period of time so it was good for everybody.
Were the services warmly received by the public in Darwin at that time?
Yeah very well received because they did such a magnificent job after the cyclone that I think it’s a lingering effect. That
they were there in time of need and they were always very social in Darwin and a lot of people came to the base for functions. The commander had a lot of functions and a lot of dignitaries always came to the army base and they used to look forward to coming through there, so I think the army or the services were always very well – I know the RAAF was because they put on emergency flights after
the cyclone and people used to say, “Oh we were looked after so well.” And that was an ongoing thing but I think the commander used to build that sort of – he used to rely on it to keep the civilians coming and going.
There’s a very large indigenous population up in Darwin as well?
Yeah there certainly is, yeah.
We went on a couple of missions on – en route to exercise. Not that we did much in the catering for them, but to help repair some buildings. You know, carried out some rubbish clearing details and things like that in different places and always worked well with them so there was no, never any drama with us. They knew before the cyclone was coming.
There was not one indigenous person in town before the Cyclone Tom came through. They’d already bolted. Bought every battery for every portable piece of equipment that you’d ever seen and were gone before the cyclone ever got to – on the air.
The weather and the conditions up there must be pretty demanding for exercises and actually being out and about?
Yeah but being the headquarter element,
our exercises were mainly assisting other units that came to the area and they would have a couple of days settling-in period to acclimatise and then they would take it easy for awhile. We only did one or two exercises a year as a unit and they were more or less an infrastructure exercise. Going to stations, seeing what type of machinery
they had, how many people could actually be fed from there if … what type of aircraft could land on their field during the wet, during the dry and things like that. Fact finding missions and very helpful in planning for huge exercises but to find out a different side, to get to go and see and, gee, I wonder how many people you can actually cook for here? How can you get supplies
here and things like and then putting all that information down on paperwork was a different light. It was something I wasn’t used to.
Were they cattle stations?
Yes, yeah, cattle some – Victoria River Downs Station south of Katherine. We visited there a couple of times and it was part of the fact finding mission. The army wrote to them months before and they said there would be people visiting and they received us warmly.
[They] have said, “Oh look we’ll put a barbie on tonight and we’ll have a few beers tonight, is that all right?” And you’d have to go to the boss, “They want to have a barbie and a few beers.” “Oh I suppose it’ll be all right,” he said, “Just two, but.” So it was good.
All that information was going into longer term planning?
It was all sent to Canberra yeah. I don’t know exactly to who but it would’ve been disseminated down there and put on file that if we needed
to move a thousands troops to this area- that they had the water, the facilities, the hard standing for the transports and things like that readily available and we’d been in contact with the people and they’re quite willing for us to go there. So, that type of stuff.
I guess water would’ve been a pretty crucial aspect of any mobile kitchen was there – obviously the engineers would be
responsible for finding…?
The engineers for finding and testing the quality of the water. That was one of their tasks and they used to supply us readily with copious amounts of water, either trucked in or sometimes we had bladders. Or they’d fill up big tanks close to us and say, “This is potable water, this is the only water you can use.” and to let everybody know if you want
safe drinking water to come to the kitchen or an area and that’s the only place to get it from.
Did you have purification systems?
Yes, yes, certainly do and very big ones and they can churn out volume, huge volume of safe drinking water within twenty hours.
Could you explain for the people who might not know how the way the wet and dry works up there?
Well the wet season is November,
December, January and February mainly and the rest of it is called the dry because you just don’t get any rains through that – hardly any rains through that period in Darwin. That’s where no movement can, unless it’s four wheel drive, you can’t go off road in the wet season. You’re just land locked. Stations become rained in for months at a time.
The dry is just exactly what it says, the dry, so it’s one of the few places in the world I think you can just have a climate devised as wet and dry.
Which is obviously pretty restrictive on what you’re able to do as an army?
Oh yeah. [It] restricts everybody, not only the services but we wouldn’t plan anything other than cyclone preparation in the wet and then everything else was planned around the dry.
From there you went down to South Australia is that right?
Yes 16 Air Defence Regiment which is an artillery unit posted in the hills of Adelaide who do airport security and engage any plane. They have different missiles
and machines that they use to defend areas or engage any plane that they see fit actually. It was a very good posting actually. Challenging because at that stage we were the only field force unit in South Australia and so we were out on our own and we did a lot of exercises. We used to go to Darwin once a year to do
an exercise called ‘pitch black’ and just the preparation for the move and getting everybody on the ground in Darwin was a mammoth task. Some people had to drive all the way; some people went by air, some by road and rail. It was a challenging but very rewarding unit to be in, the defence unit.
And how many people were you
Three hundred I would say, and three different batteries: 111 Battery, 110 and headquarter; and we had a very large contingent workshop and transport and medical and so forth.
So the majority of your job, it sounds like, was taken up in the planning and preparation and logistical compilation?
as a warrant officer. And tending to your own staff, making sure everything was running right and doing rosters and leave plans and some course preparation, sending them away so they can get trained themselves. But we did our share of military type skills as well in the regiment. We all got involved in all different facets. You still had to go to the range
and qualify every year in all types of weapons, do the PT [physical training] the same as the rest of them so it was a very independent unit but the camaraderie and family thing is very big within that unit.
Within that unit they would spend a lot of time away from family wouldn’t they?
Most certainly did, yeah. They’d either be short periods to
do live firing at Port Wakefield or up at Woomera up there themselves. They’ve gone there to fire live – to fire missiles and a lot of other practice type little exercises around involving anywhere between forty or a hundred, or real big exercises with nearly the whole regiment going.
And was there adequate support for the families left behind? Were there systems in place?
There was a system in place but it was a unit orientated system and because of its isolation, the unit used to make sure that every – there were people left from the orderly room staff that knew how to do the paperwork in case people had to move quickly and liaise directly
with the headquarters, which was in Adelaide. There was a unit orientated liaison staff.
So did you find that a lot of the families had connections as well amongst those … wife and children that were left behind?
Well they did. The unit used to foster that sort of relationship and make sure that the sergeants’ mess or the officers’ mess or the
diggers’ had a function once in a while where the whole family was invited. Maybe on their football field they’d invite them to come and watch a game during the week or they might have a cricket day where the mums played the dads or the kids played the dads or something like that so they – very good unit for families.
On a personal level did you enjoy life in the bush?
I did, I
find it… you get, once you get into the routine. They’re long days, tiring days but once you get into some routine, you know you have to go somewhere at night time pick you meals or pick up your food and then drive back and deliver it to the kitchens and then they start preparing it. Then you can see you might have to take it out in a hot box meal, out to somebody stuck way out on
their own and to see the delight on their face and you say, “Here, would you like a hot meal?” And they say, “Oh thanks very much for bringing it out.” You can see the whole evolution within that field environment rather than being back in camp where you won’t miss a complete day because it’s taken up with conferences, paperwork and other things like that. In the bush it’s a five minute conference saying, “We’re moving.” or
“We’re staying and can you pick up the stuff from here, here?” and away you go.
From there you were back up to Townsville to support unit?
Yeah went back to DSU, district support unit, which is, as it states, just a support for all other units. We used to hold individual exercises
ourselves where we used to go to Cowley Beach which is just south of Innisfail for our fourteen day camp there but we – but we used to support a lot of other exercises, a lot of other units. And we used to cook for engineers, military police, signals the hospital, dental unit, everybody – so it was anybody under that umbrella of the support units
we used to have to be fed by us. And we were also a staging area for a lot of units coming through to do exercises, so some days we might be doing, say, feed a hundred and fifty. The next day it could be four hundred or five hundred even or have meals’ stuff ready for a unit to pick up. They might want to pick up three days worth of food for three hundred of their men to take somewhere else. So they were always busy
and you had to have a good rapport with the rest of the units because we’ve got kitchen staff supplied by five or six different units, so you had to liaise all the time. Like, “None of your diggers showed up today, is there something wrong?” and they’d say, “Didn’t they? Well they’re supposed to be there.” So they’d have the responsibility then of chasing them down and of course the digger might get into trouble and he’d think, “You’re a nice
so and so because you dobbed on us [informed].” But they don’t look at the overall picture that we needed them to survive so we had to make sure that they were there every day.
How many staff would you have assisting you with preparing?
Oh in – well I had four different kitchens in the support unit. I had the commanders’ mess and officers’ mess, a big sergeants’ mess and a very large ORs’ [Other Ranks] mess and I had
four, five sergeant cooks, eight corporal cooks and twenty odd private cooks plus.
In terms of managing and in terms of the logistics and planning and knowing when you’ve got all these other groups coming through on their exercises, you must’ve been planning for at least a month or two in advance?
Oh sometimes further in advance. For the staff, for leave and courses it is a yearly thing so it’s got to be
up, ready to go to the boss before then. Used to get very good pre warning on any exercises. They’d hold regular conferences and say, “Are you still aware that “X” unit is coming through on this day and you’ve got to have this?” And you’d say yes and you’d go back and check your file, check your paperwork, ring up supply and say, “Don’t forget I want extra stuff on this day. Have you got the paperwork? Have you seen it?” “Yes we’ve seen it”; if not, “Oh
I’ll be down in a minute and we’ll talk all about it.” or something like that. Then there was area catering of course. Advisers you had to go to, had to go to conferences where any problems were discussed from all the different caterers. If they wanted to change something on the – in the menu or the food cycle, we’d go down there and speak to the supply representative and they’d say, “Yes you can change it.” Or, “No you can’t,” and ,“We’ll try it for a month’s trial.” If the diggers like it
“Yeah we can” – we’ll go about and change it. A lot of paperwork. More so than just normal unit environment.
And Townsville is a pretty major base for exercises isn’t it?
Certainly is, yeah.
A lot of units coming from around the country operate out of there?
Yeah, yeah. The largest, some of the largest exercises used it as a staging camp for some of the major army exercises or major services,
with the Americans coming in coming from Darwin, all the way from Melbourne, all staging through there. We once had staging kitchens in Cairns, Mount Isa, Mackay and Townsville for one exercise and they all had to be supplied locally at Mount Isa and Cairns but Mackay was supplied through Townsville and had to be staffed from the support unit.
It was … we had to visit them on a regular basis to make sure everything was running well and anything they needed, we could go to the local supplier and say, “Look you’re not supplying what we asked, why?” And he’d say, “Look the paperwork hasn’t come through.” So then you’d have to hot foot it back to Townsville and chase up the paperwork. Sometimes it was on the road, you know, ten or twelve hours a day or even longer just to make sure the kitchens had
everything they required.
In amongst that did you ever think, “Oh God I’d just like to pick up a knife and do some onions”?
… but worry about all these other people?
You still had a little chance. I often got told that, “That’s not your place any more in the kitchen, you can visit it but make sure everything’s running worthwhile.” but you’ve got plenty of time especially in field situations to get in
and assist the cooks to prepare something. Even if you just peeled the potatoes it was like reliving our past, you know, ‘Remember when I used to do this and nothing else?’ And you still got your chance to go ahead and do that sort of thing.
It strikes me as a kind of a similar situation where I’ve heard around the navy where people would spend their careers learning to sail the ships, operate the ships really well and then they get to this certain point and they’re off to sit behind a desk and get into the
admin [administrative] thing and they’ve developed all these skills in seamanship over the years and then get stuck in the co-ordination role and lose that. Was there a sense of that for you? Like, you learnt the actual art of making the food and now you were… those skills were kind of going to waste?
I think you could let yourself be drawn into that sort of area but I was always a hands-on type person and my positions were always with
troops so I was very fortunate and through my career development that I … Even though at times it was said, “Oh you’re not spending enough time...” Not by my corps people, but by other officers, by other corps, “Shouldn’t you spend a bit more time doing this?” So I said, “Well everything’s done so do we have a problem?” And they’d say, “No.” I’d say, “Well we’ll just keep doing it as we’re going.” But you are right,
initially you think, “How am I ever going to survive just sitting in an office and doing all this paperwork when, gee, I’d love to be in the kitchen cutting something up or doing something else.” But if you work it right you can do both and keep that demon at bay.
district support unit you went back to Puckapunyal?
Actually took over or looked after all the instructors?
Yeah actually I was away on training and only responsible to the senior instructor and the OC [Officer Commanding], the chief instructor for the daily running and training of all the staff and all the students within the Army School of Catering. The RSM [Regimental Sergeant Major], he was responsible for the discipline and the
parading of all the troops and things like that but once they entered the – we used to call it ‘the rock’ - once they come under my umbrella. A very, very rewarding job. Very demanding, you know. You have four or five IET [Initial Entry Training] courses and initial employment training courses, basic cooks, running. You could have a corporals’ cooks course, a sergeants’ cooks course, a caterers’ course, stewards’ courses and a supervisor catering course
all running in together in conjunction in the same area but you have to check on them all every day. And you have to – you have people responsible for that but you personally take it in hand and go around and see and of course the senior instructor would say, “What’s going on upstairs in classroom such and such today?” And you had to say, refer to the syllabus and say, “Oh they’re making this today.” And he said, “Oh I might like that for lunch.” I say, “All right Sir, well that can be
arranged.” of course and, “I’m having a guest for lunch.” And I’d say, “Yes that’s all right the two of them can be arranged.” And we had to liaise with the training development staff who would say, “We were thinking of implementing this into the course, what stage do you think we could put it in? Do you think we should take something else or can we add as an addition or we’d like to take something else?” And we’d say, “Well that’s a method of cooking
and shouldn’t really take that out and replace it with one that’s not the same method.” So there was a lot to look at. They were good to work, with the training and development people. We had a very good and well oiled machine running when – and that was the credit to the OC and the senior instructors and all the instructors that worked there during the whole period I was there.
What was so rewarding about it for you?
To see the quality of the meals that a student could produce after say ten weeks. You know that the instructors have a part in the knowledge and on your part, that you are guiding the instructors in the right way for them to prepare. And the compliments that you receive back from other units that you might lend staff to and they say, “Oh
your sergeant…” or, “Your warrant officer did a magnificent job for us.” And you take that on as pride that they’re doing exactly what you’ve asked, or the OC’s asked of you and that you’ve asked of them, you can, you know, be humbled by the… the professionalism they show when they go out of the unit and that reflects back on you personally.
So yeah, you take it along all the time.
Were you actually under the training branch at that point?
Yeah, yeah I was under – actually I went there as the training development officer or one of the training development officers and then transferred over as the world one [?] training as while I was there.
Services training and development teams are recognised…
Yeah civilian, yeah yes.
… the very best training system aren’t they?
Yeah, I’ve got civilian recognition for the course I did in Sydney and they were very pleased with the whole course syllabus that the army had prepared. And they were snaffling up training development officers and offering them huge amounts of money. One of my friends did the course, left, went back to his unit, resigned and took up a job in
excess of fifty thousand dollars a year and a car thrown in just to do the same thing he was doing in the army and no weekend work and no night work. They were – it was an intense course but rewarding.
Okay then you were back up to Townsville?
Yeah back up to Townsville.
Like a yo-yo, the proverbial yo-yo, to be area catering
Yeah, yeah working in the catering supervisor’s job and that was a more desk bound job. No troops or hardly any troops under your personal command but doing a lot of things- to go to conferences, doing catering inspection reports on other units, making sure that they were … and
you had to be very precise in what you told the commanding officer at the interview and what you wrote and what you sent him in the written report because if the two didn’t gel, they’d send it back to you and say, “Why didn’t you tell me this when you were at my unit?” or, “If it was a problem, then I could’ve fixed it by the time your report got there.” Because the report also went to the commander of the military district, you had to be very concise
and precise on your instructions and your written work.
Can you give me an example of somewhere where that became a problem?
Well, say you went to a unit and you found that the hygiene wasn’t up to scratch right? And when you briefed the commanding officer at the unit and you never mentioned it. Went back and looked through your notes in your office and said, “Oh, the hygiene.” then I’ve put that in my written report, right, and sent it off.
Well, the CO can feel a bit hard done by because if you were to have said, “Look, Sir, I notice the hygiene wasn’t up to standard.” “Right,” he’d say, “All right I’ll take that on board. Would you like to come back in another month? I’ll make sure my caterer has a new programme in place. We’ll talk about it and you have a look?” So therefore it doesn’t go in the report and you don’t have the CO offside
and then the commander getting on to the CO and saying, “I read that the hygiene of your kitchen is not up to standard.” Yeah, there are ways that you can smooth over stuff and make things work properly without creating a lot of waves.
At least where you were coming from, in terms of team work and support and their contribution?
Yes, yes you had to be. You were an invited guest into their unit, you know,
or to do a job but you were still invited there and so you had to be clear in your instructions and your written work. And I felt obliged that if something could be fixed by one-on-one in a conference then yes do it that way. And you know, you’re not trying to give everybody a good report. If there’s something glaring then you say to them say, “I’m sorry Sir this is the second time I’ve been here.
We’ve had a chat about it, I’ve spoken to your caterer about it, it hasn’t been fixed, it’s going in the report.” And he’s then going to have to wear it but at least he’s aware that you’ve actually done something about it.
So around that period you must’ve started considering resigning?
No, actually no. Not that I actually started to say, “I’m going to go on till I’m fifty five.” or
whatever the retiring age was then and things were being mapped out for me. But then things didn’t go… They wanted to post me to Canberra and I didn’t want to go so I thought, ‘I’ve got twenty years in. I can resign. I can put in my discharge whenever I like.’ It’s not a decision you dwell on or take so long trying to come to a conclusion. You just say, “Yeah I’m doing it and
And it was when a posting came through from Canberra was it?
Well I was – it didn’t come through. I got it by word of mouth over the phone and so it wasn’t a thing that I – I originally was going to accept it and go with it but it didn’t sit well with me later on after discussing it. I think I could’ve been at fault a little bit by not asking the right questions initially and
seeing what was planned out for me and not – and only having three quarters of all the information but in hindsight, I believe I made the right decision. That’s it.
Did you have plans for what you might do?
No, nothing at all. Unbelievable. I had an interview for a job at the James Cook University to run their Student
Kitchen and Hall and everything like that. [I] got short-listed for the second interview. Two phone calls to come in, that, “We really prefer you over the first bloke. Can you come back for another interview on Monday?” “Sorry. I joined the army again.” I was only out a couple of days and a friend of mine who was my old boss said, “Look we really need, really need you
for six months.” It was only a short time. It wasn’t going back in full-time. It was only a short time thing, “Would you like to come back in?” And I said, “Yeah well I’ve got a job but I don’t really know anything except the army so I’ll see you on Monday.” I went back for a six months stint straight away.
As a reservist?
As a full time reservist yeah, yeah and after…
That was continuing in the same role?
Exactly the same job. Same desk.
[I] left there on the Thursday and went back there on the Monday. [I] just had the Friday off. Exactly the same job and I did that for just over six months, yeah again so. And then when that completed I transferred over to headquarters 11 Brigade which is the reserve unit, one of the reserve units in Townsville on the headquarter staff, as the caterer of the brigade
to do planning, training and run all exercises for them only as a part time soldier.
Interviewee: Robert Moss Archive ID 2135 Tape 04
So Robert, as well as working part time then with 11 Brigade Headquarters you also started working with the DVA [Department of Veterans’ Affairs] is that right?
Yeah I was offered a part time position which suited me down to the ground with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs in Townsville as just as an office worker doing the mail, collecting files, folio numbers and storage and
all manner of different things. Whatever they wanted, the dogsbody. I was working approximately four days a week with them and then the rest of the time I was DVA or going fishing or something. It was a good position because they were very… a bit like an army unit. Very, you know, family
orientated, very supportive of you. If you didn’t understand anything they’d explain everything to you and they knew my involvement with the Defence Force and looked after me a bit, but it didn’t come to fruition. I wasn’t in their category of employment roles or models. Then I left them and got a … one of the ladies there, actually Karen, said to me she said,
“There’s an advertisement in the paper looking for tele[phone] service operators for social security. You’d be good at that job.” she reckoned. I said, “I don’t even know how to apply for a job.” She said, “Sit down with me. We’ll go all through it.” And she helped me and I got an interview so and got the job. I was there for three or four years.
Can you tell me then how the Rwandan experience came to be?
The commander, Peter Sideberry, Colonel Peter Sideberry said that they’d called for volunteers to go on a mission to Rwanda, a United Nations mission. I’d never heard of the place and then I decided to watch a bit of the news on TV. It was in the news so I said to him, he said, “Let me know next week.” So I said, “Yeah alright.” and I said, “Oh yeah you can put my name in the hat for it.”
I said, “It probably won’t get drawn out with my luck.” and it was. About a month later he said, “You’re off to Rwanda.” And I said, “Oh yeah, fair dinkum?” He said, “Yeah, the paperwork’s coming through.” So we waited a month and a friend of mine there was the RHQ [Regimental Headquarters] mess said, “Oh look I’ll get you some gear cause you haven’t got … you know, you’ve got rid of all your army stuff and you only…” So they outfitted me with all the
brand new stuff and we got our needles and then we went over to 2/4 RAR for the concentration of the contingent where I met all the other catering people that were going. They were from all different units all over Australia. Some reservists, four reservists from Brisbane. They’d never been anywhere themselves. Only privates. One corporal, one lance corporal and
the three privates. They’d never been out of Australia I don’t think, so it was going to be a big experience for them. A very experienced sergeant, Peter Winton, very experienced and was a good hand to have onboard with. We were broken into groups over there to do military training: PT, assessment, language,
conferences, conferences and more conferences and then I was told I was going on the advance party, leaving within a week. “Oh am I not staying for the whole concentration of the contingent?” They said, “No.” I think it was eleven of us or something [who] flew over early. Flew into Johannesburg and then to…
I’ll pull you up there anyway because I just want to just go on this preparation period little more before we move on. You were brought back in as a reservist?
A full time reservist yeah.
Full time reservist?
And was there some sort of contact?
Yeah, for the seven months. For the period of the contingent going overseas and the
training and the wind down when we came home.
Do you recall what the dates were?
February, 17th February to 18th of August.
And once you started looking at the news what did you understand the situation to be?
Pretty grim. That the country was in a mess. That anarchy, for want
of a better word, seemed to reign supreme. The UN [United Nations] trying to do a mammoth job with little resources and I actually rang up the first contingent caterer to find out and he said, “It’s a bloody mess.” he said. I said, “Oh God now I don’t know what I’ve let myself in for.” I think there were only three people
initially at the initial conference that knew exactly anything that was going on in Rwanda and I was one of them and only because I had been pre-warned. Other people had never heard of it. [They were] just, “There’s a contingent going. Who wants to be on it?” Everybody except for the regular soldiers, like the reserve soldiers, were asked did they want to volunteer and we all said yeah.
Why did you
It was probably my last chance to go overseas and put into place all the training that had been instilled in me over the twenty years in the regular army and to actually finish off for the want – yeah – polish off and round off everything. And it was a
personal challenge to me to see … like people were saying, “Oh you’ll go and it’ll be a cake walk for you.” you know, but I didn’t know that. I had reservations about it and they were well founded when we went over there to – and walked into it.
Was the humanitarian element important for you?
It didn’t dwell heavy on me and because I’d never been in that environment but only after a week there it was probably one of the paramount things. You say, “Gee, I wish I could do more.” And you just knew you couldn’t. It was one of them things.
And was your family concerned about your welfare?
Lyn was very concerned. She
had bigger reservations than I did about going because she knew that I was very family orientated especially with children and things like that and she said it would be hard for you to see any of them children. So that was a big problem and she foresaw
a few problems and kept them to herself
for about a year before she said anything. So when we arrived over there it was in the dark time and all the blokes were talking about on the vehicle from the Kigali airport was, “Keep your head down, look out.” because we didn’t even have a weapon at this stage. We were going to take over the first contingent’s weapons and when we were both on the ground, there were no weapons. They said – they were telling us all about
different stories and things like that. Then we were put in this disused room for the whole lot of us except for the commander and them of course. We bunked in together- the nursing officers and the OC and the transport supervisor and the workshop supervisor and myself and – overnight. The next morning was just complete, “What are we doing here? Where will we go?”
I got up very early and went down to the kitchen because I wanted to see a … because they started about three o’clock. What … [happened for] breakfast. What happened? How did you get breakfast? I learnt very early that it was going to be a long and laborious job for me, that the caterer was there, not at three, but well before and was still there at six o’clock at night
every day. And the food only came in once a week and it wasn’t – you didn’t get what you ordered. It’s what’s available and you didn’t always get the quantity that was required.
Let me just take you back to where the group had come together I forget what you called it, the concentration…
The contingent concentration yeah…
concentration, what sort of information ? I guess I’m just interested, more interested more about the information that you were given in that initial period when you came together about what you were getting involved in? Were you being briefed by the UN or…?
No, no, by the services. Different thing. The brief was everything, even a little booklet on some of weapons the
RPA [Rwandan Patriotic Army] and the forces were using over there. Briefs on mines and how many they’d laid and, oh approximate [because] nobody could be correct. Some of the local terms to get, you know, ‘good morning’, ‘how are you’, and things to get by. We had two interpreters telling us in the morning when we were doing aerobics
in the swimming pool at Lavarack Barracks and making us stand we had to yell out, “Do la piss in [phonetic].” And I never knew what it meant but it was some French words they were trying to teach us. Must’ve been friendly in Rwanda because French is one of the basic languages of the Rwandan people. But they were teaching us basic terms and trying to get us used to the what we were going – what environment
we were going into but nothing could prepare you – yourself till you actually landed on the ground.
So ASC2 [Army Service Corps] was a special contingent pulled together for the purpose of…
For the rotation of ASC1. It was formed up of dental and medical from the three services, a protection party from a
company of infantry from the 2/4 RAR and the support services, which I was a member of, which was catering, engineers, RAEME [Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers], transport, hygiene. All the ancillary things, so the contingent was a three part thing: a protection or the infantry, the medical who were the major people and the support element
which we fell in, under that umbrella.
And the medical, was the purpose for the contingent?
Yes it was a medical mission for the UN assistance yeah.
And was there a contingent commander?
What was the leadership structure?
There was a full colonel. Colonel Peter Warfe was the contingent commander and he had a staff that lived not with us. He lived in a placed called
Belgium – Belgium Village which was away from us and with all the other high ranking officers and their staff, they lived over there. We actually lived right in Kigali, the town itself in an old officers’ training unit for their army barracks. Our boss was a lieutenant colonel infantry and then we
had OCs [officers commanding], all majors, three different OCs: one for the hospital, one for the infantry and one for the support staff. The hospital had specialist doctors. Most of them were reservists [from] three different services but they went over there for twelve weeks rotation. The hospital of course had its own doctors, theatre staff, pathology
physiotherapy, nursing facility staff, ward staff and all the medics that go along with it.
And you were the head of catering?
Yeah I was the caterer for the contingent.
And who did you answer to, who was your boss?
The first – the initial boss was the OC of the support services and then the CO of the
contingent and then ultimately the commander of the contingent, yeah.
And the medical staff were made up of tri-service personnel. Was the support services… were they all army or were they tri-services?
No. Ninety percent army. There was a smattering of RAAF but there was no naval in the support services.
Was that one of the challenges that you faced earlier, even before you left, was I guess sort of integrating
and seeing that you were all speaking a common language with a common purpose?
I think across the services it normally happens anyway. It’s just working out the different badges of rank for the different services but I don’t think integration was a hard step to take because we all knew we were going on the same contingent and a bond was formed very early in the
Was there political education at that point? What the politics were behind the conflict?
No, not in the services. No, not to us anyway. It might’ve been to the seniors but we didn’t receive anything like that.
What about, in terms of the UN and what role you were playing within the UN, did you understand how you were fitting into that broader peacekeeping machine?
No not really. We were told that we
were replacing the ASC1 and then supplying medical assistance to the Rwanda public and any other armed forces that were in the area that were under UN umbrella .
And did you understand at that early point how you would be – being supplied? Was it via the Australian…?
No it was supplied
via contract out of Kenya on a once a week rotation. [It was] flown into the airport on CI-30 Hercules and then distributed by a civilian contractor on a ‘what was required’ against ‘what came in’ basis and then we used to
send two trucks and a protection party out there every Monday to pick up our supplies. Then they would come in and you would have to wait and see what actually unloaded and sort it and store it and then work your menus accordingly. Sometime we used to have to go on French ration packs or we had a variety of ration packs. But some days we went on to ration packs
just to make sure that we had enough to get through to the next week and then wait to see what came in. Then I would brief the OC and say, “Yeah look Sir, we’re going to have to have another one day on ration packs or we’re going to have a hot breakfast every morning but we’re going to have ration pack lunch and dinner.” And he would say, “All right, fine.” As long as we could have one fresh meal a day that was his thing. He was very
understanding, a very knowledgeable OC and took the plight of the troops’ interests to heart and that’s why he always suggested that we have one hot meal a day. So we maintained that throughout the whole contingent right to the end until we had to pack up everything. Then it was, of course everybody was in the same boat. It was a week of ration packs and that was it. Nobody
could do anything about it .
The contractors you mentioned, they were contracted to the UN?
United Nations yeah, yeah and they would just buy the food from anywhere. Dar Es Saalam was a big place for them.
In one of the Arab Emirates, like the Singapore of the Arab Emirates. [Dar Es Saalam is the capital of Tanzania] Uganda, we
got stuff through Uganda. We got stuff from Italy. It was like the league of nations it was, going into the rations store. All the different stuff from Kenya, anywhere, wherever. I think the cheapest thing is how they work because cause they work on a small monetary turnover yeah.
And so you were obviously having to negotiate with these contractors or at least be in…?
Well we used
to fill out a ‘wish list’ we used to call it, once a week and say like: this is what we want to feed our three hundred odd people plus the patients in the hospital every day for the next … and they had a contingent officer that used to liaise more directly than what we did. If we had any problems we had to go through him and say,
“Look you’re not giving us…” because once they gave us butter that was rancid and we had no butter for a week. It mightn’t sound much but when you’re looking forward to a few luxuries it means a lot. So then if we got say, eighty percent of our wish list, then we were happy. Anything over eighty was a godsend and anything under that
was a bit of juggling and looks like we might have to go onto a rat [ration] pack for a day or two days or two meals a day .
Were you liaising or in communication with any other food suppliers over there from any of the other forces or the UN units?
Only the Canadians. They were helpful. The rest were African: Kenyanese, Senegalese, different nations and they were –
they weren’t stationed. We had the Indians with us, [an] Indian Regiment stationed with us inside the barracks for a while but they just seemed to have full potato sacks of chilli drying out everyday and we didn’t really want to trade full potato sacks of chillies for something that our troops wouldn’t … for them. But we used to do a lot of bartering with the Canadians and them with us, even down to parts for cooking
equipment cause it was compatible, so they were good to keep on side and work with.
Could you explain for me the barracks and hospital set up?
The hospital was actually in the Kigali Hospital itself, about five hundred metres from where we were. That’s where the theatre and all the hospital’s parts
run on a daily basis. People lived over there but the majority of people lived in the barracks that was the old officers’ training school for the Rwandans. That housed three different sorts – three barracks: rooms for the army and that were bunk type accommodation, mosquito nets, hardly any windows, poles in the roof,
blown apart type buildings. The senior warrant officer and that had individual rooms had a community mess hall, a kitchen. The kitchen was an old laboratory, an old science laboratory which was probably the cleanest place around. We had two big freezers and a hundred and fifty cubic of fridge
outside and Q store next door to us. Connexes [shipping containers] everywhere with all different supplies in them [like] water, bottled water from Australia. We must’ve had ten thousand bottles of water. Engineers were making water every day. We had a workshop that the RAEME worked in. We had a transport compound within that compound and an engineer store.
What are connexes?
Shipping containers. We had stores in nearly all of them.
And a large supply of ration packs?
Oh, a very large supply. We had Australian ration packs, we had French ration packs, we had English ration packs and some from Bangladesh which we didn’t touch
because nobody could work out what was in them. The rest of the stuff we worked out what was in them and the health officer said, “Yeah these are all right we can eat this but I’m not approving them Bangladeshi ones.” So they just sat in the corner. The most popular one was Australian but we couldn’t issue them on a regular basis because they were our emergency reserve and we had ten times as many French as we had anything and we used to issue them
a lot. The diggers hated them because there’s no breakfast in them. You’d get biscuits, coffee and a bit of cheese for breakfast and they weren’t used to it. And everything was legumes and they didn’t know what a legume is and I used to tell them it’s a bean or a pea. They’d say, “We don’t want to eat bloody beans.” Haricot, legumes to haricot to mutton. They were all coming up the first week, “What’s in this? I’m not eating it. Can’t understand it.”
And then they’d say, “We’ll trade you an Australian one, two Australian ones for three of these.” I said, “No I can’t. I’m sorry fellas, I just can’t trade.” I said, “We need all the Australian ones in case, just in case of an emergency.” So that’s what I was told and that’s what had to happen. A few noses out of joint ‘cause some of them engineers, some of the infantry were very fit young men and
wanted more to eat than what a ration pack could supply but you just had to bite the bullet and say, “No, the rules are the rules and that’s it.”
What were your observations of their morale in the early stages there because you mentioned obviously a lot of them weren’t there on a voluntary basis?
Oh – all the army would’ve been on voluntary and even… yeah everybody would’ve been voluntary because there’s no conscription in the services.
No, no, no
but to actually to go to Rwanda?
Oh well it’s a hard question right. Some of them said they didn’t want to really go, right, but they’ll be there but not really want to go, [others] didn’t really want to be there after they saw the situation. But initially they were all looking forward to going so it was just a – probably a waking up, “Oh my God,
what have I let myself in for now? I wish I could get out of this by saying I don’t want to go.” so.
So of course they found themselves in a very difficult situation. They were there as peacekeepers but without really being sure who the enemy is.
I think, well that was a big problem because nobody knew exactly who, for the want of a better …, the bad guys were. See the Rwanda
Patriotic Army were supposed to be liberators and were going to turn the country into wealth and wellbeing and prosperity for everybody but they were portrayed to us as not-so-friendly-type people and you don’t associate with them . They did some pretty gruesome
things to their own people.
And the Australian soldiers couldn’t actually get directly involved could they unless they were personally under threat?
Yeah, yeah the rules of engagement were very strict and had to be adhered to at all times and we had a legal officer who briefed us regularly on any upgrade or anything of the rules of engagement. We had special cards we had to carry
that actually told rules of engagement and that we – that the protection party, the infantry, probably knew more about that than anybody else and they would brief you in, like if you were in the convoy with them and things like that, at special briefings. The Intelligence Corps would also be at those briefings and brief everybody and debrief people after
convoys or trips to other camps or other areas within Rwanda.
Were there aspects of the rules of engagement that struck you at the time or that you can remember now?
No, yeah, well I don’t … The one that I can, if I understand it and remember correctly, is that, “Don’t be the first to fire. [Fire] only if your life is threatened,” you know
and it was the thing that stuck in my mind. They were very involved and it was a political type situation.
Just back at the hospital, was the hospital continuing to operate for members of the public with just a part of being taken over by…?
No we took over the complete running. There was another hospital behind it that was run for the general public but
we did treat a lot of victims of mines. Poor children and some people actually threw, I think, some flares or something into a home fire and it exploded and burnt some of the women and children. We used to also look after all the other forces for medical too so it was a full-on – they had a full-on job. A lot of operations and
around the clock.
You say other forces, other nationalities?
Yeah other nationalities that were under the UN: the Indians, the Ghanaians that were there. Any medical problems, they came to us. They [were] originally [treated] by their own doctors and staff but if it was too great they came into the hospital where they were looked after.
Was there a policy about who was accepted into
I don’t know anything about that. I think anybody, for humanitarian reasons, anybody that needed the service was offered it and received the best, best care that they could get.
Did you have anyone working with you to be able to determine the special dietary requirements within the hospital whilst having limited…?
No, we had civilian employees.
Rwandans working in the kitchen as vegetable peelers, washing the dishes and general cleaning up chores. We didn’t supply, no. I don’t remember any dietary, special requirements.
I just remember from when you were talking about your hospital…
Oh yeah. No
didn’t come into use.
Did aspects of that training though come in handy in terms of providing for hospitals?
I knew exactly that they required extra condiments and that, because they were used to being given morning tea and afternoon tea and things like that whereas we don’t. We didn’t generally have those sort of things. I was aware that
you had to be flexible. They might have children there that required a bit [extra]. We got some yoghurt in occasionally to supply a little bit more to the hospital for their dietary needs if required. But no, it didn’t come to the forefront of what we did back here in Australia in hospitals.
And I guess the variety and
flexibility of your menu was pretty determinate on the – what was coming in from…?
Oh yeah, constraints. We could order– we got some beautiful stuff in, I must admit, at some stages. We got some beef from Ireland- the biggest sirloin steaks that we’d ever seen. Everybody was marvelling how big these were and it was so… We even got meat from Townsville, from Tancred Brothers in Townsville, delivered to us in Kigali. So
people were amazed. So when you’d called them up, they’d say, “Oh this is tough meat.” And I said, “Well you’re buying the same stuff in Townsville.” And they said, “What do you mean?” And I said, “Well it’s coming from the Townsville abattoir.” And they said, “You’re joking.” So we were constrained but had to supply a varied menu as often as we could and take in – making sure that the calories were there and the protein and everything else as high as we could get.
So was creativity more important in that job than your others. Was it really at the fore…
It was ‘cause you had to be resourceful. You had to vary your menu a lot more because you had a captive audience. They, you know, like there was nowhere to go. They couldn’t go out for a meal. You know, there was no McDonalds [fast food chain] or pizzas or anything like that and we couldn’t make
any bread products for pizza because we didn’t have an oven as such. There were a lot of requests and we tried to fill those requests. Chips were the biggest thing. [You’d] make as many chips as you could but again it went on how much potato received and the quality.
Do you recall some of your more
impressive creative achievements?
I think the ones that go … We used to try and have a roast night once a week and they used to really… simple fare … but they used to really look forward to that- to a roast meal. It was determined again on what we got in. It was simply, if you haven’t got it, you can’t put it on and unfortunately fellas or people
you’ve just got to grin and bear it this week. Maybe next week it’ll be better and we can look at your requests next week but you just couldn’t… We were fortunate enough to be getting fresh baked bread everyday from a civilian contractor except for the weekend but everybody used to look forward to it. We asked him could he deliver three cakes every week so everybody who had a birthday during the week got
the same, got one birthday cake in each of the messes. That’s how it went. We used to get three little cakes, normal ten inch or twelve inch cakes a week off of him while he was in business. He got into a bit of trouble with the Rwandans and had to flee the country for a week or so, so we had no bread. Only what we made for that – while he was out of the country. But I think every meal over there
that you prepared, on the equipment and under the conditions that we had and the resources, were something the cooks could be proud of. Yeah, every meal.
Were you actually back hands-on?
Part thereof because I was constrained by the reams of paperwork that we have in Australia. I was keeping the daily record of how many rations we recorded, received in, what we
intended for [them] and how many rations packs we actually issued and how many we had left in reserve and if we had to order any more and going to conferences but the rest of the time I could actually get in and give a bit of hand.
Was it a case of there being very little wastage at the end of a…?
Hardly any wastage. The only wastage was
perishable food that came in bad condition. That just, and touch wood, it was only vegetable-type things and on one occasion. But the rest of the time we didn’t lose any meats or anything so we were very lucky. Just limited rations coming in on some occasions.
What was the most difficult item to put to put to good use? Did you get any particularly bizarre
things turn up in the shipments that really took some creative thinking to make good use of it?
Well some of the things that we asked not to be delivered to us, to the Australian contingent, because we just couldn’t see the use of it was a type of rice flour and for unknown reason they could get a large quantity of it. We just had no use for it and every time we sent [a message] “Don’t send it,” they’d send an extra bag. But the rest of the stuff…
Oh and some of their sauces. The tomato sauces were a totally different thing to what Australian, well probably ‘standards’ require them to consist of. They just weren’t up to the grade and the troops didn’t eat a lot of them, but the rice flour comes to mind.
So would you have a bit of a – you know get the heads together with sergeant cook and
that sort of thing when the supplies come in and start to work out...
Yeah. A very one-on-one situation. A lot of liaison between him and me. He would check the fridges, the freezer, ask the corporal cooks, check the menu, come and see me and say, “Look we’re running short of this, can we order extra next week?” I’d say, “We’ll put it on the wish list and if we get it you’ve got it but …” Very close working relationship between all
of the catering staff because we were thrown in at the deep end. It was long hours in the kitchen and we had to work there and we had to produce three meals a day. Everybody worked in well together.
And would contributions come from that whole group as to what you might be able to do with different supplies in terms of…?
Mainly. Not so much with different supplies but their suggestions for varied menus using commodities that you…
probably that I didn’t think of. “Maybe we could use that …” Like mincing, hand mincing. No electric mincers- old grinder hand mincing. Out of the tins of stew from the ration pack, mixing it with some mince, fresh mince, and making pies that I – and we made trays and trays of them and the troops ate them unbeknown to them that there was a large proportion of that
was a French ration pack .
Interviewee: Robert Moss Archive ID 2135 Tape 05
I was just wondering if we could go back a little to the beginning and I just want to get your first impressions when you landed at Kigali Airport.
Kigali Airport was a different experience for me. We had to go through customs or what they believed was customs. The whole airport was shot up and they had people processing our passports and because of my age at the
time I was considered to be very old. They could not believe that I had a mother still alive. The bloke said to me, “Are you a soldier?” when he handed me my passport and I said, “Yes and a bloody good one.” Yes Kigali Airport wasn’t too bad. The move from Kigali Airport to the Kigali encampment where we stayed, listening to all the
gibberish and the things that the other first contingent was bantering about made me apprehensive right from the word go. Day one I hadn’t been issued with a weapon yet. There was a confrontation at the front gate. Machine guns were cocked. I was standing there. A bloke [who] was having a TV meal dinner tray tried to stick that into his rifle as the ammunition cause he was
caught unawares. We had an APC [Armoured Personnel Carrier] start up and there was a Rwandan bloke in front of it, down on the ground with his weapon pointed, [he] looked up and saw the APC and just rolled out of the way and I thought, “My God I haven’t even got a weapon, and what have I let myself in for?” That was resolved peacefully thank goodness but yeah I thought I’ve got six more months of this to go!
What sort of things were the first contingent
saying to you?
The first contingent I believe had a very, very tough assignment. They went in there with all their equipment. They didn’t know anything. There were no contracts in place and they had a very hard time with the RPA and were resentful of the fact that, so much so, that we were made to change from our slouch hats to the UN peak cap so we could
be identified as ASC2 not ASC1. If the stories, whether or not you believed them or not, of the animosity and the… just the front [attitude] of a RPA soldier would have against somebody trying to help their country, were to be believed then you had to take a lot into consideration.
I don’t really understand what that means.
Well they had a lot more pressure initially placed upon them, right, and the RPA were resentful of anybody coming in to help. I believe they didn’t believe we were trying to help. I think they believed we were trying to take over their country
again and hand it back to either Hutu or .. it would’ve been so… They flogged a lot of people. They hit one of our workers in the elbow with a hammer about eight times because he wouldn’t answer questions about what we were doing in our camp. They could see from the road what we were doing in the camp yet to their own people they were
malicious and this is only, not only did we see it but it must’ve been worse for ASC1. They were just relating them stories to us to, probably, put you on guard which is a good thing because you don’t know. You hear things in Australia, you see things in the news at the concentration, we were told things but until you get there you don’t really know what’s going to happen. You know, like, in the first month or
so Kigali was empty. There were no people walking around the streets and then they slowly started to come back and commenced trading and commerce and everything like that .
So the first day when the confrontation happened, that was a bit of a wake up call?
Yeah… it was terrifying for me because I didn’t have a rifle yet. I was waiting. We were there a week before our contingent arrived and I was sitting in the caterer’s office
and one of the privates said, “Something’s going on.” And all picked up their rifles and cocked their weapon and were at the back fence and I thought, “Oh my God what am I going to do?” and he said, “Oh come down the front gate and have a look.” And there was screaming and carrying on and a Rwandan Patriotic Army major was saying that we’d – somebody had done something wrong and that they’d sent out the legal officer and he was arguing and it was – I thought,
“How could anybody stand six months of this? You’ll never get to sleep at night time.”
What about the first week. Did it get any better or did it become even more apparent that it was going to be a – you were in for a big ride with this?
Well the first week was a big learning curve especially for me and I think anybody else that was on the advance party. You had to learn so much in such a short space of time and the people there didn’t
really want to know because “I’m going home tomorrow.” or “I’m going home in a couple of days, you’ll have to work it all for yourselves because we had to.” you know? Everything was talked through so quickly, “Oh this is how you get your rations and you go out there every Monday and there’s two truck loads and you just fill it up and come home.” Not that if it’s not available, you’re not going to get it. They forgot to tell us all these sort of things. So every day
of the first week was just overloading, cramming all this information, trying to cram all this information into your head and then reporting back to the boss at night time, saying like “Today’s Tuesday boss. We’ve got bucket loads of food, we can feed anybody anything. Wednesday and Thursday is the same. Friday we don’t know if the fridges are going to hold up or have any food. Friday we might have to go on to ration
packs. Saturday, we’ve taken all the paperwork across but we don’t know if we’re going to get anything on Monday so I can’t tell you what’s going to happen in three days time.” And he would say, “But I’ve got to know. I’ve got to tell the boss and the boss has got to tell the big boss that everything’s all right.” And I said, “Well, you know…” and every department except for the engineers who were processing the water knew that they were doing. They had complete control over it.
They could say, “We’re going to do all this.” But yeah, no, it was a very big learning curve and full of apprehension and every day that got closer to the switch – changeover, they were just switching off a little bit and saying, “Oh, I’m not coming in, in the morning.” And you were trying to gauge that first week, gauge for the next six months every day. That’s why we had seven days, so you could see what happened on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,
Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and they said, “Oh we’re not coming in today.” So what do I know what happens on a Sunday without somebody showing me? You can understand the perspective and they were happy but they really let me in and showed me a lot but just a little bit more would’ve made it a lot easier.
So can you explain, like with that handover is it like say
your equal shows you his job? Is it a whole team that’s sort of briefed? How does that work?
No, it’s one-on-one for bosses, transport supervisor, engineers, RAEME, catering and hygiene. That was it. One-on-one. You have to learn what your whole group’s got to do from one person in a week and when they hit the ground, you’ve got to be able to tell them, “This is your
job. This is what you’ve got to do everyday or every this day [e.g. Monday] or this day or this day and it’s got to be done.” Especially with my sergeant. I didn’t get a brief from their sergeant. Not that he should’ve briefed me because it’s up to his boss to say, “All right, now you’ve got to do this on this day.” The corporals have got to be better than what they were in Australia.
Why is that, because of the situation?
Because of the
situation. More responsibility is placed on. Them they have a greater – in Australia all the food arrives in the kitchen. On operation all the foods just arrives. It doesn’t arrive in the kitchen. You’ve got to get him to get the staff to unload the trucks. He doesn’t have to do that in Australia.
How long did it take for your team to sort of gel and get into the, I guess what you hadn’t been able to get passed on you would’ve had to sort of work out for yourselves how long does it take to work out to…?
It would’ve been about a month all up to get everything
down pat [organized]. Once we got a routine working and we knew that it was working well, we could settle into it and just say, all right, now I had to take somebody out of the kitchen on Mondays to go with the trucks so that meant Monday’s work load was greater than Tuesday’s. Tuesday’s was heavier because we had all this new
food. We had to work out the new menus so it was a constant learning curve for everybody. That’s why I’m saying the corporals had to do better, and I’ll stand by that anyway, than what they do in Australia or on operation because there’s more responsibility placed on them. I wouldn’t send a digger out to get all the food. It was either a corporal or my sergeant or myself so that
limited your resources for a start.
Now food’s obviously a very valuable commodity was there any danger of any of it being stolen?
Well the whole airport was under RPA authority and scrutiny. There was armed man positions all through it. We were not supposed to go in there armed but we would stop outside
and roll our weapons up in the canvas of the trucks and when we got to the airport we wouldn’t hand over our normal security code. We had a fake one made up by intelligence and we’d give them that and then they’d give it back to us. Then we’d go through with all our weapons rolled up in the canvas, pick up our food, then come out, go through another check point where they checked the vehicle- what was in it and then come back to the
camp ourselves. There was never – we had a very secure camp. We had the infantry manned at the gate and doing patrols all around our camp twenty four hours a day. They were on guard all the time. So food was a valuable commodity but at no stage were we under threat of losing any of it.
Why did you have the fake IDs [identity passes]? Was that in case someone stole it?
No the fake ID was because you actually
had to hand it over. If they retained it they could’ve done something with it. Mine was some fictitious number. My photo on it but the UN was totally different and they didn’t understand it. They would just take the fake ID and process it and they would give you a piece of paper with scribble written on it that was supposed to have meant that you could go through and pick up your food.
I was just wondering if you could describe the terrain around Kigali for me?
Mountainous, high mountainous area beautiful country full of gum trees. Probably more gum trees in any given area than a lot of Australia. Red volcanic soil good for growing crops and they do grow bananas and taro and a lot of other crops there.
Actually it was that high up that we were given extra time on our physical fitness test to do the run because of the high altitude. Yeah the mountainous terrain.
Oh so when you got there you had to do a fitness test?
We, yes, we did all those normal army sort of things. We had weapons lessons every Monday morning, be it your normal weapon fifty cal [calibre] mil [millimetre] machine guns
given to you by the infantry section or another weapon. We did PT. We were kept fit. Yeah there wasn’t just doing your normal job. It was all the other things included in it.
And could you just explain on camera why all the gum trees were there?
I believe or we were told that the CSIRO [Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation] has a hand in reafforestation of the area.
They planted all these gum trees and the Rwandans cut them down leaving the root system still growing because they’ll regrow. They used the wood to make charcoal and sell the charcoal for fuel. People all around the countryside are carrying big sacks of charcoal to sell at the market for fuel.
I was just wondering if you could sort of walk us through
the hospital, what it looked like, the Kigali Hospital?
The main gate at the Kigali Hospital was a manned armed point, manned by the infantry section. You went in through a reception area where there was a sister and nurses and then there was a big long corridor of individual wards catering for three or four people and, I think, ten in number off to the left hand side. At
the end of that hallway was a little dining area/kitchenette-type thing. Around the corner was the pharmacy, physiotherapist and the operating theatres and with a central car park out the back of that area.
So in terms of catering for the hospital where was – Where were you based? Where was your kitchen?
We were about five hundred
metres from main gate to main gate. We used to get a vehicle supplied three times a day to transport the food, along with one of our catering staff to serve the food. [It] went across with the driver every mealtime and any extra commodities required were sent. A signal was sent across and we would, if possible, fulfil the order.
And you had some of the indigenous people help you, didn’t you, in the kitchens?
Yes certainly did.
Can you talk a little bit about them as workers and just your first impressions of them as people too?
Very friendly people and they were getting a good wage so I don’t know if that made them more friendly but the money was absolutely fantastic for them. Good workers. Religious differences. We had Muslims, some part
Christians, some non-Christians and non-Muslims, atheists I think you might call them. But no, good workers. [They] used to help unload the trucks, no worries, because they got a free feed on Mondays. So it was help yourself and the kitchen workers got fed three times a day. We had, once we had too many workers. We decided we’d get them all together and we would sack a few but we would pay them a bonus.
The paymaster worked out a bonus of a hundred dollars US [American dollars] was good. They all wanted to leave the job. They thought this was the best money they were ever going to get and we actually had to say to some of them [that] we’re only going to pay it to four people. Yeah everybody wanted to leave when they heard it was a hundred dollars bonus. No, very fluent, [they] spoke four languages some of them. Some of them more.
Do you know which languages?
Yeah English, French, Kowar…
Rwandan, Kenyan but that’s I can remember.
And what were they – the ones who weren’t going to get the hundred dollars goodbye [final bonus payment] – what were the other ones paid? Do you know?
Two dollars a day US but know in their thing [currency] that was about five hundred Rwanda dollars yeah...
What sort of duties were they doing in your kitchen?
The duties in the kitchen varied from assisting with unloading of the trucks, cleaning the mess hall where the people ate, making sure it was everyday swept, mopped, cleaned out; peeling of vegetables, preparation of vegetables, washing of dishes and general just tidy up of the whole kitchen area.
Were there any initial
sort of communication problems as far as what standards had to be met and that sort of thing?
The initial communication problems were all alleviated by the head boy who spoke good English and could converse with the rest of them and he got extra money for doing that. Ahmed, he was. Yeah there was no problem. The only trouble we had was when he went away for a couple of days and somebody said, “Oh I don’t understand.”
And we knew perfectly well they did understand we just couldn’t convene with them to make sure that they did the right job.
Were there any Rwandans that were left over from the first group of people who had been there before you?
Yes ninety percent of the employees were all employed by the first contingent. We didn’t have – I’ll say sweetly, we had one small problem with one of the female workers called Aysha,
who I asked to sew on the new UN badges and that on to my shirts and that. The previous boss told me she did this thing and she asked for one US dollar for every badge and I said, “You get no food and you won’t be working here next week if you charge me.” So she said, “For you boss, free.” I think it was sorted out very quickly.
I guess that was a fairly important
thing in that changeover period so that people didn’t try to pull one over you [trick you]?
Yeah. I think the powers that be [authorities] just decided to retain all the civilian employees and it made it easier for us I must admit because they knew their jobs. They worked well and…
Were there ever any troubles with the civilian employees like stealing food for their families or anything like that?
Oh minor things when somebody tried to help out
one of their sisters who was in hospital. We’d already catered for this because she was a worker in the kitchen and I saw fit, off my own bat, to supply her with food while she was in hospital. Her sister decided that she wanted more, unbeknownst to us, and tried to smuggle some through the front gate. She was caught, she was brought back to the kitchen by the protection group and
she’d already told them that I’d approved it and I told them that I would look after, that it wasn’t true, that I was looking after her sister not her. It was all sorted out on my level and it didn’t go any further.
Did you say something before [that] their families cater for them?
In what I would call the public section of the hospital, which we had very little to do with, we were told that they
didn’t have any kitchen facilities or anything. It was up to the relatives to bring her food while they were a patient and we saw to that by supplying food to one of our workers while she was a patient in the hospital.
And what about if you could tell that story about kids sometimes hanging around and wanting food? How do you deal with that, seeing children that are hungry?
It’s a very, very hard situation because the protection party have a job to do
like everybody but when you look at the kid and you see a nine year old that’s begging for food and we have enough food at this situation and time, to say, “Why can’t we give him a little bit?” It was very hard for anybody that had children of their own to say
“Here’s a child starving”. They’re begging, they were selling anything that they could and they weren’t allowed at the fence. There was a steel fence and they weren’t allowed there. The protection party under their orders had to drive them away but we were so grieved for them that you would think “What’s five bananas and a handful of food?” And they had some beautiful stuff to sell:
soap[stone] carvings and wood and all this sort of stuff and we weren’t allowed to trade with them. Some of them even followed us on our last day right to the airport and risked getting shot to receive money from us. It was a pretty harrowing experience and you had to feel for them- that they had no mother, no father. One Australian soldier tried to adopt one to bring into Australia and the government
just wouldn’t hear of it
Did they have a special connection?
Oh very yeah. He used to go to the hospital, from our gate to the hospital and walk with this kid and talk with him and he’d walk backwards and forwards four times without actually going into the hospital. He would just walk up and down so he could be with this kid and he used to stuff food into his pockets and that to take out.
Was that a common sort of thing that a lot of people made, not wanting to adopt necessarily but
made special connections with the people?
Oh yeah. You had to feel friendly for them, what they’d been through and heard what they’d been through and the conditions in Kigali itself. You could not help, even at the orphanage we went a couple of times. You would say, “Gee those kids are terrific kids”. What – you know in Australia it’d be nothing to look
after him and you just couldn’t load them all on to a plane and bring them back.
At what point did you visit Madame Carr’s orphanage?
About two months into the rotation the first time yeah. She, a magnificent lady. [She] had been wiped out, her house wrecked by the RPA and then she – then they put two guards
on her house, an orphanage, after they took over and she cared for all the children in the orphanage made sure they were fed.
So were you – when you went there – I was just wondering how you came to go to Madame Carr’s orphanage? Was it relating to your work or?
No, it was the OC’s,
what’s the word I’m looking for, a type of rotation within the services thing that he said, “I’d like you to come up.” And we were supplying some food to Madame Carr. Any excess that we had of certain commodities, the OC deemed that we could take up because we were actually sponsoring the orphanage. The engineers built some bunks, did some
windows. The transports of course took us up there and it was good for everybody to be able to play with the children and see where the food was going or whatever services you supplied were going up there. I think the first time I went up was a couple of months into the rotation.
Can you describe what the
orphanage looked like?
The orphanage itself was a barn-like establishment full of bunks and single beds which originally had no windows but as I said the engineers had built encasements for them and things like that. It had a lean-to kitchen on the side of it where Madame Carr employed two top notch chefs to cook beans or whatever food, mostly beans for the
orphans everyday. They had their own vegetable garden and Madame Carr had a residence north west of the orphanage where she lived with her servants.
Can you just give us a little bit of background to who Madame Carr is and how she came to be in Rwanda?
Madame Carr is an American citizen who was there with her husband who passed away who had, I believe, one hundred acres
of cultivated area. They grew different crops there prior to when the Belgians ran Rwanda and she just stayed on after her husband died and lived from day to day.
How many children would’ve been there when you were there?
Oh minimum would’ve been forty. Hard to gauge but I would say a minium forty.
And was – did you sort of notice a difference in
In what I guess the Australians and other countries had been contributing?
It was a clean healthy environment and the children were all happy. There were no colds and runny noses and things like that. They were happy to be there. There were play areas for them. The engineers, previous engineers, had built the playground for them and they marvelled in that sort of thing and it was a more friendly area even
though there was RPA guards there but they were detailed to look after Madame Carr so it was a safe type of environment.
I was just wondering, you said, you mentioned before about your age when you first arrived at the airport and how someone couldn’t believe that you had a mother or something. You would’ve been one of the older, you would’ve had
a lot of younger guys serving under you. Were you sort of like a bit of a mentor to them or a father figure?
I don’t know about a mentor but a father figure I think. It was strange as I said before. I think the average age of a Rwandan when I was there was forty-something. To see somebody who was approaching fifty and then I could show them a photo of my mother who was still living, they couldn’t believe it
because I only saw very few very old people and they said, “Oh they’re special people.” Yeah it was good because when we had anything to do with children most of the people didn’t have children of their own. One bloke, his first child was born while he was over there and I said, “You know when you get grandchildren you’ll understand half of you, half of you people,
that the kids are everything.” But yeah the OC thought it was good that I was older.
So obviously you’re working in a difficult kind of situation like was there sort of informal support in amongst the men like, that they could come and chat to you about something that was bothering or?
It went across the board. I could go down
and talk to Pam Dillon who’s the transport supervisor about a whole variety of things. She was very understanding. The same with the engineer sergeant and the RAEME warrant officer and the CSM [Company Sergeant Major] even though he was a – there for discipline and straight up and down the line. We had many a good talk about a variety of things right down to football and you could
talk to some of the blokes or most of the blokes all the time. The unit barber, he could talk to everybody because everybody was – he was in demand. But all the cooks we had informal chats. We had some formal. We had to do PR66s which is a personal evaluation report on them every fortnight and give to the OC a written report [about] how they were
travelling [progressing] so you would sit down and you would formally counsel them. This is “you’re not doing this well” or “you’re doing this very good” and it went right down to the private level and I never had any hassles, thank God, with any of my troops. Some of them really shone and a couple got recommended for direct promotion as soon as possible. They were – I don’t know if they were that good
in Australia but in operation they shine and I felt proud that I could be their contingent commander. Even so proud that I was fortunate enough to receive an award for my service in Rwanda and I thought that they should’ve got [it]. Everybody there, it wasn’t for me. I didn’t do it by myself,
the whole team did it . And you know I got a lot of phone calls and signals saying well done, well done but I thought they should’ve sent them out to my whole catering troop.
So did you see a lot of your people grow through that experience?
Oh yeah unbelievable you know…
Does any come to mind, like nice examples of seeing someone rise to the occasion?
Oh well I can mention numerous but the two
that really come to mind was a Private Kent Sullivan, a top fellow came to me under a bit of a cloud. His previous boss had said, “You know you’ve got to watch him, got to watch him, you know, got to make sure he does his job.” [He] excelled, really went well. Took over on Mondays when there wasn’t a corporal in the kitchen and ran the shift himself. And Kennedy,
he was – he was just as good but he had more experience and I expected a bit more of him than I did of Sullivan .
Just talk me through, what is a typical day for you and also perhaps through what is a typical day for what your staff would have to do?
Well two of the staff would arrive at the kitchen at three o’clock in the morning. They would set up the petrol stoves, get them preheated,
get them to working temperature. They would light the immersion heaters which is commonly called a ‘choofer’ in the army because when lit it makes a terrific sound. It sounds like a big bomb going off and I think they used to do it just to sir up the Rwandans. They would get all the stuff ready at five o’clock. The rest of the shift which consisted of three other cooks would come on duty and they would start to prepare breakfast. I would get to the kitchen along with the sergeant at
five o’clock in the morning to make sure that everything was going right. He would go off and do some of the paperwork. He was a bit of a whiz on the computer and we had to produce x amount of stuff so he liked doing that. Once breakfast was done they would get straight into lunch. The other shift would come on at ten o’clock, all do lunch together. The few – the people that started at three o’clock would knock off at fourteen hundred [2pm] to go and do
their washing and PT and the rest of the stuff and the rest of us would work through till eighteen hundred [6pm], nineteen hundred [7pm] at night time. It was a full-on day.
In terms of work which is the biggest meal of the day for you in the field?
In operation – in the field?
Oh sorry in operation?
In operation they’re all big because you have a captive audience. They’ve all got to come to eat so I don’t – I think breakfast may be the smallest
because some people will forego breakfast in order to do mundane tasks and other stuff but lunch and dinner [are] full-on. We had, I suppose, within twenty figures of serves for each meal when and we never ran out.
So at the end of the day when the kitchen’s all clean and done are you – have
you still got work to do?
Yes, paperwork, making sure that some of the food is taken out to defrost for the next day’s preparation. It’ll defrost over night and sitting down some nights, sitting down and talking with the staff [about] some little hiccup we might’ve had. We might’ve had an extra meal or something, sandwiches or something to prepare for the theatre staff. They could’ve been working through lunch and missed lunch so
there’ll be a phone call by the land line or a signal come down that they wanted some extra meals and it would place a little bit more burden on the troops. So you’d sit down and, “You’ve done well today. Those sandwiches, I’ve just got a phone call back from the theatre sister, very much appreciated.” you know cause at the time they’d say, “What the bloody hell do they do? Can’t they just stop and go for lunch?” and so those things happened
We’ve talked a bit about food. I was just wondering what sort of beverages that people would be getting?
We had tea and coffee of course but they had Coca Cola which they could buy and it was a big seller. I think it might’ve been a dollar, no, fifty cents, yeah, a dollar for two. It was a bigger seller. And then we had a wet canteen, a mess for the sergeants, a separate one for the officers
and separate one for the diggers. That was at the commanding officer’s discretion, when that opened and it only opened for a couple of hours so you could have a couple of beers that’s if you weren’t required for – like the infantry section couldn’t – couldn’t drink if they were on thing. The theatre couldn’t drink, the transport couldn’t drink if they had other tasks and things like that and that sort of thing happened at the CO’s discretion.
So how did you unwind after a long day? What sort of things did you like to do?
My only thing was to try and have a hot shower. Now we were very restricted. I think the males had – we had, must’ve been two each week and the ladies had two also. Everybody had a little bird bath in their room. We had a bucket and a little heater and you’d plug into the electricity the engineers supplied and it would heat up the water and you would tip it into a
like a shower pail and pull it up and get under it and wet up and soap up and keep the rest of the water for washing it off. Hygiene and washing, we only had a couple of machines, were paramount and especially with a large contingent of female soldiers we – yeah you had to bide your time to get in there. Either two or three showers a week, hot showers run by the engineers but
if the machine broke down everybody was in the same boat. You didn’t have a chance.
I bet you enjoyed a nice long one when you got home?
Well some of things, like people ask, “What are you going to do most regularly when you get home?” One was showers. The second most important thing was to flush the toilet whenever you liked because we used to have to carry jerry cans to the toilet. It was a sewerage system but it wasn’t connected. There was no water supply so you had to – and one was drink milkshakes and have ice-creams. They were some of the things but the main
one was stuck with showering and flushing the toilet whenever you could.
Interviewee: Robert Moss Archive ID 2135 Tape 06
I wanted to ask you about whether there were demonstrations against the UN?
Only one that comes to mind and it was a large scale demonstration in so much as that the OC of the rifle company, the protection squad, made everybody don their kevlar jackets and flak jackets and stand in the perimeter along the inside of the fence
just in case. So he had thought that it warranted that response and that everybody was on standby too. That was the major one and the only major one I remember.
You mentioned a helmet and flak jacket what else were you issued with in terms of your personal kit?
We all had our own rifle a Steyr, a FAE [Fuel Air Explosive], Steyr ammunition.
Infantry had more ammunition than the support services who had more ammunition than the medical staff. Medical staff have theirs, I believe, only for protection of their patients. There was also an APC [armoured personnel carrier] with fifty calibre machine guns on it and other weapons available to them.
In terms of your personal kit that you had to take, did you have your basic uniform?
webbing, basic pouches, sleeping gear, a trunk with spare uniforms and other equipment commensurate to your trade to a forty four kilo limit. Then we were issued helmets and flak jackets in country.
Were they UN flak jackets and helmets?
Some were blue, some were
olive drab and the flak jackets were olive drab Australian issue.
Other than the actual demonstration you spoke about were there regular acts of intimidation or hostility?
Oh there was some verbal abuse mainly at people that were guarding the hospital, not so
much at us and some at some of the camps they visited around the area.
I’d like to ask you about the camps, the first one you visited was it Kibuye?
Yeah I went to Kibuye a couple of times originally when it was called a displacements camp I would say in an excess of fifty thousand people there living under
tents and tarpaulins and makeshift accommodation. I went there again in late April after the massacre and could not believe the transformation that happened at that area. There was thousands of displaced people waiting to be transported out of. The day that I visited there was a small
structure within the camp itself where some of the hard liners were billeted up trying to resist deportation for one reason or another and the RPA had surrounded that vicinity and were patrolling it quite regularly and our soldiers on the protection party were making sure that we were safe
and they had a hospital CCS, casualty clearing station, operating right through for wounded, sick, injured people yeah.
What was the purpose of your first visit to the camp?
More or less a familiarisation of the area and anything that they believe that we may need to lend support to. I set a
field kitchen at the Kibuye camp which was some thirty kilometres from that. So that was part of the familiarisation that I had to make sure that I knew where the cooks were going, how far we had to transport food if need be to a certain area and where we could site the kitchen and take rations to and from. That it was familiarisation exercise for me.
So how far was the camp from the hospital?
Two hours, minimum. It was a fair way south.
And the displaced – these were people displaced internally within Rwanda?
Some were displaced internally or definite refugee status but others were people hiding within the masses of a concentrated area – hiding from the Rwanda Patriotic Army through fear of being
the wrong ethnic or doing something for the previous government.
And the camps were overseen by the UN? Was it an official camp Kibuye?
Kibuye was an official camp. The UN had supplied a lot of the tarpaulins and they’d put the Zambians in there as guards on the top of the hill to oversee some of things yeah. A lot of that stuff that I wasn’t directly
responsible or interested in at the initial stage because it wasn’t pertaining to my job.
Was there a refugee processing facility there of some form?
No, no, no, no.
People just biding time?
Yeah, yeah, congregated and bide their time there yeah, yeah. It was a safe haven for them initially. That’s why they congregated there.
Were the engineers
contributing to the water supply there or things like that?
Not far from there the engineers were supplying potable water to various areas.
And the purpose setting up a field kitchen there was for the UN staff who were working there or the UN soldiers?
The original field kitchen was going to be with the Ghanaians which was a transportable distance for food, hot food, to be transported in case we needed to do it to the Kibuye area which proved,
later on after the massacre, that we needed a kitchen there. We were supplying hot breakfast and hot dinner to our troops who were then taking a ration pack for their lunchtime meal to Kibuye.
So the field kitchen wasn’t actually set up at the camp?
No not at Kibuye, no, yeah.
How far away were…?
I would say thirty kilometres, yeah.
And that’s where they would retire to sleep of an evening?
Yes, they would go up in the
morning come back of an afternoon and then stay there overnight under protection.
Were there particular challenges that you faced in terms of setting up a field kitchen at that location?
Yes there was the site for one. Making sure we had good drainage, good solid soil because it was getting into the wet season. Two was the transportation of
all rations down there. Three was the communication to make sure that the ration packs were right, that we had food for the next day and we were able to get the transport to go down there during the day because there was no travel at night time.
And was there actual safety in terms of defensive?
We were defended well by the Ghanaians. They had a big camp there so we were attached to part of that.
And was that yourself and your
sergeant who decided on sites or decided on that site?
Well I decided on the site ‘cause I was the only one that went there and I decided which staff went and what rotation and how long they would go. The OC tasked me with specific duties and I fulfilled it.
You needed to understand your staff very intimately.
It sounds like you needed to know who was capable of what, where people were at emotionally, who could stand certain jobs.
Yeah there were certain people that because of their inexperience in operational duties, we were all inexperienced in operations, but inexperienced in field situations that didn’t even get considered for the rotation to the bush kitchen. That’s correct and there were certain people, through no fault of their own,
due to their good experience that I wished to retain at Kigali so I knew that while the other people were absent that the main kitchen would run successfully at all times. Either be it whether my sergeant was away visiting the camp or I was away, that we could rely on the staff back there. A lot of that came into consideration and the people I chose for the initial one did a magnificent job and received
quite a few accolades for the good work they did down there.
Did you have to alter your leadership style or did you learn new aspects of leadership in terms of managing your men and balancing the need for morale and discipline?
I think throughout my senior NCO [Non Commissioned Officer] career that my leadership style didn’t vary too much. As for learning new leadership skills
I thought just honing a few of them. I didn’t believe in coercion as a leadership skill so to be firm, yes, when needed but also praise more so than – a willing worker and get more out of them. So I think it was just a refinement of the leadership skills that I had inherited throughout my career.
I think you might’ve mentioned before you didn’t have any problems with people who couldn’t cope amongst your group, who couldn’t cope with the situation?
We didn’t have. We had a few minor problems and everybody would have. There were a couple of things like pay wasn’t going through to family allotments and things like that. A small injury or somebody thought they were being picked on. They were the sort of things we used to talk about after the work had
finished, say, “All right the rest of you can go but I want you to stay. All right now so and so has told me today that you’ve been up to see them and you didn’t have my permission, right, now I want to know what’s going on? You come through me if there’s a problem I’ll go and talk to the boss. I’ve got direct access right whereas you haven’t”. So small things nipped in the bud before they could mount into
Could you tell me… you also had detachments that were leaving from Kigali who would be sent out to field operations. How frequent was that?
We had – I suppose every couple of weeks we had detachments
leaving either for the orphanage, Madame Carr’s orphanage, visiting different UN Forces camps where the medical might go to do a health check or the dental, or the health organisation people might want to go and look at the situation. They need a protection party, who needed feeding and so hence needed transport. It rolls down the line
that catering has to come in. You’re not going to send them out on ration packs so you say, right, we need one cook or two cooks. Normally just one in the small things, two at the big exercises and at one stage, three because I went down there. But they were – Madame Carr’s orphanage was probably the second biggest one we had, where we would go up and help because we couldn’t put the pressure on her staff to feed the army while they
were in situation.
What sort of things would you have to consider in determining, in planning, for sending out detachments?
The availability of all the rations, the availability of staff because don’t forget we had leave, we had a couple of sicknesses. That would determine who we sent and what rations we sent, how long it was for.
You don’t want people to be away and then when they come back in something has changed within the routine and they don’t fully understand it. It takes them a couple of days to get back into it. You’ve got to look at a variety of things.
And would that be based on reports from intelligence officers about how far and likeliness of conditions and things that they’re going to cover?
It would be placed on intelligence report but not a greater degree because
if we were going it would’ve been a pretty safe type area . If there was a tough area maybe they would suggest they go on ration packs to start with and limit the people to the professional soldier himself.
So generally you would be briefed by a CO or someone from a unit who was being sent out to a particular location?
They would brief other people and our OC would go to the commander’s
brief and then he would come back and disseminate the information and say, “I want you to go away, this is the situation, come up with a plan, who are we going to send.” And he had the overall say if I said, “I’m going to send private so and so.” and he says well, “Didn’t they go last time?” And I’d say, “Yeah but they are good.” And he’d say, “But aren’t you flogging the willing worker?” So all these things and he would have the overall say but generally I’d say ninety nine percent of that time
he went by my decisions and there was no problems.
You mentioned leave, what would you do for leave?
We were sent to Nairobi. We had I think two days leave every two months and the UN flew us to Nairobi and we stayed in the Nairobi Hilton and had a good time and then came back to Kigali and straight on to your job. Then we had a –
everybody got a ten day leave. I think it was ten days, yeah and the UN or the Australian Government, I’m not too sure, placed a point in the compass at Kigali and drew a fifteen hundred kilometre circle. You could go anywhere in that fifteen hundred kilometres for free. If you went out of it you had to pay. Some people choose to come back to Australia. I chose to go to England with a friend of mine and visit some
sights I’d already been to and he had relations there because I didn’t think coming home was a good idea because getting back into the family atmosphere, seeing my grandchildren again and then having to go away again . I rang up Lyn and she said, “Oh well yeah, it’s probably the best idea.” So we went to England and had a very good time.
Ten days in amongst the madness of your six months?
Well it was quite funny. We went to
Heathrow Airport and we both had very short hair, both wearing virtually the same gear, both carrying big heavy green bags and a police with an automatic weapon said, “I want to speak to you pair. Put your bags down now.” And we thought, “My God!” And we showed him, once we showed him our ID he said, “Oh sorry fellas, sorry, my mistake, carry on, away you go.” I thought, “My God!” Just because we were
dressed differently and carrying bags they pulled us up and give us the quick ten.
And tell me about Nairobi.
Beautiful place if you’re rich. There’s only the very, very rich and the very, very poor in Nairobi. There’s no in between. I think there’s fourteen million people in Kenya, ten million live in Nairobi area. Some nice places to go for
dinner but only as a group. Staying at the Hilton cost you a fortune but the UN was paying for the accommodation so it wasn’t too bad. We learnt to go to a couple of really out of the way places for a cheap breakfast- only two dollars. [It was] fourteen dollars in the Hilton, two dollars at this other place so we ventured out there but only as a group and you weren’t there long enough. You arrived in the afternoon, got settled in,
had a few drinks, went to bed, got up had a look around and the next day you were on the plane back to Kigali. It was very brief but very good, a relaxing thing. Met heaps of Canadians there.
And you did actually travel to Uganda at some point amongst your …?
Yeah I went up to Uganda with Captain John McInerney. We had a bit of a problem with some of
rationing that was coming from Uganda. Believe it or not, it was too much meat in the sausages. Strange. People in Australia don’t – there’s only about – in Australia, I think there’s only about thirty three percent meat per sausage. We were getting about a hundred percent and they wouldn’t eat them. It wasn’t a sausage as – and we were wasting rations so a chance came up to go to Uganda to see the contractor
so the boss said, “You should go.” And so we talked him into putting less meat into these sausages if he wanted to keep the contract. It was three days. [It] was very interesting, very different country. [It was] a bit harrowing going from Rwanda to Uganda because we had to leave all our weapons with the protection party that took us up to the border, had to go through all their customs and that and then
walk across what they call ‘no man’s land’ which is an area between Uganda and Rwanda and then enter into the Ugandan area.
And Uganda had been somewhat of a breeding ground for the RPA hadn’t it?
Oh it certainly had. It was the home breeding area. They were given moral, monetary, arms, everything sort of support for the
invasion or the – of Rwanda, that they could want. A lot of ex-pats [expatriates] were still living in Uganda that hadn’t moved across the border yet because it was still uncertain times in Rwanda. No, it was the loved area that’s for sure.
Going without weapons would’ve been scary.
Only for that initial stage to go across the border. Once we were into Uganda we knew we were safe because we took a UN
vehicle and we were told that – very well received at the customs at Uganda. They thought we were very good and that was the army. On the way back we stopped in the middle of no man’s land until we could actually see our protection party arrive before we drove into the Rwandan area so we knew we were safe then.
And was the
contractor a Ugandan man?
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Was that an interesting negotiation?
Well he spoke fluent English. He was well versed, even took us out to dinner so he thought that much of us. He must’ve thought he was going to get some more money or something, I don’t know, but he just couldn’t believe that we wanted to cut down the meat content in the sausages. He said, “Everybody wants a hundred percent meat and here you are telling us to cut it down.”
I don’t want to know what they put in…
sausage meal. All different things into sausages, yeah.
Let’s not talk about it. During your six months did you ever feel that you were part of the country or did you always feel in a sense detached in some way?
would be a better word because the people would only rely on you if there was something in it for themselves. Very few people were friends just because you were an Australian and lesser people would make friends because you were a serviceman. I had a couple of close friends, that I would call and possibly in years to come I might even like to go back there and see but very few people
would make a liaison with you.
The actual location itself, was it a beautiful place? Was it something that you…
It’s a very picturesque area. There is no problem with the scenery or anything in Rwanda. It’s mountainous climate, cool climate at night time.
Was your health okay throughout the time you were there?
Yeah I had no problems. We only had one small scare with health and that was one of my corporal cooks, a Mick Kataya. [He] had a small health scare and they thought it was something to do
with the food and we were all tested, blood tested, and went to the hospital but it proved negative and it was just a one-off thing. We were tested for AIDS [Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome]. I think every month or every fortnight our blood was taken. Lined up like sheep and just… and all the blood then, I believe, was sent to Belgium or Holland somewhere which was
unbelievable because they thought it was second to none – second only to Australia for testing. So it was good but touch wood [fortunately] nobody contracted any diseases.
Was that thought it terms of fraternisation with…
It certainly was because they told us when we went there that ninety percent of the population had AIDS and a hundred percent of the prostitutes had it, don’t do anything. As a matter of fact, a prophylactic was one of the ten things
men had to carry in their survival kit. I don’t know why but it was but…
Was it unlikely that there would’ve been many opportunities for people to get away was there?
Or did soldiers walk freely around streets?
We didn’t walk freely. We used to go to the markets on a Sunday and we went – there was a mass grave that was unearthed very close to the city and we all went down to have a look and
uh… We went to the markets a couple of Sundays but we were always armed but if a soldier wants to do anything there’s no way in the world you are going to stop him doing it, so it was just the precautions were there.
Can you tell me quickly about the markets?
The markets was a big open air market and one of the things that sticks in my mind was the cutting up of the meat. They were using huge
machetes to – and no refrigeration, no nothing. Just cutting up this meat and throwing it into baskets and people walking past saying, “Yes I’ll have this bit.” And, “I’ll have that bit.” And there was all sorts of charcoal for sale, all fruit and vegies was for sale, bananas, mangoes, everything but a real life experience to go just walking through it.
What sort of things would
impact your morale on a day-to-day basis? Was there things that would set you off in either direction?
The inability to contact Australia. We were very restricted. We had phone cards and we had two satellite phones hooked up by Telstra. There was always a queue and if they were out [not working] everybody seemed to get that little bit edgy that they couldn’t have that direct link. Mail
was important. A couple of times the mail was held up, not through our post people’s fault but it was held up and there was a hold up and everybody was a little bit testy. If things didn’t go well in the kitchen all day and I had to reprimand staff, of course that affects you but I would say the phone and the mail were the biggest things. It was a link to Australia that everybody knew and everybody wanted to get back
Great. I mean this might be a bit obvious but was there a person or a thought that could really sort of lift your spirits?
There was, and I think it was Lyn and my friends from work sent me, and unbeknownst to me and even from Headquarters 11 Brigade, they had a sports day and they took photos and just sent a
nice letter. This girl said, “I don’t even know you but I’ve been asked to write this letter.” and things like that ad hoc make you feel a lot better.
Did you ever fear for your life amongst your time there?
I don’t know about actually fear. I was very startled one morning. Our accommodation used to face a
road and every night armed RPA would go past and look up at the building. Sometimes they’d even point their weapons up there but one morning I was on the phone, about five o’clock, back to Australia. I was talking to Lyn and there was sporadic gunfire in the background and she said, “Oh there’s a car backfiring.” And without even thinking I said, “No it’s a machine gun.” Well she actually went crazy over the phone and it was my fault
‘cause I didn’t think. I thought I was just talking to somebody in Kigali and we heard that all the time so there was always that air of danger. Nobody, I don’t think any, oh one person might’ve been threatened personally but he did something wrong. He probably deserved it but there was always that air of expectancy and it could’ve happened. They couldn’t lull you into false sense of security. That
was always drummed into us by the infantry people. They would always tell you don’t lull, don’t harp on it.
And did you have to go, or did you go through a process of preparing yourself that you may have to kill someone?
Oh once we were coming back from somewhere, I just can’t remember where, and the driver run over – They had a stop point and they had some
cones, them traffic cones, and he’d run over one and they wanted us to put it back in its right place. The bloke said to me and he gibbered in French or something and I said, “Look I can’t understand you.” And so somebody come up and said they wanted us to put the cone back so I was a senior rank and I told the driver don’t get out of your vehicle because you’ll block the rest of the traffic. I said, “I’ll walk back
and I’ll fix the cone up. You just drive.” I said, “I’ll get in the last vehicle.” He said, “All right.” So I took my gun and the bloke saw my rank on my arm and he said, “You are private.” And I said, “Yeah, every bloody private wears one of them mate.” And I said, “You idiot. You don’t know what you’re talking about”. So I went back to shift the cone. Next minute our Land Rover had the protection party in it. The machine gun came scrambling down the road and did a big u-turn and they said, “Get in.” I just jumped in and that was about the only time
and we just had a big laugh but it was – originally, it was no laughing matter but I just didn’t want the private getting out of the vehicle because it would’ve held up the rest of the vehicles .
Did you go through a process of thinking, “Well I’m, you know, this is the real deal. I have been in the army for a long time but I may have to kill someone here?”
I thought that I wouldn’t let him and the rest of the people behind, cause we were in the middle of the
convoy, get held up so I said, “I’ll do it.” and I probably did it unthinkingly. That if it, if push came to shove [if necessary], what I was going to do. I didn’t have any idea. The only idea I had was to get into the last vehicle that was coming through but they’d already radioed ahead and got the infantry section to come back. That was unknown to me. I wasn’t aware what was going on. I think it was just, “I’ll do it. You can drive
I just wanted to talk to you about what would’ve been one of the lowest points to you on the trip- revisiting the Kibuye camp the second time after the massacre had just occurred. Can you tell me how long ago the massacre had occurred and what was the context for you visiting?
All right. The 25th of April the massacre had occurred I think. I went up on the 28th or 29th, I’m not too precise on the
date. I originally went to the camp where my field kitchen was, spoke to the cooks, spoke to the store person and ascertained how many ration packs we had – how much rations we had brought down, the stuff we needed. I was with the CSM Peter Young and he said, “I’m going up to the camp. Do you want to come?” I said, “Look, I don’t know.” And he said, “I don’t know either.” It was just two warrant officers talking
together and he said, “I want – would you come with me.” And I said, “All right, I’ll go up with you.” And I went up there totally unprepared for the disaster that I saw. I went into the small enclosure when I got there, assisted a couple of women, carried stretchers or their gear out to the casualty clearing station. I was told by the diggers that there were bodies here, there, everywhere and they were pointing them out.
But I just wasn’t prepared and neither was the CSM. We just – when we got back, we had to stay overnight at the camp, and he said to me, “What do you reckon?” I said, “I don’t reckon anything.” I said, “I’m not talking any more.”
Was it an Australian casualty clearing station?
Yes, set up by a Major Carol Vaughan Evans, was the original person. I don’t
know who was in charge the day I got there. She was a doctor and her and the CSM of the hospital, Scott, and the protection party and [during] the original thing did a magnificent job and received full bravery awards for doing it. Major, now Major Steve Tilbrook received one for his [role]. He was in charge of the protection party. It was pretty harrowing and
they received their awards for the initial thing. Then I think nearly everybody went through Kibuye in a period of time, either as a protection party or driver or something. I know there was a lot of people went there.
Was the casualty clearing station set up in response to the massacre or was it in place beforehand?
No it was set up
in immediate response to the massacre on – I believe it was the 25th of April.
And is that why the field kitchen had been set up as well, to support them?
The field kitchen went down to the Ghanaians in direct support of the casualty clearing station.
Also in response to the massacre?
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Were reports given to you of what actually happened there?
We got a pretty first hand
report from our photographer who actually took the first video of the massacre and did an estimated kill count. Then the Rwandans came on the radio and everything else the national, the CNN [US Cable News Network] news and that, said there was only ten killed or fifteen and they run into barbed wire or something. But we believed it was in excess of a couple of thousand killed.
And that had been done with machine guns and…?
guns, rifle fire, yeah and even machetes I believe. I’m not too sure on that but from some first hand reports I heard, yeah.
Do you know what happened with the Ghanaian guards there? Whether the UN…
The Zambian guards on top of the hill?
They stayed in situ. They were very well fortified: sandbagged, barbed wire, the lot and they repelled people trying to get into their
And they couldn’t, but they couldn’t directly get involved in what was happening because there was…
No, no, no. That’s part of the rules of engagement I believe.
I guess this is probably a time to talk
[about] whether you had – whether religious faith was important to you and whether that was enhanced or affected by your experiences?
I’ve never been a really religious person even though I was brought up that way but it does, you do draw on something. My mother used to send letters and she’s fairly religious and say things in it. I had long talks with a padre
even though he wasn’t of Catholic persuasion. A very knowledgeable chap, very easy to talk to and you find yourself revealing things that you don’t think you’re going to. So I think it strengthened, yeah, yeah, especially his words. He had to be everybody’s friend. I don’t know how he could do it but he was absolutely marvellous and
you could swear and he wouldn’t take one –he wouldn’t blink and he would say, “What did you say?” I think that it can only build on our own individual strengthens and draw [on it] especially with a person like him yeah.
Who was he?
The chaplain? I could find you his name if you like. It’s in my book. I know him very well but his name’s just escaped me.
And he was part of the support?
He was the support
chaplain, he was on the second rotation.
It would be quite a role of responsibility wouldn’t it? He really would’ve been a counsellor for most people.
He was. Everybody would talk to him. He held ninety percent of his ‘conferences’ as he used to call them, on the balcony. Everyone would say, “Excuse me padre, can I have chat to you?” Or you know or ‘Father’ even though he said don’t. He would – I met him a couple of year’s later at the memorial for the Black Hawks
and he said yeah, he said, “How are you?” and came over and saw me straight away.
How did you deal with or what did you do with that suffering? Like what could you, how could you rationalise that or deal with it?
Some of it you spent in pent-up anger at times at people that probably didn’t deserve all of it. [They] might’ve deserved a bit of a razzing but
you gave a little bit more and other people, especially my sergeant, Peter Whitten, would probably say, “Weren’t you a little bit hard on them boss?” And I thought afterwards, “Was I?” And he’d say, “Well, tonight we’re going to have a couple of beers in the kitchen, right?” And he’d say, “We’ll talk to Private So and So about it.” And after a couple of beers at night time, he’d say, “Yeah I think you were pretty hard on me today boss. I really
didn’t do that.” And I said, “Well, that’s already been brought to my attention. I apologise for sixty percent of the razzing you got, okay?” I said, “But what brought your thing on?” And he said, “I don’t really know.” And I said, “Well you should think about that too.” So… but Peter was good. He would talk. A few times I had to check him, you know, but
I think that everybody irrespective of what corps or what rank, could offer you a little bit of comfort, a little of bit of guidance, yeah, guidance.
Interviewee: Robert Moss Archive ID 2135 Tape 07
Robert I was wondering if you could tell me, at the time or in the years since, how you’ve rationalised what you did see or what your thoughts are now, in how people within a society like that were able to treat each other in that way? And how you’ve…
Looking back, in hindsight, it was probably better for me not to go.
I took a lot of it to heart and it had some severe effects on my health over a period of years. I can talk and relate to other service people, no problems, about different things and most of my friends are only service people.
So it’s hard just to sit down and say you did go, you saw what you saw but you can’t put it behind you and you can’t block it out. The hardest thing for me was any children getting hurt. I just, for some unknown reason, I just can’t cop that. It was probably one of the things
that probably would’ve brought me closer to gunfire than anything else is to see a child getting beaten or something so…
Were you aware at the time of the scale of the impact that it was having on you?
No, everybody thought they were bullet-proof. It’s just one of them things. It’s a funny thing that when they send over the psychological team for assessment, I was
talking to another warrant officer and he said, “Have you got to come down for an evaluation?” And I said, “Look I don’t need one.” And he said, “Oh just come down and have a chat to me about anything.” And I spent two hours with him and I didn’t – the time just flew past and I said, “Oh what are we going to talk about?” At the end of that and he said, “Now you’ve had your evaluation.” They were marvellous people. I think one of the problems was they didn’t do a follow up as well as
I expected. When we came home we were sent some pro formas about different things that had happened and I wrote back and said, “Yeah this happened and that.” There was no follow up. We sent all this information away and nothing, nothing ever sent back and I was very dirty on the army especially the psychological
unit at that time. I wouldn’t even talk. If somebody rang me up and said, “This, this and this.” And I said, “I’m not talking to you.” I’m led to believe now it’s a lot better but I think if they had some sort of system in place at that stage, they should’ve implemented or worked better than what they did.
So it seemed that they had some more things in place as a result of probably the Vietnam experience, it wasn’t really followed through? Is that what you…
No, no, no,
no. I think it’s more in relation since Timor. I think it’s come home since Timor. Not since Somalia or Rwanda or Cambodia. I think it’s more Timor that’s brought it to light.
So there was the gesture of psychological counselling but wasn’t followed through…
I reckon it was a lip service. Irrespective of what the bloke wrote on his report about anybody, I think they carte blanche sent a report to – a follow up
survey to everybody. And all I think it did was some university person got a good draft or a good tick in their thesis book and never followed up on it.
And what do you think the attitude was amongst the people who had gone there? Was there still lip service paid to that by the servicemen as well, that wouldn’t necessarily want to admit or?
Oh there were a few bones of contention because it still goes very
deep with a lot of people. Rwanda won the first bravery award since Vietnam and yet they still don’t get recognised for war service so there are a few things like that happened that are a flow-on thing. I don’t know if you know anything about the Clark Review. It was a review. I think they had something like twelve or fifteen hundred submissions put in since
the atomic testing in Maralinga to the British Commonwealth Occupation Force of Japan for recognition of service and all that. They put all these things to the government that a, b and c should’ve happened. Originally the government wasn’t even going to process it. It was only [due to] the revolt of the backbenchers that they said, “Oh we’ll do something about it.” I think there is too much of this paid lip service
to and I think only the psychological element of the PSTD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] and I know now the Vietnam Counselling Service has taken on a whole lot of vets from Cambodia, Rwanda, Somalia, Timor, that the government’s starting to say maybe there is something wrong here . It’s a bit of a – a bit of a bun fight for me. I just…
only the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs doesn’t come into my good books. She won’t get a Christmas card anyway.
Are you ever to say whether it was particular incidents or moments or visions or images that…
No, I just think it’s a combination over a period of time over the six months. Some people that
that you can’t even find any more. It’s just like the Vietnam era where somebody went bush and hasn’t come out of the closet for thirty seven years. There’s a couple of Rwandan vets that I know that have disappeared off the face – the face of the earth. And it’s affected some people pretty bad. A friend of mine just recently, you know, stable job for twenty odd years, same firm,
‘poof!’ just blew. Just went into the boss and nearly smacked him in the mouth so and they said, “What’s wrong with you?”
Is it an anxiety or a tension?
It’s definitely a combination of a lot, depression, anxiety, tension, stress, yeah.
How has that played itself out in your life since then? How long was it after you returned that you started to notice it and how has it impacted you since then?
Well it was
two years after I returned before I admitted something was wrong. My GP [General Practitioner] knew earlier but said that I wouldn’t respond to any treatment because I was in denial. It turned me into an alcoholic and a lot of other mates of mine and until you self admit that
you have a problem and ask for some sort of… rehabilitation process. I’ve been to Greenslopes nut ward [hospital] yeah so…
What was hard for you to admit there in those two years? What do you think stopped you?
That definitely something was wrong. See I couldn’t relate to my grandkids any longer and
I could only talk to very few people. I lost my job ‘cause only one or two people supported you. The rest just said, “Oh you’re an alcoholic.” They don’t know what’s wrong with you. And if it wasn’t for somebody telling me
about this one doctor I probably would’ve went of the rails.
Who’s your doctor?
Doctor Michael Whiteley.
And he’s experienced in helping Vietnam veterans?
He’s a fantastic shrink yeah. He’s helped more vets than DVA want to admit. He’s probably a thorn in their side because I think ninety nine percent of his
customers are vets and get all approved with conditions cause he’s so meticulous in his paperwork.
So it’s through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs that you’re being looked after?
Have your medical…
Yeah I’m a full TPI [Totally and Permanently Incapacitated pensioner] now yeah.
Have you been happy with the way they’ve supported you since…
Oh I can’t complain about Veterans’ Affairs. No, they do a very good job.
It’s just that they’re bound by, I think, some constraints that are written in black and white and aren’t open to interpretations. If you write something and you say ‘a’, ‘b’ and ‘c’ is wrong with you and just because they’ve only got ‘a’ and ‘b’ in their book, they say, “Oh you don’t fall into our category.” I just think it should be open to human intervention rather than a piece of
paper. And this piece of paper and putting that one over and if the holes don’t match up then you’re out on your arse.
Can I ask you more broadly whether your experiences… you spoke about how difficult it was to see children being hurt; has it made your own family more important or your appreciation for your kids and grandkids?
My family has always been very important and more so my grandkids yeah. I’d
probably be the grandfather who spoils his kids the most. No, I think it makes you appreciate it more than anything.
You said, I think you said before, that you wished you hadn’t gone now.
If one had the – had hindsight, you could look in and see five years down the track what will happen to me, I should’ve probably missed the boat and
just stayed off it instead of running to catch up with it and jump on it. I’d much rather be working in a normal civvy [civilian] job not having a wife that has to look after me. Not being able to drive.
It’s part of that career of the professional soldier isn’t it?
You’re right on the end of your career and you’re almost gone from it.
Well when I came home the commander
of 11 Brigade, Peter Sideberry said to me, “If there’s anything wrong.” and he must’ve picked it straight away he said, “Don’t forget you’re a member of the family. We’ll just look after you.” And that’s what the army does. It just looks after you but you can’t just keep staying in the army. When you get a certain age you’ve got to get out. Like a couple of my friends, good friends, they’re Vietnam vets and one’s a Somalian vet
and one another bloke is a Rhodesian vet and he’s just like – Vietnam vets just say… they just call you a brother. They say you’re in the brotherhood now. It’s just – the Rhodesian vet he just says, “Look mate, I don’t know what you went through ‘cause we had a piece of cake in Rhodesia.”
So what is it about that brotherhood? Is it just an understanding or an acceptance?
Oh, it’s ‘you’ve been there done that’. You can relate so easily to them. People can’t talk about certain things but with another vet it doesn’t hurt to cry in front of a vet. They understand.
Do you have an association that you’re a part of?
Yeah. I’m with the TPI Association, totally and permanently incapacitated in Townsville. They send me monthly newsletters. I can go down there, [it’s] just that the distance prohibits me attending all their functions and get togethers but I go to counselling once a month in Townsville and I’ve been to
the Vietnam Veterans’ Counselling Service on numerous occasions. Wayne Scott there, the manager, is very good. I can ring him up. I can ring up the head of DVA in Townsville whenever I like. He’s given me his straight through phone number. They’re very good people and very supportive.
The TPI association- another very important support structure?
numerous ways of support. They offer get togethers. As I said I just can’t get to them all. They offer monthly newsletters. They offer you fact sheets on DVA about anything you want to know. You can ring them up and if it’s not in their newsletter they’ll find out the information and publish it and send it to you.
How important is Anzac Day to you?
Oh it’s the day
that you go back to your father, your grandfather and you just say like – and you meet vets from any era and you can just sit down and talk to them and you meet young blokes you know like my son. I think he did about four trips to
Timor or something and he’s got a swag of medals and he just says, “Look, we just want to go and sit with you blokes.” You see all these young blokes. They come in and you give the kids, I give my grandkids a medal each to wear on Anzac Day or a ribbon or something and they’re as proud as could be.
What is about Australian that is worth fighting for?
It’s not the bloody politicians that’s for sure, no…
What is that makes you proud of your uniform as you said before and proud of Anzac Day?
Well I could be called a royalist but I swore allegiance to the Queen. I wore the uniform for more than twenty five years and I believe that
Australia’s worth fighting for. Not like the bleeding hearts society or the hairy armpit brigade mob or that … An old digger said to me, he said, “Until Australia has blood shed on its soil it’ll never be any good.” But, you know, I’d fight for it tomorrow.
How do you feel about how the Rwandan
peacekeeping mission is perceived in the broader community or even the lack of awareness about it, is that, how do you feel about that?
It was hard to take onboard certain aspects of it and those being that that it was treated just as a peacekeeping force. Now we were armed, we had rules of engagement and there was some shiny arse bloke in Canberra
that probably never went anywhere that made a decision. Now there’s peacekeeping, there’s peacemaking and there’s warlike and non-warlike and all that, that determines what category it falls into. Now I believe that it should be made by defence personnel. And even for the numeration of tax, that we got taxed over there. You know we’re having a little bit of a stoush [fight] with the taxation office. Yet
the Solomon Isles and Bougainville who never carried a gun get tax exempt. You know, some things stick in your craw. Some things you’ve got to take with a grain of salt and say all right that happened but I believe in the veteran community. Rwanda vets are held in high esteem especially by Vietnam vets because we had no rules of engagement. You couldn’t…
you know … we only had a x number of rounds. They said they had forty four gallon drum fulls around. They said, and I’ve heard numerous Vietnam vets say, “We’ve got to take our hats off to you.”
So you recognise a lot of similarities between the Vietnam experience and Rwanda in the sense of the enemy not being clear, there not being a front line per se?
Oh I think, no, because in Vietnam anything in a certain hour and
in an area was perceived to be the bad guy. We had them standing across the road from us holding hands with AK47’s and they weren’t perceived to be the enemy, so no. I just think they really understand the differences and for some unknown reason can assimilate very quickly because as I’ve said I’ve had numerous blokes say to me, “I wouldn’t have been in your shoes.” he said, “Ours
What are you feelings about Australia contributing to peacekeeping, peacemaking United Nations roles around the world?
Well we’ve been paying our contribution to the United Nations since, well you know, since the League of Nations and always got on the back burner for either political reasons or I think in some religious beliefs. We’re there,
we’re a pretty big force to be contended with and we’re paying all this money. We should be there [and] able to say something [and] do our thing. We’ve had peacekeepers in the Golan Heights and Israel and Turkey area for twenty years or thirty years but nobody knows about them so we’re just showing now a bit more front
and it’s a good thing. It should be you know. It made Peter Cosgrove. He was a major general. Now he’s Chief of the Army or Chief of the Defence Force. My God, nobody ever heard of him before he went to Timor.
So you’re saying Timor was showing more front?
Yeah. I think Cambodia, Timor, definitely the Solomons yeah, yeah.
As in taking a leading role?
it’s all Pacific areas, all rimmed area where we’re probably the biggest. Not from population, like Indonesia flogs [beats] us, but we’re a big area compared to all them other little nations around the area and we seem to be sitting back doing nothing. We’ve got to take a bit of a forward step
and say, “Look, we think we’re big enough to deal with the situation and contribute to a multi-national force.”
So despite what you’ve been through you still believe in the importance of Australia taking on leading roles within UN?
Certainly yeah, yeah, yeah.
Particularly in the Pacific?
Oh Pacific area yeah definitely, yeah region yeah. ‘Cause you know like we’re paying
over what? Twenty something million a year for aid to New Guinea and that’s run by a bunch of bandits so, you know, the same thing happened in the Solomons. The only really good country closer by is New Zealand and that’s because ninety percent of the people are living in Manly, so I don’t know.
What do you see as the main impediments to the UN being able to be more effective in peacekeeping operations
like you experienced in Rwanda?
The UN is a toothless tiger. It’s got to pass resolutions, it’s got to pass mandates, it’s got to do this and certain countries, France, Russia, I think America, have, because of their size or that, have a deciding or a casting vote. If it’s a bit of an American ally they won’t vote against it so
the UN’s you know… and if it’s a Russian ally they won’t vote against it and the same with the Germans. They’ve got squillion dollar deals with some country or they’ll just say, “Oh we abstain.” So therefore it’s a fantastic building in America but I just don’t think they’ve got the punch or the power to go with their punch.
And yet you still support it?
Oh of course. Oh the concept [is]
right, yeah. I don’t think that all them other countries should have the power. I think if one country, irrespective of what size that you are, should – if fifty two countries vote ‘yes’ and because one’s a super power or one’s a …. vote on the, I don’t know what’s it’s called, some special committee within the UN, vote against it they won’t go. That’s not how it should work. It should say we’ve got fifty to
fifty two and we’ve got fifty against so fifty two wins.
What is it about the United Nations model that you do like that appeals to you to send Australia to fight for?
Probably their original charter- to have that fairness to go in and protect the under person, right. That’s, if you look across the board at 99.9 of the UN thing, that’s what they’ve gone into for; humanitarian and suffering reasons. They haven’t gone in
to start a stoush, right. They’ve gone in to watch and to help whether it be IEG [UNAMIR: United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda] Rwanda, with medical mission. Right. Their original concept is very good and it’s worth a lot of countries taking a second look at themselves and backing it up instead of just – I think it’s only four countries or five countries that have this controlling vote so…
Why was it important
for you to speak to us today?
It came out of the blue uh… I deliberated against it and I thought it was an honour. And… to have my thing recorded for the Australian Archives or museum. It’s got to be a dead-set [certain] honour. I don’t think… I’ve spoken to people,
vets, and they said, “How the bloody hell did you get chosen?” And I said, “I didn’t, they rang me up.” and I just think the way that the staff – I believe it’s in Canberra, correct me if I’m wrong, rang me and portrayed the whole thing and had the patience to sit down and explain and then take my initial interview. Over the interview it just showed what a professional bunch of people
they are and the follow up service. You’re just second to none.
I just want to thank you very much.
Oh thank you.
It’s really been an honour for us and I just want to thank you for being so open and sharing. You know, a lot of personal and private experiences for you but I pass on how important it is we have that story recorded.
Thanks, Simon [interviewer].
You’re more than welcome.
Cheers. Thank you, Robert.