We’ll start David by just getting you to give us a life summary, a brief summary of when you were born, where you were born to the present day?
Well all right, well my mother was on her way back from Casino to Sydney and my family, which is Bunzi, come from the Beagle [?] which is a town inland of Grafton and Mum was due to
have me and consequently she got off the train at Grafton where I was born, at South Grafton Hospital, so that’s the home turf anyway. So stayed there for seven days or so until she was well enough to travel again and continued our trip down to Sydney. And Mum being a single parent and so forth and having to work most of my upbringing was by my grandmother, so consequently I went back up to Beagle and then we moved on up to Casino,
where we were on the Miston’s property for a while, which is on the southern side of the river and then the majority of older Aboriginals moved from the main town out to the Victory Army Camp, which is on Kyogle Road, which is where I stayed until I was of school age. And then yeah, we used to come into, I started off at primary school
which is part of the Casino High School, and then completed the West End Primary School and we were the first students basically to start at West End Primary School. Used to have to let me out sometimes ten or fifteen minutes earlier because the gangs couldn’t get me because I was a mouthy little sort of a chappie and didn’t step back for anybody if I could help it. So it was a quick get home before they got me, yeah but it was a
experience I suppose. I wasn’t too keen on the Indians always losing the battles and a lot of other things I noticed as a kid but I always knew one day that I would a big gentleman, a big man and maybe I could make a difference.
Brisbane, and started school there, we lived in Arthur Street in New Farm and I remember my grandmother taking me to school and by the time, she was still in the headmaster’s office signing the papers and I’d already been in a fight and beat her home. So unbeknownst to me at the time the head principal got onto the school and said, “There’ll be no
racism in his school.” and so forth. That guy I had a fight with became my best mate anyway, Allan and after, because Mum was still working in Sydney she would send, of course we got the endowment but she’d send extra money up to Grandma to raise me and Mum’s other’s sisters, which is my aunties, they all lived in the house too and worked in Brisbane so life was pretty good. I was the only boy in the sort of, in that circumstances amongst all the ladies and I was probably spoilt rotten but
I had to perform anyway and do the chores and so forth and yeah it was interesting and they had a major influence on my upbringing and I think it’s just because of that TLC [tender loving care] that I managed to weather the storm when things were difficult. And there was a couple of the, who later became uncles, there was a couple of those gentlemen that used to advise me but I always had the backup of family, which is more than most kids get.
Or did you move back down to Sydney after that?
No, after New Farm Public Farm, then my auntie and uncle got married and they moved to Dunwich Island near Stradbroke Island, so I went to Dunwich Public School and that’s where I got my first horse, which was a brumby and yeah, my uncle got that for me. Yeah,
and there was a large Aboriginal population that used to work the sand and mineral mines on Dunwich Island and those were good days, just a pair of shorts and a tee shirt or a shirt and no shoes and that was a good life, fishing and all those sort of things that are good for kids and yeah, back to Brisbane and then I went to, Gran and them had moved and that was, we went to Gregory Terrace. That was a Catholic school up near
Boundary Street, over towards, I can’t even remember the name of the suburb but yeah that was, I stayed there for a little while and we managed to buy a house out at Paddington in Brisbane in Central Road and that’s where I went to, I was onto high school at that time and yeah, it was pretty, well in Queensland system you go from Grade 1 right through to Grade 8 but I mean the high school was attached as part of the school.
And then another auntie got married and an uncle moved up that was a rugby league player, and they moved up to Mackay in Queensland and consequently I was a security blanket and I went up to live in Queensland for a while, right up north of Queensland I should say and as a result of that I used to ride a horse ten mile to school and yeah, that was different. Had to cut cane and help auntie with the chores and all the rest of it and
also he moved to another farm then at Beatrice Creek. There was only fourteen in that school and same deal and seven mile it was to school.
which you learn those skills pretty early. And as a result of that I stayed up there for a while and then came back to Brisbane where I was back at Etherta Creek and I used to train at South’s, not South’s, Lang Park Police Boys’ Club and yeah there was a couple of seminars on up there at the Railway Institute and I just happened to be at one of them. Why I don’t know, I think the aunties took me in and someone noticed me gobbing off I suppose in the gallery and
offered me a scholarship down here in Sydney, back to Sydney, which I did come down to do.
Primary here in Sydney and that’s basically when I was eight years old and that’s when I realised that I was a black man because we’d just finished playing basketball against Crown Street Primary and Eddie called me a black fellow so I gave him a flogging and then I remembered looking back and thinking, “Well what did he do?” I went back and said, “Why did you call me that?” And he said, “Because you are.” and I had a look at the duco and I said, “Gee, he’s right this lad.” I was probably in the advanced class.
I was eight years old when I realised that.
And so after, you finished school and what happened?
I finished, I went to Newtown Tech from when I came back down from Queensland and I started at Tranby Aboriginal College and used to go to Newtown Tech and completed my intermediate and then I went onto Obrox Park, that’s the new school that opened there to go through to Fifth Year and then onto
but I’ll just try and get a quick summary of the jobs you had before you enlisted and then your service?
Well basically I always had a job, whether it be selling papers, collecting bottles at the footy and getting the deposits, helping people in their yards, like when I was up on the cane properties up north I used to help uncle and get paid for that. And yeah, in Sydney it was, even when I was eight or nine years old, round the back streets collecting the bottles. On Show Day at the
Easter Show finding the cars for the blokes that couldn’t find them in Moore Park, they’d give you tuppence or threepence or something like that, so I was never out of work but when I was out of school I started as a cost clerk with the Public Works Department and I worked at Callum Park in Gladesville and I’d been to Rydalmere and then I went to Watson and Crane as a charge hand, which is mainly in the building game and I like the building game. So yeah, they were good years, on the old AMP building,
Australia Square and State Office and a few other buildings in town which are still there, they haven’t been pulled down. Yeah, so that was interesting but conscription come along so my, we all trained and played out of Glebe Police Boys’ before I was graded up into Balmain in the third grade in 63, so my mates were going so I thought, “Oh well, I’ll probably give it a bash as well.”
Queensland and got my auntie to sign the papers for my mother and had an interview and as a result of that, yeah basically that was pretty well much it and the bloke said, “Okay, take the oath.” and I passed the medicals and a psych [psychological] test and I was on the train back to Cerberus or Flinders navy base in Victoria, which was the middle of winter and
it was PT [physical training] and all that sort of stuff and basic naval training for three months. And then straight to the destroyer HMAS Vampire and then on her for nearly two years and in that time we went to Vietnam. I’d done diving courses and so forth and yeah, after Vampire back to, I come off and changed category from steam to diesel main propulsion and did a course in, went to different ships that had diesel engines as their main engines.
And starting from minesweepers and patrol boats to a big maintenance ship called Stalwart to a survey ship called Moresby and also a number of patrol boats and things and which is what happened and eventually submarines. I always wanted to go to submarines and anyway I wanted to do that after Vietnam, come back from Vietnam but Enoch Powell was in government in the UK at the time and they were having a
few black barbecues and I certainly weren’t going to take any crap from the Poms and I thought it might be better to stay here and not disgrace the uniform.
at a place called Albany, and a psychiatrist come in and I said to the psychiatrist that I didn’t like their branch and as far as I was concerned they had far to much to say what an individual can do and, “Now would you like a beer?” And that was my interview with the psychiatrist because I had a couple of experiences with perhaps young psychiatrists people and
I don’t like people saying what I can’t do or can do. I know what I can do and that’s for any individual, as long they task themselves to do that but some outsider coming in and trying to slot me into a category I’m not keen on, never have been and never will be.
Can you give us a bit of a run down?
Well I went over to the UK and you do your basic training and your tank escape and all the rest of it but that was no drama because I was a diver anyway so and then you come back here and in the old days you would have had to spend three years while ours were being built, so that was another reason in the old days, because three years in the UK, away from home, a fair old cop.
about, yeah, I was heading that way, so yeah. But as I say, look in hindsight I know I would have had a ball and I always have a ball. If there’s a bad situation you turn into the best you can and the submarine squadron it’s family, it really is. And not many people have that opportunity to work in an environment with a bloke next to you can really hate you or dislike you with a passion but however your
objectives are achieved and that’s the end of it but if you needed a hand, even though he dislikes you he would still give you a hand, that’s what I find. And that’s pretty important, most people don’t have that and that goes with my judgement of people today. I mean I mightn’t like the individual but if they can do the job they’ve got it as far as I’m concerned. It’s not a personality thing and that’s pretty important.
analyse and look in detail about how you felt about different operational services etcetera but if could just give us a summary of the different submarines you may have worked on and then we’ll get onto your post war life, so we can go back?
Probably the first six years in submarines were pretty, I didn’t see it but my family and people around me that knew me did, because I was sneaking around the world in other people’s backyards I
sort of lost the plot and when I say ‘lost the plot’, I honestly believe we were making a hell of a difference but really the bottom line is economics in the long run but yeah, when you’re on tasks like that it really starts to forget about your roots and that’s dangerous. I think it’s dangerous anyway because everything is a priority. You get the best of everything
and you forget that you actually came from down there and there’s a lot of people still down there that enabled you to be here and that’s a danger and that’s the way the squadron was set up then.
the same as the Kursk [Russian Submarine] going down, I know exactly what happened to those poor buggers but the reason the West weren’t allowed on board was because of the gear it’s got, so those poor buggers had to die. We realise that and it’s not a problem. We understand that but it’s just a shame the ideal situation is we all get on together but it’s not the case and it’s a shame because I have some very good submarine colleagues from all services, from all nationalities and
even with our own squadron and the only time we’re not with them is perhaps Anzac Day or something like that because they were German or Japanese or something like that and the bond’s there and the environments there and it’s a family unit and it’s very special.
I think, goodness, chief, probably about twelve years. I think it’s about twelve years, I’m not sure, could have been a bit longer but the highest you could go was warrant officer and that was afforded me or change over to commission rank and that was afforded to me as well but if you’re a warrant officer you’ve got x amount of warrant officers and so many ships,
so I’m not the type of person that drives a desk. I never have been. I prefer to be on my boat or my ship or whatever the case may be and be at sea, so unfortunately because we’re not a large navy, we don’t have a lot of warrant officers. Where they’ll have ten chiefs on that ship and say six on a submarine, there’s a billet for those but there’s no billet for the warrant officer, so that’s the reason
I didn’t go the next step.
local sports teams. Didn’t realise that I would be doing a lot of work with the Aboriginal youth and consulting committees and organisations but the most important thing that happened to me is I did a course on welfare and pensions for the Department of Veteran Affairs and I travel the, our wonderful nation, all voluntary and with some
assistance now and again from the department and inform the Aboriginal people of their entitlements and benefits. So much so that when I took the SBS [Special Broadcasting Service] and legal aid teams up to Kempsey and I went to see two families and ended up interviewing thirty families, going right back to World War II where a lady should have been on a war widow’s pension but she didn’t get that until 2000, so the
news in regional areas they’d rather talk to a person in the city than they would their own because the veterans prefer to keep their business to themselves. And they don’t have a very good opinion of the RSL and for whatever reason but we’ve got to realise that the RSL is basically a divisional system and where possible they should utilise the facilities, that’s the RSL sub branch, not the
RSL club per say, which is just the Clubs New South Wales sort of gambling and so forth.
And there’s one important part of your life that we’ve missed out in this summary and is you got married and had two children, can you tell us when that happened?
Oh yeah, that was 1969, the year of the tiger, Richmond and Glenelg, Claremont and Perth, East in Brisbane and Balmain in Sydney and North Hobart but anyway that’s football, but yes, my wife comes from Tassie and I chased her all over the country and finally
popped the question and yeah, I think my best mates they both bought HT Holden Monaros, they’re from South Australia and they were the wedding cars, which was here in Annandale and yeah, it was good. And my wife’s from Tassie, she’s white, and I always tell people I went back and captured one of theirs to get even and yeah, that upset some of my family too, because they
expected me to marry a black girl I suppose and all I could say was, “There was none in our gang at the time, what do you want me to do Nan or uncle? Travel an extra fifty or hundred mile to find one.” and yeah we’ve been married ever since.
Okay, you said you come from the Bundgelong tribe, can you tell us a little bit about that, your tribe?
Well that’s the land from Grafton right up to the Tweed and that’s really rich, fertile country and absolutely beautiful and as a result of that in Aboriginal connections
language was it or did it have a special name?
Well I just say Bungdelong and I’d have to check with I think a couple of aunties but I know some of the, I remember some of it especially when we had a family reunion some time ago at Beagle and it was good and it all started to flood back and as my daughter says, “Well why wasn’t we taught this Dad?” And I said,
“Well you’re too busy being educated in this system and then you can go back and do the other.” and yeah, that’s the price you pay, to get educated or progress is what the white fellas call it costs. Everyone pays, just because some are that far up the ladder and it’s like this set up of self determination and so forth, it’s all right for people to say this
but unless some productivity is produced why would you allow that to happen. So whether it be a Liberal or Labor government the system they put in place is not working because there’s no accountability and you know yourself you or I can’t go and get a dollar unless we produce some collateral and so forth, so it’s been allowed
to fester and in a lot of the Aboriginal circles, like if I’m from your family and I come to stay with you I’m you’re responsibility until I’m ready to leave, so to get ahead in a white society it’s pretty difficult. And as you know there was no leases signed with the locals even though there is some compensation being given back and that’s only on crown and undeveloped land anyway. But there’s been some, the Bungdelong nation is a pretty strong nation and there’s been a lot of positives
right through up through that country and the reason for myself is my father was with the Dutch East Indies force in the Second World War and so he’s obviously of Negroid origin, and the blacks from those units there was eighty thousand allied troops up through there and they weren’t welcome at white dances in Australia, so the Aboriginal people put dances on for them. And consequently I get the duco plus the curly hair so I cop it from both sides of the fence.
And where was he born and raised?
I’m not sure, I’m not sure, so he’s since been killed as a result of that but Mum, his friends came back, when they came back after the war and that and Mum’s girlfriends went back to the Dutch East Indies so at least I was reared in Australia,
that made them, made so many of them successful?
I don’t think they had a choice with Nanna Williams. I remember hearing a story about my Auntie Valerie who’s always been sort of bronchial and tuberculosis side of things, the doctor in Grafton was just going to leave her dying, just another black kid and Nanna Williams told him off and nursed, walked up and down that hospital balcony for two weeks nursing her back to health. And that’s the sort of strong woman she was, and it’s
And what were some of your memories from those years?
Apart from taught about the birds and bees, oh it was just country, it was good. You’d go over to swim across the river, well the elder kids did until I fell in and learnt to swim but you’d steal a bit of corn or you’d knock off a watermelon out of the paddock or things like that, go over to the tip and there’d be guava trees and birds, oh it was just a good time. You just learnt to live off the land and what was around you and when I say steal, you just
took enough for a feed, like all kids in the country do at times and yeah, it was great.
Tell us about the school you went to and how you were treated there?
West End was a, oh I was just a gobby little chappie and some of the other boys didn’t like it but I enjoyed it and Miss Grey was the, was our teacher that took us under our wing and yeah, she was excellent. And you learnt your sums and your arithmetic and your English and I didn’t have much of a problem.
Why was Miss Grey a good teacher?
Oh she just loved all us kids, why I don’t know, I mean we just had our fifty year reunion a couple of years ago and she’s still going. I couldn’t believe it but yeah, it was an excellent, it was just country and there were things to do.
and country life is good as a kid, it really is. See we didn’t have all these distractions and Play Stations and all the rest of it, most of us had wood fires so there were duties to be done. Like you had a cow or something and it had to be milked and the chooks had to be fed and all of those things happened so your day was full as a kid and my goodness if you didn’t do your job you were in all sorts of trouble.
And you look at refrigeration and my goodness there was the old ice box or the old meat keeper that used to hang out of a tree when I was living in Tottenham, oh I’ve forgotten about that, living in Tottenham. That was in pedal radio days, that was gee.
What would you be taught?
Well I was so young but we managed to get it done so it must have been the basics, maths and English and I can’t remember all of it, I was just so young but I remember it was good, it was good. And we’d eat kangaroos and all that,
And when you went to Casino did you have, who was in your life? Which family members were in your life? You mentioned your grandmother, did you have brothers and sisters?
Yeah, I had, Mum remarried to Kenny Watson, that’s why we came back down to Sydney and that’s where I had me half brother, Allan and I took his name, Watson.
Why did you decide to do that?
I don’t know, I suppose it seemed like the thing to do. I was just too young to realise that and it wasn’t until basically I joined the navy that I used Williams and it was always Watson and come time to get my birth certificate and so forth and, “Uh, okay, so it was Williams.”
And they were all in the army, World War II?
Yeah, everyone was army except me and yeah, from the Light Horse right through to present day and yeah, I’ll have to get the list and check them all out and there was my cousin, Barry Williams, he was at Duntroon and my niece is a commissioned officer on Western Australia and
nephew is petty officer on submarines and yeah. Well I suppose it was equal opportunity. My other uncle, Duncan Bullsey, he was in Korea and he suffered really badly when he got back and we couldn’t get him into Greenslopes Repat because he was a black fella and they didn’t want to know him. And we didn’t have a quid so he ended up taking his own life but I see it all know. I didn’t realise it then. I just thought
he was mad but that was the chappie I lived with at Dunwich Island. He just used to wake up in the night screaming, nightmares and God it was terrible but I didn’t understand what was causing it. I certainly do now and that’s another reason why I justify this welfare and pensions course because I make sure that someone is there for our peacekeeping forces, who have been watching people being slaughtered and the Governments all over the world just sitting back, waiting for the oil price to be
Did she ever talk about that to you?
Not really, because she wasn’t overseas. She could just talk about the, like her and her girlfriends, I’ve lost the photo or someone’s got it in the family of her and her girlfriends there in their uniforms in transport and yeah, it’s a shame because it’s probably gone forever.
David, how many schools did you end up going to?
Well I just run past them and I think right, so first off would have been, I’ll just go back to the Nyngan and Tottenham and the farmers, the cockies’ children, that was pedal radio, so we learnt a bit by the School of the Air and then there was, my first basic school would have been
at Casino and that started with the primary school which is attached to the high school in Casino. Then they completed West End, which is the public school, little primary school and that was basically my first real school. Left there and went to New Farm in Brisbane, stayed at New Farm for a while and then auntie and uncle got married, then sort of went to Stradbroke Island and went to Dunwich School there,
on Stradbroke Island. Back to Brisbane, went to Gregory Terrace, after Gregory Terrace went up north. No, must have come back down to Sydney because I went to Bourke Street Primary, went to Bourke Street Primary. Yeah that was when we lived in 256 Bourke Street in Surry
Hills and then I went back up to Brisbane, then I went up to I think with uncle and auntie, another uncle and auntie to Mackay and went to school at Finch Hatton and Beatrice Creek, which is about forty five mile out of Mackay, then back to Brisbane. Then it was Etherta Creek and at Etherta Creek that’s when I won the, we lived at Paddington in Brisbane then and that would have been in the late Fifties, won a bursary
and come down to Sydney and started school again at Newtown Tech, stayed there until I completed my Intermediate, then Obrox Park, went onto fourth year at Obrox Park and then I left school after fourth year. So how many schools that was I don’t know but yeah.
What effect do you think that had on your character, all that moving around from different school, different places?
Once you move around you can see where the other bloke is coming from because you can see his turf, so as a result I’d travelled and the others hadn’t and I think that would perhaps give me an edge. I didn’t realise it at the time but I certainly did when I was in the Scouts or whatever, organised Cubs, because I’d been in the country and didn’t have to be taught those basic skills, so it wasn’t really a problem. It’s like anything,
How old were you when you played for the schoolboys team, the New South Wales Schoolboys?
Well they used to go on weight originally and they picked, they picked five stone seven, or maybe six stone side and that was, I think they, we got a blazer with a New South Wales pocket and
I think it was 1956, yeah and all you want to do is wear the green and gold so even though you’re a young fellow, that’s all I wanted to do but in high school we all played, Newtown Tech and we played with Newtown Juniors in the school competition. However weekends I played in the Balmain Juniors with the Glebe Police Boys and I was always associated closely with the Police Boys, whether it be South Sydney when I was down here
or over in Glebe and Lang Park up in Brisbane, so it was just a natural progression and me uncle he played for Queensland and so forth, represented, Billy Macklin, captained West’s in Brisbane, Toowoomba, Ipswich, East’s, so yeah, the family was pretty good at sport and so were the ladies with vigoro and hockey, so
sport was a good equaliser.
but no ladies and I said, “Well did you ever tell me?” And she said, this is so funny, she said, “No.” and I said, “Well how was I supposed to know?” I mean girls weren’t on my list as sort of, and it was funny when I think back now and I never sort of, even when I was playing serious football, well I thought it was serious with third grade or President’s Cup or Jersey Flag
S G Ball, I mean I wouldn’t go out three days prior to a game and I’d be in bed by nine. I wanted to put that green and gold guernsey on and mmh, they weren’t sort of high in my priorities at that stage, the ladies. I’ve since turned that around a bit.
were you in trouble at school for that sort of thing often?
No, not really. I ended up prefect of my schools and that. The trouble was, well a lot of my friends their parents there, especially at Newtown, I mean how we treated new Australians was really shocking, shocking. And I didn’t know any better because there were Pommy bastards and wogs and they weren’t to step over us Aussies and that’s how it was
So it didn’t matter where you came from, a racial national pecking order existed?
Mmh, and it still does. With the drinking side of things I mean I’ve seen in different sections of my growing up what alcohol did to the men and the women and I was never going to do it and I used to see things on the movies and I never really drank and I was a ‘Milky Bar kid’ basically, even when I joined the military.
How old were you when that happened?
I would have been fourteen, second year, so I waited three and a half weeks for that mongrel to come back from the pub pissed and took him out with a full tin of treacle. I thought I’d actually killed him but I often think, I couldn’t go running home to family and say I
see I needed, really I needed a father image I think. I mean things would happen on the sports field but where do you go after the game? The old Redfern Town Hall dances or it was just, things there weren’t what I wanted and so I just sort of tapered off and yeah I think it was mainly missing the family. It was probably if I had of had that it wouldn’t have been a problem.
I would have had my ups and down days but that’s all they would have been, days. And then it came time to go and yeah you think, I remember I used to walk up Parramatta Road and sit in the Jaguar cars and, “One day I’ll own one of these.” and mmh, used to dream.
Did you have any sort of relationship with your step-father?
Yeah, he’s a good bloke. Weak sort of individual I know now but yeah, but he was just, not what he could have been and my brother is a lot like him actually, my half-brother but yeah, nice bloke, nice bloke.
So what were your ambitions when you left school then?
Well I think I just looked at the sport side of things and I was going to be, and the movies I used to see, especially a lot of the American movies, slaves from slaves and I wasn’t a happy little camper as far as how the blacks were treated and I certainly wasn’t going to be treated like that. But I remember what Nan used to say, “Get educated, know their stuff and come back
and teach them yours.” So that’s always been at the back of my mind and now I can go anywhere and I certainly know the majority of white man ways but they certainly don’t know the Aboriginal way, although it’s slowly changing which is good. For instance last night I was guest speaker at a welcome to the country at the local government awards for New
South Wales and they’re getting their protocols correct and sitting next to at our table some very influential people and just explained a few things about how it could be easier and very successful. And here’s this in the middle of Auburn which has a multicultural sort of background but they did it well, the local government there and I take my hat off to them. It could have been one of the blue rinse areas but no, here these people are,
achievers, and in local government if your streets are clean and you get service and the parks and all the rest of it and it’s a nice neighbourhood the crime rate is reasonably average, well why not live there? And a lot of good things going down.
see myself, well football was there but that was only six months of the year in those days because everyone had a job, so yeah and I was just, I liked the building game, that was excellent, so perhaps I saw an opportunity there but mmh. As I say I needed someone to say, “Hang on a minute, why don’t you travel this road? Travel this way.” but I didn’t have that.
Obviously people had said things like that to me but they weren’t in my life long enough so I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.
and all of those sort of things. Yeah, it wasn’t really, oh a couple of the guys had permanent girlfriends but as I said I didn’t drink so it wasn’t really an issue and then came along this Melbourne crim one time and I wouldn’t say he had to get out of Melbourne but he was a nice bloke but obviously not to the victims down there
but yeah, he was. He taught me a few things about basic mechanical engineering stuff and so forth and I took an interest in that and I thought, “Oh well I might be in the technical side of things.” so fitting and machining looked like a good possibility or a television technician with Channel Two but something on the technical side of things. So I was having a look at that then and I was thinking, “Well I’m still young enough, I can do an apprenticeship.”
On what sort of projects?
Well it was mainly waterproofing of roofing and so forth and sealing of concrete joints and that but the thing was you can look back and say, “Well you worked on that building and this building.” As I said the old AMP [Australian Mutual Provident] building at Circular Quay, the State Office block, Australia Square, I worked on all those buildings and that’s probably where the navy, I used to look down
Were you working at heights on those construction projects?
Oh yeah, the State Office block, can’t remember now, about forty floors, walk along the steel girders there, no harnesses, nothing, never worried me. Now I wouldn’t go up with a parachute and a cargo net and everything, never get me doing that.
them at the markets for two shillings, yeah, so no, it was good. Just rugby and Milky Bar and run around as I said, pool our resources. Someone always had an old Holden or a Chevy. I remember I bought an old Mark 7 Jag and it used to take about eight of us to get from Glebe to Parramatta in the stupid thing, but anyway it was fun days but it was my Jag.
So what was the procedure for you to join up? Did you have to go to an office somewhere?
Oh yeah, I went to recruiting in Brisbane. I think it was down in Elizabeth Street and Nobby Clark was the petty officer. I know his name was Nobby because it’s Clark and I didn’t understand it was Petty Officer Clark as per the name tag and if you’re name is Clark you get called Nobby. He asked me a few basic questions and I said yes and he said could I fight? And I said, “Yes,
those I can’t beat I can outrun.” and he said, “Right, sign here son.” So that was it, do a medical, psych test, take the oath and I was on my way. And I can remember coming home in uniform, my mother was living in Australia Street, Newtown then and I knocked on the door and I could see the worries drain out of her face, that her son was in the military. But yeah I met some
wonderful, wonderful people in the services there for all of us.
So your Mum was pretty chuffed that you’d joined up?
Oh the whole family was, the whole family was. Yeah, it was, I think as I said if I had a father there that was perhaps in mining or some industry I might have travelled that road but like my uncles were engine drivers with the railways, now I
always wanted to be an engine driver. Little did I know the engine was going to be a steam engine but it was going to have a propeller hanging off the back of it instead of some wheels on a steel track, so I achieved my goal in that aspect. My favourite engines are the steam engines, the heat engines and yeah, just the smell of them. I remember when I went on a cruise and I’m thinking “this will be boring.” I think it was the Oriana or one of them, the Orcadia or something. I spent most of
my time down talking to the crew instead of up there hobnobbing with the bloody guests but yeah, it’s just what I like. It just grabs you. I suppose it’s like people going to the drags or their favourite, the adrenaline gets to them and they want to do it, that’s what those engines do for me, being at sea.
We used to go on the cross country run of a morning, six in the morning, across swamps and Christ knows what, so if you couldn’t swim you had to do backwards swimming and it was a heated pool, so I couldn’t swim until they timed me one time and I got sprung, so I was back on the cross country runs. Yeah, that was a good couple of weeks that I got away with that.
Well they just got extra privileges. I was always in strife, I was a bit late for something, whatever, but it was just me, just me. I had a ball, absolute ball. I was ashore and the first weekend where you don’t normally get leave for six weeks because we played rugby and I had four glasses of Victoria Bitter and of course the chief said, “Have a beer.” and I was sick for three days, couldn’t
So the fact, it seems like you had a good time because you had sport but you also had a bit of direction going on as well?
Yeah, I’m just, I just tried to be good at it, whatever it was. Like they said, “Jump in the air.” you’re doing survival at sea or it was just easy, it really was. As far as the uniform
remember my old instructor used to say, “Never ever go out with them or tie up alongside them because why would you want to go out with someone that can fight a fire, shoot a rifle and make out a watch bell as good as you?” So that’s always stuck in my mind so I used to, yeah, I just remember one night at old Anford, one going to the movies, Jesus but anyway that’s another story.
what sort of ambitions did you have about what sort of branch you wanted to go into?
Well it was always going to be more or less call it a stoker, so started off general entry stoker. Yeah, and that was it in the mechanical engineering and I enjoyed it because I felt like, “Not everyone can do this job, they can’t handle being down the engine room.” And I just, and because it was a strong branch you
felt better than anyone else because you could do that and they’d be sooking because it’s too hot or it’s too dirty or it’s, anyway I prided myself in that and apart from the satisfaction of getting the platform from point A to point B, so I realised it takes all of us. And it wasn’t until really the latter of my career that I finally
realised that it takes all of us to get the thing from point A to point B and at least I learnt that. It might have taken a while but I learnt it.
and then you come back after your two years at sea and then you do your branch training and you learn about pumps and refrigeration and air-conditioning, steam turbines, gas turbines, internal combustion engines, boilers, pneumatics, hydraulics, you learn the basics. Then you go away, do more sea time and come back and do a promotional course and then you learn more about that and so on and then you get an Associate Diploma of Marine Engineering Systems, so.
What did you reckon of sea life when you first go aboard her?
I went down the spacers and I went, “Oh my God, what is this?” Just couldn’t see it and then sort of it all started to fall into place like we were taught, different colours of the lines, what the bulkheads, watertight integrity, escape routes, yeah, it all
And I guess you would have been working with some pretty salty old dogs?
Yeah, well in the middle watches as a young, ordinary seaman you used to blow soot when the ship turned sideways and then you put steam into the upper economiser and like it decakes all the soot and that and the big valves around the side of that particular boiler and as a young bloke jump up there you had one of those limp-wristed chappies adjusting your valves,
playing and the first would be a senior, probably the rugby coach or something and, “You’ll be doing this and your duties are that.” and providing you kept your nose clean like the perks come. And the other job I had on there was after mess café, which meant I kept the after mess for the senior sailors. That was a specific job on one of the four, three
months and then you go to a part of the ship which was the fo’c’sle, the front part or the tops and you do seamanship and then you go to mess decks, which are internal so you learn a bit about everyone else’s job and then you come back and do your category or put in a request to change branch. Yeah, it was good because we were on deployment so everyone has to blend into together but even though we were the youngest them old fellows looked after us and they were always there to kick your backside
if you made a fool of yourself ashore or something like that, which is where the father thing come in, which doesn’t happen a lot today because the Defence Department don’t have the guys living on board any more. They outsource all that so they’re not together, which I think is a bit of a shame.
in charge of the compartment or whatever it is. And then it’s your responsibility to keep it ship-shape and operational, so it’s sort of, the onus changes a bit and because you’d hate to think it’s your section that kept the boat alongside and you strive for that and then you’re competing against the other ships of the same class as well, so that was all relevant. You’ve got to be the best gunnery ship, the best engineering, the best sport and there’s a whole host of things so while that’s
ever there you’re pretty flat out and you used to have a few blues amongst your colleagues as a result of that, arguing over, “That’s our corner of the Rocker’s Hotel, or Vampire’s.” or, “That’s Vendetta’s.” or, “This one over here is…” and that’s what happened. And when we’d sail our girlfriends that we had the other ship would be coming in and we’d be going around the corner and vice versa, so everything was all in house.
What were your living conditions like aboard Vampire?
Oh pretty crowded, a lot better than other ships like Sydney and so forth. The mess decks were air conditioned and unfortunately asbestos was everywhere but yeah, and especially when you’re eating your meal and if they were going to do a shoot or something like that all the dust would be in there and I’ve been a lagger as well in a brickies, so I mean that was the downside of it all.
So you’re saying that at particularly times of a shoot the lagging would break up and drift around?
Yeah, well the shock transmitted through the ship’s superstructure and hull and it would shake and those pipes are all slung on brackets and the dust and that would fall out of them, it’s not flash, seeing as I lost
quite a few mates through asbestosis over the years. It would have been nice but they didn’t, see that’s our job but what I get angry about is how they drag out the compensation. Families need the money straight away, not go to court and prove this and prove
that. None of the servicemen really mind but as long as your family is compensated a.s.a.p. Like in a building site, you fall off a ladder, it happens the next day, doesn’t like that in Commonwealth terms, in the military.
that’s usually from basically a vitamin B [Victoria Bitter] or a Mr Toohey’s or the appropriate sea sick tablets which come in a liquid form the night before. No, no, I have been sea sick a couple of times. I think once was on Stalwart and I forget, might have been coming down with the flu or something. It’s hard on submarines but on a service ship you can go up and get in the fresh air and you catch up with the horizon
and you see a wave coming so you know the ship’s going to go up and so your mind sort of floats into synch so that’s all most of the sickness is but no, I don’t normally get sea sick.
What about in those early times, I don’t know it might be different later in subs but in Vampire any claustrophobia issues with working in the compartments?
No, never, never. No, look I just never entered
into the equation really. I know it affects a lot of people, only since especially working in civvy street and having a little maintenance business and asking people to go up a ladder or across that there and do this and no, they just can’t work at heights and that opens your eyes up a little bit, especially with claustrophobia. Hopefully that’s where I fall back on psychiatrists and psychologists for
this and is hopefully they can weed that out in the individuals before they get that far and are in that situation.
What sort of ship was Vampire as far as the crew and the spirit and the personality of it?
Well we were, this stems back to when I was saying about the first few years in the submarines and Vampire was Captain D10, in other words she was the senior ship of the destroyer squadron, the 10th Destroyer Squadron, and as a result of that our captain was senior to the other captains
on those ships and we got priority and the crew acted accordingly. So when we were coming alongside we’d come alongside the wharf and the other ship would berth outside of us, that was all relevant and that carried on with everything we did, “We’re the boss and you pay attention.” and that’s how it is and that’s where that friendly rivalry comes in, whether it be a boat race at the bar or whatever and I think it’s healthy and it was important
we win the rugby game against whichever and I dare say there was a lot of sly bets going on but that’s how it was.
David, just going back to your childhood you were talking about being in the Bundgelong tribe and some of the nights you used to spend there hearing some of the dream time stories I guess they were, how did that experience and that sort of Aboriginal side of you, how did you take that into your early life in the service, in the navy? What kind of lessons had you taken with you
from your Aboriginal teachings?
Well I don’t know whether I could sort of assimilate, see these stories were more or less on the spiritual side of things and the Defence Department and the navy are more or less on the man thing , so you really sort apart from the basic traits of all men, do the right thing by the other bloke and vice versa
like the only thing I can perhaps assimilate is on Sundays we had church parade. Well I mean that never really grabbed me because I’m not from the Middle East, around that area where JC [Jesus Christ] was running around telling his mob what to do and how they should do it so it never really, I never really looked at it like that. However I just knew
there was a right and a wrong and it’s pretty universal and how the stories are told is I suppose is no different from my family saying to the kids, “You’d better not go out after dark because the boogie man will get you.” But perhaps in our stories the story was told a little bit more in detail because you weren’t supposed to be outside so stay inside and depending on the type of story there was different types of individuals out there
to pick up children running around in the middle of the night. I think, as I say the two that stick in my mind are the Hairy Man and the Gerrywarra and they were two bad characters, consequently I was never out late at night so didn’t have that problem.
joined the navy. I had four seven ounces glasses of Victorian Bitter and I was sick for three days, three to four days after that and it was forty five mile back to the base from the middle of Melbourne and I was crook and basically that was an introduction to alcohol. As I said I never drank and I’ve seen what it does to different people and never, ever and I couldn’t understand people who smoked. If John Wayne went out on the balcony and lit up a durry
all the Apaches had to do was fire the arrow where he lit the cigarette, they’ve got to hit him, so I mean I never saw any sense in smoking either.
So you’ve carried that through? You still don’t smoke and?
Never, no. I drink, I drink but I’ve never smoked, except passively, like on the submarines ninety five per cent of the crew smoke so I’m breathing that crap in.
did but in the initial days two or three large bottles of beer and that was me done so but yeah, I’ve progressed a little bit better than that now I suppose. I’m up to about four or five but no, I drink far too much for my liking but that’s probably because I’ve been in a welfare club environment as a director of the club and there’s a lot of functions you’re at and socials and Anzac Days and all these sort of social occasions where
you’re having a few beers and a laugh and a giggle with your friends and yeah, probably a few too many most times but it happens.
I was always in the Scouts or the Cubs or the large football team. I didn’t do individual things. I did it with a team and it’s like the Defence Department is I suppose, a team and yeah, and an organised one so I didn’t have a problem, I really didn’t. And there was heaps of things to keep me entertained as far as
interesting, there was so much going down, it was just an incredible time.
What kind of things kept you entertained?
Well if I wanted to I could have choice, either engineering or administrative things or actually recreational things. I had choice, large choice and that was good. If I wanted to go the snow and go skiing I could, didn’t have that choice I don’t think in civvy street, one because
we were going to and I’d never been there so it was just a matter of, “How long before we get there?” It wasn’t sort of how to and I was being given a hard time or we weren’t and every day was a bonus as far as I know. You’d get up and I was in my own part of the ship, which was engineering and I happened to be on the machines that made fresh water well you compete
to make sure that you made more water when you were on watch than the bloke preceding you or the funnel gases weren’t correct and you were making too much black smoke so you just tried to achieve and do it just a bit better so your days were full. Otherwise you’d be watching the old movies on the old sixteen millimetre film or late at night on the upper deck or whatever, yeah. Yeah, every day was a bonus.
up some smugglers and perhaps some other desperates trying to get to the mainland and cause, yes and while the minesweepers and that were patrolling up the rivers in Borneo we’d be offshore in case they needed bombardment or protection from whatever sources. And yeah it was, I didn’t understand all the politics but we had interpreters on board
and things like that so I knew it was, I was taught it was necessary to the country and to the defence alliance we had between south east Asia and Australia, so you did your duty.
probably be about ten of us and we would have taken off in a rubber ducky if we were landing party and gone to whatever the problem was or if we were boarding party we would have been armed and boarded whatever vessel it was and expected to search it for contraband or people or whatever the situation was, which we did. No, there was no incidences which
required us at that stage to use our weapons on those activities although I did see some of the interrogation of some of the smugglers and so forth which were pretty rugged but that was part of the…
were going to get Australia, so I was doing my job but you know in hindsight, probably pirates smuggling whatever, but that’s in hindsight. You don’t know on the day because there was people being killed and explosions and I remember in that era marching around on the, while we were alongside in Singapore with an ammunition belt and a weapon because they could have been boarded
by saboteurs and so forth, so there was politics. So as I said we had a treaty with those countries and if that’s what it took to do the job, well so be it.
And what about for your personally, how did you find your first campaign?
Well I was eighteen, nineteen and I was bullet proof and it wasn’t an issue and I know that around me there is another three hundred guys ready to step in if I fall, so it was never sort an issue. It was my job while I was there to make sure that they could sleep
These were some of the people in the Malacca Straits, the local people that you met?
Yeah, all through, yeah, all through, didn’t matter which country it was. You realise that so I was never, I never sort of stood out with money hanging out of my pockets and just stood there as a big, ignorant Aussie. I just said, “Please.” and, “Thank you.” to them, the same as I would to anyone else.
Okay, can you tell us about the diving course, what exactly you learnt in that course?
Well in a diving course you’re at a limited depth and it’s down to a couple of atmospheres, which is about sixty six foot, sixty
six to a hundred foot, and if necessary you do bottom searches or like basic repair maintenance if needed and also like when we were in Vietnam you do a dive every four hours checking the ship’s bottom and hull and anchor cables, forward and aft, for bombs or limpet mines and things like that and you may have to do other ships that are in because they haven’t got a diving team.
Yeah, yeah and on one particular occasion, it was about half past eleven at night and the current went up over three knots and.
and we got swept out to sea and they picked us up about an hour, an hour and a half later, floating out in the South China Sea in the middle of the night. Don’t even know how they found us, to tell you the truth but they did and picked me and a mate up because I’d just resigned myself to, “Oh well, keep swimming until you drown, that’s it.”
all it required because the water temperature is about eighty something degrees so it’s not necessary to get in this other stuff but if you can appreciate it it’s pitch black and all you can see in the distance is flashes and every now and again from gunfire and things like that. But it’s pitch black, so you’re disorientated where the land was and we were anchored in the middle of the delta so you go with the current, it was a case of
have to and yeah, they got us, that’s the main thing and got us back on board and said, “Get this into you son.” which is a cigarette and two large cans of Resch’s Pilsener and gee that was how you cured the patient and boy was I sick but there you go.
It sounds like, you must have for a few moments there when you were getting swept away you might have thought you may never have come back?
Well I had to try and get me mate’s, what they call the demand valve, out of his mouth and breathe it in because I was underwater and it’s night time and if you can imagine the chaos and he probably thought I was a shark and being
attacked and I just couldn’t unclip this little line that we had between us, I couldn’t get it out and so I’m struggling and so I get his mouth out and get one breath of fresh air and he’s being pulled down because he’s fully weighted with tanks and everything. And I was thinking, “God, I’m not getting out of it.” and it seemed like ages but it was probably only a couple of minutes but yeah, a bit worrying for a while because I thought I’d lost him. I yelled out, “Anyone there?”
and I heard his voice and I was thinking, “Christ, that’s Debby.” So yeah, he was, a pretty horrific experience but you put it back out of your mind but I sleep with a c-pat machine and I wake up now thinking I’m drowning because of a few diving accidents that I’ve had, so I’ve got to rip this mask off that I breathe through.
And you mentioned that you preferred to be in the engine room, that’s where you felt at home, but you obviously made the decision at some stage that you were going to be a diver or was that decision made for you?
No, no, it was okay because there’s a full-time diver, which is called a clearance diver and they’re the SAS [Special Air Service] of the services and I had the opportunity to go that way but I had a few mishaps on just basic
tasks and if you fail those tasks, I realised, “Well perhaps this is not the way to go for me.” because I would have been a danger to myself and to my colleagues so it was time to bite the bullet and say, “No, I just haven’t got what it takes that sort of individual.” so I just remained a ship’s diver, which is limited, like a, it’s like instead of being a V8 super car you’re a little mini.
and I put it into the breech area and the bloke next to me, he puts the shell in and then they ram it up to the gun barrels and fire, that’s when I’m actually at action stations in the gun turret. Other sections if I was landing party well that’s a different action required so that’s when I’ve got small arms and I’ve got a Tommy gun or a rifle and I’m about to go ashore and so we get into, either the rubber ducky
or the ship’s boat and we go ashore to do what job it is and the same with boarding party, that’s small arms and so forth. So you usually get a knife and a clip of ammunition and whatever the appropriate weapon to do that job. Yeah so it wasn’t sort of, oh there was a couple of incidents where there was
you’d see the remnants of sabotage on different ships and that that had been in the delta up there and another scary incident would have been when we’d come off patrol and we were headed to Bangkok and we were on recreational leave.
What was morale like on your ship in the Vietnam campaign, HMAS Vampire?
Well we were on defence watches so there was the thirty ships companies crewed up and because of that watch keeping situation morale was pretty good, because everyone’s got a job, so as the result of that you know that you’re at a reasonably good state of readiness so nine times out of ten you can never be surprised. It’s only a case of
full action stations when all of us are awake, so any given situation you’re in is patrol quiet, which is a, oh that’s submarine talk, you’re in a full watch system, so it was only a quarter or less of the ship’s company actually doing something, if you know what I mean. The rest are just doing maintenance so yeah, it was good because as I said we were Captain D10 and good
skipper and very senior crew.
you can understand that everything’s flashed up except the main engines weren’t turning so we’d be turning them every so often so that creates a current under the ship as well, so that the divers can’t, the saboteurs can’t because the screws are turning and pushing the water past the hole, so that’s another thing you use in defence watches or operational awkward as they call it. So you turn the main engines so that if anyone is coming to try and attack you,
they get swept away. So that takes personnel to do that so we were still on board.
I mean can you remember specific incidences back then in the Vietnam campaign that really made you think that there was a big standoff between the two?
Well the fact that some of my colleagues had to go and identify different mates and the amount of black bodies that were in the morgues compared to whites and a whole host of things, and the supply lines and other stories that we heard and not good, not good. Instead of being as a unit and all together, they weren’t.
When you were actually over in Vietnam were you worried about the public opinion about Vietnam in Australia? Did you know about it then?
Yeah, we knew about it. You’d see it on newsreels and so forth but they have the guard and the band on the dock and that’s about it and you’re sitting there and you’re thinking, “Well what did we just do in the last twelve months? What’s going on?” And you go to the club and the old fellows down there say, “Well it wasn’t a big one boys.”
You voted since the age of twenty one?
Yeah, yeah, no eighteen, because we used to get postal votes but see the Defence Department saw us all as Australians, not as Aboriginal Australians and that and on paperwork I was an Australian and it was only if they were cross checking could they say
you don’t really come ashore and talk about voting and I might say, “Where have you been?” or, “What have you been doing?” And that might last for ten or fifteen minutes but then you, because they’re still here and South Sydney is still playing nothing has really gone down in their life, through your eyes, so you tend to drift away.
from a lot of maybe the racism or the hard times that some of the civilians were going through because you were in the Defence Force at that time in the Sixties when you joined?
Yeah, yeah, I remember as a young kid I’d been to Cherbourg and I’d seen the, what alcohol did to the blacks and I’ve been in situations where you couldn’t sit in the movie theatre because that’s where the blacks would go in after lights and all the whites would sit and I’ve experienced all that and been told not to swim in that pool, so
it’s not that I was ignorant of it, I was just going to make a difference and no-one was going to tell me where to swim, so yeah and because I knew the white bloke’s ways, what could he really say? I mean I could say I’ve travelled here and there and, “What have you done son?” Or whoever I was talking to, “I’ve fired a shot in anger. Have you?”
And maybe that’s just me, I don’t know but as I said I used to see those movies and the Indians always lost and it used to get to me because I don’t believe the Indians are that dumb and I can’t understand how a bloody indigenous force can ever lose a battle when you’ve got Snowflake running through beating on a drum, playing on a trumpet and lighting fires and putting up a flagpole, to me it’s dumb military logic. So as I say a bloke goes out in the middle of the night and lights
a durry up, you’ve got to get him and that’s how I used to think as a little kid and perhaps that why I’m like I am, I don’t know, I don’t know but I certainly understand and the proof of the pudding is I knew my job and as a result of that, doors were opened and I didn’t go after anyone else’s specific job, I just did my own.
And I wasn’t the only one on the boat. There was another five black fellows on the boat and another two that didn’t identify, for their own reasons.
So you said too, David, that the navy considered you all Aussies and it didn’t matter what your background, so you found that there was no racial issue for you in the navy through your career?
Well there was people there that didn’t like blacks but there was more people that didn’t like slopes, so I suppose you can add that up between slopes, wogs, Arabs, blacks and whatever, so I fared pretty well. Yeah, but their rules and regulations are set up in such a way that
No, no, not through my eyes because yeah, I mean usually what happens is, “You’re a black fella, you should get out the front, you’re scout.” I mean that’s just a standard thing and that’s because they perceive us as, because we’re black, we’re born in the bush, so we should know more and so, “Get out the front and get shot first.” That wasn’t a racism thing, that’s how it worked and yeah, and I think if you see most of those movies and that,
You talked a little bit about the US Navy or the US forces and how there was a very hostile acrimonious attitude?
I’ll give you an example. While we were in Hong Kong on recreational and sitting in a certain bar and having a few beers and a big marine comes up and offers me, the white fellow offers me a bourbon and I said, “Mate I drink, I’m Australian, I drink beer.”
And I say, “Who’s that from?” And he says, “See those girls over there, they want to meet you.” and I said, “Well tell them to come over here.” And they’re two Negresses and no, so here’s the go for this bloke, and he’s back and forth. And I said, “Look mate, these are my mates, if you’re going to be interpreter, these are my mates, we’re all here together.” And these two ladies couldn’t understand that of all the ships, the Australian ships that was in, I was the only black fella there, the real outstanding black fella. There were a few other colleagues that aren’t as black as me but they just couldn’t comprehend it and there was no way
they wanted to talk to my white mates and consequently I said, “Well see you later.” and I mean that’s terrible. I mean here we are in the middle of recreation leave and there’s two ladies with a passion against whites. I don’t know what happened to them in their childhood but I certainly hope they never carried that onto their children when they had them eventually.
and Malaya and Indonesia and also down south off the Philippines and also in Borneo. Borneo was in conflict at the time, which was obviously government boundaries was the thing of the day and that was our deployment and we were in company with another ship called the Derwent and then Derwent would relieve us on patrol and then we’d go back to Singapore to restore and do some maintenance and go back on patrol.
So the patrols usually lasted a month, maybe and you’d restore at sea, one of the other supply ships comes out and restores you, out of harm’s way and you go back into your patrol grids.
or the methods of things like doing a necklace search and so on, on a ship’s hull?
Well you have, the diving team quota is made up of a number of us and out of that is two specialists, two to three specialists. When you’re on patrol there’d be two to three minimum, which would either be a petty officer or a leading seaman and an able seaman of either CD [?] category and then the rest would be made up of the ship’s divers and that would be maybe any branch. It could be an electrical guy, myself, who was engineering
and a seamanship guy and a tasray or torpedo or submarines or a communications rate and we’d make up the rest of the team. Now I think it takes about five of us to do one side of the ship, that’s your surface swimmer plus another four guys at double arm length to be clipped in and you’d go from the front of the ship down to just before the propellers and you’d feel, you’d feel up in the intakes and that,
the one’s with tanks on and down to the hull, the keel of the ship. Then you come up, you swim around the other side and then you go the same thing, do the other side with the other guys, you’ve got two single guys and a team that are doing the cable, that’s separate and also around the propellers and the rudders and so forth. But you can understand if you’ve got five clipped in you’re going to get tangled so that’s why they have their separate free area forward and free area aft they call that.
would come floating down with the current and go past the hull and they’d stick on a limpet and just float past and away they’d go, so as a result of that, operation awkward and your engines are still say idling but your shafts aren’t turning so you turn your shafts every so often and that creates a current under the ship and it’s two strong for divers to swim against, so that’s what happens. And then we throw scare
charges in, which are like mini hand grenades and that gives you acoustic problems for unsuspecting divers and also you actually physically do the dives, which I’ve just told every four hours so if you get bombed after all that’s going on well you’ve definitely had a bad day.
How long roughly would you have been anchored?
Two or three days at a time. Yeah, I’d have to check, I mean it seemed to go so fast. I mean you just drop an anchor and you think, “God, a few days off.” but it wasn’t the case. It just
How strong was the current there?
As I said it was up over three knots and you just couldn’t swim against it. I mean it’s not until you’re actually in those situations that you realise that. I mean that was the first experience of, I mean we’ve all been caught in a rip well it was exactly the same thing. You think, “Oh God, I’ve got to go this way.” and the trouble is I was restricted
forget it, no. Fair weather divers that go off the reef and all that, no ,this is a job, it’s yuk, yuk, visibility is minus nothing, that’s why you feel. You’re taught that anyway.
well which is the Australian way, “Give us a hand mate.” But knowing the politics of the whole situation I mean none of it was worth one Australian life, none of it, that’s in my eyes today and it goes with peace keeping forces in East Timor and every other ruckus we’re involved in, it’s not worth an Australian life. However, these situations are created through whatever reason and those countries do ask
us for assistance and I would expect our defence personnel to get in and do the job. And I just do not believe why we held off so long with East Timor because a lot of Australians would not have been born if it had not of been for those islanders in the Second World War because they helped us and yet we stand back and watch their mob get slaughtered, the same as letting New Guinea, west New Guinea go, I just don’t understand this.
If you going to bloody occupy and do the right thing, pass the knowledge on and get them on their feet, so but as I said that’s not my decision and I support the Defence Forces of all nations of course but especially ours and it’s their job to do what the Government tells them and do it right.
Fair enough. Did you think, you didn’t have attitude towards Communism or anything?
Well I was told it was bad and I was thinking, well you do a little bit at high school and I was thinking, “Well if everyone is working for the country.” and you just look at it. “But then again I don’t want to drive that particular model car, I want my car.” and I looked at it like that. Well if someone is going to say “Well you can’t, you have to have this one” well I think, “Well why not work a bit harder
and I was there over the weekend and I saw these guys in the mess having a good time and I was thinking, “What’s going on here? Must have some birds on board.” They were just singing and having a good time, old rugby songs and they were on one of the English boats and they operated out of Penguin and they said, “Oh good day Oz.” so I got singing and having a few beers with them and they took me out. And I said, “I like this job” and I decided I’d do my sub suit when I got back
from Vietnam in ’67, which I passed but then Enoch Powell was having political unrest in Birmingham and Brixton and places like that and having black barbecues and I was thinking, “Well, certainly not going over there to cop this from the Poms.” So I decided I’d stick it out and stay this way for a while, which I’m glad I did in one aspect but then that aspect is because I would have had tunnel vision being a submariner and
I nearly got that way anyway being in the first few years because I was on those specialist boats. Yeah, I didn’t see the big picture.
So you had, this submarine crew that you encountered at Penguin was a British crew of a Royal Navy boat?
Yeah, of Trumpet, yeah. Yeah, it wouldn’t have mattered whether it was Brazilian or Russian, the atmosphere is the same.
And you didn’t fancy rivers of blood?
Only because of the unrest. I know I would have, the thing with me is you never disgrace the uniform. That always stuck in my mind, while you’re in uniform you don’t disgrace it and you’re on duty twenty four hours a day and sort of that would have meant I was over there, probably would have been wearing my rig out, got into a debate with some of the locals over black white issues or whatever
Whereabouts was that sort of happening?
In the city, in the city on leave and of course around Newtown and places like that where the students are from uni and so forth and yeah, and you can pick it. You’re more observant as a black person about who’s watching and the mannerisms and so forth and the body language so yeah, I’d be there and I’d say, “Have you got a problem?” Then perhaps I looked for a bit too much trouble in those days but I certainly wasn’t going to cop
any from them fellows and it wasn’t their fault. They were just doing what they believed in but the way I saw it was probably just trying to get out of the National Service as well and I believe one in, all in and I don’t believe they should have selected just a few, should have been all of us or none of us and that’s another sore point with me. I think that it should have been everyone or none of us and I think it was unfair for a number of us to go and be disadvantaged, job wise and so forth
while the others picked up the cream and that always has annoyed me and that’s what happened in most cases.
and I believe that a bloke that puts on the uniform should have the same entitlements as me. The country gives you a little medal to wear, that’s fine, but that’s as far as it should go. Everything else should be equal and that’s not the case, even with my present day club there’s still members down there that because they’re returned men they just hold that over the young blokes that haven’t been away and it’s unfair. And then the peacekeepers standing there
watching people being slaughtered everyday and how the hell he is going to adjust or he or she is going to adjust is beyond me but we have to be there for them and recognise them for their full potential that they done a good job, if not better than we did and that’s how I see it and I’ll always act that way and I take my hat off to them.
vets and that was because our predecessors were set in their ways and perhaps they needed to be reminded that bullets aren’t dated or colour coded, they just shoot you dead no matter what the time or the year is and there were a lot of our Diggers in the trenches up there that desperately needed help and they definitely needed a cuddle when they got home, not to be ostracised by people on club doors saying,
“Mate it wasn’t a big one, it wasn’t a real one son, you’re not a fully returned man, you’re not joining this club.” and the things that happened to them. So one, they didn’t fit in with their civilian friends because we’d lost sight of them and as much as we’d changed and two, they were not being welcomed by their so called divisional system, which was the RSL with open arms and that happened in most cases. And I know it’s affected a lot of Vietnam vets, big time and consequently the RSL only reaches about thirty per cent of the
Diggers, the rest are hiding in the scrub and don’t want anything to do with them.
it’s like, “Why do you want to fly the jet fighter?” Because you want to be up there and that’s where they put that particular job, the same as the boat because, “I’ve done all this and I need to be there.” It’s no big deal, I can do it or I can’t, so yeah and yeah it was good and I was accepted but as I said I changed it because of the newsreels coming back from Britain
and yeah as I said probably lucky that I did but where I would have been based today I wouldn’t have been involved with that but however I dare say I would have copped a bit from, when I say copped a bit jokingly from the Pommies or whoever I was on course with, the Canadians.
it’s probably because it was diesel that it got me. Anyway I got to work on our biggest ship, Stalwart; and the diesel engines were over three stories high, burns a ton and a half of fuel an hour at a hundred and thirty five revs flat out downhill with a tailwind, pushes a twenty thousand ton ship through the water at twenty three knots, direct drive, air start, turbo charged, pistons that are
two and a half foot across and it’s an A frame and the flywheel weighs nine ton and I can tell you all about it.
So what sort of engine, what sort of ship would that be on?
That was the maintenance ship, the Stalwart, yeah, I was on her for about seven or eight years, on or off.
Did you ever sort of knock heads with the Indonesians while you were up there?
No, they saw us coming, and they knew we were coming so they took off but mainly that side of things more rescue work, people getting into trouble on the reef, because the patrol area on Cairns base is from Gladstone
because the crews are a tighter family. A couple of officers and the rest is a couple of senior mates and the rest of the crew and we were just a tight family. It was excellent and it was the same routine. There was three boats operating out of Cairns and we had to be the best boat, whether it was sport, engineering or efficiency, that’s how it worked. We all had our favourite watering holes and played our favourite sports but it was the whole crew and if you were playing rugby
league this week you were playing Aussie Rules the next and soccer the next and cricket against the locals and whatever small town, might have been Bowen, might have been TI [Thursday Island] you pulled into or Weipa or something and played against the locals and we went to a lot of nice little spots along the Queensland coast and Northern Territory and so forth.
Okay, so sorry it was my mistake, I jumped ahead.
Yeah, ’68 I went to Stalwart and what happened they were short of diesel stokers, that’s the reason and a couple of blokes got sick so they needed and because I’d already done what they called the patrol boat courses they just transferred me up there to Cairns. Oh well I actually went over to Waterhen and then I went to Cairns.
So what did you do on Stalwart?
Stalwart, I started off, gee, I think I was in the engine room and then I was in the boiler room and then I was in the generator room and then I was promoted and you get 2IC [Second in Command] of those three spaces and oh there’s the double bottoms party, which is all your services,
Did it bother you that you didn’t get out much?
No, because I knew the importance of the job that we were doing and me mates on the other ships, “Oh, go and see Daggy and see if you can get that for us and this for us.” and you scratch each other’s back. I don’t know whether you’ve seen some of those
the Nuclear, Biological, Chemical Defence he might want some new fire extinguishers and some nice clean ones because the admiral’s inspections were coming up so we’d swap them. He might need some new three inch fire hoses or some cartridges for some of his gear or RAD meters for reading radiation and a whole host of things, that was it, that was the part. Or if it was he was down the engineers ready use store he might need some X amount of tools to top up this drawer
and that drawer so that the books are all square and this mob’s continual but because we weren’t sailing I could take his broken and bent ones, rusty ones and put them in our drawer and return them through stores and little things like that and yeah it was scratch their back and or just the ship’s company laundry. We had big laundry tubs that could do the washing for them so it worked out, it really did and we’d say, “If you’re going on deployment through those ports bring us back some duty free this or some duty free that.” and that’s how we did it.
how you met your wife to be and what sort of scrapes you got into because of her?
Well sport, yeah. Well I met, I’d just come back on board to Waterhen and that would have been in 196-, end of ’67 and there were six girls that were supposed to be staying in a unit at Annandale and my mate said, “Oh come to this party.” And I said, “Oh no, I’ve had it, I’m staying on board.”
Anyway we haven’t got enough bread and that and he said, “Oh don’t worry, we’ve got a couple of dollars.” so he convinced me to go to this party and I was waiting and “Where’s this so good looking bird you were talking about?” And they said, “Well that’s her there.” and I told my mate, “Listen, you’d better have another beer.” I said, “You’ve got to be joking.” and it was a bean pole and anyway did nothing for me and I used to go out with her girlfriend and yeah, just after a while it was a turn around
and decided that was the one for me and I’d never ever missed training or sport, never, but that’s what happened and the ship had been completed and we were due to commission it and it was going on a capital city tour to show the taxpayers what they were getting and I was supposed to be playing navy rugby against the army and the air force and also New Zealand sides and then I got selected in the Australian services side and I would have been playing against Sydney City, New South
Wales and all the rest of them but I didn’t want to play and once you’re in the rugby team you do play.
So you were spending your free time with your?
Yeah, and that didn’t go over too well. I was soon reminded of where I was supposed to be because my wife, my wife now was on a working holiday and was in Perth, so I jumped on a, I rang up a mate at RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] Richmond and jumped on a
as a result of that I mean I was very fortunate. I knew my wife for a couple of years before we got married so it’s just lucky that I picked one that could go the distance because it’s difficult on the ladies when you’re away and barring health reasons I’ve seen a lot of good men get out of the navy and still end up divorced, which is a shame because sometimes they may get that ‘Dear John’ [letter informing that relationship is over] and we’ve got six or seven months to go before we get home.
Look I’ve been on board and a mate gets a ‘Dear John’ and like you get into port and there’s about a hundred letters there and you see them and we’ve got about six months to run and his missus is gone and probably shacked up with an ex-mate of his and Christ knows what and you’ve got to keep those guys, you’re on deployment. If you go home and you get special compassionate leave, you’re a welfare case and a whole
host of things but it’s up to the people around him to keep him together and to say, “We’ll be there for you.” and that and that’s what I find is pretty important. Well that doesn’t happen in civvy street, nine times out of ten you’re having problems with your family and you’re on your own and you’ve got nowhere to go to so I’m always mindful of that and I just received a phone call and it’s exactly about this. And yeah it’s always been a big family to
me and I’m still pretty heavily involved with the navy, so much so that I go to their rugby games and some of their functions and always talk to the young people and encourage them, “We’re out there for you when you leave.” and it’s a good feeling.
Bobby Fulton was in the army side and Tommy Ridonikis was in the air force side and yeah, yeah, we certainly had some opposition there and when we played navy we played police and Chicka Moore was captain of the police side and he was first grade for Newtown and I think Johnny Greaves was playing on the wing and Christ know what. I mean it wasn’t that, it was pretty
big stuff and I certainly learnt the lesson, rugby.
It was a romantic thing to do though, to put all that at risk?
Yeah, wasn’t it? Yeah, well that’s what happens, you’re not thinking right. You’re probably thinking, probably with the wrong end of the body but anyway it was, it happened and I think all of us that have tied the knot have done some silly things that we look back on and
in the army cadets and I knew I could do all those sort of jobs and I still had that in the back of my mind that movie I saw as a young thirteen year old, where that chief engineer on that destroyer that had been torpedoed was the hero of the day and the ship still sank eventually but he give them time to perhaps get everyone off the boat, off the ship and
I said, “Gee I wouldn’t mind being in that position one day myself.” not that I wanted to be torpedoed but be in the job that that man was tasked. So yeah it still rings a bell.
and I remember being in the old sort of army type Blitz wagon and thinking, “We could be ambushed here, there’s a bit of hostility going on and so forth.” but we had a wonderful time but I didn’t understand the significance of what we were doing there and the insurgency, what was happening in the country. I was too young and hadn’t read up on it but I was always under the
apprehension of it must be necessary otherwise we wouldn’t be here and not realising that some of the minesweepers were up inland rivers or whatever and they would need support if necessary and I was just mindful that there was unrest there but as I look back now it was to do with borders and who owned what, as usual.
you had some really good mates in the navy and you must have developed some really, really strong friendships and can you talk about some of the good times you had on the campaigns, maybe in Vietnam in particular?
Well not so much in Vietnam. There was no good times for me because we didn’t have shore leave however in Malacca Straits, Borneo we’d sail out of the area to some of these uninhabited islands and that was where half the ship’s company would go ashore
and get some recreational activity, whether it be swimming and a barbecue and so forth before we had to return back to the ship in the afternoon and then patrol by night and we did that sometimes on alternate days. However it did give you an idea of some sensibility. You weren’t on task twenty four hours a day, which is pretty important because when you’re not seeing the actual enemy you can be become frustrating. I remember
we were away for that Christmas and we received some parcels with a plum pudding in it and just some nice Christmas lollies and stuff and that was pretty important, gifts from home so that made you feel a bit more worth.
complain about silly things and there becomes a bit of a rank structure and a power struggle and lots of things I’m aware of but don’t get involved with but where we lived up at Greystanes in those days, oh this is after I moved from Eastlakes and we moved into navy accommodation, housing at Greystanes,
yeah there was pretty good on the patch and that. There was always support there for the wives.
You mentioned that sometimes the wives, some of the younger wives in the club, the navy wives, were a bit perhaps not as nice as they could be to some of the other women, did Donna ever experience that?
Oh yes she did and she said she made a choice that she wouldn’t be attending a lot of the navy wives meeting for whatever reasons but each chapter is different, whether it be a new
of course there’s four sisters involved here and took a liking to me and every time a ship would pull into Hobart he’d be the first down there bragging about his son-in-law, meaning me, being in the navy and he’d take the young boys home and feed them and show them a good time. Quite proud I think old Donny and as I said my brother-in-law, his son was in the navy as well, the old boy was pretty good. I thought he’d be a bit of an
evil sort of a man but that was one side of the story I’m getting from the eldest daughter, which I was going to marry and I remember when I did ask permission to marry her he had me working in his garden as he’s giving me a father and son talk then he took me all over Hobart and introduced me to his friends and things and I’ve never looked back from there.
I definitely would have had tunnel vision because of the nature of the operation of submarines and what we do. And having that it makes it awfully harder to get on I believe and readjust to a civilian environment because one minute you’re running around the world sight unseen, sticking your nose in everyone else’s business and all of a sudden you’ve come back
when you’re time is up to a civilian environment and try to assimilate with people who wouldn’t have a clue what you’re doing and you know it would be difficult to try and adjust. And the fact that if you look at how, if you know a little bit about submarine operations, yeah it’s pretty hairy, scary and final. Once we fire, that’s it, you’re gone
and they don’t miss, so you can imagine how, you’ve seen a lot of the movies where we’ve got big bombers and they’re full of cruise missiles and one of those boats could wipe out Australia, just one and in the Cold War they had hundreds of thousands but there you go. It only takes one.
made up and who’s duty it is to do what, and where all the valves are and the blowing panels and the different door stages and the machinery layout. And so once you’ve learnt all that you go to a boat and do your part three and now that’s where you actually operate, drive the boat, operate pumps, operate the blower,
which is like a big fan which blows air into the ballast tanks, pump the sewerage over the side because there is a number of valves that you’ve got to operate, and yeah, put a snort on when you recharge the batteries and also discharge the signal ejectors, which is the flares and so forth and you do all that. And you consolidate that and then you’ve got to walk through the boat and name every valve, right from the front to the
back and that’s called part three.
So can you talk about a typical day training when you were over in the UK, getting up and what you’d have to do next?
Well our instructor was a chief mechanism called, ERA [Engine Room Artificer], called Mac McKinney and you’d get up and you’d go to course after you’d showered, washed and had breakfast and you’d go to the classroom there and you
perhaps might be doing the trim pumps system, which is the pump in the middle of the boat which pumps water forward and aft, so that you sit evenly and you can reach neutral buoyancy and you’d be doing your lines and drawings. And you’d go down after X amount of instruction and you’d go and physically see it on one of the training boats, which they have alongside,
and consolidate what you did in the classroom. Or you might be driving the LMC which is the one-man control, which is like a simulator and you drive the actual submarine and do all the emergency manoeuvres to steer and air and all the rest of it.
What kind of fun did you have, can you tell us?
Used to go around terrorising the local countryside of a weekend, because we’d go up to London and go over to the Australian Embassy and get the wine casks and then over to the Canadian Embassy to get the rum and then come back down to the navy base at Gosport, swap those rations with
Yeah, being the sport section of the yacht club, of the navy. We have one too, it’s called RANSA, Royal Australian Naval Sailing Association, well the English have the equivalent and every year in the Sydney Hobart you’ll see one of our service yachts in the Hobart Sydney Race so it’s the same overseas. So
because the English navy trained the Ethiopians and Christ knows who around the world, the Kenyans and all that and anyone who had submarines and the Argentineans were being trained there, so it wasn’t a problem. Actually it was good because you learnt some of their skills so that was good. I didn’t, everything was there
for us, whenever we needed it.
When you say “You learnt some of their skills” can you give us an example of that?
Well I knew that with the Canadians that the French and English are still fighting the civil war and there’s not much love lost there at all but when they’re on the boat a different issue, but ashore, my goodness, it’s World War Three. And some of the Ethiopians that were
and the Africans, the black Africans and that were at, they weren’t necessarily doing submarine training but we run into them doing their engineering training over at Saltwoods, the engineering base and I used to sit down and talk to them and see how their boats and patrol boats are going and what type of ships they had and exchange information, yeah, that sort of stuff. And they were operating on a shoestring in most cases and they were getting the job done.
she was carrying this big bag and a suitcase and she didn’t know what eighteen hundred meant and this lady behind the counter in ticket sales was so rude and I was thinking, “That could have been my grandmother.” and I gave her a serve and the next minute all security is jumping all over me and so forth. But she was just a bad example of a person that should feel so lucky that the country that she’s chose has accepted her in as an immigrant rather than just, maybe it was a bad night, I don’t know but she wasn’t
very polite. And a couple of occasions that’s happened and I used to tell them if they didn’t like it they could always go back to where they came from, so that didn’t impress them well, one, because I wasn’t staying in the UK and I knew that I was going back to where I came from so I was always happy about that.
And what about you yourself, did you have to choose?
No, no, not me. Everything is the same, an engine is an engine and an air compressor is an air compressor, it’s just knowing where those pipes and everything go to so that’s never going to change. I know how to fix all that and maintain it and operate it so that’s fine but the boat was a special fit. Now what the boat was specially fitted out was other matters and other areas
you’ve got to, so it took us X amount of days to get away, get out of the area, get up, go down again, put two guys in, fix the problem and nearly suffocated the two guys because the valve wasn’t working properly and then surfaced, get them back in and try to revive them and Jesus, nothing might happen. We might just be going up and down for
What about your day to day routine? Can you walk us through a day, your tasks?
Well on a conventional boat you normally charge once a day and do a short charge for now, that’s if you can. If not, you sit and wait because it’s running on electrics. It’s like a white pointer shark, they just move nice and slow until they’re actually on attack mode and they don’t swim fast or anything, just one or two knots, that’s all the boat does, just goes along like that.
drum up prior to, we might be the guinea pigs, just add water and you’ve got an instant feed. Waterlogged baby carrots and oh tin this and tin that, yeah but we survived. Fresh food runs out pretty quick and get into it while you can. I had no complaints about the food, it’s just part and
parcel for the course. You couldn’t wash on the older boats because the machinery makes too much noise, so just had a bird bath and because I was engine room I was entitled to have a shower but you just wouldn’t waste the water because the water’s for the engine and the cooking and you only carried a limited amount.
So I don’t understand why your wife wouldn’t get, it doesn’t follow that your wife wouldn’t get her entitlements?
I don’t think we had, I don’t think our government would ever say we had permission to do our job where we were doing our job, that’s what I mean by sticking your nose in other people’s backyards.
How did that affect you mentally knowing that, having that pressure that that may happen, that you may disappear?
Well I’m only a basic engineer, they’re a dime a dozen, so we’re expendable. The other blokes they got the information they want to get, not me, but as I say you see what happens with just a basic
incident of the Voyager, compensation. None of us care about dying, well we do but it’s like East Timor, no-one was sanctioned until the contract was signed so none of them people prior to that are entitled to any compensation until the actual contract is signed and that’s how it works. And it’s the same as
SAS forces, they’re always there but they’re there before there’s an official signature, so really what do you put that under? There’s no facility in the compensation for that so it’s difficult.
patrol there’s only so much you can do because everything has to be ready to go so you can’t go pulling down a system if you’re going to need it in a hurry, so you just do your, but you’re in two watches so it might take you fifteen minutes to do a specific task. Now you might do that which might be changing an injector because this
one was temperature readings had been going up, so you need to pull that one out, put the new one in and clean it, do maintenance on that one, remembering of course that spanners are steel and you’re working on steel and they make a noise so that noise is transmitted through the hull and if people are listening I mean we’re going to get found so this is all relevant. Like playing Monopoly and throwing the dice,
you can hear that, so that’s out so there’s a whole, you’ve got to be so quiet because someone is listening in. You know yourself with your own gear so imagine that magnified, which it is in water so you really can’t be. Those neon lights in patrol, you’ve got to turn the fluorescent lights off because they produce frequencies, which is picked up and that’s how critical it is. The days are long
and boring however if you’re doing a charge in that charge you start your main engines and hopefully the seas are not rough up top because if they are the waves can be fifty, a hundred foot high and flood back down the exhaust pipe and cause the engines to flood and also the hot gases can escape and be picked up on an infra red heat sensing systems from the other mob and there’s a whole host of things and you’ve got to be mindful of all that.
And it’s just there as a big, if you can visualise it, as a big ear floating around, underwater, listening for everything, that’s what the job is and also recording, recording information on other ships.
So you never actually had to do that in real life?
No, but we came close but they were the older type weapons where you had to shoot a pattern or two, two or three like the ones they used on that cruiser in the Falklands and see that didn’t have any anti-submarine gear so that was a slaughter really, all those poor buggers dying but that’s war. But yeah,
and we had a good time really. We had our cliques but we all looked after each other and it still shows today like you may have thought that, I was talking to a wonderful gentleman the other day, which is true. On Anzac Day I was caught in Canberra with four submarine ex-captains talking about nuclear energy and I mean it wasn’t
idea of a good Anzac Day and why we should go nuclear and I’m saying, “No, we should not.” But anyway, that was my Anzac Day and who needs to talking about that at twelve o’clock on the night. It was not flash. I can’t see it and these guys were keen, ready to go and I said, “We don’t need it, we do a good enough job killing ourselves with defensive weapons, rather than going nuclear.”
And I just said, “Stay in bed with the Americans and let them worry about that crap.”
How did you know then where you were going? Just gossip?
Oh no, you could just have a look when you looked past the chart, just have a look or just check on the, even though, the curtains they weren’t fully drawn all the time, so we pretty well knew. Just put two and two together and you knew you were about here, the world’s only so big so it was not a problem.
You had some contacts or passive contacts with other submarines, did you know them to be friendly or enemy?
They were enemy, they were enemy. You can tell on their signatures so yeah, and you know you’re too close when you can hear them yourself through the hull, so thank goodness pretty well went grey overnight on that one because I could see myself not getting home.
a hands on person and prior to leaving Australia I went and go a piece of cedar wood and modified my bunk with it and some plastic piping and all this other sort of stuff that dates back to when I used to make models and so forth. And every time I had a bit of down time off watch I’d do something different to the wood and or plastic piping which I had coming out of what air conditioning we had to over my toes or ankles or knees and
just created a bit of interest there, “What’s that mongrel doing to his bunk now?” So I didn’t know it was causing all this but it was something new going on which had never been done before obviously but it should have been the standard Formica bunk, two straps, get in and boring but I needed to make mine different.
deployment because of the fumes internally in the boat and all the rest of it but it was just wider than the normal piece and when I polished all the fittings that went on it, it looked neat and put individual markings on it and yeah, it was a bit of a showpiece actually, just whittling away, just doing little bits to it. And then I had about six different areas of small, plastic tubing which I made a nozzle which fitted over the air conditioning louvre, which
I could turn on a little cock and have air to that section or that section or that section of my bed or my bunk, which was of no significance whatsoever, but it was something to do because the only reading I ever did was anything factual so that meant there was no mail and nothing new coming on board except the incoming signal of the news of Australia but yeah. And most of the books were
fiction and all that. I read a few space, science fiction books on space and that but that was about it. I preferred to do whittling or do something like that and that’s why I had the wood and I had little bits of wood stashed here and there throughout the boat and it was good.
Was it a pretty blokey atmosphere aboard the boat?
Oh our boat was. We had a senior crew on it and there was about, just on the normal boat crew, ten of us over thirty five so pretty old crew, considering we were all oldies so yeah, that made a big difference
Why do you think you were handpicked then David?
Something different I suppose, new kid on the block, no other reasons, not because of my knowledge of the boat, that’s for sure. It’s may be because of my tolerance, along tolerance views. I did in those days, I haven’t now but probably that’s the reason and also we
still liked to play sport although ten minutes in the fresh air with a submarine crew you were usually gagging but yeah, perhaps that’s another reason because in the squadron, out of the six boats we won the sports shield. I don’t think we won a game. I think we drew one, even the women’s team in Auckland, in Napier, beat us in basketball, so that says it all but we tried.
and we drank probably more than we anticipated and because the boat was your family, your mistress, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, whatever, boat came first, no matter what. That’s what that type of boat required.
If you were going up north at what point would the tension start to ratchet up a bit?
Oh it didn’t, it didn’t because we were more concerned with completing the job, that was a priority. Never say you can’t do it, that was always, it doesn’t really matter in submarine practice. Action stations
about being close to the enemy, being in a sort of unsurvivable position, that was the sort of thing that you reckon began to take it’s toll on you submariners?
Well if you look at a submarine crew and look at the same on a service ship crew and the ages are probably similar, you’ll see the wrinkles on the submarine crew and I never noticed it until later and I know that
when I was a young man trying to earn more money to get a deposit on a house in the general service, I used to clean toilets and things like that and I was always mindful of the fact that someone used to have to use that next so I’d always make sure, even though I didn’t have to do it, that they were clean, both sides. I used to polish the mirrors so that if anyone decided to squeeze a zit or something that the bloody foreign didn’t have to look at that. Just little things like that can make a difference, keep the taps shiny and
that basic little fact might have made it easier for whoever was coming to put the plug in and pump a bit of water, fill up the sink and have a little bird bath so yeah. And I also used to, we’d get the news and we’d run the book for the football results on Radio Australia and all I would do if I took a dollar bet off this bloke on that one, I’d put a
dollar bet on with this one with the other mob on the other one, so all I was doing was changing money over. I wasn’t making money, I was just and of course that created an interest, little things like that and I have done a few patrols, but I’ve got a mate who’s done a lot more and he was certainly used up by the system.
of that environment where you’re even hot bunking and things, what sort of personal habits or personal hygiene things become unacceptable and how do you deal with them amongst other crew members?
Well you just, nothing is a secret and everyone knows your, and we all stink the same so if anyone was becoming what we considered really bad well he’d be reminded in no uncertain
terms. You think you’re nice and clean but I can remember going into a number of hotels where we would sleep ashore because of the accommodation on the boat, when we went into port you’d stay in a hotel but we always got, you’d go into the foyer and you’d see the normal people, the regulars just split up because we stunk of diesel and even though we thought we were smelling
pretty with whatever underarmers we put on and showered and shampooed. The diesel was in everything, absolutely reeked of it and it takes a while to get it out of your system but yeah, it happens. So you’re mindful of your personal habits. You can’t wash regularly. See we wore sandals so that was a help and a t shirt and a pair of stubby shorts or something like that but now they wear full uniform and now the gear that they use to
make fresh water runs so silently it can’t be picked up, well they’ve got a slight chance of it being picked up, so they can shower and wash regularly so consequently back into uniform.
Goes from that section of the AMS [Air Management System] all the way up forward, and back down to the accommodation space, torpedo space, accommodation space, control room, back into the engine room, if the engines are running, or back down to the AMS and then recirced [recirculated]again until it dissipates so if you fart forward I’m smelling it down at seventy seven.
by a few weeks you’re on basically survival rations but with all the calories and so forth required to do a decent days work and then you work your way back. After you come out of the area you pig out but we’re back into a full time maintenance routine so the coolers have got to be changed, valves have got to stripped and cleaned and checked and reducers done so you’re flat out and you’re working accordingly and you’re back to full course meals, so yeah they had that down to pat.
But every now and again they’d, the food industry would come up with some other technology they wanted to experiment on and they’d probably supply the boat with some space food and what a perfect test.
that because of the gear you did have operating you knew there was nothing in x amount of miles, fifty miles, a hundred miles or something, whatever and you’d be in a patrol quiet state, other words be mindful you’re on patrol but a quiet state which you can walk to and from up the front, down the back and just make minimal noise on the Formica and so forth but yeah. Any other states from then on it’s yeah, and when you’re on ultra quiet you turn off lights and
Also because of the deniability of those missions you were saying the benefits aren’t available for those submariners?
Yeah, that’s right and for some of the guys in the early part of our service, re-arming the submarines, have done a hell of a lot of time with Royal Navy and unfortunately that’s not recognised
except for the basic injuries like a broken arm or something, all the other things, and it’s not operational service so that puts them under military compensation rather than the Veterans’ Entitlement Act, which is a major difference. Where one you get a lump sum for a injury and that’s it and the other you get a fortnightly pension and like most things that condition can worsen but because you’re getting a lump sum, that’s the end of that.
So you get certain treatments to cover that but because they’ve got this injury other injuries will develop so it’s always better for the veteran to be under the Veterans’ Entitlement Act but to get information out of the English is most likely like ringing up Russia and trying to get information out of them, it’s just never going to happen.
conditions we had and the products we used and it’s all breathed in and ninety five per cent of the crew smoked so passive smoking, a whole host of things. I remember trying to get, I liked the guys but I can assure you my chest and eyes used to bleed and I used to wheeze and sting but I just liked the guys on that job, that’s the reason I stayed. And when I say ‘liked the job’, it was camaraderie in the job,
not necessarily the job. The job is hard yakka but yeah, it was camaraderie and that’s why I stayed in that environment and it’s still relevant, even though I’m in civvy street it was still a close-knit family.
she’d always be there for me, that made a difference. So I’m not happy with the way I treated her but yeah, but hopefully with this trip around Australia that we’re supposed to be doing, would have been to make up for a certain amount of that time but we’ve had to put the brakes on because of the grandson arriving on the scene, which puts us in a whole new ball game, which is great anyway
as no good having grandma separated from grandchildren. It’s just never going to work.
Were there times when you sailed out of Sydney and you thought you might never see her again?
Well that time, one specific time that I was thinking when I heard it and I’m the chief and my young lads are excited saying, “This is great.” and I’m thinking of all the things that could go wrong and all these kids are thinking, “Well we could be in a fight here.” And I’m afraid
that comes with old age but oh no, I think there was a time when I dragged one of our officers out of the wardroom and was going to counsel him severely and I rang her up and said, “I’ve done it this time. I’m in for a court martial.” but because of the type of job we were in and the captain made us be best friends and here we were, we went ashore together.
I remember it was in Singapore or Hong Kong and we were holding hands and I’m saying, “Look sir, here we are, best of friends.” But yeah.
Was that a junior or a senior officer?
He was a junior officer then but he later became captain of his own submarine and asked me did I want to ship with him and I said, “Had enough of you on the other boat. Why would I want to go there again?” And yeah, no it was just a bit of counselling that some of those officers needed, so much
budgie in the after mess, it’s just you can do it and the requirement wasn’t there in as much as, “If we don’t get this thing by that, what are we going to do?” Because it worries you because they’ll certain other priorities and you can back off a bit. It’s not critical that you’ve got to be best of them all. Well you still
try to be best but you do it in different ways.
I mean infiltrating a US carrier group is a difficult task, why do you think Australian men and equipment are able to do that and have done so on a number of occasions?
Because we’re not sort of short term, we’re all long term and we haven’t got all the toys in the closet so we can throw just throw that one away and get another one. We just push the envelope a little further and that’s the way we operate and we make do and I think that’s come out in all facets
of Australian defence history. We’re not bigger and better. We’re better but certainly not bigger and we just do, we just do an excellent job with what we’ve got. If you’ve seen some of the gears and the setup that we use, the electronic gear I mean you can buy most of it at Dick Smith’s [electronics stores] and our guys put it together, absolutely brilliant. It’s like, we’ve got so many brilliant people in Australia
it’s just a shame our Government doesn’t back them a little better or put them in a situation where they don’t have to leave.
answer that honestly. I’ve watched the captains that are on the patrol boats, they’re signed up and I watch them change and they’ve got to come out and re-enter the human race when we surface and it’s a hard, hard thing to say and I see them sort of age over the three months we dive but that’s only because I was old. I wasn’t a young man see and coming from
engines and they’d come out and because they can’t leave the control room area and oh, they’re assigned to this state of the war vessel and this crew and they’ve got to do these tasks and it’s just mind boggling and any of them that get to captain have got the nod as far as I’m concerned.
spend more time doing that particular job. I was coming up to my use by date and that’s a hard thing to realise because you do change and that’s what was happening. Call it submarine male menopause, I don’t know but you do want the creature comforts. You don’t want to be in that environment any more. When I say in that environment
you want to be close to it and around it but you don’t actually want to be on patrol. It’s just not yeah, it’s up to the younger members to do that.
Well we’ll start with the patrol boats that you were working on between 1971 and 72, just give us an idea of what that work involved?
Well it was mainly patrolling, the southern patrol was from Gladstone to Rockhampton I think, or maybe Townsville and the central patrol was from Townsville,
Cairns to Thursday Island and the other patrol was all the way around to Weipa and because there were three boats up there. One was the senior boat, which I think was, Hollywood Mike we used to call the captain of that boat, Mike Ashton. He always smelled of perfume and reckoned he was the ants pants and we always got the crap jobs but our skipper was Artie White and he was in rugby and our boat was stacked with sportsmen
so we won everything and be in everything. And so it didn’t really matter to us what patrol we were doing but I can remember water skiing behind the boat once and our boss liked fishing so stop engines and we’d all have to go fishing. I remember one particular time I had the hundred and twenty pound breaking strain line wrapped around my arm and I’d snagged a big coral cod and the next minute I’m in the ocean and so anyway never did that trick again.
But that was mainly looking for, setting up for fishing and coastal surveillance and things like that and we’d pull into all those islands, South Molle and Daydream and Hamilton and all the rest of them and spread the goodwill there and challenge them to whatever and yeah I remember a few good times there. Like in Bowen we pulled in there and go through
the public relations business and then they put on a dance for us and there was the old sawdust on the dance floor and I think the old matron from the hospital was out watching all the young nurses and it was my job to, it was the first lieutenant’s job to keep matron happy while giving the rest of the crew time to chase young nurses around the back paddock. Oh it was funny, I just remember these incidents.
Was that because you were fairly newly married that they gave you that job?
Oh no, it was just that the first lieutenant and myself we were good talkers and that’s how it was. The things you do and anyway everyone had a good time. It was all above board and she was like that Hattie Jacques out of the Carry On mob, this lady, this matron and we were just the Carry On crew if you looked at that way. It was funny. And yeah,
but there was a serious side to it too, helping stranded fishermen and shipwrecked people and also liaising with the Aboriginal remote areas up north Queensland and that was good and they got to see that there was a black man on patrol boats and there was perhaps an opportunity for some of their kids if they ever decided to go that so there was a serious side as well. I was always mindful of that.
liaison? Would it be just to check on them or?
No, no, we might go alongside with some fresh water or some oil or something and we’d get to talk with the locals and sit down and perhaps have a barby or maybe play, if it was down time maybe a game of cricket if we were in for a weekend or something and yeah, just exchange information. And as a result of that they’d say, “Where are you from?” and all the rest of it, so yeah, I was always
What were your duties on Moresby?
’78, ’79, yeah. I was outside staff. Well I was engine room when we were steaming and 2IC and also outside, what they call outside tiffy and it was my job to make sure that the ship’s boats were operational, all the outside machinery which was outside
And the HMAS Moresby was a survey ship?
Yeah, and interesting thing about it was the readings we were getting with modern equipment would have been six to seven inches off what Matthew Flinders got in a twenty seven foot whale boat using a lead line, absolutely brilliant, absolutely brilliant them old sailors. And yeah, admittedly we would take more soundings but that
really impressed me from the old charts and we found a few rocks and bumps and caves that may have been formed over the years, recently but it was fantastic that side of it but everyone on that ship had a job. And you got to see parts of Australia that you’d never normally see because you’re doing that survey and the ship’s boats are about twenty five to thirty foot long and they go along and do the inshore, really close to the coast
and the Moresby, being the mother ship, it does the long grids, does a grid pattern off the coast so that you marry it up and now it’s all satellite positioning and all that so it’s fine and you’re using lasers and so forth but we were still using the old echo sounders and all that sort of stuff in those days so it’s pretty good. And you form a new chart so you’re basically making a Gregory’s [street directory].
so we had to do the southern area and Adelaide and Esperance and also up in St Joseph Bonaparte Gulf up north and as a result of that, well that was heading towards the Eighties when we were doing that and that was the time when my mother was sick and passed on. And also I’d done my subset so I was ready to come off it but yeah I remember we were off Esperance when the signal came through. My family was here
in Sydney and my daughter was sick at the time of my mother’s death, through that period and my wife put it together that it must have been Mum sending a signal, mental telepathy, that something was wrong and as soon as Mum had passed over my daughter was well, ready to go to school but my wife put that together some time later. But yeah, I just remember coming off the boat and they flew me off in the chopper and we come into Esperance and I seen all these
black fellas and so forth and some of them had been drinking too much but these little kids were playing and I said to my mate who was the pilot, I said, “Look the last thing these kids expect to see get out of this chopper is a black fella, in flying gear, so I’ll tell you when to take off back to the ship and you throw me the usual goffer.” which means a salute. And I just want one of them out of that might see, “Why can’t I be like that fella?” And I just remember landing on the esplanade on the front there and all these
little kids watching and when I took my flying helmet they just, I can still see their eyes, and they ran back to their parents, “Look mummy, look at that fellow, that fellow there is one of our fellows.” and so hopefully you pass it on. There’s some talent but they just need the opportunity, that’s all but yeah the navy was good. So it was Esperance to Perth, Perth to Sydney, pick up some pay and then pay up to Mount Isa to bury my mother and
they were lovely people up in Mount Isa by that way.
then she left here to go up to Queensland to live with her sister because it got a bit hard on my wife and the two children, so she decided to head north. Yeah and by that time my stepfather he was sick and they were living in a van up the back there and he was sick and then he passed on and then it was time, and my wife was looking after an extra two and it was pretty hard to
have them. Yeah, if I had the time over again I should have picked the signs earlier, looking at the health of my sort of step-father failing and then dragging Mum’s self down. I was away a lot see so I didn’t see that and by the time I got some help the horse had bolted and yeah, so. So
because Mum always had high blood pressure and so forth, so they always had a couple of beers after the day was finished so that didn’t help, oh well.
you sit down and you’ve got one of these day wallahs saying, “Don’t sit there, you’re overalls are dirty.” It just gets to you when you know that he’s going to be able to watch the ship’s company movie that night and you’re going to be on watch or something, but I mean, yeah, so I liked that, being on Moresby, it was a good boat. It’s probably only one of the only things still floating around that I was on in that era.
cold parts of the world, was that, I mean the submarines, how did you cope with that contrast?
I remember coming around the south island of New Zealand and I had a submarine jumper on, overalls, undershirt and that and I’m freezing because we were charging the batteries and the air is being sucked down the induction mast and then comes through, through the engine room hatch and then into the engines and it was about minus whatever. Yeah, I mean you did your job and you did it.
Once you become a submariner, your pay goes up because of commissions I guess? Can you tell us in monetary terms at that time, which was early Eighties I guess, what was the pay difference?
I mean about seventeen hundred dollars more than general service, that’s about it.
unbeknownst to us there is programs that come out and the fleet program comes out and there was an opportunity for Vampire to on it’s way to the UK to call into a South African ports. And unbeknownst to us at the time, well there was about six or seven of us black fellows on board Vampire, but unbeknownst to us
they had a bit of a chat between the ship’s company and certain officers of the ship’s company and so forth and obviously, it would have been the regulating or the coxswain of the ship and a number of other heads of the department and it was decided that well if we can’t take all our crew into South Africa, which they could have done, but if we can’t all be treated the same and drink with each other at the same bar, they’re not to go. And
I didn’t know about it until years later and neither did some of my colleagues and it was just nice to know that we were respected that well as part of the ship’s company and the crew the same as anyone else. It was just brilliant and yeah, I thought that was pretty impressive.
and that was a real something great really for you?
There was a fair few problems and it’s like there is still today a fair few problems and until we have that one door to travel through, either you’re in the police force for instance or you’re not, so what’s the good of having an Aboriginal liaison officer, it’s just ridiculous.
but not enough and that’s a problem. They don’t promote the indigenous people’s role in mainstream as they should. For instance if you’re going to take a job and you must be of Aboriginal origin you must have the same qualifications as your white counterpart over there and be in the same building and office, not in a separate one.
This is precisely what happened to me. I’m a qualified sailor, I was on the same ship as this bloke and I had the same qualifications and passed the same exam as him, so that’s it. I wasn’t over that section, “Oh that’s the Aboriginal section of the ship.” it’s absolutely ridiculous and that’s how they should apply these things in civvy street, so you’re either fully qualified or not. And most of my family are fully qualified, although
all of them are and that’s the way I expect it from everyone else but by dragging it out which happens, and I blame a lot of our Aboriginal people too, for wanting separate roads to travel, it’s just not good enough. You get on the same road as the rest of us, heading in the same direction.
my own hotel and I had a couple of ex-navy colleagues and we were all going to pool our resources and get our own pub. I’m glad that didn’t happen as we may have drank too much of the profits but yeah and it was always in our minds. Yeah, after that I think I had a security job for a while with Alcan and yeah and then I became building engineer, assistant building engineer at the Sydney Hilton Hotel
in town and I was walking around with a clipboard and a bag of fruit [suit] on and nothing happening and thinking, “My goodness, this is not me.” And then yeah I also had a job there, no that was after there. Then they, then I was recalled, they were looking for and I went back in and, sorry I left the navy first in ’85, that’s what happened. In 85
and then in ’86 I went back in and in that short period I had a number of jobs and it wasn’t until ’93 that I started at the hotel, which I said, yeah, security, then the Sydney Hilton and then I went to the RSL in town at the Hyde Park Anzac War Memorial but I also had a little side maintenance business, so I’ve got a registered business name and it’s a maintenance
business so if I had to do some property maintenance I could.
and I said, “Look I’m going to put in for my football injuries that I had and a few things like that, a couple of broken bones and that” and he asked me what else happened to me and I told him. And so he said, “Well do you know you’re entitled to this, this, this, this, this and this?” And I said, “No.” so he filled it all in and I got some benefits and I was thinking, “Goodness.” And I thought it was all part of my job, to swallow asbestos dust and everything else, to put up with these things that happened, and tank
cleaning and a few little other mishaps that we had but it’s not the case. It call comes under the department of, the Veterans’ Entitlement Act, which was, so when something good happened to me I decided to find out more about it and that’s when I, 1994, I really started getting to do the veterans side of it. And then because I travelled a bit and was
talking to a few different veterans on the Aboriginal side of it and we went to a seminar and it was NAIDOC [National Aboriginal Islander Day Observance Committee] week and word of mouth gets around and I realised the importance of how many Aboriginal veterans are out there suffering , so that’s when that came to fruition then and I’m still doing that today. Well that’s all veterans but particularly, every chance I get for an Aboriginal meeting or something and I know the number of people that are going to be there I’ll take some samples up of
some literature on their entitlements and so forth.
How many Aboriginal veterans are in New South Wales now that you?
Well we wouldn’t know because they’re identified as Australians. It was only recently that the government decided to, well 1988 they started to distinguish obviously, some order came from the Federal Government, “We want to find out how many Aboriginals.” some census.
So you’re a liaison officer of sorts?
Well yes, but I know my job, not as a liaison, I’m not a liaison officer, I’m a link. I don’t liaison, I can go into, what I was
And you said you take Aboriginal kids to the bush?
Well the city ones because they haven’t experienced a lot of that. I mean first two little gay kids, for the want of a better name, Basil and Cecil I call them, haven’t been fishing and I mean that’s terrible, absolutely terrible.
kids went through that when they were young and I was on the board of the RSL as a director and outgoing president and they were looking for a president and yeah, I took over from the retiring president. I was warned as a young up and coming RSL person never go near the youth club and I should have listened. But no, we’ve got six hundred and twenty kids, thirty two different nationalities, some refugees, twelve refugees. And some of the kids aren’t well
off so the RSL sub-branch supports them, buys some of their soccer gear and so forth, so much so that we’ve turned out some good products, from gymnasts right through, soccer players and small bore shooting and tae kwon do which seems to be one of the keen sports of the day for young people.
Yeah, but I’ve got, you’ve probably seen in my yard a number of old vehicles and things lying around, well once I get my Men’s Shed, which is a program run by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, those vehicles will be in that and I will be teaching kids in their time basic engineering skills so they’ll have a sense of pride and that and we’ll probably do those vehicles up, register it and sell it and reinvest that in another project. Just teach them and it will be a safe
difficult. Nine times out of ten I turned to the old demon alcohol to try and adjust and that’s not the answer so I’ve just got busier and trying to stay afloat and you feel best when you’re helping someone and at the end of the day when you’re getting a handshake that sort of justifies you’re existence but yeah, I can do more this way than I could before and obviously some people think
I’m doing the right thing because when your local mob puts you in for an Australia Day award I was quite shocked, so goodness.
Do you feel happy that people contact you to sort out disputes between indigenous communities?
Well it’s not really my job but what do you say? They say, “We’ve got nowhere else to turn to.” so you have a look at it and if you can help, fine, or if you can’t well move on, move on and that’s what’s happening. I’ve got a case there with a lady who used to go out with one of the sailors in the Sixties and there’s children involved and he’s since remarried and he’s got his own family
You’re suffering from a few physical and mental defects from your service,
can you tell us what they are and if you’re on some kind of disability pension from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs for those?
Yeah, because I had operational service and a lot of things that happened to me were standard basic injuries but see I never drank and I think I might have mentioned that I had four glasses of Victoria Bitter at recruit school and I was sick for three days. And the next time I was
drinking was in Vietnam after a diving accident and I was sick again after that and I had a rotten headache and I had a cigarette as well so you know that was sort of forced on me. It was peer group pressure and if you didn’t have a beer you were considered a bit of a wuss and I was eighteen and I was eligible to drink so because that was the Defence Service age. I didn’t have to wait until I was twenty one but I had some rugby injuries with both knees and
I was taken to hospital and they said, “It’s his cartilage.” and I said to the sickbay staff, “It’s not my cartilage.” and they said, “Yes it is.” and the next thing I know I’m waking up and they found it was an accruciment ligament, not my cartilage, so I was cut up so what would I know as a young able seaman? And I had some neck problems from rugby and also I’d
suffered the bends on a couple of occasions from doing different jobs, diving and all the carcinogenics from perhaps tank cleaning and different environments I was in and also the different places and also the sleep apnoea problem.
in but in my case with alcohol abuse and things like that well it was documented what they give me when I had the diving accident in 1965. And they knew I never drank, so who turned me into being a drunk? I suppose the Defence Department. So they accepted that responsibility. And because of the blood pressure side of that you know alcohol is no good for that so that was accepted and it’s a flow on from that. Cigarette smoking, well
they’ve banned smoking in submarines now. You can only smoke when you’re… the engines are snorting and that means the air is being sucked down an big induction pipe and out through the engine and out the exhaust, so yeah I was a passive smoker and that also gives you sleep apnoea and the rest of that so that was well documented. In my case it was documented because it used to affect me and when I went to complain about this in 1993 the navy never
did anything for me and as a result of that, I mean the letters were written from Concord Hospital by the specialist and so forth so they have accepted that these injuries I have are service related and as a result of that I get a disability pension because of that.
Okay, what kind of role do you think the defence forces can play for Aboriginal people in the future, for indigenous people in the future of Australia?
Well they’re playing a leadership role as they always have. We’re all soldiers, sailors, or airmen. Just because you’re Aboriginal is perhaps these days a bonus because you’re cultural side of it, the Defence Department has learnt that and they have a cell set up in Canberra purely for
that to be maintained and there are offices and middle management is educated accordingly, so they won’t have just one defence member drawn out of the system and there on his own amongst two thousand sailors, white sailors that perhaps didn’t have the experiences that I had of moving around as a young man and so as I say they’ve gone out of their way so the Defence Department is in good
steed to deal with any of the up and coming Aboriginal or indigenous people that want to join and that’s well accessed. But you still have ignorance in the system and I have a number of, like one of the guy’s was sent back from the Gulf and he’s really suffering because he feels he shouldn’t have been sent back but his doctor she was probably keen
to, he feels he was gotten rid of off the boat because he was an Aboriginal so there’s a problem there. I don’t see it like that. I see the doctor was reasonably young and didn’t want to take the chance because he couldn’t find the problem but he’s suffering because of it and all his mates say, “Oh you’re a malingerer, you couldn’t go the distance.”
What are some of the, you said there was a cultural department set up now, so what are some of the cultural problems that you suffered when you first entered the defence forces that these guys won’t suffer now because this department is set up?
Well there’s more information on where their backgrounds come from and what their, and what was important to them, spiritually and so forth and that has created the… The reason I didn’t suffer was I know the white fellows ways
so they can, there is no way I want to talk about the bloke running around the Middle East in a dress and was called JC, fine, I can do that, but those fellows can’t talk about how I was bought up and my cultural matters so it was never a problem. But I know all their skills so as a result of that I was probably put in the smart aleck category, so yeah I make it better because I was told by my grandmother, “No matter what you do, son, there’s always someone watching.” so
There were a few individuals that may not have liked me because I was black or may not have liked sport or may not have or may not have for what ever reason but the system is in place and they have to please explain why this bloke hasn’t done this, this and this, so they don’t want that on their resume either so you’ve got to be mindful of that. I know that but some
other Diggers probably didn’t know that and the army is pretty close knit. You’re out in the scrub and that’s a different set up.