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Garth Fitzgerald
Archive number: 2464
Date interviewed: 19 August, 2004

Served with:

Blackhawk Loadmaster
C Squadron
Gulf War 11
Garth Fitzgerald 2464


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Tape 01


Garth Fitzgerald, born in Kalgoorlie Western Australia in 1976, moved to Mandurah in WA on the coast at the age of two and spent my primary years there, went to Dally Park Primary School, which was the local primary school. Then I was fortunate enough to get whisked off to boarding


school for higher education, went to Scots College in Swanbourne, enjoyed that. That was really good. At the completion of high school it was university or a couple of years off. I chose the couple of years off and moved down south to Margaret River and lived down there for eighteen months and picked grapes and surfed and did all the good stuff and then at age nineteen I joined


the army, wanted to be an air crewman and went off to Kapooka for the twelve weeks of initial training there. That was a bit of a culture shock for me but it was enjoyable and then did lots of initial training courses in the army and ended up in Townsville. 1999 I changed jobs to become an air crewman, a loadmaster on the helicopters and I did various tours


around the country and then various places around the world in that line of work, which was good. December last year, 2003, I stepped out of the military and got a job here in Canberra, working for the local search and rescue helicopter company and here I am today.
Do you think you could give us a little bit of the military career?


After basic training in Kapooka we went down to Puckapunyal in Victoria for our basic driver’s course where we learnt to drive Unimogs [light trucks] and Land Rovers and not having been to any other parts of Australia before joining the military, it was good fun, so everywhere we went was new for me and it was good to see Victoria by the road. We did a lot of driving around Victoria and the weekends were spent in Melbourne at the footy [football] or


whatever. It was really good. After the driver’s course finished we moved up to, or we got sent to Oakey in south east Queensland, near Toowoomba, to the School of Aviation where we did a ground crewman course and they teach you radios, communications and basic aircraft knowledge and aircraft refuelling; and that became our base trade, so aviation, which was my corps that I got


posted into. That went for about three months. At completion of that I was posted to 5th Aviation Regiment in Townsville to C Squadron which at the time was the Chinooks [helicopters] and the UH1H or the Huey gunships, which were still in service at the time and we learnt a little bit about the Chinooks but more so the gunships were sort of our primary role there, so we had to learn how to rearm and reload the gunships with the rockets and


all the bullets and the like, and that was pretty good. We did lots of gunship exercises with them and that was pretty exciting, few trips around the countryside with the Chinooks, Alice Springs, Ayers Rock, Adelaide, Tasmania, Darwin, pretty much the east coast with those. That was pretty exciting. They were a good machine and then ’99 just before East Timor kicked off


I started my air crewman loadmaster course back down at the School of Aviation in Oakey. While I was there East Timor [military intervention supporting independence] kicked off, so we were pretty interested in all that cause the Blackhawks [helicopters] featured pretty prominently over there and I finished my loadmaster course in February of 2000, which was about the time that INTERFET [International Force East Timor] was, for the aircraft anyway, was looking at winding up and it was going to become a UN [United Nations] led sort of operation


and got posted back to Townsville to B Squadron, which is a Blackhawk squadron, as a new loadmaster and started my flying there. Luckily enough at the end of the year I was chosen to go back to East Timor when the Blackhawks were sent back to East Timor in rotation one, and that was good and I sort of bounced between East Timor, Townsville and leave


for the next two years, two or three years. I did three tours to Timor. Then in December of 2002 halfway to Brisbane in the car, the phone rang and I got recalled back to Townsville, for some unknown reason, and started my Chinook conversion course for lead up training to operations in Iraq; that was pretty interesting time and we spent the next


two and a half months training at Townsville, day in, day out, so I think we got half of Christmas Day off which was good. Yeah, it was a pretty magic moment and then in early February, I think around the middle of February, we departed for the Middle East and spent two and half months there, came home the end of April and slotted straight back into


Blackhawk training because obviously my currencies and everything were out and I just had a gutful by then of all the shit that goes with it, and started looking for employment in, you know, Civvy Street [civilian life]. I was lucky enough that the company I work for now was taking a lot of air crewman out of the military for work with them, and Canberra came up and Canberra’s not a bad spot. I mean it’s better than Townsville and


the pay was the same, so, yeah I stepped out and I’m really happy that I did now cause it’s a great job and it’s a different side of flying and, yeah, I really like it.
That’s pretty good, that’s great. What we’ll do now is move back to your childhood?
Yeah, sure, great, yeah.
So if you’d like to start with telling us about your parents’ background?


My mother’s family have a Scottish background and they moved out in the late 1800s to Western Australia and up into the hills in the Darling Escarpment and yeah, grew up around Dwellingup and those sort of areas. Once Mum was old enough she started travelling around Australia and


bumped into my father in Kalgoorlie. They were in their early 20s and Dad’s family, they came out from Ireland in early 1800s and floated all over the country but ended up in Western Australia and when the gold rush kicked off I think, you know, they all moved to Kalgoorlie chasing gold and they stayed there ever since and Mum and Dad hooked up in Kalgoorlie. Mum was working in one of the pubs up there and


they met there and, yeah, my brother and I were conceived in Kalgoorlie and I was lucky enough to be born there in ’76.We only spent eighteen months to two years there before Mum managed to drag Dad away from the desert confines there at Kalgoorlie, down the coast, down to Mandurah but I think before we got there we spent


a brief period with Mum’s parents in Dwellingup while Dad got work with Alcoa, which is a big bauxite mining company. Once he got that job we continued on to Tamandua and in that eighteen month sort of period my brother was born and so he didn’t have to endure the hardships of Kalgoorlie, not that I even remember it but I’m sure they scarred me, so yeah.


So how many years did you stay in Kalgoorlie for?
We were only there for two, so I don’t remember them at all but we went back there regularly for family and friends obviously on Dad’s side more so than Mum’s.
What about your parents’ side as far as military history is concerned, did you have any grandfathers and great grandfathers and so on who were in the wars?
Yeah on my mother’s side there was no-one. My grandfather was, he had something wrong with his knees, so he didn’t go to


World War II. He tried to enlist but they knocked him back and that’s all I know on my mother’s side. I think my uncle, my mother’s brother, he had a similar problem. All the boys in the Wallace family had knee problems, so he got knocked back from Vietnam as well. He tried to enlist but, for national conscription or something, but they didn’t take him on, so on her side they’re the only two that I know that ever tried


out. On my father’s side, on the Fitzgerald side, there was quite a few. I had an uncle that went to Vietnam and he was a loadmaster on the Hueys [helicopters] over there, so that’s where I sort of got my sort of inkling to be an air crewman, listening to him tell stories about it. And before him there was my grandfather and his six brothers and they all went to World War II and they were in


all sort of units, from, you know, bottle washing platoons to the Z Force guys that, you know, were the first sort of commandos/special forces. My grandfather, he was in the reserve regiment from Western Australia, were the first guys to go to PNG [Papua New Guinea] to stop the Japanese and they all came back ,which was remarkable being the biggest family of brothers from Western Australia


all to go and return, which is astounding when they, you know, Europe, Africa, South East Asia, PNG, everywhere. That they all came back is beyond me, but it was pretty big back then and I’ve got lots of newspaper clippings and stuff like that and medals of theirs, so it was pretty interesting. Before that I’m not too sure but, yeah, there’s a fair bit


of family history there and it’s pretty big in our family that that happened. Unfortunately none of them are alive anymore. I’d love to have, you know, had my grandfather had this opportunity it would have been really good cause he sort of bottled a lot of that up and he didn’t, apart from specific things that happened to him, he never really spoke about what went on and we couldn’t even get it out of Grandma after he passed away. She just didn’t know, you know, so, yeah, just all that gone


which is a shame
Were all of them frontline soldiers?
No, one of them wasn’t. He was the eldest. He was in World War I as well and he lied about his age. He was like almost sixty when he went to World War II and he lied and said he was fifteen years younger or something, whereas my Grandad was the opposite foot. He was fifteen and he lied about his, you know, so to get all these big family of brothers in and there was two sisters as well and they were in the women’s


whatever it was, the WAAAF [Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force] and so they were all involved but, yeah, the eldest, he was obviously really old and not fit for frontline duty, so he was in the rear as a storeman I think, or a ordnance person as they are called now as I’m sure they were back then .Most of them were infantry or the one Special Forces guy and


there’s a funny story about him. He was in the company that got stranded in East Timor when the Japanese stormed it and took over their airfields at Dili and Atambua and they were stuck up in the mountains. At the end of the war they were still stuck in Timor and Grandad married Grandma and they were having their honeymoon in Darwin


They were walking along the docks, and there was a naval ship in docks and they were taking a passing interest in this navy ship and there was all these long haired, scruffy looking, feral people coming down the steps onto the dock. And one of these scruffy looking lads grabbed hold of my grandfather and said, “You don’t remember me, I’m back, I’m back” and my Granddad’s like, “Who the hell are you?” and it was his brother and


the navy had just come back from East Timor after the war from picking up these, you know, stragglers from the Z Force[special reconnaissance force]. It would have been good to see and to have Grandad talk more about it than Nan. Obviously she was there, so she was able to talk about it. Interesting things happen I guess when big wars like that happen and families, whole families go away.
So was that a


fairly well celebrated thing, that largest family to go to war in WA?
It is amongst our family. It’s well and truly forgotten in Western Australia and probably, you know, around the traps but if you look into it I mean it’s there and it happened, so it’s pretty well known around our family.
Yeah it’s sort of lucky there was no “Saving Private Ryan” [war movie] type stories?
That’s it, yeah. When that movie came out and I was watching it I was just thinking, “Gosh.” you know,


“This happened to my grandfather.” you know, “He was pretty lucky.” sort of thing, but I don’t think the Australians would have. We didn’t have the numbers like the Americans did. They wouldn’t have been bringing anyone home if that started happening, because obviously big families of brothers, you know, didn’t come home, so they were just lucky.
Yeah, so how’d you develop an interest into the military as a young chap?
Well, through my uncle. He sort of planted the seed and then, you know, it was a pretty proud tradition.


Anzac Days and the like were pretty big for our family and everyone sort of came together for that to watch Grandad and a couple of his brothers. Obviously there wasn’t many around by the time I was old enough to remember them in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. Obviously they’d started passing away. Given that Grandad was the youngest and fifteen when he went; it only makes sense that the boys are going to pass away before him


I remember one of his brothers but I don’t remember any of the others and so it was always big in our family, the military and that sort of presence, and once I’d done my two years of debauchery down south after school it was off to uni [university]or go and get a job and I really couldn’t be bothered going back and studying after having such a good time and I thought, “Well I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit of the country.” you know, “This air crewman


thing, it’s all exciting.” and so I went and made some enquiries and looked at entry levels and stuff like that and it was pretty easy to get in back then. It was only Year Ten [at school]. You only needed to have year ten and I had all that covered and so I applied and I enlisted to aviation. I waited a couple of months until I could get a spot and off I went.
Alright before we go into your military career perhaps you could tell us a little bit about how you got into boarding school?
To boarding school.


Well that, I think because my cousin, Vanessa Stuart, was the first on my mother’s side to go to a private school. She went to Presbyterian Ladies College, or PLC, in Perth. She’s a couple of years older than me. It was a pretty big thing for Mum’s side of the family and


Mum decided it was best that her two boys have the best sort of education and halfway through grade six they told me that I was going to boarding school in Perth. At the time it didn’t really bother me '’cause I was just interested in what I was doing with my mates after school and footy [football]on the weekend and fishing in between and whatever that you do in small coastal towns. But then towards the end of grade seven, or year seven, which is your last year in primary school in WA,


they were starting the second high school in Mandurah and all of my year seven buddies were going to be the first year eights there, and the next year there would be year eights and year nines, so my friends were always going to be at the top of the food chain all the way through high school, so that really started playing on my mind that all my friends were going to have no problems through high school. They were always going to be the oldest and the biggest and I would have to go to boarding school and shower with naked country boys. It really scared the piss


out of me [frightened me] and the first night in the boarding school was just chaos ; there was kids crying and there was fights till three o’clock in the morning and it was just chaos; but after that settled down, boarding school was really good and I made some really solid mates there who I still stay in touch with. I was lucky enough that another boarder in my boarding house was from Mandurah and him and I really clicked and sort of


looked after each other while we were there.
So I presume in the military it must have been easy then?
Well it was, yes.
I mean you would have found bastardisation [initiation] at the boarding school?
Heaps of bastardisation in the boarding school, more than in the military, yeah, but there was more but it wasn’t as rough. When it happened in the military, it really happened and you


knew that it had happened. If you messed up, you knew that you messed up and you wouldn’t do it again, although I mean I, yeah, it wasn’t that bad when I was there either. I mean I’m not saying I agree with it, but you’re going into a line of work where getting slapped around a bit is the least of your worries when you really have to start working, you know,


and you need to learn quick and that’s the quickest way, well not bastardise, but to beat certain things into people. I don’t agree with it, but it has its benefits and if people crack under that then maybe they shouldn’t be there, you know. I nearly cracked. It was shit. A lot of people do, you know.
So the actual boarding school you went to, were they strict on religious


You had to go to chapel every Sunday night. If you went back to your home for the weekend you had to be back by six thirty to go to chapel. All the hundred and eighty boarders would walk up the hill to the chapel on a Sunday night and go to chapel and then every Wednesday there was chapel during school. Then every Tuesday there was a hymn, you know, and singing out of your hymn book and shit and there was hymn books getting thrown


around cause no-one wanted to sing. So they were big on it and there was religious classes once a week.
I’m surprised you didn’t become a priest?
I don’t think it was possible. In primary school, Mum used to drag us to church and stuff like that, so I sort of knew what I was in for but after getting it thumped into me for five years, by the time I got kicked out of boarding school I’d just had enough.
So you got kicked out of boarding school?
Yeah, I got kicked out


at the end of year eleven. I was lucky not to get kicked out of the school completely but had I not bamboozled the headmaster, you know, I probably would have, but he fell for it, so I got to stay.
So why’d you get kicked out?


Obviously you’re a tight knit sort of group in boarding school and a few of us used to smoke ciggies [cigarettes]and stuff .You have prep, evening homework time, a two hour block from seven till nine and at the end of that, at year eleven, you’re sixteen. I mean you’re young but the life experiences you gain after being a boarder for four years, you’re sort of reasonably mature for a sixteen year old and we thought we were old enough to smoke and so there was a group of us that used to go and smoke after prep in this sort of vacant block around from the boarding house.


Me and a friend of mine, we got caught by one of the boarding house masters and it sort of led to a cubicle, is what we used to call them, "cubbies.” your little rooms, with your bed and your desk and your shithouse and a cubbie inspection. And they went through my cubicle and they found my little lock up, my safety box, which I had all my letters from family and friends and birthday cards and, you know, my five buck pocket money that used to get, and also had this little pipe that


one of the guys had made for me in metalwork. It didn’t even work. Not everyone had smart kids and some kids only go to private schools to do sport, woodwork, metalwork, art and drama sort of thing, you know, because their parents just want to send them away to this flash school, and he made me this thing. It didn’t work. It had no residue in it at all but it was a tiny little pipe and, yes, maybe if you had of put some superglue in it, it would have worked and you could have smoked pot through it but the boarding house master


concocted this story that I was bringing pot up from Mandurah on the weekends after seeing my parents and then selling it to the day boys. And on that evidence alone he tried to convict me and it just so happened that I fell for it, thinking, “You smart bastard.” you know, “You’ve got me. How did that happen?” and then when I owned up to it, his eyes just


exploded into dishpans because he couldn’t believe that, “Yay, I’ve got this bastard finally.” because he’d been chasing me for ages, I was like the best runner in the school and I smoked ciggies and I was a bad influence on all the little kids, so he wanted me gone. And he was this nasty South African bastard and the day boys all got interviewed and they denied it and I spoke to them via phone somehow.


I wasn’t allowed to talk to them at school or anything. I had to spend in between, I had to go straight from class to class and lunch and mornings were spent out the front of the teachers’ fuckin’ room and, shit it was a crap couple of months and anyway, crunch time and the headmaster had me in his office. He said, “Look, I’m going to kick you out of the boarding house and I’m pretty sure I’m going to kick you out of the school. Why don’t you tell me what you were doing?” and I said, “Look.” you know, “I was a bit hard up for friends and….” I played


that card and said, “I had no friends and I was just using drugs as a lever to find friends cause I was a loner in the boarding house.” and played all the big sob stories and the clincher was when he asked me, “How big an ounce was?” and I said, “It’s about as big as two plastic shopping bags together.” and he surmised from that that I didn’t know what I was talking about because obviously an ounce is a lot smaller, not that I knew, but, you know, and so he kicked me out of the boarding school.


And so that kept the boarding house master happy and he allowed me just to stay in the school but as a day boy or just a regular, you know, sort of student, and that happened and it was a bad time for our family then. Mum left Dad at the start of all that and I mean she had to move to Perth now from Mandurah so that I could finish year twelve and my brother left the boarding house as well,


obviously he’s not going to stay a boarder if Mum’s in Perth and yeah, the end of year eleven and year twelve was pretty sort of tough given family break up, being kicked out of the boarding house. It was interesting, tough at the same time though, yeah. I wouldn’t change it. It was pretty up and down ride, good and bad times but, you know, yeah.
Would you say you had a good education


Yeah, definitely, yeah.
What did it teach you?
I think, not having gone to any other schools I can’t say that, you know, what we got taught was better. I certainly ended up with a higher education than my friends from primary school. I mean I could have gone to university. I chose not to, so my education was better and just all the bonding experiences


and the friends that I made in the boarding school and the sport. I mean sport is huge, as you probably know, in private schools is massive and did I learn anymore than public school guys? In the classroom maybe and the sports field, most definitely I would say. It’s just so well organised and I mean I got looked after a little bit for athletics reasons, you know. In year eleven and twelve the teachers


looked after me. I didn’t have to ask for extensions. I just handed stuff in when I wanted to and that was the same with swimming team, the football team, the rugby team, you know, all the teams got looked after, so it certainly taught me, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” and yeah, but I mean I had a good time. It was good fun.
This is of course boys only, right?
Yeah, boys only, yeah and we used to sneak out


at night over to MLC, which is Methodist Ladies College, and do forays late at night over to their boarding house and stuff like that, so we had a ball, you know. We used to do some crazy shit and yeah, it was good fun.
Were they good "ladies"?
Yeah, well we weren’t going there to drink coffee! Yeah, it was good times. I mean there were four private schools within a five


kilometre radius, two boys and two girls private schools and yeah, lots of stuff happened. It was good.
When did you start to decide that the army might be a worthy career?
I think the last sort of six months when I was


in Margaret River and I was starting to realise that it was going nowhere. I was taking it there faster and the nocturnal activities would carry over into the day and everything was becoming a blur and we weren’t doing anything properly, from living to eating to staying in touch with family and friends. We were just out on our own in the bush, you know, down south surfing


and collecting the dole and working for cash. We were making heaps of money but we had to have it to spend it as well and over a six month period realising, “I’ve got to do something. I can’t keep doing this.” and you see people, when you get into certain circles, every circle, you see people that have been doing it for a while, no matter what it is and you just think, “Do I want to end up like that?”


I didn’t think that going to uni at the time would be prosperous because I would be back amongst old friends, granted they’d be a couple of years in front but I would be amongst old friends and there’s still plenty of stuff you can get up to at university which wouldn’t have been that different to what I’d been doing for the last eighteen months and I thought, “Well.” you know, “This army thing’s pretty good.” I was


interested in the aviation side and there’s definitely no way known that sort of drugs and drinking are going to be tolerated in the Defence Force and they’re not, to a certain extent. The drinking, when I first started was frowned upon if you didn’t drink. That was sort of it. That sort of last six months down south I started to realise that I had to do something and


the Defence Force or the army in particular was looking more and more inviting, given the stability that it offered and that I really needed to be honest, you know. It wasn’t looking good, but I mean I made the right choice.
So you knew it was going to be a hard run as well?
Yeah, I knew that it was going to be a huge culture shock and that I could end up anywhere and nothing was certain and even though I enlisted , this nice glamour corps in the ADF [Australian Defence Force] that,


you know, I might not pass. I might not be up to scratch and I could end up anywhere, you know, and I knew all that and I still went and did it cause I thought, you know, “Bugger it, I can run fast enough. I’ll just keep running.”
So what did you have in mind when you first thought of the army as a career?
What did I think I’d be doing and stuff? Well


I think Somalia was the biggest thing that happened while I was in high school and I don’t remember seeing much footage of that because in the boarding school, you know, you don’t get to see much TV at all. I mean we knew it was on and it was happening and we saw images of a foreign desolate country with famine and devastation and stuff like that, that our boys were sort of patrolling the streets and with their blue helmets on and looking after the people and


I sort of thought, “Well maybe that’s what I’ll end up doing.” you know, “Maybe I won’t end up being a frontline infantryman.” and given that I wanted to be a loadmaster I thought, “Well then I’ll just be flying them in there and then flying them home for tea and medals and stuff.” so yeah. I wasn’t a hundred percent sure but I had a fair idea that, you know, what I was doing would be inherently dangerous because it’s aviation but


reasonably safe because, you know, I wouldn’t be up the front all the time. I’ll be flying home.
So were you looking for glamour?
No, not at all. I was just looking for stability, you know, and….
But within that you weren’t looking for sort of the rough and tumble type infantry?
Hell no. No way, no. I didn’t want to be lugging a pack round or, you know, getting shot at all the time or, I mean those guys, you know,


and we used to fly them all over the place and some of the places we dropped them off, I mean I smiled cause I was going home but I felt sorry for them because they were just real shit holes we used to drop them in and I thank my lucky stars that I wasn’t getting out with them because they do a really, really hard job and they do it well so, no. That wasn’t for me though, there was no way.
But you didn’t know that at that time?
No, well at the end of Kapooka they tell you what corps you’re going to


and a common joke for the instructors is, cause they know, you all fill in your preferences and they know where you want to go and I just put aviation, aviation, aviation and that was it and they brought us all into this sort of this common room thing and we’re all sitting down and the sergeant’s reading out, “Smith, bloody infantry, Hogan, armoured.” and stuff like this. He’s going through all the names and he got to me. It’s like, “Fitzgerald, infantry.” and I stopped breathing. I thought, “Holy shit!” and you’ve got until march out date to pull the pin at Kapooka. Once you march out


that’s it. You’re in for your four years and so he said, “Yep, that’s it. Righto, you all know where you’re going. Piss off and tidy your rooms.” or “Polish your brass.” or some shit and I went straight downstairs. I just grabbed the mobile phone, rang my old man and said, “That’s it mate, I’m getting out. They’re sending me to infantry. I ain’t fucking going to infantry!” and he’s like, “No, no stick it out mate, tough it out. You’ll be right.” and I’m like, “No, get fucked. I’m not doing it. That infantry shits got knobs on it.” and then they stuck their head out and said, “Get back up here!” and so we all went back up there and they’re going, “Righto, there’s a few


spare spots around.” you know, “Does anyone want to go somewhere else?” and I went, “Fucking oath, yeah, I want to go to aviation.” They said, “Yeah, righto, you can go to aviation.” and then like everyone else is going, “Oh shit.” Fifteen other hands went up and he said, “No, no, that was just for Fitzy. That was a joke for Fitzy.” so, and I just thought, “You arseholes!” you know, cause I got on pretty well with my section commander and
Before that process went in, tell us how you actually


enlisted and just the process?
Righto, yeah, well I went to the recruiting office in Perth and the navy guy bailed me up first, cause they just come at you, like the navy guy comes at you, then the air force, cause they’ve got to get a quota I guess and then the navy guy came at me and I told him about aviation and that I was keen on aviation and he’s off on his spiel about Sea Kings [helicopters] and, you know, and all this sort of stuff and I think he might have fired guns or watched a radar or something on a boat somewhere


but he didn’t really know that much and then the army guy overheard him. He said, “Aah.” you know, “We’ve got all the helicopters, come over here.” and so I said, “Yeah, no worries.” so I trotted off into his little corner and he was really nice, you know, and cause they fool you at recruiting. They lie to you at recruiting, arseholes, but, you know, and he said, “Yeah, yeah, no worries. We’ll put you there mate.” and so I signed on with the list saying, you know, I want to enlist and they said, “Yeah, yeah, we’ll get back to you mate, we’ll get back


to you.” and couple of months went by. They hadn’t got back to me and I thought, “Well I’ll ring them up.” and they said, “Shit, yeah, yeah, can you come in next week and sign the dotted line?” and I said, “Hang on.” you know, “Wasn’t there supposed to be some sort of process?” and they’re going, “Yeah but we left you out of the loop for all that. You don’t need to know all that.” I went, “OK.” so I went up there, did my physical and my psych test one day and then the next day I signed the dotted line and then two days after that I’m on a plane to bloody Victoria, so it happened really quick for me and
Two days later?
Yeah, after signing the


you know, enlistment and you stand up and the commanding officer of the recruiting thing goes in and, you know, swear allegiance to the Queen, you know, yada yada, all that crap and he gives you a little thing to give to your parents to put up on their wall saying, you know, “You’re in the army now.” and off you go and I remember his first rule, his first order. There was eight of us I think that joined up at the same time from WA and he said, “Your first order is not to drink alcohol on the plane from Perth to Melbourne.” and everyone’s going,


“Yep, no worries Sir, beauty.” and then of course as soon as we levelled out, everyone’s into the VBs [beer] cause we didn’t know when we were going to get a drink again and we all poured ourselves off the bus into Kapooka and just got absolutely smashed, you know, for being drunk on our first night in barracks but, yeah, you get that.
Sorry, what happened when you got back to Kapooka?
Well we all poured ourself off the bus cause we’d been drinking all day and then they just, they smashed us, you know. In our face, straight away, you know, “Who do you think you are? You’re fucking in the army now!” and all that sort of


shit, with a bit of fucking chest poking and, “Pull your shit together. When you fucking wake up in the morning you’d better be sober.” and I mean you expect that shit when you rock up to work drunk, so….
So that’s the famous bus trip, yeah?
Yeah, that bus trip’s a killer mate. When you get from the Wagga airport to Kapooka, you know, you’ve got this section commander up the front and he’s just going, “Yeah, g’day, welcome to Wagga, welcome to Kapooka.” and you’re going, “This ain’t so bad. This is all good.” but as soon as you drive through that front gate he fuckin’ chucks a different hat on, becomes a different person and


just starts yelling at you, you know, and you think, “Holy shit, what’s this?” you know, yeah. It’s pretty crazy, yeah.
So what did he say the moment the gate, you know, when you got inside the gate?
As soon as we drove through the gate I went sort of blank because I couldn’t believe that he went from this placid bloke up the front, you know, eyes forward saying nothing and we were all jibbery jabbering and talking and being really loud in the back of the bus and he just stood up and went off like, “Shut the fuck up! You’re in the fuckin’ army now. You do what I fuckin’ say!” and everyone’s like,


“Oh, fuckin’ shit!” I mean I’ve got hair down past my shoulders, so I’m like this fucking surfie hippie, going, “What?” freaking out a bit, you know, “Who’s this mo fo?” and, Jesus, you know.
Yeah, you would have done this?
Yeah, if I had the chance I probably would have but, I needed some relief but, yeah. The whole, that period from when you sign on to when you get there, you know, you forget that because the next twelve


weeks is so hard, so.
Interviewee: Garth Fitzgerald Archive ID 2464 Tape 02


So the early training wasn’t like the movie, “Full Metal Jacket”?
It was sort of, it was similar. We got there in, or our platoon recruits, we all got there in dribs and drabs and we were the first ones there from Western Australia and then the Queenslanders rocked up and there was a heap of them. I think Queenslanders and New South Wales people make up the majority of the Defence Force and then


guys from New South Wales rocked up and we sort of, you know, each state would come in of a night time, like I think like the one lone Tasmanian rocked up at like four in the morning and had to get up two hours later for day one of recruit training and it was pretty much like that, you know. They gave us each green tracksuits that didn’t fit and cause, you know, I’m like six three and mine came halfway up my shins and they give you these shitty runners and you go down to breakfast in the morning and there’s


five or six hundred other recruits in there with shaved heads and there’s me with my frog suit on that doesn’t fit and my hair past my shoulders just looking around going, “Oh my God!” and, you know, people are pointing at me, going, you know, laughing cause they know, and day one was just chaos. It’s going from store to store getting uniforms and then the last thing you do on sort of day one is get your hair cut and when I came out of there, you know, this guy I sat next to on the plane from Perth,


he introduced himself to me because he didn’t recognise me and it was like, “Shit man, it’s me. I was with you all day yesterday.” It’s like, “Shit!” so you know, so that was, getting my hair cut off, it really, it cut me deep but it was good and then yeah, it wasn’t, I mean the bastardisation that they copped in that movie was pretty severe. A few people got what they used to call face ripping where they’d just be in your face and they’d be yelling and screaming


and chest poking and pushing you around a bit and that happened and it happened to everyone. I never saw anyone sort of get beaten up or, you know, anything like that. I know it happened but I never saw it and the training was pretty much the same. There was lots of obstacle course, lots of PT [physical training]. There was no running round, you know, “PT’s good for you, good for me.” sort of stuff like they do, but there was lots of PT, lots of learning about the military,


military law and military history, things you can and can’t do, stuff like that, lots of weapons training, basically, you know, trying to turn a civvy into a soldier and lots of camping, or bush, you know. You just call it going bush and it’s broken down into phases; and phase one is sort of learning. They walk around and you have stands out in the bush where they teach you,


you know, how to set up your hoochie [tent] and your sleeping bag and tie your boots and all, you know, pack up your pack and all that sort of stuff ;and phase two they have tabs. You wear tabs so that other instructors, 'cause obviously there’s instructors everywhere, they know what level you’re at and then from that they know what standard you’re at, and if you’re not at that standard for the tabs that you’re wearing, you know, they’ll get up you and they’ll smash you and that happened all the time and


what was it, red? Red tabs, these little bits of cloth and you put them on your epaulettes and red was like week one to four, and then blue was four to eight, and then gold was eight to twelve and so sort of red tabs was learning and learning about, oh yeah shit, and there was heaps of drill, heaps of marching around on that fuckin’ parade square, man. That was shithouse and it was summer when we were there. We got there in November, left in February and Wagga in summer’s just


stifling, so, you know, you saw a couple of guys keel over on the parade ground and spud into the dirt and bust up their chins and noses and shit and…. hated drill. Every day you got drilled, you know, in the morning and in the afternoon but you had to learn it I guess, marching around with your arms up, you know, and stuff like that and if you weren’t doing that then, you know, some corporal from two hundred metres away would yell at you, and it was like he was right here because he’d been doing it for years and, so


it was, yeah, I hated it, given what I’d been doing for the last two years. But when you get to gold tabs and you're sort of last month there, you think, “Shit!.” you know, “All the hard stuff’s done. Now I just have to keep doing it and show them that.” you know, “I can do it” and then it’s sort of like your terminal test. You have your final fitness test, your final field phase or your bush trip and your final shooting assessment, your final


drill, all your finals sort of stuff, everything they’d taught you and that sort of culminates on the last day, you march out and usually there’s two platoons and, you know, you have a sister platoon. I can’t remember who our, we were 4 Platoon. I think 2 Platoon was our sister platoon or something and so we marched out with them, this big parade and family and friends come from all over the country and my Mum came over from Perth and a friend came up from Melbourne and you do the big parade and a couple


of guys get awards and, you know, best recruit, best at PT and most improved or something, you know, just to put a show on for the family, so they think, “This isn’t that bad. My son’s been doing really well.” when really he’s standing out there under a hat, going, “What the fuck am I doing here?” and yeah, and then that’s it, you know. You have a big barbeque with all your instructors and they, for some reason they start acting like your friends. I don’t know why because you hate their guts. No, that’s not true. You hate some of them but by the end of


it, you know, by the end of week eight they start sort of mellowing out and try and become your friends because at some stage I mean they well could be your sergeant in the next unit you get posted to, and they don’t want to be that arsehole from Kapooka. They want to be that guy that, “Shit.” you know, “You showed me all of this stuff and then…..” you know, “Once I showed you that I could do it you were….” you know, “You were nice to me” and that’s pretty much all it is, you know. They beast you until you’ve got it and then they say, “Righto, now you show me.” and then they


become your mates as opposed to your enemies. I used to hate it, mate. I hated it, you know. Hallway four in the morning at six thirty, you know, and you had ten seconds to be out in the hallway with the sheet over your shoulder, you know, sixty people, ten seconds, you know, and some blokes, who knows what they were dreaming about, but they’re out there in their boxers [underwear] and their sheet and it’s just, shit like that used to drive me insane. And when you got your gold tabs you’re allowed to start drinking at the boozer, [bar] so there’s always fights up there and


stuff like that, which was good because, you know, “Our platoon’s better than yours.” and just that sort of rivalry, but they instil in you and, you know, I think that’s why there’s a lot of military guys get into fights because they try and teach you that you’re not invincible but you’re pretty damn tough, you know, and given the majority of the guys from Kapooka, well not the majority but a fair whack go to infantry, the basic training is


moulded around infantry and you need to be, I guess, an infantryman or a soldier first before you specialise into whatever you’re going to be. I mean I hated it initially but at the end, yeah. It was good to finish and I was like, “Well.” you know, “I’ve done alright. I’ve passed all this sort of stuff.” and that was physically and mentally demanding, as hard as it got, you know. After that it sort of, you had to be a little bit more,


especially once you got to aviation. You had to be a little bit more studious, less sort of physically active. You still had, you know, a physical side to your training that you had to maintain but you had to, it was more based on learning than being fit and tough stuff like that, so.
Of course during basic training you could leave at any time, correct?
You could, yeah.
So what kept you there if you hated it so much?
Well I think, you know, I had this end goal where I wanted to end up in helicopters and


I didn’t want to, you know, the team work thing and they instilled that into you, your mates and mateship and in my little section we had, there was four boys and eight girls, so we were like surrounded by chicks [girls] and we were the only section with chicks in it and, I don’t know, that was a handful, as you can imagine, having two, well, you know, it was good that they were there but I mean females come with their own baggage, as do males, but


theirs' is a little bit more, I don’t know, hindering, if that’s politically correct, when you’re out in the field, you know. And so that used to drive me insane too, but the three other guys that were in my section with me, we were really close and, you know, we sort of dragged these chicks through with us because they really wanted to be there, I mean and they had a hard time because they just got treated like we did. Apart from the PT, they had a little bit easier PT than us. I mean they got treated like shit just like we did, so, you know, and I made really good friends. My mates


from WA, the ones caught the plane over from, whenever we got any time to ourselves the West Australians would always, you know, go and find each other and hang out and I mean I’m living with one of my mates now who I signed the line with in ’95, you know. We’re doing the same job for the same rescue company here all this time later and we’re still the best of mates and so you don’t want to let your mates down and that’d be, you know, to pull the pin and walk away, you know, not only was there the dilemma of, “What would I be going back


to Perth for? You know, it was like, “Well.” you know, “These guys are going to do it and I’m going to do it.” you know. “I can fuckin’ finish this.” you know, and it’s sort of like you stay because you want to show these people that are beasting you that, you can take it, you know. You can take whatever they dish out and, you know, day at a time. You just have to take it a day at a time and you come out at the end and you think, “Oh shit, I’ve done it. I’ve beaten you and what have you got for me next?”


A day at a time?
You have to, and that’s pretty much how I did all my army career, day at a time.
You join the army, you go in and there’s four guys and eight girls, was that a big surprise when you got there?
It was a huge surprise because firstly I didn’t think there was any females in the Defence Force. I didn’t see any at recruiting. I hadn’t heard about any. I didn’t know anyone who had sisters or mums or aunties or cousins that were females in the army


and then when we were travelling over, there was a guy there who was a retread, a retread, like a guy that’d got out but he’d been out for too long to go straight back into his old job, so he had to do some training and he said that, you know, “Now they have female platoons.” so there was just entire platoons of females which is like gold, you know, magic, but when we got there they’d mixed them and they still are. They’re mixed now, so I mean you’ve got to work with them. You might as well train with them as well, which is


fine and it was a bit of a shock to me and even more of a shock when I found out I was in their section, that just shitted me to tears. I thought, “Oh my God, we’re going to get fuckin’ smashed, these chicks” but no, they were really good and they were there for the same reason we were, you know. Well for similar reasons, but the same sort of goals. They wanted to be in the army and so they put in a hundred and ten percent and they all got through. I think one of them got back squadded to Digger James [transferred to a special platoon], which is obviously a pretty famous guy, but it was a platoon


where if you get injured or you fall behind in your shooting or your drill or something and they’ll send you there for some remedial training and once you’re up to speed again, you won’t go back to the platoon that you came from because obviously now they’re streaks ahead of you. You’ll get slotted in sideways to a platoon that’s at the same level you’re at and then you’ll march out with them, so I think we lost one girl and a couple of guys to that, all due to injury, cause you do a lot of obstacle course training and, you know, running over uneven surfaces and shit,


and it’s going to hurt you if you slip up. Nobody ever wanted to go there because that meant you had to stay there for longer and that was shithouse but they got bloody good treatment those guys. I mean it didn’t matter what stage of their training, Digger James platoon was always allowed to go to the boozer, so you could be like week one, fall over, hurt your knee, back squad at Digger James and be on the piss [booze] like by day eight and like no-one else in your platoon’s going to get a sniff of beer for like, you know, eight weeks


but they started letting us, I can’t remember what stage they start letting you do day trips into Wagga and I think the first time you get like four hours in Wagga, to go and have a look around and get a little bit of civilisation back into you and see what the rest of the world’s doing; and I think we just watched a movie and had a feed and then, you know, if you’re not back, your arse is grass [in deep trouble], so you make sure you’re back and by the end of it you had to be back by six, then ten and I think on the last, on your march out date


you had to be back by twelve. I mean we had beers then and fought the local boys in Wagga and stuff like that because they hated having the army, you know. Every weekend there would be, you know, a couple of hundred shaved heads, you know, lots of money for young guys, cause you’re getting paid while you’re there which was not bad pay, given that you’ve got nothing to spend it on, so it just sort of adds up.
You were making mates through the


training and so on, was there mateship between the women as well ?
For sure, yeah, definitely. Yeah, I mean we had, one of the girls was a West Australian and that gave an in for all the other WA guys into the girls, cause they were obviously a tight little group and then there was our section which was sort of the next ring, and then there was the platoon, I still talk to two of the girls. One of them’s in Darwin and the other one’s in Brisbane


and with the helicopters obviously we travel all over, so I got to stay in touch with them and yeah, everyone, they weren’t treated by the recruits anyway as chicks. Obviously blokes, you bitch about, you go, “Fuckin’ chicks, up the back again, fuckin’ hurry up.” you know, because if they fall back then everyone else has to turn around, go back and get them and then you’re just walking over ground you’ve already done, so it pisses you off. It wouldn’t have mattered if it was blokes or chicks but, you know,


no, but there was never any real issues. They were mates just like everyone else was, you know, because they were trying, like everyone else was, you know. Sometimes you make it, sometimes you trip up, you know, so, it was good.
And when you first rock up and it was four guys, eight girls, was your initial thought, “Here we go?”
“Here we go.” no, not really cause I just thought, “Shit.” cause I wanted to be the grey man. I wanted to be the guy that slid under the radar,


got the ticks in the boxes and then I was out of there. I couldn’t because I had eight chicks, four blokes and a section commander that was always going to look to the guys, the four of us, for the more physically demanding roles. And that’s why we become such good mates with him because, you know, he was always leaning towards us for the PT and the obstacle course stuff and the shooting, the rifle shooting. Yes, granted the girls by the end of it obviously they


passed and they became really good, but initially they had issues with it and us four guys had all shot before so, we sort of, you can’t carry them through stuff like that but you can certainly teach them in barracks how to shoot. I was pissed off that I was in a group, not that they were there, just that I was in their group, you know, so, but no, they weren’t good looking anyway mate, one of them was. The girl from WA, from


Bunbury, she was alright but she had a boyfriend. Everyone comes with baggage, so you’re better off not getting involved.
The under the radar thing that you went in with, was that because of your time at boarding school, you went, “Maybe that was the wrong way to play it, this is the right way”?
Yeah, exactly. I knew, when I was like sort of year eight and nine and you’re that young, small kid, you know that you keep quiet, stay out of trouble and nothing will happen to you and then obviously as you get older in the boarding school


I started playing up a bit and then you get all the heat and I thought, “Well I don’t want to do that so I’ll just…..” you know, .”.put in a hundred percent, do all the stuff they want me to and stay out of trouble” and I thought that and, you know, speaking to my Grandad before I went in, he said, “Yeah, you want to be the grey man at basic training because otherwise….” you know, “….You’ll either get picked to lead and do shitty jobs and have to boss around other recruits, which you don’t want to do, or you’ll get all the shitty jobs.” you know,


“Cleaning toilets and crap like that.” and I thought, “Well righto, grey man here I come.” and when I saw those chicks it nearly killed me, because I just knew that plan A was out and plan A was all I had, so, yeah.
Bastardisation can be a pretty general term?
How would you define it and what did you see specifically?
I think probably, yeah,


it has many levels. There’s so many different angles that you can break someone down on, you know, whether you’re in their face, getting into them, you’re physically touching them, you’re denying them something or you’re making them do something under duress. I think the one that we used to see daily was blokes getting drilled on the parade square


for messing up, for doing something they shouldn’t have done, and they would have to wear their pack and with all their shit in it, and their webbing, and their rifle, and their hat, and so that’s a fair bit of weight. Then for an hour, depending on what they did, maybe two hours, you know, there would just be a guy standing in the shade drinking his water on the side of the parade square and just giving marching orders to these guys until they were physically


stuffed [exhausted] and either they would fall over or they would stumble to the side and sit down and, you know, just physically knackered and they couldn’t do it anymore. I think that we got to see that every day because there’s always someone that messes up bad enough to deserve that and it’s not much fun doing all these drill movements in the sun. I never saw anyone, you know, get beaten up. I saw a lot of, and myself, got face ripped [face to face abuse]


and chest poked and pushed around, you know, every second day because that’s just the way, nature of the beast and you accept that. Not getting enough time to eat your meals is a big one because you’re always hungry because you’re always working. You’re either PT or in the classroom and, you know, you need sustenance and instead of getting half an hour for a meal they might only give you ten minutes and then it’s like that scene out of bloody "G I


Jane"[movie] when you’re just scoffing shit in your face trying to get it all down and that’s no good for you in its own rights cause you know, you’ve got to chew your food. I think being denied access to all your meal times or sometimes they would withhold our mail from us, you know. You’d see this pile of mail in their office and you weren’t allowed to cross this line. They had this line where you had to do some, couple of drill movements and say


a few words, teaching you along the way how to get around in the Defence Force properly and that used to kill a lot of people, you know, and if there was someone that was struggling they’d take his letters out and prop them up, so that he could see it was for him , and he’d walk past and go, you know, and start breaking down and shit because he knew it was from mum or the girlfriend or the wife or something and, lucky I didn’t have anyone that wrote to me. I had a mobile phone too, so I always used to sneak phone calls in late at night because WA was two or three hours


behind. So when I rang at three it was still only midnight but those fuckers never used to go home before three o’clock cause they’d just sit up there and brew up and listen, make sure no-one’s sneaking out, you know. They were cheeky buggers, but yeah, so I mean I know guys got beaten up and, you know, I’ve seen the after effects and stuff like that and I mean they probably deserved it. Well no-one deserves to get beaten up, but you must have done something


bad to go straight from getting a face ripping to getting beaten up out the back per se, and most of the guys that do they stay in because they know they fucked up. The guys that get all the media attention, you know, guys that are probably a little bit too soft to be in an airborne infantry regiment, you know. Those guys are hard bastards and if you’re


not, you shouldn’t be there and you should be sticking your hand up straight away. You shouldn’t, you’re probably there because of the glamour and the prestige of being in Australia’s only airborne, you know, infantry regiment and it is a pretty glamour role. Those guys from 3RAR [3rd battalion Royal Australian Regiment] are pretty tough and there’s a fair, you know, I got all the, you know, they are a good bunch of guys and there’s a couple of them that have changed out of 3RAR to come and work with me in aviation and they are,


you know, hard workers and they worked hard but some people aren’t meant to be in the army and when you get young infantrymen, you know, who are made to think they’re made of steel and they’re bullet-proof, you know, they’re going to pick on the weak link if he’s holding them back and that’s just how it happens and then the media gets hold of it and blows it out of proportion.
Do you think that a lot of training is a process of weeding out those people?


Yeah, definitely and the fact that only one or two people make it through is a good thing, you know, that they make it to the final end state which is you’re being posted to your regiment, to your place of work, that only one or two guys make it is a good thing. I mean that they weed them out and they do, they kick them out along the way, so maybe not so much nowadays because we’re struggling for numbers but when I was going through I mean they would say to people, “Do you really want to be here, is this what you want


because it’s not going to get any easier?” When in fact it does get a little bit easier but in reality it might not if they end up on the frontline. It’ll be a lot worse. You don’t want to be breaking down there and letting the team down.
Just also when you joined up we had Iraq One? [First Gulf War]
And we had Rwanda?
There was Iraq One. I missed that out earlier, didn’t I? Gee.
And so


there’s a few activities happening for the Australian Army, especially twenty odd years after Vietnam?
Yeah, sure.
Things start firing up, did that cross your mind when you joined up that, “I could be going somewhere, I could be in a war, I could be here?”
Not really to be honest and if it did it didn’t worry me, otherwise I wouldn’t have gone, I wouldn’t have continued, but yeah.


No, that’s strange that it didn’t cross my mind, you know. No I didn’t really think about it. I mean I knew that I would go somewhere and do something but at no stage did I fear for my life in the future, did I think, “Oh, I’m starting something that’s going to be dangerous, should I be doing it?” I mean that never crossed my mind. I just thought, “Well let’s, we’ll go and do this, what I want to do, I want to fly around in helicopters.” and


off I went, so yeah. No, it’s strange that you bring that up though because I’ve never really thought about it like that but I’m sure my Mum did but no, maybe I should have. It would have saved a lot of heartache, yeah.
So you didn’t actually connect joining up and flying to going to a war zone, or you joined for the military experience rather than the war experience?
That’s right, yeah exactly, yeah.


No, I didn’t envisage ever going to war or maybe a bit of peacekeeping work somewhere but not to an actual war, no. It’s interesting. I’ve never, you know, maybe I should have.
Well you’re not the first I can tell you that, from all the interviews we’ve done?
Yeah, it’s strange, no. I think


it offers so much, the military, you know, and I took it for what I needed. I needed stability and security and that’s why I would say, you know, I was doing it and at no stage did it even enter that I could be ending up in a war zone getting shot at, which is what happened, God damn it, but yeah. No I didn’t at the time, and nor did I until, you know, it


happened, until I got deployed because it’s just a day at a time, you know, “Where do I have to be tomorrow, what time do I have to be early for so that I’m not in trouble?” you know. That’s all that you had, just day after day, you don’t really think about it until you’re over there, yeah, thinking, “Shit, I didn’t sign on for this eight years ago, what’s going on?” yeah.
And aviation and helicopters, what was the desire there?


Well I think probably because my uncle had done it in Vietnam on the Hueys with the air force and I’d seen a lot of photos of him cracking round Vietnam and it looked really cool and, you know, he had his big machinegun. He had his ciggie in the back of the Huey, which you can’t do anymore by the way, can’t smoke in military buildings, let alone aircraft, although there is ashtrays in [Bell] Kaiwas but, it just looked really inviting. He looked like he was having a ball. He probably smiled once the whole time he was there and that was when the camera was in front of him


but he never said that and, you know, he said he had a ball. He was a loadmaster before Vietnam and after, so he did a bit of a career there and he spoke more of all the good times he had back in Australia than he did about the bad times in Vietnam, you know, and so that’s what appealed to me. He did that little summary and Grandad and all his brothers had, you know, most of them had been infantry orientated


and Grandad and a couple of them got shot and I just didn’t want to be, you know, down that road at all. And plus flying around in helicopters just itself is pretty attractive sort of job, so yeah it appealed to me and that’s what I wanted to do, so, took a while to get there though, it wasn’t, you know, easy road.
Just quickly on your uncle, did he seem effected by Vietnam at all or?
I asked


Dad about that and he said when he came back, there was a couple of years of, I mean I don’t know what he saw and I mean he would have seen a lot of busted up people and a lot of devastation of innocent people, you know, and their lifestyles and villages and whatever and there was apparently a couple of years where he just sort of floated around. He was married and he was still in the air force and then his marriage broke


down and then a couple of years later he got out of the air force and he sort of disappeared out into the wilderness of Australia, sort of travelling around doing odd jobs here and there and then he popped up again and that’s when I met him and I mean he was sort of back to normal and the family were all, and that’s why I remember it because they were saying, “Oh.” you know, “He’s back, he’s back and he’s changed .” you know, “He’s back to normal and he’s talking to his boys and his daughter again and.” you know, “He’s really happy.”


I would say it had a huge affect on him. Marriage breakdowns are common all over but to happen so short a period after, obviously there was some unhappiness and he couldn’t talk about something and it just destroyed his marriage and then he had to get out of the air force and so yeah, it affected him but all I was involved in was, you know, the prodigal son returning and the joys of having him back to normality and


he was fine, you know. He interacted with all of the younger cousins,, which would be fine and, you know, he was just sort of this uncle, second uncle whatever and yeah, no problems, so I didn’t think, I didn’t see the dark side, you know. I didn’t think, “Well maybe is that going to happen to me if I join the army, am I going to come back all messed


up?” but, yeah, no.
You just didn’t see that at the time?
No, well I mean he came, obviously I wasn’t born when he came back and all this shit went down, so no, when he returned I was just this young little primary school whipper snapper and here was this uncle that bought us shit, so no, it was cool and then obviously as I grew up and I sort of went down my own paths and you sort of distance yourself from family, well not immediate family


but, you know. I didn’t see or hear much of him and then spoke to Dad about what he did when I was starting to become interested in joining up and he just said, ‘Yeah.” you know, “Cheers.” I remember those photos and him telling me how good it was, “I’ll go for that.” so yeah that’s where the interest came from I’d say.
So after your commander whatever having a joke with you about going to aviation and so on?


dirty bastards, yeah.
Leaving you hanging?
Yeah, they loved it, buggers.
So eventually off you go, what’s the first step after that, they send you off to aviation?
Obviously after basic training there’s your initial employment training, IT [initial training] schools, and that’s where you have your school of infantry, school of armour, aviation, medical. For all the courses they have a school, so we went


to the School of Transport first because we needed to learn how to drive trucks, so we went to Pukka [Puckapunyal army base] and spent four weeks, four or five weeks there. I think we spent one week in a holding platoon where we painted rocks and swept parade grounds, which was great, but we were sort of in the army there where you do your seven thirty[am] till four [pm] with an hour for lunch sort of thing and then after four is your time. The weekends are yours and that was good because we got there and it was like,


“There’s no-one bastardising us, there’s no-one telling us what to do all the time.” you know, “Four o’clock, can we go?” you know, you’re in shock because you’ve got all this freedom and IT schools are debaucherous because there’s these kids straight out of, you know, twelve weeks of hell and then they’re let loose where there’s pubs and normal towns and big cities all around them and you just go crazy. I loved it. It was just another party but yeah, so we learned to drive trucks


there which was good because I only had your normal car driver’s license and jumping into the Mog [Unimog] was good fun. It’s not a big truck but it’s sort of a medium truck. It’s like eight gears and you don’t have to double declutch or anything like that, but it’s all wheel drive, four wheel drive truck and you do off road sort of training, stuff like that and then the Rover, which is the standard military sort of jeep get around, they teach you how to drive that and that was good fun and we needed to have those


because in aviation the Rover’s used for CP, or a command post. They fill it full of radios and tents and shit, then you sort of take off into the bush and the Unimog is used for carrying round fuel, carries round a TPA [Tanker Pump Assembly] or something and we put aviation fuel in ours but you can put diesel, whatever you want in them and yeah, we used to lug round jet fuel for the helicopters, so that obviously


and we needed those two tickets cause at the next IT school we went to at the School of Aviation, in Oakey. We did our sort of sigs [signals] course which is what you need the Rover license for and we did a refuelling and bulk refuelling course which is what you need the Unimog thing for because you’re going to be driving these vehicles. And we did a couple of bush trips while we were at Oakey, sort of deploy out into the field and set up a command post aviation style. So instead of, you know, it’s all


white light[cooker] and brews and coke fridges and mars bars[chocolate] and shit, whereas when you’re at Kapooka, you know, there’s no white light. You’ve got this little hexi [spirit cooker] you’re trying to light with a fuckin’ match but it’s wet, so it won’t work, so you just have cold fuckin’ shit out of a can and there’s pizza runs to the local pizza shop, so aviation was gold. Aircraft would come out to us for half an hour a day and we’d do some aircraft marshalling and refuel them and, you know, go for a fly in all the aircraft


they had available at the school and it was good. It was good there and Toowoomba was twenty minutes away and Toowoomba’s sort of a big inland city. Well it’s not that big, thirty something thousand but it was good and then obviously Brisbane’s just down the road, so it was a good place to be as well. We were pretty lucky.
It sounds like at that time it was starting to pay off, the hard work?
It was starting to pay off but it was dawning on me that I wasn’t going to get into this loadmaster


air crewman stream straight away, like the flying bag at recruiting had told me I would, you know. He’s like, “Yeah mate, no worries, straight into loadmaster. Look I’ve got the spots here mate, I’ll write you down, yeah.” you know. As soon as I walked out the door, I’m sure that’s what he did, so I ended up being a ground crewman which is the base trade for aviation. There’s three trades in aviation. There’s ground crewman who look after the refuelling and the operations side of it,


and then there’s loadmaster who are in the backseat of the helicopter, door guns, looking after the loads and passengers and there’s the pilots. So the base one’s ground crewman, so you go to the School of Aviation and do your base trade which is ground crewman and it started dawning on me, “I ain’t going to get to be a fuckin’ air crewman for a few years” and it was the same for a couple of other guys that had joined up with me and my mate from Perth who I still live with and we’re going, “This is shit.” you know,


“We’re not going to get to fly helicopters for years.” and we didn’t, you know. He started flying before me but that was luck of the draw because obviously there’s people before us in training and they’ve all wanted to be air crewmen as well because they all want to fly. They don’t want to be on the ground and you get paid more if you fly obviously. You have better conditions of service. You get more holidays. You get better medical, or you get more regular medical checks. You get looked after basically.


They have to wrap you up in cottonwool because if you get injured then you don’t fly and then you’re no good, so you just sit back in the TV room watching TV all day while everyone else is out working. Once our training there finished we got posted out to our first units from there and they gave us a few options. We could stay in Oakey because the 1st Aviation Regiment was co-located there, in Oakey, and there was Darwin. There was


a squadron up in Darwin and then there’s Townsville, which is where most of the helicopters are and I mean I’d heard of the Barrier Reef. I chose Townsville because I thought, “That’s on the coast, there’ll be surf. It’ll be just like home.” and I’d heard of the Barrier Reef but I didn’t know it stopped all the swell, God damn it. We all had cars by then. Obviously gone and got into debt, the first thing you do when you got a good job and we’d all bought cars and so we had a convoy, eight cars. We all drove up


the Queensland coast to Townsville and a few guys speared off up to Darwin when they got to Townsville and I just remember driving up and we got to like seventeen seventy, which is the start of the proper Barrier Reef and there was no more swell after that. I was thinking, “What have you done, son?” and we all drove up and we had a couple of big nights on Airlie Beach


which was good because they give you a week and I think they gave us a week and fifteen hundred bucks to get to Townsville, which is just way too much, back then, you know, it’s a cheap, back then, speaking like it was twenty years ago but yeah, and it was all cash in hand, you know, and the girl [UNCLEAR], she used to go to the cash office with a bit of paper saying, “You’ve been posted somewhere.” and they go, “Yep, righto, here’s x amount of dollars.” all hundred dollar bills, just going, “Holy shit, excellent.” jump in the car and off you go and


I mean everyone abuses it but it is worked out on some sort of kilometre rate and accommodation and meals and shit, but when you’re in your car, you fill the car up, you grab a burger, you go, you know. You don’t fuckin’ stop for your nice lunch that’s going to cost you thirty bucks, but that’s what the officers do, so the ORs [other ranks] reap the benefits as well but we abuse it obviously And then we drove into Townsville and there’s no surf. It’s fuckin’ mudflats everywhere. There’s mozzies [mosquitoes] and shit. I’m just going, “This is fucked.


We’ll be stuck here forever.” and yeah, marched into the regiment and into our squadron and that’s when it dawned on me that I’m going to be a ground crewman for four or five years because there was fourteen other ground crewmen who were senior obviously to me when I marched in; and eight of them wanted to be loadmasters, so I had to wait my turn for these eight guys to get siphoned off the top and


they never used to run these loadmaster courses that much. I think they ran three a year, and there’s ground crewmen all over the country that want to, and other guys from infantry and everywhere else that want to be air crewman, so I was ground crewman for a while.
Interviewee: Garth Fitzgerald Archive ID 2464 Tape 03


In the ground crew?
Well, so we marched into the unit and into the squadron and got the routine face ripping from the squadron sergeant major, just so he could let you know who was boss and obviously there the sergeant majors are in charge of all the ORs [Other Ranks], all the soldiers and that was interesting because he was like the hardest person I’d met so far. I didn’t expect to meet anyone like him especially at an aviation squadron but


yeah, he was a tough old guy and we just slotted into sort of the daily routine for the first sort of month was picking up the tricks of the trade around the regiment and where everything was on the base. The 5th Aviation Regiment where I was is co-located with a couple of RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] squadrons at RAAF base Townsville because they have all the aviation fuel. So it only makes sense that they put us on the RAAF base as opposed to the army base


Lavarack on the other side of town which was good. The RAAF base is a lot more cruisy [relaxed] than the army base. The RAAFies are pretty much just civvies in uniform and they act like it, which is good, so it was a lot more relaxed and the aviation atmosphere in general is a lot more relaxed. You don’t want hung strung [tense] people flying around in million dollar machines, so it was good and then yeah, I was lucky enough to get chosen, me and another guy, to go up to


Battle Wing Tully which is a jungle warfare centre, which is just north of Townsville, for three months, to play enemy for the infantry who were doing all their jungle warfare training and that was shithouse,[terrible]. I hated that. That was probably the second time when I thought about pulling the pin [pulling out] but I couldn’t because I’d passed the point of no return and sitting out in the jungle amongst all the leeches and the cassowaries which, you know, a native bird up there which is six foot [tall] and will tear you


open if it sees you, and in the rain, and that was just really depressing and getting through like an infantryman, yeah, really hated my time up there but we got to do some pretty cool things. We learnt a few weapons and how to blow shit up and stuff like that and what’s the name of that place? Mission Beach, which is a popular backpacking sort of stopover between Cairns and Townsville and Dunk


Island were all sort of within close proximity to Tully, so we got to spend our downtime there and a few trips back to Townsville as well, which was good.
For that, were you selected or you volunteered ?
No, selected, yeah, and, “Yeah, you’re going.” volunteered they call it but selected, yeah, for some reason, I don’t know, “You’re the new guys, you’re going” so off we went but I mean I didn’t like it. We learnt some good stuff though,


more sort of infantry skills that they have that you don’t pick up in basic training which was good, you know, just simple little things, setting up your hoochie right and packing your pack so that all the weight’s distributed properly so that it won’t give you a sore back and, you know, how to shoot properly and blowing up C4 [explosive] and stuff like that and basic tracking, how to follow someone in the bush and set up ambushes and stuff like that, so


it was pretty good, exciting but it was just shithouse conditions, you know. There was just mozzies that needed aircraft carriers to land, you know. They were huge mate and you’re just, yeah, out in the jungle and all the creepy crawlies that go with it and I hate creepy crawlies, little suckers, but yeah, and then once that was over it was just, back to the squadron and you sort of rotated between tanker platoon, which was where all the refuelling tankers were


and operations, and which is where all the, not flight planning, but sort of a board and if someone wanted to go flying they’d have to come to us and then we’d have to talk to the tradesmen and find out how many aircraft and yadda, yadda [and so on]. It was just sort of looking after training for the pilots and the air crewmen and just running the squadron basically, all the admin [administration]. The clerks looked after personal admin, like holidays


and leave and stuff like that and entitlements, whereas we’d look after the sort of squadron admin and organising, you know, deployments and all that sort of stuff, or helping out. When you’re a digger, or a soldier, you don’t really organise anything. You just run errands and find out stuff for the sergeant or the officer or whatever, but you pick up all the stuff and, you know, after a couple of years you can pretty much do it yourself and that was good and I did a lot of good trips within Australia with


Chinooks and the gunships. The gunship trips were good. I mean and then there’s the gunship course we had to do at C Squadron. If you’re in C Squadron obviously that’s where the gunships were, so you do that course and learning about mini guns which they have on them and folding fin aerial rockets which they have on them.
When you’re in the jungle and you’ve got leeches and you get back and you’re on the ground crew, are you thinking, “I’m here and the helicopters


are up there?”
The whole time, yeah, you know, and I’m planning these flights for these guys. I’m thinking, “This is shithouse. That’s what I want to be doing.” and they’re all coming back in and they’re all talking about their flying they’ve been doing and how much fun they’ve been having, and the worst bit was when we used to do the gunship stuff and they would come back and they’d have a grin from ear to ear because they’d been blowing up trees and shooting hills and shooting feral goats and shit and just having a ball and you thought, “I want to do that and I’m supposed to, I’m here to do that and I’m stuck


here.” you know, “Feeding you full of fuel and bullets and I’m getting none of the fun.” but yeah, that used to drive me insane a bit.
Could you see a day though that you would be out there or did you think, "This is going to go forever?"
Yeah, I just, I knew eventually if I stayed that I would get my turn, I would make it to the top of the ladder and then I’d be able to go and do my course; but there was just, you know, such a large group of blokes in front of me I didn’t think about it. I just thought,” It’ll


happen when it happens.” and you just do what you’ve got to do and go from there and I think I went off the rails a bit in that sort of first four years and mixed up with a group of guys, for that very reason I think, because I wasn’t going in the direction I wanted. I was stagnant, stuck in this job that, yeah, I could do and it was fun but I didn’t, that’s not why I was there; and got into a bit of trouble with a group of guys and


that was almost the end of my army career, before I even started flying at all, but luckily enough I survived that and got through and that’s another whole story, Jesus.
Can you talk about it?
We, I guess you can, it’s always about drugs. You can pick people or you can pick a group of people


who are susceptible to drug use and I think that’s all that happened to us. We started hanging out and we were all interested in the same things and then one day someone got offered a joint by someone at a pub and then it just progressed from there and it was only ever pot [marijuana]. It was never any sort of party drugs or anything like that. It was just always pot and we ended up smoking quite a bit, you know. We wouldn’t smoke at work. We’d smoke after work and on the weekends and it was only ever social. If there was something on we’d have a few cones or whatever and then we’d go and do something


but I don’t know, yeah. Of course people are going to find out. People that don’t smoke are going to find out eventually and that’s what happened. We’d just come back from this gunship exercise and it was a couple of days before Anzac Day and so we come back from the bush. We were all pretty keen to have a smoke and we had a few cones and then Anzac Day


rolled on and we had a huge Anzac Day and we ended up, there was about eight of us. We ended up at the Townsville RSL [Returned and Services League] which is a pretty big RSL cause obviously it’s a big military town and we were upstairs. It’s two storeys. You’d probably fit about two and a half thousand people in there on Anzac Day which is way more than it’s legally allowed to have in there but it’s chockers [full] because it’s Anzac Day and one of the boys' girlfriends was getting chatted up by all these infantry guys and


they hate aviation because we’ve got it so easy and, you know, we’ve always got the coke and the choccies [chocolates] out bush and the choppers bring us pizzas from the towns and shit, you know, and they’re eating their cold tins[of meat], so they fuckin’ hate us and they think they’re tough and hard, which they are. So he went over and said to his missus, “Come on, let’s go.” and then one thing led to another and he started fighting these guys, there’s three of them, and so the eight of us or the rest of us went over and sort of broke it up and started pushing them away and then like half the


floor stood up, like the rest of these guys’ company, stood up to come to their aid and I’ve just gone, “Holy shit, let’s get out of here!” so a big fight ensued with eight of us back pedalling towards the stairs, throwing punches and throwing chairs and trashing the top floor, until we could get at the stairs, race downstairs and piss off outside. Anyway next day at work the SSM [Squadron Sergeant Major], the hard bastard I told you about before, he’s


got us and we weren’t all from the one squadron. We were from a couple of different squadrons and he’s got us all there together and he goes, “Righto you!” you know, swearing and shit, giving us a face ripping, you know. We’re all hung over and shit, going, “Yeah, yeah come on, get it over with.” “You’re going to the fuckin’ RSL to clean it up!” and we went, “Oh shit, beauty, a day off base at the RSL, this is a bit rough.” and so this bloody bus rocks on over and we all climb on the bus and just before we drive off


I see one of the guys that was with us, outside the bus just walking past with some files and he’s just looking up at the bus and I’m looking down at him, going, “Well, you were there, why aren’t you in here with us?” and then I thought, “Oh well, you got away with it, good on ya.” and we’re on our way, the bus takes off and about half way there I’ve realised that we’re not going to the RSL. We’re going to Lavarack barracks. There’s two very distinct routes that you take to get to the two and I’ve thought, “Fuck, this is strange. Why are we going to Lavarack? They wouldn’t be charging us for fighting at the pub.


No-one got hurt. Sure, we trashed the place a bit and if they were going to charge us they’d just do it at our work.” and I’ve looked around the bus and I’ve gone, “Fuck, you smoke, you smoke, you smoke, you smoke. Fuck, we all smoke. We’re going to get drug tested!” and then the bus pulls up out the front of the military police section and it’s dawned on everyone now what’s happening, because I’ve gone, “Fuck boys!” you know, “We’re all going to get piss [urine] tested!” and yeah, they lined us up, sat us down and said,


“You can smoke cigarettes. You can drink water out of the water fountain. Don’t talk to each other.” and there was an MP[military policeman] out there making sure we didn’t talk to each other and one at a time they dragged us in and I thought, “Well.” you know, “I definitely smoke enough to get a reading. The only way I’m going to beat this if I drink so much fuckin’ water that all I’m going to be pissing out is water.” and so that’s what I did. I just drank and drank and drank and drank and drank and drank and everyone was just looking at me going, “What are you doing?” but I couldn’t tell them what I was doing because I couldn’t talk to them and I went in, had my interview


and they asked, you know, all the questions about who buys your drugs, who smokes them. I’m just going, “Don’t know, don’t know what you’re talking about.” didn’t want to dob [inform on] my mates in because that’s number one, you know, don’t rat on your mates, don’t let your mates down and then they said, “Righto, whenever you conclude, turn off the tapes.” and I said, “But you might find.” now the tapes are off, “You’ll probably find a cone piece and a few bullets.” cause I had, which is a big no-no, I had bullets in my pockets because we used to


handle millions of rounds when we do these door gun shoots, these gunship shoots, and you just end up having them in your pockets because it just happens and they were in the washing machine and I’d washed my uniform and I’d put them on my bedhead to hand them in at work. I don’t know why I didn’t take them in the day we got busted out but anyway, probably because I was hung over. I said, “You will find ammo and you will find a cone piece that I’ve made.” you know, “Found or used once.” or something, I don’t know and they said, “Yeah, righto, no worries.” so off we went back to the RAAF base


for the, no that’s not true. We went to the hospital to give our piss test. By now I couldn’t stand up. My bladder was so full of water, I’m sitting in the chair, going, “Please, please, let me go next.” and they’re going, “No, no, we’ve got to do it by interview number.” and so I was fuckin’ in tears and when I went to piss in this little, they give you the tiny little thing and you’ve got, you know, like ten schooners of water in your bladder just ready to come out and so just everywhere and it was clear, you know, and I went, “Thank fuck for that.”


not knowing whether it would work or not but I thought, “That’s the only….” because I didn’t want to get kicked out, you know. I just had this habit that the military frowned upon. I never smoked cones at lunchtime or before work or anything and it’s not like I always used to justify it by saying, “You’re better off smoking cones at night and getting wasted than having ten schooners[glasses] and going to work hung over.” because there’s nothing in the morning. There’s no residual, if you’re young and fit, there’s no residual from smoking pot, the next day,


so that’s how I justified it but anyway, so we went, did the piss test, did that, went back to the RAAF base. The friend that I had previously seen walking down the side of the bus I shared a little condo [condominium] with. They have condos on RAAF bases where it’s sort of four bedrooms, one lounge room and a laundry/bathroom, so they’re pretty swish and they try to spread you out over them, so that you don’t have four blokes in one, you only have two or three and there was just me and him, so we had like a four bedroom place between two of us, so we were happy.


And he went back to my room and he knew about the cone, so he grabbed the cone. This is while we’re all getting processed by the cops and took that away but he couldn’t get into the other boys' rooms because they obviously locked them and he only had a key for our place, so he couldn’t help them out. He could only help me, so they went through my room, emptied all my shit out, really trashed the place, found the bullets because I just walked in and said, “The bullets are there and I’m not sure where the cone piece is.” and they couldn’t find it. I said, “Well I must have thrown it out.” you know, “I don’t


smoke pot anyway so.” so they said, “Look, no worries. You’ve been honest with us. We’ll just take these bullets and throw them away.” I said, “Yep, beauty.” and that was it. A couple of the other guys they found bongs [pot pipes] and pot and shit in their rooms and so yeah, the MPs found stuff in their rooms and they got busted


and we all sort of had to stick around and wait for our urine tests to come back; and that took three weeks for them to go down to Brisbane to get tested at the drug testing place, because they screened us for everything, so they had to send them out of town and at that time they were doing a special, the Blackhawks [helicopters] were doing some special training in Perth and a couple of these guys went to Perth and one of them went off the rails over there and he got kicked out


straight away. He didn’t even make it back to Townsville, so he got kicked out then and the rest of us waited for our samples and mine came back. We got all our readings and they measure THC [tetrahydrocannabinol] content in the urine in, what is it called, nanograms or something? And mine came back at fourteen. Now zero to twenty is passive and they can’t kick you out for being a passive smoker of anything, so I scooched in under the radar on that one somehow, and everyone else got kicked out, so I lost that group of


reprobates that I has hanging out with and they all left and after they left I guess I sort of changed. I didn’t have to find any mates, I knew everyone. I just stopped smoking pot and less drinking, more working and then whenever you, I got charged too for having those bullets. Because they couldn’t pin the drugs on me they pinned me for the bullets, which they said they wouldn’t but, which is, I said, “OK I’ll pay the bullets. It’s better than getting kicked out.”


but I got a slap on the wrist for that and a reprimand which just means nothing, just goes on the file, so for your next charge they take that into account and punish you even more and for some reason in the army, or the military, whenever you fuck up you get noticed and then you get promoted, so within like two months of me getting charged, I got chucked on a promotion course. I’m like, “Fuckin’ gold, what drugs will I do next?” No, but that’s the sort of mentality it is, you know. You fuck up, you get


promoted and then did my promotion course, came off that and then they said, “Do you want to do your air crewman course?” so I thought, “This is great” and, “Yeah, I’ll do that” so yeah, waited a few more months and by now it’s 1999. I’ve sort of done three or four years as a ground crewman and back I went, back to sunny Oakey in the middle of winter, which isn’t sunny, it’s bloody freezing. It’s


worse than Canberra and started my training there. I missed the ground crewman days because whenever we flew anywhere, you know, and we went all over. Whenever the aircraft stopped and we’d refuelled it that was it. The rest of the time was ours until we had to be back onboard, you know, the next day or the next couple of days and there was always hire cars and hotels and incidentals to pay for your food, which just went on beer and, you know, so gees we had some really good trips and you can fit a lot of people


in the back of a Chinook, so you always went with big groups of people and our end of year functions were like to Hammy [Hamilton] Island and Dunk Island and stuff like that. We’d just fly the chopper to the airport and get out and we’d wear zoom bags or just, you know, one piece overalls and you just unzip them and you’re just in your boardies [board shorts] and your thongs [sandals] and your drinking shirt and off you’d go, so we did that. We had some good times but I really wanted to do flying, so off I went.
Just quickly on the big incident,


I guess the water worked?
The water did work, yeah. You’re saturated; the urine with just pure water and it worked, yeah, so if you’re ever in that predicament, yeah.
Hopefully not….
Find a water fountain. It surprised me that it worked but yeah, it paid off. It was good. I mean it’s the only option I had, so I went for it.
And the first time you actually went up in a chopper, what was that experience like?
Well that was back when,


as a ground crewman, and I went up in a Kaiwa which is just a light observation helicopter. I don’t know if you’re familiar with them. They’re really tiny, like the Channel Seven [television]sort of small chopper, single engine, thirty year old, you know, really cheap helicopter to run, good for their job, and we sat in the front with the pilot and there’s no doors and like you’d go like this and your hand’s outside in the wind and it was awesome. I loved it and it was


at night time. We were doing approaches to a bardic lighting system and it’s just basically coloured, three colour beams of light shone through a prism and it shoots the lights up and you have to be in the green as you come down. If you’re in the red you’re too high. If you’re in the yellow you’re too low, and he was talking me through it and I loved it, you know, and it was at night and I’m flying around. I was all excited and shit and it was really good. I had no care, no responsibility. I was just there not to touch anything and just enjoy the ride


and yeah, I really enjoyed it but then, when I was a ground crewman it was the same, you know. For me it was just an airborne bus taking me somewhere else to have fun or do work and it was good but once the training started then it was pretty scary because you have to start learning shit, so.
I guess it’s a good thing that your dreams and expectations when you first took that flight, it all turned out that you knew that it’s what you wanted to do?
Yeah, exactly, yeah.


I remember landing and just stepping out and going, “Yep, this is, I’m glad I’ve made this decision.” Little did I know it was four years in the waiting but I mean it confirmed why I was there, for me anyway, so yeah.
So you get the promotions and so on to get onto air crew?
Yeah, well you do the promotion course first. They didn’t promote me because I was going to be leaving to start a new job, so it would be silly to promote me and then hold up someone junior,


so they didn’t promote me but I was only there for a couple of months. I’m lucky that I did the promotion course before the air crewman course because once you start doing your loadmaster course, because there’s so few of us, they don’t like releasing loadmasters for promotion courses, so I mean previous to me starting, you used to have to be a minimum rank of corporal, just so that you had some sort of authority in the back over a section of grunts [infantrymen] whose leader is


also a corporal but all the grunts will listen to any corporal, you know, they justified that but then they just weren’t getting enough corporals, you know. By the time you’re sort of a corporal you’ve been in that job for maybe four to six years, you know everything. You’re happy where you are and you might not want to leave, so they had a hard time dragging corporals out of other corps, so they started taking anyone and that’s why, that’s how I got in and I mean I didn’t get promoted


for nearly three and a half years after my course, so I’d forgotten all the shit they’d taught me which was fine by me because I mean once you start flying, you know, rank means very little because you have to work as a pretty solid team and there’s no, “Yes Sir, no Sir” in the aircraft. It’s just, you know, “Do this, do that and don’t crash.” so yeah.
Once you get into aircrew, were you flying around and what activities


are you doing?
It’s changed now but it was sort of a six month course, three months ground school learning about the aircraft and how they work and the theory of flight and all that sort of stuff and then there’s a weather component and then there’s external load rigging, where you have to learn how to rig trucks and trailers and, you know, various other loads under sling under the helicopters which they do quite a bit.


Then you start the flying phase and that’s broken up into clearances, external loads and hoisting, or using the hoist, the winch and clearances, it’s a pretty steep learning curve. You have to learn all the patter, which is just the talk, things you need to say to get a pilot to move the aircraft and how to not hit trees or obstacles, which failed me later.


That’s the hardest bit because it sounds easy but when the aircraft’s coming in to land and you’ve got your head out the side and you’re trying to take in this huge picture and then turn it into words so that the pilot can understand what you’re seeing; and the whole time it’s moving forward at a hundred k’s[kilometres] an hour and getting lower and closer to everything and everything’s coming at you and you get it eventually. But they’ve got a fifty percent failure rate, so a lot of guys bomb out


at that phase and then at the sort of fourth unofficial phase, when you put it all together. And the next one is external loads where you go and actually pick up trucks or pick up litters or sort of pick up whatever loads and that’s pretty cool and fly around with them, yeah. It’s pretty daunting for a trainee to be in control of a twenty million dollar aircraft with a tonne of equipment underneath it, so that sort of plays on your mind a bit.


Then you start using the hoist which is another whole kettle of fish because you’re sort of in the doorway, hanging half out the door, you’re attached obviously to a harness to the aircraft but you don’t use the harness to restrain you in any way because you want freedom of movement, so it’s a little bit of slack there, not too much or you will fall out of the aircraft and then, you know, you’re trying to winch. We used to winch twenty litre water


jerries [cans] on the end of a hook just for a bit of weight, simulated weight and you winch that. It’s almost three hundred feet of cable, so it’s seventy metres. You’re just winching away and the aircraft’s seventy metres up in the air and it’s just hard to maintain control when you’re trying to get something with a base on it like this into a rock like this on top of a pinnacle, you know, and it’s bloody hard because the pilot can’t see. His hover reference is twenty kilometres away. It’s another mountain. He’s guessing. He doesn’t know where the hell he is , and it just builds up and builds up


but by the end of it, you know, as with all training, you don’t master it. You walk away with a certain degree of skill at it and then you do an aircraft conversion cause. Obviously they don’t want to teach you on Blackhawks because if you crashed one of them then they’d be pretty pissed off, so they teach you on the old Hueys and then you learn the Blackhawk and all the same sort of processes for the Blackhawk and then they punch you off up to the unit, back to B Squadron where you start off


again at the bottom of the food chain in your sort of job
Picking up the large loads, is one of your jobs hooking them up and getting it all fixed?
Yes and no. If we were to rock up to an area or a landing pad and there was no-one on the ground that was qualified to rig the load, then the aircraft would have to land. It would either shut down or return back to idle, so it’s just sitting there spinning. It’s not using much fuel and we would jump out and we’d rig the load


and get it ready for flight. But ninety percent of the time you can do a rigger's course, there’s someone in each regiment or they try to get it to each company, that’s done a rigger's course, so that we can just rock on in and hook it on and piss off. Underslung loads was probably one of the most exciting things especially when, you know, we got, in the later stages when I went away with Chinooks because Chinooks are so powerful


and they can lift quite a lot of gear and some of the big loads we used to sling around underneath were pretty impressive.
Was it a bit scary too to have that weight distribution?
It is because , I mean it’s all within C of G [centre of gravity] for a weight but not a shape and once you start doing two hundred and fifty k’s [250 kms/hour] in the air and the wind drag on the surface of the load and it


starts flying itself behind you and we’ve had a couple of near misses. We picked up, it was 3RAR and they’d airlifted in little four wheel drive quad bikes, so that they can fang around and pick up all the gear that’s been parachuted out and pick up busted dudes[injured soldiers] and we picked up, we basically just got this bed net, put the quad bike onto the net and put a little field table up against one side of it and the way we loaded it we thought, “Yeah, it’ll fly with the front of the bike


sort of forward and the air will just scootch under it and around it and it’ll be fine” which is not what they taught us at all. But anyway, so we rigged it up and we picked it up and it picked up fine and we started flying along and then it spun, so that the thing with the most drag would be at the front, which is how they all fly and that was the table, so it’s got a lot of resistance there pushing it back and it just started swinging and swinging and I must


have got I reckon within about three feet of the tail wheel; and one of those motorbikes probably weighs about four hundred kilos. If that hits the tail wheel, because it’s just aluminium, it’ll just go straight through it and it’s happened. The Chinook’s had a hit where one of their underslung loads swung up and hit the nose of the aircraft, so right where the pilot’s feet are; this big boat swung and hit the nose, so it happens. You’ve just got to be really careful. It is one of the more dangerous phases of flying especially


at night on NVGs [night vision goggles]. I loved NVG flying for the excitement but it is really, really dangerous, yeah.
What’s NVG?
Night vision goggles. They’re called NVD now, night vision device, and yeah. It’s sort of, the pinnacle of flying is being able to do everything that you can do during the day, at night on NVD. It’s like looking


through two toilet rolls with some green cellophane over the end of them. That’s all you can see. You’ve got no peripheral because you’ve got two TV screens this close to your eyes and you’re focussing on them and so your pupils are massive and then you try to get some peripheral outside the goggles where it’s pitch black and you’re not going to see nothing. You might see a couple of stars but unless the moon’s out, if the moon’s out you’re laughing but I mean it’s not often that the moon’s out, full moon for you, so yeah.
Turn it on and off?
Yeah, it would be


So you’re at B Company?
And you’re at the bottom rung again?
But you’re on an aircrew?
That’s right, yeah.
And you’re doing all these operations I guess?
And training still and picking up?
More so training. Well I was lucky when I first got there we just sort of consolidated our training and then we were down training for the Olympics. That’s right, I forgot about that. We were down in Sydney for the Olympics, for lead up training. "A Squadron" is the Special Forces squadron


and we were just down there supporting them. We were flying around all hierarchy and stuff and going to all the Olympic sites and dropping off whoever. We were just taxis basically because we had free rein over Sydney.
Is this in Blackhawks?
Yeah in Blackhawks, yeah. They basically cut off all the airspace prior to the Olympics and we were the only guys that had free rein which was gold when you could go cracking up the Hawkesbury River, all the way under the Harbour Bridge and out the Heads, chuck a big right, fang past Bondi and then back into


the city. We had some good times. So we went and did some lead up training for them and that’s where I had an aircraft sort of accident, incident. We ground taxied it into a twenty foot by two foot concrete steel wall, which brought everything to a grinding halt pretty quick. We pretty much wrote off the aircraft. We did fourteen million dollars worth of damage to the aircraft and it happened right out my window,


so that was pretty, yeah, that brought me down to earth because when you finish that course you think, “Fuck this is it. This is where I want to be. They’ve taught me everything that I know. I mean I’m untouchable now. The only people that can tell me what to do are the pilots. I don’t answer to anyone else.” and you get left alone, which was great, and you have a whole lot of responsibility and no-one sort of messes with you, but after that happened it sort of brought me crashing down to earth and


changed me a lot. I mean we had passengers onboard and they could have died and we could have died and we were really lucky that it didn’t roll over on itself because once they roll over they just chew themselves up and that’s all bad because, yeah, as you can imagine, but it stayed on its wheels. We were pretty lucky there.
So was it a kind of crash landing?
No, we were ground taxiing and we were at Williamtown


Air Force Base just north of Newcastle and they’re called the EOLSs which are explosive ordnance loading areas. They have these big walls and they park their jets in them and bomb them up, so that if a bomb drops and explodes it’s not going to get the next aircraft, so they’re pretty solid sort of walls and we were just ground taxiing along and I was sort of looking out, it’s hard to explain, but when you’re a loadmaster in a Blackhawk my seat faces sideways and the two pilots sit here and they face north and so the loadmasters' face sort of east/west


and I was just sitting there looking out my window sort of leaning forward and I saw this wall coming and I gave him the sort of a verbal caution and he didn’t respond and because I was a jube I just sort of went, “Oh well, I’ve told him.” you know, “He knows it’s there.” and this fuckin’ thing went straight past his window anyway, you know, “How can he miss it?” and then after I’ve told him I’ve gone, “Yep, told him, he’ll see it.” I’ve looked back in to make sure that the big, whenever you’re on the ground people start unstrapping for some reason, like they’re about to get out and in fact you are about to get out but don’t ever


get out till it stopped. I was just making sure that no-one was unstrapping and the poor dude in the corner, he was asleep and everyone else had cameras out and shit and I’ve looked back out my window and the wall must have been about this far from the rotor tip, and the first bit of the rotors is just aluminium, what do they call them, aluminium rotor tip cap, and it’s just there to reduce the noise that the rotors make, so it’s just nothing, and so when it started hitting the wall it just started going, “Choong, choong, choong, choong, choong, choong, choong, choong” and the pilot


said, “Fuck, what’s that?” and then the first titanium spar, which is the leading edge of the blade, which won’t give, hit and sort of grabbed and tore chunks, huge chunks the size of footballs, out of this wall and there was a fuel truck parked at the other end of the wall and it’s spitting football sized bits of concrete and steel at this fuel truck and the guys are in the cabin getting covered in shrapnel, for want of a better word, and so they’ve reversed the truck


and then one of the spars grabbed and didn’t let go. So all the torque and power from the engines transferred back down the rotor blade, down through the rotor head into the engines, destroyed the engines and as a result the torque spun the tail of the aircraft round into the wall. We kept moving forward because we had momentum, and then put the stay blader fin, which is like a wing device on the back of the Blackhawk. Next time you see one have a look,


and then put the tail rotor into the wall as well. So we destroyed the tail rotor, four rotors, two engines, tail rotor, stay blader fin, gearbox, transmission drive shaft, tail rotor drive shaft, tail rotor gearbox, so yeah, fourteen million bucks worth of shit and there was a fence, a cyclone fence, about a hundred and fifty metres away and that had football sized holes in it


from shit getting spat at it. And we were rocking and I remember, cause obviously, you know, it’s only got three points, two wheels at the front and a wheel at the back and we started rocking and that’s when I thought we were going to flip and die and I just remember seeing like bitumen, sun, bitumen, sun, screaming, people screaming. I remember looking back and old mate in the corner, who had been asleep seconds before, has just shit himself. He’s just like, he’s going, “Aagh!” and trying to get out and shit


For a split second, I thought, “Fuck, that’s funny.” and then I went back to fearing for my life and they did an emergency shutdown and it all stopped turning and we got out and we ran away and it was leaking fuel and leading hydraulic oil and shit everywhere and yeah, the firies [fire fighters] came, the ambulance came and we got more fuckin’ drug tests but I knew how to do that one. I was safe by then because I didn’t do drugs anymore,


so I passed that one with flying colours and yeah. I was at the football with Vanessa the day before. I was pretty close to failing that test but I didn’t, I held firm and yeah, so that brought me back to earth. That really did and the next day they were nice enough to let the crew, they basically called off the exercise for the squadron because


the whole reason we rushed back and hit the wall, we were in a big rush because one of the pilots was a troop commander and we got a call to go back and we were in a big rush and they wouldn’t tell us why, so we’re all thinking about other things other than flying the aircraft and the squadron had been recalled to Timor. Well B Squadron was going back to Timor and so that’s why we were in a rush to get back and end of x for B Squadron. They got sent home


except for the four crew who had to wait for the crash investigation team to come up from Canberra and absolutely drill us. And they labelled me and I was the one to blame, and then we got to sweep up all the shit from our aircraft which was really, really depressing having to sweep that up and, you know, I was fucked. Because they did an emergency shutdown they didn’t turn the batteries off. They just basically pulled the fire extinguishers, chucked on the


rotor blade and left the batteries on which wiped the black box because it repeats every half hour, so I had no evidence to back up my story that what I was telling them that, you know, “I gave him a verbal, he didn’t answer and we were too close, we shouldn’t have been there.” and all this sort of stuff and so I basically had to fall on my sword and I went back to Townsville, went in front of all the aviation hierarchy from brigadiers to fuckin’


lieutenants and other air crewman like myself. I had to get up and give this talk on my fuck up which was pretty bad. I didn’t like that at all but yeah, and because of that, like every other time you fuck up in the army, they picked me to go back to Timor with the Blackhawks, so it’s like a blessing in disguise and all my other mates are going, “Get the fuck out of here!” you know, “You’ve already crashed one. What’s going on, how come?”
On that incident


I guess no-one was injured or anything?
No, everyone walked away. There was a lot of bruised egos but everyone walked away, yeah, seatbelts and everything worked, so we were pretty lucky. If you had have been unrestrained in the back you would have probably fallen out and been crushed by the fuselage hitting the ground or something, so it would have been untidy for you, yeah.
And the pilots, did they get blamed at all or?
Well not until a later date, not until I was almost coming home from my first trip of Timor, because there was another crash over there that the crash investigation team had to


come over for, so that’s when they let me off the hook because the boffins [scientists] in Canberra worked the black box and got all the data back.
So, yeah, justified everything I’d been telling them and they, but it was too late by then. I was the guy that helped crash a Blackhawk, so that shit follows you round.
But in the end you got cleared?
In the end I was cleared, that’s right, yeah.
Interviewee: Garth Fitzgerald Archive ID 2464 Tape 04


East Timor, how did you get involved in that murky operation?
East Timor, murky, well yeah I just sort of got picked because after that accident everyone knew who I was, so they picked me out of the bunch of new guys to go over. They only took enough crews for the aircraft which meant no-one got to have a day off which is bad for crew endurance, so


they needed a spare guy, so they chose me and I went over and yeah, I went straight, well I went to Darwin and did some pre deployment training at Darwin, some sort of cultural training about the East Timor people and what to expect over there and last minute weapons handling and military law and red and yellow cards, and who you can and can’t shoot, and stuff like that, and then we flew into Dili in a South


African United Nations Herc [Hercules transport] and then our choppers came and picked us up and we flew back to the border, to the West Timor, East Timor border to a town called Balibo, which is where those journalists got killed in 1975, those Australian journalists, so that was pretty interesting and we were on top of a hill and from the top of our hill we could see Adembua which is in West Timor and there


was Indonesian infantry there and we could only sort of see the buildings and the structures. We couldn’t see people. We were a fair way away but I mean we could see them and started flying there and in Balibo there was a company of SAS [Special Air Service] and a company of infantry and we basically inserted and resupplied


sections up to platoon strength of soldiers all along the border and in various observation posts, so that they could keep an eye on the Indonesians and more so the militia. The militia were the big problem over there apparently.
Not the Indonesians?
No not the Indonesians. They’d already all been pushed out during INTERFET and now they were just mopping up the militia who were still being supplied by the Indonesians who were just over the border. So of the night time the militia would


come back across the border which in our sector was the river, and they would cross the river and move at night, at day if there was no-one around and we had to try and stop them, try and catch them, so yeah, we did a few quick reaction forces sort of thing. If some had been spotted, the infantry or the SAS would come running up and we’d launch in the aircraft to where they’d been seen and drop the boys in to try and catch them and


they saw them a few times and they fired a few shots at them but we never caught any, not while I was there anyway in the first rotation, but it was exciting nonetheless. There was an aircraft crash while we were there. One of our Blackhawks crashed near the border. They were pretty lucky to be alive. That was a disastrous crash. I don’t know how any of them walked out of it but no-one got hurt for some reason


and we were lucky enough to get to spend the next night there because we went in there the next morning. We couldn’t get in there that night and we pulled them out the next morning and flew them home and then that afternoon we flew back there to the aircraft with some engineers, some aircraft engineers, to try and assess the damage and then we got clouded in and that was fun because the border was only a few hundred metres away and the Indonesians knew we’d crashed and we only had a section of Kiwi


infantry looking after us and no-one was that happy to be so close to the border with two helicopters. We weren’t really that well protected at all, so that was a pretty daunting night but we got through that alright.
Were you expecting the Indonesians to shoot?
Well I don’t know what I was expecting. I was expecting, if anyone, militia to come, to have a look and to start something. I didn’t think the Indonesians would come.


If any Indonesians ever got caught then it would be just a political nightmare I guess. I don’t know what would have happened but yeah, militia I was definitely expecting but we never saw anyone and we got home alright and the aircraft got recovered a couple of days later. They flew in parts and new rotor blades and new bits and pieces and flew it back to Balibo and fixed it up proper and we continued on, yeah.
How big was the town of Balibo?
Balibo was about


as big as a football oval, yeah. It was a tiny village and with all of us there we probably quadrupled the population. I mean it was basically just like a dirt road with small third world country markets on either side and then a couple of, you know, little village huts that had been there for, you know, forty or fifty years, made out of shitty


sandstone and corrugated tin that they’d stolen from somewhere. It was just a really shit hole of a place and we sort of moved in and took over and made it our own and we employed a lot of the local civilians to do shitty jobs for us, cleaning and digging holes and filling sandbags and making steps and all that sort of stuff, but I mean they got paid a fortune. I mean they got paid five dollars US a day which is probably more than they earn in a month, so they were right chuffed [pleased]


to be working for us.
So they were very happy?
Yeah, and they were great people too. They were really, really nice.
What did they say about the militia?
They hated them with a passion because they all knew someone that was in the militia, someone that had given up East Timor and gone over to the Indonesians because they got, you know, treated a little bit better. But then on the flip side, they bastardised the family and friends that they knew, so they hated the militia and they coughed them up every chance


they got, you know. Most of the militia we caught or come across were from villagers, you know, catching them themselves and holding onto them until we got there, so, yeah. No, they didn’t like them at all.
So that would you say there was a hearts and minds sort of operation there as well or was that needed at all?
No I don’t think it was needed because they hated the Indonesians. They hated the militia, you know. The Indonesians moved in there when the Portuguese left for no


reason, you know. Instead of the Portuguese leaving it to the people of East Timor which was the plan, Indonesians stepped in and took it off them and there’s nothing they could do about it, so when they left they were over the moon, you know. The Aussies who’d albeit sold them out twenty five years ago by letting the Indonesians do it had, you know, come back and liberated them I guess. I don’t know too much of the politics about it all but I mean they were all really, really happy people and they were all very nice to us


and we spoke a little bit of Portuguese or Indonesian and they speak a little bit of English and no, it was great. We used to play soccer with them on the weekends and stuff and we’d always buy cigarettes and trinkets and cheap twenty cent shirts from their markets and that and no, they loved it. It was really good.
How would you describe the


Timorese landscape to fly over?
Depends what time of year you went. In the summertime in the wet season it was beautiful. It was all green and it was really lush and you could literally set your watch by the rain in the afternoon and the thunderstorms and us being on top of a hill, it was magic. We could see the north down to the coast and we had beautiful sunsets every day and the


fuel farm where we got our fuel from every day was right on the coast, so we’d see heaps of marine life, you know, killer whales, blue whales, dolphins, sharks, so we got to see a whole lot of marine life which you just don’t expect when you’re flying over these burnt out shanty towns and then boof, you’re over the coast and it’s sort of back to normal again. It’s the ocean untouched and it was beautiful. In the winter time though, I mean there was no rain. It was dry. They’d burn everything off. There was always smoke haze


everywhere. There were fires everywhere and that made it hard for us to sort of pinpoint militia movements because there’s spot fires everywhere. There’s people moving everywhere around the fires, so from the air it’s always hard to tell who’s who but, you know, it’s not like we roam the skies chasing random people on the ground. We only ever launched if there was confirmed sort of sightings and stuff and that was, the first tour was probably the busiest one. After that it sort of petered off.


Now when you went to West Timor, that had already been cleared by infantry, right?
Yeah, we never went into West Timor but East Timor.
Sorry, the border?
The border, yeah.
West of, you know, East Timor?
West of Dili, yeah, they’d already cleared it all out and the Indonesians had signed off saying that they’d all left and yeah, we never had any run ins like they initially did in INTERFET


with the Indonesians. No, we never saw them basically, so you’d see them at their checkpoints because they have their checkpoints opposite ours on the border, you know, where roads crossed the river or whatnot you’d see them .Occasionally there’d be sightings of them in East Timor marketplaces, you know, harassing the villagers because that’s what they’d been doing for the last twenty five years. That was normal to them and because they got paid so very little


a lot of them substituted their wage with black market trading, so they would have all this gear and they’d still cross the border and sell it in East Timor and bastardise or beat the local East Timorese and that’s how a lot of these sightings and call outs, that’s where they came from.
Was there a lot of payback going on?
I think most of the payback happened during and after the elections. When I was there, there was very little. The militia


that the villagers caught, I mean they got beaten up and I don’t think any of them ever got killed or not that I’m aware of, but I know that a lot of them got severely beaten by the villagers which is probably justified I guess, but no, not that I know of. I know that if a known militia person or militiaman, their house after the elections was divided up or left for nothing for the village, like their


family or that person wasn’t sort of allowed back into the village or their home because, you know, they’d been such a bad bastard for so long that they didn’t want them back in the village, so someone else would move in there and that was that. So no, as far as payback I was sort of unaware of any.
What about Falintil [pro-independence guerrillas], did they start coming out openly?
Yeah there was a lot of parades, saw a lot of Falintil parades and the like and big speeches and stuff like that


which was cool because that’s their country and finally they can say what they want to say and they liked that we were there as well because we’re helping their cause and they were a nice bunch of guys and we tried to, well not meet directly but, you know, the Australian Defence Force tried to tell them, “Don’t carry your weapons around openly.” and stuff like that, “Because if we mix you up with someone who you’re not then there could be some trouble.”


so they were a good bunch of guys. They were serious, you know.
What do you mean serious?
Well they were serious about their cause and what they were doing and how they got around, you know. You knew who they were just by the way they carried themselves that they were Falintil or whoever because there was a couple of groups that popped up after the elections but they were definitely the biggest and each village would fly the flag of who they supported. As we flew around the countryside you would know that that’s a Falintil village


or that’s another village, they support that group and that was cool, so.
Was there any infighting between these other groups?
I think there was but it wasn’t big. I think it was more just sort of groups clashing together and just yelling abuse and stuff like that but I don’t think there was any sort of killings or anything like that, certainly we never saw any, well I never saw any anyway. It’s definitely, if you can get up there, I wouldn’t want to drive around there in a car or walk


around there on foot, but if you can ever get up there and fly around it’s beautiful and they have their craziest monuments to Christianity in the weirdest places. Like on the top of these bad arse mountains where you’d never want to walk up in a million years, there’ll be the hugest statue of Mary or big Christ. There’s crosses all over the country. On every bloody ridgeline there’s a cross, you know, and they’re right into it. It was yeah, strange. We always used to, there was a particular mountain, I can’t remember the name of it and it had the big massive statue of


Mary. Always used to go and land next to it and get out and have our photos because it was the middle of the island and you could see the south coast and you could see the north coast and then out of nowhere some East Timorese and his donkey would just crack up over and just keep on walking so, no not bad, not bad at all.
And how big is the island, I mean or at least the area, of East Timor?
Gee, I don’t know.
I take it you can get from one side to the other, wouldn’t be long would it?
No, not at all. In an aircraft you could fly from the north coast to the south coast


probably, in a helicopter, twenty five, half an hour and then the length a fair bit longer, maybe an hour and a half, which is relatively small for a country.
Did you get to go to the Oecussi pocket?
The Oecussi enclave?
No, when we were there, who was there when we were there? Think the Jordanians were there when I was there for rotation one and


we didn’t have, we were only there sort of to support ourselves and to a lesser extent the Kiwis who were also on the border with us. We shared the border with New Zealand and they helped us and we helped them moving troops around and stuff like that, but everyone else got supported by the UN, so no. They did go down there. I mean initially they inserted 3RAR into Oecussi but we never went back there.
Now you were dropping people off, you know, in pretty remote areas as well?


These were SAS?
Yeah SAS and whatever battalion, obviously battalions rotated through every six months, so we saw, you know, all of the battalions went through but the SAS were only there for my first rotation, so they left around Christmas 2000. SAS were sort of more setting up Ops [ Observation Posts] and taking high altitude long range photos for movement of vehicles and troops


and lot of thermal imagery and stuff like that to get troop disposition and see where all the people are and if there was an initial action force. Then they would come and jump in and come, we’d take them and drop them off to try and catch, you know, whoever but yeah, we certainly did drop them off in the wastelands and there’s some pretty desolate places on that island.
What do you mean desolate?
Well it’s just really mountainous


and rocky and in the summertime it’s just hectic jungle to try and get through, then in the summertime they’d burn it all down and then it’s just dust and smoke and ash and shit everywhere and we’d just drop them off and go back to our air conditioned huts and leave the boys out in the shit to do their thing and it was always at night. You’d always pick them up and drop them off at night time, so flying conditions weren’t perfect


but, yeah, it was good fun but they were always in shit hole spots. It was never going to be comfortable for them for their stay but I mean that’s why they do what they do I guess.
And you had to winch people down I take it?
Yeah, we did a lot of winching and fast roping. We used to fast rope in. The SAS love getting fast roped in or


rappelled in and they would rappel a fast rope out one side of the aircraft and we’d winch all their stores and equipment out of the other side and that’s pretty good fun to have sort of two activities going on in the back at once. It’s pretty dangerous but we did a lot of training, a shit load of training at Balibo. There’s sort of a training criteria that you had to do when you got into country and that was one of them and it just sped things up a hell of a lot because obviously we don’t want to give away anyone’s position and a helicopter hovering in the air’s a pretty good way of doing that.


But from a distance, if we don’t have to land, then we’re not going to disturb any dust or smoke that’s on the ground and aircraft signature, helicopter signature when it lands on the ground is pretty big, as you can imagine, but if you’re hovering just sort of out of that effect and then you don’t give yourself away too much unless they can hear you or see you. I loved doing that sort of stuff. I loved winching guys in and out of the aircraft and we certainly did winch them onto some pinnacles that we couldn’t have


landed on at all and we’d go back a few nights later and pick them up, bring them home.
Did they say much about the operations to you?
Yeah, they were pretty open with us because we worked with them all the time. They would say if they’d seen anything all night and, you know, what it was like. Most of the time they might not see anything and we’d know if they did because then we would get launched to go and look at whatever they’d seen, so yeah they’d talk pretty


openly with us. They were a good bunch of guys, yeah. They have a sort of an enigma that, you know, they’re quiet and they don’t talk to anyone and you don’t want to talk to them, but it’s sort of not the whole truth. I mean if you were involved with them at any stage then they’ll open up to you because you’re sort of working with them and doing the same thing.
Did they have any run ins with the militia?
No, not that I can remember, no. We didn’t. I know the Kiwis certainly did


but well there was a few. I know the infantry did, or so they say they did. I don’t think the SAS did, not when I was there. A section worth of ammunition was thrown [fired] down range, which is a fair bit when you consider how much ten blokes can carry and they didn’t get anyone. There was also a couple of, there was two guys,


two Australian guys, going down in a [Land] Rover, not too far from where we were and they were in a Rover and one of them got out to go to the toilet and he went down into the banana plantation and was having a piss and I don’t know how but the other guy didn’t sort of see him head off in that direction and then he seen someone with a weapon in the banana plantation


and has yelled out to him and has got no response because obviously old mate’s just down there having a piss and he’s going, “What are you yelling at me for?” you know and he shot him. He’s Australian shooting another Australian. I think he got him in the leg or something but shit like that happens all the time, well not all the time but it happened a couple of times over there. There was another, and obviously we flew him to Dili, and


there was the poor lad that got shot in the back in the TV room by the guy behind him who was cleaning his weapon and sort of the last sort of final function test you do is fire the action to make sure that your rifle’s all working after you’ve cleaned it; but he had a round [bullet] up the spout [breech] and shot the poor guy sitting in front of him, so we flew him to Dili. He lived though and then there was the suspected grenade attack was at Bravo,


check point Bravo… not check point Bravo. I can’t remember. It was Bravo something. No it was Bravo Company’s lines and that was either militiamen throwing a grenade over the fence at these two guys or one of them dropping a grenade and it going off and getting them, so we flew those two guys to Dili as well, so whether we had run ins [clashes] with them or not I don’t know.
So we don’t know if it’s our


own guys or blame it on the militia?
That’s what I’m getting at, yeah.
I’ve heard stories where the infantry up in the listening post had shot and killed some militia guys trying to infiltrate, it wasn’t recorded?
Yeah, I don’t know.
How likely is that to be true?
It’s quite possible, yeah.


Because there was a seriously healthy disrespect, if you like, from the Aussies towards the militia?
Definitely, yeah, definitely. They hated the militia and that’s fair enough too cause they were arseholes. I mean what they did to that New Zealand guy was pretty bad and the Kiwis lost all respect for them after that.
What New Zealand guy, sorry?
They captured a New Zealand gunner


who carried the machinegun. There was a section of New Zealand infantry patrolling. They got ambushed by militia and they all made it away except for one of the Kiwis, the gunner. There must have been a shit team of militia because to force an infantry section back which would have been fully bombed up with ammo and the like is, so it must have been a pretty big force. Anyway they found this [New Zealand] infantry soldier naked hogtied, dead. They’d [militia] shot him


and you can imagine what that would have done to all the Kiwi infantrymen seeing one of their own boys, so after that they lost all respect for the militia and it was, you know, “If you don’t stop….” Basically after that, there was nothing written in stone but the word was, and the practise was that, you know, if no-one stopped in the Kiwi sector when they were told to, then they got shot at, so,


which is fair enough I think and had something like that happened to an Australian I dare say it would have been the same, you know, same sort of response, and militia are sort of outside the rules a little bit, you know. You have to pay them the respect that they are due and obey the laws of armed conflict and all that sort of stuff, but if you’re going to be a sneaky little bugger and start hogtying


prisoners and shooting them, then, you know, taking all their clothes off them and who knows what else they did. I’m not sure but, you know, you’re going to piss a lot of people off and you’ve got to expect some sort of ramifications and that’s what happened but nothing like that ever happened in the Australian sector because there was just too many of us and we had too quick a response time. The Kiwis took a lot longer than us to get in the area whereas


we were just too quick for them.
Why do you think the militia didn’t resist? They were saying they’d resist heavily but they didn’t resist heavily?
Why do you think that was the case?
Well because they had no support base anymore. If they wanted any ammunition or arms they had to get across the border into Indonesia, get it off the Indonesians and then come back and that’s just too dangerous for them, so, you know, once the Indonesians left it died off


at a really quick rate and it’s highly likely what was being reported back here wasn’t in fact the case, you know, because they had nothing. I mean they were just lowly farmers who’d been given; you know, second, third generation weapons by the Indonesians to fight with and to keep the peace amongst the people. The Indonesian army couldn’t be bothered going up into the mountains and policing, so they got their own people to do it


who knew the tracks, who knew the villages, who knew the people, and once the Indonesians left they had no-one to support them.
There was a lot of talk about the Indonesians forcibly removing people from East Timor and taking them to West Timor?
Yeah, I think they, quite possibly could have happened. Either that or they just killed them because there’s so many empty buildings when we got, or when I got there, and it would have been worse when INTERFET got there. There’s just empty buildings everywhere and whether they


were full of Indonesian soldiers or the Indonesian army, possibly, but I don’t think there would have been that many of them there. There was just empty buildings everywhere, so either they took people with them, I know they did kill a lot of people when they were leaving, everyone knows that. As for how many or whether they did remove people to West Timor, I don’t know. They would have been


bastards though.
I’m sure the Indonesians weren’t very popular themselves?
The Aussies hated them?
I didn’t hate them; I can see why they took over East Timor. I can understand the reasoning why they did it. I don’t agree with it but I can understand why they did it but the way they’d left, when they left, you know, they slashed and burned everything on the way out and they raped and pillaged on the way out. I mean that’s just fuckin’ not on, so


we didn’t like them for that reason, you lost the vote, it’s time to go, you know. I mean they’d been there for twenty five years and they did build up East Timor. I mean it probably would have been nowhere near as good, and it’s not that good, but it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good as it was had the Indonesians not gone there, because they pumped a lot of money into it, as you would, you know, you would, but, yeah, they certainly did do some bad stuff on the way out.


Did you have any cooperation with other UN forces?
Very little. Obviously we worked a fair bit with the Kiwis and then behind us they sort of rotated between other small United Nations [teams].The Kiwis and the Australians were on the border. We were the firmest line of defence and we had our sectors to look after and then behind us I think it broke back into three, who was up there? It changed all the


time, like they rotated but us and the Kiwis stayed on the border the whole time, but there was all manner of other countries there. The Portuguese were there. The Jordanians were there. The Japanese were there. On my last trip there the Japanese were rocking up and the East Timorese hated it, hated it with a passion cause there was still people there that had been raped by the Japs and they’re just fuckin’ over it,


“They’re fuckin’ back, they’re back.” and which is understandable like you know, because they weren’t nice people when they came through the first time.
This is the older generation of course?
The real old, the great grandparents, you know, who just sit there on the side of the road chewing their betel nut and, you know, not doing much at all because they’re old and they don’t have to. They’ve got five hundred grandkids to feed them but yeah, when they found out the Japs were coming back they weren’t very happy


at all, but that was towards the end. That was like the end of 2002 or something.
But you didn’t have anything to do with the Japs?
No, didn’t, weren’t with the Japanese had all. No, very, no we really stuck to our own thing and no-one could task us except for, you know, we did our own sort of tasking, our own training and stuff. The CO of the Aus Bat [Australian Battalion] and the guys in Dili and they only tasked us for sort of


PR [public relations] and fly around whoever else came over, yep, Sixty Minutes[TV program] and shit.
Richard Carleton? [TV reporter]
Yeah, fuckin’ punters like, “Why are you here mate?” you know, “It’s been done. God, you’re not telling it how it is anyway…!.” Jesus.
How’s the media seen by troops generally?


Everyone loved them when they set up little stands for us so we could say, “G’day” to, you know, family and friends back home and that’s great. They should always keep doing that because that’s a huge morale boost knowing that your wife and kids or your girlfriend or your parents or, you know, at least you’re getting a message back home. That’s, you know, that’s great but when they come over and they start reporting on shit that just isn’t happening, you know, it’s like, “Well that’s not happening mate.” you know, “I’m here every day. I’m flying all over this


country. I’m not seeing any of that.” I mean I don’t mind because the more bullshit they talk, the higher the threat and the more they pay me to be there, but when they have a motive…. I don’t know what it is but, yeah, so we paid them no attention because they’re just not telling the truth and they were a hindrance to us them being there.
How popular was General Cosgrove? [Australian commander]
He’s a pretty popular guy, yeah. He,


well not with us because we were on the border and he didn’t let us drink, so we didn’t like him for that but in the ADF, he’s a pretty popular guy, yeah, amongst the soldiers. I mean he’s got kids himself that are of a similar age to a lot of the people that were over there. I mean they’re in their early twenties, their late teens and so he knew how to talk to young people and how to approach them.


I mean obviously he passes orders down the chain but the couple of times I saw him and, you know, he’d ask me to do simple things for him, nothing, you know, combative or anything, you know. He just spoke to me like a person, not, you know, “Corporal Fitzgerald, go and get me this.” It was just like, “Oh mate can you go and grab me that…?” and it’s, “Yeah, no worries mate.” you know, so he was pretty laid back and popular guy, would have been better if he let us have beers.
So you said, “No worries mate”?
No, I didn’t say


“No worries mate.” I said, “Yes Sir, no Sir, how many bags full do you want Sir?” you know, but he actually lost his puggaree [hat band]. I don’t know if you know what a puggaree is?
No I don’t.
You know on your slouch hat, you’ve got the hat and there’s that bit that goes around here and it usually has a corps badge at the front. Well that’s called your puggaree and his has got this big, “Fuck off, I’m the boss of the army.” badge on it. It’s worth about fifteen hundred bucks and he jumped on the Blackhawk and he passed his hat forward.


Well it was all doors back and guns facing out and everything so we looked the shit, just put it, you get a fair bit of wind, as you can imagine, whistling through the cabin and his puggaree come off his hat and went schooching out the cabin door never to be seen again. So when he landed, Simmo, bloody Simmo ,[Corporal Simmons, crewman] he’s a character, he had to, he handed Cosi [General Cosgrove] back his slouch hat without his puggaree and he’s going, “That’s not my hat.” and he’s going, “Yeah, yeah it is, yeah it is.” He’s going, “Where’s the fuckin’ puggaree? It’s fifteen hundred


bucks, Corporal Simmons.” He’s like, “Fuck, Sir, what do you want me to do Sir?” It’s just fuckin’ back there somewhere.
So you didn’t land and search for it?
No, we did nothing stupid like that, “Oh, I’ve dropped my hat, turn the ship around.” yeah, no, nothing crazy like that. No, he was pretty cool but we saw less of him and more, you know, Sixty Minutes, current affair shows.
So you had to take them around?


Yeah, we had to fly them to all the places. They came to us because we had the aircraft and because it was always a good pitch for the story, was, “Here we are in Balibo where in 1975 the three Australian journalists were killed by the advancing Indonesians….” and then they’d jump in the chopper with us and we’d take them to where, you know, heaps of villagers had been killed or the nuns had been killed or, you know, big fire fight here, a big, you know, we were just, militia sighting here. I mean I didn’t hear of no militia getting sighted here but,


you know, OK, so it was good. It was good for a change to see, you know, nice, clean shaven dudes in their Rolexes [watches] and shit, but I had to go back to my cot every night.
Any famous journalists or, you know, when I say famous, known?
Known? Well Carleton was there. He came over once. Carleton was there as well but there was another guy.
Not Mike Munro? [another TV reporter]


what, can’t I say names?
Yeah, you can absolutely?
Who else?
Jennifer Lopez, no?
No, but I remember when the two girls from Bardot [pop group] came over. Gees that was funny. They came over for Tour de Force and, you know, and Pop Stars {television programme] had been and gone and they’d broken up or they were just about to break up and they came over for the Christmas thing. It was just before I came home at the end of the first tour and who else came?


Tim Freedman [rock singer], Merrick and Rosso [comedy duo] and another Aussie band but it was a good gig and they did ours and I was leaving in the next couple of days and I was down in Dili, there was a support place there and it had a duty free shop and I was there getting all my booze before I came home and all these guys rock in and


Tim Freedman was, I have never seen anyone so hung over in my life. He just looked like a walking skeleton, poor bastard. They used to stay on this ship in the harbour because you didn’t want to stay anywhere in Dili itself because it just wasn’t safe at the time and he’d painted most of the side of this ship after a big night on the booze with a little bit of spew [vomit], as you would when you’re in a foreign country on tour,


just have a couple of big ones with the Bardot girls.
Bardot girls must have been very popular?
They were fucking hugely popular because they grabbed some army uniforms and they’d cut them down to something between a pair of hotpants and a g-string and just a bra and it was hot at night, so the boys just went wild. It was gold, yeah.
Were there any liaisons between the boys and the local girls?
No, hell no.


They’re just not attractive and I don’t think anyone was that desperate, not that I heard of and definitely not from my regiment and not from the infantry guys that were around us. They’re just not a good looking bunch of people.
Really, I thought East Timorese girls were attractive?
Yeah, maybe to you my friend but, no they weren’t and just, they’re short and small and, you know, petite without being good looking petite. They’re just,


you know, just tiny people and no, no. I wouldn’t do it, it’s that appalling.
Yeah, so well I suppose there was no place, you know, R and R? [ rest and recreation]
There’s nowhere you could take them anyway. I mean in Dili you probably could have got away with it but where we were there was just nowhere you could go.
Why Dili?
Dili is a,


just a bigger place. There’s more dark corners to hide around I’d imagine and as time went on, more services became available in Dili.
What do you mean?
Well, you know, cities pop up and various infrastructures come back, you know pubs and clubs.
So what’s the Fyshwick [Canberra red light area] on Dili?
The whole place.


It’s just all dodgy.
Really, is that what happened, you had this red light district cropping up?
There was no red light district as such but you knew that, what went on in that pub and what went up in the top floors and they stopped, they banned the people, because the people in Dili were allowed to have a little bit of a social life because it was full of the UN workers, you know, doctors, whoever, advisers. It was just chockers [completely] full of them, so


they all had a nightlife and then eventually the ADF people that were there were allowed to leave the confines of the barracks a little bit as well and so it wasn’t too long before the boys started finding all the places where you can go to have a good time and eventually we all got banned from going to them. I mean we came down from Balibo to Dili a fair bit but only to pick up stores or drop people off or wherever and then we were gone again. Very rarely did we get to shut down and go and have pizza


in town because if something happened back at Balibo then they’re an aircraft down and we only had four there anyway, so pretty light on the ground. But, yeah ,there was definitely places that you could go to for, yeah, sexual relief I guess, not that I know anyone personally that did it, so.
Well they all say that don’t they?
Yeah, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Interviewee: Garth Fitzgerald Archive ID 2464 Tape 05


We’ve talked to a lot of World War Two guys and Vietnam guys and back then they would have lectures on VD and also they had a brothel culture that was organised or the army took an interest and would say, “Here’s clean, here’s not clean” and so on. What was your experience


in that regard?
We got lessons and lectured on diseases that were in each country that we went to, and we got inoculated for the ones we could, and lectured some more on the ones that we couldn’t; and I’d say the brothel culture is no longer there and


is maybe frowned upon, but to some extent that sort of behaviour is not frowned upon, you know. It still happens. Guys still frequent brothels but the army has no involvement anymore in that but certainly no-one raises an eyelid or something if you go to a brothel. I know the


ones in Darwin got an absolute touch up before the guys went over to Timor because you would more often than not get a night or maybe two in Darwin before you went over for three to six months, so it definitely happened regardless of whether you’d just left the wife and kids the night before, you know, back in Townsville or Brisbane or wherever. So yeah, it still definitely happens but overseas you just, you didn’t get,


well I never got, or any of the guys that I ever went with, we just never got the time to do it. We were always too busy or trying to catch up on sleep or whatever else occupies your day and we just weren’t allowed, a lot of the time, off the bases. If we were on a base, or out of the local area, so like in East Timor if we were lucky enough to go down to Dili for a day, then yeah, you might get half a day to look around the shops and, you know, buy some trinkets


or whatever, buy some cheap VCDs [video discs] off the corner because you just get swamped by the kids selling crap and you just buy something to get them away from you until the next corner, and then you’d have to do it again but no. I mean yes, it happened but yes, there’s no sort of culture, especially overseas it wouldn’t happen, not in any sort of operations I went on, no,


didn’t see it.
OK, it’s just good to get that comparison?
Yeah, for sure.
Of the locals, what were your interactions with them and what were they thinking of what was happening?
We employed a lot, not a lot, well the Defence Force did but our unit, we employed I think five or six local people. We had three ladies that


did our washing for us and three blokes that did sandbags and waterways and steps and all the sort of shitty jobs that no-one wanted to do, and they were really nice, yeah. The washing ladies would always try and teach us a little bit of Portuguese every time we were down there and they’d make signs up with, you know, English and Portuguese words so you’d know which was good and they were really nice


and reasonably well educated. They sort of had a screening process before they got, minimal screening process, “Can you speak basic English?.” “Yep.” “You’re hired” sort of thing, you know, so and they were lovely, you know, bunch of people. Sometimes they’d bring their kids up and the kids would just sit there and watch their Mum, Dad and yeah, they were great. The guys worked really hard but, when they worked they worked really hard, but more often than not they’d be off having a little siesta somewhere


under a shady tree and you’d have to throw rocks at them to get them moving but they were used to that, so they were happy but yeah, they worked really hard and they knew when they saw us come over with, you know, our videos and our TVs and our handicams and they’d never seen, you know, video cameras before and when you take a bit of footage of them they’re like looking at you like, “What are you doing?” and then, you know, you turn it round and then you show it to them and they would freak out because it’s like, “What the hell, is that me, it looks like


me!” and everyone’s going, “Yeah it’s you!” and so they were great to interact with and some of the best times was playing sport against them because they were hard little bastards and they were quick and yeah, they were good fun to play with and everywhere we went there would be one or two of them there with us, not, you know, on the job when we’re flying around but whenever we were, you know, outside work hours or walking around they’d be there with us. I mean we basically plonked down [landed], at Balibo anyway, in the middle of their village,


so we would walk down a hill, past a couple of their houses to our mess to have lunch, dinner, breakfast, whatever and then back past a couple of their houses and back up the hill or you could walk for, you know, for a break. If you had the time you’d cut a lap around the village and like a guy had a pet monkey and everyone would always bring a bit of fruit from the mess and chuck the pet monkey some fruit and the dogs would attack it and the monkey would hit the dogs with a stick and shit and he loved it and it was just,


you know, things like that. They were pretty good people. I mean they didn’t have anything compared to us, which is fair enough, but I mean they were happy enough, so yeah, it was good.
Did they express their feelings about the Indonesians?
Yeah, they were very verbal about how they felt in all aspects of life. It didn’t matter what it was and the distaste for the Indonesians was probably right up there and the militia. They really, really hated them. They must, I mean I never


saw it apart from, you know, on the TV. I never saw it first hand but they must have been treated really, really badly and yeah, they didn’t like them at all. So they were happy that we were there, yeah, but maybe not so much now because our government’s ripping them off [exploiting] but, back then we were doing them a favour, so they were pretty happy with us, yeah.
Do you recall some stories they would tell about the Indonesians?


Most of the stories we got were from our intelligence officer. He would relay anything. He would sort of have a five minute speech each night where he would get up and if he had nothing to report he would talk about the past and sort of the past twenty five years and why we were there, so, I mean you take that with a grain of salt [scepticism] because who knows where he’s getting it from, what political correspondence is feeding it to him. But, you know, they [Timorese]were always getting raped and beaten and worked hard for no money


by the Indonesians and I mean because they couldn’t speak English to translate that for us, what their life experiences were, so, but you only had to have a look around the place and they wrote on everything. They wrote on bits of tin, on the walls of their houses and, you know, “We hate Indonesia” and, “Kill the militia” and, “Love you Aussies” and that stuff that you saw on the tele. [TV] Before I went over, I thought, “That’s just a small pocket of town next to the footy oval or something.” you know, like you might see at home


where someone’s just put some graffiti up but it was everywhere, everywhere you went and I mean they really, really disliked them and yeah, fair enough too I guess, yeah.
How important is at as a soldier going in a war zone and the locals are behind you?
Huge - and I noticed that, well when I went to Timor it was really gratifying, you know. I thought, “This is great.” you know, “They really want us to be here.” whereas when I went to the Middle East and they didn’t want us to be there


there was a huge difference and I could feel the difference but, and it does make a huge difference when the local people will come and talk to you and, you know, and say, “G’day.” or, “Good evening.” and they’ll try and speak a bit of English and then you try and speak a bit of their language and everyone’s trying to make an effort to get along and to make it work; it’s really gratifying that they want you there and that they’re trying to learn a bit about you and yeah, it makes a huge difference,


And you were saying that they would be employed as laundry people and so on, was that basically what they were doing, or what were their duties?
Yeah, there was the laundry ladies. Then there was the other guys who, they sort of put up tents, filled sandbags, you know. We had a big hill that we had to walk down, so they made steps for that and because it rained so God damn much it would just become a slippery dip every day, so they’d be there every day fixing that up and taking away our rubbish. No, that’s not true.


We did that. We had to do that cause they went through it cause they had no food, so we were always burning our rubbish because they’d just get sick if they ate it. Obviously you don’t want to be eating rubbish but they did anyway even after you burnt it, they’d go through it to see what they could find, but yeah, they just basically did all the shitty little jobs that you wouldn’t want to do. They’d be on it.


Would they have to be careful when they employed these guys because they could be Indonesians who you don’t know?
Yeah, that’s right and they got kept away from sort of the operations area and they weren’t allowed into the accommodation where we were, where we slept and stuff like that. They always sort of had to be within sight of someone and


there was the head, there was always a head guy and if any of his guys got caught out of line then he was the guy that got fired; and so he knew how much of a good wicket he was on and they always tried to grab a senior village guy to be that person, to be the senior sort of locally employed guy and he policed it and he had the big stick and if anyone got out of line they got a smack. He knows who the militia are. He knows who the Indonesians are. He’s not going to let anyone jeopardise


his [operation], you know, gees it could be a five grand a day to them, you know. They’re never going to see five dollars US again in their life, and we were there, gees how long were we at Balibo, must have been nearly two years, so two years at five dollars a day. They had Sundays off because they all went to church, you know. They’re all Christians. The church was the biggest and best kept building in every village, not just ours and our chaplains went there and gave sermons as well and did it


in a bit of English and then their chaplain or priest or whatever would do a bit in Portuguese and so there was a lot of good interaction there at the religious level for them and a lot of our guys attended services as well, so the senior sort of guy, he knew everyone and he knew what was going on in his village and yeah, no, but we did keep them away. They knew where they weren’t and were allowed to go and yeah, they stuck to the rules. They were pretty good. I mean they were working for us doing shitty jobs


but they were getting paid a fortune and I mean we didn’t, you know, rag [criticise] on them because, you know, they’re just these lowly poor East Timorese. I mean they were doing us a favour, so we were nice to them and they were nice to us. It was good.
I guess it’s very important the way you treat them while you’re there?
Definitely, yeah.
Keep them onside basically?
Yeah, that was a big one for us. We were always


being reminded just to be nice to them, you know, don’t flash your money around when you go down to the markets, just take five bucks in your pocket and if you’ve got a photo of your wife and kids back home, take it and show them and, you know, to explain, “This is my wife and kids.” point to their kids and point to your kids and stuff like that, so a bit of hearts and mind, but at the same time when you’re doing it and sharing a bit of your life with a bit of their life, it’s pretty good. I mean it’s a good break from the shit hole that is, you know, the next three months or six months for you.


You’ve got to just treat them like people, you know. Just because they’re smaller and less well off and you don’t speak the same language, doesn’t mean they don’t know what you’re saying.
So that was important part of training?
Yeah, well not so much training. I mean I think it was just, you know, a little bit of CDF, or "common dog fuck.” can’t probably swear on, you know, just a bit of common sense. I mean you be nice to them and
You can swear if you want.
Gold, yeah, I’ve been holding it back all morning, you know, and you just


treat them like everyone else and that’s the best way to do it and I think that’s the big difference. After working with the Americans and us is that we, Aussie soldiers are sort of people first, you know, and then they’re soldiers second and I don’t know what Americans are. They’re just out there, and it wasn’t training. They’d just say to you, they’d give you some simple guidelines. They weren’t rules or anything. If you wanted to take


your fistful of fifties down to the markets, you could but then you know that the local people are going to frown on you and think, “Well you’re here to buy me out” or something, you know, whereas if you just rock up with five bucks they’re not going to care because you’re just down there having a look, so, no, it was really good. The sport was good, when we used to play soccer with them on Sunday afternoons after church and shit. I never got to play that, I played two games I think. It was too much for me. They’re too quick. They’re so fit, because they walk everywhere, you know. They’ve got no cars. They have like these crazy Beamer [BMW] buses, feels like a


Hi-ace [van], thirty year old Hi-ace that’s got CDs all over the front windscreen that they’ve glued to the windscreen. I don’t know why. They’re just there and shit hanging off it and there’s people on the roof. There’s people hanging off the back and when they crash there’s people, chaos, everywhere and we always used to see crashed cars everywhere, you know, crashed trucks. But they’re fit because they’ve got to carry everything and that was good fun playing sport with them and I think probably because, you know,


Aussies love their sport and these guys, sport and religion are all they had and we got involved in both of those with them, you know, we were always going to win a little bit with them and get on their good side, so yeah.
You didn’t work with Americans in East Timor, did you?
No, they were there and if anyone says they weren’t they’re lying; but they were there but they weren’t there on the scale that they were in some other places, but yeah, they were definitely there. We got to see mostly their battleships


and their aircraft when they would come and fly around and stuff like that. They never had any troops on the ground. They had advisers for the UN and stuff like that but they weren’t on the ground like we were but they were in the area that’s for sure. But I didn’t really interact with them until later, yeah, till just recently, so no.
Do you know if those guys were CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] or army or what their role was?
No idea. I only ever saw the navy, the ships. They used to light us


up or paint us with their radar. They’re just paranoid mo fo’s.[obscenity] I mean who else has got helicopters in the area guys, you know, and then they’d warn us, you know, “Warning.” rah rah, “Identify yourself.” I would have thought the green paint from Australia would have given it away mate, but and Aussie slang on the radio, and their helicopters obviously. They have all their navy helicopters there, but never had any


face to face with them or anything like that, just the Kiwis and the Portuguese. The Portuguese were the military police in Dili and, because we weren’t allowed to drink at all, even when we were in Dili. If you come from the border you weren’t allowed to go and get pissed[drunk] in Dili because you might get dragged back to the border and be drunk on the border; but the Portuguese MPs had a boozer inside their compound, so whenever we went an overnighter down in Dili we’d have our dinner in front of the officers and be all nice and prim and, “I’m off to bed Sir.” “No worries, see you in the morning” and then poof, straight off to the


Portuguese cop boozer and they knew we were coming and they loved us anyway because, you know, we’d buy heaps of piss [booze] and sit down and get rowdy with them cause they were a rowdy bunch like we were. I mean they didn’t want to be there because they’d left their country, you know, twenty five years ago and they’re like, “Shit, my Dad was here.” you know, “Now I’m here.” so they were a good bunch of guys to get on the piss with and we swapped, you know, bits of uniform and hats and patches, you know, Aussies patches and Aussie aircrew badges and shit with them and no, it was good fun.


They showed us their rifles. We showed them ours, all that shit but yeah, the Portuguese and the Kiwis were the ones. The Kiwis built this swimming pool down in their sector, so we always used to go and shut down there and go for a swim in their pool because you didn’t want to swim in the ocean because there’s too many sharks and shit and crocodiles. They have crocodiles over there too, on the south coast they do anyway. They were nice guys and the Jordanians weren’t very nice.


They had a bad rap over there. I think they did a few bad things, couple of isolated incidents, to the East Timorese.
Besides the incidents to the East Timorese, just talking to them, what kind of people were they?
I had very little to do with them. I didn’t have much time for them after I’d heard what may allegedly have occurred and given the job that we were doing, if we weren’t in the air flying around, we were either


in front of the tele [TV] or getting briefed on what we were doing the next day or something. We had very little time to ourselves and the time you did have to yourself, you had that to yourself or, you know, go and kick the footy with the boys or something or play some volleyball. We set up so many sporting things. There was pool and darts and volleyball and the footy out the front and there was more injuries over there for volleyball than any other thing in our regiment. It was insane, yeah. The amount of lost man hours to volleyball


must have been up there, I’ll tell you. Shit, it was, but you had to play because it just broke the monotony of the daily grind.
And touching on the concerts and so on that they set up, was that the one with Johnny Farnham as well over there when he did the big one?
That was the first one. That was INTERFET and they had [singers] Kylie Minogue come over and Johnny Farnham and that bald guy from the Angels. He wasn’t from the Angels, I can’t remember his name.
Angry Anderson?
Angry Anderson, that’s him. Yeah, he was there.


No, I wasn’t there for that. That was INTERFET. I was spewing [angry] because I was doing my loadmaster training while that was on, so I was watching it all on the news every night wishing I was there but no, I didn’t get to see that, I was there for the next following Christmas when they came over and did their Tour de Force Two, whatever it was and that was good. That was a good break up and the villagers got right into it and they did, I think they must have done about five concerts, one, two, yeah,


maybe four, yeah, and they put on a good show. Gee, it was a good break up from everything, so yeah, it was good and the locals loved it. They’d never seen so many, you know, “What’s a speaker, holy shit.” you know, “Isn’t that something out of a car?” Like it’s this big and, you know, they’ve got these big boxes and hot chicks in tight army uniforms and it was gold, lots of cameras out that night, yeah.
And taking them home afterwards?
That’s it. Well then we flew them around from, I think we


flew them from, can’t remember where, to Balibo where we were and then we flew them Balibo to Dili, so we got a bit of interaction there. Killing Heidi [band] I think came over, was that the first one or the second one? I can’t remember. They came over as well, so I mean there was some good bands that sort of put their hand up and came over and played us, don’t know if they played for free but they certainly put on a free show for us. We didn’t have to pay for anything, so it was good.
Often with those shows they say they’re important for morale and so on, are they?


Yeah definitely, yeah. The lead up, like everyone was getting really excited cause it’s just a change and a change of that magnitude is, you know, awesome, does a lot for everyone and just to see, you know, other Australians who aren’t in the same uniform as you are, aren’t even in a uniform, you know, and they’re there doing their own thing and you just, yeah it’s great. It’s good to watch and for, you know, a couple of hours you’re not in a third world country. You’re at a concert watching


an Aussie gig, you know, so no, it was really good. Everyone gets into it and it was, I remember watching that one that you spoke about with Johnny Farnham and you see the guys on the TV and they’re all jumping around and you thinking, “Shit mate, settle down, it’s….” you know, “…it’s Johnny Farnham” but then when you’re there, you’ve been there for a few months and you’re thinking, “This is fucked” and then you think, “Tim Freedman, I’ve never watched him before because he’s crap” but then you see him live and you think, “Fuck, this is gold.” you know, so doesn’t matter who’s up there. You’re just happy that someone’s up there, you know, and getting you


away from where you are.
And probably it shows that Australians care about you over there and everything?
Yeah, definitely. That was the good thing about East Timor. There was lots of telephone and internet back home which was good and the mail was pretty regular. The biggest problem with the mail was that they couldn’t find a plane big enough to fly it from Darwin to bloody Dili, so, you know, that’s how much mail was coming into the country. Yeah,


they were filling up planes with it and it was getting banked up in Darwin but, because they put on the free mail and everyone’s Mum, Aunty, Grandma’s sending them, shoeboxes full of shit and so you can imagine how, it doesn’t take long when there’s couple of thousand soldiers overseas, to fill up a plane full of shoeboxes. No, it was good. It was good to get messages from home because I mean we sent a couple home but when you get them come back the other way it’s a bonus, it’s really good.
Were there lots of, were there letters from people,


just Australians sending letters?
Just random people, yeah, like schools, school kids, like classes of schools would write in from some hick town in the middle of Queensland, you know. They’d just write, “We think you’re doing a great job.” and stuff like that and you’d get that and you think, “Shit.” you know, “No-one even knows these people and they’re writing to us.” and it didn’t happen on a really big scale. I mean it happened. We got a few but the Americans get drowned in that shit. They’re so patriotic, whether they’re right


or wrong, they’re getting it all, you know, and when we were, another, the difference is phenomenal but yeah. I think they write it because they feel they have to whereas Aussies write it because they want to, and I didn’t realise there was a difference until I saw the Americans but it was good to get mail from people you’ve never met before, just saying, you know, “Keep up the good work.” you know, and I think that, yeah, we went there to liberate


someone that voted for their freedom, was the big thing and everyone appreciated that, so yeah, everyone was happy.
And the internet, what were the available hours and so on you had on that, and email?
The internet, yeah, there was sort of like a, what are they? There was a sat [satellite] phone that you could use 24/7 [all day every day] which wasn’t that good but it was still a phone, sort of had a break,


a two second lag in it but that was fine and a laptop[computer] with internet access that was available 24/7 and then after six every day, every phone and every computer was free for all except for the ops, you know, and the bosses and stuff. But there was a lot of laptops around that just got used for daily work and then after six, if they weren’t being used for work you could go and jump on them and ring home or, you know, punch out some emails, check yours. It was all good and they had obvious


restrictions, you know, no porn, no death, no carnage, you know, just emails and Interflora for sending flowers home or whatever, you know, the normal stuff, so that was good. I remember thinking when I’m, you know, punching out my emails, thinking, “Gees.” you know, “In the bad old days back in the First and Second World War and even.” you know, “Korea and Vietnam, guys must have just gone insane.” Like it’s enter, boof, it’s back in


Townsville, you know. Shit, yeah. I used to bitch to the misses because I didn’t have my daily email, you know, I’m like, “Where the fuck?” and then she goes, “Sheezus!.” you know, “What about your Grandad, he didn’t get shit?” and I’m like, you know, “You got me there.” so yeah, big difference but it was good but we’re brought up in this age, so you have to, doesn’t matter what we’re doing. We expect that, so if you take it away from us we’re not going to be happy


and so they provide it.
And censorship, was there censorship of emails or so on or?
I don’t know if they were checking them, not in Timor they weren’t. It certainly was in later deployments but yeah, there was a sort of next to each computer there was sort of A4 bit of paper saying words you can’t say and don’t talk about specifics, you know, just be very vague and,” having a good time.” "miss you and….” you know,


and that’s all you need to send anyway, just the fact that you open your email and you’ve got something there from the missus or your family or your Mum, you know, whoever. That’s all you need, you know. How long it is doesn’t really matter. It’s the fact that someone’s done something but there was censorship yeah. They always said that they were listening to your phone calls and stuff like that. Whether they were or not is irrelevant because they’ve chucked it in there, so you’re not going to say shit cause you don’t know if they are or they aren’t, but


no, they were pretty relaxed. It was more a peacekeeping thing than a war and they knew where we were cause they could see us, just like we could see them, so there was no secrecy really, yeah.
And on your operations, can you take us through that and you showed us a video of training drills and so on with the firing of the guns, and talk a bit about that?


Well the start of every day, as with all jobs, you sort of have your daily checks and then there’ll be some program flying whether it’s training or coke[Coca Cola] run to Dili to fill up the fridges back in the hill or whatever. Gees, we used to bring back some coke and pizza and shit. The grunts [infantry] hated it because there was like six hours by road or half an hour in a Blackhawk. Yeah, so there was always program flying and training and that


would be from external loads to winching to fast roping to door gunnery, both day and night. If you ever did anything during the day, you knocked it over at night as well while it’s still fresh in your mind and that maintained your currencies for flying and all that sort of stuff. And then, you know, once those sort of training requirements were met we were just sort of on standby for AME [Aero Medical Evacuation] and we did a shit tin of AMEs.
What’s AME?
Aero medical


evacuation, where we would go and pick up wounded or injured Australians or if they were bad enough, the local population would pick them up because there’s a big hospital in Dili which was manned and run by the UN and they catered for everyone and so we’d always, if they were bad enough we’d take them direct to Dili and that happened, especially on the first tour when guys were actively patrolling a lot of the


time. They were always out for a few days at a time, go down with heat or suspected snake bites or, you know, knees, ankles, whatever and things you do when you’re humping around the bush at night time with sixty kilos on your back and we’d go and, and we’d have an AME team which would be a couple of paramedics, a doctor and a nurse, and they would decide who went on the AME, depending on the severity of the case and we’d fly out there and nine times out of ten we couldn’t land,


so we’d winch down the paramedics and the doctor and then we’d piss off for ten or fifteen minutes and get out of the way, let them, you know, look after the patient. Then they’d radio us back up and we’d fly back overhead and winch the patient and the doctor and everyone back onboard and he’d say, “Alright, we need to go to Dili.” or, “We need to go to Balibo.” and he’d impose, you know, maybe some height restrictions on us because his blood pressure was too low or too high and off we’d go.


AMEs and initial reactions were a lot of my flying and training and then for the subsequent rotations that I did it was more training, less patrol insertions, less AMEs, more resupplies of command post and observation post and re-trans stations for radios. They’d set up their re-trans stations on top of hills, and just keeping everyone supplied for the


last couple of things. But the training and the AMEs were probably the bulk of our flying time over there and each sort of sortie lasted from anywhere from thirty minutes to, you know, four or five hours, just depended on what you needed to get done, so off you’d go.
And the AMEs, what type of injuries were you looking at?
I saw a couple of gunshot wounds, shrapnel


from grenades. They were Australian guys. The local guy that I was lucky enough to cart back to Dili, he’d fallen off his donkey right next to this campfire that they’d set up in the middle of their village at the end of some rally and the donkey got spooked by firework in the fire and ran through the fire, dragging old mate through it and then just continued bolting


down the hill. They got some heinous roads with some big knobbly rocks sticking out of them, so old mate was barely recognisable when we got to him and that was pretty gory but the one that shocked me the most was when we transported the Aussie that got shot in the back after a UD, or unauthorised discharge [accidental shooting], from the guy behind him and very lucky to be alive. I mean, gees, the rounds [bullets] that


we use and the Americans and the Poms [British]are not designed to kill you. They’re designed to, because they’re so small and so fast and they’re designed to tumble when they get into you, they’re designed to wound you because it takes more people to look after a wounded person than if you kill him, then no-one’s going to look after him. But if you wound him then three or four people might have to come off the battlefield and look after him sort of thing and just I remember thinking, seeing him laying there just thinking, “Shit mate.” you know, “That’s pretty bad.


You’ve been shot in the abdomen, you might not make it” and he’s just laying there looking up. He felt no pain obviously because they banged him full of drugs but you could see he was thinking and he could see all of us thinking and everyone’s thinking and he’s freaking out and I mean he made it but that was a pretty big shock for me. We’d done heaps of practise ones back in Australia where, you know, “Quick, someone’s fallen, there’s been a car crash here” and you’d get out there


and there’d be some guy with bad agent tomato sauce [fake blood] and shit but to actually see it for real and you see blood on the aircraft floor and yeah, I mean it’s pretty daunting and I thought, “Shit, I hope this isn’t going to happen every day” and it didn’t because it’s just an accident but certainly brings you back to earth.
And where would you take these people, to a field hospital?
Yeah straight to Dili, to the big hospital in Dili and


I think he even got repatriated back to Darwin which is fair enough because he just got shot, so, “See you mate, you’re out of the game now.” They would have patched him up. I think they patched him up, put him on a Herc and flew him to Darwin and he finished getting fixed up there and I think the whole process from him getting shot to him being on the table in Darwin took all of about five hours, which is pretty bloody good really when you think about it, so yeah, pretty lucky guy. The Australian


ADF really looks after their casualties, you know, because we just don’t have enough people just to let them pass away on you and yeah, pretty lucky, yeah.
And would you have to provide cover for any Australian troops or anything like that or?
I mean as in covering fire?
Yeah well whenever we inserted or extracted troops we would always be manning the door guns and scanning


our arcs with the gun and for, you know, possible enemy threat. I mean that’s the best time to hit a helicopter, when it’s on the ground fully loaded up with people but more so on insertions because in extractions the guys are obviously going to clear their area for you, so it’s safe but yeah, I always used to think when we were putting people in, you know, “We don’t know what’s out here.” so I was always looking everywhere I could.


I wish I had more eyes sometimes, and more guns, but no, not more guns. You’re always worried in the back of your mind that even though it was peacekeeping and there was only militia to worry about. I mean it only takes one stray bullet to get me and then that’s it for me or my mate behind me or one of the pilots or, you know, one of the engines in flight. You think about it but at the same time you don’t think about it. I remember the most scared I was over in Timor -


It was my second night in Timor and there was a stand-to which is where everyone grabs their helmets and guns and goes to the gun pits because something had happened on the border, on our side of the border, and they seemed to think that there was militia coming towards Balibo to throw rocks or, I don’t know, something. I was laying in my bed reading my book and this guy came running into our, we just had like little ATCO huts, and he came running in, saying, “Stand-to, stand-to!” and I


went to get out of my bed and he goes, “No, just stay in your bed, stay in your bed.” because obviously I’m in my bed. If I’m running around, you know, trying to put my boots on and shit and it’s just easier if I stay where I am and I’m laying in there. I couldn’t hear anything. Everything’s gone dead quiet and I started just thinking, “Shit, what happens if the next person that comes through that door is militia, what am I going to do? I’m here in my boxers [underpants], shit.” so I grabbed both my guns and had them ready and was pointing them at the door and then I thought, “What happens if the next person that comes through


that door’s an Aussie but I’m freaking out so much I pull both the triggers and….” you know, “…send him home” so I put them back down and just picked up my book again and started reading and needless to say the next guy that came through was just one of the boys with a coke and said, “Yeah, it’s all over mate.” and I’m just thinking, “Fuck, it could have ended all bad for you buddy.” but common sense prevailed, so.
It was good thinking, at worst you threw a book at him?
Yeah, “Get out!” yeah, that’s it. Good old days,


So when you went to provide cover you never were fired upon?
No, never saw any militia; never saw anything untoward that, you know, would have made any fire, from the aircraft at all, no.
I guess it’s something that, as you said, you think about but you just can’t think about it or else you go crazy, is that right?
Yeah, exactly and you have the training to be able to react, you know, straight away if it does happen, you know.


And if you do think about it too much, that’s when people mess up, so you just don’t think about it and you’ve been trained for it and because you train so much for everything that they want you to do it’s just second nature to you, so if you saw someone and he started pointing his rifle at you, he has to point his rifle at you before you can do anything, then yeah, you’d start firing but, if you think


about it then it’ll eat you up, so you don’t.
And your role in a way is, you’re not specifically with an infantry group, so you cover whoever needs you, is that correct?
Yeah, that’s right, yeah. We were based with an infantry group but whoever needed us they got us pretty much, yeah, Australians anyway. Any Australians could call on us to go and help them and yeah, we helped everyone that was there, from the infantry to the Special Forces


to the ordnance guys that needed some stuff moved to, you know, signals guys that needed radios on top of the mountain to the medics that needed more bandaids, you know, the bottle washers that needed more bottles, everyone, yeah, so we carted all manner of stuff round, you know, from four wheel drives [vehicles] under the aircraft, you know, to padres going to a bloody church session in another village. I remember there was a padre coming back from


a church service in a different town and he had to cross a river to get back up the mountain to us and it’d been pissing down all day and he’s got halfway across this river and he’s got bogged and the water’s rising and rising and rising and rising and rising and rising and by the time we got there to winch him out, there’s the padre standing on top of the Rover with his big staff and he’s just going, “Hurry the fuck up, get down here.” so we winched a guy down and picked him up and brought him up, and he was like, “Thank God for you guys”


sort of like, “Yeah, no shit.” Another couple of minutes he’d be gone and they went down and pulled the Rover out the next day, so there was a lot of flash floods there because it’s only a tiny island but it’s got a lot of mountains and then the water just sort of gushes down the mountains, the rain stops and then you just get this flash flood go through and that’s what got him. And the next day they went and pulled it out with another truck, so pretty lucky.
When you work with different groups do you have different modes of operation or is it basically the same thing?


Safety wise it’s the same thing but work wise it’s very different, like we treat the Special Forces guys with the utmost respect because obviously they’ve done a lot of time in an infantry unit and then they’ve gone off to Special Forces and they are specialised, you know, specialised guys and they know what they’re doing and never had any issues with them. With the infantry guys and everyone else you work to the lowest common denominator


because if you don’t, that’ll be the guy that fucks up and walks into the tail rotor or something and dies or does something stupid, you know. If you don’t, they’ll catch you out and they do anyway because there’s so many guys in the back of the aircraft you can’t see everyone and we had aircraft windows popped on us by a guy that thought that it was the doorhandle but it was the emergency release handle and, you know, shit like that. Guys firing forty mill [millimetre] grenades into the aircraft floor because he was trying to move and he grabbed the trigger and boof, fired a grenade into the bottom of the floor and


yeah, so you’ve got to work to the lowest common denominator.
Interviewee: Garth Fitzgerald Archive ID 2464 Tape 06


When you got back from East Timor were you debriefed and so on, and how did you come to the Middle East?
Yeah, we always used to get debriefed before we left the country, left East Timor and the first time I came home it was just a culture shock to be among so many people and


so much movement, so much activity and going to the shops for the first time and being surrounded by crowds of people after being in East Timor where there was nobody anywhere, so it was relatively quiet, was a bit of shock but that wore off after you catch up with everyone and it only lasted a couple of days for me and it was, never experienced any dramas or anything after coming back and


the third time I came back in mid 2002 they were picking people to go back for the last tour and I got picked for that and I was pretty pissed off about that, but we weren’t going to be going until March of 2003, so that was alright. I had sort of a six to nine month break and we just did the


usual bush exercises and training that we’d do with other units and Christmas rolled on around and I was driving down to Brisbane, taking my time, looking at all the spots and then jumping on a plane and flying to Perth from Brisbane but I never made it to Brisbane. I only made it as far as Rockhampton and I got a phone call saying that I had to come back to Townsville. I’d been recalled and I thought, “Shit, this, no, no I’ve already done this recall practise,


you know all my phone numbers. I’m good to go.” and they said, “No, no it’s for real, you’ve got to come back” and it was like, “Oh shit.” so they wouldn’t tell me why and I said, “OK.” so I came back and sort of two days later I rocked on into work and the CO [commanding officer] was there and he’s got about a hundred and twenty people there and they were all from C Squadron which was the Chinook squadron and there was me and three other Blackhawk


guys and we’re the only Blackhawk guys there, and we’re going, “What the hell’s going on, why are we here?” Then he launched into his spiel about how we may or may not be getting deployed to assist in the "coalition of the willing" to fight the war on terror in Iraq and so he’d been indoctrinated well and truly and we’re sort of laughing, going, “They must just want us to do some lessons” because we’re all corporals


us Blackhawk guys and we thought we might be doing weapons lessons or, you know, helping them get ready or something else. We thought, “That’s fucked my Christmas up, come back and give lessons to these poor bastards going overseas” and then right at the end of his speech he says, “Yeah, and we’re bringing across four Blackhawk guys to train up as Chinook loadmasters” and then the arse end fell out of my show bag and I lost all my lollies[got highly emotional] and I wasn’t happy at all and we pretty much the next day commenced ground school on Chinook [helicopter]operations and how they work and


I was lucky that I’d spent four years with Chinooks already, so I sort of knew all that and I was just trying hard to stay awake during all those ones. Then we started flying which was really good because the Chinook’s almost three times the size of a Blackhawk and she’s a big truck in the sky and it was good fun to fly around in that. Initially we got trained up as left hand door gunners because in the Chinook it’s usually a crew of four and they have


two pilots, a loadmaster who’s stationed up the front just behind the pilots and looks after the right hand side of the aircraft, and an air crewman tech who’s an aircraft engineer, like a mechanic, who’s been trained up as a loadmaster but his primary role is looking after the engines at the back and he’s got his own control panel that he monitors and makes sure everything’s alright and he looks after the left hand side;


but the problem they had was that they wanted to mount three door guns on the Chinook and they only had two crewmen, so they had to drag a certain level of experience across from the Blackhawks over to the Chinooks. So it was me and my three mates who got knifed for that because A Squadron was already doing Special Forces training for what was coming up. I can’t remember what was coming up for them, so they were all out of the picture and we were still, B Squadron was still in East Timor, so a lot of our senior guys


were away and we were just the last guys, you know, so we got dragged over and yeah, we started training with them and did all the day stuff and then we did all the NVD [night vision device] stuff and did all the door gunnery from the Chinook and formation flying and then we got stuck into the chemical/biological flying which just sort of involves getting in and out of your suit, you know, chemical suit and


your hood and all that sort of stuff in-flight, which is pretty tricky. Pretty much means one guy’s going to die and other four’s going to live if you fly into a cloud because someone’s got to keep flying while everyone else is getting dressed and, yeah, that was fun. That was pretty average. It’s not much fun putting that shit on at night in the dark but you get around it and you do it and then we started getting briefed on where we would be going, and what we would be doing and who we would be supporting, and all that


sort of stuff but basically I mean I’m sure that the CO knew, but he wasn’t telling us very much at all. We didn’t know when we were going. We just flew every day and did lessons every day. We just flew and flew and flew and it messed up everyone’s Christmas. We got like half a day for Christmas and we didn’t get New Year’s and the pilots had to all go to the UK [Britain] to do Chinook simulator training,


so it was just flat out. It was probably the busiest I’ve ever been and the busiest I’ve seen the unit and we got all sorts of new Gucci shit. We all got issued hand held GPSs.[geo-positioning systems] We all got issued new uniforms and boots and cold weather gear and body armour and helmets and all our nuclear/biological suits and knives and all sorts of shit. They must have spent millions just suiting us up, backpacks to carry all the crap


in and then we started getting handed out lists of what we should be taking, obviously all the new gear that we’d just got and stuff that we already had; and then about the start of February we started having these welfare briefs and that’s the dead giveaway that you’re about to go soon because they start involving the family, getting them prepared for your departure, so we knew that we were going soon, or the guys that had been overseas before knew. C Squadron had never been overseas before, so


they were a bit new to it, but me and, well there was quite a few ex Blackhawk guys that were flying Chinooks by then, but us having been to Timor so many times knew sort of the sequence of events before you deploy and telling, you know, the family what they’re entitled to, how much contact they can expect, zero, all that sort of stuff and then


they gave us the date we were leaving and it was February. I think we left February fifteenth, arrived February sixteenth but we knew about a week before that it wouldn’t be long because these two huge C5 Galaxies, which is the biggest freight cargo aircraft that the United States has, had landed in Townsville and you can’t miss them cause they’re so bloody loud. When they came in we all knew they were there and everyone, the media knew how much training we’d been doing, because it’s only a small, a hundred and twenty odd thousand


people and so they knew that something was happening and we loaded on, loaded the aircraft onto the Galaxies and my old man flew over from Perth because he started freaking out that I was going away. We knew that we were going to somewhere in the Middle East to fight in or against Iraq and so


he came over and the day we were leaving was all very teary eyed and, you know, everyone’s hugging and kissing wives and kids goodbye and shit and my fiancé and I had done it a few times but, with my Timor deployments , but not sort of off to a war, so it was pretty awkward. It was a strange feeling and then that was it. We took off out of Townsville and landed in Darwin and refuelled


and then from there we went to Diego Garcia which is sort of south a fair way from the tip of India in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
This is in a C5?
In a C5, and then from there we went and landed in Qatar, got some more fuel and we all stepped outside into the Middle East winter, February. It’s still winter over there and the dust storms and all the shit that goes with being in the Middle East. It was pretty


impressive and then we took off for our destination which was Jordan and we were at King Faisal air force base which is near Al Jafr, right smack in the middle of Jordan, between Amman and the coast, well the southern coast, not the western coast


and Jordan’s not that big anyway, so we got off there and it was freezing cold. It was the middle of the day and it was one degree and there was sandstorms blowing, so it was just a shit day and we were all in shock. We’d been briefed that the Americans would have all of our infrastructure set up for us, accommodation, showers, toilets, messes, all that sort of stuff and it just wasn’t the case, so the aircrew were lucky. We got to move straight into our air conditioned ATCO huts


but all the ground crew and tradesmen and engineers and support staff had to live in tents for the first couple of weeks which is pretty crap really, with the dust storms and all that that was going on and there was thousands of Americans there and all their hardware. I’ve never seen so much military hardware in one place. They had more in that place than we’ve got in the Australian Defence Force.
This is in Jordan?
Yeah and


thousands of Americans there, probably about fifteen hundred Poms and five hundred Aussies. The engineers went to putting the aircraft back together and getting them ready to fly and once they were back together we started our desert training because there was nowhere really we could train for those sort of conditions other than there, so we had to wait for the winter to pass anyway before the


war would start. So we started training and we kicked it off and we toured the American lines and all their aircraft and did the same with the British and we did a lot of lessons on how to fight in a coalition with them and how dangerous it is for us to fight alongside the Americans and the British. They’ve fought alongside each other for a long time now and done a lot of operations together


and they sort of have, they’re set in their ways, which is good. They have a lot of routines and we just sort of had to slot in as best we could and try not to get in their way, was the big thing, and there was all sorts of guidelines and rules that we had to make sure that we didn’t get in their way.
Is that it?
That’s not it. There’s heaps more stuff.
Well don’t stop.


We trained, did lots of lead up training. We were there to support our Special Forces, co-located with the SAS and we started training with them. They hadn’t done much Chinook training. They were mostly Blackhawk training, so we trained extensively with them, although it’s basically just a truck. There’s not, you can’t winch out of it. You can’t fast rope or rappel out of it, out of a Chinook, so we just did a lot of aircraft famils [familiarisations]with those guys and


learnt how to load and unload their vehicles, their long range patrol vehicles and the like and got ready for the war to start. Our job basically was to run supplies from where we were up the middle of Jordan to another air force base called H5 and then turn right and head towards the Iraq/Jordan border to the western desert which is where


our Special Forces were based and we never crossed the border because we didn’t have sufficient electronic warfare protection to be able to protect us against any surface to air missiles that the Iraqis had, so we never actually went into Iraq, which is good I thought. I didn’t really want to go over the border and start getting shot at, more so by the Americans because they were shooting at everything and


quite a few British aircraft were shot at and actually shot, so we were pretty happy that we weren’t going over there. When we weren’t flying, running ash and trash up and around Jordan we were sort of, for the first few weeks we’d just sort of hang around our own base and stayed in our rooms and read books and wrote letters, but then we started exploring around the air force base. It was a Jordanian air force base and


it was pretty shitty establishment but the Americans, gees they know how to go to war. They had shops and a boozer and the best mess in town. They had recreation rooms with massive three metre TVs and shit and pool tables and table tennis. We started hanging out down there in our spare time and got to know a lot of them and became good friends with those guys, taught them


a few Aussie card games and fleeced them of a lot of their hard earned US dollars, drank a lot of their beer which we weren’t allowed to do but we figured, “What the hay, you never know.”


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Was only


one time over there that I feared for my life and well, the whole crew did, and we’d just been fitted out with a new electronic warfare protection system which was the best we had available to us and we were flying along the edge of a huge sandstorm and the radar that comes with this protection system, it talks to you and tells you


what’s happening and it gives you a left or right, then a clock ray direction, so it’ll say, “Left, nine o’clock” and then it’ll tell you what it is and what it’s doing, so, you know, it’ll give you a missile description and whether it’s just sweeping you or tracking or it’s launched and we got the first warning which is just the sweeping warning. We got that for about five minutes and we thought, “Well we’re in Jordan,


no-one’s going to shoot at us in Jordan from over there. There shouldn’t be anyone over there” and then it started saying, “Tracking” which mean that they’ve locked onto us and if they wanted to they could launch and then that went on for a couple more minutes and we thought, “Oh no, it’s just someone painting us up, checking us out, seeing who we are” and then we sort of put it in the back of our minds as just this annoying noise and


finally it said, you know, “SA7” or, “SA” can’t remember what it was, “Left, nine o’clock launch” and because there was this big dust storm only a few hundred metres out to our left that we were flying along and our flare system, which was so good, which was just us pressing a button as opposed to a computer thinking about what it needs to do to be a missile, we knew that once the missile came through the dust storm


we’d have no time at all to do anything. Like you need to be able to see it before you can react and we would only have enough time to see it and so everyone basically started yelling, “Fuckin’ dive, dive” and you basically want to get down as low as you can and find and hide behind the train, hide behind some hills or some trees or shit but, you know, if you’ve been to a desert you know there’s fuck all that around, so we just flew even lower, you know,


in a ten tonne machine doing three hundred kilometres an hour, eight to ten metres off the ground, which is not kosher, [to be recommended] and so that was scary enough as it was because you have very little depth perception when you’re flying over the desert even in the day; it’s just all yellow or white and, you know, and nothing came of it and no missile came and we blew off the rest of the mission


and everyone was just not saying anything the whole way back and we went back to our base, back to the air force base and we landed and everyone sort of got out and goes, “Fuck!.” you know, “What the hell, why are we getting missiles launched at us when we’re in Jordan still?” and that made me think for the next couple of days, you know, “Why the fuck am I here?” you know, and that’s when I really started to, I took for granted what they were saying as to why we were over there.


I just thought, “Yep, no worries, whatever.” you know, “I’m in the army, you’ve sent me away, let’s go.” and I took all of what they said onboard, you know, what [Saddam] Hussein was doing but after that I just thought, “No, no, no, why, why, why? It’s all wrong. I shouldn’t be here.” you know. “We’re not really achieving anything” and I thought, you know, thought about it all differently after that but anyway that Gucci bit of equipment that the aircraft research and development unit had given us for the electronic


warfare protection system had been programmed wrong, so that warning that we’d been getting could have been someone turning on their microwave, anyone, a radio. Anyone that had any sort of microwave admitting machinery was triggering our radar and so nothing even got launched at us at all, so we all laughed about it when we found out and punched the piss out of the electronic warfare guy but at the time it was pretty scary.


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So what were the views amongst your colleagues


there about the war?
Well, we were there to find weapons of mass destruction and apparently there’s none there, so I’ve been told, and if that wasn’t good enough then we were there because Hussein had gone back to killing Kurds and he was running black market oil out of the country and he was impeding the no-go zones in the airspace, so theoretically that in itself


was good enough to go back in there and kick him out, legally maybe, but the UN didn’t sanction it, so obviously not, but we all accepted it. We thought, “Oh right, he’s got all these bombs and shit” and we’d trained for it like as if he had an arsenal of them. We were always doing these gas training drills and if you ever get the chance to do it, go and do some gas training drills because it’s really fucked and you just get a feeling for what it’s like I guess if you ever want your eyes


to sting and your breathing to be all short and your lungs to burn, it’s good fun, but, so we just took it for granted that he must have all this stuff if we’re doing all this training, if we’re getting anthrax inoculations and shit which is making people throw up and, you know, and it’s only good for British made anthrax in the ‘50s. It’s not good for the anthrax that he’s got but, you know, “Give it to me anyway.” So we all believed what we were being told and we all thought we were going to,


you know, go and free the oppressed people of Iraq from this dictator , but after our little scare I just started thinking, “Well.” you know, “Who’s going to replace him? This Bush guy’s just as bad.” I mean he’s imposing his will on the other side of the country where at least Hussein’s just doing it in his own country. I mean, and, you know, I’ve got a little bit cynical I will admit but I mean I wasn’t going around preaching it. I just sort of kept that shit to myself and the boys all thought it anyway,


so, yeah it was pretty daunting.
So how was Bush viewed?
By us? He was just a goose. No-one, yeah, to us he was just a clown mate and, you know, and it made us feel worse that Johnny [Australian Prime Minister Howard] had gone in with him. It’s like, “Well, it’s the blind leading the blind mate, come on and why are we risking our lives for something that’s just….?.”


you know. Well yes he’s not the nicest guy in the world and he’s done a lot of bad things to a lot of bad people but it doesn’t, you know, mean that I have to be over here risking my life when Australia’s not being affected at all, you know. What’s he going to do to us? Nothing. “Oh, but he’s giving arms to the terrorists.” Yeah, the terrorists you can’t find in Afghanistan, yeah, you know, and it just felt like they


were chasing their tails and we were the ones doing the chasing for them and it just wasn’t worth the risk but, and I think that was the clincher for me and a lot of other guys when we got back, to get out was, you know, “No, enough’s enough” and that’s a lot, I mean a lot of guys don’t stay career soldiers anymore because the entry levels for defence are a lot higher than they used to be, so they’re getting educated people in the defence force and


smart people know when they’re being hosed over, so, and they’re not going to stand for it, so they get out and the defence force suffers.
There’s a high turnover of people?
There’s a huge turnover of people, yeah, definitely. I mean I only left seven months ago and the guys that were juves [juveniles] when I left, they’re the senior guys now, seven months and they’re at the top of the ladder already. It’s like, “Shit, I had


to wait four years” and that was considered fast, so yeah. It was strange.


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Were you surprised that there were no casualties?
Yeah, definitely. I expected to be bringing back dudes in body bags for sure but it didn’t happen and I think we all expected to see some form of death because we were all expecting to be rained on by some sort of biological warfare, but it never happened.


Whether it was there or not I don’t know. We all thought that, “Yeah, we’re going to war. We’re going to fight the Iraqis. We might get shot down. We’re not going into Iraq but we might get shot down anyway” and we all thought the worst, you know, might happen. No, we never got to see any sort of death, no dead bodies, nothing.
The base camp you were at in Jordan, was that


basically defended by Americans?
No, the Jordanians did because we weren’t even supposed to be there. King Faisal told the Jordanians that there were no coalition forces in Jordan, which is hard to believe when there’s all these military aircraft flying in and out of his air force bases all the time, so the Jordanians provided the security for the air force base


and then the Australian commandos provided the security for the Australian compound and the British, same, had their own security and the Yanks had their own security, so each compound was independent. We were probably a kilometre away from the Americans and the Poms and the Americans are sort of right next to each other, so yeah, we had our own security and we had had roaming patrols of the commandos that were there, to look after us, which was good.


But it was always interesting going into the American compound and seeing these young kids, you know, they were seventeen, just armed to the teeth and all I had was a washing bag. I wanted to go and use the washing machines but I couldn’t because my vehicle might be a threat and you’re just like, “Mate, come on, I’m going to do my laundry” but they’re a different breed.


They are so patriotic that I’m sure it brainwashes them all, you know. Probably one in ten, you know, was capable of thinking for themselves and having an opinion other than what had been preached to them. I was more worried about getting shot in the American compound after the war than I was about driving around the base and running into


Jordanians or something like that. I was just always cautious when I walk around there.
Were there any incidents?
No, not on our base. I’m sure there was somewhere else just because of the way they were but no, not on our base and not at H5 which we frequented almost every day which was a few hundred k’s [kilometres] north of us. It was daunting to say the least, just the way they carried themselves


and got around and the way they acted like.
How did they act, how did they behave generally?
We all ran amuck when we had time off and, I think, they didn’t come across as professional or as well trained as us, and I think that’s because of the way they are trained. They’re all so specialised that, for example the guys that drive the trucks, that’s all they do.


If it gets a flat tyre they have to radio someone to come and change a tyre for them. If the dude on the gun gets shot, the truck driver can’t stand up and start shooting the gun because he doesn’t know how to use the gun. And each person’s got a simple little job and that’s it and whereas all of the Australians are diversified and can do a whole range of different jobs.


Our average age is much higher than theirs. I guess their recruitment strategy’s different than ours and they just take, suck these young kids off the street, like we do too but I think our entry level’s a little bit higher than theirs It has to be seen to be believed really, the difference. The British were very professional. They were


a good bunch of guys to work with, not too dissimilar from us at all.
What did they think of the Americans?
Same as us, yeah, stay away, stay away from them if you can, don’t fly near them or around them.
We’ve been lucky not to have any friendly firing sort of thing?
Yeah, that’s right, yeah. There was an incident when we were there where they were shooting, this anti aircraft battery was shooting at a British Chinook and the pilot came and landed


next to the aircraft battery and all the crew ran out and they had a big punch up in this aircraft battery because they were shooting at this British Chinook and the argument was, you know, “The Iraqis don’t have Chinooks, so why were you shooting at us?” you know, “Obviously it’s either yours or ours.” So yeah, that was probably our biggest concern, getting shot by an American because we didn’t stop at a stop sign or


we jumped the queue at the mess or just something simple which they react really badly to, you know, simple little things that we just go, “Oh whatever.” you know, “Doesn’t matter.” They’re just indoctrinated.
So this anti aircraft battery fired at the Chinook?
And hit it?
No, didn’t hit it, missed it and he landed next to it and they all went out and punched on with these Yanks and yeah, got in their chopper and flew home again and I mean


that’s shit you don’t hear about because he didn’t get hit and no-one lost their life, you know. We hear about it because we fly Chinooks and the British Special Forces Chinooks were co-located with us, so we hear all the shit that goes on over the border and the Poms went over the border because they had all the good stuff like the Americans did, but we didn’t.
Did you see this or you hear about this?
We heard about it, yeah, couple of days later. The intelligence reports we were getting


on progress in the war was pretty good. There was rooms you could go and sit and watch the latest footage of what’s going on and then, you know, that night you’d see it on CNN[cable news network] but look at actual footage, live feeds and shit, so, I mean we weren’t there but we were close enough.
What’s it like being there and hearing all the news footage about the war?
Was there a lot of crap you’d see, in the sense of the way they were portraying


it here in Australia?
On the news?
Yeah, I mean it was all CNN [Cable News Network] and BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation] and stuff like that. There was TVs everywhere and we didn’t have com, [communications] you know, we didn’t have internet or mail or phone back to Australia until the war had finished, so there was almost two month period where we didn’t know what was going on back in Australia. The supply lines hadn’t been set up


or established well enough yet to handle for the volume of mail, so we weren’t getting any mail because they were still bringing over stores, so we didn’t know what was going on back home but just the sheer amount of coverage on the war was too much to take in and then we would get briefed about all this stuff and then, you know, the next day we would see it on the news, “Oh yeah, that’s that place we were told they were going to smash last night.” It was just


PowerPoint [computer]presentations of buildings and villages and towns that were going to get hit the next day and then the following night on CNN we’d see it all again after it’d been hit and you’re just thinking, “Shit.” you know, it was just, “Why are you telling me all this? Just let me do my bit, I don’t need to know all this” and, you know, and it would go into detail about where the missiles were coming from, who was hitting it, what they were hitting it with, what expected


casualties and all this sort of shit; and then the next night after it had happened you’d see it on the news and it was just a strange feeling.
Interviewee: Garth Fitzgerald Archive ID 2464 Tape 07


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What about the Americans who were in the Western


Desert Area, next to you or in the compound?
Yeah, the Americans in our compound. See the issue they had at the start of the war and before the war was where to put all their hardware, so they filled up all the neighbouring countries air force bases with their gear and then once the war started they started moving it into Iraq and taking over their bases and stuff like that, so they all left. I mean they had


I don’t know if you know what the Herc gunships look like, and stuff like that with the big howitzers [artillery pieces] hanging out the side of them?
The AC130? [gunship]
Yeah, they had?
Spectre is it?
Yeah, Spectre, yep and they had the Spectres there and they had a lot of F15s [fighter planes] there and what else did they have? Shit, there was heaps of shit there but once sort of that, once the war started that all pissed off and all the


Americans had there was these King Air surveillance aircraft which they use for radio jamming and surveillance. The thousands of other guys that were there were just rear bloody operations people. We were at the joint, Western Desert Joint Strike Force Centre, so there was a lot of high ranking boffin [scientist]decision making people there but


because, you know, like I was saying, they’re so specialised that there’s guys there that just set up tents. There’s guys there that just check water. There’s guys there that just check fuel and then there’s another guy that pumps the fuel and there’s another guy that pumps the water, so there’s just so many of them, whereas we’d have one bloke that does all five jobs sort of thing, so they were all still there.


The Americans, what they did there?
In the Western Desert? No I don’t think there was many of them in the Western Desert at all, not to my knowledge. I know that they certainly, from their northern bases in Jordan, flew a lot of strike missions into there with their fighter jets and their bombers and their attack helicopters as well and their tank busters and all that sort of stuff. They flew a lot of missions out of Jordan


and there was a corridor of traffic and whenever we landed at H5, which was sort of in the middle of this corridor and H4 which was on the border, it was just a constant stream of jets flying to and from Baghdad bombing the shit out of everything that they could.
What could you hear?
We couldn’t hear anything. We couldn’t hear any explosions, no fighting, nothing. We were, you know, literally a thousand kilometres away from the


war but, yeah, we didn’t hear anything.
Did you have any interaction with the local population in Jordan?
Yeah, I got chosen to do an airport run from Al Jafr to Amman. There was two cars, two Hertz hire cars, so we sort of blended in a bit more and we wore our just civilian clothes, so that we fitted in


and we had to take one of our guys. His father had a turn for the worse, so we had to get him to the airport, so that he could get back to Australia and we pretty much drove from Al Jafr straight up to the airport and the biggest thing I noticed about the trip up there was, because we didn’t stop at all because it’s just too dangerous for us to be stopping, although there was still a hell of a lot of tourists in Jordan at the time for some reason, but


the biggest thing I noticed was that we kept getting overtaken by these thumping big black Mercs [Mercedes] and BMWs and on the side of the road walking was all these dudes with their donkeys and carts or just walking, so you either had a big Merc or you were on the side of the road walking, you know, and just the gap in wealth, between the poor and the rich was huge. When we got to the city they were either really well dressed Arabs or they were just in rags and it was just, it


was overwhelming. I couldn’t believe it, you know, and you either had everything or you had nothing and then when we were on our way back we stopped at, can’t remember the name. It’s a turnoff off the highway to go to, what’s that famous place in Jordan where they shot that scene out of [the movie] Indiana Jones? The Valley of the Crescent Moon and there’s that temple in the valley, you know, at the end,


Indiana Jones Three.
Yeah, Sean Connery, [British actor] that one.
I was there.
You were there? I was deep in the streets. What is that place called? Gee, I can’t remember, but that’s in Jordan and the turnoff to that’s off the highway and it’s a big touristy place and we stopped in there and they picked us. I mean they picked us straight away and I don’t know why, I thought they wouldn’t. I


just presumed they wouldn’t care, you know, and they said, you know, “Australian?” Said, “Yeah, yeah” and they said, “US money?” and I said, “Yeah, yeah” and they said, “You here for the war?” and I went, “Aah, aah, aah, aah, I’ll just have that.” you know, cause I didn’t want to say anything because I didn’t know if the Jordanians didn’t want us there either. I mean that’s why we’re not supposed to be talking about it because the king lied to his people and said that we weren’t there


and so I didn’t, but they were nice, the guys. I mean they were just tourist shop owners and selling trinkets and shit
But they’re no fools, they know you were there?
Yeah mate, they knew what we were there for, yeah. No, there’s no pulling the wool over their eyes. They all know and I mean we had to fly over this town every time we took off , and they’re always looking up, going, “Oh yeah I haven’t seen you here for the last twenty years. What’s going on at the


moment?” so there was no fooling them. I mean I don’t know why he would tell that to his people but he did and that’s why the big secrecy thing.
That’s that young guy isn’t it?
Yes, the new king, and he married, I think she’s Jordanian but she’s educated in the west.
Yes, Palestinian girl?
She’s actually quite pretty?
Yeah, she’s a bit of a stunner. We used to fly over his desert retreat all the time and he’s got this huge, it’s not a palace but it’s a pretty big bloody house, massive


mansion, and it’s on the top of this sort of cliff and then it drops down and it’s the only bit of grass in Jordan that he looks over because he belt feeds the water to it out of the local river. So no-one south of him gets any but I mean his place looks nice, so as long as he’s happy. I mean we didn’t have anything to do with him. Well we flew over his place a fair bit.


OK so once the American invasion had started, obviously you were keeping track with some of the things because you’d have access to TVs?
Well we had, the TVs were sort of just reconfirming for us what we’d already been briefed was going to happen. We knew the night before everything happened what was going to happen because our intelligence officer would sit in the intel [intelligence] room and suck it all in and then he’d come back and do up a PowerPoint presentation of all the places


that were going to get hit and the expected, you know, time, casualties, enemy forces, so we knew everything.
Alright can you give us a rundown of this PowerPoint [computer] presentation, like how many places were they going to hit in that first day or whatever?
In the first day, the first day was pretty big. They pretty much launched about seventy five percent of the air force or the aircraft flew the first day; and the navy


didn’t use as many cruise missiles as they did in the first war on the first day, but they did use a lot and the PowerPoint [presentation] came up and basically they were going to hit all of the, they called them nodes, communication nodes. They were hitting all the coms [communications] points, so that they couldn’t get any orders because all orders come from [Iraqi President Saddam]Hussein and his generals, so all you’d have to do is take out the communication nodes around Baghdad and he can’t tell his armies what to do .


That’s why it was over so quick, not only because of the fire power but because none of them were willing to make any decisions on their own, so, you know, a map of Iraq , up on the PowerPoint and there was just red circles everywhere and that was what they were going to hit on the first day. Then the end of the second day, when they were briefing us about the previous day, I think they’d hit about eighty give percent


of everything that they wanted to hit and that was mostly coms and satellites, radar dishes and like not satellites, all that sort of stuff that could impede aircraft movement over Iraq, a lot of missile sites. They hit a lot of missile sites. They had trouble hitting and I think, you know, the ten to fifteen percent that they didn’t hit was mobile missile launching pads and stuff like that that they just couldn’t hit.


Day two and the PowerPoint come up again and all these red dots had turned blue because they’d been hit by the blue forces and they were gone and then it was like that every night, not to that grand scale. Obviously it scaled down and the line would move up and down and
The front line?
The front line, yeah and then, you know, as they overcome a town, it’d be an American flag there or a British flag there and there’d be the lone Aussie flag out in the Western Desert


and same from the north, as they came down from the north.


NB. This section of transcript is embargoed. Embargo ends 01/01/2034


With these PowerPoint presentations did they give you estimates of casualties expected and things like that?
There was expected enemy forces that they would encounter and casualties on their side. They would never give us casualties on our side because it’s bad for morale but, you know, they’d estimate at how many deaths and casualties there would be before that force would capitulate or surrender and


it was just taken for granted. No-one looked into it too bad, that there’s a regiment of Iraqi soldiers there, expected casualties one hundred and blah, blah, blah, whatever, one fifty and whatever it was, and you just didn’t, it was just a number to you, you know. You weren’t in that number, so it didn’t really bother you too much. I mean later when I got home and stuff you think, “They just throw away numbers like that.” I mean hopefully they didn’t kill that many people and I don’t think they ever


did , I mean there’s a hell of a lot of them surrendered. I don’t think they ever killed as many as they made out that they were going to in our brief. You’ve got to remember that the Americans talk up a lot of stuff in the military and this, our intelligence officer was just taking it straight off the shelf and giving it to us, so whether they killed that many or not, who knows?
I presume while the war was going on you were doing your own stuff as well?
We were flat out flying,


resupplying the guys, yeah non-stop every day. We have army flying orders which stipulate how many hours flying we’re allowed to do a day, a week, a month, a year, both day and NVD, and I mean we constantly broke those, which we were allowed to do if the CO says we’re allowed to and of course he was there, so we did it and yeah. We were flying a hell of a lot, yeah. I’ve never flown that much ever


in any line of flying, so yeah, we were pretty flat out, yeah. Probably the highlight while I was over there though was Anzac Day. That was fucking gold. That was good fun. I was a little bit
John Howard didn’t come to that one did he?
That was the one after?
So tell us what happened at Anzac Day?
Anzac Day sort of kicked off the night before. We


had these pretty solid mates down at the American base that we played cards with and I hooked up with a chick and one of my other mates hooked up with a chick, so we were shagging them and we’d go and play cards with these guys and have these Yank chicks with us. It was fun gold [great fun]. They took the best chicks to war with them. That’s one thing I’ll give them. They did take hot chicks with them to war and so we’re, you know, we were down there all the time and they knew it was Anzac Day the next day for us and that they wouldn’t be able to


come to the dawn service cause they weren’t allowed into our compound at all cause we had the SAS there, so they put on all this piss for us the night before and that was gold, so we got stuck into that and we sort of stumbled home at about three, laid down for two hours, got back up again at five and then went out for the dawn service and we were reeking of piss already. Me and my three Blackhawk mates were like, the awesome foursome they used to call us, because we’d somehow always just rock up


five minutes before the aircraft’s about to depart. We never did any secondary task for them because they treated us like, we were always the Blackhawk guys, you know. They treated us a little bit different than all the other Chinook guys, so we thought, “Oh , we’ll do our own thing.” Anyway, so we all rock up to the dawn service. We’re at the back swaying around and shit because we’re all still pretty pissed and the Chinooks did a flyover which was pretty good. The dawn service was pretty good. They had like a cenotaph and one of the chippies [carpenters] must have knocked up a little bit of a


memorial which was all pretty good and then we were all allowed two cans of beer and we knew that we were only going to get two cans of beer, so we got in touch with the British Q [quartermaster] store guy, like the supply guy for them and bought three bottles of rum and four cartons of Heineken[beer] off him before Anzac Day and we stashed them in our room and we thought we were Mr Smarty Pants[very clever] because we were going to have all this piss but like


eight other groups of people in our detachment of eighty from Townsville had done the same thing. After we’d all had our two cans and got our crosses on our hands, everyone sort of skulked away from all the hierarchy and went back to their rooms and by lunchtime there was pissed people fucking everywhere and there was hire cars there as well, and we had Chevy Suburbans [station wagons] and all these big cars to get around the base on and so we started doing a bit of Colin McRae[racing] in, around the Jordanian


air force base in these hire cars which was good fun. The Jordanians hated us but they were in these clapped out Humvees [US military vehicles] that they got after the first Gulf War, so they couldn’t keep up with us and we were full of piss, so we didn’t care and we were driving around doing crazy shit and then we rocked on back down to the American lines and they knew that it was Anzac Day, so they let us into their boozer. They never used to really let us in there and they gave us free piss, my other three mates were leaving to go home to Australia because


the war had finished obviously, so they drank until twenty minutes before they were due on the plane to go home and basically ran from the boozer to the plane and got on the plane and went home and I spent another week and a half there which was alright. That was probably, just for the sheer chaos and stupid shit that we did and, you know, no-one had any rank that day and we had in a room


not much smaller than this, probably three metres by three metres, we had twenty five people in there all just standing drinking beers and just loud music playing and being crazy buggers and I don’t know, it was just a good release for us at the end of it. We all knew we were packing up and starting to go home and it was a bloody good fun day.
So I didn’t know the Americans used to mix their units, the infantry units or was it a logistics units, were they?
They were just a logistic unit pretty much. They didn’t have any infantry


there. That was the air force. They were all air force there except for some hierarchy in the Joint Strike Force Centre but yeah, all air force where we were.
How mixed were these air force?
The Americans?
One in three would have been a chick, yeah, so it was pretty good pickings and they loved Aussies mate, so it was good.
Is that so?
That’s so, yeah.
One in three, that’s quite a lot?


That is a lot, yeah.
Air force girls?
They were everywhere and it’s the same in our air force. Our air force has got way more girls than the army does, yeah, so it was good.
Well why did they like Australians so much?
I don’t know. I think we weren’t arrogant. We were just ourselves. We were easy to talk to. We’re very approachable and we had other stuff to talk about apart from, you know, all their usual, it’s just a change for them I think


and yeah, change is as good as a holiday I guess.
Yeah, what sort of impression, is it the kind of Crocodile Dundee [movie image]thing?
No, that’s it, yeah, you know. They start off like that and, you know, you tell them about your pet kangaroos and shit because none of them know about anything in the southern hemisphere, and the drop bears and shit like that and, you know, the emus running down the beach and they love it and, “I’m coming to Australia


and seeing the koalas in the cities.” you know, and then you spoke to them and say, “Look it’s not actually like that at all, so.” you know, “I hate to break your heart but we shoot kangaroos.” you know, and so no, but probably eighty per cent of them think like that, that there’s just kangaroos and koalas bloody everywhere.
And every man’s like Crocodile Dundee?
And everyone’s yeah, got a big knife and a big hat. It’s just crazy. Steve Irwin [TV crocodile hunter] was the flavour of


the month, you know, over there and shit, so we’re all crocodile hunters driving Land Cruisers and shit, you know, and just, they just don’t know. That’s just what they get fed on tele [TV], you know. History for them is American history, you know. They don’t do any other history in school unless you specialise in it at college and shit like that, so they just don’t know, which is fair enough.
Were the girls just as patriotic as the guys were?


Pretty much?
Pretty much, but they didn’t spruik off about it and they weren’t as arrogant, but if you bad mouthed anything American then they would stick up for America just as quick as the boys would, but the boys were always in your face about how good their air force is or how good their equipment is and how small and there’s more bloody police in the NYPD [New York police] than there is in the Australian Defence Force, you know, which is true, just shit like that. They were always spruiking off, so we’d just take their money at cards and take their women.


It was good.
It’s a good trade off I guess?
Yeah, it’s fair enough.
Were there any run ins with the Australians?
No, cause our compounds were fairly separated. No, nothing big, no. We had to go and use their laundries because ours didn’t work, so the only sort of run ins we had was getting through the bloody front gate because they didn’t like letting anyone through their front gate in a vehicle for some reason ,


fights over who’s next at the bloody washing machine. The air force were a little bit more mellow I guess than the marines or the army, so no, there was no run ins and they thought we were all SF [Special Forces] anyway, so they didn’t want to fuck with us anyway, so they knew that the Aussie SF compound was down there, don’t go down there, don’t go near them. If you see any of them stay away, so it took a couple of weeks


for us to become friends with any of them down there because they just didn’t want to talk to us because they thought we were these bloody stranglers. It was, when two thirds of us, well not two thirds, maybe a third of us were aviation or, you know, rear supply guys and I mean the commandos were there. I had more troubles with the bloody commandos than I did with the Yanks, fuckin’ punks.
Yes 4RAR [4th battalion Royal Australian Regiment] was there. What did the SAS used to call them?


Were they in the Western Desert as well?
No. They named them after some security company cause all they did was security around our compound and they fuckin’ hated it, so they were always manning the front gate and walking around and making sure shit was happening and they weren’t happy at all. They were supposed to be this new Gucci [stylish] 4RAR commando unit and all they were doing was babysitting all these


aviation punters, while the war was going on and they weren’t getting nothing. They went in after the war and started looking after pollies [politicians] and shit, well not pollies but, you know personal protection and the compounds in Baghdad and the Baghdad International. They started looking after all that and then they started training the Iraqis, but while the actual war was on they didn’t get to do shit and that really pissed them off, so just because they were angry all the time that they weren’t doing anything, we’d have run ins with them,


simple shit that would escalate into, you know, pushing and shoving and then you realise everyone’s wearing guns, so you back off, which is good. It’s healthy. I mean no-one got hurt.
I presume you would have been told that you weren’t to expect any sort of resistance once Baghdad was taken?


That’s what we expected. You know I left at the end of April and so the war had only been over maybe three weeks, a month, or something and there was still pockets of resistance when I left. So the war was still ending up but it was still on and then, you know, the months after when I was back in Australia watching the coverage of it.


I was amazed at how much trouble they were having, you know. No-one wanted them there.
So did you expect the Iraqis literally to be coming out with flowers and garlands and wrapping it around the Americans necks?
I didn’t know what to expect. I know that they don’t like Americans, you know. As a country, they didn’t like them.


I mean it’s the lesser of two evils having Hussein in charge, I reckon. Sure he’d done some bad things but I mean more people are getting hurt now, so I don’t know. I mean a few people came out but that’s just the PR [public relations] machine showing a few Iraqis coming out and waving American flags and shit and it was never, you know, hundreds or thousands


of people. It was ten or fifteen in one village that you’d never heard of or something, you know. I don’t know what I expected to be honest. I think I just expected the war to be over, for them to put someone else in and for everyone to go home but it’s almost two years ago now.
And it’s still going on?
So I mean obviously you were fed all this WMD [weapons of mass destruction] stuff. In retrospect now,


being outside the ADF, did you see yourself as being basically a pawn?
Yeah, big time, yeah. That’s a big reason why I got out. Well we did what a popularly elected government decided to do and it was the wrong decision and


they lied to us and that’s why I got out, but
John Howard?
Well, yeah, John lied to everyone and so I mean I’m sure that the military, the hierarchy, knew it was all bullshit.
What was bullshit?
That there was weapons of mass destruction. They must have known. They knew before the war started, after that first report, that first UN inspection before the war. They knew that there was nothing there,


or nothing of any significance, you know, and all I ever saw of weapons of mass destruction when I was there was one bag of a white substance that they thought was anthrax that ended up being something else, none lethal, you know, and they brought that back over the border to H5 and it was all quarantined and everyone was wearing gasmasks and we were sitting off to the side


on the taxiway in our helicopter, we were still running, waiting for it to all get quarantined and put away, so that operations could recommence and we knew what it was because it’s all on the radio, “Everyone stay where you are, possible anthrax.” and we’re going, “Shit, finally!.” you know, “We found something” and they bring out this piddly little box and plonk it down and then someone did a test on it and then people start taking off their masks and shit and I thought well,


that’s what I ever saw and it was icing sugar for all I know, but it wasn’t anthrax.
So when did you start to develop reservations, genuine reservations of the situation in Iraq, after you came back obviously?
Yeah, when I got home, yeah.
Tell us what happened once you finished with Iraq?
I came home, had my Christmas holidays in May and June,


found it hard to talk to friends and family because they were all of the opinion that we shouldn’t have been there and like I’m trying to feel proud for what I’d done and I’d come back alive and none of my buddies got hurt and you all think that what I was involved in was wrong. So that was really awkward and I mean it’s not, it wasn’t like Vietnam or anything but it was still awkward nonetheless and some of my


family are really politically orientated and they get right into that shit and I mean they smash me with the questions about how I felt and, “Do I think that.” you know, “Killing innocent women and children?” I’m like, “Hang on, I didn’t kill anyone” you know, “Sure I helped, but I didn’t pull the trigger or anything and I didn’t get shot at, I’m home.” you know, and so that was awkward.
They were throwing direct questions like that at you?
Yeah, they


had no shame mate. Yes, it’s like question time at Parliament House around my table, I tell you, and so that was really awkward and then as a result I didn’t speak to anyone about it and just sort of packed it all up and put it away and didn’t speak to anyone about any of it until now. Most people think we were there for the wrong reasons


and I agree, you know, and I look back and I think, you know, “We were there for the wrong reasons.” Sure I went there with the best intentions, as we all did, but surely now everyone knows that we were sent there for the wrong reasons and we shouldn’t have been sent there at all for any reason.
So how long was it after the war when you actually decided to leave the army?
I decided to leave in July of


2003 but I wanted to get a couple of operations done, paid for by the taxpayer before I left, so I got them done and waited for my fitness level to be back to a hundred percent and then put some job applications in with civilian helicopter companies, got a couple of interviews and went and did those and once I got assured that I would have a job with them, I put my discharge in


and just waited out the sort of three month period before I could get out; and then it was just sort of a hoop jumping exercise, jumping through the hoops trying to get out. It’s harder to get out of the army than it is to get in, believe it or not, and said my goodbyes to all my friends and that was pretty hard. I mean not just the guys that I went on operations with but


everyone. It’s a big family and I’d been at Five Av for nine years and usually you only spend three years at a unit but I’d been there for nine, so I knew everyone. I knew five hundred people and I wasn’t going to see four hundred and fifty of them ever again, so that was pretty tough
But your decision to leave the army, to take such a big step, what did you dislike, was it something you disliked about the army or you’d just had enough?
I’d had enough of


going away all the time, I mean it wasn’t just the Middle East and East Timor. It was PNG, shitty places in Australia for exercises, redoing the same shit we did three months ago, you know, over and over, so that commanding officers can learn how to drill troops and the troops know how to do it all. I was just sick of double handling shit all the time and


being run by idiots, you know, commanding officers and officers commanding, you know, COs and OCs who’ve got to learn it but they don’t need to treat professionals like kids to learn it. I can understand in some corps and units of the army that that might be necessary but not where we were and the clincher was


the Middle East, yeah and when I got back and just thought, “No, I mean where are they going to send me next time?”
So why do you think there was an invasion of Iraq, what do you think now the reason is, the reasons?
The reasons?


I think there’s many. I think the primary one was that he [Pres. George Bush] was having no luck in Afghanistan finding Al Qaeda [terrorist organization], so he had to blame someone and it was easy to blame Iraq, whether they did or didn’t finance any of the 9/11 [date of terrorist attack on New York, 2001] stuff’s irrelevant because it’s been proven that the Saudis financed most of it, so they’re wrong there. Secondly I would say probably for the oil.


In fact I’d say definitely for the oil, and if they had have said that at the start, you know, we probably wouldn’t have gone; but you can’t get people to do stuff they don’t want to do, so you’re going to have to lie to them.
Now the Australian Defence Force, or the army for that matter, are they split, seriously split, on what’s happening, is there any like


digression of views in a bigger way?
Only like at the discussion level around the table because there’s not going to be any sort of mass movement , revolt of troops who aren’t happy that we’re in the Middle East or anything like that because it just gets squashed on the head. They just stop you talking about shit like that. It never comes up in briefs or in conversation, “Do you think we should have?” you know. It only happens in crew room banter or out bush when you’re sitting around a bloody fire late at night or something, if you’re


lucky enough to have a fire. Everyone’s got their opinion but at the end of the day you’ve got a job to do too and that’s what’ll win. That’s what’ll win over, “You’re there to do a job.” so you do it . I mean even if I had have known what I know now, before the war started, I would have gone anyway because that was my job


and they chose me and there’s nothing I can do about it, so.
Do you think Australia now is a bigger target as a result of our participation in Iraq?
Yeah unfortunately I do. You can’t throw stones and then expect not to have them thrown back. It’s that simple, so


yeah, we are definitely.
Interviewee: Garth Fitzgerald Archive ID 2464 Tape 08


How would you compare your experiences in Timor and Iraq compared to your grandfather’s generation and World War Two and what they went through?
It’s comparable but only just. I mean they did it so much harder than what we did. I mean we had


so much contact with home. We were well supplied, well clothed, well fed, you know. Information about what was going on around us was constant. We always knew what we were doing the next day, if not, the next week and because of the contact we never felt isolated


and there was always something for us to do. One of the first things that they would set up for us would be, you know, these rec [recreation] tents or somewhere where you can go and get away from it all and stuff like that, and we weren’t fighting for Australia, you know. We were fighting, or peacekeeping, for someone else and they were fighting for Australia and


they fought a global war and we sort of peacekeeped in little pockets around here and there and Iraq but I have the utmost respect for those guys. It must have been so tough for them compared to now but I mean they probably knew no different anyway. Life would have been tough back then anyway but to, I mean obviously war’s a dangerous


place to be at the best of times and I think the way we sort of fight and peacekeep is more clinical now. It’s more precise whereas they did everything on mass scale. You must have the maximum amount of firepower and people and they just went head to head and that must have been chaotic, you know, and trying to keep the information and the supplies and everything up to


that many people must have just been intense and I can’t imagine how hard it would have been not having that contact with home all the time and writing letters that would take months to get back to Australia and same getting to them. And he had, you know, brothers to think about in other campaigns around. I just had me and my mates.


They had far greater issues than we encounter nowadays, you know. On the medical side of it, if they got injured, how long is it going to be before they’re in the hospital? I mean for us it’s a couple of hours at tops. For them it could have been a couple of days and that could be life or death.


And the amount of people that went, hundreds of thousands of Australians went to war and just the huge scale. The whole country involved, you know. One purpose and that was to win, to maintain our sovereignty and that’s why they went and fought


and they nearly got here. That must have been really daunting having the Japanese so close. When Singapore fell I reckon everyone in Australia would have been shitting their pants because, you know, that was the last jewel and it fell and whereas we’ve never experienced that since then really. I mean the hardships of going to war and all that. I’m sure Korea and Vietnam and the first Gulf


War and even the second and whatever we’ve been in since, but we’ve never had anyone come at us like that before and to be part of that must have been - I don’t know. It would have been huge to take that on and I’ve never felt that. It’s always been peacekeeping and trying to find the enemy as opposed to, “They’re coming to get you” and I mean the Middle East


was just resupplying the good guys, so that they can go and get the bad guys. We’ve never been on the back foot. I was never being pursued by an enemy like they were back then, like Grandad was, and must have been scary times for them, especially at his age, fifteen, sixteen, fighting the Japanese in PNG with a rifle that didn’t fire a hundred percent of the time, you know, and a first aid station that’s


a kilometre and a half away but it’ll take you two days to get there, up and down the mountains and ,no it’s hardly comparable but only on the death and destruction side I would say. Everything else is not comparable because they just did it so much harder than we did. With all the technology nowadays it’s so much easier to press a button. Back then you had to send in regiments of men


I don’t envy them at all. I respect them, and anyone that’s ever been anywhere deserves respect for what they’ve done, but the further back you go the harder it got, doesn’t matter how far back you go. . Jesus, getting on a ship, sailing for a couple of months to other side of the planet,


to fight someone. That must have been pretty crazy especially the guys that went all the way to Europe, you know. Eventually if we didn’t fight maybe possibly, I don’t know, the Germans may have got here but the guys that went and fought the Japanese, shit! They were coming for Australia . You certainly would have had motivation to keep fighting I think whereas I think we lack that motivation,


to a certain extent. We’re all there to do our job and do it well and we did and Australians always do I think, you know, I feel. I’m pretty proud that when we go somewhere we do a good job I wouldn’t put myself in the same league as those guys, no way. They’re way, way above me.
Do you think though with


being in the military and going through what you have been through that you understand a bit more about what they would have gone through?
Yeah, certainly, definitely. Their hardships would have be tenfold on what mine ever were but I mean not having anyone, I’ve never been shot at. I’ve thought for five minutes that there was a missile chasing


me and that was scary enough. It does give me a window into what they would have experienced and certainly all the training and all the lead up that you go through for these sort of things gives you an insight but, completely different and hard to compare, but it does give you some sort of parallels you can draw there, but


no, they did it hard. They did it much harder, that’s for sure.
And your uncle who was in Vietnam basically doing the same job you were doing, you must feel even closer to what he went through?
Yeah, definitely. He would probably be the easiest to talk to about it because it was probably the most similar sort of operation


He’s definitely the easiest to talk to. He saw a lot more than I ever did but we did see the same levels of disaster and chaos and it affected him a lot more than it affected me. It’s very easy to talk to him about aviation and helicopters and things, they did all the stuff we did. I mean they did all the door gunnery and the


fast roping and rappelling and winching. They did all that in Vietnam and we did it in East Timor and so it’s good to compare and it’s good to talk to him about it and he does open up a bit more with me I find than most other people but only when it’s just me and him. Whenever it’s the family , I don’t even bother because it would just be rude to try and to weasel stuff out of him in front of people. I just start, whenever it’s just me and him, which is rare because I hardly ever see him, but


the couple of occasions that I have, I just start talking about stuff that I did and then he’ll just burst into song, you know, and then we’ll just go for hours, so it was really good and I think he enjoys it too because it’s an outlet for him because obviously he suppressed it and got his life back on track because it was an issue for him, but good to have that release. You have to. You have to talk to someone about it I guess.
And what’s the picture in your mind when you’re eighteen


thinking of your uncle and wanting to get into the game, not really knowing what it was about, compared to the reality of what you saw?
Well what I envisaged was flying round the countryside, seeing all these really nice places, you know, dropping the grunts off in the shit and then going back for beer and pizza, having the chicks ogle you cause you fly around in helicopters and now it’s,


yes, it’s a good job. You get to fly around and see some good parts of the world but you also see the flip side and all the bad things that go with, you know, peacekeeping and fighting wars and chicks don’t dig aircrew that much, damn it. Damn, I should have gone to uni and now I have, you know, a fair understanding of why he’s turned out the way


he has and I’m sorrier for knowing, you know, because it’s a sad fact of life that some people just, you know, it effects everyone different but some people will forever be changed and he’s one of the those guys, you know. I never knew him before Vietnam obviously but the whole family did.
Must have been a bit strange for you


too when you came home and faced, maybe not as bad as Vietnam, but similar experiences, especially with your family members questioning you?
Did you sort of think, “Gees, I basically did the same thing as him” or how close do you think his return was to your return?
Yeah, similar but not on the same scale. I mean when we came back we had a


welcome home parade in Townsville and the streets were full and everyone was waving flags and they were all happy that we were home and there was a couple of no-war protestors standing in the middle of the road in our way and shit and they got bowled over and that was it, you know. There was no-one throwing shit at us. I think that was a time in history when there was a lot of change happening, you know, and the last thing sort of Australia needed was a war to go to


that we maybe shouldn’t have been involved in and so it culminated in a bad homecoming for those guys because there was all sorts of issues going on back then. For me, I don’t mind family and friends asking me questions about my involvement and how I feel about being a part


of killing innocent people, I mean because that happens in war. Innocent people die. It’s a sad fact but it just, it happens. It’s when people I don’t know, it comes up in conversation and they find out that I was there, that they start throwing questions at me. That’s when I get frustrated because they don’t know me and they put me in this group of bad people that just roams the earth


under the wing of this United States, and it’s like, “Well look obviously you’re probably very well educated and you know everything about it but.” you know, “That was, at the time, that was my job and I didn’t have much of a say whether I went or not, so I went.” but yeah, you’re right. People either discuss it with


you in a negative way or they don’t discuss it with you at all, so there’s very few positives apart from, “Oh well you made it back, that’s good. What about all the poor Iraqis?” and it’s like, “There’s nothing I can do about that.” I did what I had to do and now I’m back and they’ve got issues as every country has issues. Theirs are a little bit more publicised and a little bit larger than everyone else’s at the moment


but in five years it’ll be somewhere else, you know.
What did you think about the protestors?
I just thought it was a little bit rude. We were celebrating the fact that we’d all come home to our family and friends and we were all alive and no-one even got injured or shot.


Sure there was some football incidents and some lost man time but nothing serious and that’s why we were there, you know. We’re home and military’s a big part of Townsville and the public really embraces the Defence Force up there and I just thought, you know “This is pretty….” it pissed me off because, you know, we weren’t there advocating the defeat of the Iraqi people or anything like that. We were just, “We’re home.” you know,


“We’re back and we’re having a parade. We got the keys to the city fifty years ago, so we’ll march through the city whenever we want.” and we only ever do it when a battalion from Townsville or a regiment from Townsville returns from overseas, just to say, “We’re back.” because I mean that’s five hundred men who have wives, children, girlfriends, friends they play sport with outside the army, you know, and so there’s thousands of people that know these guys


and they come down to cheer their mates home, you know, and that’s all it is to us. It’s not like, you know, the big grand parades that you see overseas or anything. It’s just, you know, “We made it home, we’re all home, see you tomorrow.” you know. That’s all it is. It’s no grand ho-ha that the pollies, you know, chuck their two cents in and win a few more votes and that’s it. We stand out in the sun and sweat in our pollies and then we go home, you know, and people that take the opportunity,


fair enough you’re allowed your opinion but to stand in the middle of a parade with, you know, bed sheets saying, “No more war!” and, “Stop killing Iraqi children!” and shit, that just, they know that’s not what we went there to do. Everyone knows that, you know, although they may have sent us there, you know, under a lie, they would never send us there to kill innocent people. I mean it happened. We were never directly involved in it and it just


frustrates me a bit I guess that you get labelled. When we came back from East Timor, holy shit, couldn’t put a foot wrong mate. I could have, you know, slept with the Mayor’s daughter and left her pregnant and I still would have been a champion because we freed the people of East Timor and everyone loved us. Jesus, go to Iraq, get, you know, nearly get gassed and missiled and you’re a baby killer and it’s like, “Well we were just doing, what’s the difference?” you know. Yes, the outcome and why we were there but I mean the soldiers that you see now


marching in front of you were doing the same job. They were in East Timor as they were in the Middle East. If they want to throw sticks and stones, go to Canberra, you know. Come down here and throw them, put up a tent out the front of old Parliament House. That seems to be working wonders for the aboriginals. No, that’s,
Speaking of Canberra, we have the Labor guys [Federal Opposition party] who are pretty opposed to the war but they say


they’re opposed to war, not the soldiers, is that what the soldiers feel or do they feel like it’s directed at themselves?
It’s catch twenty two. You can’t say that because, you know, “We’re there and you’re opposed to what we’re doing, so you’re opposed to us but then you say you’re not opposed to us, so bring us home.” “Oh no, we can’t bring you home.” “Well what are you saying?” you know, “You don’t like us?” “Oh no, no, we like you. We don’t like what you’re


doing.” “Well, what’s it going to be?” and you just take it with a grain of salt because at some stage he [the Labor leader] was all for it and then at some stage he wasn’t and now he’s off it again and I mean election’s coming. You don’t worry about the politics. You’ve got a job to do and off you go and if you start worrying too much


about stuff like that then your job performance falls off and especially in aviation, you know, you’re going to put your life and a lot of other people’s life in danger and so you just, you take the piss. When you’re not working with the boys, have a few beers and have a laugh and whatever and then the next day you’re up at it again and doing whatever you’ve got to do .But for the [Opposition]leader of what could quite possibly be our next government to come out


and, they’ve got to be a little bit more careful I think in what they say, because everyone in our Defence Force, they’re all volunteers and I mean that’s the same around the world for most western countries but they’re volunteers nonetheless and you imagine saying to the SES [State Emergency Service]after the Sydney storms or something, you know, “Yeah, we really like you but you’re all a little bit too slow and we don’t like your work rate.” you know, “But we like you guys, you guys are really, you’re doing a good job” and gees


imagine the backlash, but you’re saying the same thing to us, you know. It’s a squiggly line but it’s a parallel nonetheless. No, when you hear stuff like that you get a bit upset but you don’t think too much about it. He’s got to say what he’s got to say to win votes. I’m sure had Labor been in charge we would have gone anyway. It wouldn’t have mattered. The Nationals could have been in charge, we would have gone.
Why’s that?


Well I just think that we depend and it’s not just on the US, it’s on the coalition, between the British and the Americans and us, that, you know, and I would choose not to. I wish we’d done what the Kiwis have done and said, you know, “You can stop bringing your nuclear shit into our country thanks because we don’t need it” and how worse off have they been? Nothing, you know,


so we choose to stay buddy-buddy with them and so we have the good times with them and we have the bad times and this is probably the baddest time since I’ve been alive, definitely, or certainly since Vietnam. I mean this is probably the worst politically for them. I can’t think of anything in between that’s been as bad that they’ve had to lie to the public to get them to back it.


You have leaders saying, “We don’t support the war but we support the soldiers” and that’s confusing, how confusing has it all been since you’ve returned?
Yeah, very, you know, and it’s part and parcel of why I got out, you know. It was all peachy [fine]


before, you know, although I was frustrated with the amount that we were going away but that was just with Timor which is finished now, so it would have been just back to the normal barracks life and that would have been fine; but just the confusion and all the cloud and the smoke in mirrors and just for someone to stand up and tell it how it is would be great, just to say, “Actually look, this is what happened.” and then everyone can go, “Oh that’s a load off, you’re all forgiven.


You’ve told the truth.” you know and, “Bring your boys home.” but the more, the longer they delay it the worse off it is and the harder it will be for us to forgive, but it was very confusing when we got back, you know, “Do you support what we did, don’t you, do you think you should have sent us?” It’s still questions that aren’t answered, you know.


They say, “Oh no we should have went.” but I mean, “Do you mean it, are you lying to us again or not?” so, I don’t know. I’m still confused mate, not that’s why I got out. I’ve got a good job now, yeah, bugger ‘em.
Did they offer counselling for the troops when they came home or anything like that or?
I’m still waiting on counselling for my second trip to Timor


They get to you when they get to you mate and they’re never going to get to me cause I’m not there anymore but there’s not enough psych [psychiatric/psychological] people in the Defence Force to cover the amount of deployments that we’re on at the moment and when you get units like the Special Forces and aviation and infantry that are constantly getting rotated overseas, you just get lost. It’s too hard for them to catch up and it’s not the psych corps fault or anyone’s fault. It’s just that there’s not enough of them


and we go overseas too much or we go on exercise here too much and we’re just spread everywhere, that it’s too hard for these people. We got a little tiny smidgen of counselling before we came home, nothing too much, it was a group session. Normally they get you by yourself and make sure you’re not twitching and stuff when they say, “Bang!.” but they do a good job. I was very impressed after my first trip to East Timor


because I wasn’t having issues but I did have questions about, you know, how I was feeling and stuff like that and was it normal and when they do get you, they do a marvellous job, they really are and they’re really personal and confident and they know what they’re doing and it’s the same before you go with the welfare briefs, you know. They educate the family who, fifty per cent of the time knows nothing about the army except that’s where Dad goes at seven thirty and that’s where he comes from at four


and so they do an excellent job. It’s just they can’t get to everyone, you know.
You found it worthwhile though that session?
Definitely, yeah.
Is it too much or too personal to ask what your questions were?
When I got back from East Timor I was just, had queries about, I mean I knew why we were there and all that. I just had


sort of questions about why I was feeling strange surrounded by people again and, because you get used to having nothing, you know, no TVs, no electricity all the time, no hot water all the time. You just get used to going back to basics but still operating at a higher tempo than you would back in barracks, so you’ve got less but you work more and the difficulties that you


have and I just had questions, like, “Well is this normal, should I be feeling like this when I’m surrounded by people at the shops or when I’m driving in the car with friends and everyone’s having a good time?” and you know, “Is that normal and am I freaking out?” you know, “Have you got some tablets?” and no, no, it was never that bad and then, you know, they just explain to you, “Look.” you know, “You’ve been away for a long time. You’ve been working 24/7 flat out in.”


albeit it was a combat zone but I mean there was not much combat there but, you know, that tempo and you do. I don’t know how you do it because when you get back you’re just, when it stops, whether you’re there for three months or six months or twelve months, you know, your body and your brain, you just keep going and then you come back and you’ve got like all this leave and you’re sitting at home and there’s nothing to do and all these questions start coming. You’re like, “Shit,


shit!” but, you know, you get a handle on it and I mean no, it’s not that bad for me. It was never that bad but they, you know, they talk, they just talk you through it basically and I’m glad I had it and I think had I not had that initial one, my time after the Middle East would have been a lot harder than what it was, you know, and I think that it’s probably why my fiancé and I broke up because we couldn’t talk about it and she was ex military and she’s been to East Timor and Bougainville and the Solomons and


she knew all about getting deployed but, you know, still not being able to talk about it drove a wedge and then it just split from there, you know, and had I not had that first psych session and got a few pointers on how to deal with post deployment periods, you know, I think it probably would have happened a lot earlier, you know.
Why couldn’t you talk about it with her?
I think probably because


she didn’t ask and that was, she didn’t ask with East Timor either and I didn’t ask her because it wasn’t really like , it wasn’t, the things that she did in East Timor and Bougainville, well they were comparable but at a different level to the Middle East and


because we didn’t, we’d both done East Timor and we knew sort of how, not easy, but how workable it was there was no real need to go into great discussion about feelings or anything that we felt about it and so when I came back from the Middle East it was sort of the same, you know, and it’s probably half my fault too. I probably should have started just blurting it out but I’m not like that. You’ve got to ask questions if you want to know the answers and,


because she probably was used to not asking, after three tours to East Timor probably used to not asking questions and me being fine, you know, she thought, “Oh well, this is no different.” I mean I was in the Middle East for a less amount of time than I was ever on my East Timor rotations, so, you know, I wasn’t even gone that long but I come back and I was, well I wasn’t different but yes, there was probably things we probably should have talked about that we didn’t, so,


probably what started that breakdown, yeah.
Do you think that was the major cause or the start?
The start, and then it just snowballed from there and me wanting to get out, after, I wanted to get out straight away and we had plans and we had houses and cars and dogs. We had everything except kids, you know. We had this plan and there was all emotion and I wanted to get out and that would have thrown a spanner in the works and then, you know, there was no compromise and that smashed that wedge in even further and,


you know, in the end I just went and did all these interviews and came back and said, “Look I’ve got this job. You can come with me or you can stay here and it’s over.” and she decided to come with me and it still didn’t work. I think the communication breakdown back at the start there is what started it all off, yeah.
But then other things multiplied?
Yeah, definitely. Because you don’t talk about one thing you tend not to talk about other stuff as well and


just compounded the problems. In the end, no good.
That adjustment to coming back and being around people and so on, is it just a matter of time?
Certainly. It’s only a matter of days, weeks and you’re back to normal. Usually your first night out on the piss gets rid of it all


because you’re drunk surrounded by other drunk people and then it’s back to normal sort of thing for most people. Well that’s how it works for ninety percent of the Defence Force, yeah, but I mean you still always have questions and without, if I hadn’t have had that psych brief I think it would have been a big issue.
And you said you’re waiting for your second psych brief from Timor, is that something that you sign up for or do they automatically send you?


No, they automatically come round and get you but I haven’t had that one yet. I haven’t had my third one yet and I haven’t had the one from the Middle East, so, you know, it’s just, they’re too thin on the ground, the psychs, to get everyone, so I mean they do a great job but it’s just hard for them to catch us.
So you’ve left now, will they still come and see you?
No, I’ll get my debrief at the pub after this I think, yeah. No, all gone.
There’s no after care program


or anything?
No, well there probably is with DVA [Department of Veterans’ Affairs]. There’s probably someone I could call. In fact I’m certain there’s a number I could call if I was having any issues but, you know, it’s water under the bridge now. It’s eighteen months since I got back almost. I don’t have any issues I’m dealing with on a daily basis or anything, so, and I see it like, you know, I see more death and carnage now in my new job than I ever did


in the Defence Force, so you just become immune to it. You don’t let it affect you. You don’t get personal with the people you’re trying to save and as bad as it sounds, they’re just another body that you’ve got to keep beating and you win some and you lose some and that’s it.
For the tape, what’s your new job?
I’m air crewman on a search and rescue


helicopter, the South Care helicopter, and we do all manner of things, from search and rescues, like the Sydney to Hobart yacht race to car crashes, MVAs, [medical evacuations] hospital retrievals, search and rescues for bushwalkers, all sorts of carnage. If it’s bad, we’ll be there.
And do they offer counselling?


There is, they do. The ACT [Australian Capital Territory] Ambulance Service has a welfare officer who’s an ex military padre actually, so he’s been out a couple of times and he’s good to talk to. I should probably talk to him more often, and he offers a good service and we’ve got his number if ever we need to. I’m sure some days I, you know, I think, “Maybe I’ll give him a


ring.” With small children, there’s nothing kids can do, you know. It’s always going to be an adult behind it that’s put them in that situation. With adults and older people, well older people, you know, they’re usually just sick and die and adults it’s usually their own fault; but little kids are always hard to deal with because they’re just passengers, you know. So they do offer a welfare service and I mean I’ve never had to approach him for anything but I’ve had him out at the base a few times and he’s a


nice guy, so if I ever needed it, he’d be very approachable.
So having all this death in your new job and you didn’t see any death in Iraq, but which was harder to handle or harder to get over?
I think probably Iraq, just because I feared more for my own life than I do now. Seeing, initially seeing other people suffer was a big issue but you just sort of become


immune to it over time and if you can help them you can help them; and if you can’t well, you tried and, you know, in the army, you know, you’ve got your army mates and it’s like you’re a team, your team army and if someone in team army gets hurt then your team’s going to get effected and you don’t ever want that to happen whereas in civilian side, you know, Joe Bloggs has crashed his car because he was speeding and, you know, “I’m here to help you but


if you don’t make it, it’s because you fucked up and I am in no way responsible for that.” so the onus, I put the onus, well my feelings off of me, back onto them. It’s like, “I feel like shit because you were speeding and now you’re all busted up and I’m having trouble saving your life. It’s not my fault.” and that’s how I deal with it and that’s how a lot of the guys out there deal with it, so


been there for nine months now and to be honest it doesn’t even affect me anymore. I don’t even think about it. It’s just patch them up, get them on the chopper and get them to hospital and we’re usually drinking lattes [coffee] about ten minutes after we’ve dropped them off at ER [emergency room], so I mean it’s just a job now.
So looking back, you’ve made the right decision to get out and move on?
Yes, certainly.


Postings in the loadmaster stream of the Defence Force are very limited. It’s Townsville and Oakey. I can go all over the world with this company and I don’t have to put up with, you know, shitty hierarchy. If I don’t want to do something I’ll tell them and they won’t make me do it. If I want time off I’ll ask for it and they’ll give it to me. I don’t have to beg the troop commander to give me,


a couple of days off , “Because Mum’s coming over, I haven’t seen her in four years, can I have two days off?” sort of thing, you know. I just tell them and no, it’s just great. It’s just a different lifestyle. Until you’ve done any time in the military you just won’t appreciate how good it is and I’m still, nine months down the track, [later] I’m still revelling in it, you know, wake up in the morning and think, “This is great.” and every time we get like a three a.m. phone call to go and save someone I just think, you know, “This, I could be


fuckin’ back in Iraq.” you know, “This is gold. This is money for jam for me now and no-one’s shooting at me or no-one wants to even shoot at me.” Not that they ever did but, you know, “No-one’s going to get that opportunity anymore to hurt me.”
How long do you think you can do this job for?
Well I’ll probably do this for a few more years and hopefully I’ll move down to head office and get a cushy desk job, hopefully. No,


I love flying. I’ll probably fly until I’m not medically fit enough to fly. There’s certain medical levels that you have to pass and physical tests that you have to pass, I’ll probably be flying for another fifteen years I’d say minimum, and then it’s a pretty good company and see what happens. I mean it’s in, there’s no sort of definite job security in civilian sector like there is in the military. You just rock up every day drunk, straight, whatever, and you’ll


get paid, whereas in the world of contracts and, you know, promotions out in Civvy Street it’s a bit different but I’ll be doing it for a while. It’s good.
Looking back on all the experiences you’ve had, in the end do you think it’s made you a better person?
Definitely yes, for sure.


Yes certainly. It’s made me a much better person. I went in, I had no direction and I was relatively clueless into the ways of the world and I came out the other end unscathed, a few football injuries and some free operations but granted I’m, you know, ten years older almost than when I went in but I’m a far more mature and self aware person than I think I ever would have been


had I not joined up and stayed in Perth with my friends and I only have to go home every Christmas to justify that..
OK we’re at the end of the tape, we’ve got about forty five seconds left, this is time we give to you basically to address whoever’s viewing this tape and whatever you want to say to finish off?
OK, I think for those people sort of down the track in the future that are


fortunate or unfortunate enough to view some of this film archive stuff, that, you know, take it for what it is. It’s just a short insight into someone’s life that you’ll never know and the hardships and the good times that they experienced and they’re here before the camera now, so it can’t have been that bad.


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