Archive number: 2503
Date interviewed: 24 May, 2000
You are listening to the interview audio
NB. This transcript is of an interview filmed for the television series, Australians at War in 1999-2000. It was incorporated into the Archive in 2007.
Okay Kathy just wondering how… just wondering how old you were when you went to the Gulf?
When I went to the Gulf I was twenty-two, going on twenty-three
Sorry I just interrupted you in the middle of it?
Sorry I was twenty two going onto twenty three.
And did you volunteer?
Yes, we, I just got back from service, ‘cause I actually did a course that year, and we got back, and I think it was around September, October they asked for volunteers and in December we left Australia to go overseas.
Did you have much idea of what, of what you were getting into,
or what could happen over there?
No not really, I was sort of like, it was more to the nerves, the thought didn’t come to cross my mind till actually the day I flew out of Australia, and then it’s like, oh we are going, so to speak. And until then I wasn’t, it hit me more when I left my family ‘cause I flew home to South Australia where my family are and the day I saw my, my parents cry was the day it really hit me. And then I, when I left Sydney, and I left my boyfriend and
yeah that sort of started to hit me, it was more then but up ‘til then I wasn’t really concerned, or yeah going to do a job and that’s what I was trained to do.
So it was a chance to do that job, to serve?
Yeah it was more like, my grandfather was in the service, he was in World War I, and so it was like more proud to go across, but at the same time I am going to a different country. I mean that’s the reason why I joined the service, was to travel around, so, and in my field we don’t do a lot of it, so it was good
experience, a, to work with Americans and two, to go across and learn something new.
But also something with your grandfather as well, did he serve overseas?
Yeah he went to World War I, he went to Gallipoli, he was a gunner on HMAS Australia. So it was sort of like more, I was proud to do something for him and he was, no he wasn’t alive then, but in the back of my mind knew that if he was alive he’d be, be very proud of me.
And your parents were worried then?
Very much so, they were, it was the first time I actually saw my, my mother and father cry when I left the airport and sort of brought a tear to my eye, ‘cause even the hostess on the plane, I remember that one, even the hostess on the plane saw that something was wrong. It was sort of like, you couldn’t actually relate to her. Oh yeah I’m actually going to the Gulf War, so it’s pretty ... But, so yeah it was, they were glad on the 15th March when we flew back in, they were very glad that yes they’d all landed and they were grateful to see me the following week.
So yeah it was a bit traumatising to the family, they were very concerned.
So it was kind of an emotional reunion?
I wouldn’t say emotional it’s more they were glad I was there, more.
So I suppose, back to your grandfather, can you tell us a little bit about that connection?
In which way?
With, with the war
and with his service overseas?
Just he went to…
Sorry if you can say like my, like my grandfather?
My grandfather served in World War I, and it was just a proud moment for me to do something that, like wasn’t expected to go to war, I never envisaged going to, to war, and I was very proud, I was very proud to do that for him, and for Australia at the same time too.
And can you tell us what your grandfather
did during World War I?
My grandfather in World War I, he was a gunner which is a, someone who uses machine guns out on the upper decks to fire down planes or to do anti-surface warfare. And he was, served on HMAS Australia.
When you enlisted did you ever think that you might end up in a shooting war?
When I enlisted that was the last thing on my mind, I didn’t envisage going to war, I wasn’t,
didn’t expect I’d, more expected to travel, to go overseas on a ship and to practice with another force, American force for example, not to actually think, oh yes I’m going to war.
And can you tell us about how you, how you got to the Gulf. You flew there, and it was business class, or first class all the way was it?
Travelling across to the, to the Gulf yes we flew via Qantas
from memory, we, or I flew in business class, but when we returned we flew back by the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force], and we flew by a Caribou [light, tactical transport aircraft, capable of carrying 32 troops], and I prefer the first option going across than coming back, it was just more, if you’ve ever been on the Caribous it’s not, noise level.
And what were your first impressions when you got there, had you been overseas before?
Going overseas, no I haven’t, I never, I was scared; going to a foreign country it was new.
We entered in Dubai, there was a lot of security, especially I heard how they treat women so I was like a bit scared and it’s like, always made sure that I was next to a guy, whilst I was there. I didn’t really expect it, it’s very hard to explain how I was feeling, yes I was scared but other feelings I can’t really express those at the moment.
Were you scared
in anticipation of what could happen there?
I was more scared of the unknown, of not knowing what to expect. Going to a third world country, the way they do things, just scared overall, not knowing what was going to happen, how Saudi [Arabia] was going to react with all the American Navy being there, and also the Australian Navy.
And, and tell us about the,
the hospital ship, the USS Comfort there, what, because it’s huge isn’t it?
I served on the USS Comfort which the way I relate to its three football fields long, or Royal North Shore [Hospital] floating, and that’s how I can explain the size. Where I worked was in the operating theatre, we had fourteen suites, a crew of twenty people. The ship itself had a crew of two, twelve hundred personnel and there was also seventy-four mariners working on board too. So the size of the ship was extremely large,
and then take into consideration they also, when it was fully, there was also a thousand patients on board there too. So that it was quite a huge ship.
And what did you see of the war while you were there on the ship?
Whilst on the ship, relating seeing at war, we saw very little ‘cause we were at sea the whole duration. And the most we saw was on C, on television CNN [Cable News Network] and that’s all we saw was that.
And on CNN what could you see, could you see the same thing out, off the ship, looking from the ship?
Watching television whilst we were over there, what we saw was like twelve hours afterwards. So the news was done and then twelve hours later that’s when we saw it, ‘cause basically what we saw out of main television or media aspect, was CNN or, otherwise we watched videos, and they just rotated and rotated throughout the day.
could you see from the ship, was it the burning oil wells, or what type of things of, of the war?
What we saw from the ship was mainly at night when we saw the oil rigs burning. All you can see is just flames in the distance, and that’s all we could see. We didn’t actually, we couldn’t see a missile flying by, or hitting one of these cities or anything like that.
But what you could see from the ship was the same stuff you could watch on CNN?
Can you tell me that?
Sorry what we
saw on television was basically what we, all we could see was the oil rigs, so we couldn’t see much else.
And you’re half way around the world and half way, I mean a long way from home, did you feel a bit lonely and isolated there?
How I felt was, whilst I was over there, was yes lonely, mail took two to three weeks to come across. The only time I spoke to my family was before we left, and once we got off the ship,
and that was the only time I spoke to them other than receiving letters. Whilst I was there it was my birthday so I was a bit lonely ‘cause I didn’t have family around. But also at the same time my family were the friends who I was serving with and they helped me get through that day.
And was the, I mean the most information you had from the, about what was going on at the time where was that coming from, was that from TV, or how were you finding out about the war?
The information we received was
one we got from our commanding officer of the ship. He also mentioned what was happening around us. And also the information received also was on the media too, which was displayed over the television.
And what was it like returning to Australia, was that strange, coming back after that experience?
Returning to Australia, oh it was good, it was, it was emotional ‘cause we arrived back to RAAF Richmond and I saw my sister and she cried and I was
more like relieved so to speak, we’re back on Australia ground, so. Yeah the emotions were there but at the same time it was a, an excellent feeling of being home back in Australia.
And did you march with the veterans on Anzac Day?
On Anzac Day that year I actually went up to Inverell, I was the host up in Inverell and I talked about the Gulf War up in Inverell.
Have you marched since?
Have I marched since?
On Anzac Day?
Day, no ‘cause I haven’t been here, we’ve actually been away.
Has it made Anzac Day any, any more special to you after having served overseas?
How I[‘m] feeling on Anzac Day, yes ‘cause I was very proud of the medals I received. And it’s, I can’t really explain the feeling ‘cause when you’re actually marching you become, this feeling just go through your system, and especially you being a female it’s
it’s, some, all the, the elderly who say for instance went to World War I etcetera, they’re very proud of you. So it’s a good feeling that way, at the same time some people do put you down because you’re a female.
Really you get that, when you’re marching there?
No it’s just, the feeling you get, or the, it’s more the afterwards, like when they, the gentlemen talk to you and they go, oh okay you’re a female and you served in the Gulf War, and they ask you did you go out to the front line
and you go, “No, but I was there, like eight k’s [kilometres] away from the front line.” And they’re very proud but at the same time it’s very hard ‘cause the people, or the men don’t relate a female being in the front line, and that’s how they look at it, is that you’re actually doing, you’re doing a job, but the same time they don’t like females going to combat situation.
But yourself personally, do you feel a bit more a part of the Anzac tradition?
My feeling during the Anzac tradition, yes
for serving there, and also recently serving in East Timor, it was a very proud reception that we got when we were in Australia.
How did that compare in, tell us how it compares in Timor with, with your experience in the Gulf?
My experience in Timor, East Timor compared to the Gulf one, ‘cause I was the PO Med [?] and aboard the HMAS Melbourne, and we actually went and treated the East Timorese personnel there and I worked in the hospital and had more of a feeling
compared to the Gulf, ‘cause we didn’t actually have casualties coming to us. And when I was working in East Timor we actually, I saw people and I had to treat ‘em, I had to treat little kids, and they were very grateful that the Australians were there treating them and looking after ‘em.
So the difference was it was an Australian operation, did that make it different for you, obviously it has?
The operation yes, in East Timor, it was an Australian operation, but whilst serving in the, the Gulf it was actually an
So you had a lot more work in Timor basically then?
The work, yes there was heaps more in East Timor compared to work in the Gulf, but at the same time there’s experience, was the same in both areas, and learning different things. So that’s what we benefit more from is the experience.
Is peacekeeping, you’ve got a different role or, does your role change in the peacekeeping operation as opposed to the Gulf?
in peacekeeping was the same when we were in the Gulf, I did the same job whilst working, serving on the Comfort, I worked as an operating theatre assistant. So I was there to treat people when they rocked up. So whether they had a gunshot wound, whatever, I was there to treat it. And when I was in East Timor I was actually acting as an outpatient Medic, so I was still doing the same, I was treating that person.