Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Friday, 12 July 2019

Another Anniversary

July 20th (next Saturday) marks the 50th anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing.

By July 1969, I had been serving in 7th Battalion RAR for about a month, having completed Infantry Corps training at Singleton before being marched into the battalion. I was “called up” as a teacher working at Goondiwindi State School.

7 RAR had been "warned" for operational service in Vietnam, and the pace of our training activity was frenetic. Initially, when first marched into the battalion after corps training, I was posted to D Company, but after a week or two was transferred to B Company. I have no idea why the transfer occurred. There is nothing on my retrieved service record to provide a reason, so it was probably down to manpower considerations.

These same manpower considerations were probably also responsible for my posting to Infantry. As a teacher, I had requested Education Corps. I was not happy.

The B Coy posting was the beginning of an association with the men I served with in Vietnam, a unique association which lasts to this day. By the anniversary of the moon landing I will have known these men for 50 years, longer than I've known my wife and kids.

In mid-July 1969, we were flown into the Colo-Putty training area for an exercise in small unit tactics in preparation for tropical warfare in the Vietnamese jungle and paddy. The fact that is was mid-Winter in Australia, and that the country around the training area was scrub rather than jungle seemed lost on the army.

Just as we arrived, a Sou'wester ramped up, and began blowing sleet and drizzle directly (it seemed) from somewhere in the Antarctic. Anticipating the conditions, one resourceful digger had brought a balaclava with him, and when we were encamped in the bush on the first night of the exercise, produced it from his backpack and put it on.

Next morning, when he woke up, the balaclava had somehow turned when he was asleep and covered his eyes. In his groggy state, he assumed he had been struck blind during the night, and noisy panic ensued. The commotion attracted the platoon sergeant who was upset at the noise (we were supposed to be observing tactical silence) and balaclavas were immediately confiscated, and wearing one became a chargeable offence.

We barged around the scrub in the sleet and mud for a day or two, amid much cursing and swearing about the army in general, and national service in particular, and finally, on the last night, were allowed to go "non-tac".

This meant we could light fires and try to get warm. Being warm was a state which had eluded us for the last two days. A couple of soldiers had been flown out to be treated for exposure.

Once we had lit a couple of fires, we began to put out boots as close to these fires as we could in an attempt to get warm feet again. This was not a good idea. The GP boots had a metal plate installed under the sole, which rapidly heated up, and a mad boot removing scramble ensued.

We had been allowed to put hootchies up on the last (non-tac) night of the exercise. A hootchie is a sheet of waterproof plastic, two of which could be clipped together to make a rudimentary shelter. which at least provided respite from the sleet and drizzle but did little to stop the horizontal howling wind which always seem to be blowing through the hootchie. I had a bright idea and put one green army blanket across the end of the shelter as a wind break, tying it in place with coms cord.

Next morning, when we let the tent down prior to packing up for the flight out, the blanket stayed in place. During the night, it had become sodden, and eventually froze in place.

The news of the moon landing came through whilst we were waiting to be flown out of the training area. We were in no position to watch it live. Nor was I at all excited. After all, if the Yanks were so bloody clever, why hadn't they sorted Vietnam years ago?

The wind had not abated, and when we were set to emplane aboard a Caribou transport for the flight back to Sydney, the conditions became a major problem. Once we had boarded from where we were sitting in the fuselage of the Caribou, we could see the flight crew. What we saw was not confidence inspiring. Both pilot and co-pilot seemed to be struggling to keep the ship on track.

Apparently, the Caribou's large tail was a problem in the cross wind. Eventually, amidst a great deal of noise from the big Pratt and Whitneys, we unstuck and commenced a bumpy flight towards Sydney.

As it turned out, the conditions had deteriorated further and were now too dangerous, and we were the last flight out that day. This was a bonus, as the platoon HQ group was scheduled on the next flight, and we arrived back in base without them. The only NCO with us let it be known that if we kept out of sight, we had the best part of 24 hours to our own devices, which meant lots of napping, and a beer or two at the boozer.

That's how I remember the anniversary.
Caribou (not in Oz).

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Travelling North

An early start was the go.

I've been a bit slack with postings of late, gentle reader.

the major distraction has been enrolling at Uni after a gap of 39 years.

The tertiary institutions that I earned RPL* from have had problems with their archives, caused, I understand by the most recent Brisbane floods.

Anyway, they have resurrected sufficient of my academic record to mollify the campus I'm dealing with, so it's all good.
Roadworks were a pain.

To fill in the time whilst waiting to get started at the beginning of semester 2, I took a long road trip north - to Mackay, to be exact, where my 90-year-old aunt was celebrating her birthday.

There were many cousins, most whom I haven't seen for 30+ years, so it was interesting (and revelatory). I seem to have worn better than most of them.

It's all that clean living.

Travel stained at Bororen.

Anyway, I pointed the nose of the MX5 north, and set out early.

An MX5 SE is not designed for long distance cruising, but this little machine acquitted itself well.

It has an excellent driving position, and cruises at about 3000rpm. An overdrive would be nice, but it doesn’t feel (or sound) stressed at this rev range.
Safely in Mackay.

The only problem I had was in 110km/hr zones, because the turbo kicks in at about 105km/hr in top gear, and holding it below the limit required lots of concentration.

It used 7.5lit/100kms of 98 octane, which is pretty good. Prices were surprisingly consistent except for Mackay city.

Despite wet weather and loads of caravans, the trip north ws enjoyable, and the journey back, in fine weather, was great fun.
Town of 1770.
EV chargers at Marlborough.

Friday, 7 June 2019

Baby and Bathwater

Pic courtesy European Movement
There’s plenty in the media about the 75th anniversary of the D Day landings, and so there should be.

This event changed the course of history in Europe and formed the basis of the free and prosperous Europe we see today.

Not long after the end of the war in Europe, (24th October 1945) the United Nations officially came into existence.

Representatives of 50 countries met in San Francisco at the United Nations Conference on International Organization to draw up the United Nations Charter.

Those delegates deliberated based on proposals worked out by the representatives of China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States at Dumbarton Oaks, United States in August-October 1944.

This was only 5 months after the fall of Berlin on 8th May 1945.

The delegates at that conference would have had the chaos and suffering of the Second World War uppermost in their minds.

It was after all, a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945 involving the vast majority of the world's countries including all the great powers. It resulted in the eventual formation of two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources.

World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Looking back, the foundation of the UN represented an expression of hope, and a determination that global conflict would not happen again – surely a noble aspiration.

Not much later, in 1951, the Treaty of Paris, and in 1958 the Treaty of Rome (1958) established the European Economic Community (EEC). Winston Churchill had called in 1946 for a "United States of Europe", and the original development of the European Union was based on a supranational foundation that would "make war unthinkable and materially impossible.

Seventy-five years after D Day, and sixty years plus since the Rome and Paris treaties, with the exception of localized conflicts (1991–1993 Georgian Civil War, 1992–1995 Bosnian War, and Kosovo 1998 – 99), Europe has been generally peaceful.

This is in marked contrast to the preceding 50 years, marked as it was by “the war to end all wars” and World War two.

And yet, we see Brexit, rising nationalism in many European states, and condemnation of the UN from some.

History is either not read, or not understood.

Throwing the baby out with the bath water is always bad for the baby…

Monday, 20 May 2019

Queenslanders are Different

Tambo Dawn

Queensland has always been different and never properly understood by southerners.

We identify by our distance from the capital (Brisbane), more strongly than by any other factor. The further we live from Brisbane, the more militant and contrarian our opinions.

I learned this when working in regional administration in Mt Isa. We talked bitterly about BFBs (Bastards from Brisbane) and saw our main function as opposing every suggested initiative that came from Central Office.

This identity by region probably derived from the history. Unlike other mainland states, Queensland was settled district by district, from the productive inland to the coast, rather than from the capital outwards.

The east/west railway links were completed before the north/south Brisbane/Cairns link.

Soldiers embarking for Gallipoli (and the western front) in World War One, did so on steamers from ports like Rockhampton as well as from Brisbane.

Prior to the Second World War, many Queenslanders lived out their lives in their own regional areas without ever travelling to the capital. The distances and the state of the roads saw to that.

This geographical history underpins our political consciousness, and creates an electoral environment beyond the ken of journalists in NSW and Victoria.

Every now and again, this lack of comprehension is revealed by the commentary, as demonstrated by the collapse of Labor in 2012 - and again yesterday.

Having said that, Queensland can surprise from the other side of the political spectrum.

Remember Red Ted Theodore?

Remember the shearer’s strike?

Monday, 6 May 2019

Reviewing Dapin's "Australia's Vietnam - Myth vs History"

It’s time for another book review, gentle reader.

I’ve studiously avoided commentary on politics. It’s never a good time to do that during a campaign.

The book in question is Mark Dapin’s Australia’s Vietnam – Myth vs History.

Dapin posted me a copy on the strength of the fact that he used some material I sent him in reference to one of the myths he eviscerated.

He looks at (amongst other things) the following accepted narratives and debunks them -
  • Every National Serviceman who went to Vietnam was a volunteer.
  • Some National Servicemen (Normie Rowe and Doug Walters, for example) were enlisted without being balloted to show that no-one was exempt.
  • The powers that were played God with the ballot process.
  • There was a hidden Australian My Lai.
  • Returning diggers were spat upon at airports and when parading in the capital cities.
The work is interesting and engaging in three ways.

First, it’s written in an irreverent non-nonsense fashion, sprinkled with factual barbs directed generally at the establishment. For me, as an habitual contrarian, that’s always a plus. In this case, the “establishment” is a generation of the more respectable chroniclers including notables like Ham, Edwards and Horner. He takes them on, and in the judgement of this humble reader, makes many of their assumptions look silly.

His conclusions are backed by research that is almost forensic in its character.

The second factor is that he readily admits that much of what he has written on the subject in the past is at least misguided and at most simply wrong. His explanation of this sets a framework for his conclusions that the war has been misremembered and mischaracterised by many, including those who participated in it.

This contention struck a chord for me. I’ve attended my fair share of reunions, and have listened to plenty of stories, tall and not so true. We call them “warries”. The telling of these stories is harmless, and probably helps the narrators make sense of their experiences, but it does nothing for the accurate recording of history.

And thirdly, his work encourages me to dig deeper in reference to the reasons for the existence of the myths in the first place. 

It’s really a three-stage process; the recounting of the myths, their debunking, and the analysis of why these myths developed in the first place.

Dapin’s book comprehensively completes the second stage of the process. I’d like to have a go at the third.

Hence I'm enrolling at USQ to do just that.

Blogging may be light as a consequence.

Friday, 19 April 2019

A Very Ordinary car

Years ago, I published a piece about all the cars I’ve owned.

It’s enough to say that there have been plenty, and some more loved than others, but amongst the collection there are vehicles which simply felt “right”.

It probably had something to do with time and place, but amongst them I’d nominate my Peugeot 505 wagon, my second Renault 12, and my Commodore ute.

Note I haven’t included any of my three MX5s, or the various Falcons I owned over the years.

These were all great cars, but they didn’t instantly feel “right” from the moment I got behind the wheel.

The MX5s were essentially “special” cars for enjoying driving. There’s a difference between “special” and “right”, and it relates to function. Cars that feel “right” are universally useful all of the time.
Ever tried to move house with an MX5? 

The subject of this post, my son’s Mazda 323, does feel “right”.

I’m driving it because he has a job a short cycle ride from where he lives, and simply doesn’t need it, as he lives very close to a railway station for the occasions he needs to get somewhere other than work.

On the other hand, he doesn’t want to sell it in case he gets a transfer in his job to a location not so accessible, so I’m garaging it for the time being.

The 323 is indeed a very ordinary car, but it’s comfortable, reliable, and accessible. By “accessible” I mean easy to get in and out of, and easy to see out of. Modern small sedans are over-styled, and as a consequence neither accessible or with good visibility. This is probably one reason why SUVs have become popular.

The 323 has a six CD stacker and cruise control as aftermarket accessories, and these bits add to the appeal. My iPhone will mount to the dashboard, and with the correct adaptor becomes a basic version of Apple Car play.

This means the phone becomes a satnav.

I’ve found a Bluetooth accessory that allows me to play the tunes on my iPhone over the stereo. It works a treat.

So the 323 has all the mod cons available in our Kia Cerato, but is easier to drive, easier to get in and out of, and easier to reverse, even though it doesn’t have a camera. It’s all to do with the greenhouse, and the ease with which you can turn to see over your shoulder. 
I’m getting on a bit you know…..

Sunday, 31 March 2019


It's been over twelve months now since I retired.

My first attempt at retirement was an abject failure, as it lasted only six months.

This one is permanent. I'm deaf, which makes working in noisy environments impossible. Trying to plan with my co-workers on the way to jobs, and conversing with kids and teachers in noisy classrooms had become embarrassing.

I do miss the work. One of the experiences I miss is flying in and out of places like Quilpie, Cunnamulla and Charleville.

This video was taken as we were landing at Cunnamulla.

The aircraft was a chartered Beechcraft Super King Air.

Cunnamulla was an American bomber base in World War Two, and Lyndon Johnson spent time there. I guess the Yanks figured that the Japanese would get so bored flying over the country between the coast and the outback that they'd shelve any ideas of attacking it.

Enjoy the vid.

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