Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

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.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

My Flying List

No - I've never flown on a Concorde. This one is at the Intrepid museum NYC.

I don’t pretend to be an expert, gentle reader, but I reckon I’m as qualified as any lay person to comment on matters aviation.
I’ve done plenty of flying. Some I’ve forgotten. This I remember in chronological order –
1968 – Slingsby glider at Goondiwindi
1969 – TAA Vickers Viscount (Brisbane – Williamtown – Nasho intake)
TAA Viscount

1969 – RAAF UH1H and Navy UH1B, C-130A and C-130E, DHC Caribou, (Training in 7 RAR)
DHC Caribou

1970 – RAAF and US Army UH1H (Operational flying – More times than I can count – beat walking); DHC – American Airlines R & R charter – Saigon/Bangkok – Boeing 707; Caribou; C -123; Qantas Boeing 707 10/12/70 (RTA)
Qantas 707

1974 – Lake Buccaneer (GBR trip)
Lake Buccaneer

1977 – TAA Boeing 727
TAA 727

1978 – Air NZ DC-10 (The actual aircraft that crashed at Mt Erebus – ZK-NZP one year later. I always note the rego numbers)
Air New Zealand DC 10

1979 – Boeing 727
British Airways 747

1980 – Boeing 747 – (British Airways – UK & return).
Australian Airways 737

1983 – 1989 – Various Boeing 737s.

1986 – DC – 3 (“Champagne flight”). My bride got airsick.
C130 during pilot's strike

1989 – C-130 E Townsville/Brisbane during pilot’s dispute. Tail number indicated that it was an aircraft I had flown in during Nasho training in 1969.
Chartered Cessna 180

1993 – Cessna 180 on charter – Mt Isa, Dajarra, Boulia, Bedourie, Birdsville, Windorah (Researching indigenous communities)
QantasLink Super Kingair

1993/94 – Beechcraft Super King air – 4 Flights annually attending Townsville board meetings from Mt Isa.

1994 – 2000 – Various 737s and Airbus 320s – attending national conferences.
Virgin 737

2006 – Singapore Airlines 777 – Brisbane/Singapore. Airbus 320 Singapore/Saigon.
Singapore airlines 777

2007 – Brisbane/KL – Malaysia Airlines 777. KL/Saigon – Airbus 320,Air Vietnam 737 – 800 Da Nang/Hanoi.
Air Vietnam ATR – 72 Saigon/Da Nang.
Vietnam Airlines ATR 72

Malaysian Airlines 777

Malaysian Airlines 737

2008 – 2015 – Numerous flights to Adelaide on Virgin 737 – 800s. Flight to Perth to connect with Indian Pacific – Virgin 737 – 800.
2010 – Darwin/Brisbane Boeing 767.
Qantas 767

2007 – 2015 – Lear Jet; Piper PA-42 Cheyenne; Beechcraft Super King Air (All charters involving consultancy work at Charleville, Quilpie and Cunnamulla – one flight per school term). The Lear was amazing. We hit an emu on the Quilpie strip in the King Air.
Beechcraft Super King Air

2018 – Qantas 747 Brisbane/LA/New York. COPA 737 – Washington/Panama City/Havana.
Qantas 747 - 400

2019 – Various flights to Newcastle – Airbus 320s and 737s. I usually travel domestic every couple of months, and have discovered that whilst Toowoomba’s new airport is convenient, fares to Sydney, Townsville, Cairns and Melbourne are expensive.
Jetstar A320. If you travel with this mob, read the fine print before you book online.

Air north fly Embraer 170s and I have used these various times direct from Toowoomba to visit friends and rellies in Townsville and Cairns.

Airnorth E170

My favourite long haul aircraft is the Boeing 747 – 400 (especially if you book row 46 or 58 behind the exits).
My favourite short haul aircraft – Embraer 170 as configured by Air North.
My most memorable flight – It's a toss up between flying out of a dirt strip in the Colo training area in a Caribou in July 1969 in a massive cross wind. (We were last stick out and all flights were cancelled after ours), and Charleville/Roma on a stormy November afternoon in 2010 when we struck hail and wind shear. Pilot was a genius.

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Writing Home - 27th March 1970

When I returned from Vietnam back in December 1970, my mother packaged up all the letters I wrote, and gave them to me.

Because I wrote at least one per week, and I wrote to all members of my close family when I could, there were plenty of letters - over 350 in fact.

I'm making a feature of occasionally posting the contents of these on this blog.

History buffs may be interested, and the insights provided by this primary source material are, gentle reader, revealing, both of the conduct of the war, and my attitude to it.

F.S.P.B. "Anne"
27 - 3 - 70

5 Pl, B Coy,
7 RAR,
GPO Sydney

Dear Mum and Dad

I'll start this now (at 7pm) in the vain hope that I'll finish it tonight. I'll get a fair bit done because it doesn't get dark until about 7:30pm. We are harboured up just outside fire support patrol base "Anne".
Today we completed Operation "Finschhafen" and moved into the F.S.P.B. by A.P.Cs. At the base, we showered, ate, and went to Mass (unique on Good Friday, I suppose). Tomorrow we move into a new A.O. North of here. There's been no word of R and C yet, so I'll assume it's not until after the next Op at least.
Now, the summary of Operation "Finschhafen" -
The battalion had no "kills", which is apparently the basis on which the success (or otherwise) of an operation is judged. Therefore, the operation was, in the eyes of our commanders, a failure, and our C.O. had a dressing-down from the American commander of III Corps about this. To me, this is a lot of nonsense, but then the Yanks have always taken themselves too seriously, when it comes to statistics. I can't imagine it upsetting our C.O. very much, anyway.
Well, it's now 24 hrs since I began this letter. I'm now about 10 miles north of F.S.P.B. "Anne", near the border with Long Khanh Province, and on the banks of the Song Rai again. Major Warland has decided upon a new approach - we split up into half-platoon groups and sit in ambush for days at a time on as wide a front as possible. As you can imagine, I approve wholeheartedly of this. For all their plans, we covered a lot of ground today (not 10 miles of course - the first 8 were in helicopters) and I'm feeling pretty tired now. There shouldn't be far to go tomorrow, though. As has been the case of late, no sign of the enemy. Our intelligence thinks that they're waiting until the Yanks and we withdraw before they try to regroup again. I hope so.
Because of injuries, one section of the platoon is down to five men, and I'm helping them out with night sentry on the gun. I don't mind, though it does relieve the boredom.
You've probably read of 7 RAR having five blokes wounded in an accident with mortars. They were "Pogos" (base wallahs in normal language) who went outside the wire at F.S.P.B. "Anne" and directed mortar fire on themselves. God knows how they managed it. Anyway, they're OK now, although one is going back to Australia. Another bloke got sick of the scrub and shot himself in the foot, although they listed him as W.I.A. I don't know what will happen to him. Dishonourable discharge, I suppose.
Although I'm not getting any papers, please keep sending them. When my turn comes for L.O.B. (left on base defence) they will be handy. Also when we go back to Nui Dat in preparation for R and C, I will have a chance to read them.
I've been taking plenty of photos of the things we've been doing, but they probably won't get home for you for ages. At the moment, I aim to take a fair library of slides, and buy a good projector when I'm on R and R. I'll send it straight home.
Speaking of buying, I haven't spent a cent since we began Ops three weeks ago. So every cloud has a silver lining. Well, I'll finish this now, Mum and Dad, so I'll be able to give it to the Sarge (he looks after the mail). I'm sorry for poor old Anne. She writes me stacks of really interesting spontaneous letters, and I haven't been answering them. My excuse again is lack of envelopes and paper, but I'll make up for it when I get some. Helen has also been good with mail, and Neil is obviously making a great effort, because I've heard from him three times now, I think.
I think about you all quite a bit, and it's really good to hear about all the little things that happen.

Lots of love,



Sunday, 24 February 2019

Time Travel

Williamtown Airport - Pic courtesy News Ltd.

Visiting Newcastle, gentle reader, is always for me a special kind of time travel.
I’m here catching up with an old rifle section mate who is in care whilst the specialists are trying to manage his myeloma.
It’s most likely a consequence of exposure to dioxin all those years ago. It’s bitter to see him in pain, but at the same time good to catch up with two other ex Nashos who travelled up from Sydney. It had some of the flavour of a mini section reunion. We spent about a year together in 1969/70, comprising six months training in Holsworthy, through Canungra and Shoalwater, and then the voyage to Vung Tau on the Sydney.
Three of us did rookies at Singleton, the other at Kapooka.
In Vietnam, we were together in 5 platoon until July, when we went our separate ways.
Every point along the way has its memories of another time.
The airport at Williamtown, now the home of F-35s, is where I disembarked from a TAA Vickers Viscount on my way to Singleton from Brisbane a Nasho. It was my first flight in any kind of aircraft.
Back then, there were Dassault Mirages roaring about the Williamtown RAAF base, which shares the airport.
Last time I drove down to Newcastle, I stopped off at the Infantry museum at Singleton. Strangely, perhaps, that didn’t trigger as many memories, although if you're into military history, it's worth a visit.
The units based there now have privatised security, and the hi-vis vest clothed staff on the gate weren’t impressed by an old geyser seeking a nostalgic wander around.
I don’t remember any ex-diggers rocking up making strange requests on the few occasions when I did guard duty back in the day, but from memory, admission had more to do with the state of the guard commander’s liver or whether or not there were any attractive young women in the party, rather than health and safety protocols.
Newcastle is an industrial centre, but much of the area around the harbour has been gentrified. It reminded me of Teneriffe in Brisbane.
It still has the laid back atmosphere I remember from the seventies. This is perhaps the most obvious aspect of the time travel experience. Even driving there is much as it was back then, with precious little impatience and a tolerance for slightly lost geriatric visitors in hire cars.
It probably just as well the local drivers are tolerant. The traffic engineering is woeful, although obviously roundabouts are seen to be the solution to every traffic flow problem.

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