Wednesday, 10 December 2008


For me, today (10th December) is a significant personal anniversary. On this day, thirty eight years ago, along with other 15th Intake National Servicemen, I boarded a Thai Air Force C-123 at Luscombe Field (Nui Dat, South Vietnam). We flew to Ton Son Nuit, (Saigon).

There we emplaned on a Qantas 707 for the flight home to Australia. I'd spent 298 days in country. The 707 was very different from the choppers and Caribou that had been our routine transport for twelve months. It had cabin crew (all male), and what seemed initially to be an endless supply of VB. We left the tarmac after what felt like an interminable take-off run, and the coastline of South Vietnam quickly disappeared from view. This generated a round of applause from all on board, and the good-humoured cabin crew quickly passed around the beer.

Strangely, I didn’t feel much like drinking, as I preferred to savour the immense feeling of euphoria generated by the reality of leaving the army and South Vietnam behind. The majority of my comrades, many of whom became more than a little plastered before too long, didn’t appear to share my sentiments.

By the time we reached the coast north of Darwin, most were sleeping. It was a bloody long flight. They were woken by the captain announcing the arrival of the Australian coastline which was greeted by loud applause. We refuelled in Darwin, where the atmosphere was just as humid as Vietnam. For me, it didn't feel like home.

The Darwin-Sydney flight was long and boring, and the beer was no longer available. We were told that we had consumed every drop. I wonder whether the flight crew felt an obligation to deliver their passengers in a reasonable state on arrival, and the grog was cut off accordingly. As it was, we were a motley crew, dressed in civvies for the occasion. It was easy to develop the perception that we were being brought home in secret, almost in shame, as we arrived at three in the morning with no fanfare at all. There was certainly no brass band.

Our landing in Sydney was one of the roughest I can recall in many years of air travel, but it was greeted with loud and prolonged cheering. Perhaps the captain had been into the VB. I got the impression that even if we had come in undercarriage up, and had to slide down the escape chutes, the applause would have been just as vociferous.

There was a long delay through customs, as apparently one or two diggers tried to bring disassembled AK47s in with their luggage.

When we finally emerged from customs, my two mates and I hailed a cab and asked the driver to take us to the motel my parents had booked for me. They'd also bought a seat for me on a Brisbane flight next day. What followed was my first surprise – the cabbie simply refused to take us, saying it was out of his area. Appealing to his better nature by pointing out that we were infantry soldiers returning from a tour of duty in South Vietnam cut absolutely no ice at all. He took us to a different motel, where he seemed to have some kind of enduring relationship with the proprietor. Home was a new reality.

This was my small introduction to an understanding of how those at home viewed our service. To be honest, I had no illusions about how we would be received, but it was apparent that many of my mates were expecting to be treated like conquering heroes. My parents lost their booking deposit, but this was the least of their worries – they were just happy to see me home. The army had issued me with rail vouchers that would have seen me board the Brisbane Limited to get home, but my parents chose to pay the extra for a flight to Brisbane.

It seemed ironic to me that I'd flown free from Brisbane to Williamtown two years ago at the beginning of my army training, but after twelve months of service in a war zone wasn't considered worthy of a flight home. It was a long time ago now, but this particular journey, is, on the whole, fondly remembered. This was RTA day, and for me has been ever since.

Monday, 8 December 2008

The Story that Stole Christmas

This non-story was published in Saturday's Toowoomba Chronicle -

By MADELEINE LOGAN madeleine.logan @thechronicle.

Noah's Ark lesson sparks school battle.

Father of five Ron Williams has lodged a complaint with the Anti-Discrimination Commission after his five-year-old Kathleen was "illegally exposed" to bible lessons during her prep class. A Toowoomba dad sparked major controversy yesterday for removing his daughter from Gabbinbar State School after she was taught the story of Noah's Ark.

Father of five Ron Williams has lodged a complaint with the Anti-Discrimination Commission after his five-year old Kathleen was "illegally exposed" to bible lessons during her prep class. However, he insists he is "not anti-religion". The long-time campaigner against the teaching of religion in schools plans to take civil legal action against Education Queensland, principal Greg Brand and classroom teacher Trina Savio on the basis religious education in prep is against policy.

His charge peaked major media interest yesterday with Mr Wil­liams fielding calls from a New-York based journalist, in addition to several television programs. Education Queensland denies Mr Williams' claims lessons included biblical teaching. A department spokeswoman said the viewing of Evan Almighty, a Hollywood come­dy about a man who builds a repli­ca Noah's Ark, was part of a unit on animal noises. "No references to 'God' or the biblical story were made in the classroom," she said.

Mr Williams said he asked for Kathleen to be moved to an alterna­tive prep class after spotting a bookshelf full of children's biblical titles and a large cardboard replica of Noah's Ark in her classroom. He claims this request was re­fused by Mr Brand and he was thus forced to remove his child from the school. Mr Williams' two oldest children still attend Gabbinbar State School.

The boys, who moved from Middle Ridge State School when it em­ployed a chaplain, will study through distance education next year. Kathleen will attend an in­dependent Toowoomba school.

St Bartholomew's Anglican Church Reverend Richard Harris insists Evan Almighty is not a religious movie. "This incident is sad because the film is just a great story," he said. "It's got Judeo-Christian teaching in it, but it's really about the love of family and teaching people to care about others. I'm surprised this man was offended by it." Mr Brand declined to comment and directed The Chronicle to Education Queensland. The school's website says pa­rents are required to complete a form when enrolling their child giving permission for them to learn religious education.

A parent with a bee in his bonnet doesn't get his way, so he goes to the media, and finds an editor thick enough to listen. It was obviously a slow news day in Toowoomba.

There are a few parents in this town (mostly on the South side) who for reasons best known to themselves have been attacking state school principals about this issue. They are well-organised, and more than a little vindictive. They have every right to waste public servants' time in this fashion, but I am amazed at the reaction of the local media.

The scandal sheet that rejoices in the name of "Toowoomba Chronicle" put this on the front page. The report simultaneously manages to be both cliché-ridden and breathless , no mean feat for Madeleine Logan, although the heavy hand of Steve Etwell ("Editor"-in Chief) is apparent.

Etwell is best known for making snide remarks about people of middle-eastern origin and was outed in Mediawatch for this not too long ago. He obviously has managed to sleep through the first part of the twenty-first century.

You could excuse his reporter – she is relatively junior – but there is no excuse for an "Editor" to publish this type of gutter nonsense in something that pretends to be a provincial newspaper. Apart from the waste of front-page space, the last thing any school needs at this time of the year (characterised by the difficult combination of deadlines and seasonal goodwill) is incessant badgering by members of the fourth estate.

But then, Etwell is obviously a peddler of newsprint rather than a journalist if this is an example of his editorial activity.

Hugh White - Without America

Hugh White is always provocative, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to criticising current defence policy. In 1995, he was appo...