Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Thursday, 5 December 2019

The Inclusive Mitre

Scary mitre

Tuesday 3rd December was the International Day for People with Disabilities.

I was reminded of this at last Sunday's mass when a contingent from SPRED*, a diocesan organisation supporting this cohort of the population were involved actively in the service.

This notion of participation was what led to the formation of the organisation in the first place.

I became aware of SPRED as a new principal of one of the (then) three special schools in Toowoomba, late in the last century. 

One Monday morning my secretary told me that she had the Catholic Bishop of Toowoomba diocese on the phone. I had been the principal of five schools by this time, in various parts of the state, and this was the first time I had been phoned by a bishop.

It turned out that he was aware that many children with disabilities often weren’t able to go through the routine sacramental preparation that was a vital part of Catholic practice, and was looking for ways of including them. 

He had thoroughly sensible ideas, some involving cooperation with my school, and I remember telling him we’d help where we could. The fact that I was a Catholic was neither here nor here.

To cut a long story short, the idea morphed into a preparation programme that was implemented during religious instruction sessions at school, as well as with the parents at home. The parents of the participating children took turns in opening their homes to the parishioners who were offering the instruction, much in the same way as it worked for able-bodied children.

It was a resounding success, but wasn’t without its moments. The bishop decided he’d have a dress rehearsal, which was fortunate, as when one of the children, a girl from the Phillipines with an intellectual impairment, first saw him in full regalia, she ran screaming from the church. She was quite unprepared for the mitre.

This programme became annual, and was still successfully progressing when I retired in 2005.
This same bishop got himself on the wrong side of the Vatican a few years later, and the rest is history.

His ideas about inclusion and compassion were probably a little ahead of their time, faced with the clericalism that was a feature of the Australian church at the height of the stewardship of George Pell.

*SPecial Religious Education & Development

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Conscription - The Political Context


Australian party politics at the time of the introduction of National Service in 1964 provided a secure basis for the introduction of a scheme of peacetime conscription of young men for overseas service. Even though conscription had always been contentious in the past, especially during the First World War when it had divided the community, the Menzies government of the day assumed that its introduction would not constitute a risk at the ballot box.
This second scheme of national service wasn’t introduced until November 1964 so was not an issue at the 1963 federal election. Menzies campaigned effectively on other issues such as the proposed North-west Cape communications facility, state aid for students at both government and non-government schools, and the “Faceless Men” controversy. The Coalition criticised Labor for its insistence on Australian decision making in the event of warlike use for the facility and was portrayed by Menzies as being weak in its support for the US alliance. This was integral to the successful Coalition strategy of using the US alliance as a campaign issue, a strategy that shored up the all-important DLP preferences.[1]
The half senate election on 5 December 1964 resulted in the Coalition winning exactly half the contested seats with the Democratic Labor Party and independent senator Reg Turnbull holding the balance of power. This poll was held shortly after the introduction of national service in November 1964, but before the announcement in May 1965 heralding new powers that enabled it to send national servicemen overseas.
This sequence of events helped set up the political viability of the scheme. The importance of the DLP vote, bolstered by anti-Communist rhetoric, together with the staggered timing of the announcements (first of the second National Service scheme in November 1964 and then of National Servicemen being liable for overseas service in May 1965) were significant factors.
On the floor of parliament, the issue of conscription was almost always broached in the context of the threat from the north. On 22 September 1964, Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes (Member for Chisholm, and an ex prisoner of war) asked the following question –
I address a question to the Prime Minister. If, as the right honourable gentleman said in Sydney last week, " Australia had never lived in a state of greater risk ", why has the Government not already taken the necessary action to provide a defence potential commensurate with such risk? As 44.5 per cent, of the recruits for the Australian Regular Army during the last year were between the ages of 17 and 19 years, the latter being the earliest age for active service, and the total of recruits for the last three months would not even provide for wastage, when does the Government propose to re-introduce national service training involving the calling up of 14,000 a year, or some similar scheme to provide the necessary man power for the defence potential which must be built up? Does the Government intend to continue making an appeal to the pockets and not to patriotism of young Australians?[2]
The Prime Minister, in his very brief reply, referred to the issue as “a matter of policy” and inferred that it was already under serious discussion. Indeed, it was, and the second scheme was introduced a few months later. Questions such as this one had laid the groundwork.
The notion that the scheme could result in young men serving unwillingly in a war zone was usually countered by drawing attention to the loophole provided by CMF membership, an option which was taken up by only a very small cohort of prospective conscripts totalling 7197, out of the 804,286 who registered during the duration of the scheme.[3]
 Again, there was a standard response when this was brought up on the floor of parliament –
Senator MCKELLAR (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Repatriation) - The position is this: Our young men today who are eligible for call up have the opportunity to join the C.M.F. Until fairly recently, this opportunity did not exist in the country. It does exist now because extra units have been raised. If young men intend going into the C.M.F. and they are liable to be called up, they must decide to enlist in the C.M.F. before the ballot is due. It could well be said that a young man who has not decided to join the C.M.F. and subsequently is called up could be classified in those circumstances as being sent to Vietnam unwillingly. If there are some youths in this category, I would think that they would be very few.[4]
One strange aspect of the scheme was that any twenty-year-old migrant called up, who had served for a continuous period in the military of his country of origin, could subtract that time from his two-year national service obligation.
The following answer was given by Senator Wright, Minister for Labour and National Service, with reference to this issue on Tuesday, 21 April 1970:
A Yugoslav or any other migrant who arrives in Australia prior to the date proclaimed for his age-group to register is required to register for national service. If, following the relevant ballot, he is called up for national service, he will be required to serve for two years less any period of continuous full-time service he has rendered in the naval, military, or air force of Yugoslavia or any other country.[5]
The reasoning behind this is difficult to understand, but it does highlight the irony in the attitude of the government of the day which on the one hand used a random but unfair process to conscript young men, but once they were conscripted gave the appearance of treating them fairly.
Questions about national service were often concerned with ensuring that the scheme was being implemented fairly, rather than its moral justification.
Perhaps this emphasis on fairness after the event was a strategy of distraction.
As the end of the decade approached, Hansard began to reflect a more militant attitude on the part of the opposition, as the questions about national service begin to focus more on the rationale behind the country’s commitment in Vietnam, than on the implementation of the scheme.
By April 1970, the parliamentary discourse was very much about the war rather than the soldiers, and the realisation that support across the Pacific was faltering rapidly was becoming a political factor.
Senator MURPHY (NEW SOUTH WALES) - My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, ls it a fact, as reported all around Parliament House and also in the daily Press, that the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr McEwen, yesterday told a meeting of Government Parties that America had lost the war in Vietnam because it had lost the war at home? If so, will the Leader convey to the Government our congratulations on the truth having percolated through to at least one member of the Government that this illegal, immoral, and unjust war has been lost?[6]
The issue of the moral underpinning of the war came to a head during the moratorium campaigns of 1970 and 1971, but it was always emmeshed in objections to conscription.
In his backgrounding of the political build up to the Australian commitment, Michael Sexton refers to the DLP, and B. A. Santamaria –  
Under the intellectual domination of Santamaria, therefore, the DLP became a vigorous advocate for American policies and greater Australian defence capability…….It was this climate of fear – in addition to the DLP’s votes – that proved so electorally valuable to Menzies and prevented Labor – or anyone else – initiating a debate on some of the premises of the government’s foreign policies.[7]
Sexton contends that Labor was effectively wedged by the political climate, and that they risked electoral damage should they make an issue of the Vietnam commitment. Conscription, at this early stage, seemed somewhat lost as an issue - 
Even more important for the men who were organising Australia’s Vietnam involvement,
they could be sure that in this climate no real debate on their decision could take place. Only the Labor party was likely to attempt a debate, and it had been effectively discredited before the decision was even made. In the short term, therefore, they had ensured their safety from any adverse judgements – even if their peace of mind required a high price to be paid by others.[8]
Between 1964 and 1972, 804,286 twenty-year-olds registered for national service and 63,735 of these national servicemen served in the Army. About a quarter of those called up (about 15,000), served in Vietnam. Of those, 202 were killed and 1,279 wounded.[9]
These young men came from a wide variety of backgrounds and communities, but they had at least one universal experience derived from their schooling in Australia. They had attended ANZAC Day ceremonies at their local schools, and many would have participated in the associated marches and ceremonies.

[1] L.F. Crisp, (1970), The D.L.P. Vote 1958 – 1969 and After, Politics, 5:1, DOI:10.1080/0032367008401191, p62
[2] Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes (member for Chisholm), Parliamentary Hansard, Question Time, House of Representatives, 22nd September 1964, question addressed to the Prime Minister, p1
[3] Sue Langford, Appendix: The National Service Scheme, 1964 – 1972, https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/encyclopedia/viet.app (Accessed October 2019)
[4] Senator Kenneth McKellar (New South Wales) (Minister for Repatriation), Parliamentary Hansard, Senate Question Time, Tuesday 18th October 1966, p1132
[5] Senator Reginald Wright, (Minister for Labour and National Service), Parliamentary Hansard, Senate Question Time, 21st April 1970, p1
[6] Senator Lionel Murphy, Parliamentary Hansard, Senate Question Time, Thursday 23rd April 1970, p1
[7] Michael Sexton, War for the Asking, New Holland, Sydney, 2002, p96
[8] Ibid p108
[9] Ashley Ekins with Ian McNeill, Fighting to the Finish, The Australian Army and the Vietnam War, 1968 – 1975, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, p837

Friday, 15 November 2019

The Nashos Write

Woodcutters - April 1970

For the first few years after the Australian withdrawal from Vietnam, very little appeared on the local literary scene which referenced the war, and what did emerge was bitter in tone. The fall of Saigon, five days after ANZAC Day in 1975 seemed to reinforce the message that the war was a debacle, best forgotten. For many Vietnam veterans this event compounded the moral injury they had suffered on returning to Australia to be met with indifference by most, and hostility by some.
This very negative view of the aftermath is probably best captured by Stuart Rintoul’s Ashes of Vietnam which was published in 1987. This is a compendium of anecdotes by Vietnam veterans collected by Rintoul as interviews, which were initially broadcast by the ABC before being compiled in his book. The stories are almost exclusively stark, and very few of them are positive. Apart from conveying the reality of the conflict from the point of view of those who fought it, they reflect the attitude of many Australians towards the soldiers who felt rejected on return. How much of this was in the eye of the beholder (in this case Rintoul) and how much was reality is open to debate.
Normie Rowe, the entertainer, was interviewed by Rintoul – 
When I came back, I did one concert, realised that it was all wrong — I looked around, felt uncomfortable, like I was on a different planet. I didn't know what to do on stage. For a long time, I didn't want to think about Vietnam, because the rest of the population of Australia didn't want to think about it. I said, 'That was two years out of my life, I don't want to know about it anymore’.
After an interval, however, a literary genre began to emerge which was largely a product of the experience of the soldiers, both national servicemen and regulars. It most often took the form of memoir, although several veteran-authored newspaper articles began to appear, usually around significant events, such as ANZAC Day, or the Long Tan battle anniversary.
One such newspaper piece was written by Graeme Cornes, a conscript who served in 7th battalion RAR in 1970. Cornes, a successful AFL footballer, was something of a celebrity when called up. He went on post-Vietnam to coach the Adelaide Crows and forged a successful media career.
He writes in the context of returning to Vietnam for the first time since his service – 
When I was a soldier in Vietnam, and in the 39 years since, I never once doubted that we were doing the right thing by coming here. Perhaps that is the effect of the brainwashing that is military training, but we thought we were the best soldiers in the world, protecting an oppressed, terrorised country from Communist insurgency. We were wrong on both counts……
Sure, there is some anger that our casualties were for nothing, but I don't know who to blame for that. However, I simply did not expect to be overwhelmed with guilt, or to have such vivid memories of the violence, only the milder forms of which have been recorded here.
In their developing, recovering country, the Vietnamese are a united, industrious, optimistic people. More importantly, they have one other great quality: they are forgiving. They shame me.
The themes of shame, regret, and futility are characteristic of memoirs written by other national servicemen. Brian Hennessey, who was originally a teacher and worked as a special school principal until he succumbed to the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, writes in his 1997 memoir The Sharp End – 
I should let matters rest now, but I can’t. I keep trying to end this war, but it still rages. And sometimes when I’m off the air, I reconstruct traumatic events that occurred all those years ago in an effort to come to terms with their reality, searching for some special insight that might reveal itself if I go over them one more time. It’s a futile exercise, because these events stand as they are in frozen fruitless indifference. 
Hennessey eventually overcame his PTSD by challenging himself to set up a successful consultancy business in China. 
Guilt also emerges as a theme in a memoir by Barry Heard, Well Done Those Men - 
Today I feel no bitterness, only sadness, as I move amongst my veteran friends and see their depression, poor health, isolation, and struggles. They now have opportunities to improve their lot and are well catered for by governments. But, for many, the guilt remains. They are not like the Second World War veterans I saw as a youngster on those wonderful ANZAC days. I believe, for many Vietnam Veterans, nothing will make them feel deserving enough.
Even a professional soldier who served with distinction expresses regret – 
My concern is simple. Regardless of the political and ethical considerations of whether a war should have been fought by foreign troops on the soil of Vietnam (that will always be a matter of endless debate), I remember with sadness that over 500 Australians were killed in that war and many more wounded and maimed; over 50,000 Americans lost their lives.
And we left. And we lost. We mustn't do that with our men and women. Sending troops to war is without doubt the most difficult and agonising decision for any leader. 
My advice to leaders is never to take the decision lightly and, having done so, never to stop until the outcome is worth the cost. 
It is abundantly clear that the tone of the memoirs written by the national servicemen does not mesh well with the stereotype of the Australian digger as represented in the ANZAC myth.
The laconic confident self-assured image had given way to something very different. The national psyche had shifted a great deal between 1964 and 1972.

Saturday, 19 October 2019

I've Bitten the Apple

After years (no, decades) of blogging on the Microsoft platform, I've finally gone to the dark side.

There was no other reason to do this except for consistency. Both my other devices 9iPhone and iPad) are IOS, so it made sense to make the takeover complete.

It had a certain inevitability about it.

The transition has not been smooth.

First up, at the time I bought the iMac, I was in the middle of a Uni assignment.
After stuffing around trying to move all my collected data and references to the new machine, I gave up. It was taking too long, and there was the risk that I'd lose something important during the transition process.

I competed and submitted the work on the old machine.

Then I began to try to move all my stuff (that's a technical term) to the iMac.

I made the ignorant mistake of thinking that I could simply move my external hard drive from the old ACER to the new iMac. That, of course, is impossible, so I found at App that was supposed to do the trick and loaded it on both machines.

Then I attempted to make the iMac talk to the old machine on our network.

The relationship between the two operating systems is toxic to say the least - talk about the Hatfields and McCoys....

Nope - nada - never.

It metaphorically shrugged and I was forced to do the whole file swap-over using iCloud, which then became full and started nagging me for dollars to extend its memory.
I did some culling instead.

So now I have all my files transferred, but organising them on the iMac is proving a challenge. I'm slowly getting there.

Apart from these hassles, I'm generally happy with the new setup. The interaction between devices is smooth and intuitive, and there are other advantages such as a more efficient use of physical space in the configuration of the machine, and a very user friendly keyboard.

I can't say that I like the Magic Mouse, however.

Maybe my age (and decades of habit) is catching up with me.....

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Eulogy for a Mate

Poor quality pic of Keith returning from Operation Finschhafen - April 1970

Keith was born on March 13th, 1945 and died on August 13th, 2019.

I was privileged to know him for only a small part of his life, initially when we were marched into B Company 7 RAR in July 1969, and from that time until he left B company in June 1970, halfway through our tour of duty. Keith had thick glasses, and after another soldier who also wore glasses was killed in a mine incident, Keith, amongst others was consequently removed from our rifle section.

I was privileged to experience that period of operational service with Keith, After that, like most Nashos, we went our separate ways.

Later, we would encounter each other at battalion reunions, notably in Melbourne and Adelaide, and recently, when Keith was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, more frequently. This last association was perhaps the most significant for me, when all the qualities that I had observed in Keith from earlier times, came to the fore.

These qualities of generosity, quiet courage, and complete integrity shone brightly as he struggled with his illness. Keith is probably the most selfless person I have ever known.

Along with the rest of us in his National Service intake, Keith adjusted to army life quickly. He did so with the minimum of fuss and maintained his core values more strongly than many of us.

Keith had a strong Catholic faith, and never once did I ever see him do or say anything that compromised that faith. That was a tall order, given what he dealt with on operational service.

Two things stand out when I remember him.

One is that he never swore. He didn’t need to. Keith was never out to impress anyone.
He also, as far as I remember, never had a nickname. Again, he didn’t need one. He was simply Keith.

Towards the end of his life, a group of us from 5 Platoon would, from time to time, converge in Newcastle to spend some time with him. On one of these occasions, Keith invited me to stay at his place, to save the expense of motel accommodation. I never did that again, because he spent the whole time I was in his home, looking after my every need. This was a man who was very ill and in pain much of the time, but Keith put that aside, and became the perfect host for the duration of my stay.

I reflected that perhaps because he had cared so well for his aging mother for so long in that home, he simply reverted to that same generous habit.

Another habit of Keith’s was letter-writing. He was probably the only person I knew who would write to me regularly. I still have a letter he wrote to me in 1991, telling me of a fellow member of 5 Platoon who was killed in a police siege. I remember him writing that we should look after each other so that kind of incident would never be repeated.

Again, his first thought on that occasion was about caring for others.

In summary, I shared only a small part of Keith’s life, but am forever grateful for that association and insight into his character and quiet strength.

May he rest in peace.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Leyburn 2019

Mustang - all sound and fury - not much motion
I headed to Leyburn again this year, gentle reader, with the intention of participating in the annual Show and Shine.
1963 Hillman Imp

It wasn't on - wrong day. I was there on the Saturday, and apparently, the Show and Shine is a Sunday only affair.
Something a little more contemporary 2019 MX5 RF

1925 Austin 7 Sports Special

That's not how I remember it from previous years.
1931 Ford Special

It's unbelievably dry in that neck of the woods (as it s just about everywhere else, so we wandered around the dusty township, watched the racing for a while, and inspected a wide variety of cars.
1933 Aston Martin Long Series Le Mans

This post is a little photographic essay (all with iPhone - my trusty Canon has the collywobbles).
1933 MG K3

One very yellow 1951 Moggy with a V8
Not a paint job - a work of art (1978 Mitsubishi Lancer)
2002 Radical Prosport

Bad shot of an MG Special (1939 TB)

Leyburn is unique in that spectators can mix with cars and crews.
It has an atmosphere all of its own.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Danger Close - A Review

Pic courtesy Sydney Morning Herald

This is my attempt, gentle reader, at a movie review.
Back in the day, we called them “pictures”, but that was a long time ago.

The movie is Danger Close, the recently released account of the Battle of Long Tan on 18th August 1966.

The story resonates with me for a number of reasons.

I went to school at Downlands with Frank Topp, who was killed in the opening few minutes of the battle. He is represented by a few seconds of footage when he is marched into D Company as a reinforcement on the morning of the 18th August. In the movie, he's one of the two diggers given a briefing about the reputation of Harry Smith's crew as he arrives.

I copped a bit of bullying at Downlands in 1961 when I started as a skinny fourteen year-old. I was a schoolies son from North Queensland, not the offspring of a wealthy land holder from the Western Downs, as a fair proportion of my school mates were at the time. Frank, for reasons I’ve never really understood, acted frequently as my protector.

He was well built and burly, so they left me alone. Perhaps the fact that his old man was a small crop farmer from Helidon, rather than a cow cockie from a big holding helped. We were both on the outer.

Frank left Downlands (as I did) at the end of 1962, and joined the army as an apprentice in RAEME. He became fascinated by the warries he began to hear about Vietnam, and transferred to Infantry. He arrived in Vietnam on the 16th July 1966, and was marched into D Coy 6 RAR on the morning of the battle. He didn’t have time to get to know the diggers he died with.

I was first in Long Tan in April 1970, when as a member of B Coy 7 RAR and a Nasho on his second operation in country, we were trucked there and harboured up near that famous rubber plantation until dark. Then we moved on foot through the night into our AO along a dry creek bed called the Suoi Lo O Nho. It was a bugger of a trip.

I also visited the site as a tourist in 2007 with my two sons. That was a much more rewarding experience, But it’s a sombre place.

The movie was well worth watching, irrespective of my experience of the history. It's production is slick, and the cinematography is first class.

The narrative is obviously based on the record, but there were a few incidents written in that, as far as I know, never occurred. There is a short cameo about a VC sniper in a woodcutters hut, as well as another involving two Vietnamese women which I doubt ever happened. It doesn't matter. They don’t detract.

The performances were generally pretty good, especially that of Travis Fimmel who played Harry Smith (OC D Coy) and Daniel Webber who played private Paul Large. There is a back story involving their relationship which may, or may not be accurate. Again, it doesn't matter and provides some diversion from the heavy themes of endurance, courage and loyalty in the face of impossible odds embedded in the narrative. 

The sound and fury of the artillery which was the conclusive element in the outcome is well conveyed, as is the on-the-ground minute by minute ordeal of the diggers.

The production team did a good job of reproducing a rubber plantation (a paulownia plantation at Wooroolin near Kingaroy) and the background landscape captured the Long Tan area pretty well, although I reckon the soil wasn’t quite red enough. Maybe they should have done some shooting on the Atherton Tablelands, where the contrasting red soil and green vegetation mimic Phouc Tuy.

It's very much a Queensland product. Apart from the rubber plantation scenes at Kingaroy, filming was also done in the Gold Coast hinterland near Nerang and at the Village Roadshow studios at Oxenford.

I could carry on about the authenticity and accuracy of representations of kit such as weapons, webbing, packs, but I won't. The weapons were spot on, as far as I could tell, but we never carried F1s. This was set four years before my time, and perhaps they were phased out by then.

The choppers confused me a little. They looked like the UH-1B, shorter than the UH-1H that I was familiar with. Perhaps the B series were replaced by the H series between 1966 and 1970. I'd welcome any guidance from chopper nerds on that. 

Again, it matters not. They made all the right noises. 

Apparently getting the movie going financially was a close-run thing.  It has that in common with the battle, which could have ended in complete disaster.

I'm glad it was made. Kriv Stenders (director) deserves kudos for actually getting it to screen.

It's a story that had to be told.

And that is was made in Australia, by Australians, is gratifying.

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