Archive number: 1710
Date interviewed: 19 July, 2004
7RAR Dog handler
You are listening to the interview audio
Okay, we’ll just talk about this life summary. Start with when and where you were born?
Yeah, I was born in Kingston, southeast, South Australia. My father, Malcolm Cameron, and my mother Laurel and I had seven brothers and sisters and we had a good childhood and all brought up to be,
those days no cars and walked and I joined the services in 1965 and left home and went to Inf [Infantry] Centre and became an infantry soldier. And while I was in there, being too young to go to a battalion, I was sent to train
the dogs. So it was in there that I learnt the trade of the tracking dogs and from there trained for about twelve months before I joined the 7th Battalion and in the 7th Battalion I became the first dog handler to go to South Vietnam from Australia. And
from 1967 to 1968 we served as a successful tracking team within the 7th Battalion and on return from South Vietnam I returned to Inf Centre and became an instructor with tracking dogs at Inf Centre for the remainder of me service which was another three and a half years.
And then I left there and I did a few jobs. I did cleaning and I did work with Inghams at a chicken factory and from there I left and moved to the Gold Coast and had a bread run for approximately… Left there and I bought a fish shop in Southport which I had for two and a half years. Then
I decided I’d go back to Adelaide to live so I bought a caravan to tow around Australia. Got to Rockhampton, found work and caravan life didn’t seem to suit me so I worked in the meatworks there for two years and in those days I only worked on and off, too many strikes. I joined the prison service where I
worked for approximately thirteen years in Rockhampton and I became a dog handler in the prison service there for ten years. We had dogs that we trained in drugs, booze and also in the guard side and after thirteen years of that I bought a business at Gracemere, back in the seafood again and working seven days and after
two years there the meatworks come up for tender, so I applied for the tender and we won the tender for it, myself and my wife, and we worked there for ten years until I got sick and could no longer continue to work due to sickness and other
problems. My wife continued to work there for approximately two years and me daughter left and went to college and uni and I just couldn’t stand not being too close to her, so I sold up and moved to Brisbane where I was for two years and I just couldn’t settle into the city life, so I moved
back to Glenwood where I am at the present and on one and a half acres where I can go outside and do odds and ends during the day and keep myself busy in general in a very relaxed atmosphere. And that’s where I am at the moment.
That was good. Right I’ll take you right back to growing up. Tell us about
the area that you grew up in?
Kingston southeast is in the two hundred, oh I’m thinking of miles, approximately three hundred and fifty kilometres south of Adelaide on the coast. It is a crayfishing port and very windy and
the town itself, just a little country area and it’s just comprised of fishing boats and local shops and the council railway and the highways, which my father worked in all his life in the highways in those days, and that was the only enterprise there apart
from all the stock agencies. The school there we had quite a big school there in Kingston and the whole family went there and we had the neighbouring town of Robe. All the children used to come by bus to Kingston High School. Farming area, mainly sheep and cattle around the area and
after a very sporting town. In South Australia in those days when you grew up if we didn’t sport, you had nothing. We had no TV [television] and there was just radio and we played sport, whatever it was, it was cricket, football and general find your own things to do, that’s how we grew up down there and but today, the area I believe
is a very successful graping area now and they’ve become a graping town along with seafood. And at seventeen years of age I grew up there with my mother and father and my other six brothers and sisters.
Well tell us about them?
My father, he was a World War 11 soldier. My eldest
brother, he worked with Bennett and Fisher’s, which is a stock firm. My second brother, Donald he worked in the railways and at approximately twenty-two years of age he left and joined the services and he served in Borneo and Malaya. My other brother, he stayed at home. He was a mechanic from a very early age and very good.
My sister, my elder sister she went to Adelaide and did a secretarial course and was a secretary. Then it was me and I left and worked for twelve months in a hardware shop. Before I left I wanted to join the stock firm but it was an opposite one to me brother and Mum said to me “We’re not going to have any clashes.”
so I said, “Okay, I’m going in the services.” I was going in the services and I took off at the age of seventeen and my younger sister she travelled around Australia. She just worked here and there. My younger brother he worked with the tyre people. He’s been in the tyre business all his life. Very happy
upbringing. My father was very easy to get on with. Nothing ever worried him, well nothing ever did but my mother ran the family and she was very strong and kept the family together and we all had a very good upbringing and respect for people around us in general. When I left, everyone
else is living in Adelaide now and I’m the only one that is not there. I’m living in what I believe the best part of Australia, in Queensland and my mother passed away ten years ago and my father just recently passed away. He had a good age of ninety-seven and he had a good life and we really enjoyed
having him for that long, where so many people don’t get the opportunity to enjoy their parents that long.
Why did they have so many kids do you think?
Why did they have so many kids? Because in those days there was no TV. No, my mother and father both come out of fairly large families and
all their brothers and sisters all had large families and in general I think people in those days enjoyed having their children around them. And to spend a Christmas with about ten people in just one family a lot of people just don’t seem to understand what it’s like and you seem to
have a lot more security and to be loved by ten people is a lot better than and a lot more warmth than three or four of us and we seemed to be able for someone to be always looking after each other. And a lot of things in those days, we were mongrel kids
and we didn’t appreciate a lot of things but being bought up in those days when we look back, we can understand that the things we were taught with a kick in the bum or a strap around our legs and all that, there was a purpose in it. There was no hate or anything. It took us years to realise there was love
behind there, because life’s not easy and if we weren’t prepared for it properly you can fall apart and we can just give thanks that we were looked after and had a lot of love, that sometimes in those days, we just didn’t realise was there but later in life we understood.
Was it hard for your family financially at all?
Yes. We never ever had, financially, I
just had my brothers, two eldest brothers here and about two months ago and we sat back and had a good laugh and when we were young in Kingston and Mum and Dad were just coming out of the Depression and that, we had absolutely nothing. Mum and Dad and there was five children, that
was down to me, we lived with Dad’s uncle and they got thrown out from there and we went to live with Mum’s sister and we got, it was too inconvenient from there, so they found some old tents that they patched together and we lived in tents under pine trees for about two years, where we used to
walk to people’s places. I never, but Mum and Dad and others, to go to the toilet and have a shower and we become the first people in the town with the people from the council and the local doctor recommended us for a Housing Commission home. So we got the first Housing Commission home in Kingston, so we become number one of Main Street in Kingston.
So Dad never ever drove in his life. He worked on the highways and his fortnightly wage was thirty-five pound a fortnight and until all the children were at school Mum then left and got a job at the local hotel and she did the washing and laundry. She worked
there for about twenty years and retired there before they moved to live in Adelaide. So financially wise we had nothing and we never went around asking for anything and we were happy just to have a close-knit family. And most of the town where we came from
were in those days related to someone and some had businesses there and some were like us. We just worked for the normal wage and got by on that and never complained. There wasn’t any time that we didn’t have a good meal on the table and that today is the main thing and the whole lot of us there together.
After a couple of years living in the tents, what was it like getting into your own home?
Well I was only about four when I moved in so I can hardly remember but I can remember my two eldest brothers telling me it was just unreal and just so many different figures. Them going to school and people knowing they’re going home to these scraggly old tents, that to have a brand new house they could walk round with their chest and that out
and feel proud of that.
Were they hassled about it at school?
No, one thing about it with down there, the town was full of Camerons and the Gibbs and Smiths and Wilsons. We were all related somewhere along the line. And we were the people if you want to say, run the town, whether we had anything or not,
we were people that thought we owned the town. Not so much owned it, we comprised mainly of people we knew or everyone in the town that we knew growing up we knew as auntie or uncle or Mr and Mrs, that was it. And it wasn’t a, even the coloured people there,
they were part of the community and there colour meant nothing. There was no racism and they walked past us and went to school and we played sport together and we played together and there was just none of that. We were all taught to be one little town and the people in it, the community accepted everyone for what they were. There was no rich or poor or it was just a
good community and good sporting and…
Sounds interesting. Tell us about your sporting career?
Our sporting, I believe my father was a very good footballer, Australian Rules now, coming from Adelaide and in those days it seemed
as if we were all born with a football, so we all played football and from the age of two, three, it was all football, football, football. And the five brothers we all played in the local competition and me youngest brother he went to Adelaide and played in the competition down there and I myself went down. I was invited to Adelaide to play in the
Adelaide competition and I decided to give it a miss and join the services and I never played football again. I moved to New South Wales and they did things different with the football that we ever did. I never understood that there was another game of football that ever existed because we never ever watched TV because there wasn’t any till after I left home, down there.
And later on in my life I got to Rockhampton and I said I’ve got to get out of a rut and get away from, “What can I do?” So they played a local competition so I played up there for five years in the local competition in Rocky and the Gold Coast.
I was just getting this image of the Kingston team bloke trying to commentate, “Norman to Norman.”
There was two local teams and believe it or not, a family of five brothers and we all played, some of us played for the opposition. We played against each other and in those days it became fist-fights in the house against each other and sometimes one of my brothers would move out. And some of the businesses were run by people on opposite sides in the
competition and some of them used to travel sixty to seventy miles to another town to do business rather than shop with the people in the same town, because they wouldn’t patronise them during the football season. And that’s just the attitude that we had and that’s how we were bought up and how we played and that’s how it was. You just don’t mix. We went to school and you’d be sitting next to the opposition
and a dig in the ribs and we didn’t know any different. There’s a line across the town, the railway track, that half this side and that other half. Just like they used to in the Melbourne, the St Kilda area you can only play in there. Doesn’t matter if you barrack for someone else, you’ve got to play there and if you lived over that side of the railway track, you’ve got to play there. You couldn’t
play with your mates or whatever, so they became enemies for six months until cricket season when you played with them and that was it.
How did your brothers get separated into two different teams?
Well it changed and over a period of time and it was funny in those days if someone threw you four bob or two bob or give you a blouse or whatever and said,
“Come and play for our side.” and that’s what they’d do, con you.
Yeah, get bought out. But the side I played for, my eldest brother and I did. The others played for the other side. But I had a lovely family with some girls that used to pick me up when I was three or four and take me to football and dress me up in me beanie hat, and I was through and through
the opposition. Didn’t matter – I loved that side and always did until I left.
What were the names of the two teams?
Ramblers and Rovers. I played for Rovers and my other brothers played for Ramblers. Me father changed sides over a blazer too and he was called a traitor from his brothers.
What about your sisters, what were they up to?
My sisters they played netball and they both barracked for the Rovers but my mother tried to be as impartial as possible as she had to stand there and in those days we had to shut our mouths. There was no talking about it as least as possible, otherwise we’d argue. We had the
football and she had to be pretty strong. She was only four foot ten but she ruled the roost, very strong lady. My Dad wouldn’t say nothing, never.
How would she do it? Would she have a loud voice or…?
Oh yeah, yep. I can remember one day I was going to go to football with me Dad and his
mate from work. Me Dad never had a car and he used to get picked up and me with my big mouth, I said, only young, probably only about thirteen or fourteen probably and he said, “Are you coming?” I said, “I’d better go and ask the old girl.” Under the kitchen window I was, and I walked around to ask her and walked straight into a backhander. “You don’t ask no old girl around here.”
I never went to football and I had a black eye and that’s how she ruled us. She looked after us, the strap. We used to go and have a bath, get in the bath if we did anything wrong and in we’d go and then she’d come in with the belt and get us. See she had to do it all on her own, seven of us and Dad was no help. Never ever did anything to us. He was always in the good books.
But growing up we weren’t angels. We were seven noisy kids, but we were brought up and learnt from it.
What would you eat, with seven?
What would we eat? We used to buy six bars of bread in those days. On Saturday we’d go and buy, that was six bars like this, unsliced,
half a sheep every Saturday and we’d go and get it and we’d have a roast and stews and that’s about all. Then we’d have roasts, stews, cold meat and you’d get some chops and that out of that. Christmas time and Easter time we used to get a chicken and ham and pork and that but
other than that we’d never ever get those type of things then but we always had something on the table and always had sweets. Mum used to get some sweets and have ice cream and that, probably three or four times a week always, but if you didn’t eat what was on the table at lunchtime, no going to the fridge like it is today and finding whatever you want in there because that was it. But we’d always have the fruity
call in and he’d leave. They’d come in off the river on trucks and deliver around town and Mum would always buy a case of apples and a case of oranges and they were always there, fruit for us. So we always had fruit if we wanted anything else.
And your father would he ever tell you any stories about World War 11?
Never, never ever talk about it and I think he did say more to my
niece later in the years when she was doing a, what was it she was doing? What is it when you want to do something on someone’s life?
Kind of like a writing or a biography.
A biography on my brother and my father said, “Why don’t you do it on me?” And she ended up doing it on
my father and she found out more in the interviews over the period than we ever knew because he just wouldn’t talk about anything and of course you never pushed it or questioned it.
Where had he served? What had he done?
He served in New Guinea in the ships and that there. What else? I don’t know what he did but
he was coming and going in the early forties [1940s] and I think my three elder brothers they knew him when he was at the war and that. I think me sister during the war or just after and me in ’47. But he never spoke about it and he never ever went to Anzac [Day] or nothing.
But my other brother has got all his medals and that, which is good.
Well even if he never spoke about it did he encourage you at all to, I don’t know, to pursue this?
No. My father was a person that from the time he was a child I believe he did what
his mother wanted him to do. He lived there until he was thirty three and he was one that worked all his life and even took the money home and give to his mother and I believe that she even gave some of that to his brothers and that, you know what I mean? He always brought his money, as I can remember when I was a child, and used to give the whole lot to Mum and
Mum would always give him enough for two packets of rollies [roll-your-own tobacco] for the fortnight. But Dad always rabbit trapped and sometimes he would make more money out of rabbit trapping than he would working on the highways for the fortnight, but that money was his. Even if we were going short of money, even for food, he’d never ever say,
“Here’s ten or twenty pound to help out the week.” No, that was his and that’s the funny way he lived and he wouldn’t understand it any other way and of course we could see he didn’t, couldn’t, he wouldn’t understand
that if there wasn’t nothing on the table for food and he had three hundred pounds in his pocket, where he’d have to go and get it out of his money, he wouldn’t be able to understand that.
What would he do with his money?
He used to buy extra what’s its name and he used to drink a fair bit and he’d spend it on rubbish or he’d just go and hoard it in his wallet.
He thought, “I’ll give you all my wages but this other’s all mine. Just like when Mum told me when they retired and they were both going on the pension and Mum said, “Now that I’m not working and you’re not working, you’ll have to give me some of your money out of your cheque” and he said, “They are sending
that money to me, it’s got my name on it.” so he said, “You can’t have it.” So she said, “How am I going to get out of this? I can’t run a house on my own.” So she said, “If you’re not going to do that, I’m going to have to charge you board” and he said, “Yeah, but you’re not getting my cheque.” And he was happy to pay what Mum would have asked for after he’d taken us in there but he
wasn’t, he couldn’t see or work out the difference there. Mum was trying to get his cheque because it had his name and that on it. It was his and rightfully his but he was happy to pay board, so that’s how he thought. If you can see what I mean, that other was his, and that’s the perspective he had. He thought it was his and no one was going
to get it. He never had a car, never had to run a car but he had a pushbike but that’s his funny way he looked at it. He never paid a bill in his life. He never had responsibility. He never had to think about putting food on the table. He never had to think about nothing, except getting up and going to work and coming home
and everything was there for him. And me brothers used to take him to the doctors, going back ten years and that, and say for checkups and they’d say, “There’s nothing wrong with him, but you come back, I want to see you. There’s nothing wrong with him, he’s physically strong, there’s nothing.” They said, “How could a bloke like that,
how did he live?” He never worried about nothing, never thought about nothing, he was just looked after from the time he was a young boy until the day he died and they said, “He wouldn’t understand.” He wouldn’t understand, he didn’t even know, up until about three years ago he’d never had a headache in his life, never. In the end he was getting
stooped over and he couldn’t understand the pain in the back he was getting, “Why should he, a man of ninety-seven, have pain?” He couldn’t understand that. He thought everything was down on him because he was ninety-seven and never had pain for ninety-five years, why should he cop this? And that was how he thought. We’re going all right if we can go for twenty years without
having anything, but he never had a perspective of anything like that.
So your mother pretty much had all the responsibilities?
My mother was a lovely lady and at different times when you had someone standing over you, not standing over us looking after us, I’d say now. In those days looking at it as a kid we thought we had this little witch that all she wanted to do was whack us and keep us in line and someone yelling at
us and we probably deserved it but we couldn’t understand it. And we used to say, I’ll be quite honest, probably say, “How can we live in this situation with a person like that?” But the whole seven of us turned out good citizens, honest people, respect people of today and all credit goes to our Mum.
Mum was looked at other people like that, a little hard lady, and Dad looked like the good guy all his life. All the grandkids all loved Pop [grandfather]. Pop talked crap to them. What I’m talking about is that my Dad was still a kid until ninety-five, still loves kids, still got on. If three or four older brothers and sisters,
his sons and daughters come and sat down and the grandkids came out, he’d leave us and go and rather be with the grandkids, because they were fun and he liked talking rubbish and they laughed. He was just like a little kid with them. I’m not saying that we didn’t love our father but that was how he saw it and the grandkids today still loved him because Pop was a good time.
And they’d come and pick pop up and take him to their parties, the grandkids, yeah. “Any party on? Grab Pop.” Don’t worry about Mum and Dad and that but pop had to go. He was having a second child, my Dad was, so he bought a, my sister divorced and her husband walked out when one of the daughters was still in, she was still in hospital with her, so they come home and lived with Mum
for two years. And he was like another new father and his grandchildren were like a Dad to him, you know what I mean? So he had another child.
With the money situation would you and your brothers and sisters have to put in as well?
What with? No, Mum always got by, we always got by on that.
Didn’t have to work a part-time job or anything?
Oh yeah, we all worked part time, but what with? Four bob a week, what was that going to do? That got us to the movies and we got something at interval. We couldn’t give that to anyone. I worked at a butcher’s shop and a five-day week and get two pound and a piece of steak. So I’d go home and have a piece of steak where they hadn’t seen steak before
and think I’m king pin.
Would there be a fight to get your steak?
No, no, no. We had a lot of fun. We used to have a lot of gypsies come to town in those days and everyone used to get scared of them. Some of them did, I never did. A couple of us never used to worry but
we never ever, my brothers they all started working when they were seventeen, sixteen or seventeen. Some of them, what would you be when you finished grade seven? Probably fourteen or fifteen? Yeah, some of them started work then and it wasn’t a matter of how far you went in high school, it was a matter if you got a job, go and work .
And if you didn’t like that job there was another one nearly but when it got down to me we had to have a bit of an education. I got my intermediate which was pretty good in those days if you had your intermediate certificate but the others never worried. They always went and got work and that was it.
All right Norm, we’ll pause there because we’re at the end of the tape.
Interviewee: Norman Cameron Archive ID 1710 Tape 02
Norm, something that occurred to me was pets, did you have pets as a child growing up?
Yes, we always had dogs and cats and most of the dogs, we got them, they always come down by train, my brothers, they come from Adelaide. They’d see them in the papers and they’d come down from Adelaide by train, that’s how we got our dogs. And
what did we have? Shepherds, Labradors, mongrels, chow-chows and just the odd cat or two in the between but those dogs lived, between those three, and the bulldog we had, yeah a little dog we had. Those were about only four or five dogs that we had, and a whippet. There you are, there’s another one, that we had when I was a child and lived at home. That’s the only ones we had. We always had a dog
or cat at home.
I’m interested to know because of later on obviously all your work that you did with dogs, did they have very definite personalities depending on the breed of the dog?
Yeah, well a Shepherd that was the, the only one that could really get on top of the shepherd was me mother. The rest of us all seemed to be a bit scared or wary of what it
was going, but my mother, the shepherd was nearly as tall as me Mum but she was in control of it at all times. When we wanted to go and see the shepherd she’d take us up and it would have a big run and all that. Even my brothers being bigger, who ordered it and got it, were more scared of it than my mother was. Anyway we ended up giving that one away to someone who had a big yard
and could pretty well handle it. And we had a bulldog. Well they had a mind of their own and the chow-chow, well that was a strong dog. My brother bought that because he’d never seen a dog that would get a black tongue. It’s one of the only dogs that you’ll ever get with a black tongue. They’re pink but they turn black by about by the time they’re
probably about three years of age, the chow-chow will have a black tongue and he wanted to get it to see a dog with a black tongue, so that come down on the train as a pup and was a lovely dog. That type of dog was a one man dog and he had it for twelve months and then he left so the rest of us pulled him up but he was a good strong dog. We had a whippet, well we used to use that for rabbiting and
they chase rabbit and a little mongrel. My younger brother had a little mongrel dog and apart from that we always had an animal there.
I’ve got a few questions just on something that you bought up. Do you think dogs could sense when your brothers were scared of them?
Yes, a dog has, I’ve learnt in the time, the
adrenaline that we give of is a fear scent and as soon as you come across a dog like that and this is where a lot of people get bitten. The dog can sense and smell the fear coming out of you in adrenaline. As soon as you see an animal and you think you might get bit, your heart starts pumping and
that’s pumping that fear scent out of the pores of your skin and they can. Their sense of smell is so good that they can sense it and as soon as they smell it they straight away think they’re on top of the quarry, so if you see a savage dog, don’t get scared. But what do we do, doesn’t matter what, we give it off straight away, fear scent and that’s only been half wise. If you’re scared of a dog, why go
and get bit, by giving off that, they can sense it.
It’s interesting that you should say that because wouldn’t they then be on top of the quarry, wouldn’t they then be feeling more comfortable and they were in control and they wouldn’t have to bite you?
No, because dogs are pack animals and a dog is very happy to be in any, just like a family. If you’ve got a family of six and you get a dog and
just say a shepherd or something and a very strong, they are more so a pack animal because they come from the wolf and if you don’t jump on them when they’re real young and say, “You’re at the tail of the pack.” they’ll always fight and try and become the leader. If they don’t become the leader, they’re happy to be in any part of the pack as long as they are in a pack. So it’s up to us to get them and say, “You’re number ten
in this family.” and leave them and they’re happy in that position. But if they can see a weakness in the link, the chain, they’ll try and challenge for that part of the pack. And if they can see you’re weak in this area, this is when they will challenge you. They say, “Ha-ha I can jump in here.” It’s just natural to them to challenge part of the pack.
That’s interesting. I’m curious, in all the years
that you spent with dogs did you ever work out why the Germans used the Shepherds?
They used the shepherds and not the…?
And Doberman Pinschers, yeah because of the size and their aggressiveness puts people and scares people and straight away once you’re scared you’re giving off all this fear scent and they think they’re in charge of the situation and they’ll just stay on top of it.
And yet the Labradors might be actually better at sensing?
Yes, yes. We used Labradors and their senses and they’re normally a very placid animal anyway and they’re not so much interested in the pack part of it. They’re just happy to be a bundle of joy laying on the floor. They’re not challenging and they’re
just following you around.
We’ll talk about that side of things in a lot more detail later on in the day. So you knew how to deal with dogs by the time you actually got to army because of having them growing up. Now you had six siblings, was there anyone in particular you were closest to?
Yes, my second eldest brother and my
sister, elder sister.
Are they still alive?
Yeah, we’re all still alive and my second eldest brother served in the army too and over the years we’ve had a lot in common and even today I ring him a dozen times a year and he rings me and I might ring the others for Christmas or something or vice versa,
unless they come up for holidays or I go down for holidays. We keep in touch and he lets me know what’s going on down there and just keep in touch that way but he’s the only one.
Is this Donald?
And did he go to Vietnam as well?
No, he went to Malaya and Borneo and his
six years was nearly up by the time 3 Battalion was due to go over so they never sent him. He stayed home and he had three months to serve and he didn’t want to join up for another three years, just to go there and we still have a lot in common, with the service. A lot of the people he served with, I served with as well.
What about, you said you used this whippet for rabbiting, was that something you did as a young kid,
Yeah, all the time.
No, we ate rabbits for dinner, yeah, and we used to also and in those days they had pigeon shoots too. You know they’d have clay shoots with shotguns and that and when we were kids they’d use live pigeons. When they’d pull a shoot, the pigeons would fly out and they’d shoot them and we’d go around and collect them and
bring them home and you might grab a dozen and have pigeon pies and pigeons.
What do they taste like?
Oh they were all right, as far as I can remember. We used to love having them anyway and then the clay shooting came in later but before that they used to have pigeon shoots and that was only just over from where we lived and any wounded would fly around and we’d just follow them and grab them.
Would you have to pay money to go and do it?
No, no, oh the shooters would. We wouldn’t.
We’d be sitting in the paddock waiting for the birds to get wounded and we’d go and grab them.
And the shooters didn’t mind?
No, no, we’d grab them and take them home and they didn’t mind because they’d only be shot dead or whatever and they wouldn’t take them home and eat them. That was Sunday afternoon fun for us.
So your mother obviously knew how to?
Cook them and that yeah, yeah.
We used to have rabbits and the people next door had crayfish boats and we’d swap rabbits for crayfish and that was a pretty good deal. We thought it was but Dad used to always think he was getting done, believe it or not, “Why should I give rabbits away for crayfish.” He’d rather a crayfish and four bob for his rabbits, that’s how he thought. Funny ah?
Well I can probably tell you what would be more expensive at a restaurant?
Yeah, the crayfish.
Your Mum sounds like a force to be reckoned with but it bought up some really interesting things for me just from a family dynamic, that your father didn’t ever seem to be in trouble with her?
Yeah, not really because
Mum always had things for him but he’d come drunk and that. Saturdays and that he was always drunk and that but he never ever, he used to have his port and flagons under the tank stand. He’d have some during the week but he used to do all the chores. He’d chop the wood for the fires, we had wood fires. He’d make sure there was wood for all the
week. And he looked after all the tips, rubbish, he’d have big holes out the back to get rid of, we never had rubbish collection in them days. In those days we used to have toilets, the big drains that just run out into back and they’d have to dig them up and clean them out every six months, so those jobs he had and she looked after inside and he never worried about the inside I don’t think. He worked outside and Mum looked after the inside and he did
the outside stuff.
Your toilet was outside?
No, the toilet was inside but outside was open, our own trenches that we’d make ourself to come through and he’d have to get them and clean them out every six months. They’d get clogged up in those old fashioned ways then. No, I never had one of those old fashioned pan jobs, not there anyhow.
What about your chores? Did you have any particular chores?
Yeah, we used to be good and get wood. We used to help with the wood and mow the lawn and do the gardening and other than that always the dishes. That was always our job and Sundays our job was to polish the floors. We had to put polish on, it was all lino those days
and every Sunday we had to polish the floors and then we’d have to go and polish them all off so that was our job. We polished, all the floors were lino, right throughout the house when we were kids but we used to put jumpers on and one would jump on the jumper and we’d pull them around and have fun, made fun doing it all. That was our chores. Mum cooked, we always did the table, always did the dishes and
always did the floors.
And did your parents have that strict rule, I mean I grew up with, “May I leave the table?” and all that sort of stuff.
Yes, yes, we were never allowed to speak at the table and no elbows on the table and I think when you got to high school that was dropped so much for speaking. You could start
to join in conversations but prior to that we were seen and not heard.
It’s so Victorian isn’t it? I had that too.
You’d be seen but won’t be heard and if you didn’t you’d get it right across the face and that’s that. If you don’t eat it, you starve and if you don’t like it, well there’s a lot of things I never ate and I still don’t eat today but they’d get dished up and you’d just sit there for
hours and cauli [cauliflower] and cabbage, oh, but we’d still get it.
So you couldn’t, it wasn’t as if you could sit at the table and watch the TV for hours and not eat it?
No, and when we got a TV, I’d finished school and in those days you had to have a thirty foot antenna and it was only snow anyhow, and couldn’t see it hardly. It’s all fixed now but that’s all we had while I was a child and no
such thing as TV for us. It was all radio.
And were you a fussy eater?
Yes, still am, yes, no cabbage, no cauliflower, no brussels sprouts and I don’t eat rice and all that stuff now. I’m a very fussy eater but I used to sit there and wait until they threw it out. I wouldn’t eat it,
but I used to go until you were sick. You’d eat it and all you do is dry retching until they say no but you still get it dished up and you sit there again next week but I won’t eat it now either.
You didn’t try, I remember getting peas and putting them in my dressing gown. You didn’t do anything like that?
No, no. We never had dogs under the table that you could feed them
but that was it, how we were brought up, sit there. We used to go to school and have to come home for dinner and it was always a stew or a soup that we came home for and we had to do the dishes before we went back to school and this used to kill us because we’d have to run a mile from school, about a mile and a half, have dinner, do the dishes, go back and try and have sport time and that’s all we lived for, sport.
We didn’t go to school to learn, we went to school because they had sport there.
Sorry Norm, I’m just trying to understand Norm, you’d come home for lunch?
Yeah, because we weren’t given sandwiches to go to school. I think once a fortnight if we had sandwiches to go to school with it would be good because we wouldn’t have to come home, but we had to come home. There’d be a big pot of stew on the table, on the stove, simmering away and we’d have to have our stew, do our dishes and then
go back to school.
Gee that would have been a lot of time?
A lot of wasted time for us when we felt we could be there kicking a football.
But sometimes when we had to come home it was very cold and rainy and half the time and raincoat, yeah we might have had a raincoat and holes in our
shoes, yeah, wet feet.
It’s an interesting role model that you had with your mum because she was such a strong woman and then you had two sisters that were also part of it and now you have a daughter so it must have given you some sort of respect for how hard women work?
We’ve always been taught to respect women, even as a what’s its name, we
were taught to respect all people, you know what I mean? No matter who or what that was one thing that was drummed into us, doesn’t matter who or what they are you respect them and we respected people, didn’t matter who it was and if were caught going down the street and we were disrespectful to anyone you knew it would get back to your mother, just like this. Because everyone told everyone and everyone knew everyone and you couldn’t do nothing and all your aunties and uncles well you respected them and treated them with respect and there was
none of us calling people by names like they do today, you’d get shot, disrespectful. You get children coming round calling us, I don’t think anyone would call you Mr Cameron. I don’t think I’ve ever been called that yet but the society that we live in today we accept it but those days no such thing as that. It was either Mr or Mrs or Auntie or Uncle and
no in betweens.
I found that in just own experience with having a three-year-old is that her friends call me Heather and when I was growing up I always called my parents friends Mr and Mrs, so that’s just changed in one generation.
You’re dead right and we’ve come along, had we done that, called someone Mary or Bob, they’d smack our ears. They’d give us a clip behind the ears themselves and you wouldn’t
go and tell your mother because you’d get another one. And that was it, so we were taught that was the way it was.
So tell us about discipline growing up? I mean you did go into the army which is known for its discipline. What about school? Were you naughty? Did you muck up?
Yes, did I get the cane? Yeah, I got caned quite often and we accepted that and put our hand out
and copped three here and three there and we wouldn’t go back and bear any grudges against the teachers and it was a challenge if you could get away with anything. If you got caught, you’d cop it, being cheeky or flicking anything on your ruler, well that was the cuts [strokes of the cane]straight away if you got caught.
What like sticking a rubber on the end of it and….?
Flicking or whatever but in general I
wasn’t a smart person, just had to work hard to get what I got and I had to concentrate. I was never cheeky there neither. We respected our teacher of the day and to go out and be cheeky well, and as I grew up, from grade seven onwards I played sport with most of them. All the teachers, I’d be in the same football team as them,
play cricket with them but you’d still call them Mr and Mr, at our sporting venue. You wouldn’t just stop and say, “Good day Bill and Bob.” until you got old enough and left school and then you’d say, “Oh now I can call him John.” No, when we went to school we got all the free stuff because we couldn’t afford to
buy our books, so we’d have to line up and get all the free stuff and the stuff that was handed down from the year before, so it never cost us anything.
What did it mean for you to actually be a kid that lived for sport? I mean did you ever think about what you wanted to be when you grew up or?
No, never ever. I probably thought about it and
looked at the town and if you didn’t work in the railways or the council or the highways or on the boats as a fisherman, well you could stop school at grade seven and go into those jobs anyhow, because you didn’t need anything. But looking at your future outside of those and you used to say, “What am I going to do? There’s nothing here.” and when I got a job at the hardware I said, “Where do I go from here?
Selling nuts and bolts and earning five pound a week.” I said, “You’d never afford nothing.” I thought about it a lot but our priority was out playing football and cricket and as far as we looked at it in those days, work was getting in the way of our sport and that’s how much we loved it. We lived
for it and maybe if I didn’t join the services I would have went to Adelaide and played in the and got a job down there somewhere to play but I chose the services outside of my sport, in the long run.
Later on I might actually ask you if you kept sport up during the service time, if you played footy in the army but I know sometimes they
do but I’ll just bring you back to that time you were working in the hardware and that’s when you actually finished your intermediate?
And now you were sixteen?
Seventeen, now this is the era of the mid-sixties, early to mid-sixties?
Sixty-four, I would have started work there, late sixty-four and most of sixty-five.
So this is rock and roll?
Can you tell us, did rock and roll come to your small town?
That’s when the twist started then because once every month we had a ball, in those days it was just the ball. You either had the movies every Saturday and go to the theatre and the big time was twelve balls a year. And we used to do, not ballroom dancing,
we used to do all the rock and roll and we did the old time foxtrots and the military two-steps and the military three-steps and the twist and that came in, just in ’66, and ’67 and we look at the kids today and say, “Look at that rubbish.” But if they’d seen us trying to learn the twist and all that then, we had a ball doing it.
I’d just come into that age where I could get dressed up into whatever long pants and shoes and go to the dance.
Is this the time of the winklepickers?
The skinny shoes?
Did you have a pair?
And stovepipe pants?
Yeah, and long, what are the names? They’d just finished the bodgies and widgies when I got there. My older brothers they went through the widgies and bodgies but
I never. I was too young. I come into the next one.
What was that one?
Pointy shoes and that.
Can I ask you what a widgie is?
A widgie? Widgies were all dressed up in black and the bodgies were black and had all purple socks or real iridescent socks and it happened more so in the cities,
all these trendy things and they used to have the rockers and some others but in this little country town we never ever really happened to us. If it did we might have had one or two that would dress up in these stages but unless you were in the city we didn’t really have any concept of all the different stages I think. When it was the rockers and someone
else but in the country we never really come across them heavy. It was just the normal run of the mill for us but we heard about the widgies, and Corinne would know more about them, widgies and bodgies, did I say bodgies?
Yeah, yeah, you said that.
And so with the winklepicker shoes, the skinny shoes, did you have your hair Brylcreemed or anything?
Oh we always had Brylcreem. Brylcreem, we were bought up with Brylcreem and hair oil in those days
and always, never go out unless you had Brylcreem or hair oil in your hair.
I’m not saying that your hair’s changed but what was it like then?
Only had short hair, always had short, longer than this then but just medium. We used to always get our hair cut neat and square cut at the back and always short and when I joined the
service I don’t think I needed a haircut. I think it was just when a few people were having long hair then, when the Beatles were coming through. I think they come through in ’64, didn’t they?
What did you think of the Beatles? Were you a Beatles fan?
No, I didn’t go into a lot of, I couldn’t understand all the rubbish.
What do you mean?
I’m not a real musical person and as far as I’m concerned all we were worried about was footy. Music I, I liked country and western and it wasn’t my cup of tea. I thought people with hair like that there’s something wrong with them. I didn’t see, down home we always had nice neat hair as far, neat people
turning up with long hair at gigs and yet everyone become like them and I couldn’t understand people coming to be like someone else.
That’s so funny. What about a faith? Did your parents bring you up a certain religion?
Yes, I was Church of England. There was only me and my Dad that were Church of England and the others were all Methodist.
That’s unusual, why was that?
It is, I don’t know because I think my auntie, my mum’s sister, they were Church of England too, and their son and myself, there was only a fortnight difference in ages and we grew up together, our houses backed onto each other and we grew up as nearly twins and they went to there and I probably decided to go to that one
to be with, so we were together. We walked to Sunday School every week and went to church every week so we were together. We did everything together, we fished together, we did everything together, so that’s why I would have been over there and the rest of them on the other side. We were christened and confirmed and all the same together.
What’s his name?
Ronald, he’s passed away now and we grew up as kids. Did everything together for probably seventeen years.
Who taught you how to clean a fish?
Clean a fish, Dad. Dad used to take us fishing down the jetty and he cleaned it, bring it home and we’d bring it home and we’d all do fishing on a big long
And the fish were in plentiful supply?
They were always fish there then. Used to get trevally, mullet and whiting and gar all along there, off the jetty and we used to do a lot of fishing off the beach, beach fishing, jewfish.
I wonder if it’s the same now?
I don’t know, don’t know.
Okay, those balls that you would go to once a month, I mean I know you were sports obsessed, but what about girls? Not interested in dancing with them or anything?
Oh yeah, we loved to, we all knew each other and didn’t matter if they were five years older and some of the people would bring along theirs and they’d only be fourteen or something. You’d still grab them and swing them round, there was nothing like having a good swing around and tipsy whatever it was,
but to a lot of the older people, and what I’m talking about as older is the one’s in their twenties and early twenties, they’d be out the car having a beer and that. But at my age when I left I was only sixteen or seventeen but we used to have a great time there, and you’d get good music come in from the nearest town away. We had no bands around our town.
Did you know about Johnny O’Keefe?
Yeah, I liked Johnny O’Keefe, yeah. That was my style but I can’t even have one of those in the car now. They don’t even listen to my rubbish, no country and western. I said, “When am I getting a turn?”
This is your wife and your daughter you’re talking about?
Well Johnny O’Keefe he wasn’t country and western was he? He was rock and roll.
Yeah, rock and roll. I liked him and I liked
another bloke from South Australia now. I forget what his name is. I used to like them. I used to like a few of the girl singers there. I forget what their name was but oh he was my favourite Australian artist, Johnny O’Keefe.
What about the Seekers? Do you remember them?
Oh yes, loved the Seekers. One of them is my cousin.
Athol Guy, is my mother’s cousin, with the glasses.
Oh yeah, the tall one?
The one that goes boom, boom, yeah that’s my mother’s cousin from Mundulla in South Australia. I love that type of music.
That’s a type of folk music isn’t it?
And what about the American music? Was it Buddy Holly?
Buddy Holly, yes, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash.
You liked all them as well?
Yeah, apart from that who else have you got there? Patsy Cline.
I love Patsy Cline.
Yeah, I do too.
She’s such a great singer.
Yeah, isn’t she?
So besides this occasional ball that would be once a month sort of thing, did you have anything else to do with girls, just at school?
With girls, just at school?
Yeah, at school I sat next to them. They’d sit
next to us. You used to have the double seats, the ones you’d slide in and yeah, we sat next to them, sat behind them and they’d have just as much fun as us, get up to just as much mischief but as for girl boy stuff, girlfriend, boyfriend, I used to have one girl try and chase me and I used to be terrified. Trying to hang on my hand, you couldn’t be seen
What, would you run away from her?
Oh didn’t want anyone getting close to me.
What about the girls, did they get the cuts for mucking up as well?
No, they never ever got them.
That’s a bit unfair really isn’t it?
No, not really. We never ever looked at them,
we didn’t really look at them in the aspect of being a weaker sex. We looked at them as someone that we had to protect and this was for arguments sake like our sisters. We’d just be naturally on guard to make sure that they were all right, or any other girl that was around. We were
taught that things weren’t to be abused and things that had to be looked after and we didn’t look at, what can I say? We didn’t really, well I never, we looked at, we were probably simple people in the country because
we didn’t have a lot of things happen around us and we didn’t read the paper in those days and we didn’t sit down and listen to the news so much. My mother and dad always listened but we wouldn’t take much notice of it and what happened was what happened in this little circle of the little town and that’s all we seemed to be caught in. And we
just seemed to look after everything that was there and everything just seemed to be protected. And as for having crushes on girls I can’t even remember thinking about trying to have a crush on them or football was too busy for these things to get in the way and
we didn’t look at them any other way except another part and someone to look after.
What about your sisters, did you have to, or one of your brothers have to walk them home at night or something like that or?
Oh they wouldn’t go out. Yeah, it was most of us it was always two of us who would walk up to town after dark. The girls, we’d never let the girls out after dark and
if anyone went we’d get sent up there and half the time you’d run up the middle of the road, anyhow. There were too many sneaky corners where there weren’t lights. No, they never went out at night and if they did, we always went with them and we all went together.
And were your parents strict about, well let’s say, they treat you and your sisters differently?
No, no, we were treated all the same. There was probably no favourite, there was and we could see it but not to an extent where it would really, you saw there was a reason for it and we’d accept it as that.
Like my youngest brother he got favouritism and me third eldest brother he always got looked after and the girls, they probably had a relationship with Mum where we wouldn’t, being girls and that but outside of doing chores and that they were made do their chores and
they were made to stick to the rules exactly the same as us. And Mum virtually kept it that way until such time as she thought that we were old enough to make our own minds up for ourselves and we’d finished school or late in high school she gave us all a bit more of our own head and become our own
person but she still kept on top of it but she allowed them to become people of our own identities.
Okay Norm, we’ll just have to stop for a second.
Interviewee: Norman Cameron Archive ID 1710 Tape 03
All right tell us the story of how you wanted to join up the army exactly?
Oh well, probably the main reason of occupations being very little in my home town and my second eldest brother being the services and I had a bit of an altercation with my mother and father, brother, over working for the opposition to him and
I said, “All right, if you don’t like it, I’ll join the services.” so I went to Adelaide and did my initial test and that to join and I passed and was accepted and two months later I was back in Adelaide
at Keswick Barracks. I joined up there. That’s where we joined up. I said my words of allegiance and I was in and then off to Kapooka for three months. I spent three months in there doing my basic training and from there I went to, what was it?
I become six, out of the top six out of the thirty platoon and in those days you could nearly choose what corps you wanted to go to and I chose infantry to go then, because that’s what I wanted to do initially and still wanted to do later.
Even looking back I could have had a good trade if I went somewhere else but I wanted to be where my brother was in the infantry and that’s what I wanted.
Your brother already joining, how much of an influence was that?
Oh a fair influence because it was getting away from the town, giving us another opportunity that wasn’t very
possible in the town and it was a pretty scary sort of an experience because having been out of your own little country town in seventeen years probably a half a dozen times, it’s a big world out there that we didn’t know existed and it’s a different way of living to what we were used to.
And first hitting New South Wales and finding that you’ve got hotels open after dark, this was unheard of. This was in the day when everything was closed by six and that’s how we lived. Here we are in a place in Sydney where the lights and everything seem to go for, it doesn’t close down. And you’ve got people coming from all different sorts of walks of life and it just blinds and boggles you, just mind boggles you and
all this exists outside of your little town. There was a lot of adapting to do.
How did your Mum and your Dad feel about you joining up?
Oh they were behind me and they never ever said no. They signed to say I could go and they also knew that there was limited opportunities in the town
and having no trade you’ve got to be careful where you’re going and they could see that nothing much, no harm much could come of us because if anything we’d get straightened out and then it was discipline. If you were going to get anything, you’d get more discipline and they were all for it and the Vietnam War was just virtually getting going in those days
and down there we didn’t see or it wasn’t really know what was happening over there compared to in the city because they had TV’s and we never, so they could see what was going on. But they didn’t care, they were all for it.
So you saw a future in this?
The services? I just saw six years. I signed
for six years and after a few months you’re sitting there and you say, “How did we get into this?” But then you say, “I chose it and I’ll do her.” and you kick it and you get kicked harder so we took it by the teeth and said, “Let’s run with it.”
And if you never did that, you were fighting a losing battle. I said, “I chose it and I’m going to cop what I get and whatever happens on the way, so be it.” Because once you’re there you don’t have choices. You just go with what or where, which we accept and I think the National Service was coming into swing then and we had a few intakes just before I
got there but different attitude in the regular soldier to the National Service. I’ve got nothing against them and a lot of them were brilliant diggers [soldiers] and there were just that few “Why me?” And they didn’t have the same attitude as us. I chose it and I’ll go with it but we had some good diggers in the National Service too, don’t get me wrong.
Well tell us about your very first days like when you first walked into the barracks or whatever?
My first day was in Keswick barracks and a khaki uniform and I thought, “This is brilliant.” and I joined in November 65 and being a very sporting type of person and I used to follow the races and that and I think my second day there was
Melbourne Cup was on and I’d been cleaning toilets and drains and all this out and not knowing one person from another, I didn’t know what a person with a hat or a peak hat or stuff on his shoulder, didn’t mean anything and I was walking up in one of the offices upstairs and Melbourne Cup time and I’d be going up and saying, “What time’s the race, mate?” And they’d be looking at me and
here’s this toilet cleaner talking to generals or colonels or whatever they are but I got to hear it anyhow. That’s what I spent my time doing, cleaning toilets. Did that for a week before we got shipped off to Kapooka where it actually happened and me being a nice tidy short back and side country boy, didn’t need a haircut until I got there and
some of the other boys that were joining the platoon had long hair, Beatle style, and into the barbers, one comb, number one, straight over and some of those poor buggers were crying and losing these goldie locks that they’d had for all these years, but I had none to go. All it was just a little bit more taken off but that was the funniest part. Blokes had this lovely good hair and then they all become one
of us when they lose hair and then it all started. Given your proper greens, bedding, a little room with two of youse and wardrobe and everything and you have to learn how to polish your boots, keep everything in line
and get ready for inspections twice a day. We had them quite often and if they weren’t in line, in come the stick and the whole lot would go on the floor. Be back in ten to fix it up, you had to be tidy and get it in line but as I said you had to take it. Build an inner strength probably
where you had to learn to take something and shut your mouth.
How were you taking to the discipline as well?
Me, didn’t worry me. Being pretty quiet I accepted it and never back chatted and kept pretty tidy and clean and tried pretty hard to be successful
at what I was doing. You had the others, you had certain people that couldn’t do it but I took it on and accepted it as being part and parcel of learning to be able to take orders, and copped a bit of going on and not worry it
and learnt not to back chat or discipline.
Tell us the blokes with the long hair, what did you think of them?
At the time we just thought it was funny that someone could love something as silly as their hair and they were losing it and we were just like a bunch of schoolkids sitting there waiting for the next
bloke to go through, just like a sheep going through a, getting shorn at the end of the year. No, we laughed and thought it was funny, well I did anyhow and a lot of the others.
What about being a country boy, what did you think of these fellows?
We’d never seen anybody with long hair before. Your hair would probably be the longest that we’d ever see and going
to city well we never saw anyone with long hair and here they are all these blokes with long hair and, “What’s this?” And they probably thought the same about us, “How come you never let your hair grow?”
And you mentioned National Service, were some of these people National Service?
No, we were all regulars that went through training with us, all regs [regular army]. I think there were only one or two that needed
to learn a few things. They bash broomed and didn’t want to bath and that but we cleaned them up and put the bash broomers in the bath and through their bedding out and the whole lot out and cleaned them up and they came out all right, because no-one wants to live with anyone that doesn’t want to bath and that and that was the way that we looked after them.
Other than that no hassles with ninety per cent of them, pretty good blokes.
What do you mean “bash broom”? What’s that expression?
That’s a big broom with the big spikes on it, you know the one they do the concrete paths with, the big spiky one with the real bristles and get the rubbish out of and the grit out of the concrete paths. Once they got that they learnt to bath
What would you do with it?
You’d hit them with it, scrub them, scrub them in the bath with it. Throw in a packet of soap suds, Surf, or whatever it was and then throw them in and scrub them with the bash broom. They learn. As soon as they get their head up you knock it back in the water again, yep.
Would they be held down or anything?
Yeah, hold them down and scrub them.
Not only one bloke does it, about ten people do it.
And this was like a bit of an initiation?
Type of that, if you don’t want to bath, we’ll bath you and this is if you don’t bath, this is what you’ll get, so learnt.
Is it also a part of making everyone kind of the same as everyone?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, this is how we want to
live and nothing outside of it. It’s just like having a bad apple in there or a bad egg in there. An apple will rot and send all the other fruit off and if you’re not all pulling together, we were only there for three months and we didn’t want anything to put us back a week. We just wanted to get there and get out and if anything was going to hold us up we weren’t going to let it and if we had to do little things
well that’s it, you do them.
So say if someone in charge had seen someone who was ill disciplined or anything like this, would this hurt you as a group?
Well things like that in those days he would just come back in five minutes and it would be all over and he never
saw nothing because sometimes they used to come up and say, “Something’s wrong with this group. If this bloke doesn’t get pulled in or something doesn’t happen to him, this could affect your platoon.” He was saying do something about it and we won’t hear anything about it, so we’d go and do something about it and it would have been the same there.
So you get punished as a group is someone?
Oh yeah, the whole lot would wear it.
That saves them a lot of trouble of having to look after thirty if they can get the whole chain going together nice and smoothly. It’s easier for them to run and it’s easier for us too but if you get a lopsided car, it doesn’t work real good together.
And were you developing some friendships? Getting to know people?
Yes, I got some real good friends there. Out of
my initial intake there I ended up with a young fellow, Wayne Handley, he become a friend over quite a few years, from the initial intake.
So you said it was three months in?
Three months in Kapooka and then we went to, those that wanted to go to infantry went to Ingleburn, New South Wales and did their further three months there, corps training, learning how to be an infantryman and it was
downgraded a bit because you could go out at weekends, if you weren’t out bush. Say we had weekends off and a bit more freedom walking around, if you know what I mean? Say the first three months you were tied up virtually where you couldn’t get out. So we learnt to be infantrymen at Ingleburn, which was three
months and I was basically on the same as I was at Kapooka, you had to work together or the same suffering could happen. But you learnt how to use rifles more, a lot more shooting, a lot more interesting things, camping out bush and learning how to put your tents up and learning how to clean stuff in adverse conditions and learning how to do ambushes. No, there was a lot
more in it, a lot more fun.
Why did you want to go to infantry?
Because mainly my brother was there and I thought I wanted to be a soldier. If I’m going to be there I’m going to be a rifleman, a soldier, go to where the big boys were but as he said, “That’s where you want to be.” and I didn’t
look at any other aspects of the army other than that.
I guess when you’re young does the thought come into your mind that infantry is closer to potential death or?
No, no, didn’t even think about it. Just wanted to be there.
And were you aware of what was going on overseas in Vietnam?
Now, once we hit there in Sydney we were because being there that’s where a lot of movement was of people being sent to Vietnam, because a lot of National Servicemen were coming through. Once they finished their training they came to Inf Centre and were posted out as reinforcements out through where we were and that’s where we became more aware of what was going on and
you’d hear what was going on daily. You’d get reports of what was happening in Vietnam. No, a lot of the soldiers were excited about going and a lot of them being National Servicemen coming in and shipping out. There was nothing, a lot of excitement of wanting to go and go there.
But I wasn’t ready to go then, too young.
So what were you hearing about what was going on there? What were they telling you about it?
What were they telling us? People were getting shot, people’s time was up and some were coming home and just hearing about normal conflicts that they were having
over there and people coming and getting trained especially for that like you’re going back to, they had a lot of warrant officers there, training officers going to the training team to train the South Vietnamese regulars and that. A lot of those were coming through doing courses there to do that
and you’d hear a lot from them and a lot of those warrant officers had been over and done training teams over there so they were also teaching us different aspects of the war itself.
Were you hearing much about the politics of it?
The politics? Never worried about it. We never ever seemed to get mixed up into the politics, only what we’d
read and we didn’t really worry about it, that part of it.
What about the idea of communism? Was the army talking to you at all about it?
That was something that we just didn’t agree with and as far as we were concerned we would stop that and we didn’t want it and for that to get to here that was something that we just wouldn’t have
and it was a no-no as far as we far as we were concerned. And looking at communism we thought if we could stop them there we were doing a good thing and we didn’t want it here and if we had to go there to stop it, so be it and that’s what we were led to believe or what but
that’s what we ended up thinking, stop it there and it wasn’t a good thing.
And you said you were doing this infantry training, how tough was it?
It was a time when you had to learn to carry so much on your back, walk so far, run so
far, climb ropes so high. There were endurances of things, we were pushed to our limit. You had people falling over but because it doesn’t matter who it is or what it is everyone’s got different levels of stamina and you can have people who will go all day and you’ve got people who will go a mile and that’s as far as
they can, their body can go. And they pushed us to our limit and everyone had their limit and three quarters would make it and it was just a part of toughening us in general. “This is where you’ve got to go and this is the certain time when you’ve got to get there and to be successful you’ve got to be there.” and you get that into your head and you say,
“Doesn’t matter what’s there you’re going to do it, regardless.”
And were they training you for specific Vietnam style kind of?
Yeah, yeah, jungle warfare and how to make up and how to creep and learn how to crawl and learn observation and learn how to deduct things from the observation and learn all your
signals so you can, no mouthing. Everything was done by signals and how to map read and how to find your way in and how to get lost and it’s a skill in itself just surviving and by throwing you out and ambushing
you in the freezing cold, we were supposed to keep warm and they throw you out in an ambush and it’s that cold and they say, “We’ll come and get you in a half an hour” and eight hours later and you know damn well you can’t leave there. You’ve just got to stick it out and
that’s what they did. But it helps you in the, you think then this is what you’ve got to do to survive, so you do it. No questions at the end.
What about specifics about the actual VC [Viet Cong]? Were they teaching you about the way they operated, booby-traps, or anything?
Yeah, not really. They were
taught that mainly when you got to your battalion and when you came out of your initial training you went to your battalion and the battalion would train you more so in all that type of things. But initially in the three months at Inf Centre it was just rifle, learn how to camp, learn how to set ambushes and etcetera and learn how to
shoot properly and learn how to look after yourself.
Now you said you were quite young, too young?
Tell us what happened because of this?
Yeah, when we finished the corps training we were put into go into our battalions and wait our turn to go to Vietnam then but when I applied I was only seventeen and a half, sorry, eighteen and a half and too young if the battalion was called
to go overseas straight away and I wouldn’t have been able to go so they sent me to a tracking team, a place called tracking team where they send all the young diggers, that were too young to go to battalions. So I went there and much to my disgust and learnt how to become a dog handler, which I’d never heard of in there but
I only had to go three hundred yards from where I finished my training to the new place, so for me I was still in the training camp and now I was a fully trained digger it didn’t seem right. The other blokes were going, most of the other blokes went to battalions. So I started my twelve months or so there learning how to become a dog handler. It was either become a dog handler or a visual tracker and I chose
to become a dog handler.
You said it was disappointing?
It was disappointing because I wanted to be, for a start I thought I’d go home, back to South Australia where 3 Battalion was and my brother was also in 3 Battalion and I thought, “If I can get back there I can spend a bit of time in my home state and be a soldier with my brother.” but it wasn’t to be.
So that was the most disappointing part of it.
What about missing some of the mates that you’d made?
Well I had a couple of mates, my best mate that I had made he was young too and he come to trackers with me, as a dog handler too also. So at least there was two of us there and we continued on with our friendship there
for the period that we were there.
So why did you chose to be a dog handler than a visual tracker?
Because I thought it would be more fun having a dog to look after than just walking around with a stick looking for signs and I was given a dog straightaway, once I said, “I’ll be a dog handler.” and
someone else had it and left and I took it and I had it for about a month and it just liked chasing kangaroos that one, so I used to be chasing kangaroos instead of people, so they chose to get rid of him.
Were there many kangaroos around?
Oh where we were there were kangaroos in the scrub. See we used to go bush on Monday and come back Friday and just lay tracks for each
other and teach our dogs how to track and you might have a half a mile one or you might have five mile tracks you’d follow and mine he’d just follow, if there was a kangaroo around he’d just take off and I’d end up miles from where I was supposed to be and only learning it you wouldn’t know the difference but I hardly ever found the bloke at the end of the track, so we got rid of him.
I didn’t have a dog and then I was a duty dog handler the weekend the RSM [Regimental Sergeant Major] rang up and said, “Someone’s got a dog for you, go and get it” so off I went, two of us went and picked up a dog, fatter than a pig, that round,
had to lift him on the back of the [Land] Rover and came back, let him out of the back of the Rover, and nearly broke his neck jumping out. He took off from us, ran ten feet and collapsed and the next morning the boss came in and said, “Hear you’ve got a new dog? Just picked up another dog?” I said, “Yeah, it’s good for nothing.”
He said, “Why?” I said, “It’s too fat and it won’t work.” He said, “Well that’s your problem boy, cause that’s your dog now.” And I said, “Oh.” and they all laughed, big fat dog that couldn’t walk ten yards and anyway off we went and I thought, “Well if he’s going to be mine,
I’d better do something about it.” So every morning, every afternoon, we built up to a five k [kilometre] jog, morning, afternoon, and being a seeing-eye dog I didn’t have to teach him much obedience. He was smarter than the other dogs, so we had one thing up on them as they were still trying to teach their dogs to sit, stand, down, come and my little fellow
did everything because he’d been trained as a seeing eye dog but was too boisterous but of course there’s would last pretty long without collapsing. A month went by and we had this lovely dog, fit as a fiddle, as strong as an ox, going past all the dogs that had been there for six months, seven months, twelve months, just going past them
gradually, bypassing them in fitness, bypassed them in tracking length, tracking distance. But there was another dog there named Caesar and another little bloke from South Australia, he had him, so it was two little South Australians, two little pip squeaks from South Australia had two of the top best dogs but he was a little bit of a drunk, so he got kicked off
and had the dog taken off him and when it was time to come for the next battalion over they needed dogs and they were going to send them over and, “How could this dog be ready?” And they were going round asking the corporal that was in charge of us, “What dog is ready?” And he said, “There’s only one dog ready outside of Caesar that had it’s handler.” and that was mine, Cassius.
And so we had platoon commander courses. We had platoon commanders from all the battalions would come down and learn about the dogs so we’d have a course and we’d work with them and then we did a, on that course the boss came up and said, “Bring your dog.” because I only had him for a little time and he said, “Do you reckon you’re ready?”
And I said, “I’ll give him a go.” and he had to work with the top dog and the top dog went for about two hundred yards and lost the track and “Get your’s in.” and a two day track. They normally do it for two days and my dog had the track three quarters, no, nine tenths finished in six hours and bypassed
all the deceptions, had the enemy buggered, had them burnt out in the one day. Twenty ks we travelled through the Blue Mountains in that one day, up and down and he tracked alone and he didn’t need the other dog. The next morning I got up and said, “Let’s get going again.” and my poor little bugger
couldn’t walk. He was that stiff and sore he couldn’t get up, so I put him in my backpack and carried him out and from there the boss said I’m the first one out. But he never ever pointed, indicated, dogs were taught to indicate and when they got to a certain
distance from the enemy you change, normally if the track is old the scent is on the ground and when you hit a new scent the head will come up and go like that (demonstrates) because old scent will drop and sit on the ground and new scent will still be drifting around. So when they come from the old scent and come into a new scent, the dogs
will lift up straight away but my fellow didn’t, he just kept going. The only thing he ever wanted to do was find the bloke on the end, literally, straight in and that was a problem I had with him. Other than tracking the best you’d get but wouldn’t indicate.
How do you try and train them to indicate?
How we tried to get them to indicate is
when you lay the track and when you stopped, if I stopped there for say three or four hours sitting on the end your scent would be coming off and the longer you sat there the circle of your scent would be sitting up and would probably go from ten metres to about fifty metres, your scent would be going out.
And we used to compensate that when I was doing the tracking by getting someone to walk in a circle around the end, so when he was coming on the old, someone had just walked around the end and when he hit that new scent, he’d lift his head to try and get him to lift his head when he hit it but he never ever would. But he kept on ploughing straight through it and didn’t matter what I did, he wouldn’t do it. And get ten people to sit at the end
which would give a stronger scent but he still wouldn’t but Caesar the other one, brilliant. He’d do it and he could nearly pinpoint how many enemy were there, he was that good on his indication but mine, good worker but he wouldn’t do the fine thing at the end.
Was there a system of rewards that you would give them if…?
No, we started, when we initially started them to learn to track we give them a bit
of a biscuit at the end but not when they got working otherwise if you start doing small tracks say two hundred yards when you’re learning them and you give them a biscuit at the end, a lot of would think “When I get to two hundred yards I should be getting a biscuit” and pack it in. “I’m not going to keep on going if you’re not going to give me a biscuit when I’ve done me two hundred yards.”
so you had to cut that reward out pretty early because some of them would say, “That’s it.” So you had to be as smart as them. As dumb as they are, they’re smart, that’s why you had to learn to be a team, work around them and I learned how he worked and he had to learn how I worked and it was
just something that you just can’t pick up and give to someone. But doing it, you’re learning, man it’s absolutely fantastic that you’ve got something there and something you learn to love and trust and he does the same for you. It’s pretty hard to get somewhere.
Interviewee: Norman Cameron Archive ID 1710 Tape 04
The tracking centre where you got sent to was that Ingleburn?
Can you explain to us if we were on an aeroplane for example an aerial view of the tracking centre?
The tracking centre was on the, the tracking centre would be one little hut with three kennels and that’s it.
The hut was mixed up with the rest of all our other huts with all the trainees.
Oh I see, you didn’t actually sleep….?
No, we didn’t sleep in the kennel complex. We had to walk down half a mile to the kennels and it was all out in the training area of where they trained all at infantry, where they trained all the soldiers, we worked
in the middle of them.
So I suppose it would have been frowned on to bring your dog back to your dormitory?
No, we never bought them back there unless we were coming back there to put them on the truck and didn’t even then, weren’t allowed to have them up there unless we wanted to walk them around on a lead a bit but we weren’t allowed to bring them up there. Had to stay down there in the kennel area otherwise we’d have all the bigwigs saying “What’s that mongrel dog doing down here?”
And how do they keep them warm at Ingleburn?
They had kennels and beds inside the kennel. That’s all they had. Didn’t have coats or nothing.
It’s kind of interesting that they didn’t breed the dogs for the army?
Yes, we tried to breed them ourselves but it’s a long process. By the time we started to breed them and you’ve
got nearly eighteen months to two years before you could get a dog whereas we were going on in those days people donating them and then going around to all the kennels, to the RSPCAs [Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] and seeing what dogs had been dropped off. And you needed a dog with a bit of age that you could work on straightaway,
about fifteen months to two years was a fairly good age that you could work with them.
Primarily like Labradors?
Yes, mostly all Labradors. Later on there was Labrador cross and the reason they used to use them was because of the placid nature and we had
mainly black Labradors because they wouldn’t stand out so much in the jungle, they’d blend in more and the black was seen not to be as boisterous as the golden Labradors and the hunter people could argue with it but that’s what we went with and that’s what we stayed.
Why would it take so long, eighteen months to two years, to get a dog?
See if you’re breeding them
for to become a dog if you start training them too early it knocks them about, you knock their spirit out because you need a dog with a bit of spirit and if you start jerking and banging too early you just take that initial spirit out of the dog. But if you’ve got one with a bit of age they can take a bit of choker chain, and they’ve got to be strong enough to work quite a few
miles in the scrub.
And did it matter what sex they were?
We mainly used dogs.
Yeah, I know what you mean, dogs as in dogs, not bitches. We didn’t, a bitch can be seen as harder working than a dog in a lot of aspects. They seem to
put their mind to it a lot more than a dog actually but we just never ever tried a great deal of bitches but the couple that they did were very hard workers but a lot of them seemed to be a lot smaller and a lot of the terrain they had to go through they needed that just bit bigger dog to get over a lot of the logs and
a lot of the time we had to lift the bitch that we had there working. And of course, unless they were desexed it was no good for the other dogs anyhow and it would just throw the whole camp out.
So what did you know, I think you mentioned to Kieran [interviewer] that you didn’t actually know much about the tracking teams?
No, knew nothing about it whatsoever until they said, “You’re going there.”
And then I got there and after a few weeks we enjoyed it. Made up new bonds with new blokes and got a new job and enjoyed a new challenge.
So you just had to get over the fact that you weren’t going to join your brother?
Had to get over the fact that it didn’t matter what I was going to do, “You’re there boy and shut your mouth.”
All right, here I am and take it and I got that, got my dog and once I got a good one I loved it and I did a lot of extra work to get him there and doesn’t matter if you want to do the extra, hopefully it will pay off.
Were you also taught things like everybody has a different scent, every human being has a different scent?
So obviously with a dog their best sense is their smell?
Their best sense is hearing and their smelling.
That’s their top senses. Yeah, their eyesight’s not real good, close, yeah but distances they can’t picture it, they can’t make out at a distance so their top senses are their smelling and their hearing.
So Cassius could actually smell you before you got to him?
Yeah. He could smell you and they get used to, your own animals they get used to you walking into your place and your dog won’t bark but someone else will and they’ll start barking. They pick your footsteps, they pick, they can hear all those things that we don’t,
we take for granted. They get used to it and they say, “That’s him, I can hear him coming.” and they’re coming round the corner, even cars, they’ll pick the sound of your car.
Say for instance, when you’d be walking down to see Cassius he’d already be excited by the time you got there?
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Sorry, and I interrupted you just then. I apologise. You were about to tell me something else.
I can’t remember.
About the cars, the cars making noises?
Oh yeah, they
pick up the cars, car noises. Even your own dog at home they pick it up, no matter what it is. See dogs don’t think, they work on repetition, like my set of keys to my little dog will mean ‘cars’. See without any thinking she goes right to the car because she thinks
she’s going to go for a ride. Just like our training equipment, get a choker chain, that means that they look at it as their time that they’re going to be taught how to sit, down, obedience, yet if I go and get their working harness
straight away, that means tracking. So that works just like slides, that means this, that means this, this means that, they don’t sit there and say, “Oh Mum’s going to get the keys today and we’re going for a drive.” They just say, “Keys, car.” that’s it, no more thinking about it.
Lily knows you’re talking about her.
But that’s how they operate and
you go and get those two different articles and show them and they’ll know what to do straight away. They’ll get ready to do obedience if you get that or no use saying, “Come on boy, we’re going to do some obedience.” but we all say it but they don’t mean nothing to them. It’s a big word they know, it’s an empathamormosis [?] and they don’t think. And they only see black and white too.
They only see in black and white?
Only see black
Gee, that could be confusing in the jungle for them?
For them maybe?
They don’t work on looking.
So it’s all hearing and smelling?
Yeah, smelling and that’s all they have to do. When they’re working it’s all smell because if they start looking they’ll get off the job. No, that’s it, tracking, that’s all their job is, just scent.
So is it the same sort of thing, you were talking
to Kieran about the scent and the bubble of it if you like and how long it lasts, is it the same with Aboriginal trackers? I know the sooner they get to the track the better the chances of actually following it, if you know what I mean, is that the same thing?
Yeah, an Aboriginal is a visual tracker. He doesn’t go on the scent or whatever but they work on aging. They can pick the aging of the rocks
being turned, the sand being scooped, twigs being broken and everything that we cause on our path to somewhere. See they work on, they’re looking for that broken twig, they’re looking for the turning rock, they’re looking for anything, where all those things create a scent of their own, which moulds
up into the scent that you give off and that is what the dogs follow but the visual tracker just looks for those. They can tell, the Aborigines can tell the age and the visual trackers can tell the age but I never really, I learnt how to find all the things but I never went into the aging process part of it that they did, but they learnt how to do the aging and that.
Well tell us a day in the life of training Cassius before you went off to Vietnam?
One day? Lily.
Well for example you talked about going for a jog every day, five k’s or something a night or morning with Cassius, well what else would you do? Would you have breakfast and come down?
Yeah, I’d have breakfast and first of a morning I’d go down, you’d have breakfast and then before we cleaned,
after breakfast we’d go and do all the hygiene maintenance of the kennels and I’d grab him and I’d go. I’d jog when I was learning around the big fire break that was five k’s around and I’d jog with him and walk and of a morning come back and I’d clean his kennel out then. And after that we’d do obedience with them out on the big what’s it’s name, we’d do obedience training and after that
we’d go and do small tracks, like fifty metre tracks teaching him before we went out into the scrub. And how we did that initial training was our instructor would get us to harness a dog up and by this time I’d built a
relationship with my dog and then I’d give the dog to him and I’d run away from my dog, yelling and screaming at him and getting him all excited so all he wanted to do was be with you anyhow and then he’d turn him away and face him in a different direction and then I’d take off and I’d hide in the bushes somewhere. And then he’d turn around while I was down and all the dog wanted to
do was find me anyhow and once he learnt, “Oops, where did he go?” The only way he could find me was he had to smell and every time he found me scent there I was at the end and then we’d change it over and probably after three or four times, someone else would do it and he got to know and he’d see no one and
it got to the stage that this harness meant it was tracking and we’d do that for probably two weeks at base before we went out scrub laying tracks and that for them, bigger ones. Going up from, we’d work from one-minute-old tracks while they were learning up to probably five-minute-old tracks so someone would sit there for five minutes. And at that stage that was when the initial scent would start,
had to try to learn how to point and that but he was just like a bull at a gate, just wanted to get to there.
Did he always find you?
He always found me and there were a couple of occasions that he bummed out altogether. No one wanted to bum out, we always wanted our own dogs to be the best but he bummed
out on a couple of tracks but not very often because he’d been seeing eye, he’d been de-sexed and interested in fighting with other dogs he wasn’t. He was a placid, little Cass and all he wanted, he had found a game that he loved and.
What was that?
He found something that he loved to do and he did it good and all he wanted to do was
work, work, work and this is why he would just punish himself and he’d literally track himself into exhaustion every time, literally collapse.
He was a workadogic?
He was, he loved it.
Well tell us about your, I don’t know, I suppose affection
for Cassius because it must have a bit of a relationship where you relied on each other?
Oh yeah. Well it’s just like you rely on, it got to this stage where things started to seem fair dinkum that it was all good fun in the beginning and when things got to the end of half way
through training that, “Hey, he’s going that good that we could be going somewhere together.” if you know what I mean? And it wasn’t any picnic, that we really thought, “And that black thing there it could be the death of me
or someone else.” or he could save someone that we said and it was then that you really sat down and thought that he had to get to know me better and I had to get to know him better and probably in the last six months he slept with me, I slept with him, I ate with him, I ran with
him. It was not only me, it was all the other handlers with theirs. And the relationship with an animal is not supposed to get to the stage of
he becomes part of you where you learn all his wrongs and he learns me and every move while I’m working, “Is that what this means?” Or, “Is that what this means?” If he lifts his head or is he going to point or
how what happens when he goes off the track, you’ve got to learn how to, by the way he pulls, if he drops off or increases and if he increases and goes real hard is he going to be closer to them and it gets to that stage where you can’t get
enough of them and by us not getting enough of them, he just doesn’t want to not be with you because he thinks he’s got to be part of it and it’s very hard as a relationship, he’s just your right arm.
And it’s just like having a gun with bullets in it and not a gun with nothing in it. A gun is no good without ammunition and he’s no good, only halfway there.
I guess it’s a very different situation though because anyone that has pets knows it has a personality. It’s only people that don’t have pets that see them as dogs or cats, if you know what I mean, but this sort of relationship, the one that you had with Cassy is life affirming or threatening. I mean it’s life or death for each other?
Yeah, absolutely and if I couldn’t keep up my work ethics with him
it’s not only me, I’ve got people behind me and that’s who, it’s our responsibility that we were given is to knowingly we’re not going looking for someone that’s just getting out in the scrub and say, “Go and see if you can go on patrol.” and happen three or four days later run into people.
When we went it was when we were going to hit them because we were given a specific track and said, “That’s where they went.” and so we knew that from the time we went we were going to find something quite possibly and that’s a thing that we had to try and perfect is not finding them, because you’d find them. It was how we
were going to, I got the best out of him so that the people that were following us had the best possible opportunity to get into the situation properly or out of it properly. Because I knew if we were going we’d find something because that was the job I had and I believed it and if
I lapsed up on it, of course he’d fall off just like if you were an athlete. If you eased up on your training you’re not going to win so it was something we had to stay on top of and we spent more and more time together and a bigger relationship as handler and dog, dog and handler and I loved him and he loved me. And to have someone that
really worked their guts out for me and got the results that he did for me I was happy as anything but it was all right here when we were playing games but as we were getting readier for where the big things are it’s going to be different for the both of us.
You must also have a sort of protective or concern for him as well that he wasn’t,
as you said that he liked to work himself into the bone?
Oh yeah, for sure.
I mean let’s say your superior said, “Okay we need him to go out again.” you must have had to say, “Oh listen no, he needs a rest”?
Yeah, for sure.
Is that how it worked as well?
Yeah, well it come to that when I was chosen to be the first one out with a dog to go to Vietnam and join the battalion but the team from 7 Battalion
came up and trained with us for a month, so they could learn how the dogs operated. And I joined the battalion at Inf Centre railway station heading north to Shoalwater Bay up in, and we got to Brisbane and they stopped and said, “Off you get.” so I got off and
they said, “You’re going through Canungra.” which I hadn’t done and everyone has to go through Canungra before they can go overseas. And I thought, “Oh.” and everyone laughed at me, because here was a new soldier, never been in a battalion, didn’t know the goings or ins and outs and dropped off and off I go to Canungra for three weeks before I join the battalion up north. That was all right and the next day they came and
said, “Righto give us your dog. We’re going to put him in a kennel for three weeks while you go to Canungra.” I said, “No, he comes with me.” They said, “No, we’re throwing him in a kennel.” and I said, “No, I’m going nowhere.” I said, “I’m going to Vietnam in two months’ time and I’m not taking a dog that’s not fully fit or up on his training, so forget it.”
And they said, “Don’t you tell us what to do.” and I said, “Get me the highest person that you can get and I don’t care where they are, I want to speak to them.” And I ended up getting onto the adjutant general in Victoria and I spoke to him for half an hour and the next morning I was on the train going north to join the battalion.
I said, “I’m not going. They want to kennel my dog for three weeks and we’re going to Vietnam.” I said, “My dog will be six months behind in his training.” and I said, “And I’ve got my life and people’s life at stake and what’s it worth? Me spending three weeks in Canungra?” He said, “Don’t worry, we’ll get a course for you somewhere.” So I joined the battalion north and “What are you doing here?”
And I explained to my commander and it was then that I was introduced to the battalion commander and the RSM of the battalion and, “Don’t get as fat as your dog, off you go.” That was my introduction to my battalion commander
and the RSM. The next morning, still not used to what goes on, the battalion has enemies and all that up there working with them, which is the white people and the next thing, I’m taking my dog for a walk and the next thing “Bang” and the RSM comes up, “You’re dead.” And I said, “What?” He said, “You’re dead, you’re shot, a grenade went off.”
I said, “Where?” And he said, “We’re in war times up here fella, you don’t know nothing, get your dog and get out.” Three days and I was banished back into nothing, and I said, “Can’t I walk my dog?” And he said, “Get your dog out.” so I said, “This is going to be a lovely twelve months in the battalion.” So I did my three days out and came back and they said, “Get the dog squad out of
here.” so me and my twelve mates were just told to get away from the battalion and work on our own, so we worked the dogs for three weeks on our own, just keeping the dogs going.
You’d sort of switch dogs and set traps and?
No, we just switched camp. We didn’t have anything to do with the battalion, no ongoing events up there. We just did our own work. We just laid tracks and worked with the
dogs and field tracking for three weeks. They didn’t want us. I said, “Here’s twelve months in Vietnam sitting on our arse, walking the dogs around the block.” And that was our initial.
Is it because you think they didn’t understand?
They didn’t understand. It was something different.
Sorry, just to clarify. You were the first dog trainers to actually go over to Vietnam?
Yes, we were the first. It was something different
and they had a battalion and, “We don’t want to be the first ones to get taken up in this. What do we want them for? What do we need this when we’ve got twelve and they’re top diggers that we had.” Twelve of the top diggers and most of them had just come back from Malaya and Borneo and all regulars and probably five years service in the dog squad and twelve of my best soldiers
mixed up with them and no way they couldn’t comprehend. He said, “We’ll use the diggers for normal duties, but the dogs?”
And yet the dogs became absolutely crucial?
Yeah, well we haven’t got there yet.
No, we haven’t but I mean just from reading the...
See I’m talking that the introduction they didn’t
understand it and it’s just like a mechanic trying to talk cars to someone who just turns a key. I’m the same, what do we need to know? Someone else does that but you’ve got to take this on where that was my introduction to the battalion with my little dog and what made it worse was Private Cassius,
everyone laughed. This was what the RSM had on his roll call and everyone laughed because they knew it was my dog and no one answered and then someone went, “Woof woof.” in the background and that made the RSM look a goose and no one makes me, an RSM, look like a goose, so we become a bigger outcast.
I guess you’ve got to deal with ego everywhere don’t you?
Yeah, yeah, “So what do we do here?”
So what did you do? How did you deal with that kind of silly..?
We just kept on, the blokes being good blokes we just kept on doing our own little thing, just ignore them. Maybe it will all fall into line later on, I said, “Forget it.” Well I didn’t know. They took me under their
Is there a certain personality type that just couldn’t work with the dogs?
Of course there was. You had people that didn’t believe in them. “I don’t want them, I don’t believe in what you do.” I’d argued and you could argue about things that I’ve seen them do, track. I can see my fellow used to track down creeks, seventy two hour old tracks
and he used to do them and you’d get another dog in and get to four hours and he couldn’t do a track older than that but most of the tracks that we got wouldn’t be that old anyhow but we used to stretch them and see their limitations and they could only and what they could sense we knew but anyone would say, “No, you’re stupid, they can’t do that.” But
when you know they can do it, you’d argue black and blue.
But who, Norm who would take that responsibility to get rid of a bloke who was training a dog that wasn’t any good?
The boss, they get rid of them because just like me they were thrown there to get out of the road until such time they were aged that they could send them overseas and the boss would say, “He’s no good.” so he’d ship him off somewhere else.
So the boss believed in the dogs?
Oh yeah, oh yeah, our initial bosses they were either dog handlers early on the road but the captain and that wasn’t but he knew about them and he worked them and the warrant officer and the corporal that knew about them, they learnt to believe in them because they worked with us and they could see what they were doing. But to go somewhere and say, “This is what we’ve got and this is what they can do.” “Getaway, we don’t
want something different, we don’t want to create another problem and this is how we’re going to operate over there and now we’ve got something else that’s coming in that they want us to use.” and it’s the army that said we they’re using them, not the battalion commander and just “Here, you’ve got them.”
So it’s all politics?
Yeah, I was the one that got warned, the only one, thrown to the wolves.
Were the other blokes,
well you went over but the other blokes that you were with, didn’t they get sent over with you?
They come over with me and they believed in the dogs because they’d worked with us in Australia, in the Inf Centre before we joined the battalion. They come and spent a month working with me and they got to trust and love my dog and one of those blokes actually become another dog handler with me and went over with me because all the other blokes that were training were still too young.
I mean you also wouldn’t want to be working alongside somebody who didn’t have complete faith in their animal?
No, no. I wouldn’t like it anyway and our blokes and the blokes that worked alongside them worked long enough to know their capabilities, you know what I mean? And we had to be extra careful because we knew
we had a bigger possibility of running into somebody than someone just trailing through the scrub.
What about the dog? I mean you mentioned that first dog that you had that used to like chasing kangaroos, other than that, what would kick a dog out?
Too lazy, couldn’t handle the pace, such thing as some of them could only track up until an hour and that was it and didn’t matter how much
and you see you have an eighty per cent turnover to get something that will be all right but the amount of dogs that we turned over to try and get something that you could rely on or get up a pretty good standard.
So you were pretty lucky with Cassius?
Oh yeah, I could have had a half a dozen and got nothing. Dog handlers out there ended up with quite a few dogs and still ended up with nothing at the end of the day.
That would be pretty terrible actually being on duty and I mean in Vietnam having a dog that wasn’t up to scratch?
Well the only ones that went, well we’ll get to that.
Yeah, we will. Okay, you were talking about laying tracks in training and you’d start off doing a small one and then, and in that instance were there rewards?
And would just be a biscuit or something?
A piece of meat, used to give them a piece of meat and a real big cuddle and play, and that was it and after that initial week or so, no more biscuits, just big cuddles and big plays, yeah, they got that every time but that other reward you cut that out. Because you had the dogs all they would look for was their piece of meat or something and that was it. They thought, “If I go this little bit I’ll
get it.” and that’s where they went and as far as some of them would ever go, wouldn’t get passed that stage because it was too hard to go another couple of hundred metres if there was nothing. Why do that, that’s silly.
What about dogs barking? Was that something that you got rid off?
Yeah, well you couldn’t take a dog that would bark at anything. We’d go bush and we’d walk around that night and they’d sit up and listen and (demonstrates)
but that’s it. Anything else other than that, even if it was a champion you’d have to get rid of it.
So would there be a, I mean in Vietnam I mean you wouldn’t have a dog that barked?
So how was it in training that you’d actually teach them not to bark?
Well you’d sit there and we’d go out at night and sit there with them and
they slept with you. We wouldn’t tie them up to a post over there, he’s sleeping alongside of you and we’d have people walking around all night and they’d just learn to what was going on was normal. And if there was someone that barked at everything well he’d be thrown off the course. You just couldn’t have them and there was someone walking there and we’d go out and set up ambushes at night and you’d have
your dog there and they’d just sit there with you and just a nice, little placid Lab [Labrador] out here in the park.
So after those three weeks that you dog handlers were working on your own, the first time you were at the battalion, what happened after that?
We went back to, thrown on the train again and we went back to Puckapunyal and they had a nice kennel set up for me down there, for our dogs and we were allowed to go out and work any time. We just
worked as our own platoon and when we were there for a couple of weeks, we were sent home for a week before we went over to Vietnam and I came back and I did a week’s course that I was supposed to do before, but I took my dog with me and it was written down in the book that I had done it.
Now this one-week course, it was before you went to Vietnam?
And you did it at Puckapunyal?
And that was the course you probably should have done at Canungra?
Yeah. So that they could have in my book to say that I had done something.
So that phone call to the adjutant actually worked for you?
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Good for you?
Yeah, well if it didn’t I had to go back on my own.
Okay, we’ll stop and change tapes Norm.
Interviewee: Norman Cameron Archive ID 1710 Tape 05
We’re were just talking off camera about how you were picked. You were the first dog handler sent and tell us what happened?
What happened was probably about approximately twenty odd dog handlers and all approximately the same age, between eighteen and a half and nineteen and I was just turned the
age of nineteen where I was eligible at the right age to go overseas, plus at that time I had the most suitable dog trained ready to go over and do the job. There was probably two top dogs at that time but the training wing wanted to have one top dog go to 7 Battalion and one top dog go to 2 Battalion, so that they didn’t have just two top dogs
in one team, where they could have a good dog and a medium dog in each team, so it wasn’t overloaded with good dogs. But the first two teams that were to go over had top quality dogs in them and Cassius mine, he was then to everyone the second best dog to go over and I wouldn’t be fair to my dog if I didn’t say he was
the best, in my books and that’s the reason that I was chosen to go to 7 Battalion as the first battalion to take dogs to South Vietnam and 13th of March 67 we left Australia to go over.
What did you know of Vietnam before you went?
I knew it was in Asia and not a great deal about, we didn’t learn a great deal about countries until this conflict. Our country was, we knew Malaya and Indonesia and Borneo and Vietnam, it was only until Australians
actually started going in, when they started sending in the training teams in early Sixties, probably early 62, 63, that Vietnam existed and that it was the communist, North Vietnam was communist and trying to take over the south. And we were there to stop them coming into South Vietnam and to us, once they hit the south they’d keep on coming if we weren’t there to stop
them, we’d well and truly be done.
And how were you feeling about going there?
Oh excited and looking forward to going over as most of the blokes that were going over looking forward to what do you say? A new adventure, doing something that we were trained and drilled, this was what you were confronting and this is what you do and if you
get trained for something, why not do it and wholeheartedly for it.
Well tell us about the process of going, like what you did just before and?
Just before then we went and had a week at home, a week to ten days we spent back home with our families prior to going to Vietnam, so we spent that time there and a farewell
and then back to the battalion where we spent time handling, well I just continued training my dog up ready and the rest of us were just getting issued all new equipment, all new clothing, everything new and making sure all our visas were right and needles and everything we needed to go overseas.
Okay we were just talking, you had some leave?
Yes, some leave prior to going over to Vietnam. Had about ten days at home in South Australia with the family and going back to Puckapunyal and finally getting the dogs sorted out and getting refreshed after a week or so off and then going and getting our needles and making sure they were up to date and getting new equipment
and getting all the clothing we needed and all the odds and ends. And ensuring that the people who supplied us got all the dog stuff so they know what we needed, all the extra stuff that needed reissuing to our dogs that we could take over and it was just a general in the last fortnight just getting ready and waiting and having everything ready for them to say, “You’re going.”
And then we went in the advance party but most of the battalion was getting ready to come over on a boat behind us but the two dog handlers, myself and Blackie were going over, were flying over by RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] so that we could get over before the battalion and get the dogs acclimatised.
What did you have to take with you for the dogs?
Well we just took their food bowls, and we took food and normally we get issued with about four water bottles but I carried another four for my dog, so I had four and he had four, so we had to make sure that we had permission to be issued with all this extra equipment to carry for our dogs.
And make sure there was an issue and we had spare tracking leads, harnesses, and collars and choker chains and the battalion that I had just go hadn’t thought about ordering those things, so that was my job to go and see the CQME [? Quartermaster] and make sure he had all that stuff before we went to Vietnam. And if I needed it during over there, it was there.
Tell us about the plane trip over?
Blackie and myself boarded the plane at Laverton in Victoria and we went from there to Richmond in New South Wales in one day and oh mate, absolutely freezing up there at the back. You can put your food there at the back of it and it will freeze and of course the dogs were quite cool
there and we did a day by day trip where they could be exercised in the morning prior to going and pull up at night and they could be exercised and refreshed the next day when we went to Sydney. Then we went to Darwin where it was quite funny really and coming out of the cool in Victoria, still quite
cool down there in April and sweltering in Darwin and a city, what’s a city got? Tall buildings and that, so we said, “We’ll have a last night out in Australia.” and jumped in a taxi and said, “To the city.” and off we go. Pulls up and, “No, we want to go to the city.” and he says, “That’s it.” One two-storey building or more in Darwin and that was
the post office. Spent the night there and then we flew to Butterworth, Malaya and had a day and we spent a day in Butterworth and the following day we flew from Butterworth to Vung Tau and which we were picked up by the
men from 5 Battalion that 7 Battalion was going to relieve there. And they picked us up from Vung Tau airport and they took us around to vets, the American vets and we got introduced to them and they’d look after our dogs and welfare that we were over there and they were good people. And anything we wanted,
only too happy to help us with and they looked after us for the twelve months that we were there.
How did the dogs cope with the plane trip?
Oh quite good, no hassles. We had dog boxes in the plane and we just put them in the kennel of a morning and pull them out of an afternoon and ensure they had their water on the way and make sure they got fed of a night time when we got there and
didn’t affect them what so ever.
And what about yourself, what were your first impressions of Vung Tau and Vietnam?
It blowed me out of my mind. You’ve just got no perception of what it is, what you’re coming into and doesn’t matter what they tell you or what you do unless you’re actually there, goodness me.
You’ve got all these people running around in little go-carts and in their dress and the language, you’ve just got no perception of just what it is. You know that people talk different and you’ve seen them but you’re just thrown in and that’s where it all happens and there were about four of us in Vung Tau and all it was Americans and Vietnamese.
And of course we called into and had a couple of drinks at the bar before we went out there and just different altogether. No bottled beer and it was all rubbish, to our taste anyway, but later on you’d probably drink it anyhow but just the whole thing was just strange.
Was it enjoyable or exciting strange or was it a bit intimidating?
Probably intimidating first off, “This is it, we’re here amongst it.” but what are we amongst? Because we’re in a town with these people and these are people that we’re helping or are we going to shoot? Who is it because they’re the same, everything’s
the same, everyone’s the same and how are we ever going to tell the difference in these people? And let’s get out and be with our own, nothing against the people but that’s just how you feel.
And this is striking you pretty early on, straight away?
Yes, we hit them straight away. We got off the plane and we were there and driving around in Vung Tau itself and, “How can we be
here and fighting them and we’re driving around in the midst of it?” There’s a war here and yet we’re driving around in amongst people and who are they? We don’t know and yet the town’s full of both Vietnamese and Viet Cong. Well they tell you that, just watch out because there’s Viet Cong with them and you say, “Who’s going to shoot, who’s going to do what?” You’ve got no idea.
I guess you get a bit more used to that ?
But during the first few days?
See the battalions and that they normally get straight on the, off the boat, onto trucks and gone. There’s no pulling up like we did. They stopped and we pulled up and we took our dogs to the vet where they got checked up from the flights and that and they said, “Come back in two or three hours and they’ll have a good check up before we took them up to Nui Dat.” So we
went back and had a couple of beers and trying to comprehend where we are because it was the first time that, even though we pulled into Malaya we were still in the RAAF base. We never went outside, so we hadn’t come across the Asian people.
I even remember going myself, let alone when it was a war.
You do the same thing, “Who is it?” And you just don’t know.
Where were these vets exactly? Were they on the base or?
Where were the vets situated?
On the American base, Vung Tau was full of ours, all the supplies come in there and we had our, all our ordnances and all that. They had their bases there, and transport bases and hospitals and everything was based in Vung Tau but just to think in the middle of nothing everything was driving around and going on but it was a type of
an area that later you realised it was a zone where if we came in here, it’s you or me, it’s peace in here, but really I can’t trust anyone here, Billy Smith walking past, how do you know who they are? And anyone dropped in that area would probably think much the same.
Must have been scary
for a young man?
Oh you just don’t understand, all the training and everything but you just don’t understand until you’re put there in that situation and say, “Oh goodness, what is this?” Like sitting on a time shelf but like you said, it’s not until later that you’re realising that you’re getting caught up in what’s going on, but just to get dropped there.
What were some of the people that had already been there, what were they saying to you?
Well they were absolutely different to us. They were 5 Battalion, well they were nearly ready to go home. They’d been there ten and a half months. They were relaxed and laughing and joking and carrying on and “God, if this is what war is, it’s not as bad as you think” but
once they leave that area it’s switched on again, the drive back to Vung Tau and you’ve got to watch all the way. They said they would have been ten months, like we used to go down and have leave there and they’d been in and had leave there and been with them for, walking around the same streets with them.
What were they saying to you as far as advice or
jokes or anything of this order?
No, not that I can remember in Vung Tau. I can’t remember anything now of what they said. Initially there I just couldn’t say and if I did it I’d be saying something that I can’t remember anyhow.
Now there were two of you weren’t there, two dog handlers?
Two dog handlers.
So what was your brief? What were you do in those first couple of
Our first time was to get there and start working the dogs, start exercising them, coming from Puckapunyal in the cool into the tropics and just start to get them acclimatised, get them used to the heat that they’d never been there. And we were there nearly a month prior to the battalion
landing and in that time first of all we had to get used to what happened inside the battalion once we get there, stand to at nights and all this type of thing and learning how to get in and out and what happened and if a whistle went or that went, when to get into our weapon pits and that. Well we did that every morning and evening anyhow,
on dusk and dawn every night and get used to that and just get the dogs working. And 5 Battalion was good with us. They took us outside the perimeter and laid tracks and that for us until our battalion got over, so we could continue to work.
So with the laying tracks they just?
Yeah, we’d all go in and out and it was different now, full gear because whether you’re laying tracks or what you could bump into anyone so we were all fully combat patrolled now, under full combat conditions. So we learnt how to get on and where everything was before the battalion got there. We knew the
workings and what’s happening and been outside the fence and did quite a few patrols there, exercising the dogs.
Did you carry a weapon?
Yeah, we carried a weapon, always carried them, even in the base. Once you hit Vietnam you had a weapon. Out at Nui Dat you carried a weapon with a magazine at all times.
Not loaded, but the magazine on the weapon but outside the fence you put a round in the chamber ready to go.
How did that work with your hands pretty full with..?
No, I always had my lead and my weapon in my right hand and used my left and I’d throw my weapon over
too. My job, which we’d learnt as if we get hit, my first job thing is to get my dog out because he’s twenty foot in front of everyone. That was my job to hit the ground and pull my dog back and the people behind us looked after everything. We had a good team behind us, and we knew what to do and we’d trained together and if anything happened I
had to get my mate out because he could get hit either way.
How was Cassius coping with that first acclimatisation?
At first he looked quite good and doing a good job and he was coping real good by the time the battalion got there but the first couple of weeks initially we were only doing, wouldn’t go up to half a mile for
them on a track just to keep them from getting exhausted. And the rest of it we would just keep them walking around inside the perimeter, up around airstrips and just exercising them and getting them and they seemed to be coping quite well after a month or so of that.
You talked to Heather [interviewer] a bit about the problems you had with
the battalion sergeant?
RSM [Regimental Sergeant Major].
RSM, yeah. Tell us about when they arrived, was this still going on?
In the battalion, no they didn’t see much of us. It was pretty good. They had a good setup over there already for the dogs and we had two nice big kennels built for us and a big dip where we could dip our dogs because of ticks and leeches
and that that they’d come across over there, so 5 Battalion had done a good job in building our kennels and that built for us and there was three tents up there that accommodated the tracking team. After we, when the battalion got here, the dogs and that got detached from support company itself and we went up into a
group of our own, so that support company wouldn’t be short of manpower themselves, so we were virtually extra on top of support company’s normal manpower, so that we wouldn’t get called down to do all their other jobs and we could just concentrate on doing tracking.
All right after this training tell us about maybe the first real situation you were placed in, the first real?
Well as I told you before we went over and we thought, “Here we are, twelve months in Vietnam sitting on our bum.” and the first operation that we went on, Operation Lismore, the battalion went out and they
took the tracking team but they said, “The dogs are not going.” so we straight away said, “There we go, we’re forgotten in the first operation.” But at all times our equipment and we had our radio there which was kept on standby and we’d listen to it when the battalion was out and we could hear what was going on all the time and
I think probably the second day the battalion was out and we were ready to go to tea and the next thing, bang, a call for us. And Blackie and myself were picked up by helicopter, so we were close to the airstrip and straight out to the airstrip and picked up a helicopter and out to
A Company. When we got to A Company we learnt the reason we got called out was because a very good soldier in Reggie Parker, he used to be part of the tracking before, there was an altercation where they’d had a contact and one of the enemy, and the enemy got away. And he said, “Well why don’t we try the dogs?” He said, “I’ve seen them work.”
So they experimented and said, “Why not?” And we were called in and put my dog on and five minutes later, contact. Oh we followed the blood trail where they’d had their contact and Cass kept on tracking on and the next thing coming around the corner and coming into this big bamboo and the next thing all we could hear
was this screaming. And I grabbed my dog back, dragged him back and the A Company, the platoon behind us opened fire and we ended up getting a lady out of there anyhow and the other couple got away out the back. It was just getting on dusk so we didn’t continue but we had our first,
that was our first kill there, with A Company and by the time we got the girl and I said, “Let’s have a look at her.” and I took my dog around and I let him have a good sniff and show him. Because this is a blood trail, this is the first time he’d ever had a blood trail, normally it’s just scent but
this time he’s got scent with actual blood there and I give him a smell and give the other dog a good smell around. And so we went back and spent the night with A Company inside the perimeter and the next day, everyone wanted us. A Company
got the first kill and all the other battalions said, “Well if they can, we’re going to get the dogs too.” so for the next week or so everyone wanted the dogs. They’d call us here and the tracks a week old and there’s no one been here and just everyone wanted to use us. But the best thing, in between that, was the following day the battalion commander
and RSM flew in a Bell chopper and they came over and seen us and congratulated us and from then on they had a different outlook for the whole twelve months with us and they were just different people towards us. And that in itself, as far as I could
see, didn’t matter what else happened, we had a win for the dogs, if you understand what I mean, for the respect for them and those that were to come. They respected them and said, “This is what can happen, used properly, give them a go.” And we won their respect and for that we got a lot of work and we were used in a lot of things, but that was our first one and
it’s pretty hard to say when you’re looking there and they drag out something that’s got about fifty holes in it and they’re just sinews and something dead, it’s another man. It’s all right, you can tell people about it as much as you like but
until you see it, it’s no more games, it could be you or your mate because those things that you fire at pieces of wood they’re this. So such a hundred per cent more on the positives and such alert, you’re a hundred per cent, it’s all part of you when nothing’s happening but when you see it,
“This is fair dinkum.” And that was our first time.
Must be a pretty different sight, apart from all the training, as you were saying?
Just like the police and doctors and nurses and what they see, it’s okay practising on things, and the ambulances but some of the shocking things they’ve got to see, until they see
the first person there, just like us having that piece of plastic and then you’ve got to get on.
Did it affect different members differently?
Yes, yeah. I’ve seen people not last one or two contacts and they just couldn’t stand seeing something like that. People faint
and as I said we’re all made of different things and some people have got weaker stomachs and some people haven’t and in all different ways, if you know what I mean? And you can’t say that anyone’s weaker than anyone else because you don’t know what you’re coming up against.
And did it affect
some people where it didn’t seem to worry them at all?
Yeah, some people it was second nature to them. You get some of those real professional soldiers and we had a couple of older ones there, been in earlier wars, in the Korean War and that war and some of the young ones, we had a battalion full of boys. You’ve got over half of your battalion of National Service and what are they, twenty-year-old boys,
and there’s nothing against them. They’re there and they’re doing a jolly good fantastic job and a lot of us regulars, nineteen, twenty-year-old soldiers and no one knows what’s going to happen until it happens but we were lucky. We had some good seasoned diggers with us.
Well what was the morale like after this first kill?
Great, everyone wanted to be part of it and
for me I was goodness, because the next day we got used that much, over the next week it was unreal and we walked into,
I went on about three different tracks for other companies with my dog and poor old Blackie, the other dog handler hadn’t been used and he wanted to get in on some of the fun, because he was a good digger. And he said, “I want to be up there, not you all the time.” and I said, “Go for it.” I said, “I don’t want to be sitting up here all the time.” I said, “This is a team.” and he did his first one and his dog blew out, just twenty yards and he
messed it up and I had to bring mine in and pick it up again and he ended up getting onto one a couple of days later where we followed one and it was just down a track, so they blew him up the back. And everyone was getting excited about us, but man, we knew what we were up against. We knew that we were going to run into something and they might, these blokes
in the battalion didn’t know if they’d see anyone again because it was different platoons. We were sent in that week, the battalion commander said, they got caught and they were hit, Alpha Company was hit again and he said, “I want you two in again.” So in I go in a chopper, in a Bell, you know what a Bell is? A Bell chopper is, the one with the glass front, just two of us can fit in and we were coming in there
and they were still having the contact and then they started shooting up our helicopter. He said, “I’m out of here.” and I said, “No, get me out of here.” so he got me and I jumped ten or fifteen feet into the mud and slush with my dog. I said, “I’m getting out of here too.” and he buzzed off but the battalion commander ordered him back in with Blackie to bring the
next one, the other dog handler in and we followed them and Cassius, for the first time in his life, indicated. He indicated from about fifty metres and I said, “What are you doing?” He stopped, looked and (demonstrates) pointed straight over there on top of this ridge and I thought, “Oh.” so I stopped and I said,
“What’s he done?” Went through the normal drill and said, “My dog has indicated over there.” I said, “He’s never indicated before in his life but I’m going on taking his trust that he’s stopped and he’s pointed on that hill.” So they said, “All right, we’ll just sweep around a bit and have a look.” So as soon as we started sweeping around, they shot down along where
we were and had he not indicated we would have walked straight smack bang into a big ambush and his indication saved our platoon from walking into an ambush by a gun post up the hill there. And then after that for the rest of the operation we were just running around wild on that and for me,
we just never ended and I started having some dreams and thinking more so a lot of, “What am I going to lead someone into more than anything?” And we had quite a few hits in the first three weeks and so I just kept thinking, “Am I going to lead in or whatever?” A lot of thinking but we continued to do our training with the dogs and
that and so much so that the battalion commander came and said, “How can we help you in getting your dogs to tip top condition?” I said, “We need somewhere where we can really work them” and he said, “Go to Vung Tau where there’s not so many people running around, where you can work them.” So we went down to Vung Tau
and the first day out Cassius being Cassius we were tracking over ninety five per cent sand and he’d just go and go and go and go until such time as he just collapsed and we were only close to the sea, only a hundred and fifty metres from the sea, but we took him
and laid him in the sea and cooled him down and I put him on my shoulders and we carried him back to where we were staying there. And went and seen the section commander, went and seen the transport people and said, “We want transport at ten o’clock in the morning to get my dog to the vet.” and half past two, three
o’clock a vehicle turns up and nearly five hours sitting there waiting for them to come and get a vehicle for us to get the dog to the vet and by the time we got there and they got the proper treatment at the veterinary and he died within an hour of being there. It was too late
by that time and had gone, but he would have been too late anyhow because the heat out of the sand and the sun on the top of him, cooked his insides and that was Cass. And of course I asked for out straight away. I said, “I want to get out of the tracks, get back in a normal platoon.”
They said, “Yeah.”
We might have to pursue more on the next tape because we’ve come to the end.
Interviewee: Norman Cameron Archive ID 1710 Tape 06
Norm you were just talking about Cassius dying because he dehydrated and…
Heat exhaustion, yeah, so this might sound like a silly question but it’s certainly not meant to be silly and that is, was he buried?
Was he buried? He was sent to Saigon and an autopsy was done on him and the Americans did all this for him and an autopsy was done on him. The Americans did all this for us, they took
him and did a full autopsy on him in Saigon and the remains they would have buried him in Saigon, known as Ho Chi Minh city.
So they actually told you, the Americans confirmed?
Yes, they did an autopsy and I’ve got the autopsy report here and there’s an autopsy report in the museum at Canberra and they have all those,
all the records of what happened to him. They know where Cass is and that’s not being silly, like I was saying some of the others went to different homes is when they were finished.
I see. Now you were just talking us through an operation?
Lismore was it? Where you had to end up jumping out of a helicopter, so would you jump
out with Cass or hold him?
Yes, he jumped with me, not in my arms. Actually I grabbed him because he was in my arms because there was only room for him down here and me here, so I got him and we had to jump out together out of the, didn’t have doors on them, just open doors we jumped out together. There was a mud pot down the bottom underneath us but we weren’t sitting
there getting any more pot shots at us.
And now how did you know where exactly where to go?
Because our diggers were down there. The chopper pilot was told where to go and he bought us into there and as soon as we came into the area they were still having another contact as we were coming in and he said, “I’m out of here.” and I said, “Wait until I get out of here.” and he took off but he had to come
back again anyhow and bring the other dog handler back in. It was our battalion commander’s own personal helicopter and pilot and he told him to bring the other dog handler in too, Blackie.
Why did they ask for that, ask for Blackie as well?
So the two of us were kept together at all times and so we knew where they were and we had to have someone to work together
so if anything happened to anyone we had to have someone to look after the dog or whatever but we always never ever split up.
Were you ever, I mean, the fact that Cassius picked up there was an ambush fifty yards away I mean if he was human he would have been given some kind of reward or award?
Cassius got nothing
there but I’m still trying to find, when I came back to Inf Centre I went over to Holsworthy to the swimming pool area there and there is a little square monument, like that and that high, to Cassius and if I could only get it and find it today and put it with the battalion,
the 7th Battalion so they could have it instead of just sitting somewhere and hoping that no one ever pinched it. I don’t know, I’ve asked some people to have a look but no one can see it there any more, so I don’t know where it is. That’s all he’s got and I thought that was great that for them to do that.
So now how did you find out later that it could have been an ambush?
I mean, yes he did?
We did, we knew then. Had we kept going in the same direction that we were heading we would have walked straight through them but his alert fanned us out into, we were doing a sweep through the area and instead of being single file where they were, instead of single filing to them, they would have seen us coming through in a sweep and they would have realised that
we were onto them and they opened fire. And by that time half of theirs was in panic and they took off along the ridges because we fired at them running along the ridges and done the sweep through and that’s where they were, sitting up there in the hill.
So did they get many?
No, we didn’t get any out of that.
At all? They ended up taking off?
They took off.
a very different feeling to be, you had your dog with you so when operations, you had a couple of contacts then in those first three weeks you mentioned, I mean you were there with your rifle I’m assuming?
You were there with your gun, what’s the deal with the army then? Do you shoot then even with your..?
Me shoot? Yeah, yeah.
Just because I know you had that
responsibility of the dog as well?
He was initially my first responsibility, for me myself to want to get him back because I had blokes right on my shoulder anyhow because I wouldn’t go nowhere without someone sitting here and I wanted a machine-gunner there. I said, “If I want to go I want a machine-gunner behind.” I said, “I don’t want a what’s it’s name, I want to feel safer, as safe as you
can be.” and that was our policy and that was how we worked in the tracking team. We had a gunner behind me and that’s where he travelled all the time and when we came to a platoon they’d ask us if we wanted anything and I said, “Yeah, I want a gun right behind me.” I said, “I’m sitting out there, I’m not like this (demonstrates) and I’ve got my dog, watching my dog and not no one else.” I said, “I want someone else to be able to look while I’m doing this other thing.”
So a gunner used to be there and if anything made you feel better and you could get it, why not? And that’s what made us, and all the dog handlers had that and they felt better.
Absolutely, it make’s sense to me.
Of course it does.
What about Cassius? How did he actually react to the sound of machinegun fire and everything?
Didn’t worry him, see we’d take them up to the rifle range and sit them next to us when we
fired, so they had all the fire and anytime that we went to the range or anywhere so that they would just know it was another thing that was happening to them. You wouldn’t take a dog that was gun-shy, which happened.
It did happen?
What would happen?
I’ll tell you later when we get further up the track.
Oh you can tell me now, it’s okay.
Oh me second dog wasn’t really,
he ended up shell-shocked, not by the time I finished with him but just into, when he was taken over by the handler that come and relieved from me. He bolted for three days because the fire, the gunfire and that got too much and he just gun-shy, so they had to retire him and he couldn’t handle it any more. He wasn’t trained enough.
So how long was it, just to clarify, you requested then to go back to the regular infantry?
How long was it before you got another dog then?
I got another dog in two weeks time. I wrote a letter back to Australia, to my old platoon commander, no, sorry, I hadn’t. I went and seen my company commander and I said, “I lost my mate and
I just won’t feel right there no more.” And he said, “That’s all right.” and two weeks later he called me down and he said, “We’ve got a dog, no handler and have a guess what? He’s yours.” Well being fair I took him and probably took a couple of weeks before I could work with him
and understandably he wasn’t in the same class as Cassius and the bitterness I still had from losing Cass and it took a month before I said, “Well I’ve got another seven or eight months of this, so I’d better get used to it and work at it.” which I had a go at and
but he wasn’t trained no where as much as all the other dogs. Fortunately we continued to work with and get on with him and we had a relationship and we did some good work with him but Blackie’s dog Justin would never work with Cassius, my first dog. He was a
bludger and he knew that Cassius was there and he’d do the work and that was it. He was a downright bludger. The day the new dog came Cass wasn’t there and, “I’m the king of the castle.” he became excellent and changed his whole attitude and said, “I’m the boss of this show now.” and he took over and was a top tracking dog. A change,
Cass gone, now I’m running the show and he took over the lead role in our tracking team as a tracking dog real good. Just like we had another top dog with him, a top dog and a second rater again, which worked out good for the team really. So Blackie had a bit of a go now too, you see so he was happy. But
we worked like that, and that’s what happened to him. He wasn’t trained properly and long enough. See he would have only been in the game five months that dog, not long enough and I wrote back to the boss in Australia and I told him so and of course they didn’t think much of me but I said, “It’s my arse over here, not yours.” I said “If I want to be protected I want something decent.” I said, “This thing
wasn’t there when I left four months ago.” so I said, “How can you give me something that’s not four months in training.”
Did the army ever explain or apologise as to why it took so long to get Cassius to the vet?
You don’t know why?
No. Base wallahs and poofters, base wallahs and poofters, that’s my attitude to them. People who sat back on their arse and did nothing. All they did was get a vehicle,
transport, they’re sitting there and that’s why you hear a lot of them calling people them base wallahs. I’ve got nothing against them. They’ve got a job to do, doesn’t matter what it is but if they want that job they do it properly, just like we had to and it didn’t take long to get a vehicle if you wanted it.
I guess if you were a human in pain they would have a truck up there in an instance?
Yeah, of course there would have been.
Yes, absolutely. And I suppose the thing is also that when you were with Cassie you both arrived in Vietnam together and there was a lot of learning you both had to do together, and when you had this new dog given to you, you were already way advanced than the dog?
But you needed the dog to do your work?
Yeah, I needed a dog that would do what I wanted now and it wasn’t up to scratch and I had to retrain that dog in a lot of things.
And I said, “We haven’t got the area, we haven’t got the time that I’ve got to spend on this dog to get him up a standard of what we need here.” I said, “It’s not on.” and I was just trying to tell them back there. I said, “It’s not on.” and I said, “Here I am, I’ve got it now.” and when they say, “That’s yours.” I get kicked out and I can’t argue with them.
I just stayed in, can’t say no to them.
But you did say that you did do some good work with this second dog?
Yeah, I did some good tracks with him.
What was his name?
Tiber, so you did do some tracks with him?
Yeah, for sure.
Yeah, we followed some tracks. A lot of our tracks we never ever ended up finding enemy on all of them, if you know what I mean? But
while we were tracking we came across their little compounds and their huts and that, so we’d stop. We’d cease following on them and then we’d stop and then we’d search out their huts and their underground tunnels and that sort of thing and we’d stop. We’ve had a win so we found tunnels that we’ve never ever found before.
That would have been a horrible job actually going into the tunnels?
Oh we never went into the tunnel. We’d stand around and we’d go and cordon and search it off and then the engineers would come in and search it then. See a lot of them, we were always finding something. Didn’t have to be the enemy, could be a little bunker system or something that’s sitting there, so we had to get that and blow all that up and that would finish the exercise of where we were going.
Stop that, finish that and go back to base again.
Was there a particular platoon that you liked to work with?
A Company. They were good to us. They wanted us for everything. They nearly adopted us and got to know the blokes and for us, there were twelve of us, we were up here on our own, doing a lot of work with
Alpha Company. We got to know some other good diggers and that and they got to know how we operated.
Were you and the other bloke that trained, Blackie that was his handler, what was his name?
Justin, the dog.
Oh Blackers, that’s the bloke and Justin was his dog?
Did you become really good mates?
good friends yeah. We were all pretty tight knit, the whole twelve of us and it was a pretty good, we had a mix of blokes, a good mix of blokes there. We had blokes that didn’t smoke and blokes that didn’t drink and some that loved their grog and their smoke and just kept drinking and smoking and there were about four National Service blokes with us and
six regs I think there was.
Four nationals, doing the dogs?
No, they were in the team, part of the team that we had. We had radio operators, we had one radio operator and the others just visual trackers and the others just backup support.
So sorry just?
But we learnt to trust each other. Trust was a very and “Mate, I’ll go with you.”
because you don’t get many mates and someone that is going to look after you is a mate and for the ten of us we become a very tight knit and became good mates and still today those that are left are still good mates. And we see each other now and we’ll cuddle each other and
shed a tear just to know that we’re still kicking and someone that is going to look after you, you look after them for ever. You don’t pick up mates down the street. A lot of people might want to claim you but they’ve got to be real special.
I was guessing,
just to clarify, when you went off with A Platoon, there was now you and Blackie and the dogs and the visual trackers, a couple of wireless operators or?
Wireless operator and our commander, section commander and a
platoon of rifle company would come with us or a section would come with us.
So there’d be somewhere between twenty to forty?
Yeah, up to forty, yeah, sometimes only twenty of us and most times it would be twenty of us but with that amount you wouldn’t go miles and miles away. You’d go within a kilometre and know that you got back up a bit and
a lot of platoon and us all moved, so there would a good forty of us, a good half of the time.
And did you make any really good mates with any of the blokes in A Company?
No, they became acquaintances. I’m not rubbishing them. They were
good diggers, even you seem to get a bond even in a battalion size, “We’re 7, we’re the best.” and then it would come down to A Company and, “We’re the best in 7.” if you know what I mean? And D Company, “I’m in 7 but I’m the best company.” and then it come down to Delta Company and
then it come down to their sections and, “I’m the best section in this platoon.” and it came down to about a ten man bond all the way round of your battalion. You understand that?
Yes, yes, I do. So was there actually a time for you to have leave between these operations?
Yes, yes, we had five days in Hong Kong on R and R [Rest and Recreation]
and we had five days rest and recreation in Vung Tau for the twelve months. We had ten days off out of base.
When was it time for you to have your first leave?
Oh I think I’d done about six months and I had, I think I may have went on, I’d come down with, I got choppered out actually, medivaced out on my legs.
I lost all me skin off my feet, from what’s it’s name? Well we’d been in the rain for a fortnight and it hadn’t stopped raining and we were out there and I said ‘Oh I’m that itchy.” took my shoes off and when I got back inside base, took my, company headquarters
outside in the bush, took my boots off, then pulled my socks off and all my skin came off right down, just come off both of them, my feet just peeled straight off, so I had to get heli, medivaced out back to Nui Dat so I could get around for a fortnight without any shoes and that on and get the skin back on. It was just being wet and just come
Was it painful?
Oh itchy, more so than anything because I didn’t take any notice. Just didn’t have my boots off for ten days and so wet for ten days and off comes the skin.
Could they give you a needle or something to get rid of the itch?
I don’t know. I probably had powder and that on it, a lot of powder and then they said I could have my first recreation in Vung Tau and put my
feet in sea water and that helped it heal up and I was right and it come all good in a fortnight then. But even today if I sit in the water too long it will all get red all down through there.
Isn’t that interesting? I’ve never heard of that before. Were you concerned that being in Nui Dat in the hospital who would be looking after Tiber?
he came back and I never went to the hospital. I stayed on base.
So I was with him. I was just getting treated with the medic. We had doctors within the battalion that looked after us there. We had our own medicos in the battalion.
Just keeping you out of the field for a couple of weeks?
Just got out of the field for two weeks there and that’s when I had my, they said, “You might as well go on leave for two weeks, instead of wasting
good time. When you’re sick you can go.” So that’s when I had my first week.
I wanted to ask you about your leave but I wanted to know if there was, were the Nashos [National Service soldiers] in your group of ten or twelve blokes treated differently to the enlisted men?
As by the upper echelon [higher ranking] or by us?
Well a lot of them were because they wanted to be different. They didn’t want to be soldiers so we’d treat them not like soldiers and give them curry [insults] and they’d give us curry, “You mongrels have got nothing else but to do, you chose to do this, not us.” and one night we had a contact and they told us to dig in and one of our blokes said, “I never joined up for this bloody thing like
you mongrels to dig in.” He said, “I’m not digging holes at twelve o’clock at night for no one.” So as soon as the claymores and he heard a few zips of bullets over his head he got and dug holes quick. We still laugh at him now when we meet him but they used to have with the regulars and we used to have with them.
They couldn’t go nowhere and we couldn’t go nowhere so we just enjoyed it.
I mean everything that I’ve ever heard about the conscripted blokes was that they actually did do their job pretty well?
Of course they did and a lot of them stayed on. A lot of them resigned on too and become good soldiers, not that they weren’t. Like you said, what they were there for they did, and they did as good as us
and the ones we had were probably just as happy to fight alongside as the regulars.
Did you know at that time about all the protests that were occurring in Australia?
Yes, yes, very bitter times.
What did the blokes say about it?
If we had our choice and some of the rubbish that we heard we said, “We’re wasting our time fighting here, we might as well go home and blow those bastards up ourselves.”
I said, “That’s crap.” I said, “We’re here doing a job.” I said, “Okay we chose it but I said, “We don’t have to have anyone stand up or ridicule us, we’re an innocent party and some of the crap.” and by a time a lot of it got to us down the road it would be built up to like this, if
you know what I mean? By the time it come down the chain of command and said, “This is what’s going on” and everyone builds up stories and by the time it got to the little diggers at the bottom it was, and what else were we to think?
Did you know about the whole posties going on strike and the wharfies going on strike?
Yeah, yeah. They were delivering our mail and our grog and somehow it
never got there and you couldn’t keep the grog away from the boys and the thing is the one’s who weren’t getting it were the blokes up the front because when it was there the ones that never went out were drinking it and our rations that were getting up to the frontline soldier wasn’t getting there. Some was, not all that we were entitled too. I think we were getting nearly two beers a night
they give us, two beers a day and you know we go bush for a month and that’s sixty beers sitting there for us when we get back and you get there and you find out that this platoon and there’s half a dozen cartons for a platoon, a lot of rations missing and the blokes like their beer when they come home.
So what was happening? The other blokes?
They were still having their full rations in town but because of everything being held up from
Australia, like shipments like this were getting behind but they didn’t miss out. They were home every night to have theirs and somewhere along the line they said, “They’re out, they won’t need any this week.” and we never got our catch up. Just made you bitter, “How can they do it to us?”
So you could be angry at the blokes back at the base and you could be angry
No, we never ever sat back and thought about the blokes at base. We didn’t even know then. That’s transport and that and I had enough animosity with them anyhow over my dog.
But you did find out that it was the wharfies that..?
Yeah, the wharfies why we weren’t getting none. See that’s what we lived for over there and our mail from home. If we couldn’t come in and
have our stuff there, if we didn’t get that much and some of those blokes would come in from a month out, one night home and be gone again next day on a three day reccy [reconnaissance]. Go and sit out in the scrub and do a reccy, set the ambushes and that was our job. We didn’t come back and sit in the base for three months before or a month before the
next operation. There was little operations all the time with every platoon and company and if we couldn’t have our little things it would make you a little cranky but who would listen to us out in the middle of a rubber plantation? So we stored stuff and we’d get it and dig stuff under
our, in our floorboards and hide it all and go and get the grog when we were in and hide it for when we were in so we got stuff.
Where would you get the grog from? From stores?
Yeah, go and buy it and we’d put it underneath then so when we come in we had it or if we wanted to party all night we’d turn the lights off and party all night.
And drink warm beer?
No, we had ice and that in there, in the hole and if it was hot by the end of the night it didn’t matter.
And were you smoking in those days?
I didn’t start smoking until, I started smoking that week that I got sent home. We’d just had a big contact up with the Americans. We were sent to the Americans, our tracking team and they wanted help. We went
up and we had a couple of contacts and kills up there with them. They were laying roads through the scrub and they were getting shot at all the time, so ten of us went up there and tried to sneak them out and we run into a couple of them.
Can you explain what was this operation called?
I wouldn’t know what operation it was to tell the truth but we went to the Americans detached from the support company and
attached to the Americans for four days.
How did you find the Americans?
We were choppered in and they find us. They’re on radio all the time. See they’re working in another province and sometimes they’d come down and work in an operation that we were in and help us. But they were making, this mob was cavalry and they were doing some roads through but they kept on getting shot up,
so they wanted someone to go and find these snipers, so they said, “Take the dogs.” and off we went.
And how did you get on with the Americans?
Good, we were soaking wet and they had tanks and they’d pull up of a night time, drop the tank back and come out with fresh clothes and eskies of beer in there and we’d be standing outside like drenched rats and they’d close up and sleep in their tanks of a night time and we’d
sleep under the big tanks on the wet ground but we’d get a hot meal. A Chinook [helicopter] would come in and the first night we said, “Where are we going to eat?” And they said, “Don’t get your rations out mate.” He said, “Hot tea is coming in soon.” and in comes a Chinook, drops
off the hot boxes and away it goes and yeah we got a hot meal, hot steak, and corn and potatoes.
Must have been like heaven after eating all the bully beef?
Was that what you had in your rations?
Oh we had bully beef and we had some baked beans and frankfurts and beans and peaches and that. We had fifty-fifty Australian and the other fifty American
rations, wasn’t too bad. Learnt how to mix them up and make the best of it.
So tell us about this particular operation that you were doing to help the Americans out?
Well apparently they were getting shot at when they were laying their tracks, they’ve got the big tanks coming along and they’ve got the bulldozers and they wanted people, someone to find these little sneaky ones that were having shots
at them all the time. They had to keep ducking inside so someone must have had the idea that we’ll send the dogs up and see if they can track them down. So we went in and they showed us where they had last seen them and we followed and about five minutes later we ran into them and they were sitting down. So we shot two of them up and a couple of others took off but at that time of the night it was too late to keep following the others, so we just stopped
and got those two and went back to the base and had a look around the next day and got choppered out. And they must have been working something with the Australians there somewhere but it was an experience, believe me. They just stand there and blast up everything. Go to the perimeter and just blast and
here we are, “Now they’ll know where we are.” and that’s because we are so sneaky. We try and hide and here they are advertising where they are and then they said, “Sleep under the big tanks.” It was the only place that had cover. It was all a big round circle and all empty and I said, “What happens at night if anything hits us?” And they said, “We just take off, go straight
to the perimeter and do the same thing again.” I said, “Thanks mate, here we are laying underneath.”
Did you sleep under there?
Yeah, the only place we could get away from the rain. We had tents but in there there’s no pegs or anything to tie them to, it’s all vacant, all empty. The only cover we had was getting under a tank.
Because they could forget that you were under there?
Yeah, and go. They said, “We just get in and go, straight to the perimeter if anything comes in.” I said, “Thanks mate, you’ll be dragging us along.” But that was all right.
It must have been a bit of a concern how gung ho they were though?
Oh they were crazy but they were with us and they went with us when we were looking for them and
they might be gung ho but they are brave too. They do some silly things but they are brave blokes a lot of those what’s it’s names.
Did you get to know any of them, like personally?
No, no, spent a couple of days with them and you’re just another soldier walking around like a drenched rat. One bloke went home that day and he’d just put a Claymore
detonator in his hand and pressed it, blew his fingers.
To get home?
To get home.
Was that common?
Wasn’t one of us, was a big American but he did, whether he did it on purpose or not. All he said was, “I’m going home now.”
So you were at a different base to the Americans? You actually didn’t get to go and visit their bars or anything?
No, no, we were a long way from them.
I didn’t get to ask you about your leave and we’re about to run out of tape, with that first week of leave that you had and went to Vung Tau?
Are we out of tape? I can’t tell you where I went.
Interviewee: Norman Cameron Archive ID 1710 Tape 07
All right I was interested Norm to know the role you played as the dog handler and I was just thinking to myself it’s almost worse than a forward scout in as far as danger. Tell us what it’s like to lead?
To be out there? It’s really, to be honest, it’s the old saying, “If shits were trumps,
they’d be trumps.” if you know what I mean? And to be out there our thinking was not if we would find something but it’s a matter of when and being out there it’s quite scary and being scary and at the same time you know this is your
job and you’ve got to keep pushing in and pushing in and just keep on going. And sometimes it come to something and sometimes it come to nothing. Regardless just being there, like you said, a forward scout well they had very testing times those poor fellows too. We were just that little bit worse because as dog handlers we knew what we were capable of and
we were following something. It was quite nervy and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared because no one in their own mind would say that they wouldn’t be and nearly every time you went to front, you
saddle up and away you go and think, “Here we go again.” And like most of the time you were tracking along you forgot about being scared because you were too busy concentrating on watching your dog and trying to be as alert as possible. And going back to what I said before was, what made it a lot better is that
I myself was happy that I had a machinegun right next to me and the machine-gunner that I had he was a top gunner and that put me at ease but that doesn’t take away, being at ease doesn’t take away being frightened or scared because no-one wants to have
any bullets whizzing around them or hitting them or whatever and it was tension full when we were up the front and a bloody big relief when you changed dogs and had to go to the back and you’d say, “It’s not bad back here.” And that’s what it felt like.
Well I was going to ask you, at least with the forward scout there is a bit of rotation and…?
Yeah, they change and plus they’re going at their own pace and they make a minimum of noise and they can easily, they can walk straight smack bang into them but you get camouflage in some of that stuff mate you can be in the middle of it before you even realise and this is what happens with a lot of things. But we’re motoring along at a lot faster pace
and like I’m looking, holding him, trying to watch him and of course I’d be lying if I didn’t turn round to make sure my mate was still with me. It would be quite easy for us to get a few metres apart because I’m getting dragged along and I’m getting helped where they are not, and a few metres can be a lot, so then I’ve got to
dig in my heels and pull back. But it was quite a thing.
How fast would you be pulled along?
I can travel with Cassius, I could get up to probably fifteen odd k’s I’d travel in an hour
if I had straight running because he absolutely motored and in training I’ve seen my team stretched out over half a mile. He’s so big and strong he was and for me to actually be like that, but the other one was, you get another dog that just goes like this (demonstrates) and just wanders and does his own little thing. But
Cass and the one, Tiber that I got later, he was a slow moving dog and that’s all the better but you can get them that will move along at their own pace and some will just want to get stuck into it and different dogs all track different.
And with Cassius there was the added thing that he didn’t indicate?
No, until this last thing. Well I was just there for the ride with him
and I knew it. I said, “I’m going to be twenty metres away.” end of story before I left and when I was there and what could I say. Could you see someone going up to the boss and saying, “My dog’s not going to point, I don’t want to go?” You wouldn’t do it, would you? So you’re there for the ride. “Yep, I’m here,
I’m going with him.” and I wouldn’t leave him anyhow and I wouldn’t give him to anyone else. Like I said it was a partnership. He was part of me and I was part of him. And I would even say now if we were stuck together I’d go with him and he’d go with me and no worries.
How did you pull yourself up for a day, knowing that
one, he didn’t indicate and two, he moves fast? How did you prepare yourself for the danger of it?
I accepted it. It wasn’t a matter of what’s it’s name. I accepted him for that and for the other part he knew, Aspro, who was my gunner, he knew that I’d travel fairly fast and he was tall and skinny
and he was pretty well mobile and he stuck with us and he’d always, “Hang on Norm.” and I’d pull him right up. See they could see me from where I couldn’t see them and you get to learn, I don’t want to get away and they’d say, “Well we don’t want you to.” Because once I’m out of what’s it’s name, I become in their
firing, arc of fire, and they couldn’t fire and I’d be stuck out on my own, so I had to be with them, so that they could get around me and it was my job to get my dog back. If things got too big and he got stuck out there well I’d just drag him literally, and but those things
it was accepted, you don’t say accepted, I accepted it as my responsibility and accepted him and prepared to go with it.
It’s a tough thing to accept?
It’s a tough thing to do and you can sit back today and you can go over your way of thinking and a lot of times I still sleep, think about it and dream about it over the years
because they turn out to be weird and wonderful dreams sometimes where you wipe out people because you’ve dragged them in and taken them into situations and that was the worst part. Where was I going? Then you’re terrified of it but
today I wouldn’t have cared a continental and it was a matter of going and getting him, I would have gone in and got him out, even if it cost.
That’s a pretty strong relationship?
Yeah, and we had that within the platoon ourselves. No one bugged out. We said, “We’re here to make sure.” that if anything
ever happened the whole team would be up front and we’d stay with it until the rest of them come and got us. There was none of this bugging out on each other and that was the whole thing with all the diggers within the battalion, and even today.
Well how did you see Cassius? Did you see him as just a dog or?
No, he’s a mate and a dog is something that is tied up in a backyard and get a pat and you throw a feed to but someone you’re given, he’s been given to you and you’ve doing a job,
it’s a partnership. And he’s someone I slept with, and someone I ate out of the same bowls as him, I drank out of the same bowls as him. He was good enough to do that with and he was with me and sat with me on picket with me and he did everything with me and never complained and
can make you love them and probably later on made me a lot more sadistic in a lot of things because I lost something I didn’t want to in such a manner and maybe it could have been stopped and I blame myself or whatever and it just made me cynical of a lot.
So you took it pretty hard?
Oh I had eighteen months next to him, just like one of my mates in the platoon and they did it the same thing. It cut the whole section in half that did because he was bloody brilliant, in more ways than one he was, absolutely. And not just a good mate and a good worker and a bloody good friend to the other twelve.
And he showed everyone how it could be done, he did.
Did you see him less of a dog and more of a soldier or?
Yeah, he was a soldier and he’s been remembered as a soldier. Just like now all the animals, just like the
soldiers in the wars when they had the horses, that’s their mates. Those horses worked their guts out for the blokes that rode them and you’re going back to our survival years ago with pigeons. How did we get messages without pigeons? Saved thousands of peoples lives through message carrying and the country owes the animals of war hundreds and thousands
of lives, doesn’t matter what they are, from all of them because some of the donkeys they carted for us, carted food. Some of the soldiers would have starved if they couldn’t get the food because of them. This is how they’ve got to be looked as soldiers. Soldiers lived because of them.
Do you relate to like that old legend of Simpson and his donkey?
What do you think of, the thing that so many people think separates animals and humans?
Separates them because they can’t appreciate what we’ve got. People have got them but they get a kick in the guts. People have got them and they’re an inconvenience to them. If you can’t
look after them, don’t have them. If you can’t appreciate them, don’t have them and people who appreciate them have them and they look after them. But the people that have them and don’t appreciate them for what they are, and all times we do our lollies [get angry] with our cats and dogs and birds or whatever, they’re dumb animals, but they’re not dumb. They’ve got their own way of surviving and
own way of loving us and that’s the only way that they can express it is through their affection and they’ve got more affection on top of affection and they’ll only look after us. That’s what they are here for, for us to enjoy. People don’t enjoy them mainly because they’re too lazy to look after them and they’re an inconvenience. If they’re inconvenient you don’t have them, because as in a unit
and all that you can’t have them because it’s inconvenient. You live in caravan parks, you can’t have them but a lot of people love them there but in the home people have them because someone gives them an animal and instead of saying no they’ll take it because they don’t want to offend anyone but they’ll abuse it.
Well tell us about Cassius’ personality? What kind of dog was he?
What type of dog?
Yeah, just describe his personality?
His personality, he was a dog that wanted love. He had love where he come from before I got him and they absolutely adored him and you could say to Cassius, “Sit Cass.” and he’d sit. And you’d say, “Cass, do you love me?” And he’d howl. “Cass, do you really love me?” And he’d roll on his back and he’d just howl his head off.
And he could dive in water and he would swim under water for three or four minutes without coming up and we’d just sit there in awe of him. He was just a quiet, loving and very strong, what I mean his strength.
I could understand why he could drag the people, the blind people around as he just wanted to go. He was robust. I looked at him and how could he be robust, that big fat thing? But man, the strength that he had in those four legs was just astronomical and that’s how he wanted to go, just go. That’s why they couldn’t have him as a seeing-eye dog. He used to keep
pulling the people around but he loved doing it. He loved to please. That’s all he wanted to do was please you and if he had the track and it meant him dying to please you and that’s what he did. It was not the first time he fell down in heat and exhaustion, it was the third time and no inclination that he was getting tired or puffed, just bang,
fall in a heap and that’s all he wanted, he loved. He didn’t want it, he had it and he just wanted to do what he loved and love you.
We talked about rewards when he did a good job like going out on a patrol?
All he did was come in and sit down and cuddle him up and all he did and he was happy with that. A drink of water and his
food and he just wanted to be with you. It’s not hard for the amount of work and what he did and all he wanted was someone to, he just wanted to please someone and that’s it. Everyone loved him, everyone I even meet now, old Cass, that’s in the old battalion, everyone wanted to talk to Cass.
A lot of people would come up and talk to him and pat him?
Oh yeah, I never stopped that because to the extent of the diggers in our battalion always wanted to pat him and go on and he’s not a guard where you keep them away from people. Let him and them enjoy him and at the same time he wasn’t a circus, he was a work dog.
And you said he was quiet, he wouldn’t bark or?
No, he’d be sitting in the back of a truck full of dogs
when we’d be going to training and they’d be growling and poor old Cass would just sit there and look like this (demonstrates) and take no notice of them, lay down. Just didn’t want to be no part of any other garbage, just happy to sit there and go and do his own little thing.
How quiet was he on the job?
Quiet, as in never bark. He was just mobile,
go. He’d get that excited that he’d just turn around in circles while I was putting his gear on and just raring to go and put it on and (demonstrates), gone. Off you go then and it would take a few metres for me to slow him down to a reasonable pace.
And you said he could pick up the scent of the Viet Cong? I was
wondering if you ever took him out like in Vung Tau town where there were Vietnamese?
Yeah, he went in through there but I don’t know what it meant to him. The smell was different and it smelt different to me and you too, but what he made of it, I don’t know. It just could have been part of
when I actually showed him the first body whether this was part of this smell, something else is no good, this is what happens. See if I smell this again, we don’t know.
He didn’t react or bark or?
No, no, he’d just sit there and happy
as a bee sitting in the back of the car.
He didn’t go for the villagers?
No reaction, he’d just potter along with you.
Do you think he knew about the dangers he was in?
No. Would not have known.
Do you think he knew about the kind of deaths that were going on?
He could smell that I would say. I wouldn’t say that it didn’t but I would say that
he would smell it more than us and he would have smelt that fear, that fear would have been pouring out of there. And the dogs they had, dog handlers and dogs had a thing on their head in Vietnam and they wanted the Aussie dogs and dog handlers.
How did you know about this?
We didn’t know until later when we were home and actually Dennis Ferguson who came in after us, the first time he went, he said someone went into, and had a bounty, a bounty on their heads and he’s still wanted.
He’s wanted in the Ho Chi, not in Ho Chi Min, Saigon, Hanoi, up there in the war memorial and that’s the last time I seen him and he said, “Don’t believe it, there’s one up there.” From him and I’m going on what he said and I know there was a bounty on our heads and the dogs. We were never ever
told and whether any of our others knew, they wouldn’t tell a soldier anyhow, because you wouldn’t go out, would you?
Must make you think about things, even though you hear it years later?
See we were finding things that no one else could find because they were taking us there.
Must make you reflect on things?
Well see actually when I was talking earlier before the interview
about the sergeant being killed and sent out and they didn’t know that he was still alive, well they wanted us, they called for us in the day before, the dog to come in and because they’d sighted these Viet Cong but they’d gone out on an operation of silence. Just took off, complete silence for three days and just to see where they could go and see what they could find before they
actually made contact. They said, “We’re not going to make contact with anyone for three days and we’ll see what we can pick up just moving around before they hit anything and they called for us but the battalion commander said, “No, not until tomorrow.” Because they saw these Viet Cong coming in and they said, “Can we get the dogs to follow them?” And they said, “No,
got to wait until tomorrow and you can make contact with them and we’ll follow them and see where they go.” Made contact with a battalion, thirty blokes so that’s how much we missed it by. Yeah, that’s when eight of them were killed there and probably about twenty-five wounded before they got reinforcements.
But we were called in there, wanted to come in there and thank goodness, and that’s where the other bloke, they looked for things and were going to search and that’s when they used us for things, to find them and it was a ten-storey hospital underground that the battalion was protecting and the Americans carted stuff out of there for months.
So you don’t know what’s around the corner over there mate and tunnels can lead you to something massive.
So I guess combined with everything you were saying about how with the dogs you’re almost assured of..?
Finding something. See they were going to make contact the next morning, sweep it and then bring us in but they sweeped straight into a battalion and you’re not talking fifty cowers there. You’re talking big guns, big shells that those big fellows walked into
but that’s how they used to use us, have a contact and then call us.
Well you mentioned when you were on the job you would almost be okay because you were concentrating on the job but when would the fear and the stress hit you?
When would it? Going in and actually getting to the place and initially coming and it got to that way that I said, “It’s no good us with our dogs on a lot of these long operations going with the battalion and walking for days and then someone over there
having a contact and youse getting in a helicopter over to us and trying, and us trying to make a helicopter pad to get out to get over there and when we get there the dogs are nearly pooped because they’ve been walking for two days.” I said, “We’re better off operating a lot of the short ones
from base, so if they have a contact we can be flown straight from base and straight to where they had the contact.” And we operated our last six months on that and then we’d stop with that company until they wanted us somewhere else. But initially we wouldn’t go out until such time as we were required otherwise the dogs would be pooped walking for two or three days, except when they wanted us
to go with company headquarters at different times.
And were there times when the dogs would lose the scent?
Mmh. There were times when for no reason at all you'd be going along and just nothing. Everything would just peter out. Not so much peter out but dead end and in a lot of cases we were
only, when you’re given an area, you’re given an area of operation and, “7 Battalion, this is your operation area.” and, “2 Battalion, this is your operation area.” and if you had the Americans, “That’s their operation area.” or if you had South Vietnamese and sometimes we’d come into their operation area and end of story.
You can’t cross over?
No, that’s it you can’t go over, you’re going into another battalion’s area. That was only common sense.
Why was that?
Because we didn’t know, the battalion would have known where everyone was but that was our operation area and that was it and we don’t go out and no one walks in. Been done and we’ve done a banzai [charge on enemy forces] on one day.
I’ve done a track and come straight to the clearing and four hundred yards away on the edge of a rubber plantation seen these soldiers all walking along, so what do we do? Banzai, line up and running across this paddock mate and we’re going to get these and they’re walking, probably about fifty or sixty of them and we’re going to blast them up and the next thing, “Hit the deck.” so we’re
all down and it was Delta Company, our own company of blokes and we’re racing in to blow up and this is what could happen if we went in out of our operation zone. You don’t know, they could have an ambush out somewhere and no one knows so that’s why some of them got to there, “That’s it, finished.”
Especially if you are
running towards them?
Oh mate, the fire-power that would come in there, you wouldn’t get home. That’s why a lot of them outside of their operation area come across enemy bunkers and you stop and anything you find, you stop and destroy. It’s good enough you’ve had a find, and done something but you haven’t.
What would make them, you’ve just mentioned sometimes it would just happen but would there be any geographical reasons why the scent would get lost or anything?
some of them sit there for so long and wash away and over there we had ninety per cent forest and doesn’t get blown. You get strong winds in there but over there that’s the main reason, it was left too long or you had too many people moving through the area and like a lot of them wrecked a lot of our tracks by us going that way and it moved
into where another company would move through after they had gone through and troop movement killed a lot of them. We’d get going and the dog would go (demonstrates) and about two hours ago such and such a platoon went through this area, so you’ve got to stop because you don’t know whether you are going to follow your own blokes then. So a lot of silly, not silly, it was just troop movement or left too long or
river and that were the main things.
Was there a way to get over this? Another method you could use to get back on the scent?
There could be quite easy but there it’s a big job because you have to use visual trackers. You have to look and say, “You had a platoon move through there and how did they move through? And go from here and do I have to move, go fifty metres
up here and start looking for, and go on a search looking for it and it just become too dicey there because you spent too much time looking and they could be sitting there looking at you. And it could become dangerous that you were too occupied on another thing that they’d just say, “Don’t go into it.”
Tell us about these visual trackers? How would they work, what would they look for?
They were used a lot of the time when we thought the dog would lose his track and I’d say, “Stop.” If I’d been going for half an hour I’d say, “Stop.” and I wanted to take a breather anyhow and I’d say, “Go forward and confirm that I’m still on the track.” and the visual tracker would go forward and have a look and say, “Yeah” and they’d make note of what they were wearing, this type of sole and heading in that direction and how many there was and they’d come back and
say, “Yeah, there’s still about six or something there and they’ve still got the same type of footwear and still heading in that direction” and confirm that we were still on it or we’d lost it and sometimes they couldn’t find it and we’d just go back where we come from.
What was their background? What was the visual trackers background?
The same as me, the one’s that never
got dogs got to become visual trackers, so they learnt how to use their eyes to search for all these weird and wonderful things and signs, which they worked together great and we used to give each other heaps. They said we needed them and they said we were no good without them and vice versa, but we worked together and properly they were a good team.
Were any of them, like we were talking off camera, were any of them Aboriginal trackers themselves?
No, don’t have black trackers. I’m not saying that they wouldn’t probably be that good but we didn’t have that many, they were white boys.
They weren’t trained at all by Aboriginal trackers or anything?
Well you told us a lot about your relationship with Cassius but how was it developing with?
Tiber and me, like I said it took a good month for me to soak it in because I was still hurt, sad and got to the stage of, “That is it. No matter what you’re going to do, I’m not going to get back into this.”
but in the same time then in 7 [Battalion], I was the only one that really knew what was going on because I had done twelve to eighteen months training on it prior to any of these blokes and then I thought, “Got to get back into it and get switched on because it’s blokes lives at risk.” whether it’s using Tiber and whether it was using Justin.
I had to train Blackie and it was still my responsibility as he’d had two months training as a dog handler before going to Vietnam and it was my responsibility to continue to retrain him so, but for Tiber and myself we build a relationship up. I learnt for him he was more of a
work-dog than a mate. There was more of a work-dog mate relationship there and I’m not saying.. I didn’t dislike the dog, it was just that I had that bitterness there where I couldn’t except him as Cass, not Cass, and I
couldn’t get that but we got through our tour with him and like I said he did some good tracks and stuff ups and we had our good and bad times together and but he ended up finding a home and like I said he’s still a soldier.
He didn’t choose to go there and they were sent.
How did Cassius get his name?
We, the whole training wing used Roman Emperor’s names, all Roman names, Cassius, Caesar, Justin, Brutus, all Romans and that was the trend that they were using when we went there, all Roman’s names.
Dunno, that was the thing they said we must have all Roman names
here and they did, Milo, is he such a thing? They must have changed there eh? And Marcus and all those, that was their theme, Roman names for their dogs.
they didn’t give them any Yank. They fought and stayed and died. They come home nowadays though, which is good.
Well we’ve come to the end of the tape again.
Interviewee: Norman Cameron Archive ID 1710 Tape 08
Norm we were going to talk about your first leave that you had in Vung Tau six months after you went over to Vietnam, so can you tell us who you took off with to go on leave? You said you had a leave but did you go on your own or?
Yeah, went down there on my own but there were other people from other battalions and places down there on leave anyhow.
What was Vung Tau like?
Just a little village town with
a lot of bars and pubs and full of beggars and full of people doing nothing, just people running around. I mean running around, not literally running but just sitting in their houses and doing nothing. Just a town of nothing to me and shoe-shine boys and anyone doing something to get a quid off the servicemen
there and whatever it was. And at bars they had plenty of grog or they had bloody brothels and they had whatever they wanted but we used to have our own bar up the top where the Americans used to go and drink, the Peter Badcoe Club [an Australian club for soldiers]. We’d go up there and at least we’d get food that we’d know that we could eat because I wasn’t
flashed in Chinese or anything like that and I liked a steak or a hamburger and you could get all English food at their at the American Peter Badcoe Club. And we drank and drank and drank and then sleeping and drink and drink and drink and before you know it your five days is up and you’re back out into it again and that’s all you could do there.
No tourists, can’t go nowhere out of the town.
Did the Army give you sex education?
Give us what?
No, they told us what was going on over there and if you were going to have sex and all that and in those days it was use condoms and if you didn’t well you’d end up with venereal disease nine times out of ten, end of story. And those that didn’t use them three quarters of them ended
up with VD [venereal disease] anyhow, but some of them never learnt.
Did any of your mates get VD?
Yeah, but we’d just rubbish them and they’d be off to the doctor and they’d be off for their needles but it was silly. You had protection and you’d have to use it because some of the strains weren’t real flash, the strains of
VD that you could get. They weren’t real flash if you got some bad syphilis off them and they weren’t too healthy on you and even known as the, what they called the “blackjack” and that was one that you
couldn’t get rid of, so that was scary enough anyhow.
What, your thing would turn black?
Your thing would turn black?
No, that was what it was called, the blackjack and it was a real bad strain that you could get and keep recurring and you couldn’t get rid, hard to get rid of. Normally it was just the ordinary what’s it’s name but if you had half a brain you wouldn’t take the chance and not have any protection measures.
And what about you? Did you partake of?
Yeah, yeah but I always used condoms.
Were there any particular women there that you liked besides just?
No, whoever took your money and if you were drunk enough, no. You never ever make a relationship with them. Like I said my first experience
as a country boy and we’d never taken girls out or ever had sexual relationships, if you know what I mean? We vastly didn’t know what it was and when we were training we didn’t have time for that and then we went to trackers and we didn’t worry about that unless you wanted to go up to the Cross [Kings Cross], because we didn’t have time for relationships and that. And
I was always like I said before we respected the girls and we were taught that you just didn’t go and abuse people and that was what I grew up with and I wouldn’t take anyone out to use and abuse people, girls. And so I never much had much sexual relationships before I went over there and
like I said about three or four times on that first one we did but I always used contraception or something but a lot of them got too drunk and they forget to have them or forget about it. But when I first come to Vung Tau and they said, “Go to a bar.” and go in and sit down for a beer and someone come along and grab you by the old fellow and you say, “Holy shit,
what is this?” And someone else grabbing me by the old fellow, what the hell is going on? And you’d be like this and scared.
What a bet because you were a virgin? Weren’t you saying you were a virgin?
Yeah, and never, and the blokes were all saying, “Let’s sell him.” trying to flog you to them. I said, “Oh no, this is crap this is.” and you’re
petrified by them and they’d come up and bloody some sheila would try and kiss you and all they wanted was twenty dollars off you and no ones getting my money, and then they’d come up and oh mate.
Even if you weren’t a virgin someone’s grabbing you there?
Oh terrified, but that’s the type of people they were. They wanted money and they’d get money however they wanted to survive. And that was my initial week there and I said, “Let’s get out of here.” but
then later on didn’t matter.
Now the second week of leave you had was in Hong Kong?
And how was that?
Oh brilliant, absolutely drank ourselves stupid and we found a Pommy bar where we used to go and drink and wouldn’t go and drink in theirs and we went through good tours throughout their zoos and right up to the border towns of China and up through the mountains and it
was good. And we had our nights with the girls and that but if you can’t enjoy something in five days, so be it. But that wasn’t the main thing. We enjoyed our trips around. We’d go and buy a taxi for the day and it would cost you thirty dollars and they’d take
you everywhere and spend a whole day with a full tour showing us each day, different parts of Hong Kong and goodness know what.
And did you buy any stuff in Hong Kong?
No it was, I bought some clothes, all the silky stuff, all out of fashion stuff I bought and I didn’t know what clothes were. I’d never bought clothes in my life.
Because all we had were old clothes at home and then in the army we wore army and they’d last me for ever but then when I came back I had to get trendy.
I was thinking maybe you bought things for your Mum or your sisters?
No, I bought all that in Vietnam. I bought watches and, bought them all watches and I bought some radios and that and I send those home to them,
through the PX [American Canteen Unit]. It was cheaper and we could buy them next to nothing and I bought them all there and sent them home to them. And those two dolls up there, I sent them home to Mum and underneath their dresses is a half a dozen watches that I sent home in each to them all and they said, “We haven’t got the watches.” And I said, “Oh.” and two days later I get a letter, “Oh we found them.” See we could only send home so much,
see we were only allowed to send home about three or four watches but we had to try and find a way to send them home, so I wrapped them up underneath those dresses and sent them home and I’ve still got them up there. When Mum died I got the dolls back.
Did you write home quite a lot?
Yes, all the time and Mum wrote all the time and she sent cakes and all that stuff over, so which was good and
it was just so good to come home and find a letter but there still was another connection somewhere out of this hell hole and that’s what it was, great.
Great, now did you come back from Vietnam before your twenty-first?
Yes. I met Corinne on my twenty-first.
I said I met Corinne on my twenty-first.
Oh right, well just before you tell us about that, how long was your last leave in Hong Kong until you came home?
About four months, four months before I come home, no more leave and then we flew home on the rear party because we’d stayed with the new dog handlers that had come over with 1 Battalion to take over our dogs, so we stayed with them and familiarised them with our dogs. Because the dog handlers came over without dogs from 1RAR [Royal Australian Regiment], just to take
over our dogs.
Now this is when a month later when Tiber took off?
Yeah, he took off with the new bloke. The Tet Offensive was on then and we were up there in the Tet Offensive with them and we came home and 1 Battalion came over and they went back up to Bien Hoa with the Tet Offensive and there was plenty of noise all that time and he just got gung ho.
So what, how did you hear about your going
home? I mean I know you were there for twelve months but could you count it down to the very last day?
Oh yeah, one thing we checked on all the time. Didn’t worry about if for probably the first six months but nearly every tent had a calendar in it with a (demonstrates), one more down. We all counted. And then after that it was every day and then we’d go in and find out when we’re coming home. The battalion come home on the
boat and Blackie and myself flew home in the rear party. So we flew over and back, so ours was quick. They left three weeks before us and we were home two weeks before them, poor buggers, five weeks on a ship.
How were you dealing with the fact that Australians were getting killed in Vietnam?
On a day to day basis how were you and your mates dealing with it?
Oh we felt for them all because they were our mates, and no one would say you don’t feel anything within the family or you get a small community and something happened there,
but you don’t feel it but you’re talking to him today and know he goes out tomorrow and bang, dead, not real good. But at the same time tomorrow goes on and we were out again and nothing’s going to change it. But how you felt about it, you felt sad
and how do we convince ourselves? Have another beer, hoping it would go away, have another beer. How else are you going to do it? Otherwise you’d never go outside the fence if you got… it’s just part of the thing that
you have to learn to accept or not accept and we accept it but we don’t accept it. We accept it in the fact that we know it’s going to happen but to a close mate you can’t accept it, but you’ve still got to accept it. I don’t know if you understand. I still don’t understand myself. Sometimes even today
you think “I couldn’t care a shit if it was me then.” Wouldn’t have cared but sometimes you say, “Those poor buggers were better off than what we were.” but they’re not. There was no answer to it and never will be an answer to, to someone sending someone to what is going to happen, to the day that this
world blows up or whatever. There is going to be wars and people are going to die and we are not going to stop it. We’ve just got to accept it as something that’s going to happen and it’s going to be sad because it’s someone’s son that is dying, someone’s mate that is dying, whether it be in a car or whatever. But this here, it’s no different
if he’s signed up, it’s the persons life and it’s precious and you like your life and I love mine but they give it up and we accepted when we signed the line we give it up for the country and that’s the difference. Hard ah? But if we don’t accept it we run away and I’m bloody sure I wouldn’t run away. No one would call me a traitor and
you would too if you were in something that we learnt to believe in and that’s what we were there for.
I think about protecting my daughter in that sense. You’d do anything.
You’d do anything without getting paid or anyone else, you’d protect them and we were trained to protect the country and the fellows of today are trained to protect the country and if no one came and trained
to protect the country us good people here today wouldn’t have the life that we’re having now. And if we don’t continue to protect it we won’t continue to have this life.
I mean we can discuss this now logically but I mean at the time you were a very young man?
Of course I was.
And it must have been rather difficult living on the edge so much because you
picked up on it with it with Kieran, about it being worse than a scout because you knew you were going somewhere?
I’ve stood under rubber trees and bawled my head out and got on my hands and knees and cried out to get through the times because there was nothing else and I’d be lying if I said I had never, because I did. I didn’t want to have my head blown off and like you said I was
too young, I had too much to live for but tomorrow you’d still walk outside the fence and put yourself in the situation. But it doesn’t hurt to cry out for help or have a good cry, does it? Doesn’t hurt but that was the last, didn’t cry for a long time though.
Did that kind of living on the edge that you’re talking about, that sort of stress level of being on all the time effect you later on?
Okay we might talk
a little bit about that in a second but I’ll just bring you back to home. You said you flew back? What did you fly on?
Qantas [Airways]. One big jet.
Just you and Blackie?
No, full of all other soldiers coming home from Tan Son Nhut Airport straight into Sydney at twelve o’clock at night.
And who met you there?
No one. We flew from Tan Son Nhut Airport to Melbourne Airport and
no one met us there. Flew from there to Adelaide Airport where my mother and Donald, no, sorry, he met me. He was working still in the army then. He come and picked me up and Mum had come up from the country town to Adelaide to meet me.
How was that coming home, dealing with everyday life after just what you’d experienced?
Oh I was drunk for most of it and they were probably looking at someone different that I couldn’t understand until many years later.
Did anyone say anything to you?
No one said, “You’ve changed?”
No-one and then I had a month at home and then I left.
I wouldn’t go home for six years. One time I went home and me mother opened the door and she said, “Yes, can I help you?” And I just stood there and I said, “It’s your son.” She’d seen me once in ten years, joined up and
gone and come back and I just lost the track and I don’t give a crap and if they said anything. Up your bum.
You just found it very shallow what people talked about and life very shallow?
Yeah, yeah, didn’t want to entertain nothing and I don’t know, just got lost in my
So what did you do after you stayed home for a month when you first got back?
My home? What did I do? I used to drink a lot and go out and get drunk and go somewhere and end up somewhere and go back to my cousin’s where I grew up. I’d stay home for a couple of hours and that with Mum and I’m not saying that our relationship wasn’t any good. Our mother loved us and
wasn’t for many, many years that I ever said that to my mother… but I just went in there and drunk and didn’t give a crap about anything and don’t know why and couldn’t wait to get back to, well I went back to another place anyhow, the boys and just got into drinking all the time.
So you went back into the army?
Yeah, I stayed in the army. I went back to Inf Centre as an instructor.
So they gave you eight weeks leave, or two weeks or whatever?
About eight weeks leave before I went back and started again, so I went back up there and I started a new job. I went back as an instructor with the dogs for three and a half years then.
It must have been around, you said you met your wife at your twenty-first?
When was that?
Must have been sixty-eight?
yeah, would have been ’68, September ’68, and she was someone else and I was with someone else but that’s where we initially met each other but she was going out with one of my diggers. But we used to go out and dance at the same place but we always used to go out to the same places and
then the other bloke that was taking her out he just, I didn’t like the way he talked about her. I never speak about women or when they come back and talk crap and I said, “I don’t want to listen to the crap.” I said, “That’s bloody crap that you’re talking anyhow.” Anyhow they broke off and me other best mate, the other instructor and his wife now become good friends and
he said, “Why don’t you ask Corinne out for a date?” And I did.
So you’d broken up with the girl that you were going out with?
Oh yeah, I’d broken up, yeah, a couple of months and yeah that’s when we met and been together ever since.
And when did you get married?
On January the 9th, ’71.
Quite a long time in those days to know someone before you got married?
Yeah, and I got discharged in ’79, oh November that year.
71? So that would have been six years?
Yeah, six years I did.
Okay, the training that you were doing at Ingleburn, was it?
I was training the dog handlers to go to Vietnam.
Now, okay now the army had decided this works?
Mmh, yeah and they kept them right through and they used dogs
right through the war, till the finish.
Did you have any dog handlers that you trained with their dogs that actually got killed over in Vietnam?
No, no, none of them, all come home which was good.
Very good and what happened with you dealing with being back home, with your new girlfriend and everything?
Was she aware of what, did Corinne know about how difficult you found things?
No, I never said much to Corinne, never talked about it, never said nothing and yet she knew I’d been there because everyone had been to Vietnam she knew but it wasn’t a thing that we’d sit down and talk about what went on over there or what we’d done or anything. It was just part and
parcel of our job and we left it at that and nothing that we talked about, none of us.
Well you said that you drank quite a bit when you came home, was that something that you kept up for a few years?
So how did you get off the booze?
How did I get off her? It took me quite a number of years. It was either my family or the grog.
It was the grog and I said, “This is all I have.” and then it was my wife and daughter, it was all I had because I didn’t have much of a relationship of any of my family and that was once in six years. Mum would always ring and I’d always ring Mum but that was it. The others there was nothing.
Because you felt you couldn’t connect with
them or you couldn’t be bothered?
I couldn’t be bothered. Not that I couldn’t connect with them. I probably didn’t want to.
And where was that coming from?
I don’t know, don’t know. If I knew I’d tell you but I just wanted to be where I was and didn’t want nothing to worry me. No one was going to tell me what to do.
So what happened? Did you decide, “I can only… I need to seek help”?
Okay, and how did that happen? What did you do?
I knew a lot of diggers who had served wherever and a lot of people had got help and I could see where they were coming from in different things. There was
people would talk about Vietnam and a lot of people would get up them and say, “All he ever talks about is Vietnam.” not me, and I’d say, “Shut your mouth.” I said, “That’s the way this bloke releases himself.” I said, “If he doesn’t.” I said, “He’ll go mad, so if you don’t want to listen just let him go on.” And that type of bloke that I worked with in the prison and a few Vietnam vets there in the prison up there and the quiet ones and
whatever and it wasn’t until later that I’d see people and I didn’t want people coming around home and then we had no-one coming around. And if they come around home I wouldn’t talk to them or I’d take off or then they wouldn’t come home because no one felt comfortable at home. And then years went by and in my business people would come in and I’d start thinking,
“Shit I wish I could knock his neck off.” It’s not funny, and I thought, “Oh what’s this arsehole coming in for? Hey, I’m running a business and I’ve got to have people in here.” And I’m not saying it to them.
Yeah, no, no, no, but I’m not laughing, I’m just saying it’s strange.
I’d go and do my shopping for the what’s it’s name and poor old people in there I’d push them over or tell them to shut their neck and
if they want to talk go somewhere else and talk and I’d bump into them and knock them arse over head going through with the trolleys and say, “I’ve got stuff to do, out of my road.” And I said, “Stuff this.” and I knew another bloke and he said, “You should be seeing someone.” and I said, “I don’t think so, it’s only you weak gutted bastards that go looking for someone.”
and it got to that stage where I was down on me and I said, “I’d better go and see someone.” and I said and I went and seen someone and I just broke down and I was crying my guts out and they said, “What’s wrong?” and I said, “I can’t, I’m just crying and can’t stop myself nowadays.” and I said, “It’s not me.” and he ended up getting me onto someone and I see a psychologist and
psychiatrist and doctors and started talking about things and I said, “I don’t talk to no one.” but they tried to make me try and see how I feel and whatever. I had nightmares and I’d entertain them and it was just silly, but
I got help and still getting help and I feel like I’ve got a new lease of life and feeling a lot better by being smart enough to go and do something about it instead of waiting and wrecking my whole family’s life and other people’s lives too. That’s what it would have been and I don’t know where I
would be today if I’d never done that about seven years, eight years ago.
You said you had a close relationship with your daughter. I mean you came to parenthood later in your mid thirties you must have been, so do you think that relationship actually helped as well on centring you?
Yeah for a little bit but in her now
I can see a lot of my bad traits, in my daughter. There’s nothing wrong with her, nothing. It’s just some traits that I had that I wish that she never had in her mannerism that she picked up off me, but other than that, she’s smart. Smart enough to get around us. She was adopted as we could never have children
and not that we didn’t want them. We would have had about a dozen probably.
Do you know why?
My wife, we had all miscarriages and she ended up having two different ectopic pregnancies. She lost one tube and she was pregnant and then after that she had twins in the other one, so
she lost all her tubes over a period of time and apart from that we lost all those children and before we put in for adoption with that team but that was hard on Corinne. But she’s a person that would have loved a big family and she’s good with people.
Yes, you can tell. Thank you for talking about that. Now
you mentioned earlier on today about you working in Rockhampton at the correctional centre. What kind of training of dogs did you do there? I mean obviously security but?
Guard dogs, we trained guard dogs and I had trained the first drug dog there and a brew dog, which the prisoners make brews, alcohol and I trained my dog to find their brews as well as drugs.
So that was good for me as that was another very exciting part of being able to work with dogs through the tracking method in the army and then coming and do the guard side dog and finding drugs and brews and all with them with the dogs in the prison system.
That would have been fascinating because now you would have been dealing with a different type of dog?
Yeah, a Shepherd, a savage dog now. Instead of going from placid to saint
to absolute savage where you’ve got to be more cautious.
Did you ever get bitten?
No. Not there.
So you have been bitten?
Not by my own dog, a pet dog but that was only because I got up and that was only for yelling out for help and he bit me but as a guard, never got bitten there. Blokes did get bitten yeah.
So when you say the first dog with drugs meaning for the airport?
No, for the prison.
For the prison, but I mean was this before airport dogs?
No, they had them, but we were using them as a versatile guard dog in prisons, the shepherds, for all the one thing. Trying to establish ourselves as dog handlers in the prison service, where it was just getting going and to establish yourself and try and find as
many reasons as why they would want to keep you. So we kept on searching and digging and deeper as to why they would want us here, “We can find drugs, we can find brews.” and we had the best job in the gaol. We didn’t want to give that up.
I mean you would have had your hands full though with drugs in gaol?
Oh, there wasn’t that much up in the Rocky gaol, it was a pretty good gaol, prison up there
but down the mainstream ones down here a lot more than we had but that was before they really got a problem in prisons.
So what made you move from Rockhampton down to this place?
My daughter went to uni [university] and I thought I wanted to be down here closer to her and I just
couldn’t stand Brisbane so I moved up here to Glenwood where I am now.
What about now, is there anything that ticks you off or puts you in a bad state of mind that you know you have to be aware of because of your war service?
Yes, I’ve been made aware of different, with myself I get pins and needles up my spine and in my head and
my eye twitches a lot and my leg will vibrate a bit when I know that I’m getting stressed out a lot and I just turn and go and get away from the situation and don’t worry and get away out of that situation. I may be in shopping and I don’t want to be in there today or I’m going driving somewhere
and I don’t want to be there or someone comes and I don’t want to be here so I just get out of the situation. Corrine knows and has been along to a lot of sessions with me and she knows where I’m at and she helps me out a lot. I like Corrine being here and she likes working and all that too but all I do is walk around all day, wanting her to be here.
And whether I’ve put her in a situation where we are now that she’s in town and can’t go anywhere but we love it here, quiet, and peaceful.
Would she prefer to be closer to your daughter?
No, no, she’s very happy here. My daughter loves coming up here, more so, my daughter comes here more than she does when she was living in Brisbane and she was only thirty minutes away.
I don’t know if I’m opening a can of worms here but I certainly don’t intend to
but what are your feeling towards the Anzac Day marches?
Love it, up until five years ago I never marched, didn’t want to know nothing about it but I believe now if we don’t stand up and be counted and
talk to people, our kids, or kids at school or wherever it is, the spirit of Australian soldier is going to die, so it’s up to us now whether we like it or not, to stand up and be counted. And the response the soldiers are getting from the, soldiers, sailors, airmen, whatever they are,
that are getting from the Australian public on Anzac Day in the last four to five years is being something that just makes you proud to be part of and want to get out there and say, “This is what we did it for, is all the young kids and we believe that we went there so that all the ones that are following us will have a good life and a safe life.” And to see them coming in and taking Anzac Day by the throat,
if they want to do that, we’ve got to learn how to get out there and give them something to be proud of.
Maybe it had to, I know all those figures for the Anzac Day, it’s really blossomed in the last few years particularly with young people being interested, I mean under fifteen years of age. Maybe it had to skip a generation to get that interest back,
genuine interest back.
It is and if we don’t turn up now and the Anzacs are gone nearly and if we don’t get out there our memories won’t be lasting neither, so it’s up to us to keep the spirit of Anzac going for ever as they’re the start of what started this nation and the safety of this nation. If they never went out then, we could have been a
lost nation now and so I’m proud to go out. I never marched last year but over the last few years it’s just me feel so good to be out there and the young one’s and I feel that the people of our
generation that protested are even getting behind the soldiers today too.
Well we’d better stop before we run out of time too but Norm thanks very much for today.
Thanks very much for your time, okay.