Archive number: 1782
Preferred name: Goey
Date interviewed: 31 March, 2004
RAEME Corps Vietnam
You are listening to the interview audio
We’ll start off with this life overview, so I’ll get you to take me through where you were born, where you grew up and following on from there.
Well I was born in Hobart in 1943 on the 16th October. I left school at the age of sixteen in 1959. Joined the army in 25th January, 1962.
Got out of the army in December ’82. Oh, well I’ve been married for thirty four years, thirty five years.
Just tell me really briefly where you served during the army, and what your involvement was?
Started off at the recruit training at Puckapunyal, ah, Kapooka, then after that was transferred to
Puckapunyal as a driver batman. I spent four years there. I left there in ’66. Went to one general troop workshops at Bulimba. They changed their name and moved holus-bolus to Townsville in ’66, where it become 301 Field Workshops. Was
there for about eight months and then went to RAEME [Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers] Training Centre, oh, no I never. Where’d I go? Oh, that’s right I was transferred to Ingleburn in New South Wales prior to going to Vietnam in ’67. After that, well didn’t spend a full year in Vietnam because I was due to get out that year, and I wouldn’t sign on
while I was over there. So I come back in December, got out, got married. Didn’t really get a job, so thought, “Oh well, I’ll rejoin the army,” which I did. Didn’t lose anything, come back as the same rank, same number. Was at, that’s right it was then in ’67,
or ’68. Went to Townsville with 301 and then from there I went to, no, hang on, ’66. Where’d I go in ’66? I stayed at Bulimba, and then I went to Ingleburn, and went to Vietnam in ’67, May ’67
to December ’67. Come back, got out, rejoined and was discharged in December ’82. And since then I’ve, well it’s a bit over seven years as a courier driver, and sixteen years working for security.
Mainly for Wormald and then they changed their name to Chubb. And that’s about it.
Excellent, that’s perfect. We’ll just stop there for a second. I’ll go back to the beginning now, and ask you about your childhood and growing up. What are your early memories of Hobart?
About the earliest memory,
well I had four sisters and two brothers. We were all pretty wild. Used to get into a bit of strife. But the earliest memories I’ve got are the under the wharf fishing, and leaping off of bridges. And we seen our mother, she went on board a boat and we went on board with her and had lunch, and that was the last I seen of my mother. And then, that would have
been April ’53. Before then we used to remember going out bush camping a lot, did a lot of camping out in the bush. Because my father used to hunt rabbits, because rabbits were big in those days. My father used to trap them and skin them, sell the skins and the rabbits to the butcher. A way of making a bit of a living. Used to do that
virtually every weekend and every long sort of holiday we had. But as I said, went into a boys’ home in ’53 because my father couldn’t look after all seven kids. Only put three boys in the home and virtually that’s where I stayed until I joined the army in ’59.
Was your father involved in World War 11?
I’m not sure. I know he was in the army prior to war, but I don’t think he ever served. I believe he had something wrong with his heart and they wouldn’t take him, or something was wrong with him. But I know he was because I’ve got photos of him dressed in uniform. But no, he never actually went and fought, as far as I know. Well, no one’s ever mentioned it.
And what happened between your mother and your father?
No idea. I was too young. No one ever talks about it so I never worried about it. It was just one of those things in life.
What do you remember about when your Mum got on this boat? What happened that day?
We went fishing with my two brothers and one of them spotted her, and this bloke she cleared off with, he took us on board and gave us lunch on board.
And that was the last I saw of my mother.
What kind of a boat was it?
Oh it was a cargo boat. He was a merchant seaman, but he ended up jumping ship too. And they ended up in Warners Bay in New South Wales.
What do you remember about your mother when she lived with you?
Not all that much. I can’t really remember at all.
I mean I suppose I would have been about five or six, I don’t know, when she cleared off, so no, I’ve got no real recollection of her whatsoever.
Do you remember her saying goodbye or anything like this on the boat?
No. No, don’t remember a thing.
What sort of relationship did you have with your brothers and sisters?
Well, my eldest brother, got on fabulous with him. My other brother, well, you know. It was okay, I mean we were both in the army together. But I had the closer relationship with my eldest brother, which I don’t see that often like I did with my other brother. But I suppose it happens in all families where you’re closer to one
than the other. But apart from that, you know, he was all right. There was nothing wrong with him, but I don’t know.
How long did you stay with your Dad before he put you in a boys’ home?
Not really sure, because I can’t remember, it was that long ago. And I’ve really thought about it, but
maybe half a year, a year, something like that. He tried, but it was just impossible looking after virtually say, four, five kids, because the older ones would have been old enough to look after themselves. But I’ve got no regrets.
Do you remember anything about that half a year, when you were staying with your Dad?
No, except we were always in strife, doing something wrong. When I say strife I mean, it’s illegal these days, but it was fun in those sort of days.
What sorts of things?
Well, where we lived was West Hobart, above us there was a recreation ground and then above that was sort of cow paddocks, and virtually the foot of Mount Wellington. So we opened our front door, there’s Mount Wellington.
And that was our playground, and because being bush, being kids, we’d go up light a fire, come down, ring the fire brigade up. Go up, help them put it out for a ride on the fire brigade. Because they’d always give us a ride. So, you know, those sort of things. Which are, you know, fire bugs, bad thing these days. But back then, what we were burning couldn’t hurt anything.
It was wrong but we didn’t consider it wrong in those days. And we’d break into a few places. I don’t know, just normal things. I suppose, yeah we were uncontrollable to a degree. So going to boys’ home was a good thing. Really. Maybe I would have been in jail by now.
Do you remember your Dad trying to impose discipline or any sorts of rules?
Oh, yeah. He used to use the strap. That’s the old razor strap which they used to use the old cut throat razor, they sharpened the, that or a belt. Yeah. Got many a belting but then again you know, that was part of life in those days. You can’t touch a kid these days.
What was your relationship like with your Dad?
Quite good, from what I remember. As I said, he always took us out hunting and that. So, yeah the relationship was all right. There was nothing wrong there, it’s just that, well he was trying to work and earn a living and trying to look after three kids, especially boys, and you know he just couldn’t do it. He couldn’t handle it.
What was he working as?
He was a wicker worker, which was making stuff out of cane. That’s the proper name for it. Yeah, plus he was the Santa Claus for a company called Bridges Brothers, which was a sporting place. Every year he was Santa Claus, we knew it.
What would he do as Santa Claus?
Oh, he’d drive around in a sleigh being pulled by a vehicle
through the streets of Hobart, until he got to Bridges Brothers where he’d set up in his chair and all the kids visit him.
Did you visit him?
Yeah but we knew who it was. Never ever let on though, but we knew who it was. You can’t disguise your father that much.
What did you think about him being Santa Claus when you were little?
Well by then we knew that Santa Claus wasn’t
true. I mean you learn at an early age that Santa’s only make believe. It didn’t worry us.
And do you have any memories of how you and your brothers and sisters would try and help out around the place after your Mum left?
Well, sisters might have helped out, but us boys didn’t. We’d clear off as soon as we could. Because I mean,
we had the back room and all you had to do was lift the window up, out through the bathroom, out the back door and away. No one would know you were gone. So, we didn’t do too much work.
What did your sisters treat you like?
All right. I mean I never had a complaint about one of my sisters. You know, being mean or anything to us. As I said, two of the older sisters, they were
virtually going out with boyfriends and that, so didn’t see all that much of them.
Did any of them try and be a bit motherly, or was there any of that sort of attention given to you?
No. I suppose but I wouldn’t have taken too much notice of it. But I don’t think so. I mean they had their lives to lead. They treated us like any sister would in
any normal family, I mean you know, there was no hatred or anything like that. We all got on together, just everyone sort of did their own thing.
Did anyone in the local community try and help your Dad out, through I don’t know, community or churches or anything?
Oh, that sort of thing wasn’t done in those days. Not like it is today. You were virtually on your own in those days, because this is not long after
the Depression and the Second World War, so you know, things were still bad.
What do you remember about when the decision was made that you would go to this boys’ home?
Well, my second brother and myself, we were at school. The whatever they call them, I can’t remember what you call them, they picked us up from school
and took us to the home. They couldn’t find the eldest brother, he’d cleared off. He must have found out about it and he took off. He didn’t get in for a couple of days.
Where did he go?
Out in the bush. He knew how to look after himself.
Did they let you go home to pick up your things, or say goodbye?
No, straight to the home.
What were they like, the ones that picked you up?
I don’t recall. I wouldn’t even have a clue whether it was male or female. I think it was, no I can’t even remember if it was male or female now. Just remember there were two of them, come to collect us, put us in a car to the home.
What sort of a feeling was it like to be taken to this place?
Well we sort of knew it was coming, because the eldest brother had been in a bit of strife, and
he had to go to the court, and that’s when I think the, actually I think it was the judge sort of said we were uncontrollable and we had to be put in a home. Or he had a choice whether to put us in the home or not. So we sort of had an idea, even though we were really young, we sort of had an idea we were going to a home.
What had your brother done?
He broke into the school and stole all the monthly envelopes
which they bring home to put money in, him and one of his mates. And, well we had a ball that weekend. Hiring pushbikes and that, and cause what he didn’t spend he had hidden under a cabbage leaf in the garden. And he wouldn’t tell anyone where it was.
How much money did he get?
I don’t know. It would have been a bit I suppose in those days.
Tell me what you did that weekend with the money?
hired pushbikes and went to the movies and that. Had a good time buying fish and chips and that. Had a ball.
How did they catch him?
The other brother dobbed him in. He followed them. I was sick, I could hear them out there playing cowboys and Indians on the recreation ground, and all of a sudden it went quiet,
because he followed them off to break in, and he said, “All right, if you don’t give me some of the money, I’ll squeal on you,” so they did. On the Monday morning he took some of the money back to the headmaster, “Here, sir. Here’s some of the money we stole on Friday night.” That was the only way they caught them.
Why did he do that?
His conscience got the better of him I suppose. I don’t know. I never asked him.
Who came to get your brother when they found out that he’d stolen the money?
What were the police like then?
Oh they were good. Because we knew the police, they knew us. There was about thirty of us that used to knock around in a group, like a gang. So they knew every one of us.
How would they talk to you, or get to know you?
Oh they spoke to us all right. They knew what we used to get up to and a lot of times they’d turn a blind eye to it. I mean police then, they were tough but I mean, they wouldn’t arrest you. They would either take you around the back and give you a biff around the ear, or take you home and tell your father so he can give you a belting. That’s
how things were done back in those days. Not like they are today. Kids get it too soft.
And what did they do with your brother?
Nothing, he just had to go to Children’s Court.
Do you remember how your Dad responded?
He got a belting. Which was the norm, but apart from that he didn’t, well what could he do?
How old were you when this happened?
I would have been about seven, six and a half, seven. So I was still only young. But you know, they were great days. Wouldn’t swap them for anything.
In terms of the way your Dad was coping, who would look after you in terms of feed you, and put you to bed and things like this?
I suppose the older sister would have done the cooking. We put ourselves to bed, when we decided to go to bed. We were old enough to look after ourselves, between the three of us. There was no problem there. I’d say the oldest, or the two oldest sisters would have done the majority of the cooking, I can’t. Yeah I suppose they would have because I can recall
Sunday dinners and that. Baked Sunday dinners, they were nice. So someone had to do the cooking.
Tell me what the first impression of the boys’ home were like when they took you there?
Don’t know, I suppose that it took a while before I really woke up to fact that you’re in the home, there ain’t nothing you can do about it now.
I suppose I was angry to start with, but you get used to it after a while. You’ve got no choice.
What was the place like? What did it look like?
Big. It would be well over eighty years old.
Huge stack of land for in the city. I suppose it was all right. I mean, I was there for about seven years. Worked hard, you had to work, saw up wood and that. Had big cubby houses and that, built into the wood. It would stretch from one stack of wood to the other.
Plus big veggie gardens, we used to grow our own veggies and that. Had a couple of cows, so it was big, but I don’t know.
What was that first night like?
Don’t remember, honestly don’t remember. No idea, I suppose I would have been scared, I don’t know.
No recollection of the first night whatsoever.
When was the first time that your Dad came to see you?
I don’t think he ever did. I got the impression he was ashamed of putting us in the home and couldn’t face us. The only one I can ever recall coming to see us, really, was
one of my sisters, and she was married then. If he did visit it would have only been once or twice, it wouldn’t have been many times. At least I can’t recall him coming not long after we went in there. It would have been a few years if he did come, but I can’t recall him ever coming.
How much contact did you keep with him over the years?
Well when I joined the army I used to go back down and see him quite regular, well as often as I could. We got on all right together, there was no problem there. Just you had to do a pub crawl to find him. Because he had keys to a few of the pubs and
go down to the pub, “You seen Dad?,” “No, he just left here. He’s gone to such and such a pub.” So in the end you’d track him down. But by then he’d retired. But yeah, there was no hatred or anything towards him. He did what he thought was best at the time, and he had to live with it and we had to live with it, so there’s not point in pointing
the finger at anyone and saying he was wrong or anything.
How was the boys’ home structured in terms of age and where you slept and that sort of thing?
There was no sort of segregation as far as age goes, you just got, I suppose
you could call them dormitories. There was three big bedrooms and you’d fit about eight to a room. Then there was a few rooms up the other end, they were two to a room. There was about thirty four to thirty six boys in the home. Apart from one room where they put the wet the beds,
anyone who wet the bed, no there was no, didn’t worry about how old anyone was. Wherever a bed was, you slept in it. Didn’t worry about that, someone being older and younger. Wherever a vacancy was, whoever had come in, that was your bed.
Were you kept near your brothers?
No, but you know, you’re around them all the time. You ate in the same room. There was no segregation, you could mix with who you wanted to, mix with your brothers quite freely, nothing bad about that.
What were the other boys like?
and bad in all of them. I mean there was a couple of really bad apples, they ended up getting sent to Deloraine, which was up north of the state, for all the really bad ones. Other than that, got on pretty well. We played hockey and represented the home as a hockey team and won the B Grade championship eight years in a row. So, you know, everyone plays hockey in those days.
At the home anyway, either hockey or cricket. I had some good time there, had some bad times.
What was it like with all the boys trying to get along together? What sort of problems would that cause?
Oh, just the normal fights, arguments and that. I mean it’d be the same in any sort of thing. Someone doesn’t like somebody else.
But apart from that, it wasn’t a bad life. I got no regrets about it anyway. It didn’t hurt me.
What would your typical day be like in the boys’ home? How did they structure your life?
Well, you get up, you have to make your bed, clean the room. Have breakfast then go to school. Oh, wash up after breakfast.
Go to school, come home at lunch time, have lunch, wash up before you went back to school. When you got home from school in the afternoon, you either work in the garden for so long, or saw up wood for so long. Then you go out and play for the rest of the time. So, you know, the normal sort of life. That was virtually seven days a week, well basically, you’d
have a couple of days’ break. I mean you work fairly hard, but you know someone had to do the work. It wasn’t going to get done by itself.
What did the other kids at school think about where you were living?
The majority, well you got the odd one that would turn their nose down at you but
you just ignore them. I mean that’s the same in any society. Anyone sort of down trodden a bit, people turn their nose up against you, but I mean you know, you soon sort them out. But I mean on the whole the school was good. In fact they used to run fetes and that for the home and raise them money. The school was supportive of the home.
And then you had your trips. They had a holiday shack down at a place called Pittwater, and they had a fourteen foot boat. Used to go down there on school holidays and that, Christmas. It would be fun. Then there was the RCT, the Royal Club of Tasmania. They used to take you on boat trips
and car trips. So you know, you had some good benefits. Christmas parties, they’d take you to Christmas parties, because apparently it was run by the business people of Hobart. They were the board, it wasn’t run by the government, although the government had its say. Most of the money came from the business people. Because the place was donated by a bloke called Kenley, for sole use
as a boys’ home. So he left a huge slice of land, and I don’t know who actually built the building, but it was, well it was built in 1869. In 1969 it would have turned, had its centenary but when I went back there in ’68, oh, yeah, it had ceased to be a home. They, don’t know how, but they
turned it into a hostel, real hostels. So I don’t know how they did that, but some how they got around the will and demolished the home. Pity.
How would they celebrate Christmas with you?
Well, you used to go out working, like people would ring up and want their
firewood chopped, or they’d want firewood carted in, or lawns mowed or something like that. So you’d go out working for them and they’d pay you so much for an hour. And you raised money, and the money would come back and go into like a bank. The bloke that ran the place, he kept a book, and you could draw money out for various things, and at Christmas time you could draw money out to buy each other a Christmas present and that. Oh they had good Christmas parties, there’s no two ways about that.
But they were fun times, the Christmas parties.
What would the Christmas parties be like?
Well you could invite anyone you liked, the kids from school or friends, or a girlfriend if you had one. You’d have a sing along and that. Back then they were sort of singing
carols and things like that, playing games. They were all right. The food was good, never had any complaint about the food. Not that I ate it. But yeah, the cook, I don’t know if she was a qualified cook, but Mrs Day, she could certainly out on a good feed, especially cooking for thirty two boys.
There was always plenty to eat.
What were the people like that ran the home?
Mongrels. The ones that ran it, well the ones in charge, he was an ex-copper and he ended up getting kicked out because he belted one kid that much that he couldn’t sit down in school, and he got reported, and they ended up kicking him out.
But that took quite a few years. And the bloke that took over, he was fabulous. He was an ex-politician. He was really good.
Why was he good?
Well he knew how to treat people properly, or kids properly. He never really abused them or anything. Not like Campbell. Campbell would line you up in the gym, and if someone had done something wrong, he would make them crawl through their leg,
and as they crawled through you had to belt them. And if you didn’t belt them then you would have to do the same and get belted. And he would make you fight each other. Oh he was, oh well I suppose, life was tough in those days.
How did he make you fight each other?
Oh, just make you put boxing gloves and say, “Get in there and have a fight,” whether you liked it or not. We did everything he said, he controlled the place. Who you going to go and complain to?
I mean you know, well I suppose they had child social workers then but how do you get in touch with them? No one knew about those sort of people back then, I mean, who are you going to complain to? You couldn’t complain to anyone. I suppose you could, well, no one forwarded a complaint to the teacher, because as I said, no one knew anything about those sort of things back then.
So it was just grin and bare it.
Would he ever do more psychological nasty things, like yelling, or being mean?
Oh, yeah, he used to yell. But I mean, whether it affected anyone or not I don’t know. I suppose, I don’t know. I mean thirty four boys is a lot to control, so I suppose you had to be tough.
Who know. Maybe he went overboard, well he did with one kid, I know that much.
Did he ever belt you?
What would you have to do to get a belting?
Not much. I used to get belted because I wouldn’t eat any fruit and veggies.
Why wouldn’t you eat them?
Because I don’t like them.
Never have, never will. I don’t eat fruit and I don’t eat veggies.
So when you would get in trouble, what would be the process for punishment?
Oh, just go to his area and have to bend over the chair with your head between his knees and he would just belt you.
That was standard.
What would he hit you with?
Piece of lino. Well, thick lino or anything else he could find. So I mean, that was part of life, part of growing up. Never ever worried about it, never thought about it afterwards.
Those sort of things happen.
Were there people that would take care of you in a more personal sort of way? People that would look after you in any way in the home?
No, because there was only three people there, the cook and him and his wife. Apart from that the only other people that, adults you’d come in contact with would be teachers. Oh, unless you went out to
work for somebody. Other than that, they had full run of the place. I mean, unless you had to go to the dentist or the doctor or something like that. There wouldn’t be any other time to see anybody else. Otherwise he had full control.
Would anyone, even his wife or the cook ever show you any kindness?
she was just as bad as him. She’d belt you too. The cook couldn’t, what could she do? Most probably be got the sack. So no, she never interfered, but his wife wasn’t that much better than him. She’d belt you. Well, no point complaining about, nothing you could do about it.
You had no one to talk to, except the other blokes in the home, or the other kids in the home. And there was nothing they could do. There was no point in running away because they’d only bring you back and if you ran away too often, they’d just send you to Deloraine which I believe was even worse. So, you were better off where you were.
Did you ever think about trying to find your Dad?
What about your Mum?
No. Well not until I joined the army, but, no not then. No she cleared off. Gone from my life as far as I was concerned. Get on with what you want to do. No point in worrying about things like that.
Interviewee: Kevin Harding Archive ID 1782 Tape 02
You were telling us before of Campbell and some of the punishments. Were any of the punishments sadistic at all?
Well, yeah. I mean as I said forcing the kids to crawl through the legs while the other one belted them, I suppose
that’s pretty sadistic. And the way he used the strap, that was pretty sadistic, but I suppose the way I looked at it, or the way anyone looked at it was we must have done something wrong, and he was in charge. He could do what ever the liked. We had no say in it. No one we could complain to.
Did you ever think as a kid that it
was your fault when that did happen?
I don’t know, I suppose. Well I suppose he didn’t belt us for nothing. So we must have done something wrong. Whether it was deserved, what he meted out or not, that was beside the point. We must have done something wrong.
Did this affect your confidence as kids?
No, it didn’t affect us at all. Well, I don’t think, well it affected the odd one or two, but I don’t know. I don’t think it ever affected me, except, I suppose the only affect it had on me was, I used to say to myself there would be no way in the world that I would treat my kid the way they treated us. And I never belt my kids.
We never. Whether that was more lack of good judgement, I don’t know. I don’t consider that they done anything that ever to deserve a belting. But I mean, no I don’t think it had any lasting affect on me. Just part of growing up, that’s the way I looked at it.
Would you fear him coming into the room
or coming nearby?
No, not really. No, we never feared him. Not unless you thought you’d done something wrong. No, I mean he was hard in ones sense, but I guess he was fair too. I mean
he always sort of , you know, he never cheated as far as the normal sort of thing went. The money was always there if you wanted, so, he could have ripped us off that way. No, he was just a hard man. I don’t know, maybe he had a hard life, childhood himself. I don’t know. But apart from that, no.
Was there anything to fear in him, in say a kind of predatory sexual way at all?
You said that nobody ever came by, was there ever any case that you can remember of a government inspection, or people coming around just to see the place at all?
Only as I said, the board of governors would meet maybe once a month. That was about all. No, no one.
As far as I know, no government department ever came near the place. Not that I suppose we’d know, but I can’t ever recall anyone ever inspecting it to make sure it was healthy or safe or anything like that. Those sort of things didn’t happen back in those days.
Was there any punishment in the order of the restriction of food or anything like that?
No, not that I can recall. I can’t ever recall anyone ever being sent to bed without tea or anything. No, you got fed all right, and the meals were good. There was always adequate. No I never heard of any sort of punishment like that.
What about locking up, or putting you in a certain area?
No, there was no rooms
to lock anyone in. No, absolutely no place in the home whatsoever to do that. It was sort of fairly open, you could come and go sort of, in and out of the building any time you wanted to, and play in the yards and that. So, no there was no rooms to lock anyone up as a punishment.
What about at night? Was there a certain time you had to be in and to bed?
Well, I suppose lights would have gone out at nine o’clock. That’s if you went to bed. I mean you could sit down in the dining room and do your homework and things like that. No, they weren’t really strict on that sort of thing. Just that there was a light on the landing, so people could go
to the toilet because they had to cross like a, it was a two storey building and a big sort of landing in the middle, and the toilet was on the left hand side and the bedrooms were on the right. So the light was always on in the landing so people could see across to go to the toilet. No, there was no doors on the bedrooms or anything. No privacy. I mean privacy in that place went by the board. You all showered together.
So, you know, privacy was never ever, it just didn’t exist.
How did that work with young boys and hormones, and being that age of thirteen or fourteen?
Well, that sort of thing happened. I mean, by older boys.
Once again, you just put that down to a fact of life. I mean the fact that you didn’t have any choice. I mean, what were you going to do? If you didn’t do it you got belted up, by the kids. They were bigger than you. So, you know. As I said, no privacy whatsoever.
Tell us about the other boys. Were there any particularly bad ones?
Only one comes to mind, and that was a bloke by the name of Burns. He was fairly, oh, I guess he would have been about fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. He was a huge bloke. He was rough. You had to stay out of his way.
But apart from that, no. I used to, well, you know, most of the other kids were around about the same age sort of thing. Between nine and fifteen. There was no real bullying going on, as I say, apart from this one bloke called Burns. I can’t think of his first name. But apart from him, no.
Got on pretty well with all of them.
With this Burns, would he conduct some kind of abuse?
Yeah, he would sexually assault you. But as I said, what could you do? Either that or he belted you up.
And how would
you deal with this? What sort of things could you do?
Nothing. Not a thing you could do about it. You could go to Campbell, whether he would believe you or not. If he did Burns would get in strife, then he would come around and belt you up. So, it was a vicious circle.
What did the boys do to avoid getting things from Burns?
Just avoid him. Stay well clear of him.
And play as a group, not play as an individual, or where he is likely to be. Just avoid him at all cost. I mean everyone was in the same boat, so you know, don’t worry about it. Just get on with living, and enjoy yourself.
Would he pick on certain boys?
I’d say yeah, mostly younger and smaller. I don’t know. But then, you just thought it was a part of life, you didn’t worry about it.
Just got on doing the things that you enjoyed doing, like playing port or something like that. Put it out of your mind.
So playing sport would help you forget about that kind of thing?
Oh yeah, I mean, you’re always kicking a football around, or belting a cricket ball around. I was playing hockey or cricket or working or something. There was plenty of things to keep you occupied,
so there was never a dull moment.
And you mentioned you couldn’t tell Campbell about this kind of stuff. Were there any controls at night, or at times?
No. Not once Campbell went to bed, that was it. There was no one, as I said, people could come and go whenever they felt like it. I mean there was no
bars on the window or anything like that, no doors. Just go out the back door, down the lane way and out the drive way, you’re in the street. Or just jump the fence. It was easy to go for a walk around the streets at night if you wanted to. No restriction, no nothing.
And would people come in from outside?
No. No one would be game to. Not with thirty four boys.
They wouldn’t last too long. No, no fear of anyone coming in.
Did it feel a bit out of control, this kind of situation?
Not back then. It was just, I don’t know, something that everyone went through.
Did Burns try to get everyone?
No, there were certain ones he wouldn’t go anywhere near. Because he knew they would be able to beat him. But, he would only pick on certain ones.
What could you do if you heard he was picking on someone? Would people leave it, or what would happen?
Oh, nothing. Because I mean
unless you had a brother or someone that was bigger than him that would stick up for you, there was nothing you could do about it. I mean someone isn’t going to get their head punched in for someone else. Just ignore it, turn a blind eye.
Would there be any cries for help?
No. No one would ever cry out.
You’d just get belted up. So, you know, there’s no point crying about it.
Do you even know what happened to that?
No. Once I left the home that was it. I went back a couple of times just to look at the place. Then the last time I went back it wasn’t there.
I talked to the brothers occasionally about it, but apart from that, no don’t worry me.
What was their impression of this character?
The same thing. Stay out of his way, stay well clear of him, although the eldest brother could handle himself. He wasn’t scared. But apart from that, no. If we ever
meet each other, we talk about, “Oh have you seen so and so?” Mainly the eldest brother because he still lives in Tassie [Tasmania]. “Yeah,” he’ll say, “I’ve seen such and such,” but apart from that you don’t keep in contact with any of them. I haven’t anyway.
This bad guy, what was his name again?
Burns? His whole name?
I think it was Alan. I’m not sure.
Did he attack not your oldest brother, but your other brother?
Don’t know. Quite possibly but he wouldn’t tell me.
Would anyone talk about it?
No. No one would ever talk about it, not back then. They might talk about it now, I don’t know.
Were there any other examples of peer pressure
placed on the boys?
No not really. Next door they had what they called a hostel. When they got too old for the home, and they didn’t have anywhere to go, they could stay in the hostel for a certain time. But no, that didn’t worry us either. In fact they used to be the coaches for the hockey team, most of them.
What were they like?
Pretty good. I mean you know, they’d been in the same position we were. You know, they were in the home and they got too old for the home, so they went to the hostel until they found somewhere to live on their own. So, you know, no they were the same as us.
Were any of them violent or abusive?
No. Not that I recall anyway.
What kind of ambitions did you have in the home? What kind of future did you look for?
I don’t think I ever gave it any thought. I knew I would end up leaving there sometime, you weren’t going to be there forever. So it was just a matter of waiting until you were old enough, and then getting out on your own.
Was there a desire to get older?
I suppose everyone wants to, you know. Can’t wait to grow up. But no, I don’t think there was any great desire to grow up so you could leave any earlier. I mean, you know, take each year as it come.
What was the hardest time in the home?
I suppose, I don’t know. Maybe the first year,
after that you got used to it.
Was there a hardest time of day?
No, not really. No I don’t think there was any part of the day worse than the other.
What about the best times? What was the best time?
Well, that would be when you went out working, or when you went out playing hockey, because
we used to go out to the hockey fields. Start early on a Saturday, when there’s still frost on the ground. They were good days, I mean Saturdays were good days. You know, you took one day as it come. No day was better than the other.
Was there ever any chance to meet any girls outside?
Only at school.
As I said, you had to be home by a certain time after school and that, so you know, you didn’t have any free time. You only met girls at school.
Did any of the boys at the home have girlfriends?
They wouldn’t bring them to the home, that’s for sure. Oh yeah, they would have met girls at school. You could always,
the parent could always invite you out for tea or something like that. I had a mate who I used to go round to his place quite frequently, making, playing with his Meccano set. I mean, you know, it was bad but it wasn’t that bad.
What kind of free time did you have away from it? Did you have
a certain number of hours you could spend at someone else’s house?
Well, you know, they could take you for the day if they wanted to. It was up to them. So they come and pick you up and drop you back. You know, there’s no restrictions on that sort of thing.
Did you know of any girls’ homes in the area?
No girls’ homes around there whatsoever that I know of.
In the home, were the boys of different nationalities?
No, unless Stephen Burnett Burridge were.
But no dark, any dark people or any, no I don’t think so. They were all Europeans, put it that way.
What about any boys with disability?
Did they talk about religion?
Oh yeah, we had to go to church every Sunday, three times a
day. Yeah, all march down to the church.
What religion was it?
Church of England. I don’t know whose idea that was, but yeah. They made you sing in the choir and that. Oh well, just another
way to fill in the day.
Tell us about getting older in the home. What was it like to transform from a younger boy into an older boy?
Oh, no difference except more responsibility and a bit more freedom I suppose. But apart from that no real difference.
No one was treated any better or worse than the other. Just because you’re young, you know, you still got treated the same. I mean, the boys themselves were pretty good, I mean you know, they got on reasonably well together. There’d be the odd fight here and there, but apart from that, they were in the same boat as you. We all mixed pretty well,
we all played together pretty well. So there was no real animosity between the boys themselves. Even as far as presents go or anything like that.
What about the fear factor, the fear of threats as you got older? Did that diminish?
Oh, I don’t think there was any fear of
any threat really. Well, I don’t recall ever being really scared. Whether any of the others felt that, I don’t know. But no, I didn’t feel really scared about anything. I mean you know, just something happening in you life and that was it. No point being scared or crying about it.
I mean being scared or being crying is not going to good whatsoever. Just grin and bare it and carry on for the next day.
I guess what I mean is looking after yourself, being able to look after yourself from threats that you mentioned before. As you got older, did that help? Getting bigger?
After a while he disappeared from the scene, didn’t he? So the threat was gone. So no,
that didn’t come into it.
What was it like after he left?
Oh, well, hell of a lot better. Even when Campbell went things changed dramatically. As I said, George Grey was completely different whatsoever. He was an ex-member of parliament, and I don’t, know, he just had a different
approach to treating kids whatsoever. Him and his wife.
How quickly did things change under him?
Oh dramatically, very fast. As soon as he found out, well I don’t know who put him in there, if it was the government or what. But yeah, he knew right from the first day, when he gave his first speech. Told us who he was
and why he was there, and you knew things were going to be different, and they were, right from the word go. He didn’t work us hard, we still worked, because I mean, someone had to do, as I said, dig the gardens and that. But you didn’t work as hard as you did before.
Do you remember that first speech? What kind of things he was saying?
I mean it went in one ear. Mainly because we were scared he was going to recognise us, which he did, because we used to knock fruit off his trees. And he spotted us straight away. We were sort of worried about what he’d say, but he just laughed about it. Because he had two sons that lived there too. One of them
played hockey with us. The other one was older, they lived in the home as well when he moved in. So, no, things were drastically improved when he took over.
When did he take over? You went in when you were eight did you?
Oh, about seven and a half, eight. Seven and a half I think.
I don’t know, about thirteen. So the bulk of the years would have been under Campbell. And about three years under George Grey. He was good.
Did your outlook towards the future change?
Oh, no not really. Well I just carried on carried
on growing up. I mean you know, you knew you were there for a few more years yet anyway, unless you could get adopted out. I don’t think we wanted to get adopted, because I think we would have preferred to stay together anyway. I don’t think anyone was going to take three kids, not at that age anyway. That was out of the question.
Were there any changes that he brought, like
having your brothers’ beds near each other?
No. Didn’t worry, as I said, I don’t think anyone worried about that sort of thing. I suppose it was up to you. You could have had your brother next to you if you wanted I suppose, but none of us really were that close. Well we were close but not that close.
But we wanted to share the bed next to each other, no. No nothing like that was even considered.
Did the boys know each other by first name?
Yeah, you knew everyone by their first name.
The work changed, did anything like the religious attendance change?
Well, his wife was Salvation Army
and he was Methodist I think. Some of the boys used to go to the Salvation Army. I know my brother joined the Salvation Army at one stage. But you could still go to the same church, or Church of England. You still had to go to church, that never changed. And after a while some of them even went to his church.
It was left up to you, you know. There was no force, you know, “You’ve got to go to my church,” or anything like that. They’d take you if you wanted to go, if not, it was up to you whether you went.
Did he allow for more freedom, as far as free time?
Yeah. Well, as I said, you didn’t work as much in the garden or sawing up wood
as much, because slowly they got rid of that. Well I suppose not only that, they started shipping stuff in containers. See most of the wood come from the docks, because back in those days, anything could come by sea used to be packed with wood all around it. And because once they got to unload it and stuff, this wood was no longer required so where, were they going to? Dump it up at the home, free wood.
All we had to do was cut it up. Tell you what, there was some good wood amongst it too. You could take it school and make coffee tables and kidney shaped tables out of it. There was some really good wood amongst it.
Seeing they found the problem with Campbell, were there more checks now?
but they put him in there, and I’d say they knew he, they knew what he was like. There was never a check on him.
Sorry, you might have told Naomi this, but what was the name of the home?
Kennerley – K-e-n-n-e-r-l-e-y. Kennerley Boys’ home.
Can you tell us about your brother leaving to go to the army before you? Do you remember that?
Yeah. He was an apprentice fitter and turner, and he had a blue with one of the teachers, so he told them where to go, and the next minute I found out he was in the army. Enjoying the army, I don’t know why. I don’t know how, but he joined the army. When he came over a couple of years later, he talked me into joining.
How? What did he say?
Oh, he just said what a good time he was having. I said, “Oh yeah, fair enough,” and decided I’d join too.
Was it hard to see your brothers leaving the home before you?
No. Because I mean, you know, well my eldest brother went to the hostel. I don’t know, did Tom go to the hostel? I suppose he
did for a while, I don’t know, I can’t remember now. No I mean, just when you turned sixteen you went to the hostel until you found somewhere, or if you found somewhere you left the home, because legally they couldn’t keep you after sixteen. But they couldn’t turn you out in the street either, so, that’s why they had the hostel. It was just a matter of waiting until you turned sixteen and you were allowed to leave.
No, it didn’t worry me about them leaving first.
What about when you turned sixteen? What did you do?
Well, I was stupid. I should have stayed at school. I never, because our school system in Tassie’s different, you go to grade six, and then you do what they call, whether they still do or not, I don’t know,
but they do what they call an ability test. And if you passed that, or if you sat that, you didn’t have to. If you sat for that and passed it, you went either a technical school or a high school. If you didn’t sit it, or didn’t pass, then you went to a secondary school and that takes you up the age of sixteen, and that went seven, eight, nine. And because in grade six, Tom was too young to sit for the ability test, I think you had to be a certain, I forget what it was now.
So he went to grade seven, and he had this teacher called Mrs Donnelly. Apparently he was, well he was bright, there was not two ways about that. He had brains, which I never had. He had this teacher called Mrs Donnelly, and then I struck her in grade nine, and because if I did something wrong or got something wrong, “Oh Tom was this, Tom was that,” and it drove me up the wall. So as soon as I turned sixteen I told her where could go and what she could do with the school, and walked out. But a few of the teachers thought I was stupid, I
should have stuck around for another couple of months and done the exam. They reckoned I would have passed. But I’d had a gutful, so I threw it in. Walked out, I was sixteen, “Take your school,” so I didn’t listen. At least three teachers told me I should have stayed. But, you can’t cry over spilt milk.
Where did you go from there?
I did apprentice, I was an apprentice bricklayer for a while. I went into the hostel, I was an apprentice bricklayer for a while until the mob I worked for went bankrupt. Being an apprentice, legally they were supposed to find you a job, but they couldn’t. The apprenticeship, the only place they could find me a job, was in Melbourne
and there was no way I could afford to live in Melbourne on apprentice wages. So I said, “Bugger it.” I did two and a half years as an apprentice bricklayer. That’s when I decided, my brother came home, and I decided to join the army. So I told the Apprentice Board, “Nuh, give it away. Join the army instead.” So I did.
Tell us about the process you went through to join the army? What did you have to do? How did you apply?
Just went down to Anglesea Barracks in Hobart.
I don’t know if, no Tom didn’t go with me, they just told me. They gave me a medical, psych [psychiatric] test, and that’s about it. Because back then they weren’t that keen, well when I say keen, they aren’t as strict as they are now. And that was it. Take the oath, sign the double line, and you’re a soldier.
What did the psych test involve?
Just asked a few silly questions, and depending what sort of answer you gave him as to how he rated you. I can’t remember mine, I must have passed it.
What about the medical?
Well, just the normal medical. Nothing outstanding. Well let’s face it, they’re paying for it now, because they didn’t pick up the fact
that I was deaf in one ear. Something that happened when I was in the boys’ home, I fell off the bunk and landed on my ear. The school doctor picked it up. But the army never, so now I’m claiming disability for my ear.
How did you get by the medical test?
You can fake a hearing
test any time you like. “You hear this?” “Yeah.” I mean you’re sticking your hand up virtually all the time. Hearing tests back then was virtually, “Oh yeah, you can hear.” They’re not like they are today, I mean they didn’t have the fancy gadgets they have now. I mean anyone could fake a hearing test.
What did you say had happened
in the war to your ear?
Nothing. I just put in a claim when I got out, or before I got out for loss of hearing, and because I already noted it by then, that I had a loss of hearing and arthritis, so I put in a claim to Veterans’ Affairs and they paid it. They put it down to Vietnam plus army service, so I’m not worried.
Tell us about that
first day, after you got called up after you enrolled.?
To be quite honest I don’t remember much about it, except it would have had to meet at Anglesea Barracks. They would have taken us to the airport, we would have flown to Melbourne. Would have been picked up at Melbourne, I would imagine
it would have been Essendon Aerodrome back then. I doubt if Tullamarine, no Tullamarine wouldn’t have been open, so it would have been Essendon. Then they would have taken us to Watsonia. Would have stayed the night there and bus or train to Kapooka the next day, I would imagine.
Yeah, I’d say from the time I passed the medical and that, I suppose it would have been at Kapooka, maybe two, I don’t know. That long ago I can’t remember.
Interviewee: Kevin Harding Archive ID 1782 Tape 03
I’m just going to go back a little, and get you to tell me about the hostel that you lived in outside of the home.
Well, it was still part of the home, like it was part of the same grounds. Oh, what, they were single rooms, and I
think there was eight on either side, so that would have been sixteen boys that it could accommodate. That had two people in charge of it, I can’t remember their names though. That was still controlled by the home, because it was all part of it. But that was all right.
I mean you could come and go there, you could go out to the movies or, the only thing you couldn’t do was drink. Well, not drink there.
What were the rooms like? How self contained were they?
Oh they had a bed, my own wardrobe, built in wardrobe, table.
You couldn’t make a meal or cook anything like that. Like a motel, it was like a motel without the cooking section. So, they were just somewhere to sleep. You still ate out in the dining room with the others if you wanted to.
You didn’t have to eat there, you could have gone out and bought yourself a meal if you were working.
What would you say the main differences in your life were when you moved to the hostel?
Well, as I said, you could come and go as you felt like it. I mean you know, you didn’t have to be in by a certain time or anything like that. You had a key to the place, so as long as you were quiet you could come in a two o’clock in the morning if you wanted to.
Just like any normal household I suppose. You could come and go whenever you felt like it. No restrictions, you didn’t have to tell anyone you were going. Although the only thing they liked to know was whether or not you were going to be home for tea or not, so they wouldn’t bother cooking for you. But apart from that everything was okay.
What was the place like socially?
once again, it depended on who was in there whether you got on with them or not. Otherwise you just did whatever you wanted to do on your own. You didn’t have to mix, you didn’t have to do anything. It was up to you what you did if you mixed with them or, you might even go out with them somewhere. It was totally different, basically you had more freedom. That was the
main thing. You know, you could come and go whenever you felt like it.
How did you get along with the other people in the hostel?
Oh, all right. Because I mean, these are kids you’ve grown up with for four, five, six years some of them. So, you know, I got on well with them.
We’d go out drinking, we even went to a Rolf Harris show, with a flask of rum, and a bottle of coke, which had a bit of rum in it.
Was drinking a big part of your life then?
No, I hardly drank then.
It wasn’t till I joined the army that I started really drinking and smoking.
During this time would you get to meet girls or anything like that?
Well you could if you wanted to. I don’t think I really, I don’t know, maybe it was the fact that I’d been on my own with all the boys, girls didn’t really interest me.
I suppose I had the odd girl, but nothing serious. I think we were more interested in going to the beach and having a swim, o something like that. We were still playing hockey and stuff like that too, so that took up a lot of time.
Would you ever go and see the boys living in the home?
No. You’d see them and you’d possibly play with
them out in the yard, playing hockey or practising or something like that. No you didn’t go back into the home itself and visit them. I don’t know whether it was allowed or not. I suppose it was, but no, you didn’t really mix unless they were out in the yard. They weren’t allowed to be anywhere near the hostel, or weren’t supposed to. No, you didn’t mix all that much with them.
Did you see you Dad during this time at all?
To be quite honest I can’t remember. I suppose I would of. Yeah I would have seen him a few times before I joined the army. I don’t really recall how many times, or for how long.
Was your situation that you had to pay to stay at the hostel?
Yeah, if you worked you paid a certain percentage of your wage, just to keep it going. I forget how much it was, it wasn’t all that much. That’s if you had a job. If you didn’t have a job I think the government still paid, or whoever was running the place. There was no pressure put on
you to get a job. Although, you know, I suppose everyone got a job as soon as they could, because it meant that they had their own money and could buy things for themselves, clothes and that.
How did working life appeal to you?
Don’t know, just another part of your life I suppose. You stop being a school kid and you
started being a worker. I suppose that’s the way I looked at it. Just change from a kid into an adult, or a teenager, and did all the usual things a teenager did. I mean you know, some of them ended up having cars and that, you might go out driving somewhere.
You could still go down to the shack too, even though you were in the hostel. You might go down there for the weekend, stay there three or four of you, so you could go down there. You had more freedom, and as I said, you could come and go. The hostel was, oh I don’t know, two years in the hostel maybe.
Yeah about two years, and that was a lot.
We were talking about when you joined the army. Tell me about your first impressions when you arrived in Kapooka?
Well, fairly old. Muddy, because it was during winter. I don’t know. Just get on with training.
What did they do the first couple of days that you were there, as your initial induction?
A very big wake up call.
You’re now in the army, up at what time was it, six or something, or before six. Went for a run before breakfast. You learnt the fact that now you’re in the army, you do things the army way. Orders being yelled at you left right and centre.
Just letting you know that you were there to learn. And they were there to teach you, and if you didn’t like it, you get confined to barracks, well you were confined to barracks anyway, but that meant extra drill. And they’d find any excuse they could to give you extra drill. It was normal standard way of
treating anyone that joined the army. “You’re not a mummy’s boy any more, you’re a man and this is how you act.” It didn’t worry me.
How did they try and enforce discipline and things on you?
Well they didn’t try, they did. Just by yelling at you, and as I say, if you didn’t, you’d get extra drill after everyone knocked off, or early in the morning, you got extra drill. They were out enjoying themselves somewhere else, you were out there foot slogging it, around the parade ground, carrying a pack on your back. So you soon
learnt that whatever they said, went. But that was all just a part of army training.
How did you find discipline?
The discipline didn’t really worry me, it was just conforming to some of their little bloody idiosyncrasies about this had to be in a certain line, and things like that.
Tidy locker and you know. The discipline didn’t worry me because I’d been in the boys’ home, so that didn’t worry me. I used to get into strife for having a dirty locker or something like that. Or the bed not made properly, according to them.
What sort of lifestyle lessons that picked up in the boys’ home that you think helped you in the army?
Well the fact that you didn’t worry about being nude on front of other blokes. That’s a big lesson for anyone, especially if they’re a sole kid and they never had any brothers or anything like that. They were shocked that you strip in front of everyone and shower in front of everyone else. That’s a rude shock for some of them, especially if they’re the shy type. But there’s no
privacy in the army whatsoever. Same as the boys’ home. Well, you can’t have individual showers, it takes too much room. So, they have open showers, about six showers to a shower block. So, you soon get used to it. You’d better, because it ain’t going to change. That and the fact that,
being used to boys, but now they’re not boys, they’re men. I suppose that helped you in a little ways. But apart from that, no it wasn’t all that different. Except a little bit more shouting in the army than there was in the home. You had to do things their way, and had to be at certain places at certain times.
They didn’t give you too much time to get from one place to another, either.
Can you tell me what would be a typical day in that basic training?
Maybe up at 4.30, go for a run. Come back, have a shower, make your bed. Have an inspection. Go to breakfast.
Come back, might have a bit of time to yourself, then start drill lessons, depending on what you were doing for that day. You know, it could be general marching, it could be weapons training, it could be a route march. Just depending on what was lined up for that day. You had a syllabus that you were going to do for the week, so depending on what was on for that day.
What was it? Forty or fifty minute lessons then ten minute smoko breaks I think it was. No forty minute lessons, ten minute smoko break, and say ten minutes to get to the next facility, wherever that was. That could be a fair way away, so you virtually had to run. That was right up
until lunch, I think you had an hour or so for lunch. It might have even been an hour and a half. And then you’d start off again in the afternoon. You might have some training at night, depending on what was on the syllabus, because you did a lot of night training. So, if you did night training, they tend to give you a bit of time in the afternoon to do anything, like washing or things like that.
But that’s the way it went for six weeks, no twelve weeks. Three months.
What were some of the major things that you learnt in that time?
How to work as a team, how to rely on your mate.
What were the sort of things they would do to teach you these skills?
Mainly they used to explain it to you, like you always had to rely on your mate because you know, he was the one that was going to help you, no one else. If you were out there on your own, the pair of you, like out in a forward post or something, and you had to rely on him staying awake, or things like that. It’s just a, it’s hard to say how
they teach you. It sort of comes to you slowly over a period of time. You know, if you’ve got to rely on each other, or else you won’t survive. It’s just the way they teach you really. But when you’re out on a patrol, well everyone has got to rely on the other one. So everyone’s got to do their job, and everyone’s got to know how to do it. Basically that’s about it.
There’s no real training, you can’t train anyone, it’s just a matter that, you know, you’ve got to come to realise that you’ve got to rely on him and he’s got to rely on you. Otherwise you don’t survive.
But basic training, is just about teaching you the basics about being a soldier. About weapons and what your role is, and what your role could be, and sorting out what you want to do once you finish basic training.
During these twelve weeks, how well did you enjoy your army life?
the same as everyone else. You enjoyed it sometimes, “No, I’m bored, I don’t want to do this,” so you get stroppy or something like that, you get into strife. You had your moods, depending on what sort of day you had, and what you’d been doing that day, you know, how you felt. I don’t know, it’s all part of the training, you’ve just got to grin and bare it.
You’ve mentioned that you’d have to do extra drill. What other sorts of punishments did they have if you did anything wrong?
Nothing. No there was no bastardisation that went on, not then anyway. No they’d just give you extra drill, with a pack on your back.
For a half hour, or three quarters of an hour. But mind you, you might be marching around but he had to stand around and give the orders, so he was out there too. So you could look at it that way too, he was being punished too.
Did you ever get into any serious trouble at Kapooka?
No, no one did. Well no one could because the first eight weeks you weren’t allowed out anyway.
You were restricted to camp, it wasn’t until after about eight weeks that you were allowed a bit of leave, so no, you couldn’t get into any strife. Not serious strife, anyway.
Whereabouts did you go when you did get some leave?
Well, the only place you could go was Wagga, because Kapooka’s just outside Wagga [Wagga Wagga].
What did the people of Wagga think of soldiers?
Well the majority liked it because it brought money into the town. The young blokes didn’t like it because it meant they were competing for the girls. But, well they had a RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] base nearby too, so it just wasn’t the army.
Were there any particular places that you weren’t meant to go in Wagga?
Nothing was restricted, you could go wherever you like. You were old enough to go to the pub, so you go to the pub. You could go anywhere, there was no restrictions. Not that I recall anyway.
How did you drinking habits change
during this time?
Oh, you know, I suppose like any soldier you’ve got free time, what are you going to do? Sit down and have a drink. So I suppose you start drinking a bit more than the average person, I don’t know. I don’t think, as I said, I didn’t drink much before
I joined the army, hardly drank at all. I drank after I joined but just for the fact I suppose that I was eighteen and was able to drink. So just started drinking. Maybe in Vietnam they changed, to a degree, but I don’t think Kapooka
had all that affect on me. Just as I said, you’re eighteen, you’re allowed to drink, so when you have free time you go to the boozer and have a few drinks, like everyone else. Drink has been a problem, and then again it’s never been a problem in the army.
Because certain places you can get beer cheaper, you might drink a bit more sometimes. I mean, I don’t know whether I drank any more than an average person drinks. Certainly not an alcoholic. I don’t think the army turned me into an alcoholic.
And even smoking, I suppose you smoked more in Vietnam and drank more in Vietnam, but then again that was different. It was a lot cheaper then too, you didn’t have to pay tax on it.
No, Kapooka was Kapooka. You did your twelve months, oh, three months and that was it, you moved on.
Was there any other kinds of social stuff organised for you at Kapooka? What kind of sports and things like this?
Oh, sports has always been a big thing in the army. You played a bit of sport, but I don’t think anything was really planned. You were more or less
encouraged to play sport. But nothing really planned.
What code of football would they play?
Oh, they’d play all codes, but depending on the intake and what it was made up of, as to which dominated. Because when I joined,
well, in our platoon it was mostly Victorians and that, so it would have been predominantly Aussie Rules. Just depends which state you come from and how many were in that platoon, as to what you played, as far as football went. But you could play any football you wanted to. It’s always been a thing
in the army, you could play any sport you like. You never sort of favoured one sport over the other.
Tell me about the corps allocation system.
From what I recall you face a panel, and they ask you, oh when you join, you put down what corps you’d prefer, or like,
not prefer. What corps you’d like, doesn’t mean to say you’re going to get it. And then when you face the allocation board, they’ve got the information in front of you and they ask you what you want. Then you’re sort of told before hand by various people, you know, “You won’t get RAEME, or you won’t get this, you’re better of applying for infantry,” or something like that. You know
you go in there with the outlook, but you possibly won’t get what you want anyway. Or what you wanted when you joined up.
What did you want?
Oh, I wanted RAEME. Because my brother was in RAEME. But I ended up getting RAEME. What did they say to me? I forget what it was now, but I more or less said well, I was told that I wouldn’t get RAEME. They said
“You want RAEME?” I said, “Yeah,” and they said, “All right, well you’ve got RAEME,” so I went there as a driver.
What did you know about RAEME, apart from what your brother?
Nothing, absolutely nothing, didn’t know a thing about RAEME.
What kind of a driver were you at the time?
Didn’t even have a licence. So I wasn’t any sort of a driver, I had to learn, which they taught me.
When you got your allocation to RAEME, where did they send you?
To Puckapunyal. To 1 Armoured Regiment, LAD [Light Aid Detachment], and that’s where I got my licence.
Tell me about how you learnt to drive.
Well they ran a driving course, and they put me on it. I got taught how to drive a vehicle in the army.
What kind of vehicle?
Well it started off with a Land Rover, plus a ute which would have been either a Ford or a Holden. Back in those days a truck would have been a Studebaker or a GMC [General Motors Corporation], because they still had World War 11 vehicles then.
Who was instructing you?
A bloke called Ron Wilson, I think it was. Yeah, Ron Wilson. He was running the course.
How did he go about teaching you to drive?
Well, there’s more than one instructor, because they run it in courses.
You just start off from the basics, where they put you in a safe area and tell you what a clutch is and what a brake is. Start you from there, and then you’ve got to do the, learn the road law and everything like that. As I said, they teach you in a safe area before you go out on the road, and then they take it in steps. It’s a lot thorough than what they do outside.
So you can get a licence outside and then hook up a caravan, or trailer. You can’t do that in the army. You get a licence that could be, “Drive only,” that means that you can’t carry passengers in the rear, or you can’t carry stores in the rear. Unless you’ve got a full licence, you’re restricted. Whereas not outside, and an army licence was a lot harder to get
than what an outside is. What was it? A six week course to get three licences, and that’s full time. That’s day and night, because you do night driving and everything. You’ve got to learn how to service a vehicle, how to get it out of a bog if it’s bogged. Everything, have to get a full licence. “Drive only,” you don’t do anything like that.
Still got to know how to service it.
Did you have any sorts of accidents during your early driving training?
No, I had a few afterwards though. But the funniest thing, was when I went to get my civvies licence. I drove into the police station in a Land Rover. He asked me what I wanted, I said, “I want a civvy
licence,” he said, “Can I see you drive that Land Rover?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Oh well, I want to go and do some shopping, my Mum will be waiting down the street,” so I did. I came back and he said, “Here’s your licence,” he didn’t even bother testing me. He said, “You’ve done the army corps, so there’s no point in me taking you for a test.” So he just wrote it out for me. Oh, you know, I had the odd accident in the army. Not too many, no serious ones.
Just only very minor, backend into something. I never ran into another vehicle, oh, yes I did, in Vietnam. That was another story though. We haven’t got to Vietnam yet.
Tell me about these Land Rovers worked at the time. Were they automatic?
like it is now, but it wasn’t in those days. No, what are they? A four speed box. No, you had manual change. The Studebakers and the GMC they were even crash boxes.
Well, you got to work on the revs [revolutions] to change gears. If you don’t get the revs right, you’ll crash the gears. That’s why they called them a crash box.
You’ll hear them crunch.
Can you just explain how that works?
Well, now they’re all synchro [synchromesh]. In those days they didn’t have synchronised boxes. When you, like the gear lever goes into from say first, then go into neutral, then it would go into second. Now, as it goes through neutral,
if you don’t get that right, it will crunch and go straight in and try and get second before it’s even supposed to, and it will crunch, and it will grind the gears. That’s what they call a crash box.
How do you control that, how do you stop the gears from?
As I said, you work on the revs. You work the revs to a certain pitch and that’s when you change, you double clutch. In other words put the clutch in, put it in neutral, press it in and whack it into gear.
And that was the only way to do it with those crash boxes.
Were the Land Rovers the double clutch?
No, the Land Rovers were a bit more easier.
What would happen if you slipped up with the crash boxes and you were driving along in it?
You used to hear a horrible crunch and you’d have to put it back into neutral and start again. Or go back to the other gear that you were in, because you
would have lost your rev’s by then, and start again. Build up the revs again. But then they, oh, how long after? A couple of years, they ended up getting the international, they were two and half, five tonners. And they were synchronised, well mostly synchronised. A lot easier to drive.
After this initial
ability to drive, what other things did the driving course teach you?
Nothing really. Each vehicle has a different course, so if you wanted to be a driver, you had to do a course virtually on all,
well unless you did them all in that three months course, you’d have to do another couple of weeks on that particular vehicle before you got a licence for it. So you’d end up, or a driver would end up depending on what unit he was, and what vehicles I had, he could end up with seven or eight codes on his licence. Like a motorbike licence, forklift licence,
tank licence, APC [armoured personal carrier] licence. But then again back then, they had this Saracen and Ferrets scout car, they were good. They were British, and they had what they call a preselect box, in other words, you select a gear, and when you want it you hit the clutch, then you’d have the gear. And they didn’t have a reverse,
they just had a forward and backward lever. So it meant you had five gears forward, you could go up to five gears backwards, in reverse. So you can be belting along at forty or fifty mile an hour in reverse. They were good vehicles.
What did they look like?
Well the Ferret was a little four-wheel drive armoured car, and the
Saracen was a six wheel drive, and that was a personnel carrier. You had, you could carry up to six people in the back. They were a six wheel drive, they were independent suspension and fairly solid armour plating on it. Just a smaller version of a tank. And they were really good to drive, because all you did was, you just sat there, and they bloke up above you, the crew commander, he told you whether to
go left, right. And if he got it wrong then it was his fault, not yours. Same in reverse, he had to turn his head around and tell you which way to go. You just sat there steering.
What could you see?
You couldn’t see. Well the front depending on whether you had the hatches up, you could see a bit. But you couldn’t see much on either side. Out the back you couldn’t see anything, out the back. You couldn’t turn your head around,
you had a big steel door behind you.
What’s the feeling like driving blind?
Oh, it didn’t worry you. It was the crew commander, he was the one, it was his responsibility. He had to tell you where to go, not you.
What kind of instructions would he use to differentiate between hard right, or…?
Oh, “Slight left,” or, “Hard left,” you know. You work out a system after a while.
Because you start off slow and then you build up to it. You work out s a system, you knew what he was talking about, wouldn’t take you long. But the tanks, they were a different thing altogether. They were cumbersome, fifty two tonnes. Twenty mile and hour flat strap.
But they were good vehicles in their day. I didn’t mind them, I didn’t mind the Saracens either.
What was the manoeuvrability of the tanks like?
Pretty good. Like you don’t have a wheel, you have sticks, and if you pulled a stick it locks the track, and because with that track locked,
this one’s spinning, and it just turns it. So they turned pretty well, pretty neat turn. Even though they were slow, because it’s fifty two tonnes. The lighter tanks, the Leopards they got later, which were a hell of a lot lighter, they were good.
Interviewee: Kevin Harding Archive ID 1782 Tape 04
We were just learning how to drive a tank. What’s the most important things you’ve got to know when you drive a tank?
Nothing, because the weight’s on your side. Anything will get out of its way.
How did you sight things to your side and back?
You don’t, the crew commander does that. That’s what his job is there for. He sits up above and he’s got, if it’s in battle conditions, that means he’s got the hatch down and he’s got peep holes all round, which gives him three hundred and sixty degree vision, and his chair will swivel. He just tells you which way to go. You drive blind.
You don’t do anything until he tells you, so if you run into a tree or something like that, it’s his fault, not yours.
And what’s the set up that you’re driving? Have you got a steering wheel, a clutch, what is it?
Two sticks, one on either side. If you lean forward, the tank goes forward. If you pull one back, it locks the track up, the tank will turn, depending on which track you’re going to lock.
But I mean, I didn’t drive tanks all that often. It was mainly vehicles.
Did you do any exercises though with the tanks, like night driving?
Yeah, at Pucka [Puckapunyal] we were out quite a bit at night doing night manoeuvres. Even had a tank roll, which is impossible to do but it did. The bloke was killed.
He just went too close to the edge of the creek bed and it gave way, and he got trapped underneath it in some water. No hope for him. We tried diving down, but no, there was not a thing you could do about it. Just one of those accidents that happened.
Was he the only one in the tank?
No, there was the driver but he got out. The crew commander was the one, he got pinned underneath.
Got caught. The driver was able to open his hatch and got out.
Did you see this happen from where you were?
No, this was where, we weren’t far from it. But by the time we got there, the bloke’s died. Even though we had the gear to recover the tank, you know, by the time you hooked it up, it still would have been. It would have took a good
half hour to get everything, well even then it would have been, I don’t know I think it took them a day and a bit to get it out. Because when a tank rolls it’s not easy to right. But even if we had of dragged it, it wouldn’t have done him any good. He was trapped and being in the water he had no hope whatsoever.
So how did you all deal with this tragedy?
Just forgot about it. I mean you know, part of the army, army life. Accidents happen. Well, nowadays they have what do the call them, people that go round talking about these sort of things. Back then, that wasn’t even considered.
You just talk amongst yourself, and felt sorry for him, and that was it. You just got on with whatever training you were doing. Nothing was going to bring him back. No matter what you thought or what you said, there was nothing anyone could have done, so it was just one of those unfortunately things that happen in any sort of training.
Did you have a ceremony or anything?
Oh yeah, there was a funeral and that. Everyone had the day off for the funeral, but apart from that, back to training, you know. Life goes on in the army. You’ve just got to survive.
Did you also train going over difficult terrain?
Oh yeah, you’ve got to learn everything. You know, cross
country, over all sorts of country. Where there’s no roads you’ve got to pick out the best track, which way you think is the best way. Through snow you put snow chains on. Every vehicle’s got snow chain, you put them on. Wade them through creeks, you’ve got to learn how to do that. How to set the vehicle up so you can wade it through. If it’s too deep you can
put a cloth or a tarp or something down, slide, roll the vehicle on, and if it’s near the waters edge just drive a bit, and the top’s tied up and take it across. Paddle it across that way. Or if it’s not all that too deep, you can put a snorkel on the exhaust and that. Grease everything so the water doesn’t get into the main parts of the engine,
where it’s going to short it, cut it out. And then drive across, but when you get to the other side you’ve got to strip all that off, which takes time. Yeah you learn all that. Night driving, because I mean, you’ve got to be able to drive in all conditions.
Where are you doing this training in snow and going across creeks? Where was it?
Well most of the training would have been down at Pucka.
Snow, you’d got up to the mountains somewhere. Because Pucka’s not far from the snow country. But the tanks didn’t go because they hardly ever left Pucka in those days, because it’s too hard to move them. Takes two vehicles to move one.
How had you taken army life at this stage?
I don’t know, all right I suppose. I was young, stupid. I was out to have a good time I suppose. Yeah, it was all right, good mates. Got into a bit of strife down there.
Went AWOL [AWL – Absent Without Leave], that was when I found out about the mother. Well, yeah, that’s right, found out where she was living. But add ups, I don’t know, something happened at the time and I started thinking about her and what she’d be like, so I decided I’d take off and go and see her. Cost me twenty one days in the slot.
Oh well, no fourteen days in the slot.
Well tell us about this journey and what happened. When did you leave and start going AWOL?
I don’t know. I was on CB [confined to barracks] for some reason. I don’t know, I got caught speeding or something. Because I think you were restricted to, what was it? I think forty or fifty mile an hour.
And a Provos [Provosts – Military Police] picked me up, and I got CB out of it. I don’t know, something happened, I decided, “Oh well, I’ll take a holiday,” went up to, well, actually no I was engaged then. I went up to my girlfriend’s place and talked about it, and then we got a train down to Warner’s Bay near Newcastle, because she lived at Singleton. And went to see my mother.
And things didn’t work out there so I decided I would go back to the army and take whatever comes. So all told I was away for, what was it, twenty one days, six hours and fifty five minutes. And that cost me fourteen days in the slot. Well, it was supposed to be in boob. But it back, well even now,
Holsworthy is where you normally do prison sentence, but to go to Holsworthy you’ve got to have fourteen days to serve, otherwise they won’t take you. And even though I got fourteen days’ detention, it takes seven days to go through the judge advocate. Now, on a court martial, there’s three judges. They can issue a punishment, then
it’s got to go through to what they called a judge advocate. Now he could squash it, he could do whatever he likes, but he can’t add any more to the sentence. So it normally takes about seven days to go through him, so by the time it got back him it meant I’ve only had, well I didn’t have the required time, so I spent the time at Watsonia. And then I wasn’t locked up. The only time I was locked up was when I was asleep. The rest of the time during the day I was working in the Q [quartermaster] store.
Or at night when I was finished at the Q store, I was sitting out playing cards with the guards. So, it didn’t worry me about being locked up when I was asleep. I didn’t know anything about it. That was my fourteen days in the boob.
Why were they good to you, do you think?
The guards, letting you have the door open and playing cards?
I don’t know.
Were they mates?
No. I didn’t even know them, but a good bunch of blokes, I suppose, because they wanted some company too.
Tell us about this girlfriend you had at Singleton, how you met her and you’re engaged. Tell us about that.
I was up there on an exercise. Sky high I think it might have been. And actually it was her sister I think I was going for first. They were in the Salvation Army, I don’t know.
I was watching them one day, and things went from there. But then it turned out that the elder sister was in love with me, so I thought, “Oh yeah, all right,” so I started going with her and we ended up getting married, engaged. It didn’t work out, mainly because I wasn’t religious. I’d seen the light. I mean after going to church three times a day, I’m afraid the church has got no meaning for me whatsoever.
Even today. I had it shoved down and I got sick of it. So, I’m not a religious fanatic today.
Oh yeah, she was in the Salvation Army. So things didn’t work out, so we called it off.
How did you get to this stage of getting engaged? How long had it been, and
how did it develop romantically?
I don’t know, I suppose it would have been over a period of six months we’d been going out. Because we were up at Singleton for a while, on the exercise. Because you could spend half a year out in the bush, you know on exercises and that, quite easily. I don’t know.
Just fell in love with each other, but as I said, it didn’t work out because I wasn’t religious enough. I think the church got onto her.
Was army life easy or hard on having an outside relationship?
I'd say it was hard, because you know, the woman is left on her own for quite a lot. Because you know, you could be out bush, as I said for three or four days, depending on where you are and what you’re doing. You could be a week here, two weeks there, or if it’s a major exercise you could be three months out bush. So, yeah it’s definitely hard on the woman.
You got to, that’s why a lot of them, army marriages or service marriages don’t work out, because you know, it’s too hard on the woman. You see they’re left at home, if they’ve got kids, they’ve got to bring the kids up because you’re not around. So, you know, it’s definitely hard on the woman.
You mentioned you went AWOL to see your Mum, had you got news that she was where she was?
From the brother. But things didn’t work out so.
Well what was it like to see her? What happened, what did you say?
Well, she greeted me, the fiancé and me in her bra and pants, which I didn’t think was very appropriate sort of attire, because she knew we were coming. But, then they went to
Warners Bay Workers’ Club, and she wanted me to feed the chickens or chooks or something, I’ve forgotten, and then she took the mickey about that when she got home. So, we left the next day, had enough.
Was she quite right?
No, I don’t know. I suppose, I just wanted to meet her and see what she was like, but, I don’t know,
maybe because she cleared off on us. My brother got on all right with her but I didn’t. Maybe I wasn’t that tolerant.
Was it hard to deal with that fact, that disappointment with your Mum?
No, not really. I just went back to the army and got on with it. Actually, the Feds [Federal Police] thought I used that as part of my argument, almost got
me off, except one of the majors was, what corps was he? He was the one who didn’t agree with the argument of my defence lawyer. He was good.
Tell us about what was said to you as you returned after this twenty one days.
Nothing. Just got charged, got put in the slot and said, “You’re charged,” in front of the colonel,
and he said because, no that’s right. I went for twenty one days, six hours and fifty five minutes, that’s an automatic court martial. Anything over twenty one days that’s a court martial. So he just said, “You’ve been court-martialled and the trial will be at Watsonia in Melbourne.” So there was nothing you could do or say about it, just a fact of army law.
You mentioned a lawyer.
How did you get him, what was the process of the whole court proceedings?
The lawyer is the, you can have anyone you like, and this was another RAEME bloke from Area Workshop at Pucka. He was a defence attorney. But he’s got no legal skills whatsoever, he’s just a common soldier. Well when I say soldier, he was an officer, but you know,
I suppose they have to cover a certain amount of legal when they do their training. I don’t know how much of it but he was a normal officer. But he put up a good defence, I must admit.
You mentioned your Mum, what did he say exactly in defence?
Just about the childhood and stuff like that. I can’t remember it all, but I do know that he put up a good argument.
Tell us about those in judgement. How did they appear with their demeanour?
They don’t say all that much, they just listen to what’s being said, and you know, much like any trial. Except you’ve got the three judges, who sit there and they confer afterwards, and they’re the ones that pass the sentence.
You don’t know what they say, or what’s said between them. But I believe, I heard, I forget who told me but, the other two virtually let me off, but this bloke wouldn’t.
So how did you feel about your punishment?
Didn’t worry me. The fact that they said, “You’ve got fourteen days’ detention, and soldier on.” “All right, fair enough.” I did my fourteen days, when I come out.
Oh, and I was getting a posting out of it as well so that suited me, I was happy with that
What was your posting?
That was to 1 General Troop Workshop in Brisbane. That was another part of his argument, because I got in strife with the OC [Officer Commanding], I suppose we didn’t see eye to eye with each other. But in one of his arguments, I got booked for speeding once,
but they had a broken speedo cable. And he reckoned you should be able to tell by the wind and the telegraph poles roughly how fast you were going, you know, rubbish. So you know, he gave me a CB for that. But you know, we didn’t see eye to eye with each other. Personality clash I suppose, so that and other things that got me my posting. I wanted to get out of Pucka. Wanted a change of scenery.
So what was it like in Brisbane after Puckapunyal?
Oh completely different. Different life and everything. Well it was (UNCLEAR) workshop and LAD, see, an LAD is a Light Aid Detachment. That could be attached to an infantry unit; it could be attached to engineers. Now,
as it turned out it was attached to armoured regiment. Now the armoured regiment being a senior thing, they control you. Whereas being at workshop we were controlled by RAEME, no one else. So that’s one of the drawbacks of being at RAEME, because you could be controlled by that many different sort of corps. But
Bulimba was totally different. I mean when we moved to Townsville it was completely different again because I had only just got married, and well that was after I came back from Vietnam.
Can you tell us before you went to Vietnam, all up, what were you doing over those four or so years in the army? You did your
training, but what else was your role?
Mainly driver, batman. And that included tidying up the 2IC’s [Second in Command] room. A bloke by the name of Ron Bean, who ended up being the head of corps, very nice bloke. Got on well with him, even though he was an officer. He treated his men good.
Better than the OC, but there again he was only young too, old Bodgy. That’s what his nickname was, ‘Bodgy Bean’. Very good bloke.
Well now that you’ve mentioned it, was there a very big division between officers and the rest of the men?
Not really, like
the Australian Army is completely different, you know you respect an officer, but once you’re off duty, you could socialise with them and that but you still respect the fact that they are an officer. Even though you may not be back at camp or something like that. Like if you’re playing
a game of hockey or something like that, which I played in the army, and you got an officer, he’s not treated as an officer, he’s just treated as another player. There’s no rank or nothing so you can call him whatever you want on the hockey field. No, you respect the officer and give them all the respect he deserves, especially if he deserves it, and that’s it.
It’s not like some other armies where their officers they don’t associate with the troops, not in the Australian Army. It’s never been like that, it never has. Even from Gallipoli, right through. It’d never survive if it did, because everyone’s got to rely on each other. The army’s not big enough.
At the time during these four years was there much talk about
the threat of communism?
No, I don’t think so. I suppose you’d talk about what was in the paper from time to time, but you’re not allowed to have any political beliefs. It’s a bit hard to, you know if you’re a communist, trying to be a soldier. The fact that
if you signed the dotted line, so you agree to whatever the army says. So, you know, even though you can vote you’re not meant to have any allegiance to any party or anything like that sort of thing. They can’t really stop you, but it’s a bit hard if you follow Labour and Liberal were in, or Liberal said this and Labour said, “Oh you can’t do that.”
You got to obey the orders of the government, because after all the government will defend in the war if necessary, not the opposition.
What news were you hearing about Vietnam? What was the feeling about this situation?
Well we actually had some blokes go to Vietnam as advisers and that, so we were getting a bit of feedback and that.
Didn’t really worry us, well actually in fact, a lot of blokes volunteered to go to Vietnam, because back then it was the only way to get war service. Without war service you couldn’t get a war service loan or anything like that, so you know, Vietnam
came along as a good opportunity. But, no, I don’t know what the general talk would have been. I don’t think anyone really discussed it that much. I mean the fact that the government said we were going, well that was it, we were going. You don’t have any say.
What was the feedback that you heard from these guys that went earlier?
Well, it was rough. Because the advisers were living in the jungle and fighting with the mountain tribes and that to advise them how to combat the North Vietnam, or the Vietcong. But so you
couldn’t really go on that because, well we didn’t go over as advisers, we went over as a unit. So it was totally different.
Tell us about how the unit was formed and what happened.
The unit was, well actually what they were doing then was replacing
unit by unit. See, when did they go over? I’m not sure, I think about ’65, ’64, ’65. They started sending troops, but I think it was about ’65, ’66 that they actually sent the big bulk of them, and then as one was replaced it was being replaced unit by unit. And
they just got you from wherever you were and said, “All right, you’re now being posted to such and such, you’re going to Vietnam.” Actually I was still up here in Brisbane at the time, and I’d had my appendix out so when I got there, they were doing their training at Canungra. Now, because I was still on medical conditions, I wasn’t allowed to do anything,
I couldn’t go. I had to go later. My training was slightly different to theirs. All I had to do was attend Canungra, I didn’t have to pass anything. Then we were shipped over to Vietnam as a unit.
What was your unit exactly? Was it based from where you were in Brisbane?
No it come from everywhere. In fact the bulk of the unit were National Servicemen.
And a good deal of them were from Tassie.
What were you noticing about these National Servicemen? Was there anything different in the way they were?
No. Back then, and this is back in ’67, they didn’t really, well I suppose nobody wanted to have National Service,
but the government brought it in. But no, they were I suppose as happy as anyone else. They were good blokes. They got a bit shitty from time to time I suppose, because they were dragged off from civvy St. They didn’t volunteer like I did. So I suppose, no they got on well. There was not animosity between the regs [Regular Army] and the Nashos [National Service Soldiers]. We all had a job to do, and they realised that and we realised that.
So we got on well.
You just said that you volunteered. Why did you volunteer in particular yourself?
Well I joined the army in ’62, so once you sign the dotted line the government, or the army can send you anywhere they like. You got no choice. You can’t turn around and say, “Oh no, I’m not going to Vietnam, I don’t agree with it,” that doesn’t work. If the army says you’re going, you’re going. Unless you’ve got some medical condition or something like that.
That’s it, you’re going to Vietnam. No only that, well, it was common knowledge but nearly everyone that was in the army would go to Vietnam because they wanted the war service.
How did you feel about going just before you went? What was your feeling about being sent over?
It didn’t worry me. It didn’t worry me at all.
I was going to Vietnam and that was it. No point in worrying about it, worrying about is not going to do any good whatsoever.
What did you expect once you got there?
Well that was funny because we had lectures and that, and they said that the VC [Viet Cong] wore black. Ninety per cent of the population wore black, so that meant that everyone was an enemy.
Not only that, some of the things they told us was totally absurd. I can’t remember now but some of the information was definitely, I don’t know where they got it from, but nowhere near the truth.
You said you can’t remember any of it, but is there anything that strikes you roughly about what was absurd about what they said?
Well as I said, the fact that the enemy wore black, and ninety per cent of the population wore black. No, not really. You just, you know, had an open mind when you got there. It was all knew so everybody was in the same boat.
Tell us about leaving. What were those last couple of days in Australia like? What did you have to do?
Was there a process that you went through?
No. I think we had a day out at, or a night out at, what’s the place in Sydney? Kings Cross. And then I can’t remember what day it was we left, but no, things were relatively thing. They load us on board the truck, took
us out to the airport. Got on a TAA [Trans Australia Airlines] flight out to Darwin. That was at night, because I don’t know why. And then I don’t know if we got into Darwin quite late. Told us the swimming pool was still open. The heat from the tarmac, that was unbearable. It was still bloody hot at night, but we had to be up early so
we weren’t interested in the swimming pool. And because then we got up and had an eight hour flight by Hercules to Vung Tau. And if you’ve ever been on a Hercules, eight hours is a bloody long time. It’s cold and everything.
So you flew from Darwin to?
To Vung Tau. Because back then they were having a
confrontation with Indonesia so we couldn’t fly over Indonesia. That’s why it took eight hours. Because we had to bypass Indonesia.
Tell us about this Hercules trip. What was it like? You’ve mentioned cold, but just describe it for us.
Well there was no proper seating, no toilets whatsoever. Because it was a cargo plane. If you wanted a smoke you had to go up to the pilot’s cabin because that’s the only
pressurised part of the plane. Still seats, or still with straps on them. Very hard, very uncomfortable. And eight hours on a Hercules was not a party, was not a picnic.
What about turbulence? Was there any turbulence?
Oh yeah, but you would have flown before that,
so you would have known what turbulence was like, so that didn’t really worry us.
You mentioned no toilets. How did you deal with this?
They had a pipe that went down at the back of the plane.
A pipe? What do you mean exactly?
Just a pipe went through the back of the plane, and where it went afterwards, goodness knows.
So you had to piss into the pipe?
Tell us about landing.
That was all right, that was a good landing at Vung Tau. And got off and they took us by truck around the beach and showed us what the native population was like. That was a rude shock.
I mean, it wasn’t very clean. And then they took us to our camp at Vung Tau there, on the beach.
When you say they took you to see the locals, what were you seeing exactly?
Oh just the normal Vietnamese and the way they lived in their huts, and, well if you could call them houses.
Yeah, it was just, well totally different to what we had been brought up with, or seen in Australia, put it that way. The beaches weren’t, if you could call it a beach, was filthy. I don’t know, it was just a turn off. I wasn’t very impressed with the place at all, first impressions.
What kind of affect did it have on your feeling about being there for potentially up to a year?
Oh, it didn’t worry us. We were there to do a job and that was it. I mean, you get used to it anyway. We were living on the beach in amongst the sand dunes, so that was all right. First impression wasn’t the best but you got used to it after a while, the smell and that.
What was the smell like?
Bad in places. Because I mean you’ve got to remember that this is a tropical climate. And the heat is fairly unbearable at times, and some of those places were really on the nose. But you got used to it, like everything else, even the food.
What were the men that were taking you around and showing you the locals, what were they saying about them, and the place?
Oh just giving you a rundown on them and you know, what to expect and how to react and things like that. Just because they’d been there, some of them most probably they were the ones that we would have been replacing. Some of them, well they would have been. I don’t know, they were just telling us what they’d struck over the twelve months, and they were happy to be going home. The couldn’t get us back there fast
Were they telling you this?
No, well you could see it. You know the expressions, and they were glad to be going home. Anyone would. You’d have to be an idiot if you said no you didn’t want to go home after twelve months.
Was there any tongue in cheek hassles about this?
No, just a bit of ribbing, you know good natured ribbing that would happen anywhere. Just taking
the mickey out of each other.
What would they say in this case?
Oh I don’t know, I forget now but I mean words to the effect that, “You’ve got to put up with all this smell and that, we’re going home,” you know. There would have been a few choice words said here and there to brighten it up. But no, it was all good natured.
I mean you know, there was no bitterness between us and them. They were going home and we were just starting. Now we would do the same to the next mob that was going to replace us, so it works the other line.
Just quickly, were there any tips that they gave you that stuck in your mind?
The only thing they told us really was that to
take no notice of what we’d been told back in Australia, because you’d learn it all yourself. And they told us of various places to be careful, and you know, where you’re likely to find trouble and that. But no, just that most of the rubbish they told us back in Australia wasn’t worth a pinch of shit. But apart from that, no.
Interviewee: Kevin Harding Archive ID 1782 Tape 05
Can you describe the basic set up of where you were staying at Vung Tau?
Yeah, it was on the beach in amongst sand dunes. That’s where we had our tents pitched, because they had no, when we initially got there we were living in tents. Then we started to build huts. So consequently we had sand in everything.
But we had the beach right next to us, so that was good.
Were you allowed to swim any time?
Yeah. Well that was supposed to be a safe area anyway, but they preferred us not to swim near our beach. They preferred us to go down to the American section of the beach because they had
life guards there, and ours didn’t. It was only for safety reasons, no other dangers. But yeah, you could swim any time you wanted to.
What were the tents like that you were staying in?
Typical army tents. Cool.
Yeah, just an average army tent with the sandbags around them, which tended to make them a bit hotter. But there again that was for safety’s sake, to stop any bullet if we did get attacked. Everything was sandbagged.
What was the layout of the tents to make a camp like?
Well they were kept away from the work area,
so you know, you had privacy sort of thing like that. Because not everyone worked all the time, because some would be resting because they might have been on duty the night before. So they had to be back in the tent resting, so they didn’t want the noise from the machines and that keeping them awake all the time. So yeah, the tents were all right. We were in a bit of a hollow, where our tents were.
Tent being a tent, you got used to it.
How many people in a tent?
If I remember rightly I think there was four. Four to a tent, which wasn’t bad. I had enough room. Not all that many comforts, but you know, that was Vietnam.
What happened if it rained on the sand?
It got very boggy and very wet. And it rained quite often there. We had a couple of cyclones, and monsoon rain. Monsoon rain is really heavy rain. Literally pour for about half and hour or three quarters of an hour and then stop, and would be really balmy.
Yeah, once you see those dark clouds coming you got everything you could under cover, because you knew it was going to pour. But apart from that it was like any area anywhere, you just got to put up with the rain and keep working as best you can. I mean, war’s not going to stop for rain. Never has and it never will. So you just carry on and
do whatever you’re doing. Except if you’re driving, you had to come to a halt because you couldn’t see where you were going, it was that heavy.
What were the facilities in the camp like in terms of showers and things like that?
What’s a bucket shower?
It’s a canvas bag which you fill with half and half. Half hot water, half cold,
and you’ve got a sprinkler in it that you screw down. The idea is to wet yourself, soap yourself down then use the rest of it to wash yourself off. Very quick showers, they didn’t last long, unless you wanted to get out and get some more water. But they were adequate, you know, bush shower.
What was the security around the camp like?
Well we were on a peninsula, so we had the Koreans next to us, and the Americans. In front of us that was pretty well defended, built with barbed wire and everything else, plus the guards on the gates and that. So yeah, security like any army place in a war zone, you know, adequate security.
Other than that you could walk around the camp whenever you felt like it. I mean we had a lot of Vietnamese working in various sections if the camp. They’d come in during the day and work, so you know, you just had to take the chance that not all of them were VC. Which, you know, they were trying to gather information, they wouldn’t be after trying to do a
raid or anything because it would be pointless. There was far too many troops at the station there to do anything. So camp life was come and go virtually from one sort of area of the camp to the other. No restriction,
except everywhere you went you carried your weapon. I mean that was the standard sort of thing. Even if you went for a meal you had to have your weapon with you. Your weapon went wherever you went. If you went to bed, your weapon went to bed with you.
Where would it stay during the night?
Next to your bed, where you could grab it. The gun was, or the rifle was with you at all times. No matter where you were, in the shower, no matter where. That rifle
wasn’t far from your hand. And that’s standard procedure in any sort of war area, because without a weapon, well you’re useless. Because you can’t defend yourself or you can’t defend anyone else. So the weapon has got to be with you at all times.
How far away was the camp from the actual city, or village of Vung Tau?
ten minutes if that. About a ten minute drive. Well virtually once you got outside of the camp, you went along, depending which way you went. Yeah five or ten minutes you were in the suburbs of Vung Tau. So, you know, very close.
Would you get to go into Vung Tau often?
Yeah, regular, virtually every day almost. For various
reasons. I mean to get to the American air base you’d have to go through Vung Tau anyway. I’d say nearly every day you’d do one trip to the air base for something or other. And then if you had to go to Nui Dat you had to go through Vung Tau, to get to Nui Dat. So yeah, you’d be going in and out of the town regular.
Aside from what you said to Kieran earlier about it being really dirty, what other things did you notice about the town?
The women hold hands. Which is a strange custom, apparently it’s their way of life. Women walk around holding hands, so boy and girl don’t walk around and hold hands. Strange, as I said, completely different to what we’ve
ever been taught. Some parts of the town were richer than others, like any city or town. They had their beach, we had our beaches. They weren’t allowed anywhere near our beaches, except for the American section of the beach, they could go there. But ours and the Korean’s, no way. You wouldn’t get past the Koreans.
They were too big. They were big mean boys.
How did you guys get along with them?
Oh good, we had no trouble with them whatsoever. They were good guards, because if anyone tried to attack us from the Americans, they would have had to get through the eighth Koreans, and those Koreans were big and mean. But we never had an ounce of trouble with them, not while I was there anyway.
They’d be down on the beach doing their karate and all that sort of stuff, and when you’d walk past they’d say hello and we’d say hello, got on well with them.
Would you have any other kind of interaction with them officially?
Not really. Put it this way, our unit wouldn’t have.
Some of the other units may have but we didn’t, being a workshop we had very little contact with them. Apart from going past them to go to the American base.
How about contact with the Americans?
Oh, that was every day occurrence.
What did you think of them?
Ratbags, couldn’t fight. No, I mean they were good for
one thing, they had plenty of everything. That’s about all. Even when you went into town to the bars, we used to stir them up. Like, they still got their racial prejudice, which is even today. But back then it was even worse. You’d walk into a bar and there would be a bunch of Negroes standing at the bar, one end of the bar, so you’d purposely go down
and stand and have a drink with them, start chatting and talking. And then sure enough you’d get a tap on the shoulder. And, “Come over here. Hey Aussie, he’s a Negro, a dark bloke. We don’t drink or talk with him.” “That’s you, so what do you want me to do about it?” “You know, you don’t drink with them,” “No, they’re me mates, I’m going to have a drink with them.” So you’d go back and have a drink. Five minutes later you’d be down the other end having a drink with the Yanks.
They soon learnt that they wouldn’t tell us what we could do or what we couldn’t do. If we wanted to drink with a Negro, we’d drink with them.
How well did you get along with the black Americans?
Good. You know, it’s the same with the Aboriginals. We had quite a few Aboriginals in the army. They’re there to do a job, you’re there to do a job. They do their job, you treat them the same as anyone else. If they don’t do their job, well then you
start cracking up, same as a Negro. If he wants to be friends, you be friends. If he doesn’t, well you leave it at that. Same with the Americans, but they don’t start telling us what we can do and what we can’t do. That’s when Australian gets a little bit shitty.
Were there any fights with Americans?
Oh the odd one, but not that many. Not that many at all really.
I mean, well there’s nothing to fight over really. It’s not as though like back in the Second World War where they had those fights in Brisbane over the women and that. There was nothing really to fight over between the two of us. They did their thing, we did our thing. We’d mix, they’d mix. As I said, they used to put on good barbecues down at their section
of the beach, so you’d go down there. Other than that, they were complete idiots, didn’t have a clue how to fight. Well we didn’t think so anyway. But, I suppose a Yank being a Yank, he’s full of bullshit, so you just take him with a grain of salt. Agree with him or disagree with him. You had your view, tell him.
If he didn’t like it, well stiff. We didn’t lose any sleep over it.
These barbecues on the beach, what were they like?
They were good. They’d take a mobile kitchen. Now I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a mobile kitchen, but they’ve big trailers with big freezers and everything. They’d be stocked with beer, food, steaks and that. They’d just go down and set it up on the beach and have a barbecue. The barbecue
could go all day and all night. There would always be someone that could play a guitar or something like that, some kind of instrument, so you would give the singsong a go. If you got drunk you just slept on the beach, woke up, “Oh yeah, the barbie’s [barbecue] still going,” and get stuck into it again.
What sort of songs would you sing?
Oh, anything. Anything and everything, anything that was going at the time. Like, you got a bit of news of
what was the hits back home, and you heard them on the radio from time to time, if you were lucky enough to have a radio and could pick anything up. Mainly Radio Saigon, which was the army, or the American Forces Radio. Just sing along with anything they wanted to sing.
What were some of the big hits of the time?
That’s a good question. I don’t really remember, I think
“I want to go home,” I ‘m not sure who sang it. I think that was played a fair bit on the juke box. “I want to go home, I want to go home.” That was a big one, but apart from that, no I can’t really recall what was on the hit parades. I don’t think we took any notice. We had too many other things to do to worry about what was played on the radio back home, or anything like that.
What other sort of things would there be on the American radio station that they broadcast?
Oh, just general information about weather and things like that. Nothing ever about what was going on. Just normal, everyday radio stuff, sort of appropriate to Vung Tau or wherever it was being broadcast from. And whoever happened to be the DJ [disc jockey], nothing spectacular.
I think the juke box in the boozer got more play than the radio. Listen to the records. Because you did a fair bit of drinking, nothing else to do. And besides, that was the only way to eat the food at times. Because when we first got there it was all American stuff, it was all
powdered eggs and dehydrated stuff, and tastes shocking too. You go and have two or three beers and then you didn’t worry what you ate.
How did powdered eggs work?
I’m not sure now, because we didn’t do the cooking, but we knew they were powdered eggs. You could taste the powder.
How would you cook them up?
Good question. Never actually watched them cook it. I don’t think I would have either.
What was the end result with the eggs? Scrambled or?
Yeah scrambled, and you could tell they were powdered.
What colour were they?
They were yellowish colour. I don’t know what sort of powder they used but they didn’t taste all that good. It turned out better when our own stuff started to arrive. Same with the beer. When we first got there we had to drink there beer, and
most of it was rubbish. They only had about three or four beers that were worthwhile drinking.
Which ones were they?
Budweiser, Black Label, Blue Ribbon and can’t remember the other one. But that was about all. If you went into town you drank Barmy Bar.
What was that?
That was the local beer. They sent a sample back to
I think it was the Sydney University, the end result came back that it wasn’t fit for human consumption. And that’s all we drank over there, and we loved it.
Tell me about these bars in town.
They were small narrow little places which sold,
well they might get a bit of sly American beer now and then, but it was mainly Barmy Bar or Beery 33 they called it, but we called it Barmy Bar. Or, what the women called Whisky Coke, if you wanted to pay for it. But that turned out to be cold tea. Even though it wasn’t expensive, because I mean, I forget how much it cost.
I suppose it was twice the price of a beer, I don’t know how much beer was but, it was supposed to be Whisky Coke and these girls were knocking it back like it was going out of fashion and they never seemed to get drunk. So we woke up that it was cold tea, and they were trying to get us drunk so we would go to bed with them.
What were the women like?
of them were, or a good percentage of them were call girls. Because I suppose it was the only way to make money. Plus being a fairly poor country and they had to provide for their family and that. They were pretty enough. The French Vietnamese they were really stunners, some of them, really good lookers.
But, no you stayed away from them if you had any sense.
Would any of the blokes go for it?
Oh yeah. I mean, well you were given all the warnings about VD [Venereal Disease] and everything, but well, our mob even had a place just out of camp where they used to treat the women for VD. It still didn’t stop our blokes
from catching it, but it helped. Plus, you know, you’re entitled to checkers [condoms], if you wanted them. They were freely available. They used to encourage you to take them with you when you went into town. The girls they were trying to get you to part with money any way they could.
Especially if you were around the American section of the beach, they’d come up and if you were there say, sunbaking, they’d come up to you and start playing with you, trying to get you aroused so you’d go off with them. I mean, they were full of all sorts of tricks. But, I suppose they had a living to make, just like anyone else.
And if you wanted to go off with a girl,
what was the system, or the protocol?
Goodness knows. I suppose you went to some place of hers, wherever she had a place. Either to her house or I don’t know, wherever you could I suppose. But she’d make sure she got your money first. Same as when you went to the bath house, because steam baths were big back then.
So you’d go into a steam bath, they’d be in there and try and talk you into it while you’re having a steam bath and massage. They were all over the place. I suppose some blokes did, but I mean I had better things to do with my money. Like get pissed.
How safe was it to drink in the bars at Vung Tau?
Good question. I don’t know to be quite honest, because you don’t know who you were drinking with. I mean it could have been a VC sitting next to you. You wouldn’t have a clue. It would be like Queensland fighting New South Wales, they some, well I don’t know whether the north talk slightly different to the south, but they all dress the same, they all look the same, so
you wouldn’t have a clue who was a Vietcong. The only ones that wore uniform were the Vietnamese regular. You didn’t see much of them, they used to avoid us at all cost. So the VC, no you wouldn’t have a clue who they were. Being safe, I suppose it was as safe, well I don’t think anyone ever
got killed in town that I recall. They might have got into a fight or two but, I suppose when you look at it they weren’t out to kill anyone. They were out to gather information really, on who or what’s going on. It wouldn’t pay them to start anything. Well I suppose it would have been military safe.
Would you not talk about things in bars, work wise, in case there were spies?
Well, not really. What we talked about wouldn’t have been any interest anyway, because we didn’t know what was going on. Like, you know, we were just mechanical drivers,
fixing vehicles. So we would have only been talking about something that had happen during work or, so it wouldn’t have mattered if we’d talked about that, because it wouldn’t have helped anyone. I mean, as I said they had workers going in to camp all the time, cleaning the kitchen and that, so they would have know the whole layout of the place no matter what we said about our area, they would have already known anyway.
No, it wouldn’t have got any information. But maybe from the grunts that had been out in the front line or something like that, or about to go out. Possibly they could have let something slip and gave something away, but no, anything we said wouldn’t have been of any interest at all. They wouldn’t have been interested. I mean we had no secrets. We didn’t know what
was going on. We didn’t know where the battalions were going or what they were going to be doing. Why we were there, was to fix either their weapons or their vehicles. And about the only other time we would come into contact with anything would be if we did a resupply out there somewhere, to one of the outward camps.
But apart from that, no. I wouldn’t say that we were a hundred per cent safe, but I’d say a good seventy per cent safe. But there again, no one was completely safe. You could never be safe, not in a situation like that.
Is there anything or any areas of Vung Tau that you avoided?
At night time you
would go near Kat Lau, which was sort of the outskirts of Vung Tau. Once you got to Kat Lau and out beyond it was open territory, you could get hit at any time, or anywhere. So Kat Lau was a no-go zone for us, but apart from that, no.
Was there ever any fear of terrorist things in Vung Tau? Grenades in bars?
No, didn’t think about those sorts of things. If it was going to happen, it was going to happen. Although terrorists weren’t around in those days. Not like they are today. No you wouldn’t have been concerned about it. I’d say the biggest fear would be some stupid bloody Yank blazing away with a machine gun in a bar, because someone had done the
dirty on him. And a few of them happened.
Oh, I don’t know. I had a mate he got shipped up to the prison island as a guard because he took a gun and shot up the place. Something happened to him, I don’t know what.
Tell me about this?
He went into this bar and I don’t know whether he got beat up or robbed of his money. He went back to camp and got a gun and just
shot the place up. And the shipped him out the next day to the prison island as a guard. But I mean things like that happened from time to time, but you didn’t think about it. You had other things to think about.
Why do you think he behaved so extremely?
I don’t know, maybe he just lost it.
What would make you lose it?
A lot of things. Maybe not getting mail from home,
girlfriend or wife done the dirty on you. I mean anything can make a bloke snap in a situation like that. I mean, if you’re away for six to eight months and hardly got a letter, naturally it’s going to effect you after a while. Those sort of things happen, people crack under pressure.
Who would write letters to you?
The girl, family from time to time. I didn’t get that much mail. But then again I didn’t expect that much mail.
And how did letters help you?
Oh they just let you know what was going on back home and how things were, so they brighten up the day. And then you wait until the next one.
This bloke that shot up the bar, what kind of guy was he?
Well, I thought he was all right. I used to drink with, but I don’t know. And when he lost it, I never seen him after that. I don’t know why he did it, as I said maybe he cracked.
How did you find out that he’d done it?
I went over to the American base to see him, and they told me he’d been shipped off to the island. That he shot up a place the night before.
Because when something like that happens they tend to get them out of the area as quick as they can, so there’s no repercussions.
What was this prison island?
That’s where they kept the Vietcong and that. I don’t know where it was.
What would you hear about it?
Nothing. That was the first and only time I heard it mentioned. Maybe it was somewhere in
the Mekong Delta they set up an area as a prison. I don’t know where it was. No, I didn’t ask or anything. And I never heard from the American again, so I don’t know what happened to him.
Did you know what it was called, the island?
No, they just said that he’d been shipped off the prison island as a guard. That’s why I said, I didn’t elaborate,
didn’t ask where it was or anything.
Why would you chose to drink from the bars at Vung Tau rather than the camp?
Change of scenery, females to look at, I don’t know.
Who knows, no particular reason. Just like Barmy Bar.
What did it taste like?
Not a bad beer. I can’t remember exactly what it tastes like now, but I mean it was drinkable. We enjoyed it. It wasn’t as good as VB [Victoria Bitter] or anything like that, but at the time it served its purpose. You got drunk on it. Had a good time, had a few good memories.
Was it more like a bitter?
Yeah, I think it was a bitter. But it was ’67. Yea, I think it was a bit bitter. Can’t really remember now, but I know we enjoyed drinking it. Because there again, apart from that, we only had out little canteens until they built the Bag Car Club,
which was just open just before I left. But they didn’t have that many places to go and drink.
What were your little canteens like?
Just small little areas in a tent or in a hut where we made it or turned it into a bar. If you’ve ever seen MASH [US television program], much the same as those sort of places.
Very much the same, run by the unit themselves.
What else would you do apart from drink, if you had free time?
Go down the American Beachcomber, listen to music, play the pinball machines.
Write letters, play cards, anything. Have a game of football, well, when I say football, kick a football around. Anything, just anything to fill in time.
How much more did you drink in Vietnam than you had done in Australia?
I would have drank quite a bit more in Vietnam than I did in Australia, because as I said it was dirt cheap. I think it was about fifteen cents, or was it ten cents for a can of soft drink and fifteen cents for a beer.
Yeah, but there again, that would have been fifteen MPC [Military Payment Certificate]. Because we didn’t have our money. Our money was taken off us. Too valuable on the black market, so we weren’t allowed to use it. We got paid in MPC. That was produced by the Americans, because the American
greenback was worth heaps on the black market too.
What did the MPC look like?
Paper money if I remember rightly. I don’t think, I can’t recall whether there was any coins or not now. Just paper money with a photo of whoever was the president at the time on it. And what else? I can’t remember now. Didn’t have the various
denominations, various sizes. It was worked out, what was it? One hundred and thirteen MPC to our dollar, and I think it was one hundred and thirty three or one hundred and thirty five piastres to our American dollar, or MPC dollar. And piastre was the Vietnamese currency because we couldn’t, when you went to town you had to piastre the American MPC into
piastre. Because that wasn’t allowed to be used off base, except in another military unit.
Did it always stay the same, or did it change?
No it stayed the same. As far as I know, I don’t recall it changing.
How would you say that drinking was
maybe encouraged or endorsed in Vietnam?
Well what else was you going to do? You had to fill in the time at night some how. So you’d go up and have a few drinks, a game of cards or something like that. I wouldn’t say it was encourage, but virtually you’re stuck there for twelve
months or whatever, you haven’t got anything else to do. Can’t go wandering around on your own at night, or not really, well you can but I mean, once you leave camp it’s not really safe. So you know, stay at camp and sit in the tent, and go barmy sitting in a tent. So it was better to go barmy and have a few beers and enjoy it, if you’re going to go barmy.
Did you feel much pressure from your mates, or from other people around you?
No, not really. They’d say, “You want to go for a beer? Come up for a beer?” “No, don’t feel like it.” “Oh, all right.” So there’s not pressure. It was up to you, no one forced up you go. If you wanted to go for a few beers, you went for a few beers. But nearly every time there would be
two or three of you that would go and have a few drinks. Because as I said, at night time there wasn’t anything else to do. Or maybe go to the pictures, because they had pictures there but, you know, sometimes you didn’t like the picture, so you go back to the bar. There wasn’t all that many things to occupy yourself.
I mean, nowadays you’ve got computers, and you never had in those days. You know, a computer you can set up and can talk all night to someone back home. But back then, no, computers weren’t even around. It was either drink or, I don’t know what you would have done if you didn’t drink.
Interviewee: Kevin Harding Archive ID 1782 Tape 06
Just tell us what your unit was called first up.
One Division S and T Workshop. We were part of 5 Company RAASC [Royal Australian Army Service Corps].
Yeah, Royal Australian Army Service Corps.
What were you briefed about what your role would be once you got to Vietnam?
Driver, batman. Batman work
is to look after the officers, the CO’s [Commanding Officer] tent. Make sure that was clean and his bed made. And then doing driver for him, take him wherever he had to go. Basically that was it.
Tell us on arrival how you were shown what to do.
Wasn’t show, just told. I mean you knew what you had to do, if the CO wanted to go somewhere.
If he had to go down to ISG [International Support Group] headquarters you’d drive him there, and wait for him. When he finishes you drive him back and he didn’t want you, you’d go back to doing whatever else you wanted to do. Maybe take stuff to the laundry, you might have to go and pick up parts from somewhere. There’s always something to do.
Were you replacing someone who was in this role before you?
but I don’t recall who it was because he left before I got there. I wouldn’t have a clue who it was.
Who was the CO that you were working for?
Ray Brown, Captain Ray Brown.
What was he like?
Good bloke. He was a very good bloke.
What were the first things he’d say to you
upon meeting him?
Oh, he’d just talk like normal. There was no rank structure. You’d never salute anyone. Not if you’re in a war. You just say, “Good morning sir,” or something like that, and he’d say, “G’day,” back to you. And that was it. You asked him what he wanted done that day, or whether he needed to go anywhere,
he’d tell you if he wanted you. If not, say, “All right, I’ve got to go and pick up some stores from somewhere,” or, “Parts from somewhere.” So you know, you just communicate with each other, to see whether he wanted you or something like that. Basically the same thing every day.
Take us through a typical day for example, what’s the first thing you did, and from there.
Well once we started work, we’d have a parade first and roll call. Any mail given out, or anything like that. Then we’d go to work, and I'd maybe he had to go to Nui Dat, so I would have to drive him to Nui Dat, Which was about an hour or so from Vung Tau. That’s where our main fighting base was, Nui Dat. We used to go up there nearly every
second day, because we did detachment up there and you’d have to go up there and check on various things, whether repairs been done or whether they needed any parts or anything like that. It’s quicker to go up there and sort any problems out. You’re supposed to go in convoy but we never, he reckoned it was safer freewheeling it, which I believe it was. The convoys got hit.
So we just freewheel up the highway.
Did you have any protection for this freewheeling?
Only my rifle and his pistol.
Would they be on the ready, the rifle?
Well, it was a bit hard to have it on the ready while you’re driving. He’d have his pistol in the holster though. But, they were in easy reach, I mean, you didn’t take any notice. If somebody’s going to shoot at you, they’re going to shoot at you.
They would have been well concealed, so you possibly wouldn’t have seen them anyway. Didn’t worry about it. The biggest probably was any other vehicle on the road. Because they drive on the opposite side of the road to us, so you’re driving blind. Oh, well not really, had him in the passenger, he would have been the passenger but he would
have been on the opposite side. So if you went to pull out and something was coming the other way, he would have got hit before you. I mean we had many a vehicle wiped out that way. Certainly because of driving on the opposite side of the road. But no, never had any problem.
Any close calls?
Not that I recall. Not going to Nui Dat.
Coming back from Saigon once, I don’t know, I didn’t hang around long enough. I think it was a few shots, but I didn’t stop. I just put my foot down and went. You didn’t worry about things like that, if you started worrying, I don’t know, you’re going to get into more strife than it’s worth. I mean it’s going to affect you in everything. I mean,
you’ve got to look at it from the other aspect too. I was about twenty two, twenty three, so at that stage of life you don’t worry about it too much many things. Not too many young kids do. Didn’t worry about whether you were going to get shot or anything. You never even thought about it.
Why do you think young guys that wore a life vest?
I don’t know, maybe their attitude.
Maybe the way we’re brought up and the way we’re taught to fight. If you’re going to start worrying about whether you’re going to cop a bullet or not, that’s when you will cop it. You talk yourself into it. You’ll do something stupid. But if you take an open mind to it, and say, “Well if it happens, it happens.” If you’re dead, you’re dead. You’re not going to worry about, so just put it out of your mind.
And just think about what you’re doing.
Were there any men that you can remember that did have it on your mind?
Not in my unit, no. Because as I said, we didn’t come into contact with the grunts that much, except maybe if they were resting down at Vung Tau, because they had an R & R [Rest and Recreation] centre there. You might come in contact with them, and they might have a few stories.
But no, because I mean, any part of Vietnam was a dangerous area but you didn’t go around thinking that. You went around thinking, “Oh well, I’m as safe as anywhere else.” So you didn’t worry too much about those, well we didn’t anyway. No one in my unit, and I don’t recall anyone being stressed out or anything.
We were, I’d say we got off pretty light as far as those things go. I mean we just did our jobs and that was it. In fact it wasn’t all that much different to being back here, except we were in tents and living on sand hills.
Apart from that we were just doing the normal things we did back here. We’d do a bit of training, have a shot every now and then, just to make sure the weapons were working okay. But apart from that nothing changed from when we were back here, except we were in a war zone, or supposedly in a war zone. I often think of it as a
big holiday, at the government’s expense, because I enjoyed it. I don’t regret going.
What was it that you enjoyed about Vietnam?
I don’t know, different style of life, different looking at different aspects of life. Seeing how they lived, mixing with them.
Learning a bit about their culture and that. So I mean, things you’d never see back here. You know, I don’t know. I just enjoyed the time over there.
How big an impact was it for you, considering that you’d grown up and just been in Tasmania before the army, and just being in Australia before? What was it like being overseas?
I don’t know, I suppose the same as it was for the other blokes. You just took it as, you know, that’s where the army wanted me, that’s where I ended up. Didn’t really think about it. The fact that I was, well I knew I was overseas but, didn’t have any affect on me whatsoever. Just carried on one
day after the other.
You mentioned the locals. In your role as a driver, would you go out to the local villages?
Yeah I used a photo tour, because one of the blokes, or everyday there would be someone off and if the boss didn’t want me, I’d just say, “Well, so and so wants to go out to such and such a place and take a few photos,” “Oh yeah, all right. Take him out,” so I’d take them out wherever they wanted to go
and take photos.
What kind of places would they go?
Fishing village, depending on what they were interested in. There was a few fishing villages around. Buddha Temples and that, statues, you know, just whatever. Some of them just wanted me to drive them around like they were king pin, didn’t worry me.
If not, I was just doing my normal work and taking stuff to the laundry, pick it up, go to the American base and pick up supplies and parts and that. Whatever we needed.
You mentioned driving your CO, he wouldn’t like convoys. What about travelling by yourself with some of these missions, would you travel with protection, in convoy?
No. I’d drive around town on my own.
As I said, you didn’t take any consideration whether it was, you know, like I said, any part of Vietnam could have been a war zone. You just didn’t worry about it. You know, you had to go and pick up the laundry or take the laundry, you just did it, you didn’t think about it. Like, you had your rifle with you all the time, and that would never leave your sight. You know, if you went into the laundry, the rifle would go in there with you.
You never left it in the vehicle so no one could pinch it. You wouldn’t be that stupid, you’d be court martialled if you was. But no, you never thought about, you know, travelling around on your own. Well I didn’t anyway. I mean, that was your job. If you had to go to the American base to pick up something, you went there. You didn’t worry about convoys, well I mean, you’re not going to send a
convoy for one vehicle. And half the time there wouldn’t be anyone available to ride shotgun, because they were repairing vehicles, so they didn’t have to, tell them to come and wet nurse you and guard you. You just went off. Same when you went out taking photos, there was only the two of us. He could have his camera out taking photos as we were
driving. So the weapon would be beside him, but he didn’t worry about it, you didn’t worry about it.
Did the vehicle have any armour plating or protection?
No, just a normal Land Rover, with a canvas cover on the back. Well, if we left it on. Sometimes we’d take it off, or roll it up. No bulletproof glass or anything, just the standard normal army Land Rover.
So no protection whatsoever.
Was it good to drive?
Land Rovers in general were good to drive, yeah. I enjoyed driving them. The top speed was about fifty five mile an hour, which was fast enough back in those days. But they were good. Go anywhere,
Anything that would go particularly wrong with them at times?
No, not really. You might have a minor breakdown, but no, nothing would really go wrong with them. If you hit something you’d just knock it out. They were aluminium so they didn’t dent too easy. If you wanted to wash them you just take the seats out. The seats were just cushions, just take them out.
Throw the hose in, wash it all out, and then put the seats back in and start driving again. Very easy to clean. And you know, repairs weren’t all that hard. No, they were reliable back then. It’s only when someone wipes one out that you have problems. Like happened to me at the laundry, an American, I don’t know what he was doing. But wiped the
side of my vehicle out. All the Provos and that turned up, took all the various notes and that, oh yeah, I was legal, I was parked. Next day these two vehicles come trundling into the compound. The boss went out to find out what was going on. They brought another four wheel drive in to replace the Land Rover they pranged [crashed] the day before. “Sorry, take it away. We’ll fix ours.”
They wanted to replace it with one of theirs. Can’t do that sort of thing in the Australian Army. We got to account for them.
How did you get parts and stuff if things did go wrong?
Well they were shipped over from Australia. They came via supply boat, or boats. So, it might take a week or two to get them.
Depending on what it was, if you had one which had a major problem, then you could strip that down and use parts of that to keep your other ones going until all the parts arrived. Then you put it back together. So, you cannibalised a bit. Otherwise it sat there until the part arrived and you could repair it.
Well if you didn’t have a vehicle to
cannibalise, what would you do in the case of having to wait for a part. I mean how would you drive the CO around, what would you do?
Oh, I never had any trouble with mine. There was always other parts and that. Well we had a workshop over there, and they carried a fair range of, so we could have got parts from them. Well, you do, you get parts from the workshop. If it was too big a job you’d send it to the workshop and they’d repair it. They’d have a
stack of parts, and if they didn’t have it, well we never had a problem with our Land Rover, so it was never a question of what would you do. Plus we had other Land Rover we could have used. Like, there was a welding Land Rover, so we could have commandeered one of them for the day if we needed it. So, there was never any problem of a vehicle.
We’d always get a vehicle.
You just mentioned a workshop, describe to us what this workshop looked like. How was it set up?
Just a huge tent, forty by forty tent. Or, as it turned out later on, they were timber with galvanised tin. Set into so many bays, one for servicing,
one for repairs. And the workshop, may have a hundred and fifty blokes to it. So they had plenty of parts, plenty of mechanics and that. And then if it was too big, they’d ship it back to Australia and have it repaired. But most of the work would be done either in our workshop or the main workshop.
And was this all here when you arrived?
No, we had to set it all up. Parts of it was there, but it was still being put together when we arrived as well.
Describe to us how you managed to set up this workshop.
Well, we just started getting the timber in and started building it. I mean everyone was a bit of a handy man to
just get a hammer and nail and start. The boss had his idea of what he wanted, so he’d just tell us. We’d go out and do it. Plus you had engineers over there that would assist, with a lot of the major work, but a lot of the minor work we’d just do, and they’d just do the major work. Because I mean after all, that’s what their job was, engineers. So, you had everyone there. You had engineers,
you had mechanics, you had cooks, everything. We weren’t lacking anything.
Where was it set up, and how was the foundation put?
Just on gravel, they carted gravel in. So that was the sort of, oh and then they out down cement on top of that. So it had a cement base, but apart from that it was set just on the sand dunes. Everything was
on the sand dunes, you couldn’t get away from sand dunes. Sand was everywhere.
Would this affect the vehicle if they were in the workshop, the sand?
Only if you had a fairly strong wind which could get into the various parts, but then you just drop the flaps to the tent. They had big flaps on them and that would protect most of the parts and that.
But I mean it would be like anywhere, you could be working out in the bush and you get a dust storm. It was just one of those things you work through.
Okay, the foundations were set, then you were putting up a roof of sorts?
Yeah, tin roof. As I said the engineers would come and put the trusses up.
They’d already have them built, and we’d just go ahead and nail the tin to the roof, to the trusses, and that was the workshop.
And you said canvas sides? What were the sides?
No, that was when we were in tents. Otherwise it was tin sides with sandbags a certain way up the wall as protection. Everything was sandbagged, even the huts.
With all this tin, what was it like inside the workshop?
It wasn’t bad, it would get hot at various times but you still had plenty of ventilation. So it wasn’t bad. I mean, there’d be like anywhere working in the normal bush. Except we were on sand dunes, and the sand was a little bit different to dirt,
because the sand being light can blow anywhere. It didn’t take much to blow the sand around.
Did it get in engines and cause other problems?
No, not really. The engines were pretty well protected. It might have got into radiators, but you’d just blast that out with a high pressure hose and that. Kept the radiators pretty free. The sand was bad
but it didn’t cause that many hassles.
What about rust?
Well being aluminium it doesn’t rust, so we had no problems with rust.
When you were building this workshop, did they have all the equipment, bulldozers and?
Yeah, they were all on site.
I mean as I said everything was there because all the units were stationed and major supply and resupply units were stationed at Vung Tau, so everything was there. It was all shipped over, there was no problem with anything. You had overhead cranes, you had everything you wanted.
We were talking about your job earlier, and you mentioned laundry trips. Where would you go for the laundry?
Yeah. Oh, to one of the local laundries in Vung Tau, which was only about ten minutes drive from the camp. They were just a hut where the Vietnamese would wash all the clothes for us, at a very reasonable price.
So how would it operate? Would you walk in there with your clothes, what would happen at the laundry?
I’d take a bag in, and pick a bag up. And say I’d be back the next day to pick that bag up. They never had any problem with losing anything or mixing it up. I’d say when they got a bag in they did it in one hit, and then put it out to dry and then put it back in the same bag. They were pretty good, they never seemed to mix anything up.
Never lost, I don’t think we ever lost a thing. And it was reasonable, the price was good, and it saved us doing it.
Do you know how they washed the clothes?
No. I wouldn’t want to know either. Some of their methods of doing things, would have been left a lot to be desired.
Would the clothes come back folded? How would they come back?
come back folded, and the socks rolled up and folded. Yeah, they were neatly done. No ironing, because you didn’t have anything that had to be ironed. I mean most of the time you only wore shorts anyway. Maybe a shirt occasionally, but mostly got around in shorts. It was too hot to wear anything else.
What was your relationship like with the laundry people?
Yeah, got on well with them. Because I mean, they got to know you, you got to know them. They were always friendly. Never had any trouble with the Vietnamese really whatsoever.
Did you get to know any locals at all?
Yeah, I got to know a few. I wouldn’t say they were friends but I got to talk to them and that.
You didn’t mix too freely with them. I don’t know, it was sort of frowned on. I mean they were there to do a job, we were there to do a job. You treated each other with respect.
You mentioned also that you came into contact with what you referred to as “grunts.” What was it like, the relationship between the
grunts and yourselves?
Yeah. Oh all right. I mean, that’s like any aspect of the Australian Army. We’ve all got a job to do and we all mix together afterwards. I mean whether he’s a grunt, which in infantry, or whether he’s a drop short which is artillery, or
whether he’s an engineer, you know you could all meet at the boozer and have a drink. He’ll tell his stories, or you tell a story. You know, there was never any bitterness or fights. You know there’s the odd, I mean I wouldn’t say there was no fights. There’d always be someone who’d had one too many, and get a bit shirty about someone said something. So the odd fight would break out, but nothing you know.
I mean they got on well. They wanted to be grunts, so you didn’t knock them, they didn’t knock you. No, we got on well, because they knew that they needed us, we needed them. So, you respect each other.
Did they have a name for you guys in your section?
Oh, no doubt they would have called us something.
What would have been some of the names? ‘Spanners’, ‘sparkies’, ‘tow truck operators’, for wrecking mechs [mechanics], you know, various sort of names. But no one ever took any notice. I mean it wasn’t as though we were insulting each other or trying to insult each other. It was just the common thing to call an infantry bloke a grunt.
I think that could go back to the First, or even the Boer War. I don’t know where it come from, but it goes back a long way. Drop short, well the odd bomb or shell would fall short of a target, so they end up getting called drop shorts. I think that term stemmed from the First and Second World War, where some of our own blokes got killed by our own fire. That happens from time to time.
You mentioned that you quite enjoyed your time in Vietnam, but were you noticing that some of the grunts were not in a good way, or stressed out?
Not really because we didn’t have all that much to do with them, except maybe the odd occasion on R & R, and then you wouldn’t mix with them all that much because they tend to mix with their own sort of fellows. I mean, you
might have the odd beer with them occasionally, not that many. But you know, if they got stressed out they wouldn’t show it to you. I mean there’s no doubt that some of them would have got stressed out. Because depending on what they’d been doing, say two or three days previous. They might have been out somewhere in the hills for three days,
chasing Charlie [Viet Cong], and if they had a bit of a fight, well that could upset somebody, that’s understandable. So, you just back off and let him have a bit of space. You don’t crowd him. I mean, you get to see what sort of mood a bloke’s in, you can generally tell, so you know you just give him a bit of space and let him let off a bit of steam if he wants to.
Would they tell you stories of what they were seeing or hearing?
Not really. They didn’t like to talk about those sorts of experiences. Well I never heard of anyone ever talk about it. I mean, you know if he’d seen his mate shot or something like that, he ain’t gonna,
he generally doesn’t talk about it. He tends to keep it to himself bottled up. So no, you didn’t hear all that much.
Were you hearing news about how the war was going while you were there?
Not really, and it wasn’t the fact that they were trying to keep anything from us,
I don’t know, I don’t think we were that interested. You know, if anything major was happening they’d tell us. But you could sort of see what was going on. You see the planes going over, the B-52s and the ships in the South China Sea blasting at night and that. You know, no we were told anything, or how
the war was going, or whether we were winning or losing. The only thing we were told was that no one was allowed to cross the 49th parallel, which was stupid. I mean if you want to be able to win the war, you’ve got to be able to invade North Vietnam, not stay below that line. He could go south, you couldn’t go north. That doesn’t strike me as being very sensible at all. But that was political, because they didn’t want the
Russians or the Chinese buying into it. But the politicians can play their game. We were there to do a job and that’s what we did.
At that stage did you think that you were winning the war?
Had no idea. Yeah we had enough troops over there to win it, but as to what was happening, no not really.
Were you receiving any news from back home about what was going on back home?
Oh, I heard about the odd protest and things like that. But once again, you didn’t really worry, you weren’t in control over anything back here so what was going on back here, you just had to put out of your mind. They can protest whatever they like,
that’s why we’re a free country.
Would the men talk about these protests back home?
Yeah they’d discuss it, but I mean, didn’t get upset about them. What was the point, you couldn’t do anything about it anyway.
What kind of things would the men talk about amongst themselves?
were going to do back home, about their wives, their girlfriends, about their family. I don’t know, just normal things in general. Nothing special, except you had a bond between each other, because you relied on each other. Apart from that you didn’t talk about
What about the length of time you had left? Was that a topic of conversation?
Oh, yeah. You’d always say how many days you had left, particularly if you were going home before somebody else. They might have got a bit, well they wouldn’t get shitty, but just envy you a bit. But I mean, you know,
just normal sort of thing. They didn’t begrudge you or anything, if you were going home they were happy. They’d just like to be going home too, I suppose. But there was never anything in it.
What about with your CO, what would you talk about with him, apart from the work?
Whatever he wanted to talk about. As I said,
he might have been an officer, but when you got together you could talk about anything, going on the booze, or, “What’d you go and do that night?” Or anything, whatever he wanted to talk about. There was no secrets between us, just because he was an officer and I was a baggy. None of that sort of, you know, he relied on me, I relied on him, when we were out there together. It was just like two
mates, I don’t know, going out fishing or something like that. You just talk about anything in general.
Was there anyone to confide in if you did want to talk about anything that was troubling you?
Oh yeah, there was padres there you could always see. I suppose there was always someone you could talk to. Even one of the sergeants or the CO himself, or
even the one from the major, like the 5 Company RAASC, their OC, or you know, there were always ministers there. I mean there’s plenty of ministers, you could talk to whoever you wanted to, there were no restrictions. No one to say, “No you can’t go and talk to him,” never anything like that. You were free to come and talk to anyone you liked, whenever you liked. If you
felt depressed about something, all you had to do was say, “I’d like to see the padre.” They wouldn’t say, “In regards to what?” Or anything like that, they’d say, “All right,” and arrange an interview for you and that’s it. Just whenever he was free you’d go and see the padre.
Did you ever have any need to see the padre, at any stage?
No. Not that I recall. I don’t think I even bothered to go to church over there.
Was there anyone pushing religion or church on some of the men?
No, that’s one thing they don’t do in the army. Never push religion. They’ll sit and listen to you, but they’ll never say you know, “You shouldn’t be doing this, you shouldn’t be doing that.” In fact one of the greatest blokes in the Australian Army is
a bloke called Milo Sam, and he’s a Salvation Army bloke. He normally holds the rank of brigadier in the Salvation Army, and if you’re out bush and it was hot weather, he would bring big urns of cold drinks to you. If it was cold he’d bring urns of hot drinks out to you, and bikkies [biscuits]. Never asked a cent for it. If you wanted to give donation, all right he’d accept it. But he’d never ask for it as far as I know. The Australian
Army might have paid for it, but I’m pretty certain that the Salvation Army paid for it, and his wages and that. He was good, old Milo Sam. He would appear from nowhere, and you know. He had what he called an “everyday hut,” you could drop in watch a movie, or sit down read a book or write letters. You could talk to him. He’d never push religion on you,
nor would the other denominations. But apart from say the Church of England minister, the only other one you would have possibly had contact with was Milo Sam. And as I said normally they would have been bonzer blokes, because they were, well we had one at Pucka, and I imagine there would have been one at Ingleburn in New South Wales. Maybe one, well there certainly would have been one
in Townsville. I don’t know how many they had but they were terrific blokes. Certainly one in Vietnam.
End of tape
Interviewee: Kevin Harding Archive ID 1782 Tape 07
I’m wondering if you can tell me what Nui Dat was like, when you had to travel there?
Well Nui Dat was where our infantry was stationed. What did we have? Two or three battalions there at the time. They had their set areas, we had a workshop or
detachment there. Plus the SAS [Special Air Service] were there, they had there own little hill, which you couldn’t go up. If you did you got shot. Apart from that I don’t know, didn’t see that much of it because you weren’t allowed to wander around because they had their defences set up. You were sort of restricted to where you could go.
Besides, we were sort of pushed for time, so you had to get up there and back again in a day, and do whatever sort of work you had to do. Sort out any problems or parts, so you didn’t get to see that much of Nui Dat.
What was the atmosphere like around Nui Dat though?
Oh, about the same as what it was back at Vung Tau.
Except there was a bit more security, you were checked in and out, whereas, well you were checked into Vung Tau but not the same sort of intensity. You knew you were in say a war zone, which Nui Dat was. That was where the task force was.
That’s where all the main fighting, well they were sent out from there to various areas and that, and do whatever they had to do. So yeah, I suppose we were a bit more reserved, a bit more on defence, a bit more strict. But apart from that no, you know, the average
bloke would still talk to you or whatever, the same way as he would down in Nui Dat. Apart from that, you know, as I said you knew you were in an actual war zone. Which I suppose Vung Tau was, but not to the same intensity as Nui Dat.
What was the major infrastructure at Nui Dat at that time, with the air fields
and things like that?
Don’t know, never seen the air fields at Nui Dat, although I do know they had one. I would assume that that was pretty well guarded. The layout of the camp, I didn’t take that much notice of it, because as I said we’d go straight to our detachment and that was it, and then we’d head straight back. Once we finished what we were up there for.
Was there a big RAEME base, or contingent at Nui Dat?
The workshops might have had a big contingent, detachment there, but we didn’t. We only had about half a dozen blokes. And they’d only be an armourer or a fitter, electrician and a mechanic.
Because they were only there to do minor sort of jobs. Anything major would come back to us where we had time and space to do it. So basically they were only first line repair. They only had a small area, pretty well in the centre of Nui Dat.
Pretty well surrounded by just about everyone, so they had plenty of protection. Which is normal standard sort of thing, because you can’t have them worrying about their safety while they’re trying to work on a vehicle, or fix something. They’ve got to be able to do their job, not only, there’s people surrounding them, are going to do any of the fighting that’s going to be done.
See they’d only pick up a weapon as a last resort. Otherwise, it would be near them, but if any firing took place, and unless they were in immediate danger, they’d just carry on doing whatever they were doing. And let whoever was doing the guarding take care of it. So they were fairly safe.
Would you ever chat to them and compare the situations?
No, not really. We’d ask them if they had any problems and you know, any sort of worries. But apart from that, no, we didn’t ask them what they were doing at night. If they wanted to tell us, they’d tell us, but half the time they didn’t. Nothing really would ever happened around Nui Dat. It was all away from Nui Dat
I don’t think, well in the time that I was there, I don’t think Nui Dat got hit once. It was too well, there were too many troops and too well guarded for anyone stupid enough to try and attack it.
Would you get to go to any places along the road between Vung Tau and Nui Dat? Any of the villages or anything?
Well apart from Kat Lau there was one village you’d go through, but you didn’t really stop. There was no need to.
The only other time you’d go maybe on a resupply out to one of the other American bases or something like that, which I did once. We had to camp overnight. But apart from that, and that meant digging in for the night.
What was the American base?
Offhand I can’t remember. It might have been Bear Cat.
What was the difference with an American base, to somewhere like Nui Dat?
Well, the defence wasn’t as strict to what ours is. There seemed to be a bit too much freedom everywhere. The whole atmosphere was completely different to our set up. As I said they were inferior
fighters, they just didn’t have a clue about fighting. They used bulk and, what would you say, they used man power and sheer weight of weapons. Like I mean, if they did anything they did it on a big scale. Whereas to kill one bloke they’d use a hundred rounds, we’d use one. They wouldn’t worry about the amount of bullets they used, whereas we had to.
We weren’t luxurious to have a plentiful supply of ammunition. We had a gun, but was not rich, not like the Americans. I mean they used weapons like they’re going out of fashion. Always have, always will. I mean that’s why they get so many killed.
They just, you know, their whole concept of fighting is completely different to our way of fighting. I suppose that’s because we’re short on man power, we’re short on weapons, we’re short on bullets, we’re short on everything, being a small country. But what we do use, we use effectively. So training comes
into it a lot.
And when you went out to this American base, you mentioned you had to dig in. Tell me about how you’d do that.
Well you got to get a shovel and start digging a hole, so you can camp in it for the night. If it was soft dirt it was good, if it was hard, it was hard yakka, but you’ve got to do it,
because you need protection.
How do you pick out the best place to dig in?
Well, you don’t. They give you an area and say, “This is it, dig in.” So you’ve got to find a spot where you think it’s soft, not stiff. That’s where you dig.
What exactly do you dig?
What kind of a hole?
Oh, like a pit, so you can get in
and the bulk of your body’s in that hole. So you only had maybe your head above ground so you could see. Otherwise, the rest of you, or it could be shallow where you could lay down, you know, depending, it was up to you. But you’ve got to be able to use that weapon if need to be.
How deep would it be?
Oh, depending on the ground and how much time you had.
Because you know, sometimes if it’s near dusk it ain’t going to be that big because you haven’t got time to dig a big hole, so it will be a shallow one and you’ll just lay in it.
If you were laying in it, would you lay on your stomach or on your back?
Whichever way you could, whichever way was comfortable, because you wouldn’t get much sleep.
But when you’re lying in a hole that you’ve dug, is it filled with ants and spiders?
It could be filled with anything. You just lay there.
How would all the different holes be positioned, in terms of where everyone else was?
Well you had a certain area to protect, so you’d, like there might be two to a hole.
So you might have say an area of say fifteen meters in a circle, so you cover that area. And then the group next to you would have a certain area. So you know, and then you’ll take it in turns, two hours on, four hours off. And work it through the night. And you never changed two at a time, you always changed one at a time. Because that way you’ve got
one pair of good eyes and the new pair of eyes that are not adjusted to the dark. And by the time you’re ready to go, his eyes are adjusted, and he takes over and another bloke comes in. So it works that way.
Were there any other kinds of defences when dig in that you carry with you that are set up?
No, just the hole. You haven’t got time to take portable
shelters with you. No, none of that sort of thing. They might have them these days, I don’t know, but no back then.
What’s it like being out at night in a war zone?
Well no different to being out in the bush out here in the night. Depending on you, how
you react. The old mind after a while, that’s why you only do two hours, but say one or two in the morning, the old mind can play funny tricks. Like, “Did you hear that? What was that noise?” But you know, you’ve just got to remember what you’re doing and why you’re there, and don’t make a noise, because any noise will give your position away to the enemy.
What do you do with all your trucks and things like this when you dig in?
Oh, they’re in the middle. If you can you camouflage them, but in places like that there’s no point in camouflage them because they know where they are. So, you just move away from the trucks and dig in. Like if you’re going to be there for a while you camouflage them and hope that any
overhead planes wouldn’t see them, or they couldn’t be seen by the ground. But like anything, you know, there’s any number of ways about finding out positions. As I said animals, you got to be careful if it’s an animal or someone out there. So you don’t start blasting away, that’s a good easy way of giving your position away.
The night that you dug in, how many people were with you?
Oh I’d say about forty, because we had a fair convoy.
What would you eat?
Rations, hard rations. Because you couldn’t have a fire,
so cold bully beef or something like that, biscuits. Whatever the ration pack held, and because they’d be a two man ration pack or a ten man ration pack, so depending on what you had as to what was in it.
What’s bully beef like?
Good. Well some people don’t like it, I don’t mind it. I mean, even the biscuits they were hard. But everything was
as designed to keep a man alive, so it’s all got plenty of protein and that in it, all the nourishment you need. Scientifically worked out in a place in Tassie. All they do is fiddle around with food and find out the various ways of making it so they can put it in smaller parcels, because let’s face it, you’ve got to carry this. That’s another bit of weight you’ve got to carry in a pack.
So you try to keep everything to a minimal, because you don’t want to be taking too much around.
When you travel, you mentioned that there was about forty of you in this convoy, tell me about how the convoy would drive. How it was laid out?
Well you had a Land Rover as a lead vehicle and then all the trucks, because that’s what
it was. And these trucks are designed with a cupola in the top, which is a hatch, and the driver sits in the driver’s seat. The other bloke, the passenger, or you’d call him the shotgun guard. He could have a shotgun or a rifle. He stands on the seat with his head out through the cupola and he’s watching either side of the road all the time. And it’s
spaced out at fair intervals, about ten or fifteen meters in a situation like that, so you can keep and eye on the vehicle in front of you, and also the one behind you. To make sure that no one gets hit in front, if he does you can pull up, or if the behind you can notify ahead that the bloke behind’s been hit. So you’ve
got to protect each other all the way along the convoy.
How fast do you travel?
Well that would depend on what you got, and the weight of it. Because you can only travel as fast or as slow as the heaviest vehicle in the convoy, so your speed is delegated by that vehicle. Whichever one is the slowest vehicle, that’s the speed you can travel at,
otherwise you’re going to leave him behind, he’s not going to be able to keep up and you’re going to lose people that way and vehicles, and equipment. So your speed is, as I said governed by the slowest vehicle you’ve got.
What position would you drive in the convoy?
Depends, wherever they assign you.
You could be the first vehicle behind the Land Rover, you could be the last vehicle in the convoy, and maybe a Land Rover behind you. So, you know, it just depends what you were carrying and where they put you in the convoy. You don’t say, “Oh yeah, I’ll go there,” they’ll tell you where to go. As I said it depends on what you’re carrying, because like they don’t want ammunition too far in the convoy because if that got hit it could destroy the whole convoy.
So if you were carrying ammunition you were more likely to be down the end. So as I said, it depends on what you’re carrying.
What does it take to stop a convoy?
Not all that much. It wouldn’t take much at all. Take out the lead vehicle and your convoy’s virtually got to come to a halt and take cover. So, either the
lead vehicle or the tail end Charlie. Providing it’s not an ammo truck or something like that. You could take him out but he’s not going to stop the convoy, because if he’s gone you’ll keep going. But the first vehicle, you take him out and he can’t go anywhere, that means you can’t get past him. You’re blocked, so it doesn’t take much to stop a convoy at all.
What about Vietnamese traffic?
You’ve heard a lot about it?
How did that interact with the convoy?
Well let’s face it,
they won’t give way to you, you won’t give way to them. They get in your way, you push them out of the way. No road laws, they don’t believe in that. Every man for himself when it comes to driving.
What sort of things would be on the road typically?
Anything from the buffalo,
with the bloody cart on it, to the minicab, pedal cab we called them. That was a three wheeled type of cab, very strange sort of, like a bike but it had three wheels on it, with a cage on the back where you could put about three or four people in it, to a truck, to a bus.
You know, anything you could strike on the road. Come in all shapes and sizes. The bullock teams were the worst, because they were slow and cumbersome and they wouldn’t get out of the way. It was a bit hard to push a bullock out of the way. Yeah, you don’t stop for accidents over there. One of the first things you learn.
If you have an accident, keep going, because if the local police get you, you could end up anywhere. So, if you have an accident, keep going. Try to get back to the camp as soon as you can and let them take it from there. You’re safe.
Did you ever have?
Yeah I had an accident over there, I wrote the side of a sports car out. That was a laugh.
I went to Saigon on I think it was called the Virgin Sturdy, it was a supply ship that went from Vung Tau to Nui Dat. And I had to go and pick up some cane chairs from the officers’ mess. I was in a truck and they gave me this huge roll of white rope beautiful white rope. Anyway that’s another story,
and there was two sergeants there, a Kiwi sergeant and an Australian sergeant. They were in a Land Rover. I was following them, and we went to this Noggy’s place, Noggy is short for Vietnamese. Went to his place and he said, “No, they’re at the factory.” So he jumped in this beat up old V-Dub [Volkswagen]. He takes off, the Land Rover’s following him, I’m following the Land Rover, because he’s going down all these side streets.
Come to this narrow street and there was a truck parked on one side and a brand new sports car on the other, and because they got through, I thought, “Oh yeah, I can get through.” Next minute, crunch, I wasn’t going anywhere. And because there were two sergeants seen what happened they spun around and come back. Tried to get the bloke in the sports car to move, “No, no I won’t. You pay?” “Yeah, no worries. Look, the government pay. Just move your car so we can unblock,” “No, no, no. Pay, pay,” “Yeah, yeah, all right we’ll pay.” So they found out who owned the truck, and they said
“When he moves the truck, take off. We won’t be far behind you.” I tell you what, he moved a couple of feet, boom, I was away. He was standing there, “Come back.” “No.”
How was his sports car like?
I think it might have been an MG, which would have been worth a penny back in those days. But as I said, there were some rich dudes in Vietnam. They weren’t all poor, but we left him standing there. Got our chairs.
Because coming back on the boat, the navy blokes, they’d seen this white rope which I had tied to all these chairs on. They said, “Wouldn’t mind some of that rope, you want a few beers for it?” “Help yourself,” I said, “I didn’t pay for it, I’ve got a whole roll of it.” So they helped themselves to the rope, because they couldn’t get it. It didn’t worry me.
Why was it so good?
Because it’s white hemp,
and hemp is good rope. They use it a lot on ships, and for some unknown reason they couldn’t get any. Well they were having trouble getting it, and I had a whole roll of it, so I said, “Take whatever you like,” and then they said, “Those chairs wouldn’t look bad,” and I said, “Well I didn’t sign for them.” I think I lost about four chairs. And then when I got off the boat, I heard this, well
I thought it was gun fire, so I lost another one or two then because I wasn’t going to stop. I was gone. This was near Kat Lau, and as I said near Kat Lau you didn’t stop. You kept going, so I don’t know how many chairs I lost. No one said anything anyway.
What did you hear?
I don’t know whether it was gun fire or not, but I wasn’t staying around to ask questions. I was on my own, I was down the road and I was off.
Tell me about the ship that you went on. What was
Oh just a normal, little small cargo boat. I think it was called the Virgin Sturdy, I’m not sure. It was just one of our cargo boats that plied from Vung Tau and went up to Saigon, delivering supplies and that along the Mekong Delta. The only strange thing that happened on that trip was going up the river and anything that moved, the captain would let blast with his
fifty calibre he had mounted on the deck. We were going up the river there and the next minute this speedboat comes around the bend and flying towards us. Got closer and closer, looked, and no body on board. It’s a remote controlled speedboat. There was a patrol boat following it, and what the idea was, they’d send the speedboat down, if that got hit they’d just jump off, circle around and attack whoever it was that shot up
the speedboat. That was a way of sort of tricking the VC into giving away their position.
Why did you get on the boat to go to Saigon?
To go and get some chairs, cane chairs.
But why travel by boat?
Well it was too far to travel by road to Saigon. It was quicker by boat.
So how did they get you onto the boat?
Just the back of it, it’s like one of those vehicular ferries.
It’s used to carting vehicles. They just dropped it back on and you drive on. Then they put the back up and away you go. That was a good trip. The only trouble was I lost a camera there. Had to get up early, and I had a locker and I forgot to take it with me. It was too late to go back for it. No point in notifying the hotel, it would have been gone before they
even looked at it, so, lost some good photos there, of a trip to Saigon. Oh well, such is life.
Tell me about Saigon.
Only spent the night there, a day and the night. But everywhere you went the vehicle was searched and we went in to some place, I forget where it was now, it might have been headquarters at Saigon.
They put the mirrors under the vehicle and checked it all underneath and that. So it was pretty full on, I suppose it had to be. A lot of dignitaries in that area, but apart from that, just a normal trip to Saigon.
What does Saigon look like?
Oh, bigger version of Vung Tau. I didn’t get to see much of it,
because as I said I was only there for a half a day and a night, and then back on the boat, didn’t see that much of it at all.
What was the port, or dock area like?
Oh just like any other wharf, where cargo boats tie up, pretty secure. There was Americans, Australians all over the place. We had
troops in Saigon, but mainly Americans were guarding the area. So there’s no danger of anything happening to the boat. Not there anyway.
You mentioned the Vietnamese police earlier.
Tell me a bit about them.
Well there were two types of police, the White Mice and the Kuankam.
The White Mice used to wear a white shirt, he’d have a six-gun strapped to his hip. If he blew a whistle you stopped. Regardless of what you’re doing, you stopped. Because if you didn’t stop and you didn’t know whether he was blowing at you or not, he was likely to pull that pistol out and shoot. And he’d shoot to kill. Kuankam, they were totally different, they were very civilised. Very decent blokes. But the White Mice, no.
No one liked them, not even their own people liked them.
Just the way they acted. As I said, once they blew that whistle, you stopped, regardless. Until you found out what was going on, then you could move. But you didn’t know whether he was blowing it at you for some reason or not. As I said, if you didn’t stop he was
likely to pull that pistol out, and he’d use.
Were there many White Mice in Saigon?
Don’t know, because as I said, didn’t get to see much of Saigon. I went there by boat and I come back by boat. The only time I was off there was when I went to pick the chairs up, and I didn’t see too many then. But, then back at the base we stayed at, I think it was, I can’t remember the name of it, but
as I said it was heavily guarded, so it had to be a major place. So I didn’t see much of Saigon at all.
Where did you pick the chairs up from?
This Noggy’s factory. I don’t know how he came to get into the building but apparently he built these chairs for headquarters, officers’ mess, and they wanted me to pick them up.
Were they nice chairs?
Oh yes, very nice chairs. Good cane chairs, they’d be worth a fair quid. Back then, even today be worth quite a penny. They were good chairs, well made. As I said that’s why they were so popular.
How did you feel about this sort of a task, to go all the way for officers’ chairs?
Didn’t worry me. The boss said I go, I go. I didn’t mind, a day away.
Trip to Saigon, not that I got to see much, still a good trip on a boat. A good trip back. You know, just another part of army life, another thing that you did. You could end up doing quite a few of those sorts of odd jobs like that, from time to time, throughout your army career.
Just depending on where you are and what’s on at the time. I remember when I was at Bandiana I got a few good trips. I don’t know whether you recall a TV [television] show called ‘A Box’? With Paul Caro and Vicky Nunn in it, very controversial,
a fair bit of nudity in it for that period of the day anyway. The CO at Bandiana, he was also on the board of army base hospital, because it was part of his duty. They were having a fund raising thing, and one of the things was to fly these personalities, well get this personalities up for this function. So he asked me if I wanted a trip, I said, “Yeah,” he says,
“All right, you’re going to get taken out to the airport, they’re going to fly you down to Melbourne, put you up at the John Batman Motel at St Kilda. You pick up a hire car the next day, and then you go and pick these people up and bring them back to Wodonga.” I did that two weeks in a row. Had Belinda Green who was Miss Australia, Judy Nunn, no Judy Nunn didn’t come.
Paul Caro and Mrs H. And was there anyone else in the car? I forget now. But they were good fun, driving an LTD [Ford luxury sedan]. All expenses paid.
What did you talk to them about?
Whatever they wanted to. I mean, because I did a lot of CO’s driving, so you learnt if they wanted to talk, you talk. If they didn’t want to talk, you didn’t talk. You didn’t ask them questions, you know.
They were quite friendly. Belinda Green didn’t talk much, but Paul Caro and Mrs H did. They talked to me. As I said being a CO’s driver you get used to that sort of thing. Driving dignitaries around, whether they wanted to talk to you, they’d talk to you. If not then you just shut up, and, well it was unavoidable to hear what they say. If they were talking shop, well you turned a deaf ear to it. You wouldn’t repeat anything
they said, outside the car. Not even to your mates or anything like that. Because it was all said in confidential, so whatever you heard in the car, stayed in the car.
If they wanted to talk, how would they generally start off a conversation?
What, to me?
Just normal. I mean, they’d ask, nine times out of ten,
regardless you know, being officers they’d ask you, “Corporal, what’s your name?” And once you told them, once you’re by yourself they’d start calling you by your first name. They wouldn’t call you corporal or whatever, they’d talk to you just like anyone else. But once you come to a unit, well then it was back to formality. But while you’re in there with them, they treat you just like anyone else.
Would many of them confide you?
In what way?
Either about work problems or maybe personal problems, ask you questions?
No. Officers wouldn’t do that sort of thing. They’d never ask you anything that would, you know, well they’d never ask you anything about, “What
do you think of so and so,” they’d never ask you anything like that. They’d have their own opinion.
Would they ever tell you anything about their families?
No not really. I mean you drive their wives around quite a bit. No, they wouldn’t talk about, you know, if they had problems, they wouldn’t tell you. And you wouldn’t be interested anyway. Well I wouldn’t have been.
What kind of questions would they ask you about your life?
I suppose normal sort of questions, “What do you want to do?” Or, “How’s your wife?” Or, “How’s the kids?” They’d take and interest in your family life and they’d ask you questions about your family and that, but just normal sort of things. They’d never pry or ask you anything personal or anything.
What kind of a relationship would you say that you’d develop with someone you drove around a lot?
Quite a good relationship. With quite a few of them, I think at least three COs I had a good relationship with. There was only one officer I ever come across
that I didn’t like and a lot of other blokes didn’t like, and also one of his fellow officers didn’t like. And that was a whole twenty years in the army, only one officer. I don’t know, he was just out of Portsea, thought he knew everything, and it was Bodgy’s farewell, and we were having a barbecue for him. And he turned up, pulled Budgy aside and said
“Hey, we’re officers, we don’t drink with the enlisted men.” Bodgy just looked at him and said “Hmpf, this is my farewell, see you later.” Then he came back and joined us. He was more interested in drinking with us than what he was, soon to be relief. As I said this prick, he was a prick, he thought he was an officer and too good for us, but Bodgy soon put him right.
Interviewee: Kevin Harding Archive ID 1782 Tape 08
During your time in Vietnam did you get any R & R?
Yeah, but I didn’t come back to Australia. I stayed in country. Don’t ask me why. I wouldn’t have a clue, I just couldn’t be bothered coming back. I don’t know, maybe I didn’t like the idea of coming back for a week or so,
then having to go back. I’d prefer to stay there.
What did you do?
I think we had a facility down there, what they call the Front Beach, I think I stayed there for a week, and just did absolutely nothing. Just had a rest.
What was that place called?
No idea. If it had a name, I can’t remember it. That was before they set up,
well just before I left, the [Peter] Badcoe Club. I think they set that up as an R & R, and that was named after Major Badcoe, who was killed in Vietnam.
So they were setting this up as you were working there?
Yeah, it was open but it wasn’t finished before I left. I think I went there a couple of time, much like the
American Beachcomber, big club.
What facilities were they building there?
Everything, swimming pool, the works. Anything you wanted, you could do there .
What was the place that you stayed at, what did that have? What was that like?
I don’t know, I can’t remember. Swimming pool, don’t know if it had a tennis court, don’t think so.
Just pool tables and that, just normal place where you could relax, forget about everything. Read, write, watch movies. Just the normal place where you could totally relax and not worry about, you know, having to carry a weapon around with you sort of thing. You still had it, no you didn’t take it there. Didn’t take a weapon there.
What were some of the movies you were watching over in Vietnam?
Oh don’t ask me that, I watch now. Different to what they see over here, because they weren’t cut. But, for the life of me, I wouldn’t have a clue what movie I watched over there.
Would you listen to the radio or anything like that?
They had plenty of shows, like plenty of touring singers and that. Bob Hope and all those people. Who was it? We had, a couple of Australian shows, I think they were mainly Channel Nine personalities. Can’t think of their names now.
I used to remember who it was. But there was plenty of shows you could go to. They had someone touring nearly every week or every month, there’d be someone from somewhere in the world would be touring over Vietnam. As I said, Bob Hope was a big hit, he was always there.
How important were these shows for your morale?
Because you got to see some round eyes. Not that, occasionally you’d see the odd nurse down the beach and that with the, mostly seeing slant eyed women, but not only that, these were just fresh from home so they had more up to date information, which they’d pass on.
So, yeah they were good for morale.
What was it like being without Australian women throughout that time?
Oh I suppose it was hard to start with, but you got used to it. You’re there for twelve months. You can’t go anywhere. I mean you had a passport, that didn’t allow you to
go anywhere bar Vietnam. Actually you possibly have gone to Russia or China, and it was stamped, “Not valid for North Vietnam.” So you couldn’t go to North Vietnam, you definitely couldn’t go to North Vietnam. That was a laugh, everyone thought that was funny. “Who wanted to go to North Vietnam, we’re fighting them?” And yet they stamp it, “Not valid for North Vietnam.” So if they took you prisoner and you showed them your passport, “Hey I can’t go
to North Vietnam, it says there.”
Were there any other jokes that were memorable for you, around the traps?
No, only a couple, or one of the songs, then a letter. There was a picture of a woman split into various sections with home base.
And I won’t tell you where home base was. But that was numbered from one hundred and went backwards to one. You got that for your last one hundred days there, and you start filling in, shading in the parts. That was interesting. Don’t know where that came from, but it appeared somewhere. Same as the song and the letter, I don’t know who wrote them or,
but they appeared and they were circulated fairly freely to anyone that wanted them.
What was the song about? What was in the song?
Well it was about an Australian and how cheap he is. He doesn’t like spending money, especially on Saigon tea or women. It’s sung to ‘This Old Man Came Rolling Home’ but it it’s called ‘The Ballad of
Uc Dai Loi Cheap Charlie’ because they reckoned that Australians were, Uc Dai Loi was the common word for Australian. They reckoned we were cheap, we wouldn’t spend our money on them. They called us Cheap Charlie.
Would you sing this to the girls?
No. It was just the song, I suppose, you know,
well we had one touring party singer. And when the girls, or the ladies in the party realised what they were singing, they got a bit embarrassed and turned away. But the blokes they just kept carrying on singing it. Because it wasn’t really dirty, it was just it sounds like, well you’ve got to understand the song to realise,
but, “Make me give him one for free,” because they always wanted people to pay for sex but the Australians would never pay for it. Not over there anyway. “Then he would go away across the sea, baby son he’d leave with me. Baby son cost many, many P, and Mamasan go crook at me,” you know, things like that. So it wasn’t bad, I might take it to the RSL [Returned and Services League] this year and get them to sing it at the RSL, depending on who the group is. Because
I doubt that many, well if they had heard it, they wouldn’t have heard it for a while. So I might take it down there for laugh.
Is it true that Australians would not pay for sex?
Well, yeah that’s pretty true. They don’t believe in paying for it.
How would they manage to do this?
Any way they could. I mean, you know, that Saigon Tea, which was
supposed to be whisky coke, was just cold tea. As I said earlier I don’t know how much it cost, it wasn’t all that expensive, but we just refused to pay for it. Knowing it was bloody cold tea and they were trying to palm it off as whisky coke, and you’re getting drunk and they were staying sober, you know. How come? I mean whisky’s a lot more powerful than beer is, so if we’re getting drunk, they should be getting drunk. But no. We soon learnt
that they were drinking cold tea. So we refused to pay.
And what about men going off with the girls, with a prostitute? How would he not pay for it? Would there be a heavy trying to enforce this?
Don’t know. I doubt it. I suppose they’d take them somewhere, I don’t know where. Well I don’t know, maybe the Australians did end up paying for it, I don’t know. I mean
they’re not going to tell you what they did and didn’t do. Especially if they’re married, they’re not going to come out and admit things.
Did they talk about it much?
No, those sort of thing you keep to yourself.
Were there practical jokes amongst the men?
Not really. No, not really.
Just normal sort of everyday sort of a joke, but nothing really startling or anything like that. I mean you might short sheet a bloke’s bed or something one night. Apart from that you wouldn’t do too many things to him, because you’ve got to live with him. He’s just going to do the same thing to you so it’s not worth it.
Was there jokes made about the Vietnamese, the enemy, the VC. Names, jokes?
Oh yeah, no doubt there would have been. But nothing at all comes to mind, I mean, well, you used to call him Charlie and everything else.
Oh shit, thirty odd years ago, no I can’t recall what we used to say about Charlie. We respected him but at the same time, no doubt we would have taken the Mickey out of him some way. It’s our way of life, but as to what we did do and what we didn’t do, I can’t remember.
Just a question on your job, how did you cope with the possibility and the danger of mines
on the road?
Didn’t worry about them. I mean if someone put a mine on the road and you didn’t spot it, that’s it, goodbye Charlie. As I said if you’re going to worry about everything like that, you wouldn’t be game to move out of your tent or something. You just didn’t think about those sorts of things.
It’s the same as going out on patrol. You might step on a mine, but you’re looking around, I mean, you have a look at the road. To mine the road they would have been blowing up their own people anyway, because chances are there would have been a vehicle in front of you. No, that’s, you didn’t even think of those sorts of things. Well I didn’t anyway. I don’t know if anyone, I can’t recall anyone ever mentioning whether
the road could be mined or not. But I mean, there was a major road between Saigon and Vung Tau, and Nui Dat was off to the left of us, so you know, they would have been hurting themselves anyway if they had mined the road. No, never worried.
What about looking out for signs of possible ambush or anything like that? Were you always looking out for that?
Oh you look out for it, but at the same time you’ve got to keep an
eye on the road. Because as I said you drive on the wrong side of the road, so you had enough to worry about without having to worry about too much about what’s happening on the side. You’d glance every now and then at the side, but you wouldn’t worry about it. You didn’t have time to worry about things like that. Only if you were in a convoy. As I said, in a convoy it’s different because you’d have a shotgun bloke
sitting on the side. He’d be standing there with his head out the cupola, he’d be looking around all the time, but I mean, when you’re free wheeling and that, no you didn’t worry it. Or if you were driving around by yourself you didn’t worry about things like that, you had no time to.
And you mentioned to Naomi the picking up of the cane chairs, were there any other unusual roles or jobs you had to play?
No, not in Vietnam. I did,
where did I drive? A Yankee major general once, I forget his name now. Had to drive him somewhere, out to the air base. I don’t know why, maybe they couldn’t get a vehicle. But apart from that no nothing, just normal day army sort of stuff. That was the only exciting sort of trip.
Was there anything that you could note about him, anything he’d talk to you about?
No, he was very quiet, didn’t say a word.
Tell us about receiving the news that you were going to go home soon. Did you know when it was coming?
Oh yeah. I knew exactly what day I was going home. You knew, I think it was about a month and a half, two months in advance
that you were going home. So you had plenty of time to know that you were going. So you just counted off the days until it happened.
What were you expecting upon return?
Don’t know. I wasn’t expecting a hero’s welcome, that’s for sure. I mean, we got spirited out at night, so I don’t know. We weren’t expecting to be met by anyone
because we landed in Sydney, and I had no relatives or friends in Sydney, so I wasn’t expecting to be met by anyone. Others did, they were met by family and that. As I said, I flew to Sydney, got off at Sydney, had to wait a while to catch a flight to Brisbane.
Tell us about this plane trip. How did you get there, what plane, and what time did you arrive?
Well, I’m not sure,
probably left Vung Tau through to Saigon by Caribou. And then we got a Qantas plane. All I remember, I don’t remember what time it was. I know it was an eight hour, well non-stop flight to Sydney. The Vietnamese in charge of the airport tried to stop us from taking photos until our blokes turned around and said, “It’s their own plane, they’re going home.
They can take as many photos of us as they like.” Apart from that, no everything was normal. They just got on the plane, and the only thing was when we got back, we had to sit on the plane until they came and sprayed it out with all their little powder and stuff, for anything we might have brought back, quarantine. No, it was just a normal flight.
What about arrival, was it an unusual time? Were you hidden
because of the circumstances?
No I don’t think, I can’t recall. I think it was just the normal early morning flight, I don’t know, about seven o’clock in the morning. It might have been a bit earlier, but no, as far as I know it just a normal international flight. I think it had other people on it besides us. I’m not sure how many troops there was, because
I came back by myself. I didn’t come back with the troops because I came back early. So, no I think it was just a normal Qantas international flight, coming from Saigon.
Why did you come back early?
Because I was due for discharge. My six years were up, and I wasn’t going to sign on while I was in Vietnam. I told them I wouldn’t sign up, I was getting out, so they had to bring me back for discharge.
Because you’ve got to be, well you’ve got to have all your medicals and everything like that before you get discharged, and that takes time. So they had to bring me back early.
Why did you want to leave the army at this stage?
I don’t know. I didn’t, I just didn’t want to stay in Vietnam any longer. I had enough, even though I enjoyed it, I still had enough. So I decided to get out, and I got married and
then I rejoined.
Tell us about your wife. Was she your girlfriend before?
Yeah sort of, yeah. We’d been going out before. She’d been writing, well not as often as I would have liked her to, but she did write. Yeah we started going out with each other and got married in ’68.
And then I looked around for a job but couldn’t find anything, so I decided to rejoin the army.
Had it been important for you to have a girl while you were over there in Vietnam?
No, no really. I don’t think it made all that difference whether I had a girl before I left or not, just somebody to write to.
And when you returned were you subjected to any protests or did you notice any protests?
Oh you couldn’t help but notice them. But fortunately I avoided the protests there but I ran into a few later on, when I rejoined.
What did you think of the protests?
I didn’t give a hoot’s holler about the protests, because after all, except for politicians, and I’ll come to that in minute. As far as I’m concerned it’s every Australian’s right to protest because that’s why we’re a free country. But politicians, no. And I don’t lead marches, like Jim Cairns did. And I’ve never liked Jim Cairns for that, because if
he was the opposition, if they had of had an election and he got in, he would have been telling the army what to do. So as far as I’m concerned, they’re like us, they have no say in things like protests. They should be neutral. So I have no time for Jim Cairns, but unions, they can do whatever they like. Because it’s a free country. Some of the things they were saying about being baby killers and that, no I don’t go along with,
but as I said it’s freedom of speech, you can’t do anything about it. So, you know, it’s just one of those things, being a soldier you had to cop and wear it. You know what the truth was, pity the media couldn’t get it over properly. We did a job and we did it to the best of our ability. It wasn’t our choice, the government said we go, we go.
So the poor old soldier gets the shit kicked out of him for no reason. He’s just doing his job.
Did you feel the protests directed their energy towards the soldiers?
No directly at the soldiers, in a lot of instances. Definitely in a lot of cases, they were blaming us for things that happened over
there, well they claim happened over there but never happened over there. All right, women and kids did get killed, I mean you know, bullets. Once you fire a bullet you can’t predict what it’s going to do, and also the fact that they, kids, young kids over there are pulling the trigger. So I mean, it’s a rude shock. You’re taught to fight a war a certain way, and when you get over there and there’s
women and kids using weapons left, right and centre, and they’re pointing at you, well you better learn fast that hey, he might be a kid but he’s just as capable of killing you just as well as you killing him. So if you don’t pull that trigger you’re going to be dead. And let’s face it, a lot of blokes had wives and kids back home, so I’m afraid women and kids did get killed. But we didn’t go out purposely to shoot women and kids.
We were just defending ourselves, and that what any soldier will tell you. So yeah, a lot of criticism during those peace marches were levelled at the soldier and unfortunately memories die hard. It wasn’t warranted. As I said the government says you go, you go. You don’t have any choice. You can’t turn around and say, “Well I don’t agree.”
You’d be court-martialled. Whatever thing you’ve got you lose, you lose everything. So, and besides, when you agree to join the army, you agree that the government or whoever’s in power at the time, to send you wherever they want to send you. You’re a soldier. They say you do a job, you do a job. So no, definitely against
protesters, but as I said, if they can want to protest about the war, they can do it. But don’t pick at the soldier, or don’t level insults at him, because it’s not his fault. He’s doing a job and that’s what he’s been trained to do. And as I said, until people get over there and see that hey, women and kids are pulling those triggers, and they’re capable of killing you. And if you don’t kill them, they’re going to kill you.
Is it hard for a soldier to deal with that they can’t go against the government? That they can’t express an opinion against the government. Is that a hard thing to face?
No, because you joined the army, so either you want to be a soldier, for various reasons. And that means you’ve got to agree with the government at the time.
You can’t be a Labor and say Liberal in, and Liberal in and be a Labor, because both sides totally disagree with each other so you’ve got to be neutral all the way through. Regardless of who’s in power, because you’ve made that your career as a choice, so whatever they say you’ve got to abide by. Because they’re the government, and you took an
oath to obey the government. So you’ve got no choice.
Did you have any arguments with protesters in pubs or in streets during the time?
Oh I had a couple, but you tend to stay well clear of them. And you tend not to wear your uniform as much as possible. But they could tell you, short haircut and that. But you try and stay out of it, it’s not worth it.
How did you find settling back into life? You mentioned that you had a few months away from the army, how did you find civvy street?
Different, but there again, the biggest problem was learning to drive on the right side of the road again. I remember pulling out of a place going up this hill and next minute, “Oh shit, I’m on the wrong side of the road.” You did it without thinking, you know after eight or nine months
driving on the opposite side of the road you just did it. That was a big danger.
And you rejoined the army, where did you go from there with the army?
To Townsville and then spent about eight months there and then went to Bandiana in Victoria, which was RAEME Training Centre where they do all the training.
What were your roles at the army in these stages?
I was still a driver and then I become a wrecking mech down there, which was the equivalent to, I suppose outside they call it a tow truck driver. It was a bit more involved. A hell of a lot more involved.
Tell us about that.
Well, say if a vehicle’s bogged you’ve got to be able to get it out, and simply just hooking up a rope or a chain simply won’t do. So then you’ve got to put your snatch blocks down.
And once you put a snatch block down, if you put one snatch block down and anchor it back to something, that’s a two to one. If you put another snatch block down and then run around that one and back to the original one, that would be a three to one. And the maximum you could go was a five to one, and then you lose the mechanical advantage. So a five to one, what it means is, if you have a steel wire rope it’s capable of, say a thousand pounds. That means you can pull about five thousand
pounds. Because you’ve got a thousand pounds on each strand of rope, and the snatch blocks are the ones that are taking all the weight. So you know, it becomes a lot involved because if it’s over a bank, that’s a different thing altogether, because once you get to near the bank then it starts lifting. Then it becomes a lifting roll. And that reduces your capacity by half because you’re lifting it and not pulling it.
So you know, you’ve got to work out the weight of the vehicle you’re pulling and things like that. A lot of things become involved into it, so it’s not just a matter of going hooking up a rope, lifting it up and towing it away. And you’re not allowed, well supposedly not allowed to do any more damage than has already been done. So, if that’s on its side then you’ve got to lower it down gently so it doesn’t come down and damage the springs or anything else. Because they want it back on the road
as soon as it can. There was a lot involved in it.
What does a snatch block look like?
It’s like a pulley, they call them snatch blocks. It’s a pulley and you run a rope around it, and you can have a double snatch block or a single snatch block. They are the ones that take all the weight. So you start using them, and you could have trouble, because as I said those
snatch blocks, if they go, or even if a rope goes. If a steel wire rope under tension breaks, it tends to whip that way and it will go through anything, like cutting through soft butter. It would cut through anything, because it’s got that much tension on it and it’s of five eight or three quarter inch diameter, a steel wire rope. And a three quarter inch is about that thick. Imagine how many strands and wires are in that,
that would slice through anything. So you’ve got to be very careful. You’re not allowed to have anyone near where you’re winching. You clear everyone away, and you’re the only one in the vicinity and you know, supposedly, know what you’re doing. So think everything’s safe, you make it as safe as you can. That’s the only time you can tell an officer to where to go and get away with it. And they don’t like it.
You can tell anyone where to go, and you don’t have to be polite about it. You can tell him in quite a few choice words, either, “Piss off,” or, “Sign this,” and he says, “What’s that?” “Well this is a form saying you’re going to take full responsibility if anything happens.” “No, I’m not going to sign that.” “Well get the hell out of here, I’m in charge. You might be an officer but don’t you tell me my job, you get. Otherwise you sign that
and then it’s your responsibility.” And they won’t sign it, because if anything does happen, that’s their career gone.
Were there ever any close calls in your memory?
No, I’ve only ever seen one winch rope go and that was on a training exercise, and there was no danger to anyone. Everyone was well and truly out of the way. But it goes ‘twang’ and that’s it, you don’t see it.
She certainly let go. Because they work on a very big safely margin, and every so often you’ve got to run your rope out and you’ve got what they call a marlin spike, and you’ve got to dig into the wire and loosen it up, an if there’s any more than one or two strands damaged in that core, you throw the rope away and get a new one. So their safety is, and as I said, if
a manufacturer says it will take two thousand pounds, they’ll cut it down to a thousand pounds, or fifteen hundred pounds. So you’ve got a thousand or five hundred pounds leeway from what the manufacturer will specify. The army reduces it even further, so there’s a big safety margin. And if you maintain the ropes, there’s never ever a problem.
How did you learn all these skills?
You get taught, and in those days you were
taught by one of the best wrecking mechs the army’s ever had, and that was a bloke called Reggie Waldermef, or ‘Laughing Boy’ as he was nicknamed. Because when he took you out bush for your training, he’d give you a job and it was up to you to work out how to get it out. And he wouldn’t say a word, but if he started laughing you knew you were in strife and doing in wrongly. And then he’d fail you and tell you why he failed you.
But he would always have a laugh first, so he got the name Laughing Boy. Good bloke and knew his job backwards.
Did you have a nickname?
Yes. I got a nickname in the army, and I’ve lost it, and that was Goanna, or Goey. It was Goanna to start with, then over the years it got cut short to Goey. And that was given to me by a Western Australian
at Singleton. And that was only because we went there on an exercise and it was stinking hot, and I’d come from a cold climate, and I wasn’t used to heat. Lunch time, instead of going to lunch I’d curl up under a tree and have a sleep, and that’s what goannas do. So he nicknamed me Goanna, and it cut short to Goey after that.
And for years people I knew and me brother knew, because he was a captain in the army, or he ended up being a major, knew both of us. And because I was called Goey and no one ever used my last name, a lot of people didn’t know we were brothers, and they were very surprised when they found out that we were brothers. Mainly because they’d tell me things thinking oh well, you know, telling me in confidence, and I’ll be up with my brother, and I’d just laugh.
Because I’d never repeat anything they said to my brother, I mean it wasn’t up to me to tell him. If they didn’t like him it was their problem. Didn’t worry me whether they liked him or not.
Did you have much contact with your brother in the army?
Yeah, we both ended up at Bandiana together and I was there for seven years. So those seven years, yeah I had a fair bit of contact with him. In fact he was the adjutant
of the unit I was at, at RAEME Training Centre. Well he ended up being the adjutant there, so yeah I had a fair bit of contact with him, for seven years anyway.
What’s it like in the army being posted different places?
One place is the same as another, you get used to it. It’s hard on the women, I mean they’ve got to change and make new friends. But I mean you know, for a bloke it’s easy. He can make friends anywhere.
Kids are likewise, they tend to lose friend but they make friends easy. But the women, it’s harder on them, because they’re the ones that get hit the worst. They’ve got to start over again.
So why did you decide to finish up with the army?
Why? Well I’d been in Brisbane for about two years I think it was. It might have been a bit more. And my
twenty years were up, and after twenty years you could get out and commute. That means you could take a certain percentage of your pension in a lump sum, and the rest you get paid out in a fortnightly entitlement. And I add that up and the kids were starting high school and I knew there was no way in the world I’d end up spending another five years in Queensland, so I thought well I may as well get out and the kids go to the same high school
all the way through. So basically that was the reason I got out, otherwise possibly I might have stayed in for a few more years.
How did you find settling in to civilian life after this long time in the army?
Not all that hard, because I made the decision, once I got out, I wasn’t going to go near an army place for quite a while. And that’s what I did, I didn’t go back and visit or anything. I made a clean break, so it didn’t affect me all that much. But I know some blokes
that you know, can’t let the army go. They’ve got to keep going back, going back, going back. No it doesn’t worry me.
What did you miss about the army?
I don’t know, maybe the mateship, the friends, the bush life. I enjoyed going bush and that. It was a totally
different life to civvy street, I didn’t miss it all that much, but those are things that I enjoyed, going bush and that. I didn’t mind.
What do you think your time in the army has taught you?
Patience, definitely patience, “Greatcoats on, greatcoats off, sit down and wait.” So, I’ve got plenty of patience.
Other than that, I don’t think it really taught me that much that I didn’t already know.
And looking back, now that we’ve come to the end of this tape, are there any last words that you’d like to add to the record about your service life, and your life?
Well I’ve got no regrets about any of it. I mean I don’t think I would have changed anything really. You know,
I enjoyed the twenty years I had in the army. I’ve enjoyed the years since I’ve been out of the army. I’ve had two good jobs, now retired. No, I don’t regret anything. I don’t think I would change anything if I were able to do it again. I’d possibly do everything the same, maybe one or two things I might change but, I doubt it. I enjoyed it, everything.
I mean I don’t think the army ever had a lasting effect on me. Vietnam certainly didn’t have any great effect on me, except that totally different, an eye opener how different people live. But apart from that no, I’ve got no scars or anything like that from it. I don’t wake up with nightmares, I sleep okay.
So no, it never had any effect on me whatsoever. Well I don’t think so anyway. No, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m totally happy, well as happy as you can be anyway.