Marie Lampril, and I was born here in Sydney out at Randwick in 1946 in December. So I was one of those babies, about nine months after the end of the war. All the men came home and the first thing they thought about was let’s have a baby. I’m one of those. I left Randwick shortly after I was born and moved to Toongabbie in western Sydney and grew up around there. Toongabbie, Pendle Hill and Wentworthville and they now have a name for those people, they call them ‘Westies’. So they’ve now got a geographical name.
I went to school there at Toongabbie and then Blacktown and I went to Parramatta which is probably where I see myself. That’s my centre of my life, Parramatta, and from Parramatta I got a scholarship to the Royal Military College, Duntroon, and went to the Royal Military College, Duntroon in 1965 and I came from, I say to people I came from an extraordinary class of young men at my
school at Marist Brothers, Parramatta. I wasn’t one of the extraordinary ones but they were extraordinary in academic ability and sporting ability. In my class what you’d call now the High School Certificate, first, fourth and seventh came out of my class of thirty. So one went on to Sydney Uni and he topped the university and after he was doing engineering he went on to do medicine and he went away and worked in India and places like that and he came back to Sydney. He taught applied mathematics, he was an extraordinary person,
and along the way to doing this he also broke all John Devitt’s records in swimming, and John Devitt was the Olympic captain, and this bloke was sixteen. So I had these sort of people around me. From my class I think there were about eleven people who ended up in the army, but that was a strange situation at that time. The political situation in the mid ‘60s was quite different to now and Vietnam loomed on the horizon for everybody, and suddenly conscription was coming in
so everyone’s horizon started to change. At one stage they said what will they do. Well, when I leave school I’ll go to university and I’ll go and work overseas. I’ll get a job as a ski instructor. These things started to change. Nobody could do that because somewhere out of their life they’d have two years in the army. It was a change in their planning and their aspirations had to change. So I had from my class, I think four of us went to Duntroon on scholarships, the Royal Military College on scholarship.
A number were conscripted, others joined voluntarily and a number joined the army reserve and then went into the army that way. So we had a lot of people in the army from a small group. A lot went and did law and I think that was because we came from the lower middle class. But I said that once at a reunion with some of my friends and I was very quickly corrected. So the lower middle class, they corrected me and said, “We weren’t lower middle class.” I thought, yes, we were lower middle class. What’s wrong with that? They said, “We were working class.” So obviously in Australia
working class has higher status than lower middle class, because I was corrected and they were a bit indignant that I would actually say we were lower middle class, but it was OK to say we were working class. I think we were from that group of people that our fathers had no opportunity. Our father were born in the mid, about 1915. They left school fifteen years later, about 1930 when the Depression was on, so they went right through the Depression and had no chance to go to university. And after, they just got a bit of a chance probably in the late ’30s to
do something, the war came along. So they went to war. If they had any ability and talent it was all sucked up by the Depression and the war, and after the war they came home, had children and they were determined their children would do something, and we came from that group of people. So everybody had at school had a reason to work hard at school. Jo was the same, she had parents about the same age. You had reason to work hard because your parents, to put you through school it was an opportunity, it was
a privilege that you went to school and sometimes in the family you were the first one to go to university out of a family for generations. These days in families, many people, it might be four or five generations are at university over a few years. In those days you might’ve said, “I’m the first person to go to university or have tertiary study.” So it was a change from now. So I went off to the Royal Military College from ’65 to ’68, and the Royal Military College, it
was in those days, it was I’d say at the height of bastardisation, or bastardisation was a process there which was part of the induction process into the army. It’s been given a lot of bad publicity on TV and recently there was a process where hazing and harassment has been in the regular army, but bastardisation was cadet onto cadet. Not, the staff didn’t bastardise cadets. It was cadet onto cadet, and it had a number of aims
to it. One of them was to flatten everybody out to one level because you could have a couple of cadets alongside each other, one cadet came from a background where his father, he was being sent $500 a week and came from a family like that. Another cadet’s father could have been a taxi driver from southern Sydney where a dollar a week was, you know, so you had these different social classes but everybody was bastardised. That was one of them, a flattening of all the cadets. Nobody got any better than the other next to him
and you were all in it together. And then Duntroon was a monastery. You got no leave, no pay, you weren’t allowed to drink and you weren’t allowed to own a car for four years, and you worked six days a week. You were allowed off for one hour on Friday from 5.00 until 6.00, you were given a bus into town and back like school children, and then on Saturday, I think at 5.00 o’clock after playing sport on Saturday, working in the morning and then playing sport, you were allowed off from 5.00
until 11.30, and you could go and see girls and look at girls. “Oh, they’re girls? They’re the ones with the different shape?” That was it. So you roamed around Canberra looking at all the girls and then drinking to excess I think, and probably much more immaturely than they do today. Young people today are more mature drinkers because they’ve had the ability to have a drink if they felt like it, whereas we were closeted and when we got to drink we drank as much as we could in the shortest possible time, and that was the way. And
then we had cars. We were eventually allowed cars in our first class. So after four years you were allowed to buy a car and after nine months you had to pass a test which was about twenty pages long which was all about the army. Everything you could imagine about the army, where every unit was, every commandant of Duntroon, his name, his initials and his post nominal and every cadet’s name. So there were say 400 cadets,
and you’d have to know the name and initial of every cadet, and I still know them. I could go through the book there, I could go through every cadet. I had a look last night at the R&C report. I still know every cadet’s name and initials, and you had to learn that off before you were allowed to go on leave, and you had to learn ridiculous things like the height of the flagpole at Duntroon off by heart, seventy-six foot, five and a half inches, allowing half an inch for atmospheric pressure and bird manure. Those sorts of things you had to learn off, and then everybody
name, every academic’s name. Academics could have post-nominals like BA [Bachelor of Arts], LLB [Bachelor of Laws], MA [Master of Arts], you know, Bachelor of Engineering, Bachelor of Science and have all these post-nominals and you have to get it all right or you weren’t allowed to go on leave, and you sat a test to this every, on a Thursday night, and if you passed the test you got an hour off on Friday, and if you passed the test after nine months you could go on leave home back to where you came from, along as you paid.
So after nine months I could come up to Sydney, and I wasn’t allowed to leave the Australian Capital Territory until that time. The course was structured to provide an academic education along with a professional education. The academic education was in arts, science and engineering, and the professional education covered a broad range of military subjects so you were equipped as a young leader in the army to lead a small unit of about thirty people,
and an infantry platoon of thirty was used as the model for training. So you were trained to be an infantry platoon commander for four years. So I’d had this academic side balances against a military education. That was the balance at Duntroon. So the academic side was a structure, an academic structure from the University of New South Wales, Sydney, and you did your course, did your exams like you do at university.
Alongside that there were all these artillery, signals, armour, army health, communication, leadership and management. What else was there? Infantry minor tactics, and all these other subject which went alongside it, drill, battle PT [Physical Training]. So each day you’d get out of bed and you’d live a life of up at 6.00, outside your room and your bed had to, you had to have all the blankets off your bed so you couldn’t sleep in and you stood out there for about
two minutes and went back into your room and then you went to breakfast every morning. In breakfast everybody went to breakfast and then in the fourth class you were there, which is the bottom class, you had to, the bastardisation was you had to do every chore. Polish all the floors, clean the toilets, clean the urinals, clean the baths, clean all the basins, clean all the mirrors, all the showers, and you did it for one year and for the next three years the fourth class that was coming in did it for you. That was the system. So
you did it for one year. There was a good aim there. It taught people who would be officers eventually what soldiers have to do. Soldiers have to do those things all their lives, clean toilets and scrub floors. So it taught officers what soldiers have to do. You don’t just go float through life having thought somebody else does it for me. You actually had to do it at Duntroon, go around and clean and empty garbage bins and do that for a year. That was life,
and then you went to parades and lectures and PT everyday and sports training, and at night at 7.00 o’clock you were locked in your room and you studied until 10.00 where you came out again and you came out for about half an hour. Then you were locked back in your room at 10.30 and you went through until the morning again. So that was the day, almost like a monastery. If you said that to some of the staff they’d laugh and fall on the ground holding their sides. The cadets used to get up to all sorts of hijinks
with drinking and parties and driving, and there was a lot of socialising too at Duntroon. But from the inside that’s the way I saw it and it was quite strange at that age from say, I left, I was about sixteen when I went there or seventeen, and for the next four years I was taken away from society where my friends who went through society were doing different things. They were playing sport and chasing girls and getting drunk and having great parties.
It was just a difference. You were cut off from that part of society where people do different things about that age, at university of if they were going to get their first job, and that was Duntroon.
they don’t have as long a course and it’s not as hard. To me it was, my father wanted me to be a school teacher because he was always away. Being in the army he was away at war and he was away preparing to go to war and he could see people who were school teachers getting home at about 4.30 or 5.00 at night and he missed his family. He had a very disrupted family life when he was young. His father died in 1916 just about six weeks after he was born and there
was no widow’s pensions in those days so he just ricocheted around from aunties. He had thirteen aunties and so he went from place to place living with his mother, and he was brought up that way. So he loved family life and he said, “Look, be a school teacher and you’ll get the best of family life, plus a profession.” That’s what he wanted me to be and I thought, and he said, “Don’t join the army.” I looked at this and I thought no, I could do that. I saw this scholarship in the paper and I thought that would be good.
So I said, “I’ll apply for that,” and he said, “You won’t get in. It’s very hard. It’s very hard to get in.” He said, “About 6,000 apply,” and he knew about it. He was working here at Sydney. He said, “It’s very hard to get in and it’s very competitive.” I said, “I’ll give it a go,” because I think it was 1962, everything for me went up. I fell in with a few very good people who motivated me. A girlfriend, who was Marlene Murray, I got divorced from her about twelve years ago, but she came along and we formed a
very strong bond from the age of, she was fourteen and I was sixteen, and we saw each other every day of our lives from that time on, and she was studying hard and I studied. So my school marks went up, so that helped the scholarship, and my athletics, one of my friends at school named Philip Stone encouraged me. He said, “Righto, you train and you’ll be good.” So I became a school athletics champion from being just a person who resented training. I thought training, what rubbish. Why should I do that? I’ll just go along on the day and have a good time.
He said, “Come on, come on. Why don’t you train? You can do this.” So suddenly I went up in the athletics and everything went up. I got my scholarship and it gave a little bit of money to my parents to help though school. And the bloke next to me got one too, sitting next to me in the class, John Wilson, or Charlie Eiler it was at that stage. Charlie got one, he was a son of migrants. So my school class room in those days was full of boys from southern Europe or central
Europe. It was a quite a mix. A lot of Maltese in the early days and I think there were sixty-six in my class in third class, and I went out and had a look at the classroom and the classroom is not much bigger than this. I went out about two years ago and I thought I’ll go and have a look how big that classroom is, and I went and had a look at it and it was very small, sixty-six students in one class. I think twenty of them were Maltese and didn’t speak much English, so I probably did well in English competitively, and then
as I grew up all my classes were full of fellows who came from all over Europe. They had no network here, they didn’t have grannies and they didn’t have uncles. They came here and all they had was the house they owned and their brother and sister and Mum and Dad, and this was their opportunity so they worked very hard. Charlie worked very hard and he went to Duntroon with me and after Duntroon I got married and went to Malaysia and then to Vietnam and Charlie went to the Special Air Service regiment. He jumped out of
a plane, bang, dead, 10,000 foot. He got killed in August of ’69. A wonderful fellow, had he stayed in it he would’ve changed the balance in the world. He had such an outgoing humour and good, outgoing personality and good sense of humour. Had he been around amongst our friends he would have changed the dynamics between people. He was just that sort of person, but he’s out at Rookwood now. I haven’t been to see him in the last few years
either out there. He got killed, and the other one was John Wilson who was a commander of the UN [United Nations] forces in Bosnia. So I grew up in that sort of environment in Parramatta, then off to Duntroon and after Duntroon because my girlfriend, we got very close over those four years and as soon as I left Duntroon we said, “We’ll get married,” and when we decided to get married the army said, “Yes, well you’re going to Malaya.” So we went off to Malaysia
and we lived on the west coast of Malaysia, her and I, and we had a forty square two storey house with five bedrooms and three bathrooms, and we came from western Sydney, and servants. And Marlene, we didn’t know what to do with servants, we didn’t know how to tell them what to do. What do you do with servants? And the servants used to come in and make the bed, iron everything and wash everything. And in the morning she was embarrassed, we were just married and we didn’t wear pyjamas,
she would jump up before the servants came in and scrunch up the pyjamas as if we wore them and put them under the pillow on the bed and the servant would come in and get them and take them away and wash them each day. But Marlene was embarrassed so she would scrunch up the pyjamas so the servant would thing, yeah, had those on. We were just babes in the woods really. We were in Malaysia and during that time in Malaysia there was an emergency where there were a lot of racial riots and they were killing each other and the cultural
mix, we had no idea about living as a sort of, over in, as a colonial master as the British people tended to know how to live in that environment because they’d done it for years and generations. We got there and we were just in this house, a beautiful house. It was on the Malacca Straits and looked out towards Indonesia, and we had some interesting people with us. Peter Cosgrove was my friend from Duntroon and we went to Malaysia together
to the same battalion, the 1st Battalion. We were partners in crime at Duntroon people would say. We tended to get involved in the same sorts of things, just fun things, parties, whatever was going on. So we became, we liked laughing and enjoying things and probably had a healthy disrespect for the pomposity of the army. So maybe both our fathers were army officers, so we’d seen the army from the inside, so when people were taking things seriously
we tended to make light of them, so we got along. He was posted to the same battalion. We saw each other a lot in Malaysia and then one day we said, “We’ve got to go to Vietnam. Come on.” We were breaking our necks to get to Vietnam because everybody else had been in that battalion except for he and I, and we were breaking our necks to get there, and said, “We must get to Vietnam.” I asked the army, “What’s happening to me?” And they said, “You’re going to stay here for three years in Malaysia and then you’re going back to Australia,
and you’ll stay there for a while, and then you’ll go off to Vietnam for a year.” I said, “Good.” My wife was pregnant and I bought myself a little MG TD sports [car], green it was, and I bought myself a little cap and the gloves because makes the car go faster, and I had the driving gloves and a little hat, and the next day I got a call saying, “You’re going to Vietnam.” As soon as I had it all set up in Malaysia, I thought this will be good, three years here just driving around in my MG and my wife was pregnant and she could have the baby in Malaysia.
And they said, “Look, you’re going to Vietnam, you’ll have to send your wife home. Pack her up.” So I rang her father and said, “Could you look after your daughter for a few more years?” And he said, “What’s happened?” I said, “Nothing, I’m off to Vietnam.” So we went to Singapore and she went off to, we went to a hotel overnight, we stayed there and the next day I flew off to Vietnam and I put her on a plane to Australia. I don’t know what age she was then. She must’ve been about twenty
and pregnant and she headed off for Australia. I can remember her going through the gates out into the thing and I thought, jeez, you’re bloody young. And she went off to Australia and I headed off to Vietnam, just flew over to Vietnam. That was in mid ’69. So that started my first tour in Vietnam when I went to a battalion. I went to the 5th Battalion as a platoon commander in ’69 and ’70, over ’69, ’70.
That’s an Australian platoon, and I came home with that battalion which came home here to Sydney and then I was in Australia, I was in a battalion out at Holsworthy doing garrison duties, things that the army does in peace time, and I thought gee, I’m a professional soldier, what am I doing here? I should be at war. And I thought if I went back to war, whatever I learnt there and whatever experience and whatever I did would make me a better soldier. So I went and applied for
the Australian Army Training Team [AATTV – Australian Army Training Team Vietnam]. But you didn’t just apply and get sent, you had to do a selection course of about five weeks I think. That was up at Canungra at the back of the Gold Coast. So I went to that selection course. I think there were about thirty-five on the course and it was difficult, a difficult course in Canungra. It was always raining and hot and every morning at ten past 5.00 we had this large fellow,
they called him, I think he came from Russia, his name was Stanislaus Krasnov, and he would come and kick all the beds, say, “Righto knuckle heads, get out of bed.” PT, ten past 5.00, a big bloke, and when you get someone who is six feet five kicking your bed you don’t say anything, you just get out of bed. We’d all get up and do PT and never did he miss. He never sort of missed a day. He didn’t say, “Righto, all sleep in today, it’s raining.” Everyday at ten past 5.00, and then you did a lot of courses and it was a lot of stress on the course and people
were meant to be subjected to stress to see if they could take it, and some broke down. One of them, we were sort of pushed and pushed and pushed and we had to run a long way back to the camp and they came back and they said, “Look, you can have some leave this weekend and go down the Gold Coast. Now there’s a hot shower there for you, get into some clean clothes, and there’s a hot brew there of tea. Have a hot brew and some biscuits and then we’ve got to go out in the field. You can’t
go down the Gold Coast.” And then this fellow was getting all upset and then he heard, he was a senior officer, probably a major at this stage, and somebody went into the showers and the showers were cold, and somebody had a drink of tea and the tea was cold, and this bloke went berserk and he got his rifle and smashed it on the ground, smashed it to pieces, and went and got over to the senior officer who was running it and he started to abuse him, saying, “You couldn’t run anything,” you know, so he disappeared. So people just disappeared off the course. They were there one day and you’d
see something like this and off they’d go, go back to where they came from. Eventually there were a group of people passed and were sent to Vietnam, passed the course and were sent off to the Training Teams into various jobs, and I went to the Training Team and I got a job up in ICOR [Infantry Combat Regiment], which was the northern part of Vietnam, the very northern part of South Vietnam between North Vietnam and about half way down. I thought that was the crème de la crème. That was the place to go to, that’s where the war was and I got a job as battalion
senior adviser, all the things I wanted to do when I was on the course and I heard about of course. And I got sent to a place called Da Nang which is now romantically referred to in every movie I hear Da Nang. I hear it but it was a town up there, a large military town, massive population of soldiers and military equipment. I think it had probably one two three, four or five divisions,
each of about 15,000 around it. So as you flew in all you saw was military vehicles and jets, helicopters and soldiers everywhere carrying weapons, quite strange. It was quite strange to fall into a place like that, land in an aircraft and there they all were. Then I got into a little silver aircraft, it was run by Lear America, a little airline run by the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] and I was going south towards a place called Quang Ngai and the
pilot, we took off, there were eight of us on board and he said to us, he was giving us a talk on the way down, he said, “That’s battle ships out there firing,” and then on the right hand side I could see all these armoured vehicles in a place called Que Song Valley going around. Then we got to the next valley where he said, “Now that’s called Death Valley. Don’t go up there,” and then I landed.
Naturally about four months later, where do they post me? Death Valley, straight up to Death Valley just by chance. He said to me, “Don’t go up there, that’s called Death Valley.” Jo’s been there. I took her there. “Don’t go up there, that’s Death Valley,” he said. I’ve got a book here called Death Valley, haven’t I Jo, somewhere? And it’s about this valley, the Americans call it Death Valley, not us. So I went down and I got posted to the 5th ARVN [Army of the Republic of Vietnam] Regiment. So I
served in 1971 with South Vietnamese troops and we had a battalion and my job was to, they called me an adviser, but in effect my job was to provide a connection between the South Vietnamese and all the fire support, the jets with their bombs, helicopter gun ships, the artillery and all the things the Americans provided. I was the connection and I had to go out. The other thing,
at the end about this time the North Vietnamese could lure a helicopter in which was coming to collect casualties, in to land and shoot it up. So the American pilots said they would not land in a South Vietnamese landing zone unless there was an adviser on board who would get off and I’d walk over and say to, “Yeah, you’re a friendly South Vietnamese.” I’d look at them, “Yeah yeah, he’s a friendly one.” I’d race back and tell the pilot, “Yeah, we’re right,” and then they’d bring out the casualties, the dead and wounded and put them on and we’d fly off.
That happened, that could happen any night but it might happen two nights a week. So we’d get a call and they’d say, “Righto,” and I’d race down and get on the helicopter, fly out and we’d find the Vietnamese on the ground, go in and pick up the dead and wounded and take them to hospital and the American advisers were with me too. I joined a group of Americans, I think there were ten of us, so it was rotational. It wasn’t all me all the time.
I didn’t like that very much because you could be in a helicopter at night and you’d be flying, had a red light, and the whole floor of the helicopter would be covered in blood, and then as the helicopter banked to the left all the blood would go over with rice floating in it, and then as it banked the other way it would go across the other side. Now this was what it was like ever night, or you’d be holding somebody’s tongue because their mouth had been shout out or their legs had been shot off.
You’d have to make sure the legs were taken to hospital with them. All sorts of things like that, and that was at night. That was my night job. During the day it was walking around the bush with the Vietnamese. I had a few interesting times with the Americans. When I arrived at a place called Siberia which was way out in the, it wasn’t Siberia because it was a long way out. It was Siberia because it was named after something the Americans were involved in at the end of the
First World War in Siberia, and I went there and I found the Americans just as different to us as the Vietnamese. I went in and sat down and here are the Americans eating. I sat down with them and had some food out of a tin and I started to talk to them and I thought, yeah, you’re different. One fellow there, one soldier had a large Afro hairdo and a beard. Now we don’t have soldiers in the Australian Army like that. His name was Walker. He had a big Afro hairdo and he had a pair of shorts on,
this is at war. No rifle, and a pair of Ho Chi Minh sandals, which were made out of car tyres. He said, “I’m pretty cool.” I said, “Where’s your equipment?” I said, “How come you’ve got a beard? Don’t you shave every day?” He said, “I’ve got a certificate to say I don’t have to shave.” Negroid people sometimes get infected hairs because their hair is very strong. So he had a certificate not to shave and so he had this beard. But sometimes later on, about two days later I got up and walked
to the edge of the fire support base which was barbed wire and looked down at a river and old Walker had just gone down to the river and had a swim, just gone outside, walked out to have a swim. He was a funny fellow. And I told him, I told them next day I wanted everybody to have a weapon, everybody to have fatigues on and everybody to have their equipment, and they looked at me as if, “Who do you think you are, young man?” And they all, they did it. Later on I found out that Walker was going to frag me, which was a
way that, a warning to officers who were trying to exert their command, they used to throw a grenade in and blow them up and kill them. It happened a lot, it happened once a week. Or they’d threaten him by leaving a grenade pin on his pillow, things like that. And I heard that Walker was going to do that, and he was serious about killing people. He went into a base one time to listen to his stereo and somebody knocked over his stereo
so he flicked out a knife and stabbed the bloke five times through the lungs for knocking over his stereo. He got out of it. He was charged but he got out of it because he was provoked because the bloke had knocked his stereo over, but Walker was serious about these things, and later we became good friends. But at the start of it he was very cranky with me for forcing him to be a soldier. I had quite different, and then I think from Siberia I went south. I went into a prisoner of war camp
and I’m not sure of this, but I believe I was sent to look for a fellow names Private Robert Garwood who was an American. This is a little known fact, but he’d gone over to work for the North Vietnamese. Nowadays with these people in Guantanamo Bay, Garwood in the Vietnam War had left, he was captured by the North Vietnamese in Da Nang on the 18th of September 1965 and he was a private
in the Marine Corps, and he was put into a prisoner of war camp and he defected to the North Vietnamese. He took a North Vietnamese name and he went out on patrol against the Americans, Robert, RJ Garwood. You can look him up on the net. You’ll see pages and pages about Garwood on the net. I think he came back about 1993, he came back to the American side, but he was living in the highlands of Vietnam and living with the North Vietnamese. Now I think, I’m not sure, but I
went into the prisoner of war camp which was nothing like the prisoner of war camp that I saw on Hogan’s Heroes [television series]. It was just a little, a few thatched huts. We went in there and all we found were four Vietnamese prisoners, South Vietnamese who’d been captured by the North Vietnamese, and they were skinny and had malaria. and we took them back, and when we got back to the Fire Support Base, it was called Mary Ann, I’m actually writing and I’m calling all these anecdotes My Affair With Mary Ann, and when I got back there I was just coming down the hill
and a Chinook took off which is a big multi-rotored helicopter. It took off and it had fifty on it. Took off and went whack in the ground and thirty of the blokes burned to death, and that was pretty horrific and I got down, I ran down to the helicopter and I thought what can I do? I’ve got to do something here. So I ran into the helicopter and I looked around and all these fellows were sitting there, and it was on fire and they were on fire. So I just ran straight out the other side. McDermott the
Brave, whoosh, straight out. I walked around, I found the American crew. There was one with a broken leg down the back and I think three of them up here and I said to them, they said, “Who are you? Where did you come from?” And I said, “I’m Captain M.K. McDermott.” They said, “But where do you come from?” I had a different uniform and badges on. I said, “I’m from the Australian Army.” The bloke said to me, “God, I didn’t know you blokes were over here, Austria?” I said, “Australian Army.” “Austria, Austrian Army? I didn’t know Austrians were over here.
I’ve been in Germany, I’ve been to Austria, lovely place,” he said. “Austria, you Austrians over here? Gee, I didn’t know you Austrians were over here.” I said, “The Australian Army.” “Yeah, I heard you. Yeah, Austria hey?” I then went up and then that night all the fellows, he got them up and they were all burnt black, all their faces and all their skin was all burnt black. It was all peeling off and they were dying and my rank in Vietnam is Daiuy, and they were just sitting outside
where I was sleeping yelling out all night, “Help me Daiuy. Daiuy, help me.” And the ones they could help, the South Vietnamese medics were pumping them full of morphine until they died, if they had a vascular system left. They just put morphine into and then they’d die, so that was good. I’d had a little burn when I was about thirteen or fourteen, a very small burn I remember. My father wrapped it up and put me into bed and I thought all night it was bloody bad. All these blokes were burnt
100 per cent all over their face, and I thought gee, that’s on the internet too. There are photos of that, aren’t there, on the internet, these Vietnamese? So they all died during the night and the next day we just went down and wrapped them up in bits of plastic and lined them up and put them on a landing zone and a helicopter came in and we sent them all away. They went back to their relatives. They were from the 77th Range Battalion at Tien Phuoc
and they lost thirty-three there I think it was, yeah. That was pretty horrific stuff that day. I slept there the next night, and the next night what happened was the Americans were fearful of this bloke, Garwood, who they heard of this white man working with the Vietnamese. This is what I believe, and I had an American sergeant with me. I won’t say his name but he was with me. He said, “Look, there’s an American down there. He’s coming back to beat me up.
He’s just down there about twenty metres in this little bunker.” He said, “I’ve heard him saying he’s coming to get me,” he said. I said, “I think you’re wrong. There’s only you and I here plus all the South Vietnamese.” He said, “No, he’s just down there in that bunker.” Down in the bunker I could hear people talking. I said, “Look, I’ll go down there and check it out. You try and get some sleep.” He kept on waking up all night. I went down there and checked and there were two Vietnamese blokes sitting there making themselves a cup of tea, and on the way back he tried to shoot me,
this American, bang bang bang. He tried to shoot me. I ducked on the ground and I eventually found him and I sat with him all night with a light on. I got a little light and I sat there so he could see me and I could see him. The next day I had to get rid of him. We called in a helicopter to get rid of him. He raced down and tried to pull the helicopter down, so the pilot said, “I won’t take him unless he’s tied up.” So we tied him up and put him on the helicopter. They charged him with attempted murder, but I agreed to testify on his
behalf because he was, all the stress had built up in him. He had so much stress, all the fellows who were dead, and I think that’s what built up in him and I think this was just the breaking point. So I said, “Look, I think that’s what happened. He’s a good fellow, just this sort of breaking point. He was subjected to last night all this stress and all these people dying around the place,” and I said, and Mary Ann was an almost mystical place to Americans. You’ll find that on the
net too, Mary Ann it’s called. Just before that a North Vietnamese commando battalion overran Mary Ann and killed them all, and the divisional commander was sacked. They went around and killed everybody in all the bunkers, shot all the Americans, and so the Americans feared this place called Mary Ann. It was in March of ’71, overran them, and so that put him on edge.
It didn’t mean anything to me. It could have been the moon to me, it didn’t matter. There’s an outline of what happened, it’s called Sixty Minutes of Terror at Mary Ann, isn’t it? That’s on the net. It just talks about all these commandos, North Vietnamese commandos going around throwing charges in all the bunkers and things and killing everybody. And so I think he was continually under stress from when we landed. We landed there together, this American and I. We got out and set up where we were going to live and sleep
and eat, and from that time on, even going out to the prisoner of war camp and back and after the crash, he was on edge the whole time, and he made this up in his mind that there was this American there, and the American wasn’t there. I’m sure of that. And I’ve got a CIA report which says Garwood was just near there a few weeks before. It says he was there in March or April of ’71,
just near Mary Ann or about twelve K east. There’s a report where some agent saw Garwood sitting on the side of the road with five Vietnamese, so Garwood was there and he is an interesting character. There’s a book called Survivors and it’s all about Garwood. I think there’s a copy of it there. That’s an Australian one. It’s a book called Survivor. That’s the one. That’s written about Garwood and the other people who knew
him in the prisoner of war camp. So they’re just little anecdotes about Mary Ann. I’m just going to call the book I write My Affair With Mary Ann. It was an interesting time for me. I thought God, what’s going on here? A young boy from the Western Suburbs, what am I doing here? All these people? This is real bloody serious around here. And so I went around, that was my tour. That was early ‘71
and then in late ’71 I was out in the field and my battalion ran into a North Vietnamese Regiment of about 2,300 and we were, I think we were about 268, so we were outnumbered about ten to one, and they had a lot of heavy weapons, like heavy machine guns with them. So I was put in, it was a knoll which I call Bloody Knoll,
and I went in there when another Australian adviser got very sick. He’d been out in the sun all the time and I think he was suffering sun stroke or heat stroke. He was vomiting, and he got taken out and I came in and as he was taken out they shot up the helicopter and I’m not sure if they shot him just in the side, he got grazed, and then the heavy machine gun was just, we couldn’t move because the heavy machine gun, it was 12.7 Soviet heavy machine gun and it was able to keep us
pinned the whole time. We couldn’t move anywhere because it could have killed us all. So I got on the radio, it’s amazing how small the world is, and I said, “Hello, I need help, Hitch Victor.” Hitch Victor my call sign was, and sure, who comes over? “Hello, this Helix Zero One,” an Australian named Col Ackland.
He’s in this book. And he came over and he’s up there in the sky, like that, two Australians at one point on the whole world at the same time.
OK, when I was at Mary Ann when the Chinook went down I called for assistance very quickly, “Help help help,” and overcame Helix Zero Three, and he happened to be Australian too. I said, “I think we come from the same place,” and he said, “Yes,” and while I was there I said, “Don’t leave me.” He said, “I’ll fly top cover for you.” His name was Bruce Wood, I think he’s Air Commodore Bruce Wood now, is he? He’s huge, a senior officer in the airforce.
He’s out at, where did he used to live? OPCOM [Operational Command] at Lapstone just west of Sydney, and he came over the top and he said, “No, I won’t leave you.” So he went back and refuelled and stayed overhead with his aircraft. It made me feel good because here I was down there, a nobody way out on the Laotian border. I think about fifteen kilometres from Laos. There was nobody between me and the deep blue sea.
He stayed overhead and made me feel a lot better. One, that he was Australian, there was this friendly Australian voice there, and secondly, he was up there and he could see everything that was going on. And the next time I got in trouble, sure enough who do I call up? Helix Zero One comes on, and his name is Col Ackland, another Australian, and we talked, you know, we recognised each other’s accent. He said, “Yeah, OK,” he said, “Yes, I’m here to help you,” and he came in. I said, “We’re in a bit
of trouble here.” He said, “Yeah, I’ve heard that.” He got briefed, he got told about it on his way there over the radio. He said, “But I can fix that up for you.” He came in and he was under a lot of anti-aircraft fire and he brought in jets with 500 pound bombs. That sorted out the enemy. But because I wanted to bring them in within 100 metres, he said I had to be on the front line, so he made me go down and
join the front line of the troops and he then brought in the next flight with the 500 pound bombs, but he certainly saw them out. The enemy were rushing up and getting up about fifty metres from my troops because they knew if they were fifty metres away, we wouldn’t drop any bombs on them because it was too close, but we did. And Col, he got decorated with a Distinguished Flying Cross for doing that, Col Ackland. Yes, he’s been down. I’ve met him and I’ve been up to
his place and he came and stayed with me since, and his wife, yes. So he’s another Australian I ran into, and after that I came home. That was on the 30th of August 1971, and the North Vietnamese were coming down to attack the South Vietnamese because the South Vietnamese were trying to hold an election,
and so I thought it was a seminal battle of the war because the reason we were there was to allow the South Vietnamese to live by a democratic process and to stop the North Vietnamese interfering with them, and the 2nd North Vietnamese Division was coming down to attack the South Vietnamese provincial capitals and their district capitals when the election was going on. So we were put in place to stop that occurring. So really we were doing the job that the whole force was sent there for.
There was another, at that battle there was another fellow came over. These are short anecdotes. His name was Al Harris, Captain Al Harris, an American. He was laying in his tent down near the seaside and he heard this fellow in trouble, big trouble out there, and he was about to get up and pack his bag to go to Hawaii to meet his wife for seven days off. Instead he came out to help me. It’s like the cavalry
over the hill in a helicopter gun ship. You’ve probably seen it on TV, bup bup bup bup, and he came over and I said, “Look, this is a pretty bad area. We’ve got heavy machine guns.” He said, “Don’t worry.” I gave him the target and we threw some smoke so he knew where we were and he went and attacked the target. He was fearless, and he pulled out to the north east and as he pulled out they attacked him with anti-aircraft fire and they had to wash him out of the helicopter he was shot up so badly.
He was shot to pieces, and he died. He never got to see his wife and she was pregnant, so he never got to see his son either. Captain Al Harris his name was. That was on the 28th of August 1971. Shark Zero Three was his call sign. I found him on the internet and I found a photograph of his helicopter and things like that, haven’t we? So I’ve put a lot on there for his family saying what a good,
how brave he was and put a lot of things on the internet for him and saying that he contributed to the war, rather than just, otherwise people think he went to Vietnam, he’s dead, that’s it. It loses all personality once people go to war and they’re dead. We’ve got 60,000 dead people in France, relatives of everybody in Australia. There’s 60,000, but who are they, what were they like? What would they have been like if they lived? What contribution would they have made to a family and
to Australia? You never know because they’re just, they made a contribution to France and the freedom of France and Britain and they’re treated fairly well by France. If you go back there they love Australians. There are schools up in northern France that raise the Australian flag each day and all stand out and sing. They realise it, that we have a whole generation, 60,000 dead. That’s a lot of people, a lot of young people. It just takes, crunch, they’ve taken a large number of people. You work it
out. How many people in society at that time and half of them would’ve been women so they didn’t go to war. Then you work out how many young men there were in those age groups and they all, so what percentage went to war and what percentage died. I think we lost, I think we were the second highest number who lost. New Zealand was the highest. We were the second highest. So you know, blokes like Al Harris and his family, to me it means something because if he didn’t do that I wouldn’t be here.
I could be dead. These people actually saved me. That was a very critical situation, and so I’m alive and he’s dead. I’m alive because he’s dead, or he’s dead because I’m alive. There’s a relationship between them. That was with the Training Team up in ICOR. With the Australian platoon, are you going to ask me questions about that? OK, I might deal with those things when you have your questions with the Australian platoon.
That’s really my career up until then, and then I came home. Towards the end of my tour I went up to Da Nang and there was a lot of administrative people up there. I didn’t get along very well with them, and then I came home to Australia as an adjutant to a unit, which is a normal process as a captain, and was an instructor in tactics
and then I was a company commander which has about 100 men, and then I went to staff college in Victoria, and then after staff college as a major I went and lived in, I had a job in Queensland in Brisbane and then I went back to the Royal Military College which I enjoyed because I was feeding back into young cadets who were just forming. I enjoyed that at the Royal Military College, and then my next job was at
a training group in Melbourne as a lieutenant colonel. I just proceeded on, captain, major, lieutenant colonel, and then came to a staff job in headquarters training command. That’s how I got to Mosman because training command is just over here in Mosman. I bought a house here and then I thought, you know, my life in the army would be in Canberra after a certain age. For the rest of my life I would be in Canberra just ricocheting around, so I said, “I’ll get out of the
army and ricochet around here in Sydney,” and so I decided to stay here. At stage though I knew I wasn’t going to be Field Marshal McDermott. Something told me you’re not going to be, you’ll be in Canberra at this rank, a colonel, and that’s it. So I wasn’t going to be Field Marshal McDermott or anything like that or General McDermott. I was going to be a colonel in Canberra doing staff work probably. So I decided to get out.
I’ve got two sons, Sean and Murray. Murray got married just recently and Sean’s not married. He lives over in town in a unit in town, and then I was divorced in about the late ‘80s, and Jo who is here now, I’ve know Jo since she was sixteen. Is that right? Sixteen, was it? I went out with her to a dinner in Canberra
with my girlfriend and she was the girlfriend of a fellow in my class named Peter Cosgrove, and Karen Crompton and two other fellows from my class. So we went out and we pretended we were playing sophisticated. We went out in ball gowns and blues drinking wine. We didn’t have a clue, but we knew what red and white was. Red is that one and that’s the white one, and, see we only got $6 a week
so we just sat down at the table. All the girls were there and we knew which knife and fork to eat with and we had those things. I remember one girl who had travelled a bit more than us, she had escargot farcee which is snails in the shell. My eyes nearly popped. I thought, “God, bloody snails!” Could’ve got a lot of those at Toongabbie and I was looking at them. They were all done in garlic and I was looking at this girl with these tongs. She looked like they brought them out of a surgical
kit to eat them. Then we had, then we went off to balls. We did that a few times, didn’t we? So I’ve known Jo for that length of time. We got married in what year? ’94 in India. I went to India when Peter Cosgrove was there, the Chief of the Defence Force. We stayed with him and then we travelled around northern India and western India and then we got married in New Delhi on Anzac Day in
1994, in New Delhi. Did all sorts of funny things like walking, we went up to the foothills of the Himalayas, stayed up there for a few days, and then we went down to Jodhpur and went and had a look at the fort and then we went out in the desert and went to Jaisalmer and got on some camels and road around and then came back in there. Had a look at some of the interesting places around Jaisalmer
which is in western India, and then we got married there, didn’t we? What year was it we went back to Vietnam? ’98, and we went out to, we rode out on bikes and we went out to the battle ground where I said the Bloody Knoll, went out and had a look around and I found the compass that I left there in ’71. In ’71 we got pushed off. The enemy came out of a little creek
line early in the morning, and they came up and they got up very close to us. I was decorated by the Vietnamese for staying there because of the fight. At that stage I could, truthfully, I could see the enemy coming and I thought, I got my map and I thought I’m gonna go back to Australia. See you later, I’m off, bye bye. Mike, it’s half time for Mike. I was going to go down, I memorised the map. I was going down onto a
ridge. I could go over the ridge to a town and I could walk back to into town and try and get back into safety. That’s the truth. I could make it and say I fought to the death and there I was bayoneting and thrusting and wrestling people. That’s not true. That is not the truth. The truth is when I came up there was about forty enemy and I was thinking gee, they’re going to overrun us, and the Vietnamese used to have a joke with me. They knew I was scared of being captured because when we went into the prisoner of war
camp they locked my feet into a brace and walked off into the jungle and left me there and said, “Mike, don’t worry. Soon you go Hanoi,” and they were just joking. I was trying to pull my feet out and they knew that that worried me, so when we were being attacked and my American senior adviser thought I was going to be captured and the Vietnamese say, “Don’t worry Daiuy, don’t worry captain. Soon you go Hanoi.” I thought jeez, they’re serious because I could see the North Vietnamese
coming. I thought God, and I had some points I looked at. They got to there, OK, I’ll stay. If they get to there I’ll go. And they got to there and I didn’t go. And I thought if they get to that point I’m off. They were coming from the west. I was going to go east and go down and up over a hill and down into a valley called Tien Phuoc, and then I could walk back along the road from Tien Phuoc. Well I took Jo out and I went up and I found my pit. I had a pit in the ground there
and I dug a big, some little shells out. I left my compass there, and when I left there on that afternoon I left my good Australian compass there, so I went out and found it again, 1971. But I must say that the Vietnamese had cleared the whole hill of every other bit of brass. Now, I think when a gun ship fires it fires 5,000 rounds every ten seconds.
When a helicopter gun ship fires it’s got rotating barrels and it sound just like rooor, and all these empty shells just go out, they just spew out all over the ground. Now I could not find one shell, so somebody had been there and collected every shell off the hill, as brass they tell me. I asked the Vietnamese and they used to sell them by weight and they sell them for profit. Couldn’t find one, and there was my compass sitting there, a brass compass. Do you want to get it out Jo? I’ll show you the
brass compass. It’s here, isn’t it? Yeah, so we got that and then we rode back and Jo is fitter than me. We got back to the main highway and I was suffering heat exhaustion. I could see double vision. I was very sick, so I got back there. I had $30, I always kept $30 on me, a greenback, American. I walked over to a bus driver and I said, “How much do you make in a day?” He said, “$1.” I said, “I’ll give you $30
to take just the two of us back up the road.” So he put our bikes on in the back and the bus only had every second board in the floor. So we’re going along the road in the night and it’s late, about 6.00 o’clock, and he had a little bit of wire, and he’d go beep beep, beep beep, and I thought what’s he doing? And what had happened, semi trailers were going past and other buses going whoosh,
and what happened, I said, “What are you doing that for?” He said, “I’ve only got,” he only had a day licence, didn’t he? So he didn’t need lights. He had no lights. We were driving along in the dark along a main highway, straight into the path of incoming traffic, and they were going past him. Every time he’d see one he’d go beep beep. Naturally they couldn’t hear it. He was just going beep beep, and Jo and I are sitting there in this bus, weren’t we? And he took us back and then when we got back he didn’t have a licence for the town we were
going to so we got kicked out beforehand. We had to walk back, didn’t we? He said, “No no, I haven’t got a licence for there.” Under the communist system, the way they make money is they charge you a licence to go in this town, a licence to travel on the highway at certain times, that’s the police. So he didn’t have the licences so he just dumped us off and we walked in. We’ve been back there twice. I enjoy it. It’s a lovely place. Good for Australians. No recreational
murder. So if you’re there they don’t sort of go past and go bang bang, shoot people. If they shoot people they shoot them because they’re family or they owe them money or there’s something bad. So there’s a relationship between the shooter and the shootee. In other countries of the world a person mightn’t know you, just walk along the street and pull out a gun and go bang. In Vietnam it’s very law abiding and all young people from all over the world playing pool everywhere and sitting down and eating at cafes, Vietnamese and French cafes, right through
Hoi An. Hoi An’s had the Japanese there, the Chinese, the Portuguese, the Vietnamese and who else? The French, yes. They’ve all been in that town, so you can see different influences. So we go there and there’s a big old hotel there which was the Marine Corps Division Headquarters, but it’s got a beautiful swimming pool out the back and we go there and it costs us $30 American a night for a three bedroom suite and a meal
and breakfast, and it had everything. So that’s what Vietnam is like now. People live in poverty. I got to know a lot of people there. They’re very poor, and after the war they were eating rats and rodents and things like that. They had nothing, rice and rats and a bit of grass, sea grass, it would grow in the paddy. They’d grow that and that’s all they had. So a lot of them died in probably the
‘70s and early ‘80s. This Anzac Day I marched with the South Vietnamese. I just turned up there in my Vietnamese gear and said, “Hello, how are you?” And they made us so welcome, because I had all the badges on my uniform from the South Vietnamese Army, which they weren’t allowed to keep because if they got caught with a badge from the South Vietnamese Army they got put into prison camp. So I walked up and had my Vietnamese beret on and just turned up and since
then they’ve been in touch and they want me to go out to dinners and things like that, and I’m going to join the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, Vietnam Veterans’ Association here in Sydney because they’re very good people. Jo, when I left Vietnam in ’94, ’98 was it? ’94 when we first went? 97. The fellow who used to take us around, he was crying and gripping my arm, and Jo said,
I said, “They really appreciate you.” She said, “It’s not they appreciate you so much, you pay them double.” They were all soldiers and couldn’t get a job, South Vietnamese soldiers, and all they could do was get a job with cyclo. And so I’d line them up, when I got out of a morning I’d make them salute me and then I’d say, “Which one is the VC [Viet Cong]?” They’d say, “He’s VC.” I’d shoot the VC. “Are you VC?” “Yes,” shoot, just mucking around with them. And when I came back they’d say,
I’d say, “How much?” And they’d say, you barter, and they’d say, “$3,” and I’m supposed to say two. I’d say “Four.” “You dinky dow, mad.” So anything they said I’d up them rather than go down and give them money, because the only contribution I could make to their life was give them a bit of money, a bit of extra money because their life was so sad and poor. I enjoy it, I enjoy going there. It’s
sophisticated, like it has lovely restaurants and things like that around the place, and there are beautiful things to see. Just went of Hoi An which is my favourite town, there are ruins at a place called Mee Song, and the ruins are there from the 9th century AD, yeah, and they are almost like Hindu, aren’t they? They’re from the Cham Dynasty or the Cham society which
was a society that came over from Pakistan, India and took over Vietnam, and so we went out there and looked around. They’ve still got all the old temples there. It’s like, Cambodian, Angkor Wat, about the same age I think. There are a lot of interesting things to see in that area of Vietnam, so I find it interesting. I like going back there, I like the people and they like me. As soon as I tell them who I
fought with you get along well with them and you start swapping stories. When, what did you father do, etcetera, where were you, who do you know and what part of Vietnam? You just swap stories with them. Australia has been very good to the Vietnamese. Like you travel on their railway and find it’s a Queensland railway car. Not too bloody good, Queensland railway cars for the tropics either. Windows are all sealed, there’s no air-conditioning. And then we went, at Hoi An
there was a shrimp farm. That was Australian. Australia had been there and developed this shrimp farm for them, prawns, and then all across if you look down from where we went out in the bush and looked down, it could be western Sydney, just all gum trees for maybe sixty kilometres, Australian gum trees, maybe sixty K [kilometres] right along throughout Vietnam, everywhere. We went back in,
because I think after Agent Orange took out a lot of the foliage gum trees grow. So we went there and gave them all the seedlings, our Forestry Department. So Vietnam is now forested with Aussie gum trees from fifty or sixty K. I think they went in about from ’75 to ’82, that’s seven years. They just took a shipload of seedlings over there and put them all in. There’s plenty of people
who’ve done a lot with the Vietnamese. There’s a bloke here named Greg Lockhart, he wrote this book, Nation In Arms, which is about Vietnam, and Greg, he was on the Training Team and he married a Vietnamese girl, Monique, and he actually went and studied at Hanoi University. He was in my class at Duntroon. He studied at Hanoi University. He met General Giap and then he went to the Sorbonne in France and looked at the archives and the libraries there and was able to get all that information about the colonial
times and get all the North Vietnamese information out of their libraries put together in a book. I’ll give you an anecdote, about four minutes it will take, but it’s the best story of the war, by far the best story of the war, and if you want to follow it up I’ll give you the name and address of the fellow. This is the very best story of the war, Vietnam
War, and cannot be beaten anywhere. It’s about an Australian and his name is Barry Peterson. He was a member of the Australian Army Training Team. He went to Vietnam as a young man in 1964 and he had some knowledge of the language of the Austral Malays who were the indigenous tribes of Borneo and Malaya and also of Vietnam. So he knew a little bit of their language and he knew a little bit of their culture.
So what he did, when he came to Vietnam they sent him up in the hills to rally the Montagnards who are the aboriginal tribes of Vietnam, and he rallied them so well that he made an army for himself. This is a young Australian, he’d only be at that stage about twenty-five. And the Montagnards made him a chieftain of the tribe. He wore all the regalia of a chief and he then,
the CIA came in and they saw how powerful he was. When the Montagnards revolted they said, “We won’t negotiate with anybody except Barry Peterson.” They thought this man is too powerful, he could cause a problem in the country, so they kicked him out. He was interviewed by the Vice President of Vietnam on his way out and the Americans told the Australian Government that, “Peterson is not allowed back in Vietnam. If he comes back we won’t let him passed this point down in the south because he’s too powerful
and has too much influence.” Now Peterson did that and he just went up there and he had his own army. They were all dressed, he’s got a book about it, Tiger Man, it’s a pretty thin little book about tiger men. They all had tiger suits on. But when he writes his story that will be the story of Vietnam. When somebody writes it for him I think. The book is no good, but the story of Vietnam is so good. He was dealing with French secret service and all sorts of people there because he was
up there on his own in the highlands and walking around as a chieftain and they sent in people to talk him. What was it, Path At Lau or Marxist battalions were coming to try and join him to fight against the South Vietnamese. He had all these peculiar things happen to him that nobody, there is in Apocalypse Now, but that’s not about Peterson. A lot of people say that to you, Apocalypse Now is about an Australian. It’s not.
It sounds similar. It’s not about him. Apocalypse Now is about a fellow, it’s about, it parallels a book called Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. But Peterson’s story is true. He’s been here, he’s an Australian Army officer. He was decorated when he came back. He stayed in the army until about 1979 and then he left. He lives in, I saw him
in Bangkok and talked to him because I’m going to write, and I just wanted to check a few things out with him. He lives in Bangkok and if you want his address you’ve got my phone number, and his phone number and e-mail. I’ve got all that here. But that’s obviously the best story, a man being able to do that. It’s got all the ingredients of a best novel, CIA, Aboriginals, heroin, because they accused the
CIA of using blokes like Peterson and people who are advisers to go and get the South Vietnamese to grow heroin to finance the CIA’s war. So there’s that, the CIA, Aboriginals, the lone individual like the Lawrence of Arabia type living on his own up in the mountains and a chieftain of the tribe wearing all the regalia, the long skirt, beaded skirts he wore, quite peculiar gear. Then sitting out there amongst the chiefs having a chiefs’ council and drinking big rice wine out of big
straws and doing all these things. Absolutely, you know, all the ingredients of an excellent novel. I’ve told Bryce Courteney about it but he hasn’t shown as much interest as I wanted, so I’ve dropped him. There’s a bloke named Patrick Lindsay too, also interested in it. But if you want that I can put you in touch with Peterson. That’s the best story of the war. And he tells me the Training Team, when they were first trained, because he was on the first Training Team,
where he did his course was here in Mosman. They did them in the dungeons and all the fortifications over here on Middle Head. Over Middle Head there’s all these big tunnels through the sandstone and they had them in there and did the course there. They made it hard, but that’s where they did it, at Middle Head. They had them, they treated them like prisoners because the Training Teams were the ones most likely to be taken as prisoners. They locked them up as prisoners of war and
they were interrogated, kept up all night and locked in these dungeons. That’s what they did. It’s called a Code of Conduct Course. It teaches the code of conduct, how you should behave if you’re made a prisoner and because you’re out on your own all the time, and Colonel Moore who was my American Senior Adviser, he thought I was going to be captured. He said that to me and I thought you don’t know me. I’m the sort of, Marist Brothers, Parramatta, mile champion, and I’d be off.
Off like the bloody start at Randwick, I’d be away. He said, “I was very worried about you.” I’m in touch with him. I’m in touch with a few Americans. I’m in touch with a few Americans. I put a few, one thing on the net and I’ve had things flood in, not flood in, from Americans. Jimmy wasn’t it, the other day? He supported me in the battle at Bloody Knoll and I’ll get in touch with him, Jimmy Harden. He came in and he supported me.
His call sign was Sabre One One. I refer to all these people at Shark Zero Three or Sabre One One or Hitch Victor, Helix Zero One. That’s how I know them. I don’t know them really, they’re just a connection at the other end of the radio. That’s all I know them as, their name. Mine was pretty unromantic. Mine was Hitch Victor. I would rather be something like Sabre One One, wouldn’t you? You know, when you played cowboys and Indians you didn’t say, “What do you want to be?”
“I want to be the bloke that looks after the horses.” You wanted to be, “I want to be the chief, Running Cloud.” These blokes had Running Cloud or Shark Zero Three and I was Hitch Victor. Pretty bloody plain, and they had all these names they came in. Dolphins, sharks and dolphins I think they were. I think I saw the map. It had sharks and dolphins on it. That was their call sign. The dolphins were
the ones that just carried you along, were friendly, and the sharks were the unfriendly ones. They were the ones with all the guns on them. So that was it, American. And after the Training Team I came back here and go into a normal career pattern in the Australian Army and I stayed there up until I said, the late ‘80s. And then I went to the Police. I worked for the Police Board doing research and I went from there and I got involved with their executive development
program to develop police officers. And then I went to the Railways to do the same sort of thing, and then I went to Sydney University. I had a contract with the Railways and Sydney University was lecturing for the Railways and I went across and I kept on saying, “You blokes are a bit late. I’m supposed to be paying you and you’re not there. Get in there.” They said, “Would you like a job?” They heard me give a couple of lectures, and I said, “Yeah, I’ll have the job.” They said, “Could you do it?” I said, “Yeah, I can do anything except brain surgery.” They said, “Why is that?”
I said, “Didn’t bring the book today.” They said, “Right, would you like to do this job?” So I got a lecturer’s job there and it expanded because I was working from sort of, from getting up at 6.00 in the morning and we were going to sleep at 3.00 am after I finished my preparation, and then Jo was up there with me typing and doing the overhead projection slides. She’d sit there and do them all so she was up too, and then we’d go to bed, get up early and I’d go off to
lectures and I’d lecture until about quarter past 10.00 at night and then bang, had a stroke. Moral of the story, don’t work, retire as soon as you can. They can do all the things you want to do. There’s no life in the bank. Sometimes you say, “I’ll do that when.” There is no when. “I’ll do that when I retire. I’ll do that after I’ve got the house paid for. I’ll do that after so and so.” Don’t run around and do everything stupidly now, but just pull it all back and say, “Right, I’m this age. I want to go and live in Spain,”
because I think if I was fit that’s what Jo and I would do. I’d rent out a room in Spain and just live there and drink red wine and eat bread and we’d live there and look out at the sunshine. That would be now, but I should have said that before. I wouldn’t have done it, but I was enjoying lecturing and the students were good, UTS [University of Technology Sydney], they’re nice people and they enjoyed being lectured to and they enjoyed sort of the practical experience of me being able
to pull things from Malaysia, or culture, talking about culture from Malaysia or from Vietnam or Asian society, and then India. When they say, “Do you know something about India?” I say, “I married in India.” “Oh.” It becomes, you’re suddenly accepted by them. “Do you know anything about Malaysia?” “Yeah, I lived there for a year.” “Vietnam?” “Yeah, I lived there for two years.” So you’ve got all this connection with the Westies plus the Asian people and all
the Indians and Pakistanis in the class, so I enjoyed it. I enjoyed UTS, but I won’t be doing that again. I hope in a few years I’ll be able to walk.
The fact that there’s a bit of death, war is a bit involved, a bit of death in war, they don’t think of that. They just go to war. People have waged war for hundreds and thousands of years but they don’t think of the death part of it. They think of the other part. They probably think they have to kill, which is the hard part, but they don’t think that they’ll be killed in war because a lot of people come back from war. They’ve seen their father come back, everybody comes back, uncles that they know.
I think after the First World War it would be a bit different, but I didn’t think that I’d be killed. I didn’t think much about the horror of war either. When I think about it now it’s horrific. It’s only been in the last six months or so when I started to think what could I write about that was interesting. Nothing I could write about is interesting, it’s just horror. I’ve got a cousin who is a publisher and I said to her, “Look, I couldn’t write a book because it’s just horror and horror and horror and horror,” and
she said, “Yeah, but it’s the way you write about it.” I said, “I haven’t got a story that doesn’t involve horror or things which are unpalatable to civilised society.” I thought to have all those ingredients, there was an intellectual part of war, there’s an emotional part, which the intellectual and emotional is the leadership part about influencing people and being a leader. And then there’s a physical part. That suited me also at the
time when I applied for a scholarship. That would be my, the decision for me to join was the point I joined, I just decided for the scholarship. Not when I joined the army which was ’65. I think it was ’62. The Australians had just gone to Vietnam. I went out to see the first unit off with my Dad. We went out to Mascot Airport as it was then, and we went out. We drove out in our little car and all these people were in civilian clothes
because they weren’t allowed to fly there in military clothes, and they all had white shirt and grey trousers, so they were in a uniform. Or if they were in uniform they had to go into a toilet on the way over and change into the white shirt and grey trousers on the way over because they weren’t allowed to land in uniform. I saw them all off in ’62 and then all the other things started to happen to me. I met my wife, I started to do well at school, and on the way home, it was funny, I said, “Vietnam,
where’s Vietnam?” I remember saying to Mum and Dad. My mother who probably did things like read current affairs bulletins and keep up current affairs said, “Vietnam, that’s part of France. It’s in Indo-China.” She was calling them Vietmanese, which is quite funny. She’d worked it out Siamese, Vietmanese, and she said, “Yeah, the Vietmanese,
they’re up there, they’re part of France.” So that’s what we knew. That’s what the population knew about Indo-China and Vietnam at the time. The Vietmanese, and they’ve go civil disruption like in Bougainville. Who are the sides in Bougainville now? What’s the queries there? We don’t know very much about that. We know probably as much about Bougainville as we knew about Vietnam in 1954 when the French were being ousted by the Vietmanese, yes. So I came
home and Vietnam for the next ten years probably was part of my life, ’62 to ’72. There was something going on. And my mother, when I was going back again I had two children under two and I went to stay at my parents’ place and my mother who wasn’t allowed to smoke in the house said, “Come out and we’ll go for a walk.” I went out with her and she said, “Why do you have to go back to war?” She said, “I’ve spoken to people and they’ve said you don’t’ have to go.” I
said, “I’m a professional soldier, Mum. You pay for me to go over there and do that job, and you’ve paid me in the peace so that I’ll go, so I think I have to go, but I’m also going for the experience I’ll gain as a professional soldier.” She said, “I’m getting a bit sick of it, you know,” she said, “This is the fourth decade where I’ve been waiting for that knock at the door.” She said, “In the ‘40s I was waiting for it, in the ‘50s I was waiting for your father. In the ‘60s you were overseas and now in the ‘70s you’re going again.” She said, “It’s always that knock
on the door.” My father lived inside Victoria Barracks here and when somebody was killed they’d come down and knock on his door, in Vietnam, knock knock knock, and my mother and father used to lie there every night, because I was a bit of a tearaway, would you say Jo? Jo’s known me since I was young. Tearaway, would that be a positive description? And they always thought I would be killed, and so they were waiting for that knock on the door, knock knock knock, and they’d open up and say, “Excuse me, Mr and Mrs McDermott, we’re
sorry to advise you your son has been killed,” and that’s what they thought. So she used to lay there every night she reckoned and wait for that knock. She’d hear people on the gravel outside, boots, boots of the duty officer, army boots. She’d think here they come, and they’d lay there every night, and she said, “It upset your father too. He gets cranky next day and he treats them very badly.” He used to throw the door open and say, “What do you want?” And the poor little lieutenant would be there, “Nothing sir, I just brought,
I want to know so an so,” and he’d shut the door. “I don’t want, this is 3.00 o’clock in the morning, what are you coming to my place for?” The poor bloody lieutenant would race off, but really it was the lieutenant’s job. They’d come over the signals, teletype or the old e-mail, and he’d find out where the person lived and have to go out and tell them and knock on their door. So my parents weren’t that pleased. But I don’t think, there was nobody who influenced me. Knowing enough about the army I decided myself,
and Duntroon was the place to go. It was sort of the institution which produced officers, so I said, “That’s where I’ll go.” Very difficult to get into in those days, still is. But I thought I’ll go and get in there. I don’t think I would’ve got in on my school results initially, but I settled down in 1962 and other people influenced me to settle down and I then got a scholarship which then set my life pattern from then on.
competency too, to be able to push because that just raises the bar. Your physical competency is better, your cardiovascular system is better, but when you get to that boundary you can see people just start to go down. They don’t start to fall apart physically, emotionally they can’t push themselves on. It’s that ability to keep your self going emotionally, and that’s what they taught at Duntroon because the officer has to get to a stage when everything else is crummy
he’s still as much in control of the situation as he can be. Just before in September of ’69, just after I got to Vietnam I was going to a place called Dat Do, and Dat Do was a boogie man place for the company I was in because it was known as a lot of people had been killed there, and we were sent inside the town at night to be raiders and go between the houses and up and down the lanes and lay ambushes
for the enemy. And the soldiers didn’t like that and the reason why, just before I got there a platoon had been there and disappeared like that. Five killed and twenty-three wounded, one second of time, bang. Bit of people everywhere, and all they were was prodding around in the dark finding people, see. When that occurs a leader has to be calm and emotionally stable to be able to take control of the situation and make sure everybody has to do their job. Now the person at that time was a bloke
called Murray Blake, Major Murray Blake. He was the commander at the time and stay stable. Do all the practical things that had to be done plus all the leadership things. So people looked to him and said, “Oh look, everything’s going well. That’s the boss.” I think that’s what is taught. It comes from inside you. Duntroon teaches it to you. It exposes you to a lot of situations and so does the training on courses, like situations. You can never replicate that sort of thing.
It exposes you to little situations so you say, “Oh well, I know what I am. I know how I’m going to react.” That’s the way I think it is with pushing yourself. On the physical side I think when you get to a stage, I can remember times when I’d think jeez. There was an 8,000 foot mountain in Vietnam and I was climbing up it with my pack on and I thought, jeez. I just saw
the top and every time we got over the top there was another knoll, false knolls, and I thought then I wasn’t going to collapse emotionally, but physically. I was a big bronzed Australian, a little Vietnamese going past, straight past me. But I think some people break. I’ve seen soldiers just collapse or they can’t, they get frozen, can’t shoot. Australians unable to shoot their rifle because they’re emotionally, it’s like hitting your camera with
something or a computer. Their emotional system has broken down and they can’t shoot. There’s somebody there, there’s an enemy there and they can’t shoot at the enemy, and I can remember the soldier and when it occurred and who it was, and I said, “Shoot,” and he wouldn’t shoot. Had his rifle, he’d been taught to shoot and the enemy was there on the ground and he just stopped firing. He just froze. Nothing I could do I’m sure would’ve got him to fire his rifle. Emotionally he’d got to the stage
where he didn’t want to fire. Or he thought about it beforehand and decided, “I can’t shoot another person,” which is reasonable. It’s very social actually. I’m glad those people are around in society. I don’t like people who like to shoot other people because what we’ve done to soldiers is take them from our lovely society in Australia where we’ve got this wonderful culture of fairness to each other and we treat each other fairly well, and we went them to go over there and kill people and we want them to come back to Australia and say, “Right,” get back and play footy and be nice to each other again. Have a few
beers at the pub and be nice and barrack for your footy team. So we want them to change that quickly from one place to another and I think it is very hard. I had only one circumstance where that occurred to me, November of ’69. I had a North Vietnamese prisoner given to me. His name was Captain Ky, K Y. Daiuy, captain D-A-I-U-Y is captain
and Ky, K-Y, was his name. He came from the Dong Nai regiment, D-O-N-G N-A-I, which is north of Saigon and he’d an affair with the regimental commander’s girlfriend so they sent him down, they kicked him out of the regiment, and he came down and I was given him, and he showed me back to this place where I was supposed to find these Vietnamese. When we got back there I went out on a track and along the track was coming a man and a woman. So they came along and they bumped us and we fired. We didn’t kill them.
They went around and they hit 11 Platoon where they were killed, boom, shot, ripped apart, and then I had to go back and get the company out by helicopter, and here they were. The bloke was laying their dead and the woman was laying there and she had no clothes on. Her trousers were blown up here and this leg was blown out and she was naked. I said, “Right, get her buried, get him buried,” and they started to bury
her, and then from there I was lifted out by helicopter and I came back to Australia and within twelve hours I went out to Corwood International Hotel in Coogee Bay Road, Sydney and there was my pregnant wife laying on the bed, and she was not the pregnant girl I saw at the swimming, she didn’t have the stomach I saw at the swimming baths in 1962. She, you know, was
eight months pregnant and we were doing all these couple like things. “Feel this, look, feel this,” you know, all those sorts of things, and she was laying there and I thought that’s life, and this was the other woman just ripped apart by death. Her whole flesh was just ripped apart, so I had to think of this. That was my wife who was about to bring life, and here was the baby, this enormous thing inside her, and her. I can remember her stomach being
white with all blue little bits in it. She wouldn’t like to hear this, would she? We saw her last week, and she had all this bug tummy and she was lying on the bed and the last woman I’d seen only a few hours before was lying ripped apart by bullets and blown to pieces. The same, two women, but twelve hours apart; one lying, thinking about having a child and bringing a life into the world; the other had just
been taken out in a very vicious way. It wasn’t vicious, it was just war. That’s the way it goes. So was the bloke she was with too, and Ky knew them, the prisoner knew them. I said, “Do you know these two?” He said, “Yeah, she’s a nurse,” and I don’t know what he did, the bloke did. Ky started crying. I gave an interview about this to Stuart Rentaur. He wrote Ashes of Vietnam, this book here back in about, I think it was
the early ‘80s. I gave him an interview about it. But really, Ky just came to look at these two people and here he was standing there crying, this Vietnamese tough war hardened captain. He just had tears flowing down his face. Of course he wasn’t a bad man. They weren’t bad. We killed them because of policies. Our two governments had sent these young people to kill each other. So that was, not a dilemma there, but you had a
juxtaposition between a woman here and a woman there. Two women, and I thought, the movement from one place to another was so quick. See, you’re there in Vietnam, six hours later you’re in Sydney. You touchdown and you see these people at Mascot walking around, having cigarettes, sitting down, having cappuccinos, and you leave a place where nobody is having cappuccinos and people are running around looking for each other to kill each other. Then you’re back in civilised society, and the
movement is quick. Before they used to have a big ship ride home, two months or three months. So on that they readjust their thinking. They sleep. By the time they get home they say, “OK, this is home and that’s there.” So yeah, that was another thing that occurred to me. That happened to me in November of ’69.
Vietnam from ’62 to ’72, the Vietnam filled my life. See, from ’62 I saw the first unit leave and at Duntroon they’d bring you little excerpts from the news. I remember one the brought in was Khe Sanh, the siege at Khe Sanh and it was narrated and one of the officers talked about it because he’d been with the US Marines and it was at Khe Sanh was a big siege. They used B52 bombs and the North Vietnamese had captured this, or surrounded this base and then
the Americans, the President authorised them to use massive amounts of fire power to make sure the Americans were not killed like the French were overrun at Dien Bien Phu. So that was one I can remember. They’d bring things in about the Vietnam War and they’d give you examples and then the Vietnam War was there and if we did an exercise it was based on what you were going to do in Vietnam and I thought that was very good. I would do more of it. I would’ve brought young lieutenants back from Vietnam to talk to the cadets
because I met one just after I graduated, he lives around here now somewhere, and I got more out of him in about two hours than I got in the last couple of years. I asked him all about Vietnam, because I wasn’t going anywhere. I wasn’t going to a unit in Australia to train. I was going to Vietnam. There was no chance that I was not going to Vietnam. And training is different to playing the game, and I talked to him about what’s this and what’s that. They tried to
have mock ups at Duntroon, a bunker system, enemy bunker system but it’s not the same as the real stuff. So I talked to this lieutenant, and forever I would bring them back from the real war and talk because they’ve got credibility because they were only there with the cadets a year before and everyone played football with them, and here he is. He’s back and he’s saying things and you say, “What happened when?” And he’ll tell you first hand. I think that’s what I would do now.
The Vietnam did fill everything because we’d hear, yeah, who was the first one? “So and so.” “He’s dead. So and so is dead.” “What is that funeral going on down the chapel?” “That’s so and so that got killed,” and it changed the end of our life. Now at this end of my life normally it’s hearing a few of your mates dropping off the perch dying,
but we were doing that in our twenties. So that part of our life going to funerals was down here. Charlie’s funeral was the first one you went to. He was the bloke who sat next to me in school and got killed in SAS [Special Air Service]. Was he the first one you went to? And then we went to funerals and you met everybody at funerals. “How are you going mate?” Like baptisms or weddings, how you meet the family and you don’t see them for months or years. Well, it was funerals. Between about ’68 and ’73 I
went to a lot of funerals where friends or people from Duntroon were killed and they asked me to carry the coffin or I went to the funeral out of respect. So it was a different part of life was brought in in your twenties. It’s not usual for young to be at funerals. It’s normally old people with things like cancer and strokes, and those sort of things knock people off. Well this was young people being killed and being brought back to Australia. Or then mutilation too. There were blokes being, no legs.
They lost three without legs. We lost, people getting their chins blown off and being brought into hospital. We had a doctor at Duntroon that had his legs blown off in Korea but he stayed and fought with no legs and he got a Military Cross for it, and he came back and did medicine and came back to Duntroon, walked around with no legs, went out in the field. I can remember seeing him in the field in the shower all naked and he was jumping around on this tin leg into the
shower. He had one leg, jumped over in the shower out in the bush. We were out on a field exercise. A fellow from my class went over, he was a very physical fellow, tough, went over to Vietnam, standing there with another bloke, boom, no legs. Two of them, Pat Cameron, and this bloke’s name was Billy Rolfe, and he came back to Australia and I just came back from Vietnam I think and I went to stay at his place. I went in to have a shave and he
came in. He was only this tall. He got up on a little box to shave. I thought, you know, it gave me a shock. “Where have you gone?” He was on his knees, he walked in. And he went off and they took his legs off and they gave him a set of tin legs and he got up out of bed and walked on them straight away, said, “OK, good, I’m ready to go home.” Off he went. He didn’t go off, they kept him their longer, but he then, he went back to university. He wouldn’t say he was an academically inclined cadet
either. He was a rugby inclined cadet and he liked a beer. He went to university and did law. He did very well at law and while he was there he coached the ANU [Australian National University] rugby union team to a grand final and he then went off. He had two children or his wife did, or they did, had two children and then he went off to the, he stayed in the army with no legs. He went off to the Judge Advocate General School in the United States. He got a Churchill Scholarship to study law
in England. He stayed in and wandered around in his uniform with, you could hardly tell, could you? You’d just hear him click occasionally when he was walking around. He’s done things like parachuting with no legs and scuba diving and he became a brigadier general with no legs, and the fellow who went and became a doctor, he became a major general as a surgeon general of the army. He lost both legs. His name was ‘Digger’ Jones. These
people, we know, do you know Douglas Bader? Ever heard of him? Never heard of Billy Rolfe and he’s an Australian. We don’t seem to write, so what you’re doing is a wonderful thing. What I’ll do is transfer knowledge about people who were Australian to Australians, Australians At War, the Australians At War series. Now that Rolfie, he just did that. He’s back here. He’s a real hero. He’s in the community living. He’s got two kids. While I was in Townsville
I would sleep in on Saturday, Rolfie would come up the front stairs, clump clump clump clump, wake me up with his tin legs, say, “Get out of bed McDermott, you lazy B... How about a cup of coffee?” I said, “What have you been doing this morning, Rolfie?” He said, “I’ve mowed a couple of lawns for the Legacy ladies,” the widows from the Second World War. He’d be off mowing their lawns, right, and here I was laying in bed sleeping.
Puckapunyal in Victoria, and there were conscripted officers there and they’d been brought into the army and we were living in the mess together and they were conscripts and they’d done a training course. We sat down and I started to talk to them about their life. So they were saying what it meant to them. “I was working on a farm, I had to do this for Dad and now I’m here for two years.” So conscription meant to them a tremendous, somebody has decided
without them being allowed to even consider, they weren’t even asked, “We’re taking two years of your time. What were you going to do?” “I was going to become a journalist.” “Bad luck. You’re not going to become a journalist any more.” “Look, I wanted to travel to Tibet because I want to find my spiritual heart.” “No you’re not. You’re not doing that because you’re in Australia at this time. We’re taking your time. You’re going off to kill people or get killed,” and that’s what I found from them, that it was quite an imposition on them,
but when I saw them alongside I could see they were just as bright, just as good, and when I got to Vietnam I saw some were better, better than us. Better, just as brave, just as good leaders. There’s one bloke, I had two in my, in a company there are only three lieutenants. The other two were National Servicemen. One of them named Baby John Russell, he was a little fellow.
He only weighed seventy kilos. How much, about seventy kilos, right. So that would be John, only a very little person. Baby John they used to call him, or we called him. Little, very small, came from Western Australia, and he was a National Serviceman. Everybody thought bloody National Serviceman, he’s OK, getting by, but he’s a National Serviceman. Well what he did, there was a battle called the Battle of Binh Ba, John Russell identified
the enemy’s battalion headquarters. If you look at it in relation to Saddam Hussein, what’s going on there, he identified which was the battalion headquarters. He saw all these wires coming out of it, out of a building. He crept up under machine gun fire, got inside the room where they fired at him and he got knocked to the ground. Then they blew him up with a grenade, and he crept, he got outside and he cut all the wires that were going, which were all to the platoons to tell them what to do, and he cut that, so he
isolated the battalion headquarters. Then he got outside and he got his platoon. He didn’t sort of say, “Right, that’s enough for me.” He got his platoon and he continued to fight through, but as he was fighting through he fell over a few times and he didn’t know what was happening, so he looked at his leg and he’d been wounded through the knee and through the chest. He didn’t feel it. They dusted him off and evacuated him to a hospital and then they said, “Right, you’re going home to Australia.” He said, “No, I’m not. I’m going to stay and fight with my platoon in the jungle for the rest of the year,” and he stayed in Vietnam.
A National Serviceman, right, he did that. He got wounded twice, didn’t feel it. He performed under battle conditions and he didn’t get decorated. I’ve just written to the Prime Minister. I’m going to say, “Look, this bloke should be decorated.” I don’t care how they do it. They’ll probably say, “Look, it’s too late.” But I’ll say, “Little John Howard, how about Baby John Russell.” This fellow should be decorated. He was a National Serviceman, two years out of his life. Somebody just said, “Go and off and do this,” and
he performed to a superior level. I think he was studying sociology at Western Australia University, used to write a bit of poetry at times. Sit in his tent and write little poems and laugh and drink and laugh at me, whatever I was doing, “What are you doing now mate?” He was in the next tent. We had these tents. I took Jo back to show her where my tent was. If I was doing something
funny he’d laugh about it. If I was getting into trouble for something I might say, “No, I’m not going to do that,” to one of the captains and they’d be berserk and shouting at me and he’d say, “I love that, I love watching you do that.” But see, I just thought I could. I was a regular soldier and they’d say, “Hey right, you do this,” and I’d say, “No, I’m not doing that.” He felt, he told me later on he felt he could never say no to them because they were captains. Because I was a lieutenant in the regular army I’d say, “No, no, we’re not doing that. We’ll do it
when we want to, when I decide to.” They said, “You do it now.” Captain, you know, two years older than me. I saw a different perspective from a National Serviceman. He’d look up at senior officers. They were very important to him. Having been part of the army as I grew up and these people were only a couple of years older than me and I’d be there eventually I’d just say no. John Russell thought that was very funny, he told me, he’d laugh. He’d egg me on, “Go on, you tell them Mick. Go on, tell them,
tell them to stuff off,” or something like this. He was a good soldier, excellent soldier. That was one, but the other bloke, they’re all like that. I’m sure there are many other stories about. That’s the officers, but then the soldiers were the same. After about three months you couldn’t differentiate between a National Serviceman and a regular soldier. They came through the same training system, they had the same cultural values which are part of Australia. They came from the same culture,
what I understand by culture, and I wrote down what I understand by culture. I believe it’s the acquired knowledge that people use to interpret experience and generate their social behaviour. This knowledge forms values, creates attitudes and influences behaviour so they have the same values, which values, things which are right and wrong, what is good and bad, what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour and what has priority and what has a low priority. So, good and bad and
what is appropriate behaviour, and I think the National Servicemen probably had a lot of the influence of the Australian Second World War on them, because they have to act appropriately. As a regular soldier I’ve chosen to be here, I’ll act the way I want to. A National Serviceman has some pressure upon him because he has to act like grandpa or granddad or Dad, I’ve got to go through this. Whereas I would say, “No, sorry, I’ve had enough.” I remember
them talking about Simon Townsend. One of my mates from Duntroon in my class, it’s his executive producer. But I remember the soldiers talking about him and saying, “Well, he’s showing guts. At least he’s not just sitting at home sort of smoking weed. He’s still in gaol.” And the soldiers said, “Well, he stood up for what he believed in.” They didn’t mind that, as long as he stood up. If he just said, “I’m not going to do it,” they wouldn’t have liked him. But he stood up and he took his punishment which was to go to gaol. I think he went to a military gaol. I don’t think he went to
a civil prison, he went to a military gaol out at Holsworthy. But the soldiers thought he was good.
presented. Stalinist communism, Mao’s form of communism which was very dictatorial and removed individual rights. They were the ones which exposed themselves since 1914 in Russia and China, which were a dictatorial for of communism which wiped out the rights of the individual, which communism doesn’t have to do, but did in those two cases. So it came to us as a nasty thing. If it came to Australia,
in the mid say between about 1910 and 1920 people thought Australia was a very socialist state. There are reports that the British were sending out secret agents to Australia to check on Australia because they thought it was very socialist and was heading towards Russia. That’s Australia. And then in response to that what grew up in Australia were all these very right wing armies, secret armies around Sydney.
The New Guard, have you heard of the New Guard? They had squadrons and horses and ranks. They gave themselves ranks. They were major, “Hello major, hello captain, hello colonel.” They used to ride around, have secret meetings at night on their horses with guns. They were riding around in the suburbs and they were a secret army to stop Australia going over to the communists. Of course Jack Lang, the Premier of New South Wales, refused to honour debts and that’s why when he was about to open the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Captain de Groot
of the New Guard went across and cut it with his sword. De Groot was an Irishman actually. He died in Ireland too, but he was a member of the New Guard and very right wing. They thought Australia was going the way of communism and socialism so they were checking on it. There’s also a story about DH Lawrence, you know, Sons and Lovers, that he came out here as a British agent to check on what was going on in Australia, the level of political, the depth of
socialism in Australia’s political system. He wrote a book called Kangaroo. He wrote it down at Thirroul just north of Wollongong and Kangaroo was they think one of the General’s of the Australian Army, Brudenell White, who had a humpback so he looked like a kangaroo, and he was the figurehead and sponsor of one of these right wing organisations. So Australia has had its little bit of tinges of these things and any brand of communism would’ve been our own,
or socialism, and we are very much a socialist country anyway. We have an individual form of culture. We see ourselves as individuals, but individuals as part of a greater whole. That’s why we have things in Australia like social services and free travel, and we help people with jobs, and if you’re a cripple you get some money, and all these nets. We’re socialist in that way.
If something happens you get compensation. They’re trying to stop people just falling into the abyss. There’s a lot of socialism in Australia, a socialist democracy. I’ll say it is a democracy that has all this socialism where if people are out of work the state gives them money to get them through while they’re down there, and all those things occur in Australian society. So if we were to become more socialist it would be our brand of it and would probably be at a cost to a central government
which would be paying for other people who are in distress perhaps. They’re only economic views. But the ones that we saw were the ones that were aggressive and part of their charter was to knock off a country and knock over democracies, as Stalin had shown with millions of people killed, and Mao had shown his form of socialism in
China and the fact that he didn’t want to have any, he wanted no rivals. And then we could see it coming. When Korea, helped the North Koreans to take over the South by force and then we saw the Chinese socialism come down into Vietnam and then communist terrorists supported by China in Malaya with Chin Pang. He had an MBE from the Queen and he was the leader of the communist terrorists, and he was decorated by the Queen.
So you had all these people and these states and it was perhaps, not a justification, but it was used as a trick to fool people like me who were young, “Here are the dominos. One will fall and they’ll all fall.” It looked like that was the way it was going too. I think we had troops in Thailand at one stage trying to stop the Thai Government from falling. We had troops in Malaya and Borneo at various stages to prop up regimes which were under threat from communism. That’s what I thought,
that’s what we were, if you read the papers of the time, that’s what we thought of communism and that’s where our views came from. They came from that nasty threat, look, there’s proof. Look at Stalin, look what he did. So it’s very hard to argue with. Look there it is, this is what they did. They’re communists and that is what they did, therefore that is what communists are like. Not necessarily so, but that’s what we were told, without any further level of knowledge or education, was accepted by me that
communism is the reverse of capitalism. We just had somebody trying to say recently, he’s being held up to ridicule, that there are communism and democracy, free enterprise and communism, and communism collapsed. So that was the economic side of things collapsed. Socialism
and individualism, and socialism has collapsed. So all the forms of political structures, democracy and socialism, socialism has collapsed and democracy has won through. So the only thing left they believe is on the religious side now, Islam versus Christianity. It’s a theory by a bloke named Huntington and he believes that will be the next big struggle in the world. It had all the other struggles and somebody has come out ahead, but now there’s
Islam versus Christianity and that’s what we’re going to face in the future. Now his saying that is being questioned very greatly. I reckon in the next few weeks you’ll see it in the papers because somebody said it, some person has said it in the paper. Therefore it will pull everybody out and now go and do research. But everything, economic, political, social, all those things have had their wars which one
survived, but we haven’t had one on religion between the two major religions of the world. But it’s happening. There’s a renaissance. What’s happening, they’ve made a change going on inside the religions and then they’ll face each other off as they have in the past. But I think the Islamic people, their big, what they want, they want to get rid of the Jews mainly from Israel, Islamic people. They don’t care too much
about Christianity. They just see us as a good opposition and America presents them with a nice thing to throw rocks at. It interferes in covert and overt ways, so they can always say, “Look what America did,” point the finger, but they don’t care much about Christianity. They do hate the Jews. I’m not sure why that is. There hasn’t been any great conflict. The Jews haven’t tried to interfere in those countries, but they hate the Jews because the Jews are affecting the
lifestyle of the Palestinian people. I’ve had them in my class at UTS. I said, “Righto, you explain to me,” and they were Islamic fundamentalists and even terrorists, in my class. You see them on TV, I saw them last night. And I said, “What are the issues?” He said, “Well, the Jews should be kicked out of Israel and the Palestinians should take over that country.
The Americans should get out of Saudi Arabia and not be on Mecca because they’re a stain on Allah because they’re on the land of Islam, so Americans have got to leave that because they’re actually, we have infidels there.” What else? He had about four things which have to be fixed. They have a definite agenda what they want to happen. One of them which is scary with Jemaah Islamiah is that
Bashir who is about to be sent to gaol, he said, “Leave it a hundred years and Australia will become part of a greater Islamic state incorporating Indonesia.” He says, “Australia has the resources. Indonesia has the resource called population.” They’ve got 200 million people. He says, “We see a big Islamic state including Australia,” because Australia has got oil, diamonds, land and natural gas and those sorts of things that you need or a state.
So we’ve got all that and up above us is this human resource called people, 200 million of them. He sees this as a gradual taking over Australia. So we’re looking at communism, that’s what Bashir said and he’s up before the court now and he’s willing to go to war as he’s shown in the Marriott [Hotel bomb blast October 2002], Bali. He’s shown they’ll do all sorts of things. He’s just blown up a mosque. We don’t know if he was involved in that, but Jemaah Islamiah is here
in Australia. They’re training, we know that. We know they’ve got people here and they’ve got a spiritual leader, or a leader, who said that Australia is part of his empire in the future. He’s stated these things. It’s not as if we’re surmising or making it up like we did with communism. They’re nasty people because they’re all red.
I was just going to ask, you said you’d been tricked into believing that sort of communist peril. When did you come to realise that maybe that wasn’t the case?
I think in my twenties, early twenties, studying history, having Robert O’Neill as a lecturer, Dr Robert O’Neill at RMC. He was even handed in his approach to things, and he said, “These are people and they’re fighting the French to throw out colonialism, and then the British came into Vietnam and they couldn’t get control of Vietnam because the Vietnamese were waring, so the British brought back the Japanese
and armed them and gave the Japanese Vietnam.” It’s not well known but the Brits couldn’t keep control of all the Vietnamese going around shooting everybody, so they got the Japanese and they said, “Righto, you can have it back.” So the Japanese went around and smashed people, very brutal, and some of the Vietnamese said, “Yeah, we understand this.” Very similar to Asian culture with the Vietnamese and the Republic of Korean soldiers, Korean soldiers were very brutal in
a physical way. They’d have a shooting war but they’d have a cane and they’d go into a village and say, “Righto, everybody over fifteen get out here,” and if they wouldn’t they’d go through the houses then. If they met a bloke who was over fifteen they’d whack him with this bit of cane to make him get out, bang bang bang, and they knew, “Here come the Korean soldiers, we’re getting out. Whatever they say goes.” Whereas I’ve been out to Cabramatta out here in Sydney and I’ve spoken to the Vietnamese people out there when I was with the police. They said, “Here police
no good. Our boys get in trouble the police take them away and they come back that night. We tell the police the boys are very bad, drugs and all that, and then the police come and take them away to gaol and they pay bail and they come home that night and belt me up for telling the police on them. Why don’t the police hit them like they do in Vietnam?” They said, “The police are no good, very weak here in Australia.” Because in Vietnam the police would take them in by the scruff of the neck and they’d get a bit of cane and belt them, the same way
as you must remember when the American boy broke the aerial off a Mercedes in Singapore. A young American boy, he was mucking around one night. He was drunk and he went and broke all the aerials off a Mercedes. They went to court and they sentenced him to forty-three hits with a rattan cane. He had to bend over and there was a big uproar about it because it was corporal, physical punishment, but I bet you he won’t do it again. The Asians
see that. They say, “That’s OK. He did that and he’s got to pay and this is what you pay. You do that and that’s the punishment for that crime,” and that’s why that’s the way it is in Singapore. They don’t get their aerials broken off. You go around in Sydney and you see all the aerials broken off and the kids get away with it. But it’s just an attitude of mind, so we were taught, I was taught to understand that. I think firstly by Robert O’Neill but then on the Training Team course. I think when we went to
Vietnam we were in a better position than the Americans because we were taught about the cultural mix. Now I could, if you think I can talk, once you got me on to culture and values and different values I could go for about two days because I teach it. But when I got to Vietnam I walked in with the Vietnamese and I knew what they were looking for, so I had photos of my wife and two sons. The sons were more important than daughters. They said, “How old are you?” So I said,
“Ba mooi loom,” which is thirty-five. I said I was thirty-five. I was only twenty-three I think, but thirty-five is the year of the goat, ’35. It’s good for virility. So if I said that to a woman she’d go, “Oh,” and laugh and get embarrassed. She’d say, “How old are you Daiuy?” I’d say, “Ba mooi loom,” and she’d laugh and run away. And I learnt all these little things which just allowed me to
communicate on a humorous level socially with anybody in Vietnam, just say funny things. Even taking Jo there, Jo and I would be walking, going along the road and two pretty girls would pull up on a motorbike beside me and say, “You come with us. Come on, you come with us tonight,” and I’d say, “No, mama-san. She my mama-san. She kakado me.” “Kakado, ha ha,” they know that I knew something so they’d go off on their motorbike laughing, laughing their head off. Just enough to be rude
and a larrikin, and I ate with chopsticks. I always ate with the Vietnamese and I knew how to eat properly. There are certain things you do which are part of their eating habits. One is to eat out of the centre of the table, you always eat out of the centre of the table and you touch your bowl every time. Just little things that you learn to do while you’re eating. I never told them I got a lot of money because you seemed to be riding it over them all the time, whereas the
Americans were very free with their money and they always seemed to have a lot. So I said, “No, we don’t get paid a lot. More even, Vietnamese, we’re more even.” So they accepted me very quickly and I got along well with them. Part of it was fake, but I saw it as necessary to start the communication system because I was going to live with them, sleep with them, eat with them and cook with them for the next couple of years. So
I think we were ahead of them there, that some in Australia had thought all that through, somebody in the military system. What do we tell these people before they go so they can be better advisers and get on with the Vietnamese better. That was my job, but there were people doing much more dangerous and isolated jobs than me. Some of them were working with the Montagnards out in the border areas, the Ra, all the aboriginal tribes. Some of the
Training Team was working out there in special forces camps and they lived with them very closely. I lived in a base on top of a hill and there’d be on there probably I suppose about 150 to 200 Vietnamese and me and probably from time to time fifty Americans would come in, and they’d fly in in their helicopters and live there for a couple of days and off they’d go. I think the courses and the training I got beforehand, I did a lot of reading myself
about their history and it was portrayed to me in our history lectures at Duntroon, here was Vietnam and a colonial power which had taken them over and they ejected the colonial power. Then another power had come in which was America, which they didn’t want either. So here we were. They didn’t want America. They didn’t want North Vietnam but they didn’t want America either. So that was told to me so I had that approach. I knew what they wanted. When I was talking to them they’d
say, I understood that they were happy to win the war. When they won the war they wanted to live their own life, get to a stage where Vietnam for the Vietnamese, or they’d come to Australia. The Australian Army is so small we used to say RTA [Road Transport Authority], you had a return to Australia day, your RTA date and one day the Americans thought, they said, “Gee, you’re out here on your own for a long time. When does somebody come and visit you?
Don’t they like you in Australia?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “You’ve had no senior officer coming to visit you.” I said, “I don’t know.” He said, “There must be some in Vietnam?” I said, “There are,” and then about a week later the Chief of the General Staff came. He was General Brogan. He said, “How big is your army?” I said, “Not very big,” because I knew a few people that came through. “Yeah, I know him, I know him, I know him.” He said, “Do you know everybody in the army?” I said, “No,” and then General Brogan came and he came to
Fire Support Base West and he landed on our helicopter. He got out, he was all spick and span with his greens and his hat on, and he walked out of the helicopter and said, “G’day Mike.” He knew straight away who I was. The Americans, this is the chief of the army. In America the chief of the army wouldn’t know anyone. “G’day Mike,” he said, “I saw your mother yesterday and she sends her regards,” and the Americans naturally thought that the chief of the army goes around seeing everybody’s Mum before he comes away, before he comes overseas. Goes and sees everybody’s Mum because it was such a small army.
But my mother just happened to live next door to him in Victoria Barracks. “I saw your Mum yesterday. She said to keep well,” and then his aid who was named Colin Kahn who was my CO [Commanding Officer] on the first tour of Vietnam, he was a very charismatic figure and he walked over to me, “G’day Mike, how are you going?” He knew my first name you see, and this was strange to Americans because they call each other by their second name. Like they’d call me McDermott and you just call them, everybody call’s each other by his surname. Colin Kahn was a charismatic leader in the Australian
Army. He’d been to Korea and he got shot five times through the lung. He stayed and fought with his platoon and then he got out, got them all evacuated and he stayed, and then he came back to Australia and he won a decathlon championship even with one lung, and he played football with one lung. Then they made him the commanding officer of a battalion and it was the Tiger Battalion. I think Kahn means tiger. So he led this battalion back to Vietnam, but he’s another charismatic leader that we’ve got, military leader
in Australia who is not, you hear of them overseas. We’ve got them but I don’t think we sort of promote them. He’s an extremely gentle man but I suppose he’d be about six foot three. His family was probably Pakistani I suppose or Afghanistani. He’s very dark. When you’re that big you don’t have to ask people to do things, they just do things automatically. “Hello Mike, would you do that?” “Sir, straight away,” and he was, but very
pleasant and very softly spoken and he was a CO, but soldiers just loved him. At the end of an operation out in the field he would get 600 soldiers and sit them down in a square and talk to them all. As an Australian commanding officer he’d talk to 600 soldiers and he’d talk to them. He’d talk about what went right and what went wrong on the operation, who got killed and he’d say, “Yeah, old Bluey, he got killed. He was a good soldier. I remember Bluey this,” and he’d talk about him
and the soldiers were just in awe of him, you see. He’d stand there, this massive figure with this background, and the soldiers were in awe of this fellow, and he spoke and I thought OK, that’s OK. Now show me, do something, walk on water. I want you to do something. Walk on water. I came back to Australia and we had a dinner out at Holsworthy where we had a sit down dinner
for 600 fellows who’d all be in their forties. Well, what happened, they invited him to get up and speak and he spoke with such a balance being able to draw out their emotions and also compliment them on the things they’d done as National Servicemen, as regular soldiers and those sorts of things. But at the end of his speech there were 600 of these fellows standing on their chairs stamping, and on the table, just screaming and clapping. I thought he has something there
that he’s able to just grab them in. I thought yeah, there is charisma there. It’s in his person plus his ability to speak and what he does. He’s an interesting character, Colin Nada Khan.
in the dark which I thought was very hazardous, the soldiers were bloody scarred because they knew about this mine and we were going back to a place near where the mine blew up and killed the twenty-eight of them, killed and wounded twenty-eight. We were walking amongst the houses and they could hear people talking around them all the time and they were not very happy. That was what it was like, and then we got in there, but when I laid out the ambush I said, “OK, there’s civilians over there, that’s a civilian house. Put a Claymore [mine], it faces that way. Make sure
you don’t shoot that way. Now, you group, you’ll shoot this way. You’ll only shoot across there because there’s a house. See over in the background, you don’t want to shoot there.” So we had our rounds going onto the road where the enemy would walk and we made sure we didn’t go into that house. We could fire that way because the house down there was made of brick, and when the civilians heard the rounds go off they went into their, they had little bunkers they’d go and sit in and have a cup of tea, and they’d sit in those little bunkers and they’d hear bup, bup, bup, bup, and they’d go and sit in the bunker
and as soon as the firing stopped they came out. So that became part of their life. They’d have a little bunker in the house maybe made out of brick and concrete, or the other thing it was made out of was sand bags which they covered with concrete so it wouldn’t rot. They had those inside their house. Sometimes they’d dig right down and have a tunnel. That was if they though aerial bombing was coming because that would protect them from aerial bombing. I thought, we made allowances everywhere we went so that we didn’t kill civilians,
but if the enemy was there or somebody was moving at a certain time because there was a curfew and you weren’t allowed to move out of curfew so if you were moving out of curfew you were an enemy and got killed. There were civilian access areas. I had a map. I was going to show you how it was marked. At 1900 which is 7.00
o’clock at night they’d fire out of the artillery, they’d fire a flare and that would tell all the civilians, a big flare would go off and they’d say, “It’s 7.00 o’clock, I have to get out of here.” They knew they had to get out of there. See, that would be issued. That’s civilian access where those lines are and they would be issued to all the civilians around the area and they knew they weren’t supposed to go in that area from those dates. We had that happen here in Sydney out around Holsworthy when they’re firing artillery.
It’s called a NOTAM, Notice to Airmen and Mariners. Say when they’re firing out to see from Nowra, in the paper you’ll see one of those notices, the same as they issued to Vietnamese. It would be probably Notice to Civilians, do not go into this area during these dates during that time. That would be in their paper and people would read about it. It would be up on the noticeboard in the village, and we do the same thing in Australia now. They used to fire from North Head out to sea
over there when they had the artillery school there. They used to have a firing range and they’d fire out to sea and in the paper, the Sydney papers, would be issued a NOTAM, a Notice to Airmen and Mariners. One, airmen going over from that area so they wouldn’t be hit when they’re flying through it, and then some fisherman going past and suddenly artillery shells start landing there. So he’d know, it was in the paper, and that would be in the Sydney Morning Herald. The same sort of thing in Vietnam, civilian access,
so you protect them that way. Protect them by time and you protect them by location. Now if they start, and they know, and they start to do stupid things like they start running around outside the access time, they know the risks and if they know you’re there, it’s obvious you’re there because they can hear you and they see you. So they start to take risks and you say, “Well, you know.” Like anybody I think
journalists, I would give them a briefing. The journalists who went to Indonesia, they were running around and they had shirts on like yours with little lapels on them. They had military shirts on and they were shot and killed. Remember the ones that were killed in that house, they were all dressed in military uniforms. Now the Indonesians, they don’t have our values, and they just came and shot them. Now I’m not sure if they
shot them by mistake or they found out they were journalists and they purposely shot them. Now, that would be a war crime to shoot somebody purposefully, on purpose, anybody. That’s, murder’s murder. But if they go around and you’re almost dressed the same as the enemy, you’re shot. You can’t say the soldiers, because it’s such a critical situation in war. It’s, my life is about to be taken or do I shoot you. And the soldier first off says, “I’ll risk
my life to preserve yours,” but after he’s seen his friends with their heads shot off a couple of times, people next to him, boomf boomf, then it’s hard. That’s where the leadership comes in. Leadership is the hardest thing we know. After soldiers have seen their friends mutilated and killed, up until then they have a belief that they’re immortal and they won’t get killed, but as soon as they start to realise that it’s not fun, we’re not on the footy field here, this is real stuff, then you’ve got to lead them and they have to have a lot
of respect for you and you have to have a lot of influence over them because you’re asking them to do things which will risk their lives, and you have to say, “OK, I want you to go over there,” and they know when they go over there all those little enemy over there are going to start shooting at them, but they have to go over there because you want to do something else. Now there has to be respect and they have to do things willingly. I think the basis of leadership as against management is you are able to have people do things, influence people, influence, not direct them
to do things willingly to meet an objective. Whereas management, you say, “Do this or else we’re going to have a sanction on it.” Whereas soldiers, you just say, “Right, you five blokes, over there,” and they just get up and they go. Not like little robots but they go, “OK, yeah, we’ll do that,” and they go and do it. And then once they start to see their friends all shot they start saying, “No, I can’t take this risk.” Bang, and shoot the civilians.
and nobody carried their weapon, I carried my sub machine gun and all my magazines. Even if somebody would say, “Look, I’m going to take you out to a restaurant,” I’d take the whole lot and just walk in. I just thought we were very good, and I was very good with the Vietnamese. I knew we got along, I knew we were fighting real battles and it was real war and I knew I got along well with the Vietnamese. That’s what I was there to do and they’d take me out to dinner.
I made a few mistakes. I went one time and they said, “Australians eat beef, don’t they?” I said, “bist bist, titbol,” it’s called titbol, and I said, “Yeah.” He said, “I’ll buy you a steak.” He bought me this steak. It must’ve been the most horrible food I’ve ever eaten in my life. It was raw buffalo meat, ugh. It hadn’t been cooked and it was buffalo meat. I could hardly cut it with a knife. I used to have a big knife too and I
wandered around. It was a bit cowboyish but the soldiers were not like that. When they went on leave they went to a place called Vung Tau and they went down there and they reckon things like, one of my soldiers I came across him one day, I came around the corner, ran into him, he got himself made a scarlet suit in a day. You know, one of those suits, “I’ll make it for you in six hours.” Six hours, he went in, got measured up and they had a suit made for him. He had a red suit, scarlet, top to bottom, and a red
hat, a scarlet hat. He got it all made by a tailor. He had enough money so he paid him whatever it was. Here he was walking around in a bloody scarlet suit, “Hello,” you know, being a hero, a funny bloke. They did some funny things to me. One day they called me over and said, “Skipper, we want to have a talk to you,” and that was suspect. Why would they want to have a talk to me out there. They’re having me on here. So I went over and it was two larrikins,
Partridge and Gould, and I sat down and they had a log set up and they had cups on the log and water bottles and packs and there was one spot to sit and I thought that’s where I, so I sat on the log like this. I sat there and I said, “How are you going you two? What’s up?” They said, “Oh nothing.” I said, “What’s wrong, what’s going on here?” I looked down, they’re down here with an eighteen foot python under my feet, and they’d sat me right on top of it. So I got
a bit of stick and I pulled its head out because it had its head twisted in, and it just got up and went over and got up on top of a heap of bamboo and then rolled up. Some of them have got photos of it, a beautiful big snake. It rolled up and they sat me right on top of it and they thought it would be a big joke. Soldiers are like that all the time. You’ve got to be ready for them. You know it’s going to happen to you. They’re like that. They’re excellent. Australian soldiers are just excellent soldiers, excellent people. They’re just, we had
one there with Hobbs. Hobbs had long hair, very long hair and he used to comb it every morning at his little mirror. He came and stayed at my place when I had some soldiers here once and they all found him in the shower with a hair net on, and they were all, you know, a plastic hair thing, and in Vietnam he used to do his hair. He was extremely well groomed, and one night there were seven in a section and they said, “Right, two over there, two over there, two over there, and Hobbs
you go over there,” and he was on his own and nobody was ever on their own in the bush, and Hobbs said to Dave Partridge, Dave Partridge was a National Serviceman who I just promoted in the field straight to NCO as a leader. He just impressed me as a leader type. He said, this is this joke on Hobbs, he said, “You go over there on your own Hobbs.” Hobbs said, “Why?” He said, “Well we saw those photos of you today and some of the blokes thought you might be homosexual and they don’t want to sleep with you,” and Hobbs, he went
off his brain. “I want out of this war now.” Straight away he came screaming through the bush at me, “Sir, my blokes think I’m a homosexual and they don’t want anything to do with me and I want to get out. I’ve done everything I can. I’ll fight, I’ll do anything. I want to get out. I want to be sent back to Australia straight away.” He didn’t want to muck around. “Sir, this is no good. I demand it.” He wanted to go home. Hobbs, so I had to get Partridge over and say, “Righto Dave, don’t
pull any of these tricks any more.” They do that to each other but they weren’t malicious. They’d do things to me to, not malicious, but they would pull tricks on me. That’s just the way they are. You have to accept all these other qualities they have. You have to accept that, because with that goes all the other qualities, a sense of humour goes steadfastness, a sense of humour goes their ability to accept all the bad things that happen too, and they change it. A bloke was wounded one day
and he had a round through his back and along his shoulder blades and instead of walking up and sympathising with him they’d taken his boots off. They said, “But what size boots have you got,” and they were pulling his boots off and going through his pack and stealing his rations. He was about to be lifted out through the jungle. So they just think that’s funny. It would seem an imposition and quite disrespectful, a bloke has been wounded and you’re starting to steal all his food, but that’s
the way. They’ve just got this humour which is quirky but you have to be, it’s just part of the whole. So accept that because it complements some other part of their personality which is positive, I think. All those other things that go with, their values, the way they support each other, the way they’re responsible and they’ll stay awake all night in the jungle and never go to sleep and let your mates down. If you go to sleep when you’re on sentry your
mates can never go to sleep again. They think, maybe we’re lying here and the enemy is going to come and get me. At night when you’re in the jungle you can hear the enemy all night. You can hear it. They’re not there but you can hear it. If you look you can see them too. Just keep looking, you say, “There’s one,” or you say to a bloke, “Is that one?” They’ll say, “Yeah. Did you see that move?” “Yeah, it moved.” You can convince people it moved. People will see it just because they’re staring so long they want to see it move. They say, “Yeah, I saw it move. Did you
hear that?” “Yeah, I heard it.” So the bloke will not, the others won’t sleep because the sentries are supposed to protect them, and so the others will just stay awake all night because they don’t feel secure. So the fellows have got, you know, it’s all this sense of responsibility, and I think it’s the greatest event in their life, the greatest event and the most extraordinary event in their life, so they’re bound to that afterwards. They’re bound to their experience together. Now they say they had a different experience from the
Second World War, it had the same effect. I was the president of Legacy and I used to go and have Christmas lunches with the Legacy widows and we’d have our monthly luncheon somewhere around this area at one of the clubs, and we’d sit down and have a talk. Well, they told me after the Second World War the men had just as many problems, but if you understand, if you listen to the poetry you can hear it, and our poetry is a lot in our songs.
Our poetry is not in written poetry in books, but in the songs that come out of things. There’s a country and western song called Every Boy Needs A Shed, and after the Second World War men had sheds down the back and when they were suffering an anxiety or some form of post-traumatic stress syndrome they’d go down and fix the toaster or take the toaster apart or something like that and take it in the shed and go down there and sit there for three hours and sit there and ruminate and think and put the toaster back
together, and get the jug and take that apart and do these sorts of things which gave them that time out from life. They went down there and they sat in the shed. Nobody interfered with them. “Where’s Dad?” “He’s down the shed.” “What’s he doing down there?” “Fixing the toaster again.” So Dad sat down in the shed, and then he got over all the anxiety. Probably now the anxiety comes out in the family because the family is around the table. I’ve talked to a lot of Veterans and a lot of them want to eat around the table, family table and talk to the kids and ask the
kids, “What have you done today? How has this been, how has that been,” so that they try and develop the family and they just want to sit at the table because they see that as something they’ve always wanted and they missed out on it. They sit around the table and because you communicate a lot conflict arises. I think if you don’t communicate and you don’t like a person you can’t, it’s very hard to have a conflict with somebody you don’t like, isn’t it? If somebody says something to you or about you who you don’t respect, it doesn’t mean anything, does it?
So there’s got to be a like there or a love before you can start to get into a conflict. You get into an argument over an issue, but to get into conflict if the person has a different argument to you and you don’t respect them, you say, “So what.” But if you respect them you keep arguing, you keep saying, “But have you thought of this?” So they come home, they have a wife, they get into conflict with here. The conflict goes up and then alcohol is brought into it and then maybe from that gets
violence, and the things just run on. They say, “How come only the Vietnam Veterans have it?” I don’t think it’s only Vietnam Veterans. I think it’s been there forever.
You can go through the net and you’ll find all these people who are not Vietnam Veterans, who are claiming to be Vietnam Veterans. There is one around here who walks around with two Crosses of Gallantry on from the Vietnamese Government and he didn’t earn them. But I know, I have some but he didn’t get any. He’s around Mosman here, but they found him. There’s somebody like the Inquisition and they go around and they find these people and they
find these people who are pretending to be Vietnam Veterans and they expose them. They go their workplace. They do everything. They go around and they tell their family and they say they’re lying and they’re wearing false ribbons and false decorations. The one here, I haven’t seen him for a while, probably about three months, but he walks around with all these medals on not entitled to. They’re all over Australia. There’s a website showing who they are and where they came from and what they said they were supposed to be and what they really
are. It’s all around the place. So it’s now a very popular war, so when it’s shown on TV I think kids see all these heroes and say, “Dad, what did you do during the war?” When Dad says, “I didn’t do anything,” they have to say, “I did this or I did that.” It’s best to have done something that nobody can check on like the Training Team or a Special Air Service Regiment because there’s nobody who,
they won’t tell you what they were doing and nobody can keep track of a Training Team because you work way out from everybody else. Yeah, there’s a lot of people who claim they were doing these special jobs. I know a fellow just across from here. I’m going to have him around soon, in about a couple of weeks time. He’s in the movie industry too and he claims he was in Vietnam. He wasn’t. I know he was back here in gaol at the time, an army officer put in gaol
for theft. Yeah, so they’ve just changed. The complexion of the war has changed. Once it was a nasty horrible thing and people were over there bayoneting babies. Then we came back and there was Bryan Brown and Mel Gibson, everybody wanted to be part of it. Then when there were people going out saying, “I’ve got Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, have pity on me,” they knew the girls would all put their arms around them.
Everybody, you know, “I’m a Veteran,” and I saw it in ’66. I went to a party up at Baulkham Hills and here was this fellow, he was supposed to have been in Borneo but he couldn’t get used to the jungle, to being out in the jungle so he had to keep taking this girl, the bloke’s daughter, out into the backyard. I thought that’s not a bad one. But one thing about females is they’re very compassionate and
sympathetic when somebody is a wounded bird, and to be a wounded bird is fashionable, because they talk to females, say, “Yeah, I was this. I’m very wounded psychologically or in fact,” and then females immediately try to comfort them and become their friend. Naturally a lot of people go out into society to meet females and make them their friends,
so they use that as one of the many ploys, and females are naturally nurturing. They say, “Oh yeah, go on,” rather than say, “Bugger off.” They say, “Go on, yeah. I’ll listen to you,” whereas as men say, “What? Rubbish.” So that’s another reason. Some people, you see them sitting around, they’re crying in hotels and clubs.
You think have you a right to be crying? Some do. Some have been at war and some have been on the fringes of it. A lot of the war was skirmishes. It wasn’t a real war, they didn’t see it. There wasn’t a real lot of blood and guts, they didn’t see it. A lot of it was skirmishes. When I was twenty and the enemy was five, I would always like to be the twenty, but there were five enemy, or three enemy or five or seven and that was the way the war was, and it was a skirmish between a small group and a small group.
A lot of the times Australians had the advantage and there were skirmishes between small groups of us and the enemy. That’s the way it was, and I think it wasn’t like the First World War where there were massive numbers of troops. The Americans had a very heavy war in Vietnam and they were facing a large number of troops all the time, and they were having thousands and thousands of North Vietnamese attack them.
The Australians did get into that because the Australians were right down the south of Vietnam and they had a number of big battles, Long Tan and Coral and Balmoral. Now they were major battles and they were similar to what the Americans had and what the South Vietnamese had. There were only three of them in ten years, but they were battles, really serious battles where there were thousands of North Vietnamese attack them and overran them a lot of the time.
I think the South Vietnamese had that. If you said that to an Australian, they’d say, “Well, they were bloody useless and inefficient, the South Vietnamese,” but they weren’t useless and inefficient. They were soldiers who were fighting the war and they were quite efficient brave soldiers. There’s an Australian made a movie called, what’s it called?
It was shot in Thailand. What’s his name? He came from Balmain, the Film Co-operative out at Balmain. Neil? He made this movie. He actually served with the Vietnamese. It’s a wonderful film about the Vietnamese army. It might be Men Against Fire, and he got shot.
He was out in Thailand in the main street during a coup and they shot him and he fell over and he left his camera running and the camera showed the whole incident as he lay there dying. You could see the Thai soldiers shooting at him. Neil somebody or other. The Balmain Film Co-operative he was part of. I got his film to show Australian soldiers because they didn’t realise how much the Vietnamese did and he had it all there in the film.
They’re the differences, and the Vietnamese were there. My battalion commander had been nineteen years at war. Nineteen years non stop. He’d been fighting in Laos across the border, all over. He’d been fighting big battles for nineteen years. He was only a young man still, and he used to sing. We see battalions might be gruff people, he got up at a concert and he sang a love song in Vietnamese. Quite different. Phuong,
he was, P-H-U-O-N-G, Major Phuong, and he’d been there nineteen years, so I suppose to have some normalcy in his life he had to do things like that.