On a cold windswept train station in Cootamundra one winter’s morning in July 1969, I waited.
I was beginning a journey on something that would not only be the beginning of a momentous change in my life that day, but it would also be the beginning of something that would continue to have an impact on my life well into the future.
High above me in space were a group of men heading to the moon. We shared a similar fate, heading into the unknown and none of us knew whether or not we would survive our journey alive.
Cootamundra Railway Station was very familiar to me. My father worked here as a shunter so I had visited it many times to see him and his workmates. But today I was standing here alone reflecting on life as best one could at 19 years of age.
I had my hair cut, I was in clean clothes; and in my bag were just a few things but no personal items which were not allowed where I was going. Around me I could see a couple of others waiting, just like me. I hope the look on my face wasn’t as bad as the look on theirs. The train arrived and we boarded, I noticed other young blokes on board with that same look.
All us blokes with ‘the look’ disembarked at Wagga Wagga. On the station stood a majestic figure in an Army Battledress uniform. We sort of gravitated towards him, ever so gingerly. He never moved. He stared straight ahead. His uniform was immaculate. I’d say he was in his forties, a sergeant with a perfectly manicured moustache. He stood at attention. His left arm was pressed along the side of his body ending in a clenched fist with the thumb leading and covering the end of his fingers. The thumb was in line with the seam on his trousers. His black boots shined like glass. In his right hand was a cane, his fingers were stretched forward together in a straight line, the thumb tucked underneath. The other end of the rod disappeared under his armpit. I was impressed.
He spoke in a low moderate tone without moving, “Those gentlemen wishing to go to Kapooka, please move to the outside to the left of the station and wait on the footpath beside the Army bus.”
We did what he said.
The immaculate sergeant somehow got to the bus before us. He waited. We waited. He spoke again in that low modulated tone that wanted you to follow him anywhere, ”Those gentlemen wishing to go to Kapooka, please board the bus.”
We did what he said.
We were nearing our objective just like the guys in space above us, suddenly the Kapooka gates appeared and we were in. Just like that! Some bloke said, “Hey have a look at that dickhead and the way he is swinging his arms!”
I looked. His arms swung on an arc from front to rear. Each time the arm rose and fell from a height that was equal to his shoulder.
The bus stopped.
A uniformed person with a mouth for a head burst through the bus door and yelled, “RIGHTO YOUSE FUCKING BLOKES, GET YA FUCKING ARSES OFF THIS FUCKING BUS AND FORM TWO RANKS ON THE FUCKING ROAD!”
We did what he fucking said, real fucking quick.
Houston, the fucking Eagle has landed.
Reproduced with permission from FUN, FEAR, FRIVOLITY – A tale by an Aussie infantry soldier in the VIETNAM WAR. If you can’t wait, read more of this story now – or wait out while we reproduce it on these pages.
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