It was graduation parade day. My parents and my brother, a Vietnam veteran, and his girlfriend came to share the day. There were seven platoons graduating so the viewing area was packed.
What a buzz. I loved all the pomp and ceremony and, as the Kapooka Band played, we literally floated across the parade ground. The parade went off without a hitch. We practiced so much we could have done it in our sleep. Afterwards I met my family over a BBQ. Darcy also popped over to say g’day.
I thought it was the proudest day of my life and like all the others I was 10 feet tall and bullet proof!
It is simply amazing the changes in young men that 10 weeks in the Army can achieve. An outsider who has not experienced this first hand may have a differing view. There are those who say it is nothing but bullying and brainwashing. That may be so, but how do you turn a person from an individual who is only concerned about himself, into a person who understand the bonding and power that one can achieve as part of a group? A power so strong that individuals are prepared to put them selves at risk in order for the group to achieve its task.
The recruit course challenged me in ways that I never thought possible. I can’t wait to tell my mates about some of the things I did. I have to thank the NCOs for this. Their encouragement, if we can call it that, enabled the inner man in me to keep going even when I thought I couldn’t go on; and then to keep going and going some more. But more importantly, even though I was buggered they instilled into me a sense to look around the group and disregard my own problems and help others who were not doing so well. It was all about getting the group to finish the task, not as individuals but as 22 platoon. For this I am indebted to them; even if I can’t remember their names.
That night it snowed in Wagga Wagga, a very rare event indeed, as we boarded a train. There were about 15 of us from the graduating platoons and only Warren, one of the boys from Temora, and I were from 22 platoon. We were heading north under the control of a second lieutenant, “Just call me Skip.”
Am I dreamin’ or is this guy normal?
We travelled overnight to Brisbane in a normal rail carriage with civilians. We were in battledress uniform. A couple of old blokes came up to us and for most of the night we were singing those old songs that people of my generation, raised on listening to the wireless know very well. Nobody complained.
Normally recruits are sent to Ingleburn, another hellhole, for their Infantry training; but we were heading to Townsville to do our corps training at 2RAR (2nd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment).
We stopped at Brisbane and we had a few hours to spare before boarding a Queensland train with their narrow gauge to complete the journey to Townville, we were about one third of the way on our 2,000 kilometre journey.
We went to a barber with Skip and we all had a shave, except me, I only had bum fluff.
We strolled around Brisbane. Someone mentioned something about ‘The Valley’ but I am unsure if we went there. Is that where the Chinese restaurants are located? Then it was onto the train and more window watching as the Queensland countryside flew by my window.
I noticed when we were in the buffet car that the train was riding quite smoothly despite the narrow gauge; then I looked out the window and saw that we were doing about 20 kilometres an hour. They must slow down while meals are on, ey?
After completing 2,000 kilometres by train, all I wanted was a shower and a lie down. Do you think the Army would allow that?
We were trucked into Lavarack Barracks just out of Townsville. It was sited at the base of a rather large hill that dominated the landscape. What an impressive Army base! It was brand spanking new and set out as only an Army base can be, by having all the buildings in regimental order. We were waiting to see the Movements Officer in 30 degree heat still in our winter Army dress.
I marched smartly into the office.
“Hello Ian, my name is Dwayne, welcome to Lavarack Barracks.”
Gee I could get to like this place.
“What is your fucking surname dickhead?”
“Oh, sorry, Cavanough, C-a-v-a……..n-o-u-g-h.”
He went on to ask me my next of kin and the address where I would be spending Christmas.
“How do you want to travel to Cootamundra?”
“Well I’m not going by train that’s for sure, I just spent more than two days travelling by train and I’m standing here still flexing my knees because I can feel the floor moving as if I was on that blasted train.”
“Righto, we can fly you to Sydney and you pay the difference between the rail fair and the air fare, you’ll catch a train from Sydney to Coota….. what was that place again?”
“Cootamundra, it’s where Sir Donald Bradman was born.”
“Never heard of it ……. fucking Nashos …….. next!”
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.
Hi guys. I am a good-looking, opinionated old fart who relishes a spirited debate on any topic regardless of how much I think I know about it.