CAPTION: Kylie Minogue gets a pick-me-up from then Corporal Brian Hartigan in East Timor, reporting for ARMY News in 1999.
What are my personal credentials – which I believe make me more interested, sympathetic and attuned to Australian military issues than (most) civilian journalists (who are guided by their editors, who in turn are guided by their profit-driven corporate bosses)?
I joined the Australian Army (full time) in 1990 (nearly 30 years ago!!!) and served as an Aircraft Fitter (helicopter mechanic) in Townsville until 1997.
In Townsville, I was a ‘keen, green’ soldier who participated in Brigade Mil Skills and shooting competitions and loved going bush. One year, our 162 Recce Squadron Mil Skills Team came within 0.1% of winning the 3 Brigade comp – which means we were barely beaten into second place by 1RAR – which means 2/4RAR and the other arms-corps units of 3 Brigade were behind us! – and by a good margin.
I also won 162 Recce Squadron’s Soldier of the Year trophy – which I only mention because, as a prize, our OC organised with a mate in the Officers’ Mess for me to go to Thailand with 1RAR as a grunt in an Infantry section – where I was eventually accepted as at least ‘competent’ by my section colleagues.
I mention Thailand too because, on that trip, everyone I shared a gun pit with said something along the lines, “This trip is so awesome, someone should write to ARMY News about it“. But, it was obvious that no one else was going to volunteer to do the writing. So I did.
I submitted a story to ARMY News – where, if you’re familiar with the process, they ‘butchered’ my story to turn it into a ‘news report’.
At the same time, I also offered the story to The Northern Services Courier – a free local military ‘rag’ – who published my story without changing a thing, and gave me a ‘By Line’.
I was chuffed – and I was hooked.
For the next 18 months, I never missed getting something published in every single issue of The Northern Services Courier, plus a couple of things in ARMY News.
I also went down to Canberra, twice, to spend two fortnights at Army Newspaper Unit to learn how they wanted me to write for them.
Then, eventually, a vacancy came up at Army Newspaper Unit and I applied.
I was rejected for that position – and for another one a few months later – but eventually got selected when the third-picked guy (who happened to be in the same unit as me – 5 Avn Regt) broke his writing arm (I swear I had nothing to do with that 😉 ).
Rejected three times!
Was I crap? I don’t think so – and I think I turned out OK in the end.
Was I a pain in the arse? Probably.
But, persistence paid off and I was posted to Army Newspaper Unit in January 1998.
Long story short – I lasted less than 5 years, during which time I reported from Avalon Airshow, Arafura Games, Bougainville and several other places – and got a three-month deployment to INTERFET, which included Christmas and New Year 1999/2000.
I made sergeant at Army Newspaper Unit before they took away our unit status, civilianised the editor’s job and gutted morale.
In the end, I was a sergeant on higher-duties allowance for WO2 doing the vacant captain’s job and, even though it was allowed in the rules, they refused to post me (as a sergeant) into the captain’s position so that we could recruit a new reporter to relieve the pressure.
I kicked up so much fuss in the process, they eventually ‘offered’ me a corporal reporter’s job at RAAF Newspaper (which never had a reporter before that) and tried to convince me that it was ‘a new opportunity, not a demotion’.
I pulled the pin instead and transferred to the Active Reserve.
You might get some idea of the pain this caused me when I tell you that I honestly decided on about day three at Kapooka that I was going to be a ‘career soldier’ – and had eyes on the Editor’s job at ARMY News from early on too. Now here I was, in only my 11th year in the Army, being forced to quit by a weasel civilian editor who didn’t know shit from clay about anything military.
But, thankfully, the job I moved on to was awesome too – Editor of Platypus (the professional police journal of the Australian Federal Police) and the first ever PR photographer for the AFP. But that’s a story for another day.
About a year after leaving ARMY News, a corporal who was still working there told me the weasel civvie editor was shutting down ARMY Magazine (which all the reporters loved, because it was the main reason we got to go out in the field, to do in-depth reporting) – and they were shutting it down because Mr Weasel cried “staffing issues“.
So, that corporal and I decided to start CONTACT Magazine, mainly as a “fuck you – just two staff members could do it – and do a better job than you – on our own time, with our own money, as a hobby, in secret”. So we did. And when, with great pleasure, I handed that weasel editor the first ever issue of CONTACT, in March 2004, he ran straight to his boss to plot shuting us down!!!
Now 15 years later CONTACT is still here (though my corporal partner-in-crime has moved on).
Mr Weasel civvie editor is long gone. And ARMY Magazine too.
But I’m still in the Army Reserve, still in the Australian Army Public Relations Service, still a sergeant…
And still a pain in their arse 🙂
. . .