Lots of things happened in our last week at Townsville.
The girls from the Hong Kong Restaurant wore their uniforms, the gold top, but without the black slacks. We had been urging them on to do this for our last night. We built up a good relationship with the ladies because we were gentlemen; nobody put the hard word on them.
I was getting a haircut in town. The barber asked me the normal questions of what unit I was with, was I a Nasho, how did I find the Army, and so on. I mentioned that I was off to Vietnam in a week’s time and he stopped what he was doing. He asked if I was concerned at all and I replied that, no, I had been training continuously for about 10 months and that I felt very confident about my going to Vietnam. Next minute he went to the back door and called out to his wife. He told her that I was off to Vietnam and she too showed her concern and they both wished me good luck. I was very surprised by their concern and thoughtfulness.
My parents came up to Townsville by train to see me off. They never owned a car, indeed they had never been to Queensland before. I met them at the People’s Palace in town, and then my father and I set off to Avis to rent a car.
“Good morning gentlemen, how may I help you?”
“We’d like to rent a car for the weekend please.”
“Certainly, do you have your driver’s licence?”
I handed her my licence.
“I’m sorry sir but we cannot rent you a car sir, you are under 21 years of age.”
My father got a little upset.
“We’ve travelled over 2,000kms to be with my son, he goes to Vietnam in a couple of days. We were looking forward to driving around and seeing Townsville. Why can’t you rent us a car?”
“Sir, he is under 21 …..
“He’s bloody old enough to go off to the war but not good enough to rent your precious bloody cars….”
“Dad, it’s OK” I interrupted, “We’ll go somewhere else.”
Out on the street my father was still shaking his head. He couldn’t believe what had just happened. We headed down to a used car lot and asked to see the boss.
“You haven’t got a sale,” my father explained, “I was hoping you could help us.” He then went on to explain what happened over at Avis. “Perhaps we could take a car for a test drive over the weekend?”
“Unfortunately the law in Queensland forbids that,” said the used car salesman, “But there’s a guy down the road, Sid’s Renta Trucks and Utes. He may be able to help you.”
So off we go down to Sid’s place and go through the whole routine again.
“Avis wouldn’t rent a car to us because I, as the driver, am under 21,” I tell Sid.
“I’ll over look that,” he said. Things were looking up.
“I’ve got a Toyota 4WD out there at the moment you can take that today, but tomorrow come back and I’ll have a ute ready to swap it over.”
Bewdy. Back to the People’s Palace in this bloody great big 4WD, we pick up my mother and we start to explore Townsville. First spot we went to was the hill above Townsville to take in the view of the place. Whilst there we noticed a double story round house, just like the one at Kensington in Sydney, it was some sort of restaurant. We park the 4WD and head towards the entrance.
“Sorry we’re closed,” came of voice as a chap emerged from the doorway. Now I should explain that I have the gift of the gab. I got it from my father who has a way of getting people on side, that’s why he was so upset about the episode at Avis.
“Yeah, hi mate. We’re here seeing off our son who is flying off to Vietnam in a couple of days.”
“Oh, where are you from?”
“Cootamundra, NSW, where are you from?”
“I’m from Bondi actually…”
“My eldest son lives in Bondi,” my father interrupted (he’s good at that and so am I) “He lives on Campbell Parade.”
“Really? Ah, would you people like to come in and have a drink?”
So we go in and there we are at the bar. The place is empty except for us. “Now what would you like, Coke, Fanta?”
“Coke would do nicely thanks,” my mother says.
“Er, something a little stronger?” Yes, that was my father.
This was a very pleasant moment and the bar owner didn’t seem to be in a hurry. My father took out his wallet and offered to pay but all drinks were on the house. After about 30 minutes we thanked him and moved on.
So where to eat? We ended up at a typical cafe, one I hadn’t been to. We ordered our meals and my father was chatting up the young girl who served us and asked about some extra butter. When we left, my father paid the bill at the counter but he also left a few coins on the table for the young girl. We went back there the next day; the young girl was all smiles and brought my father extra butter even though he didn’t ask. My father was quite a charmer.
Unfortunately they missed our march through Townsville’s main street a couple of days before they arrived. We were worried that nobody would turn up and those that did would throw stuff at us. This was at the height of the Moratorium marches you understand. The Vietnam War was very unpopular and a lot of the demonstrators took it out on the soldiers. As it turned out the march went quite well. The Artillery guys (107 Battery I think) who would be supporting us in Vietnam also joined in, even though they were down the back we knew they were there, we could hear their knuckles dragging on the ground.
We were due to fly out at 2am and my parents were catching a train south at 8am. The People’s Palace closes at 10pm, so it looked like they would have to find somewhere else to stay. My father had discovered a pub not far from the People’s Palace. He went there a few times and charmed the publican so much that he offered my parents a room where they could stay and at no charge. Can you believe that?
If anyone asked my parents about Townsville they would tell them what a great place it was and how friendly the people were.
As long as you didn’t mention Avis.
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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