STORY –  ROD M  – A Conscientious Objector’s National Service


A person’s teenage years are when they are feeling their way in the world and establishing their beliefs and moral compass, I was no different. I was sorting my own moral response to supporting a known corrupt government in the South and obligations to Australia and my personal religious beliefs.

The Vietnam war was constantly in the news during this time, I had started an apprenticeship and Vietnam was a constant topic of conversation. I for one wondered if I was wasting my time doing an apprenticeship only to possibly end up in the Army. I was in a protected engineering trade but also felt my obligations as a citizen to Australia.

The U.S. Government, the Australian Government and our news sources were all pushing that we had to stop the spread of communism in Vietnam, or all the other small countries would fall to it (The Domino Theory).


At the time of conscription in the 1960’s and 70’s a young man had limited choices.

  1. Enlist in the military services prior to the draft in the CMF for several years longer than conscription (I think it was 5 years instead of 2 for conscription).
  2. Wait for the draft and see if your birthday came out and if it did you were in the Army for 2 years.
  3. Declare yourself a Conscientious Objector and spend 2 years in jail. A number of men did this and suffered for it.
  4. I went to court and declared that I was a Conscientious Objector and would only serve in the Medical Corps.

This was a particularly stressful time in my life as Conscription, The Vietnam War and by extension The Military were not popular with the Australian Public, the American Public and others at the time.

As a person who had never been in trouble with the law it was a really big deal going to Court for the first time and representing yourself.

I made it clear to the court that I would only serve as a Medic, the Judge or Magistrate (I can’t remember now) said he could not rule about that but could only recommend or suggest it.

A funny thing that has always stuck in my mind is that on the weekend after the dreaded ballot, when my birthdate was picked, my girlfriend and I went to a local fund raising Fair near her house. I couldn’t believe it when she won and then I won on the chocolate wheel, then a raffle and something else, it seemed that I couldn’t lose and it all started with the one I didn’t want to win.


I had to report to Urwin Barracks in Shenton Park, PERTH (My hometown)

We completed some preliminaries, medical etc. I was pulled aside and separated from the group (potential troublemaker) given a plane ticket for the evening flight to Melbourne (I think) where I was to join a bus with Victorian’s to be transported to Kapooka in Wagga Wagga N.S.W., Western Australian Nasho’s did Recruit Training in Puckapunyal in Victoria.

I had to walk home in the January heat of Perth, carrying a reasonably heavy suitcase, there were no buses from that area, I had no money, no phone at home and no mobiles in those days (at home we used a public phone box, located on a public street for outgoing calls like most people and by extension you couldn’t receive incoming calls). I also tried hitching a ride but there was not much traffic. The distance was about 4 to 5 miles at a guess.

That night my parents took me to the airport to catch the midnight horror to the Eastern States and by the next evening we were in Kapooka, Wagga Wagga.



During the first week of basic training, I was called up and escorted to C.O.’s office, I nearly got into trouble for not saluting him but it was explained by the person escorting me that I hadn’t been taught that yet. Anyway, we had a polite interrogation as to my intentions and if I was going to cause trouble. As I mentioned earlier, I had been segregated at Urwin Barracks in W.A. as a potential trouble maker and had been sent to Kapooka, to train with N.S.W. recruits (Nasho’s mainly but regulars from elsewhere were also trained there).

Looks like I was an embarrassment to the Army, and they didn’t really want me.

While I was at Recruit Training I was communicating with my special girlfriend by phone (in those days there were limited phones for recruits located at the Base shop, recruits didn’t always have access to the phones (depending on the Platoon behaviour and training schedule etc.) another problem for someone from W.A. was the time difference. Generally, when I could call she was just leaving work or travelling home (no Mobiles in those days but she had a phone at home because one of her parents was sick).

Eventually I got the Dear John phone call. When I rang one day, she had her little sister tell me not to ring anymore. As you can guess there is absolutely no way to sort something like that out from thousands of miles away particularly if the other person won’t answer the phone.

That phone call affected me greatly and the consequences have been with me all my life. I became a typical male (an Island) by not opening up my feelings and finding it difficult to get really close to others.

My first leave was too short to visit home (too far and too costly to fly in those days).

I got to stay with a friend’s parents for the long weekend or whatever it was.

As an aside, never underestimate the Army, just before we went on Leave, we were given all our inoculations so that we were sick or off colour during OUR time and not the Armies, so training wasn’t interrupted when we came back from Leave.


HEALESVILLE – SCHOOL OF ARMY HEALTH – Corps Training. Healesville; Headquarters 1st Military District

Healesville was where Medics did their basic Corps Training, but it wasn’t limited to Medics. When our group first arrived, there was a couple of weeks that they were training Chaplin’s and during our training a group of SAS Troops spent time doing their medical training.

I assume that I ended up with a Non-Combatant classification because of the Judges input and served as a Medic, and then a Medical Assistant (roughly equivalent to a first year Nurse in those days).

Again as an aside the Army was and probably still is very good at giving you qualifications and training that don’t transfer to civilian life and so by extension you can’t use them to get a job when discharged. This was another problem that Nasho’s and Returned Servicemen had when discharged and played a big part in the disrupted lives they suffered because of unemployment amongst other things.

We lived in large tents in Healesville, and I enjoyed my time there. It is in the Victorian countryside and had crisp misty mornings (probably still does) but the city has encroached on it and the Healesville – School of Army Health has been left to rot in the intervening years, which is a great shame as the buildings and surrounds were beautiful when I was there.

ENNOGRA/YERONGA          Medical Assistant Training

Enoggera Barracks (also known as Gallipoli Barracks) and The 1st Military Hospital, Yeronga, Queensland

After completing Medical Corps Training (to qualify as a Medic) some were posted to their new Units and those going on to Medical Assistant Training were sent to live in Enoggera Barracks and train at the Medical Assistants Training Wing at Yoronga Hospital.

At Enoggera Barracks we lived in a multi-story brick barracks at Ennogra and were transported to the Medical Assistants Training Wing at Yoronga Hospital by bus each day

Because we were at an Infantry Barracks the food was good and plentiful.

When mixing with the Infantry at meals there was a lot of talk about their experiences of Vietnam and warnings of what to expect.

I think it was about this time period that the Liberal Government announced that it wouldn’t be sending any more Troops to Vietnam, much to everyone’s relief but we still had to complete our conscription.



After successfully completing my Medical Assistants training, I was Posted back to Perth to a 2 man Regimental Aid Post (RAP) in the city.

My duties included attending to Sick Parades for the local staff in the mornings and walking into the city to attend the Recruiting Centre to help the doctor with Recruit Medical Checks. My responsibilities were to check urine samples for sugar levels, sight checks for colour blindness and the general paperwork. My twisted sense of humour gave me a few chuckles about this as I was colour blind myself, the solution to the problem was that I got a normal person to tell me the test numbers on the page and I kept a list of the book page numbers and the answers to the test on a separate sheet of paper.

Wednesday afternoons were Sports Days to help keep us fit and I chose Sailing in Corsairs on the Swan River (mainly because the Corporal who I was working with was also Sailing and I enjoyed the water), others played Football, Rugby, Cricket etc.

I was lucky and had been posted back to my hometown after being away for approx. 9 months during my various training. What I found was that my significant girlfriend had moved on, a lot of friends and groups of friends had moved on and I was now a representative of the Military which wasn’t liked by the public and I found that I was shunned (I wasn’t spat on or had things thrown at me like others, luckily).

During this time the Whitlam Labor Government won the general election. There were stories of Nasho Conscripts who had just started their training in the Eastern States Camps just walking of the Training Bases because the Labor Party had promised to stop conscription.



After the Labor Government win and the withdrawal from Vietnam the Government (Army) tried to keep the existing Nasho’s in to make an orderly transition instead of a sudden stop. Various things were offered and promised to people to finish their time but my employer had not been able to successfully get someone to stay in my job and was asking me to come back. Tradesman’s wages were better than Army pay and I was increasingly getting the impression that I was wasting my time in the Army.

I was discharged and went back to civilian life. I wasn’t interested in applying for the Nasho Medal when it came out but eventually my son who had joined the CMF wanted me to get it and the Military Medal that he said I was entitled to. Anyway, I eventually agreed (about 10 years ago) to him applying for them and gave him a copy of my discharge papers and Army Number so he could apply for the medals on my behalf.

Eventually notification and the National Service Medal came but imagine both our surprises when the Military Medal was declined because I had been discharged on the grounds of exceptional hardship even though conscription ended in December 1972 when the Whitlam Labor Government was elected, I was discharged in February 1973.

I didn’t know about the White Card until I read an ad in the local paper to join Nasho Fair Go about 5 or 6 months ago, apparently it has been available for about 3 years.

So, the discrimination continues. Maybe we do need a good lawyer and a class action as suggested by George B.

PTE   (RAAMC) 1972/73


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