I’ll start my story with a little background of my early life. Hope to indulge your patience. The relevance will become obvious later.
I come from what I would call a dysfunctional family, my mother died when I was 6 years old. After which my father, two-year old brother, and myself moved to a small two-bedroom home, to live with my grandmother and grandfather in Richmond.
My father would go missing for weeks at a time, so, I was basically brought up by my grandparents. When I was eleven, my father was having a house built in Springvale, so I started school at Springvale High Year 7, with the idea that my father, brother and I would move there once the home was complete. I was commuting between Springvale and Richmond for about two months before my father had organised for me to stay with an elderly couple in Clayton, which was closer to school. This situation lasted about three months, I was probably disrupting their lives and I wasn’t happy living away from home. I went back to commuting between Springvale and Richmond. When I started Year 8 at Springvale High, father, brother and myself moved into the new Springvale home. During these two years I had formed a great friendship with schoolmates and played for the local football team. I formed strong bonds with these teammates, I still have those strong bonds with my teammates today. My father remarried without my brother nor myself knowing or meeting his new wife. So once again our homelife completely changed. At going on thirteen, I think I was not what my fathers’ new wife had expected, (she brought with her two of her own children), homelife in the new house just wasn’t working, so, I went back to live in Richmond and again commuted to school in Springvale.
After finishing Year 10 I began an apprenticeship as a signwriter, once again, had to commute as my job was in Clayton. I slept on mate’s floors for the next few months until one mate’s mother found me a boarding house in Springvale. So, at seventeen was living in a boarding house, wasn’t perfect but, I had great support from my close mates. I had a good job which I loved and a solid place to live.
Then I was “called up” for National Service. Completed basic training at Puckapunyal, then onto Liverpool for my R.A.E. Corps Training. When we had leave during Corp Training, we could not enter most R.S.L.’s around Sydney, being told we were not welcome as we were only Nasho’s and not returned soldiers.
I think every twenty-year old looks forward to their twenty first birthday. Unfortunately for us in the army, most times it wasn’t possible to celebrate. In my case, I was interstate and had a work detail that week, so couldn’t come home to celebrate. A milestone sadly missed!
After Corps training most of my troop received different posts around the country. Twelve others and myself were billeted and out in what was called “reinforcement troop”. We were told this troop was ready to be shipped to Vietnam. But, at this time the war in Vietnam was winding down, the Americans had started to pull out. We were told, we could apply and go to Kunungra for jungle training but, this would probably be a waste of time, as Australia would not send any more troops, at that stage. So, I waited for a week or so for a posting.
I was posted to be on Maintenance Staff at O.C.S. Portsea. During the next year, Whenever I had “leave”, I would go back to Springvale. But things were changing. My mates mostly had girlfriends or were engaged to be married. They weren’t going to the pubs and places we had in the past. If we did go out, I was looked at strangely, everyone else had long hair, beards etc. There was I with short back and sides and clean shaven. I felt a bit isolated. You also had to be a bit careful because some people felt strongly about the army and Australia being involved in the Vietnam conflict. I met a girl in the last few months of service, (luckily because I had to sleep on the floor of her flat after being de-mobbed). There were three other girls in the two-bedroom flat so it wasn’t a great situation.
After attending Watsonia Barracks for discharge, all of us believed we would be there a week or so to be re-adjusted to civilian life, but we were out of the army that day. I remember sitting in my car thinking, what am I going to do, where will I go. I had been told by the army for two years, this is what you will do and this is where you’re going, this is where and what you will eat.
I was lost!! I resented the Government and the Army for taking me away from a life I had finally felt apart of and comfortable in. Now, no place at the boarding house. I slept on the floor of my girlfriends. Went to my previous place of employment to let them know I could come back to work. It was a small business, only five employees. I was told by the owner, he didn’t need me now, he had employed someone else for the last eighteen months and things were tight. If he had to put me back on, someone would have to be put off and I would be getting the types of jobs nobody else wanted to do.
I found another job but, it was another small company and only needed a signwriter for a month or so to combat the Christmas rush. So, I was out of work again and most sign-shops close down for four weeks after Christmas. I thought of joining the Police Force, but unfortunately, I was considered too short! I was trained to carry and use a self-loading rifle, how to fire a machine gun, to throw a hand grenade, how to find and clear booby traps, how to clear underground tunnels, how to jump from a helicopter carrying a rifle, ammunition and full back pack and eligible to be sent into a war zone, BUT, too short to be a member of the police force.
Survived yet again with the help of a few mates. Started work for a large sign company in Port Melbourne. In the mean-time got married, (probably for all the wrong reasons), marriage only lasted two years. The job however, lasted fourteen years. I was lucky to find a new partner who puts up with all my quirks and misgivings, we’ve been married for forty- two years. Had I not met her, I think my army time and the way that time finished, would have made me a very angry man.
Shorty J – Sapper R.A.E. 3801334