Chalkies Cargo Cult and the Lottery

To paraphrase Spike Milligan, I was dragged kicking and screaming from under my bed in January 1969 and drafted into the Army. From the outset I was very keen to avoid the immorality (and danger) of the Vietnam War. I had previously heard of the RAAEC program in Papua New Guinea utilizing National Service Conscripts to educate the indigenous soldiers and this really appealed to me. So at every opportunity I let the Army know of my preferred option and to my great relief, at the end of basic training at Puckapunyal, I was posted to the RAAEC for eventual transfer to TPNG.

As you know, we first had to do 12 weeks infantry training at Singleton and then another 12 weeks based in our home state with the RAAEC which was for me Campbell Barracks in Swanbourne, W.A. During this time, I set out to learn about this mysterious place, Papua New Guinea, where I would be spending the next 12 months of my life.
I familiarised myself with the history and geography of the Territories, as it was then, the social mix of the place and contemporary life there for expatriates. I was posted to Taurama Barracks on the outskirts of Port Moresby. In those days Port Moresby had an expatriate population of 13,000 people, mainly Australian although a good sample of people from New Zealand, UK, Europe and North America as well. The indigenous population was 60,000 people and again a good mix of people from the coastal areas, eastern and western Highlands, New Britain, New Ireland and Bougainville.

When studying contemporary lifestyle for expatriates, I learned something which stood out in flashing red lights for a smart-arsed, materialistic young 23 year old like myself – the availability of very cheap electrical goods, entertainment systems and motor cars.

In late 1968, the Jaguar Motor Company had released its revolutionary XJ6 model onto the market and it had taken the motoring fraternity by storm. I decided that I wanted one. So, before leaving Perth, I re-mortgaged my house and as soon as I lobbed in Port Moresby went round to PNG Motors and did a deal. In 1969 a Jaguar XJ6 would set you back $8,600.00 in an Australian capital city. In Port Moresby I wrote out a cheque for $5,900.00. I was well pleased.

However there was better to come! With the Jaguar under my bum, I turned my attention to buying a quality sound system at a bargain price. I frequented the Chinese stores in Boroko comparing prices and performances of various systems. Before I had made a purchase there came an offer which was too good to refuse. The Officers Mess at Taurama had established a “Buying Club” to get special deals on all manner of goods and they had direct buying arrangements with suppliers of electrical goods in Japan. This club was in the process of placing a bulk order for Akai M10 reel to reel tape recorders supplied direct from Japan. The more units which were ordered, the cheaper the unit price became so these officers invited us sergeants to join in the bulk order if we so wished.

The Akai M10 was the state of the art sound system of 1970. It had no less than 22 transistors in its circuitry, 35 amps of thumping sound and of course had to be complemented with speaker boxes the size of suitcases which were jam packed with woofers and tweeters. As far as I can remember all 8 of us Sergeants bought M10s with several also buying turntables and amplifiers. The Akai M10 and speaker boxes set us back a bit over $400.00 which was less than 50% of the retail price in Australia.
Still this was almost 10% of our annual salary – a considerable investment to listen to music!

Because these purchases were coming out of Japan, it took a few weeks before they were available. When that day finally arrived the officers advised us that our goodies were ready to collect from the Officers Mess. My Jaguar was the biggest car in the Sergeants Mess carpark, with a Renault Dauphine jointly owned by Tom Uil and Steve Beveridge and a Datsun Bluebird owned by Ian Mackay as the only alternatives, so I was given the job of going and collecting them.

So there I was in the Officers Mess carpark, at the high altar of materialism, loading my brand spanking new Jaguar to the gunwales with tape recorders, speaker boxes, turntables and amplifiers and the Commanding Officer of Taurama Barracks, Lt.Colonel Maurie Pears, walked by. Like all good soldiers should do, I stopped what I was doing, stood to attention and saluted him. As he returned the salute, he said in a good natured way, “What, won the lottery have we Sergeant?”
“Only one, Sir” I replied………………………

John Ford
Taurama Barracks, 1969-70

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