by Darryl Dymock, Taurama Barracks 1969-70
It’s been quite a task pulling together the responses to the 2015 Chalkies’ survey, mainly because there was such a great response: 73 in total – and they all (thankfully) had a lot to say! I also sent out a later survey to wives who were mentioned on the returned questionnaires, and am grateful to the ten women who added their voices to the PNG experience. I’ve been fitting the analysis and writing around other commitments, but I’ve just about completed the write-up task, and am now exploring publication options for a book.
In the meantime, here’s a brief overview of what came out of the survey and my other research, including from the Nashospng website:
No. of ex-Chalkies on Terry Edwinsmith’s database: 180
No. of responses to survey: 73 (= 40% return rate)
Nasho years of respondents: 66/67: 6; 67/68: 11; 68/69: 5; 69/70: 16; 70/71: 16; 71/72: 7; 72/73: 6; other combinations: 6. Total: 73.
Age on entry to Nasho: 20yrs: 18; 21yrs: 21; 22yrs: 13; 23yrs: 10; 24yrs: 6; 25yrs: 2; 26yrs: 1; not shown: 2
State on entry to Nasho: Qld: 17; NSW: 20; Vic: 23; SA: 3; WA: 8; NT: 1.
Recruit training: 1RTB Kapooka: 15; 2RTB Puckapunyal: 35; 3TB Singleton: 22; not shown: 1 [Those selected for OTU Scheyville were at these bases only briefly]
Occupation on entry: High school teacher: 40; Primary school teacher: 25;
other: 8 (includes Ag specialists, Tech/trade teachers, and two with degrees but no teaching qualification)
PNG posting: Murray Barracks: 20; Iduabada Tech: 2; Taurama Barracks: 13; Goldie River: 9; Moem Barracks: 11; Igam Barracks: 11; combinations: 7.
With the aid of an Army History Research Grant, I was also able to travel to explore files held at the National Archives in Melbourne and Canberra, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, and also RAAEC Newsletters in the National Library, Canberra. From those sources, I’ve estimated that the total number of Nasho Chalkies sent to TPNG was around 280: 26 in the first cohort in 1966 and about 40 a year between 1967 and 1972.
Attitudes to conscription at the time of call-up
In favour: 18 (25%)
e.g. ‘I was generally positive about conscription and the reasons for Australia’s involvement in Vietnam.’
Opposed: 31 (42%)
e.g. ‘I didn’t agree with the validity of the rationale for conscription (i.e. the Vietnam War), nor did I agree with the modus operandi (i.e. a random chance of 1:12 of being conscripted).’
Neutral/Accepting: 24 (33%)
e.g. ‘I had fairly neutral views on conscription at the time I had to register, although I believed that if a person was conscripted he was obliged to serve as required.’
Recollections of recruit training
26 (36%) described their reactions in primarily negative terms, e.g.: ‘bewilderment initially, and once reality set in it was tough’; ‘tough, cold, boring’; ‘wasn’t something to enjoy – in fact, I hated it!’.
17 (23%) saw their recruit training experience in mainly positive terms, e.g.: ‘very interesting and quite enjoyable’; ‘not too demanding’; ‘I loved it – I was not only involved in activities I enjoyed but now had the time without other responsibilities to be 100% involved.’
28 (38%) saw recruit training in neutral terms (‘I expected it to be what it was’) or as a balance of positive and negative features, e.g.: ‘The weather (very hot) made it physically very difficult and it took quite a time to adjust to the rules, expectations, shouted abuse, racism and seeming trivia of army discipline. Once you got this in perspective, it became easy to “roll with the punches”; ‘My family was conservative and I was totally unused to people yelling and abusing in the customary fashion at that time. By the end of the 10 weeks, however, I’d come to grips with it.
2 respondents remembered only the physical demands of recruit training; a lot more mentioned them as part of their recollections.
The PNG experience
The accounts of Chalkies’ PNG experiences – in the Educational Corps, in the Army, in the country – were detailed and varied, and far too much for me to summarise succinctly here. That will have to wait until the book comes out, whatever form that takes. Suffice it to say that all 73 who responded had very clear recollections of things that happened during their time in PNG – the humorous, the serious, and the almost unbelievable.
In order to give our experiences some context, in the book I’ve shaded in the background of Australian government policy in PNG between 1966 and 1973, as well as in relation to conscription. Apart from that, I’ve tried to use the words of Chalkies themselves as they remembered their experiences of that time.
Back to civvy street
After Nasho, the majority of Chalkies went back to the education systems they’d come from, and 44 (60%) of them stayed in school education. Most of these gained middle to senior management and admin/consultancy positions over their working life; some did part-time or casual work after retirement, not always in education.
A further 16 (22%) initially returned to schools and then went on to other occupations, which included squash club owner, computer scientist, ASIO intelligence, real estate, taxi industry, tourism, university academic, and dairy farmer.
The other 13 (18%) went straight into another occupation after Nasho, including four who signed on for an ARA commission, a church minister, engineer, psychologist, diplomat, and accountant.
One of the Chalkies who responded said that we are in a reflective period of our lives, and I think that shows in the nature of the assessments that the survey respondents made of their time in PNG and in the Army. I’m very grateful to those 73 and the ten wives, and the others who have provided input into the history, including the five members of the reference group that has been giving me guidance along the way: Terry Edwinsmith, Ian Ogston, Greg Ivey, Greg Farr and Norm Hunter.
I will keep readers informed of the final arrangements for publication when those are finalised. I know from experience as an author that unfortunately this can be a slow process.
There are lots of memorable quotes in the Chalkies’ responses, and I’ve attributed them in the book (unless you requested otherwise), and I’ll leave you with just one of them: ‘Two years isn’t a long time in your life, but at age 20 it can be significant.’