by Boddington, Richard (Sgt), Murray Barracks, Port Moresby 1971-1972
My memory is a tad vague on some aspects of my Chalkie history while others are as clear as yesterday. So I do not remember exactly when I received my call-up letter, apart from it being in the period 1966-68 when I was undertaking my undergraduate studies in Economics at Monash University in Melbourne. In hindsight, just as when I was advised in 2005 that I had cancer, it was not a shock. It was a fact, and something to deal with. On the other hand, a number of my friends at the time were quite opposed to conscription and the Vietnam War and encouraged me, unsuccessfully, to become a conscientious objector.
Because I was bonded to the Victorian Education Department, I was still able to complete my Diploma in Education and teach for one year at Bonbeach High School before enlisting at Swan Rd, Richmond, Vic on 27 January 1971, and being bussed to Puckapunyal where I was allocated to A Company, 2 Platoon. The Platoon Commander was Lt. Allan McCallum. (For another article on Allan McCallum, click here)
I met him again at a birthday party in Melbourne in 2003.
While at Puckapunyal, we were asked to nominate or choose our preferred Corps posting after recruit training. I chose the Band Corps and Education, and went for interviews for both. Having been strongly schooled at Puckapunyal in saluting officers, as soon as I entered the interview room, I saluted the officer in front of me. As it turned out, he was a Captain (Freeman) and of lesser rank than the man with the voice which came from my left. He was a Colonel. I think there were 5-7 interviewers, including a Psychologist (Payne) whose probes included suggesting/provoking that I seemed like a person who would not be able to tolerate the PNG heat. How he might deduce that went through to the keeper. I was subsequently told that the psychologist asked even more provocative questions of other applicants. Two of three questions I do remember came from Capt Freeman: Do you play back pocket or rover? Wicket keeper or spin bowler? while I readily admitted I had no idea of the impact of Bougainville Copper on the PNG economy. Despite this admission, I was successful in my application for a posting to TPNG with the Education Corps.
The selected Chalkies were then posted to Singleton in NSW for Corps training, albeit that there was probably little more professional training that the Army could provide already-trained teachers. Hence, Corps training for us entailed being integrated with the Infantry Corps to further learn how to be trained killers, and acting as Vietcong in black ‘pyjamas’ on bush exercises.
My platoon commander was Lt Bell; the platoon Sergeant was Laurie O’Sullivan, and Echo Company was commanded by Major Bruzga. After Singleton came a posting to the Holsworthy Education Unit. The officers I remember were Major Dachs, Capt Freeman and Capt Dale Sutton, and there were five Chalkies who lived-in on the base: myself, John Hain (NSW), John Fragomeni (WA), Andy Dalziel (Vic) and Ross Yates (NSW). Bob Strachan lived off-base.
We carried on our own group PT (physical training) for a few weeks, with runs and the exercises learnt from Pucka and Singleton, but then our self-regulation waned, and we were happy to leave John Hain (aka Emu Bob) to his early morning runs.
As well as some up-front teaching, my main task was the re-writing of the Services General Certificate of Education (SGCE) Economics Study Guide. SGCE was, I think, the Army’s equivalent of Year 11. Interestingly, coinciding with our posting to Holsworthy, we were advised that the (then) latest recipient of the Victoria Cross, WO Keith Payne, was on base and that we should salute him, given his award and in spite of his being an NCO. I think, though, we only saw him from afar.
(As an aside, in June 2011, just after the fortieth anniversary of our enlistment, there was a reunion in Katoomba of John Hain, John Fragomeni, Andy Dalziel and me. I had not seen Andy or John Fragomeni since our time in PNG.)
On Monday October 11 1971, I married Lesley. The following week, I took her to the Kurrajong Hotel in Canberra as an extension to our honeymoon, while the Chalkies had an orientation to PNG. This included information on the history and culture of PNG, and language training in Pidgin from a Canberra University linguistics lecturer.
“Wunpela man i lukim tripela wantoks i kum long rot na i singout long ol: hey, yupela go where? Mipela go long stua na baim sumpela kaikai”. (Spelling?)
We also completed an assessment for ‘Subject B’ to enable us to be promoted to Acting Sergeants while in PNG. Subject ‘B’ covered those subjects which were ‘special to Corps’.
Then, in late October 1971, around midday, we arrived at Jackson’s Airport, Port Moresby and were transported to the Sergeants Mess at Murray Barracks. In those days, the summer uniform was polyesters, with long trousers, and we were allowed to discard the tie because of the temperature. It was like entering a furnace when we reached the top of the plane steps. In the first week in Moresby, we were given a further induction to PNG, including further Tok Pisin training in the language lab, before the large Chalkie group divided for travel to their specific postings – Goldie River, Taurama, Igam and Moem.
I stayed in the Mess for approximately three weeks until moving out to a block of units in Bisini Parade, Boroko, very close to the Rugby League stadium. I lived in the units, along with five other Chalkies. We ‘took over’ the units from the previous group of Chalkies who were ‘going finish’, so it was good, reliable income for the landlord, Mr Lee. A few days after re-locating from the Mess, my new bride arrived in Port Moresby, wondering what I had brought her to. She may elaborate in a separate publication.
The OC of the Murray Barracks Education Unit was Capt Roy Davy. His 2IC was Lt Hans Heitbrink, now the Mayor of Guyra Shire Council in NSW.
Being the Economics graduate, I generally focused on commercial subjects, Economics and Accounting, for Australian Army soldiers, and Social Studies for National soldiers. But this was not a heavy teaching load and allowed my appointment as Treasurer of the Sergeants Mess, a role which helped the Chalkies integrate with the ‘regs’, some of whom were antagonistic to nashos. Why? Our overnight promotion? Our qualifications? We weren’t of the ‘Regular Army’ tribe?
Because of my Treasurer’s role, I spent most mornings in the Mess, counting the previous day’s takings before banking. I distinctly remember that we didn’t have a calculator for a few months, as they were a bit of a novelty. So, when we wanted to calculate the profit percentage, I would ring the Education Section where the logarithm tables were. Now, that’s going back !!
Each Sunday was film night, when families could come and sit in the outdoors to watch the latest reel-to-reel movie. I had a good relationship with WO1 Harry Busby, the RSM and PMC. He is pictured below.
For reasons I have forgotten, I undertook the promotional course to become a substantive Sergeant. Over two weeks, this involved completing Subjects A and C: Military law plus weapons handling, close order drill and techniques of instruction. The rest of the course were reg’s. More scripts: “In this lesson, you will be taught to salute. For the purposes of instruction, this lesson is taught by numbers. Watch what happens on the command: Salute, ONE.” And so on. Bring back memories?
The role of Duty Sergeant was mine just once, and without having had advance training or advice. There were no particular incidents during this weekend duty which included inspecting the OR’s mess; establishing some order to the queues at the movie theatre, and raising the flag near the Brigadier’s residence.
My Port Moresby Chalkie colleague, Doug Rathbone, became a principal PNG tour operator, thereby permitting fellow chalkies, their partners and the general public to see many parts of PNG including Goroka, Mt Hagen, Lae, Madang, Rabaul and Wewak. This entrepreneurial activity coincided with Doug’s appointment as the Education Unit’s Duty Room Sergeant, and preceded his later award as Member of the Order of Australia. Lesley and I have many fond memories of those weekend trips, all of which began in a DC3 from Jackson’s Airport.
In 1972 Prime Minister Whitlam announced the end of peace time conscription as one of his government’s first administrative decisions. Those National Servicemen who did not wish to complete their term of service were discharged immediately, so most of the Moresby Chalkies ‘went finish’ in the mid 1972. Doug Rathbone and I chose to stay on, albeit as supernumeries. It gave Doug a chance to further display his entrepreneurial expertise, while I seemed to spend more time in the Sergeants Mess.
However, out of the blue, in August I was posted to Lae for several weeks as Cadet Battalion Orderly Room Sergeant at Lae. Unfortunately, the cadet camp finished tragically:
On August 28, 1972, an Australian Army Caribou aircraft A4233 from 38 squadron based in Richmond, Australia crashed in the mountains near Wau between Lae and Port Moresby while returning from a school cadet annual camp near Lae. Those onboard included 24 student cadets from De la Salle and one from Popondetta High School in Northern Province. A few days later, 4 young survivors, all from De la Salle, who had been at the rear of the Caribou, were found walking along a creek bed.
A fifth survivor of the initial crash was airlifted from the crash site but succumbed to his serious injuries a day later in hospital.
In October 1972, Lesley and I returned to Australia, and on 26 Dec 1972 I was discharged. A few weeks later I returned to PNG as Learning & Development Manager for Steamships, followed by appointment as HR Manager at the Housing Commission of PNG. Each of these appointments was associated with the provision of staff housing, so for Steamies, we lived in Korobosea Drive, Korobosea, off the top of Three Mile Hill, and the Housing Commission house was in Gaibodubu St, Tokarara, on the way to UPNG at Waigani.
I became an evening and correspondence tutor for commercial subjects conducted by the College of External Studies, Port Moresby, the body administering distance education at secondary level; and part-time Accounting tutor at the UPNG.
At the Housing Commission, among other things, I was responsible for the Commission’s localisation program, which was to ensure that positions were localized with PNG National Personnel. This saw the appointment of the first Housing Commissioner (i.e. CEO), Paul Japhlom. His successor, Paliau Lukas, after about one year in the role, went walkabout. I recently found the following advertisement which provides an indication of employment conditions for expats at that time. As an aside, the Commission, and other PNG Government Departments and agencies, had a number of pay structures to administer. In quantitative sequence these were: Australian expats, UK/NZ expats, Philippine expats, and PNG Nationals.
My musical career in PNG. When I went to PNG with the Army, I had left my drums at home. However, towards the end of 1972, I met Ian Fiddian who was the leader of a 6 piece group with which I played for the next few years after I returned to PNG with my drums. Ian still seems to be playing trombone in his home town of Adelaide.
Venues where I played included:
- Murray Barracks Sgts Mess
- Murray Barracks Officers Mess – including a Ball for the visiting Capt Mark Phillips and Princess Anne.
- Port Moresby Yacht Club
- Aviat Club
- Davara Hotel, at Ela Beach
- Ela Beach RSL
- Gateway Hotel, at Six Mile
I subsequently became the ‘house’ drummer at the Tabu, a restaurant at the bottom of Three Mile Hill, on the left hand side as you drove from Koki towards Murray Barracks. It was drums and cordovox (an amplified accordion) each Friday and Saturday night, and the band made the restaurant one of the top Moresby spots to dine and dance.
Lesley and I stayed in PNG until April 1976 – through self-government and independence – which reinforced localisation, and heightened security issues, perhaps associated with ‘cargo cultism’ – an expectation by some nationals of assuming expat jobs and lifestyle. The community decline seems to have continued, as noted recently on the web:
Security is an issue although not yet for us. Our smallish compound has 4 guards every day, a car outside 24 hours a day and 6 guards at night plus dog. Always drive with your doors locked, don’t walk especially at night and avoid anywhere too close to the squatter settlements. Despite the guards we have had 2 carjackings in our street this year. (Aug 2011 posted on Trip Advisor)
Our overall satisfaction with the PNG experience – really good. Lesley and I believed that PNG in those times either made or broke one’s marriage. There was no TV. We entertained. We had dinner parties. But many expats just drank.
And I did enjoy my National Service experience: the spit polished boots; the beret to be 2 fingers’ width above the eyebrow; the slouch hat chin strap buckle to be in line with one’s mouth; the bed sheets to be turned down 2 bayonet lengths; hut windows to be opened a bayonet length; bayonets to be stored in one’s cupboard; eyes front when officers inspected the hut; the number ‘zero’ rather than ‘O’; ‘say again’ rather than ‘repeat’.
As a penultimate thought, particularly for the Chalkies who were based in or near Port Moresby, let your minds reflect on your knowledge, memories and experiences of the following:
* Brown River
* Crystal Rapids
* Dunko’s diner
* Ela Beach
* Fisherman’s Island
* Idler’s Bay
* Ilimo farm
* Jackson’s airport
* Koki market
* Local Island
* Papuan Hotel
* Three Mile Hill
* Wards Cinema
* Drive in
Finally, here’s a list of the 1971-72 Chalkies, as far Andy Dalziel, John Fragomeni, John Hain and I can remember. Maybe others can add to or correct our list:
Andrew Dalziel (Vic) at Igam Barracks
Doug Rathbone (Vic) at Murray Barracks
John Fragomeni (WA)
John Hain (NSW)
Richard Boddington at Murray Barracks
‘Jim’ Semple at Murray Barracks
‘Viv’ Stone (Vic)
Barny Miller (NSW)
Bob Large (Qld)
Bob Strachan (NSW)
Brian Wellman (SA) at Murray Barracks
Bruce Honeyman (SA)
Dave Czouskas (Zakkers)
Ed Macauley (Vic)
Graeme Thompson (SA) at Lae
Graham Hilder (deceased)
Graham Mark (WA)
Greg Buffier (NSW)
Gus Tulley (WA)
Ian Minns (Vic) at Lae
John Durrant (Vic) at Murray Barracks
John Smithard (Vic)
Peter Killian (Vic) at Lae
Roger Waller at Murray Barracks
Rory McEwan (SA)
Ross Yates (NSW)
Ted Campbell (WA)
Tom O’Meara (Vic)
Warren Dunn (NSW)
…….Stewart at Murray Barracks