Twenty years later…

Time seems to pass so quickly and this all feels like it happened just last year, but this story unfurled a little over twenty years ago… starting around the middle of1996, maybe???  I had been single for while, I mean, not very long in the big scheme of things, but I was lamenting the lack of intelligent and refined young gentlemen in my general circle of acquaintance to a friend of mine, Peter.  It was a typical, ‘Where have all the good men gone?’ conversation – I was sick of meeting guys who couldn’t hold up their end in a meaty conversation, guys who didn’t know or care about anything outside their own small world, guys who wanted to get you into bed but who had nothing of any substance to offer you over breakfast.  Peter offered me a some very good advice: ‘You need to separate the wheat from the chaff.’ said Pete, ‘What you need is a good pick up line…’  I had no idea where he was going with this, but he then said to me, ‘Next time you meet someone, ask them what they think of the Chinese Government disbanding the Hong Kong legislature.’  I laughed in his face – Oh right… how is that going to help me meet an interesting guy?!

But over the next few months, I found Pete’s pick up line was extremely useful: I would be out with the girls at a bar, and a guy would offer to buy me a drink or we’d be playing pool or something, and I’d pull out my conversation starter, ‘So… what do you think of the Chinese Government disbanding the Hong Kong legislature?’  I got a lot of blank looks, a lot of ‘Huh?’ responses.  I got one, ‘Are you drunk?’, and one guy who literally just turned and walked away.  It turned out that Pete’s one liner was a huge success at getting rid of repetitive conversations about cars or surfing, etc.  So I kept it. And used it to good effect.

Several months after I started applying my pick up line to my all and sundry social interactions at the Alex Hills and Colmslie Taverns, (Yes, I know, in hindsight, there was my problem, right there!), my sister came home from her first Rowany Festival (a large medieval camping event that is held annually near Sydney).  She was full of enthusiastic stories about the tavern, the wars, the wonderful people she’d met, and all the general merrymaking and shenanigans she’d experienced.  She showed me a whole pile of photographs of armoured fighters all decked out for war, and medieval campsites, and costumed people playing games on the green… it all looked like a lot of fun.  She showed me one picture of herself with some friends, and I said to her, ‘Who’s he?’

She replied that his name was ‘William the Admirer’, but that she didn’t know his real name, and then she related a story where ‘William’ was engaged in a flattery competition that involved several guys who were engaged in offering delicate sentiments to compliment the Princess at the time, and how ‘William’ had declared to all that he would henceforth change his name to ‘William the Admirer’ in honour of the Princess and her beauty and accomplishments… or something like that.  I laughed, but at the same time was quite taken by the idea of a young man who could pull off something like that in a social situation, and told my sister that she should invite him to a party that we were hosting soon, so that I could meet him… and so she did.  Several times apparently.  Each time she saw him, she apparently reiterated the invitation and he had promised he would come so that I could meet him.

The party in question was one of our then, annual Tequila Parties (complete with sombreros, ponchos, heavily laced sangria, nachos galore and a pinata filled with alcohol minis and condoms!), and when the night in question rolled around, I kept an eye out to see if the young man in question was going to turn up… but alas, he never did.  So I did what every sensible young woman does when being stood up by a man who didn’t know he had a date – got blind rotten drunk to the point where I was doing tequila shots and thinking, ‘This tequila tastes strange…’ only to double check the bottle and find it was vodka!  After that, I pretty much forgot all about ‘William the Admirer’.

About a month passed, and my sister informed me that she was going to a housewarming party in Annerley and would I like to come? At the time, I wasn’t really all that keen on going a party where I wouldn’t know anyone, so I declined the invitation… and then she said to me, ‘That guy from the photo is going to be there.’  Oh well, in that case, I decided ‘What the hell.’, I’d go.

We went to the party and I met a lot of new people and engaged in a lot of small talk – as you do when you are surrounded by people who know each other very well, but who you know not at all.  They were all laughing and telling stories and I was politely watching the party warm up.  Several hours and several vodkas later, it was obvious that the elusive ‘William the Admirer’ was not going to be making an appearance – yet again.  So much for that!  Unbeknownst to me, he was on a date (Which was going disastrously – that’s what you get for letting your mother set you up on a blind date!), and he was probably delivering his unfortunate date home around the time I was rounding on my sixth or seventh drink*! (*important plot point)

I was sitting outside under the patio when I saw him enter the dining room and thought to myself, ‘Hey there’s that guy from the photo! Finally, I’ll get to meet him!’ This much I do remember… from there though, things get a little hazy and versions of the story start to differ.  🙂  Apparently, while I am thinking this, he claims to have been thinking, ‘Who is that short blonde girl in the pink jumper, outside?’ (Yes, somethings never change).  I’m not sure how we actually met, though I am confident no one made an actual introduction, but HE claims that he was standing in the dining room, talking to Stefano and that *I* came up to him in a very familiar manner and said, ‘Hello’, and put my hand in his pocket!  What a brazen hussy!  As I said, it was getting late, I had more than a few drinks, and my recollection is pretty sketchy but… it is possible that this occurred in this manner. I guess?!  :/  Stefano looks at him, he looks at Stefano, and they go, ‘Okay then.’

Over the next hour or so, I sobered up a quite a bit as we are exchanging pleasantries, and I think to myself, ‘I like him. A lot. He seems smart.’.  Still a little tipsy, I asked him a very important question, ‘So… what do you think of the Chinese Government disbanding the Hong Kong legislature?’ He looks at me for a moment, and then launches into a full-on dissertation on the political climate in China, and how the residents of Hong Kong are going to be affected by the move from English to Chinese rule and… I stop him right there, and confess that I don’t care, but I am won.  He knew what I was talking about and that was more than good enough for me.  🙂

We talked and canoodled until 5am, and three weeks later he declared he was going to marry me – to which I smiled incredulously and verbally patted him on the head by saying, ‘Ahuh, sure.’  But he proved me wrong and two years later we were married.

Mr K, I hunted you down from a photograph, and I am so very glad I did.  Sometimes the last twenty years feel as though they have been filled with more trials than triumphs, but the one constant has been us, and I am so looking forward to the next twenty years  <3

*and doubly glad that your date that night crashed and burned!  😉

Every woman.

Thanks to the US presidential election, there has been a lot of discussion lately about sexual assault, attitudes towards women and how men conduct themselves when they are in the private company of other men.  It’s really quite hard to ignore at the moment as the media is in the grips of what must be the very exemplar of a true media frenzy. For most women, the topic of sexual assault and sexual harassment hits us somewhere deep and personal that we’d rather not think about.  It brings ugly memories to the surface and dredges up life experiences that we’d prefer to leave quietly filed away in The Past™.  Many of us have these long suppressed and often ignored, but never forgotten, unpleasant memories of how we have subjected to the abysmally inequitable status quo that continues to exist in our society.  To varying degrees, most women I know have had a lifetime of unsolicited sexual attention.  All women live with the awareness of possible sexual harassment and assault every day – it is the background noise of our lives.  It hurts us, it scars us, it sure as hell scares us, and it follows us around our entire lives. And more often than not, it starts really young. So goddamn young.

I was 5 or 6 years old and at primary school, when a man we called ‘Window Willy’, lived in a house adjacent to our playground. He gained this nickname from his habit of flashing his penis at us little girls during our lunch breaks. Despite repeatedly reporting it to teachers the message always came back to just stay away from that area of the playground.

I was about 8 years old when one day, I was up at the Carina Terminus shops waiting for my mother in the haberdasher.  A man who was seated outside the shop had been staring at me through the window, and I thought nothing of it.  While my mum was busy with her purchase, he shifted the leg of his c.1970s very short shorts, and displayed his penis and scrotum to me – a little girl.  I told my mum and the lady in the shop… they just told me not to look at him.

I was an athletic, short, blonde, tanned and already busty 12 or 13 year old, when I came out of the surf at Stradbroke Island one holiday with my hair slicked back wet to my head, and a ‘friend’ of the family said I looked like Bo Derek.  My Dad gave me a towel and told me to cover up.

I was 13 when I had recently joined the Army Cadets and a Cadet Under Officer came over to me while we were at attention on the parade ground and fiddled with the lanyard attached to my breast pocket, saying it wasn’t sitting right.  Seemed innocent enough but then I caught the satisfied and smug look on his face as he walked away because he had touched up my boobs in front of everyone.

I was a little over 14 when I went to the movies in the city with a large group of (mostly male) friends one Anzac Day. The boy I was sitting with thought it was appropriate to pull out his dick and put my hand on it in the dark. I screamed, everyone laughed, I switched seats.

I was barely 15 when a 21 year old man, an officer of the same Cadet Unit decided to single me out. I was flattered at the attentions of this older guy, so it never occurred to me to object when he woke me up in my tent at 1am, and encouraged me to go for a walk with him.  He took me to his panel van and convinced me to ‘come talk with me’.  After a while he kissed me and that was okay, but when he started to grope under my shirt and and tried to pull down my pants, I had to fight tooth and nail to get out of there without pissing him off and causing more aggression… or god help me, violence.

I was nearly 16 when another CO – this time a 23 year old man – took me and two other 16 year old friends to the Gold Coast for a ‘night off’, while we were supposed to be on bivouac.  He bought two bottles of vodka and got us all drunk. I vaguely remember doing cartwheels and round-offs over a campfire that night.  I absolutely, 100%, clearly remember waking up in the early hours of the morning in his car with his hands inside in my pants and him saying, ‘Let’s finish what we started.’ Those words have simultaneously haunted and comforted me.  If things needed ‘finishing’, then maybe my fuzzy drunken memory lapse wasn’t covering up something even worse…

I was 17 when I was waitressing at the local Leagues Club, helping out some friends with their catering business, when a drunk footballer stood up and waved his dick at me to the amusement of his friends.  I ran and hid in the kitchen, shaking my head in disbelief and discouraging my black belt boyfriend from going out there and smashing his face in. One of the older women who was also waiting tables with me offered to take over that table.  He didn’t flash at her.

I was maybe all of 19 when a colleague who I had been reasonably friendly with, cornered me in the copy room late one Friday at work. He pushed me up against a photocopier and pressed his erection into my thigh saying that he thought I was really sexy and he couldn’t help himself.  Knowing that more than 80% of the office had left for the weekend already, I talked fast,telling him I had a boyfriend and asking him what his wife would think. I never scrambled so fast to get the fuck out of a place in my life.

When I was about 20 we used to hang out down at Fisherman’s Wharf for lazy afternoons of live music and cheap drinks.  After one of these nights, we ended back at my boyfriend’s best mate’s place.  My boyfriend passed out drunk in a spare room, leaving me in a strange house with a guy I had met only once before.  This guy. This ‘best friend’, decided this was a good opportunity to pin me down on the carpet, stick his tongue down my throat and have sex with me.  I was too drunk to say no… I was too drunk to say yes.

Thus began my life of never drinking to the point where I might lose control. Of my wits. Of the situation. Of myself.

I was 23 the FIRST time I felt the penis of a complete stranger digging into me when riding a packed train in London.  I’ve lost count of occasions when I have been on trains, buses, or in a tight packed crowd at a concert, and someone has pushed their erection into me, or an anonymous hand opportunistically groped at my breasts, or grabbed on my arse. What do you do?  What do you do?  Sometimes you don’t even know who did it.

I was 35 when a man in Pakistan at a tailor’s shop, slid his hand up my thigh.  I stepped away, only for him to sidle over to me and do it again. Culturally this was seriously creepy – I know how little men value women in countries like this. I was over 40 when a skeezy little Chinese guy in Shanghai pretended to sneeze – face first right into my chest. Fucker.

Thankfully, it happens less and less these days… perhaps because I’m getting older and I am no longer as desirable as the younger version of me was. Perhaps because I no longer frequent pubs and taverns without the protection of a group of trusted friends.  Perhaps, because like many older women, I have carefully cultivated a general ‘fuck off’ vibe, that I arm myself with whenever I leave the house.

I am not in any way tormented or traumatised by my experiences. Have my behaviours evolved to ensure my personal safety and to avoid situations like this?  God, yes.  I don’t go out by myself at night, I am careful about my alcohol consumption (even among friends), I dress fairly modestly most of the time – primarily because I prefer people to talk to my face and not my tits, but also because I don’t want to offer encouragement. Mostly I don’t think about these things because is just the background noise of my life – this constantly and habitually minimising risk.  I don’t dwell on these experiences or in anyway, nor do I feel myself to be any sort of victim.  I’ve never sought justice or expected sympathy over any of this.  These are just things that happened to me.  Sometimes I think the fact that I am not traumatised from these incidents is an indicator of how normalised sexual harassment and sexual assault is in our lives and in our thinking. Other times my thought patterns are more: ‘Yeah, that happened. I can’t change it. I wasn’t seriously hurt. I’m still here. Could have been worse. Who cares?’

Mostly I just don’t think about it at all… but at the moment, with the current media climate, I don’t know how NOT to think critically about my past experiences and how/if they have effected me. What I do know is that sexual assault of varying degrees is so completely pervasive in all our societies. It doesn’t matter what your background is –  it leaves no girl or woman untouched.  I may not have suffered the torment and horror of a complete stranger raping me behind a dumpster – but every single woman I know has stories of unwanted sexual attention.  Every. Single. Woman.

And now, whenever that simply horrid, overblown buffoon of a billionaire, wannabe President, opens his mouth – all I hear and see are these men from my past.  These men who took liberties with my person because I am female. Fuck them and fuck him. If this self professed pig of a man wins the White House and sets a shining example for people all over the world – how do we even begin to try and fix this if it?  I can’t believe he is even being considered as remotely suitable.

consent-sexual-assault

RIP Lemmy… Stone Dead Forever

Twenty four and a half years ago, a bunch of excited wannabe metal heads packed themselves into their crappy, barely roadworthy cars, and drove down from Brisbane to the PlayRoom on the Gold Coast, to see what was promising to be one of the biggest gigs of the year…

Motörhead!!!

This was huge.  We had been looking forward to this gig all year, and after we had finished ignoring Frozen Doberman for about 45 minutes or so, the mosh pit packed tighter as Motörhead came out on stage and opened hard, and stupidly loud, with ‘Ironfist’ assaulting our eardrums – the sound waves physically beating our chests thanks to the Marshall stack from hell covering all the walls barely 15′ in front of us.  Sadly, the whole thing fell apart in a spectacular and rapid fashion when some idiot in the crowd threw a beer can at Lemmy. He warned the crowd to wind their fucking heads in.

They didn’t.

Some complete wanker who was obviously stoned, or missing a few neurons, (or both!), decided to flail a second beer can at the biggest, nastiest looking, motherfuckin’ rock legend the PlayRoom had ever seen. And then, Lemmy pretty much said, ‘Fuck you lot’ and just kinda walked off, leaving the rest of the band momentarily confused before they up and followed him.

Some reports say they played about 5 or 6 songs, some say only 3.  My recollection is more, ‘Fuck! What?! They were just getting started!’ We were unceremoniously herded outside the venue as the crowd was turning ugly – angry people milled about, cops were called, punters were demanding their money back, dog squads arrived, disheartened fans took pictures of Lemmy’s ugly mug out of cherished silver lockets and burned his image on the spot… ok, only one fan (that I know of), burned a tiny cut out picture of Lemmy’s wart covered face that night – any idea who that might be, BigSal? – but you get the idea. We dispersed into the night and never got the chance to see Motörhead play live again.

The incident went down in local metal folklore and still holds a place in various lists of rock’n’roll disasters.  The acrimony towards Lemmy was short lived… one can only be so mad at God for so long.

RIP Lemmy… thanks for the music.
lemmy_0

“1991 also saw us support MOTORHEAD on the 1916 TOUR at the now deceased GOLD COAST PLAYROOM. It went down in local folklore for a few reasons, not because we played, but MOTORHEAD only played about 5 songs and walked off pissed at the dumb crowd who threw cans at them, we were left with their rider..we drank till oblivion..trashed their dressing room, almost got our arse kicked by management and high tailed back to Sydney with stupid arsed grins on our faces. Our management was contacted, threats may have been made, deals probably done. We chose to move on. We never did play there again.”
Adam (vocalist) – Frozen Doberman

“Oh yeah. We played on the Gold Coast in Surfers Paradise one night. We had 1500 people there. It was packed. “

Of course, there is always the ugly and that came in the form of their performance at the Gold Coast’s now defunct Playroom in 1991 where punters were hurling beer cans stageward early on during Motörhead’s performance. After warning the crowd about stopping the show if their behaviour didn’t cease, Motörhead simply walked off stage after only a few songs.

“Yeah, fuckin’ right y’know? I’ve had fireworks just miss my head. The worst one for me was in Belgrade in this festival. Somebody had taken the time use a glass cutter to chop off about that much (his fingers indicating about a 1cm) off of the bottom of a wine bottle and then shape it into a nunchaku star and fuckin’ throw it at me. It missed my eye by about that much (again indicating with his fingers about 2cm from the right side of his face). I just fuckin’ walked off. The promoter was shittin’ himself. I said, ‘I ain’t fuckin’ goin’ on man. You can forget it!’ They convinced me eventually and they assured me that it wouldn’t happen again. It just ruins it. It somebody doesn’t like me or whatever if I fuckin’ shagged his sister years before and, probably I have,” jokes Campbell. “People throw stuff at me like that and go ‘Hey wanker!’. I say ‘What’s your problem? Did I shag your girlfriend last time?’ There’s no need to throw stuff. I don’t know why they bother to come. It’s not cool to do that. We can’t see nothing. We’re in the dark. It’s cowardly. If you wanna come up, come up afterwards and say ‘C’mon, I wanna fuckin’ punch you Phil!’ y’know?”
Phil Campbell – Lead Guitarist Motorhead (via The MetalForge)

Let the sanest among us, cast the first stone.

I was sitting at the kitchen table the other day watching a TED video, as you do… and my mobile phone rings.  I glance at the screen and see that it’s my Mum calling.  So I answer the call, and say, “Hi Mum”, just like I always do… only to hear a male voice saying, “No, it’s Dad.”

*WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?!?*

JTFC!  This seriously and immediately did my head in, because my Dad passed away in 2007.  It was actually my father in law, who is currently visiting from Canada and staying at my Mum’s house while she is travelling… and while somewhere deep down in my logical brain I knew it couldn’t be my Dad, the distracted manner in which I answered the phone and the expectation that it would be my mother, followed by a declaration that it was my deceased father, allowed an immediate, and completely irrational, reaction that stayed with me for several hours.

It happened in just a split second – I heard the male voice and was then frantically looking around the room in confusion and my heart felt like it had leapt into my throat… I felt like I was floundering and my brain was having trouble keeping up with the enormous negative adrenaline rush that over took my body.  It was like some weird lizard brain fear/disbelief reaction that I have never experienced before.  Absolute discombobulation. Then a fleeting moment later it penetrated that the male voice had said ‘Doug’ and not ‘Dad’… and I just burst into tears.

It was a truly surreal moment.  I felt like my brain was trying to resolve some sort of unresolvable situation.  I have no way to describe it other than I ‘freaked the fuck out!’… and I am not the type of person who ‘freaks the fuck out!’ about anything.  Additionally, I most certainly do not believe in anything that would even remotely support concepts of contact and/or interactions with people who are dead.  But my brain didn’t seem to remember any of that, right there in the middle of that bizarrely intense over-emotional unreasonable moment.

I would give just about anything for a phone call with my Dad, I have so much I would want to tell him, so many things I would I want to ask him, people I would want to introduce him to.  So much has happened since he left.  You know, most days I don’t think about Dad at all, and we all just go about our lives.  But whenever I do think about him… I miss him so much it hurts.

discombobulate discombobulation

My Poppa and World War II.

Yesterday, I went to visit my 95 year old Grandfather who has found himself in respite care for the first time.  Up until about two months ago he has been living independently up at Bribie Island but apparently he has started having chest issues and subsequent breathing problems – but when I asked him how his chest was getting along, he told me the most bizarre thing… that he’d always had chest problems on his left side ever since he ‘fell down a mountain’ in WWII when serving in Papua New Guinea.   Falling down a mountain?  Huh?

My Poppa was conscripted to serve in the Australian Army during World War II, probably in 1942, (I didn’t know he was a conscript, I always assumed he had volunteered), and he found himself enlisted into the 25th Battalion, which was largely formed of men from the Qld Darling Downs region, most of whom were present at the Battle of Milne Bay and was later assigned to ANGAU, the Australia New Guinea Administrative Unit.  Anyway, he tells me while he was assigned to the 25th Battalion, at some point they were engaged with the enemy (the Japanese Army) and he was forced over a cliff and ‘fell down a mountain’.  Leaving him in the RAP with broken ribs and a punctured lung.

Like many returned veterans, my Poppa never talks about the war much and I had only a rudimentary knowledge of his service in Papua New Guinea.  Hell, he never even really spoke to my grandmother about it, from what she said.  I knew that he had served with American troops and that at some point he had received a Military Medal for bravery – he had single handedly attacked a Japanese hut and shot two enemy soldiers before killing five more with an axe/machete, leaving his platoon outside in safety – the erroneous and watered down concepts I had, of how he came to be awarded this high distinction, are recorded here.  I was not aware that he had suffered any injuries while in the Pacific theatre, but here he is, a man I have known my entire life telling me he ‘fell down a mountain’ and had residual chest issues as a result of a puncture lung and scar tissue on that lung… so I started asking him some more questions about his time in the war in the hope that he might open up a bit.

He spoke to me for the first time about his presence at Milne Bay and how the Japanese soldiers landed on the beach appeared to be expecting very little resistance, for they knew the Australian soldiers posted there were all conscripts – in the Japanese imagination, that meant they were men who didn’t want to fight, and in their arrogance they expected to walk all over them, as the Japanese had experienced no great amount of resistance and had not suffered any defeat until this point in the war.  My Poppa told me how the volunteer Aussie soldiers referred to conscripts, like himself, as Chocos (Chocolate soldiers – a derogatory term for a soldier who looks good, but melts under pressure… a term the current Australian Army relegates to their Army Reserve).  Anyway he personally thinks the Japanese felt that the Chocos wouldn’t give them any trouble, but they were wrong, really wrong.  And were defeated at Milne Bay and forced to retreat.  He spoke about how he remembers seeing about 200 dead Japanese soldiers on the beach when the Japanese pushed inland but they were eventually forced to retreat when met with unexpected veteran Australian reinforcements.

The Battle of Milne Bay, (25 August – 7 September 1942). One of the barges used by the Japanese forces in their unsuccessful incursion.

The Battle of Milne Bay, (25 August – 7 September 1942) – one of the barges used by the Japanese forces in their unsuccessful incursion.

Throughout our visit yesterday, he said several times that the ‘Japanese soldiers did horrible, terrifying things that I just can’t tell you about’, it was obviously a coping mechanism developed over the last 70 years, maybe even necessary for his own mental preservation, to justify the things he did in the Pacific.  Even though I reassured him I had read several books detailing the war atrocities that the Japanese had committed against enemy troops in the Pacific, he was still reluctant to share details of the things he had seen.  The only specific example he was prepared to share personally, was that on one occasion they had found some of their own Signals guys wrapped up to palm trees with comms wire, and it was obviously that the Japanese soldiers had used them for live bayonet practice.  But other than this, Poppa would only say that the Japanese soldiers were very free and creative with torture – ‘it was just the way they were trained’ – and that these practices among others, would eventually be labelled as Japanese war crimes.

Centaur-ship2

The AHS Centaur with prominent red crosses on her bow and funnels.

In May of 1943, a hospital ship, the AHS Centaur, was sunk by the Japanese off the coast of Australia somewhere near Caloundra in Queensland.  The sinking of the Centaur made headlines around the world and confirmed in the minds of the allied countries, the barbarity and savagery that the Japanese were capable of – as this attack on a hosptial ship was irrefutably a crime, being an act in serious breech of the 1907 Hague Convention.  The public was outraged that a hospital ship was targeted and sunk.  Poppa said the sinking of the Centaur steeled the resolve of the soldiers he served with, and their hatred of the Japanese was solidified after that.  For Poppa personally, the sinking of the Centaur was deeply painful and personal – you see, his elder brother Harry was on the Centaur and died on May 14th, 1943 when it was sunk.  By the sounds of it, this event had an enormous impact on my Grandfather and his anger and desire for revenge on the Japanese became somewhat consuming.

canberra times centaur

work save fight avenge the nurses

When working with ANGAU, one of his primary responsibilities was reconnaissance and eradicating Japanese soldiers that were embedded throughout the mountainous jungle terrain.  He was a Sergeant by then, and had a platoon consisting of American, Australian and some Papua New Guinea natives.  I had heard the story of how he was awarded the Military Medal for attacking a hut with no regard for his life, and was told (when I was a kid) that he had malaria and thought he was dying, so he left his unit outside and attacked the hut alone.  That was not true… it was a watered down version of his actual actions while serving in this unit.  Yesterday, Poppa told me that he was so incensed by his brother’s unjust death, that he wanted to make the Japanese pay.  So he started to habitually ingress into these Japanese huts on his own.  He estimates there was at least a dozen or so huts that he attacked and usually they had only one or two occupants.  However one day he burst into a hut only to find seven men in that hut, two of which he shot and the other five he killed with a tomahawk sized axe.

I was a little shocked and struggling with incredulity.  Not to mention completely amazed he made it through the war alive at all, especially given he had acted with such a blatant disregard for his own life on not one, but on so many occasions.  I also found it incongruous with the figure of my grandfather – he was maybe 5’6″ at his prime (now barely 5’1″) and only ever maybe 60kgs dripping wet, and yet during this horrific period of his life when he was at war, here he is quietly telling me fought like some sort of viking beserker, obsessed by the idea of avenging his brother.  Soldierly bravado being what it was, his platoon eventually sought to send him to the back of their column, so that they could ‘get in on the action’.  They were especially keen to push him to the background once my Poppa was told by his American CO, that he was being commended for an American Silver Star, and an Australian Victoria Cross.  With a melancholy and yet slightly wry smile, he tells me the first time they went on patrol after he was relegated to the back of the pack, their unit was attacked that very day from the rear by Japanese soldiers, and he once more found himself in the thick of the attack.  His fellow soldiers were not too happy about that either apparently.

On another such occasion when they were moving through jungle terrain with my Poppa once more relegated to the rear of the patrol, he caught view of a Japanese soldier out of the corner of his eye appearing to be flailing his arms.  Acting on instinct and thinking a grenade had just been thrown, Poppa shot him dead, though he later reflected that he might have been trying to surrender.  He said ‘it wouldn’t matter if he was [trying to surrender], they would have shot him anyway, we weren’t taking any prisoners’ (this policy evolved due to Japanese POWs managing to kill numerous allied forces once in custody, including incidents of POWs grabbing scalpels and stabbing doctors attempting to save their lives).  Poppa told me that he checked the soldier’s pockets for intel (common practice) and found a photograph of the man’s wife and two small sons.  Having a wife and one small son at home himself, it was after this incident that Poppa decided war was ‘complete rubbish’ and he decided he wanted little more to do with fighting.  The photograph seemed to bring back some humanity and perspective, that he seemed to have lost along with his brother, Harry, when the Centaur went down.

He also told me, that after that incident, he had decided that there was no God… because surely if there was a God, he would stop them all from killing each other.  I never knew my Poppa has been an atheist most of his adult life, he kept his beliefs to himself while my grandmother oversaw us all being raised as Catholic.  The conversation transitioned fairly quickly from him sharing some of his memories to taking an unexpected philosophical bent, so I queried his logic: “Poppa, what if there is a God… but he’s just an arsehole?”  Poor Poppa.  Not used to hearing his granddaughter using such language; and through the laughing/coughing fit my question caused, he looked at me and said, ‘You know, I never thought of that.’

Anyway, having lost much of his thirst for war after the incident with the Japanese soldier and his family photograph, Poppa managed to get himself transferred to working from Port Moresby and spent the remainder of the war working to get supplies out to troops and thankfully didn’t see any more forward action.  At some point, he was summoned to meet with the US General who had command of the ANGAU troops – he thinks his name was General Close or Closte, but is unsure – ostensibly to be congratulated for his brave and heroic efforts, and to be given a pat on the back for the commendations that were being submitted for his awards.  Poppa started to laugh a little as he recounted what occurred at that meeting.  It seems that he may have inadvertently become a victim of that famous and typical, laconic Australian sense of humour – one that is still not very well understood by many Americans, and one which most definitely was not understood (or appreciated) by an uptight American Army Commanding Officers in 1943 war time Papua New Guinea.  When asked how he got along with his American troops, my grandfather jokingly told the general that ‘they’re alright blokes, but nowhere near as good as our Aussie Diggers’.  On top of that Poppa made another social faux pas and declined to stay and regale the General with tales of his exploits, he is definitely NOT the braggart type, and told the General that he had to return to his men.

Not long afterwards, my grandfather discovered his Victoria Cross commendation was downgraded (for lack of a better term) to a Military Medal commendation, and his American Silver Star commendation disappeared into the ether all together.  So it appears that the US General really did not appreciate my grandfather’s sense of humour at all!  Not that he seems to mind… in fact he seems to find it rather amusing that he had been getting plenty of ribbing from his comrades who were oddly jealous of the commendations, but then he accidentally insults their General, and then doesn’t get the awards anyway!

We spoke for several hours.  He told me of the night where he watched from the tree line of the beaches near the cargo jetty at Port Moresby as the Japanese bombed, and half sank, the MV Anshun and how they all expected the Japanese to target the nearby Hospital Ship, the TSMV Manunda, as well, such was the reputation of the Japanese Army after the sinking of the Centaur.  He related how there were sailors swimming to shore from various vessels that had been bombed, many of them yelling in Filipino, and how the Australian soldiers tried to get them to shut up, before they were shot by Americans mistaking them for Japanese.  He also mentioned that on returning to his tent that night, he found a large piece of shrapnel from the Anshun had ripped through his tent and embedded in his bunk – good thing he wasn’t in it at the time.

He spoke to me of being assigned to a machine gun patrol at some point with an American named Tom Henderson (he thinks), and how Tom would plant down his machine gun and saw through the tops of the coconut trees where the Japanese would hide… and ‘every now and then they would see one go *plop* and fall from the trees’.  Eventually Tom was shooting at some coconut trees one day and got hit by a Japanese sniper, before he could start shooting at them.

He told me of an occasion where they were moving through some jungle terrain and the guy walking right beside him was shot in the head.  It could just as easily have been him, and he often wondered why it wasn’t, especially considering that he was wearing a very noticeable slouch hat and had rank on his sleeves compared to the other guy.  Another incident that convinced him that there is no God and life is just random.

All up, I learned more about my grandfather in one day than I had in the preceding 30 years.  His experiences touched me profoundly, but not as much as the trust he showed in allowing me to be the first person he has spoken to about these things in over 70 years.