YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW, part 10. Sydney, where my books were born. Don’t stand on my head and the Hong Kong Flu.

SYDNEY. Holsworthy army camp isn’t too far from Liverpool, although it depends if you are walking or not because it was the nearest suburb with a train station. Today there is a station right outside the camp; it would have saved many a young Digger a lot of anxiety about getting back in time for morning parade. When you had money to spend, Sydney was the place to be especially Kings Cross. If you had to dig in the bottom of your wardrobe amongst the odd dust bunny and old Mars Bar wrappers then you went to the Railway Hotel in Liverpool. It didn’t have that genteel air or a clientele of studious types discussing weighty issues of the day. It was the place to go if you wanted a beer, a fight or a very willing lady. Like the White Ensign club in Melbourne this hotel had its furniture bolted to the badly stained floor and the mirror behind the bar had been constructed of highly polished stainless steel. The place had all the appeal of a weeping herpes sore. After two visits I decided that off-pay weeks really needed to be spent at camp with a cheap beer at the canteen. I figured that one could get into a fight anywhere, beer seemed plentiful, and after one night on guard duty and witnessing the ‘willing young ladies’ being extremely willing with over a dozen troopers in a hut, I decided that maybe the Railway Hotel wasn’t the place to find lasting romance.

Sydney in the late 60’s. Excuse the picture the slide gathered a few dust bunnies over time.Sydney  Harbour

For those who have never been to Sydney I haven’t the time to expand on its history, attractions, people or the fact that it has one of the finest harbours in the world. What it does have is Kings Cross: Australia’s sex capital, tourist hot spot with crime, prostitution, strip clubs, brothels, dance clubs and from 1969 onwards R&R. A thousand US servicemen a week rotated through Sydney alone from the war in Vietnam. With it came the old saying from WW2, the Yanks are, ‘overpaid, oversexed and over here.’ The Cross became THE place to be, women with a need for money or a good time descended on the place like seagulls on chips and men chasing women who were out for a good time followed. What better way to give you some atmosphere than with an excerpt from my first book, Mountain of Death.

Sydney 1969: Yanks, R&R, Kings Cross, wall to wall people, vice, drugs and money made for a heady combination. Jack had plenty of money, mostly other people’s. He threw it around like a drunken philanthropist knowing he’d get it on with Tess tonight and maybe her sister. They drank and ate their way up William Street, then down through the Strip. Dropped into coffee shops, bars and finally stopped outside the Pink Pussycat strip club. They grouped together around the doorway, as throngs of late night ravers buffeted against them. A wave of humanity flowed both ways along the footpath, threatening to drag them down in its undertow. Klaxon horns bellowed from hotted up cars, the odd siren or two blaring in the distance. Greasy haired spruikers in flash suits, standing outside of narrow doorways, called out to groups of young men loitering on the footpath. Their voices were dripping with the promise of lust and instant gratification. Music from the clubs and car stereos, all added to the atmosphere. Cars full of punters, suburban types out for a taste of the wild side cruised past. They hung out of the windows, abusing groups on the footpath. A quick fist fight, or just a king hit and it was over. Prostitutes draped themselves out of nearly every doorway and shadowy nook, dressed to entice. They were aloof, alluring or just plain bored, they’d whisper at passers-by,
“Want a girl Love?”
The Yanks stood out, in uniform and civvies, mainly clinging together in small groups, obvious by their crew cuts and open-mouthed rubbernecking. Most were small town USA and all of them ripe for the picking. Neon lights flashed above every doorway, highlighting this melting pot of humanity. 

Don’t stand on my head.  This picture is of me and a good mate Snowy Marshall. Anyone in Oz with hair as blonde as his was called Snowy. He had a knack and that was his ability to ingratiate himself into just about anyone’s company, and yes they are Band-Aids on my face. This picture was taken in the Sandra Nelson strip club in 1969; we were sitting up the back talking to the strippers who were between gigs. I garnered a little sympathy that night, mostly I heard, ‘Oh you poor thing, does it hurt?’ ‘Were you in a fight?’ ‘Is it a disease?’ What I wanted to hear was more along the lines of, ‘Poor Baby, come back to our flat, I’m sure we can make it better.’ Didn’t happen at all, what did happen was we had a great night on the town and another scene for my book was born, the stripper who danced with a Carpet Python. If I had known then that I would write about these things I may have taken more photos and better ones to boot. Although delving into the grey matter is probably a good way of warding of dementia, now to the subject of my head.

LAURIESNOW1970

Our squadron consisted at the time of armoured fighting vehicles (Saladin) scout cars (Ferrets) and M113 APC’s or armoured personnel carriers and supposedly a section of Assault Troopers. They were a platoon of Troopers who acted as infantry; sadly it was only on paper. They were however brought out on special occasions for display purposes, actually that’s all we seemed to do. There were Victoria Barrack guard duties; this involved a week in Sydney doing ceremonial duties at the historic barracks at Paddington. (Not far from The Cross) We were the go to guys for every crap job going around the place, back to my head. A Friday afternoon like any other and a pay week, money was burning a hole in my pocket and Snowy and I were hitting the town. First we had to put on a display of heroic proportions for a group of visiting Indonesian Military Brass.

A picture I took in 2010 of an Armoured Personnel Carrier.

APC

A large expanse of open ground swept away from the vehicle compound and the plan was to perform a section attack on one of the small outbuildings, using, *drum roll* Assault Troopers. Snow and I were picked to be part of this section, being the handsomest  biggest of those selected I was tasked to carry the M60 machine gun. You know the one that Rambo carries and fires one-handed, with a linked belt and slays thousands? That one, they are bulky though easy to carry. Eleven of us hearty souls were jammed into the rear of an APC; I sat at the end of the seat nearest the ramp. When we stopped and it went down, I had to run out first and to the left, get on the ground and lay a blistering amount of fire (blanks) down on the enemy. Easy I hear you cry. It wasn’t folks, life being what it is young Laurie once again fell victim to the fates, *cackling of three old crones in the background.* Physics came to the fore here, thrust – me running forward – balance – me losing it – irresistible force meeting immovable object – my face hitting ripped tarmac. If that isn’t enough at least five of the ten troopers following behind trampled all over my back and head.

Thanks to Wikipedia.

M60[1]

We were wearing webbing and packs which added to the impact and I felt every boot as it hit. Naturally the visiting Indons thought it a great spectacle complete with casualties, blood and yells of, ‘Get off me ya great useless bastards.’ All said through chapped lips and a mouthful of loose gravelly bits. War is Heck. Still applauding, the Indons were whisked away to continue gathering intelligence on our installations and troops. I on the other hand sat there with obscene amounts of blood exiting my nostrils and what felt like acres of skin hanging in threads off my face, Shagger’s Back (what you get from too much sex) and enough displaced vertebrae to keep my Chiropractor happy in the future. Snowy bless him helped me up, took my gear and steered me off in the direction of the Aid Post. When the Medical orderly finished laughing he stuffed my nostrils with three metres of wadding, removed the gravel from my face and dotted my hard-won wounds with mercurochrome. On the way out I grabbed a handful of condoms from the box on the counter, the sign read, ‘Gaskets for Rev Heads’ or some such Medical Corps humour. Him, still laughing, ‘What do you need them for?’ – ‘I’m going up The Cross tomorrow for the weekend you never know, I might get lucky.’ – ‘Not with a face that colour Mate, even the old Pro’s around Paddington will knock you back.’

Humph, dejected I returned to the barracks and checked his handiwork; I looked like a walking advertisement for the Black Death. I scrubbed about two layers of skin off my face to get rid of the orange/yellow colour and the next morning it had infected. Yes, a good look indeed, ‘It’s okay Love, it’s only puss oozing off my face. What, you won’t have a drink with me?’ Hence the Band-Aids, in the photo it doesn’t look too bad and no, I didn’t get lucky.

The Hong Kong Flu. Okay Ladies I know all about the Man Flu and how extreme and life threatening it is. The gravity of the pain and discomfort far outweighs that of childbirth etc, etc. The fevers are higher and the compacted mucus in what’s left of our sinus cavities is like wet cement. Then you have the Hong Kong flu. For those who weren’t around in 1969 the H K flu caused millions of deaths worldwide.

Once again good old 2 Cav was called upon to provide troops for the graduating class of Scheyville Officers Training School to vent their newly found tactical spleens upon. We were playing enemy, Viet Cong to be exact. A Corporal, I forget his name, so we call him Jerry and six stalwart men trucked themselves out to Windsor, west of Sydney on a fine but cold Monday morning. We were housed in an ancient barrack block, given our weapons – captured AK47’s – a couple of sets of jungle green uniforms dyed black and sent out to where the games would be held. Naturally as enemy we lurked through the bush, camped in wet cold bunkers and generally tried to keep out-of-the-way of the officers. I kid you not these blokes had a hardon for us a mile wide. They didn’t get into the elite Officer Training School at Duntroon in Canberra, their training staff had spent the entire course riding them into the ground and giving them a mega dose of the shits. So when we appeared they hunted us down like Hound dogs on possums. No amount of whiz-bang grenades, blank firing from AK47’s, ambushing or stealthy manoeuvres on our part kept them at bay. They wanted blood. On my first day there I felt a tad unwell, I put it down to breakfast and kept going. The following morning it felt as if someone had removed my bones, boiled them and replaced them in my bruised flesh. *mummy where are you* A hot honey and lemon drink followed by a Vicks Vapour rub wouldn’t have gone astray. We soldiered on and spent the rest of the day and night out bush in the rain evading the class of 69. *Hmm, sounds a little off*

I knew these blokes were fair dinkum when one jumped into a foxhole I shared with Jerry. Now Jerry had served in Vietnam, and this whole *us against 50 Rambo wannabes with combat hardons* gave him a big dose of the shits. The officer cadet, teeth bared giving us the benefit of his best war face, leapt amongst us and started swinging his SLR in all directions trying to club us. Jerry thumped him in the guts with his AK and threw him back out. I sat back on my bum in the mud and the Referee in his white coat came over to sort things out. Young officer wanted Jerry charged, Jerry wanted to brain him and the Referee’s decision was final, young officer was dead. The following morning I woke up wishing I was. Jerry took one look at me and sent me to sick parade. The Doctor, obviously a Horse Vet from WW1 who only worked on people when he never had horses to care for took one look at me, called me a malingerer and said I’d be charged if I didn’t get back to duty. I told Jerry and he shrugged, ‘Old bastard, look, you stay here and I’ll check on you when we come back in for meals.’

Check he did every day for the next four days. I lay on a mattress on the floor in my underwear alternately freezing and burning. Nothing to eat and only getting water when one of the troopers came in to check on me and someone stayed in the room at night. Most of the time I was delirious and only had a sense of what was happening when Jerry dressed me in my uniform and carried me out to the truck so we could return to our unit. They laid me face down on our baggage with my head over the tailgate on the truck, so when I vomited it wouldn’t get on them.  I weighed myself when I could walk two days later and I had lost over 20 pounds. Apparently Jerry had tried to get the Doctor to see me; he refused claiming I was a malingerer. Would I have died? In my lucid moments I wished it on myself. Did I complain? No, the army didn’t like complainers. The one certainty out of all this – I wasn’t feeling the love at all.

Next week:  Maybe I shouldn’t have gone fishing, Ball Lightning and The things young men can be conned into. (R rated)

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9 thoughts on “YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW, part 10. Sydney, where my books were born. Don’t stand on my head and the Hong Kong Flu.

  1. Pagadan

    Laurie, oh, wow! Your experiences certainly gave you a lot of background for stories. Talk about a gritty feeling! Were most of the medics that uncaring?

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Hi Joy, life has been one source of material for stories. If you have already been there have a look at my Police stories, some will curl your hair. Most of the medics were okay, some were brilliant. It was the doctors, usually civilian ones who made terrible decisions. In Vietnam they were all brilliant.

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  2. Raani York

    This is such a great blog post, Laurie. A little more serious than the others, but still with your personal humor in it. And your talent for descriptions that make the pictures dancing in my imagination!!

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    1. laurie27wsmith Post author

      Thanks Raani, you’ll really like this weeks then. I have to vary them now and then but as long as people get the visual then I’m happy. Thanks for supporting me in my blogging.
      Laurie.

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      1. Raani York

        Anytime, dear friend! You are supporting me as well!! 🙂 And your blog is really great!

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