Going Home. My mum always drove the family car, and she didn’t seem too happy when I asked her to pull over at a pub so I could buy a carton of beer. I was hanging out for a cold, cold can of Fourex, a hasty run into the bottle shop and I stopped in my tracks, wondering why people were staring at me. I ran a mental check list: fly zip fastened securely, shoes were clean, medal ribbons straight, beret on properly. That’s it, I still wore my dress uniform, and people stared at me as if I were an alien being. My interest stirred in the beer again and I paid the exorbitant price and returned to the car. Let’s face it, anything more than .25 cents a can was way too much. Back in the car I cracked two cans and handed one to the old man, much to mum’s disgust. I really didn’t care. They’d shifted further into the country, again, since my R & R. Away from everything. All I wanted to do was get into a real house, change clothes and relax. They’d organised a welcome home party and had invited the landlord/farmer, his wife, son and daughter-in-law. I guess I shouldn’t complain but all I wanted was a real bed and somewhere quiet and relatively safe. Instead I showered, changed into civvies and hit the settee. I’d drunk four cans and felt very relaxed. I drifted off but not all the way, my little sentry stayed on duty and alerted me to a threat. A shadowy form hovered over me, a hand reached out and touched me. Before my eyes opened fully I came up off the settee, left fist cocked and I drove it straight into mum’s chin. I can still see here flying backwards, hitting the wall and sliding to the floor unconscious. I stared around, everything seemed strange, foreign. Oh, it wasn’t Vietnam.
We sat around the dining table for a while waiting for our guests to arrive, having a general chat about the voyage home. I then began recounting a few stories about my time overseas. Mum must have still been a little annoyed, she piped up and said, “I don’t know what you’re on about, you weren’t in a real war. Your dad fought in a real war, Vietnam was just a police action.” I definitely wasn’t feeling the love here people, I stood up, slammed a fist into the table and roared, “Police action, bloody police action. What did you think we were doing, handing out fucking traffic tickets?” Taking a couple of cans I retired to the back steps and fumed until the visitors arrived. They lived in the main house a couple of hundred yards away and turned up right on time. They were all nice people, especially the daughter-in-law. I can only describe her as a woman who knew what she wanted, wasn’t backwards in coming forward and darn cute. Thick dark hair, high cheekbones, dark eyes and one of those knowing smiles. What we need to remember here is, ’round eyes’ the term given to white women in Vietnam were very few and far between there. Plus I had been on rations as it were since mid February. You may also have guessed by now that I was something of a tart too. Back to the party, the night went off as only a night can where your old man is trying to put you down. Where the need to run screaming into the bush to get away from people threatened to overwhelm me. The visitors were nice but I couldn’t get a word in edgeways.
I’ll call the farmer’s son, Don and his nubile wife Carrie. They turned up the following afternoon in their Land Rover and invited me to go deer hunting with them, hmm, did he detect the glances? Grabbing my rifle, a .243 Parker Hale, I leaped into the front passenger seat and off we went. Don was one of the nicest blokes I’d met and we talked back and forth, Carrie would ask questions and the trip into the pine forest flew. I have to say that Carrie had a fine figure. Every bump we hit her left breast pushed up against my arm, or she made sure her thigh touched mine. Followed by a sly, knowing grin. Rutting season had started, and the forest rang to the call of hormone soaked stags, eager to fight each other and steal females. No, the irony isn’t lost on me either. About six miles from home on the steepest, muddiest track in the forest, Don’s Land Rover broke down. He sat for a moment gripping the steering wheel and muttered a few curses, looked at us and said, “I’ll have to walk out and get the tractor from home, you two stay here. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.” I could feel Carrie’s body tense and my heart hit the back of my throat. Don climbed out of the vehicle, picked up his rifle and walked up the track a little ways. He must have sensed our beaming grins, my straining jeans and Carrie’s heavy breathing, because he stopped and turned around. “Come on, we’ll all walk out together.” A heavy shower of rain dampened our ardour and we arrived home about nine at night. Don and Carrie to their love nest and me to a bollocking from my parents for making them worry. Obviously my time in Vietnam didn’t mean much to them. The only dangers I faced that night were A; If it had gone right, being ravished in the front of a Land Rover. or B: If it had gone right being shot by a jealous husband.
Don turned up the following afternoon, he’d returned to his vehicle and found a stag standing near it, hmm, it must have chanced on the smell of lingering hormones. He shot it and brought me a hind leg. Oh yes, fresh venison. I hung it under the house and consumed it over the next four days. Strangely enough I only ever saw Carrie from a distance after that. Don’s old man let me have one of his stock horses to ride, if I helped with the cattle work. He called his own two horses, Mandy and Christine after Mandy Rice-Davies and Christine Keeler, two women involved in a sex scandal in the UK, involving the then War Minister John Profumo. When I asked why those names he said, “Well, Lad they’re both pretty ladies and a great ride.” The only downfall with Mandy, the horse was she had one eye. My first ride ended badly, I hopped on bareback, she took off, galloped up to our house and stopped suddenly. I kept going gracefully through the air, performed a somersault and a twist with four degrees of difficulty, hit a barbed wire fence, slid down it and slashed a perfectly good camo jacket to shreds. Hmm, I thought, the real Mandy Rice-Davies might have been the better option.
Moi, about as well mounted as I could get, on Christine.
We came to an understanding and I rode her everyday. Don and his Dad press ganged myself and two younger brothers into helping muster and dip their herd of Herefords. Piece of cake. We dipped them, and when they’d all been through and stood wet and dripping in the yard Don asked if we could herd them back over the river. Another piece of cake, “Oh yeah, we have a new bull.” He pointed to about a ton of brown and white muscle standing alone, “That bloke there is a little toey. Now I want you to keep him at the rear of the herd and let the old bull lead off. Once he’s over the river you should be okay. When the whole herd is over you can let ’em at it. They’ll sort out their differences then.” In the finest traditions of every western ever made, we headed ’em up and moved ’em out. Don even left me with his stockwhip, at least he trusted me with that. My next brother down, Gary rode up to the front, Dallas, the youngest moved to the flank and I brought up the rear. A few ye hah’s, I cracked the whip a couple of times, without hitting myself, and we were on our way. There’s something restful about riding along after cattle, a slow walk, the soft lowing with an occasional bellow from the old bull up front. The new bull at the dusty end with me stopped, raised his head and let out a huge bellow. You know when something has gone to crap, you can feel it and in this case I could see and hear it all descending on me.
Gary, about a hundred cows away let out a, “The bull’s coming.” I saw Dallas try to cut him off, his horse, obviously smarter than all of us decided to get out of the way. The herd shied and that bull, old or not answered the challenge. You’ve seen those cartoons where the bull charges, dirt flying everywhere, horns glinting in the sunlight, red eyes slitted. He wanted blood. New bull was now on my left, Mandy’s blind side. I moved her up against him to push him away. Ha. Old bull came in on my right, lowered his head, dropped to his knees and went for new bull under my horse. New bull thought, What a great idea, and they went at it. Mandy and myself were now in for the ride of our lives. Still holding the whip in my right hand I reversed it and began whacking old bull on the head with the knobby end whenever it came out from underneath the horse. I think that pissed him off because he stood up, well they both stood up and there we were, off the ground at head height. Horns clashing, Mandy squealing with all four hooves flailing mid-air, bulls roaring and fighting, and I increased my flailing with the whip handle. I could feel saddle leather up in my bum crack as my cheeks clamped to the seat. Tiring a little, the bulls dropped their heads again and I kicked Mandy’s flanks. She didn’t need telling twice, finding her feet she hit the ground and we spun around. I think by this time the bulls were looking for an excuse to finish the fight for control of the herd. My brothers turned up and between us we separated the now tiring fighters.
So much excitement indeed. Two days later I woke up and couldn’t see. My head throbbed severely with a hundred drummers inside hard at work. My skin burned and when I went to the toilet I passed blood. Hmm, this isn’t good. My skin turned clammy, the whites of my eyes yellowed and I felt, well, terrible, “You’ll be fine,” said my old man, “I’ve had Malaria, it was far worse than what you may have.” Right, thanks Dad, this is now and you know, I don’t feel too well at all. They took me to the nearest hospital, about an hours drive away and the doctor checked me over and said, “Well, I don’t know.” They put me on the hospital veranda as far away as possible from nearly everybody else, in a bed next to a WW1 veteran. The old soldier would’ve been in his eighties and was suffering from the effects of tertiary syphilis. This made for a charming combination, I lay there alternately shaking and shivering and he spent his time screaming and ranting. The parents popped in once to say goodbye from the safety of the corridor, and I found myself in the back of an army ambulance the next morning.
The 1st Military Hospital was situated in the grounds of a National Trust estate at Yeronga, called Rhyndarra. On the banks of the Brisbane River. The hospital started life as a Salvation army home for girls and eventually became a military hospital. I didn’t know this at the time, my only concern was if someone would be able to stop the band playing in my head. After being signed in, a wardsman wheeled me down to my bed. I looked around and thought, This is great, plenty of people to talk to. Not to be, after climbing into bed a rather large mosquito net was placed around it and tucked in. I said, “What?” The ward sister came up and said, “It’s for our protection, we don’t know what you have.”
Next week: Your going to shove that where?