Laying Ghosts to Rest
A 40th Anniversary Reunion at Royal Military College, Duntroon
11 -14 December 2004
Perfect was the Passing Out Parade for the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Class of 2004: a perfect Canberra day, a dignified ceremony, a grand spectacle, an excellent brass band and the cadets all resplendent and beautifully drilled. We who witnessed them, a crowd of some 1500 family, friends and old boys, were proud of what we saw: another generation of fine young officers taking their commission in the Australian Army.
This old boy was there as part of the Reunion of the Class of the graduating Class of '64. There were other Reunion groups there too, some older and some younger, but the Class of '64 was there in strength ... and strong in spirit for we had been having good times together over the two days previous.
On my best behaviour, I was present but some of my fellow classmates were on edge, fearful that I might hoist the Eureka flag as I had provocatively suggested in the exchange of emails leading up to the Reunion and embarrass the class and the reunion organisers.
The suggestion had stirred up some emailed passions. See www.peacebus.com/Duntroon/emails.html. One old mate, Kingo, suggested I "not bloody come"; another Col Toll, a former Duntroon boxing champion, that he would "deck" me if I did and he was standing near. In the days before the Reunion I had withdrawn the provocation, apologised and promised to be very, very good.
Not that I thought my stir was a major offence for I knew my classmates loved a stir and that they knew me as a stirrer from way back.
But their worry was understandable for at the previous Reunion in '84, on the day before the big parade, I walked with my 20 year old daughter on my arm, out to the centre of the sacred parade ground. When challenged by the Regimental Sergeant Major, as was fit his duty, I had enjoined in a shouting match across the Square.
The incident was a major embarrassment both to my daughter (who exclaimed with rising tones of exasperation: "Graeme!") and to my still serving friends. I saw Des Mueller striding from the scene, striving for invisibility. It was a giggle to some of my no longer serving classmates who understood some of my need to blow off some of my past. As a cadet I was the most punished in my Class and had spent many hours on the parade ground being shouted at by sundry RSMs, BSMs, Drill Sergeants and Orderly Officers. And never once had I shouted back.
Now ten years later, with the media notoriety of my Eureka150 work still fresh upon me, a few of my Classmates were whispering amongst themselves, wondering where I might be in the crowd and what I might be doing.
In the event the magnificent theatre of the Duntroon Passing Out Parade was interrupted only by the fly past of a solitary duck and two light aircraft which had been misdirected for Fairburn airport nearby; and one of them not so light Š fat and lumbering in fact - and so noisy as to render inaudible the Governor General's speech.
Some of my fellows told me later they had expected a Eureka Flag to drop from that airplane; another that I would drape it over the ceremonial Bentley bearing the Governor General away.
But me not doing. Me sitting apart and being very respectful, simply enjoying the spectacle like everyone else. And making theatre anyway: the Theatre of Not Doing, Taoist theatre.
The Governor General, Major General Mike Jeffery, warmly congratulated the cadets and assured them they were entering a honourable career and at an interesting time with plenty of opportunities to serve (overseas).
The word 'war' was not mentioned, but that was what he was talking about - that and armed peace keeping expeditions. The career opportunities he was talking about were those arising from Australian Defence Forces assuming deputy sheriff duties in the South Pacific and being on call for foreign service anywhere in the ever growing, US led, global war against the poor.
Where, I wondered, were the peace academies and their passing out parades? If we had them, what form would they take?
Classmate Nick Jans would persuade me that the Passing Out parade was a peace parade of sorts. He believes that the modern Australian Army has 'a genius for peace' in the same way as, it's said, the Germans have/had for war. This institutional identification with service and peace is probably the best and safest self-image an Army can have and so I am grateful for that insight and that myth.
But armed intervention is ever risky and early success can only lead to over confidence, over staying and over commitment. Besides which an efficient, experienced, quick response standing army is too easily hijacked. It just requires a brief propaganda campaign and national leaders at the highest levels to tell a few big lies and off our so-called defence forces are sent, across the skies to do the dirty work of US imperialism.
So some sadness arose in my heart for those passing by and passing out cadets for I also saw that, coming on behind all the military majesty, was a shadow parade of the dead and the maimed. Few of ours, but many, many the indigenous citizens where US imperial wars are fought.
But oh for the heart stir of a military parade! Glory and ghosts, it was ever thus.
I loved the band music. I loved watching those fine young men and women slow marching by and wheeling about. Friends and families cheered them, calling encouragement to individual cadets as they came by in the turn. Young lions, I loved their proud bearing, their concentration and their noble effort.
And such once was I.
But me an old man now and not doing. Looking about, taking in the grandeur, taking in the detail, I noticed that there were flags for all the nationalities represented in the graduating class hanging from a horizon poles fixed to the wall of F Block where I sat with other old boys on bleachers.
One, I noticed, had furled in the breeze so that it obscured the Union Jack and showed only the Southern Cross flying. It was fluttering as the graduating class marched off the parade ground. Eureka!
Of this Eureka moment, this flash of pure Eureka Spirit, most likely I was the only witness. It came and went like a wink from a passing angel, a sign to me that the ancestors were laughing, and probably all the ghosts of Duntroon House too ... and I felt deeply gratified to be amongst these old friends and memories again.
ID photo of Staff Cadent Entrants, Class 4BC, Royal Miltary College Duntroon 1961
What to say of the Class of '64?
In 1961 when we entered Royal Military College as Fourth Class, we were teenagers, 16 to 18 years old. All white Anglos, we were selected from all around Australia, from rich families and from poor, meritorious outcomes of a rigorous selection procedure, which had comprised some days of pen and paper psychology tests, medicals, team leadership challenges and interviewing. We were just out of high school when we came to the Molonglo Plains, strangers to each other, confused and callow youths.
In at the deep end of Duntroon college life and Army training we were thrown and collectively we shared many a test, many a trial, many a hardship, many an adventure, many an antic ... and much, much laughter.
Back then Duntroon was a four year training and the rituals of initiation for Fourth Class (read: bastardisation by Second and First Class cadets of the new intake) were as bizarre as they were intense. These days Duntroon processes cadets on a concurrent 6 month (for Officer Cadet trainees) and 12 month (for Aust Defence Force Academy army graduates) turn around. Shorter college life now and no longer such a homogeneous intake of testosterone charged older teenagers. Male and female cadets now, a wider age range, and even some married.
In '61 there were 76 in the intake. Of that intake 46 graduated and had Army careers of varying length and elevation including a couple of generals (John Kingston and Des Mueller). Forty years on, and our third Reunion, we are all ex-Army, all military career aspirations reduced to dead files in archives, soon to be dust, and we too were soon to be dust.
Mugshots of Fourth Class Cadets, Royal Miltary College, Duntroon 1961,
Prizes for correctly identify the author.
Duntroon days had been an exhilaration for me. I loved the physical and intellectual challenge of it all, loved running as a platoon, marching as a company, riding about in trucks, shooting off guns big and small, blowing things up, getting drunk, chasing girls and getting into trouble. What I remember most of those times is the laughter we shared, the funny things that happened, the stories and the legends.
But memory is a variable faculty and mine now full of potholes. Prodding and probing it with a little help from friends was like uncovering a secret garden. The essence of reunion is remembering.
After the Passing Out Parade when we classmates were moving with the crowd to Duntroon Gardens for afternoon tea, Nick Jans nodded in the direction of the old Cadet Orderly Room.
"Do you remember putting treacle in the boots of the BSM?" he asked. BSM = Battalion Sergeant Major, the most senior cadet.
No I don't! And what a bastard of a thing to do! Spit polishing boots was a time consuming RMC fetish and mucking up someone's boots, even if they were acting bastardly, was worse than throwing mud in eyes.
"Did I really?" I asked plaintively of Nick.
"You certainly did," he replied. "You told a select few of your intention and when I first heard the deed was done I made the mistake of being seen to smirk, was assumed the culprit and for years copped the blame."
Was this embellished myth? Or am I such a psychopath that I can do and obliterate memory and guilt of such deeds of bastardry? Sad to say other recovered memories of other forgotten pranks suggest the latter explanation the more likely! Oh dear, oh dear.
At the end the Duntroon experience went sour for me and I got to suffer much persecution, daily harassment by grown men, including the Corps of Staff Cadets' Adjutant of the time, a full captain, an infantry man, a trained killer, who ought to have better things to do with Army time, his and mine. Disaffected with Army life, I resigned and was hurriedly shown the door at the end of third year.
The separation was traumatic and I was launched into university student life with a lot anger and grief ... and also with a lot of discipline and fire in my belly. Initiation by fire is how I have heard this described by Michael Meade of the mytho-poetic men's movement.
Whatever, I was wired to cut through bullshit: fools and scoundrels beware! Within two years that fire and discipline was to make me a leading organiser anti Vietnam War, anti conscription student movement at the Kensington campus of the University of NSW.
Across the years we classmates had met infrequently, little bits of news from chance meetings, and rare bits seen in the media. Those who had Army careers kept in closer contact and my anti War activities and the Nimbin days that followed gave me notoriety enough to keep me in notice amongst a few of my Duntroon peers.
Nick Jans, one of my mates from Engineering studies (Classes 4C, 3C, and 2C), now a military sociologist, and still doing personnel contract work for the Army, had organised the Reunion. He had help from Brian Glance who until recently was a reunion organiser for Brisbane Grammar School, and Rollo Brett, a former battalion commander and deputy head of the Staff College, now coordinating the Canberra Vinnies men's refuge.
Nick Jans organising, Duntroon House Luncheon, 13 December 2004
Rod Usback, a former Army engineer, Canberra public servant (Energy and Water) and environmental management consultant, made locating the class and the collection of biographies his post retirement contribution. A major exercise in sleuthing, it involved web searches, electoral roll scanning and of course working the mates network.
Rod and Marylyn Usback
He found me early because of my Peacebus.com profile on search engines; not that he could help much with other contacts. I knew the whereabouts of only one other former cadet and that was Bruce Manning, (a graduate who did major service as a public servant in Veteran Affairs) now the partner of the sister of my peace flag sewing friend, Bodha Gwen Gould.
Rod asked me about my close mate at Duntroon, Jim Batty. Last seen at the last Reunion (1994), I scanned my neurons and all I could only suggest was that he might be in Vanuatu. Within the week Rod had found him and it was via Johnnie Cook, a Duntroon drop-out who went on to graduate from Officer Cadet School, Portsea, and served in the Military Police. Now Honorary Colonel Commandant of Military Police, John said of the whereabouts of Batty: "Leave it with me". Two days later full details address, email, phone and fax were forwarded!
Jim Batty, Bob Miller, Kath Kingston and Graeme
So it was with genuine excitement that I approached the first Reunion event, drinks at Duntroon House from 5 pm Sunday 11 December; trepidatious and tremulous even, fear of disappointment arising in my mind and a black voice warning: "It will only be a bunch of blow hard, old farts." Like me.
On arrival I got an instant cheer from Ray Fardell, who pulled up in a blue sports car behind Happy Wheels and its Eureka Dawn Walk signage as I was parking at Duntroon House. "The car park is easy to find with you around, Graeme," he hailed.
Dear gentle Ray had been a cadet friend whom I remembered for his kindness, his laconic ways and his caution: not that the caution much tempered my impetuosity at the time. Ray who had graduated and served in the Ordnance Corps till 1980 is now a farmer and boasting of six children all graduates of whom his biography notes say include a Duntroon survivor now a doctor and another who is the head dancer of La Vegas act called Manpower. Ray had been quick to email and gently suggest I might reconsider flying the Eureka flag at the Passing Out parade. I had been quick to heed him.
Entering Duntroon House I found the room filled with smiles and magnificent male faces, each distinctive and strong.
Peter Reid, Tim Britten, Matt Sheperdson and Ross Bishop
All 60 to 62 years old now, and the vicissitudes had left their marks. Like a series of promontories of a sandstone coastline, we were made of similar stuff and had been weathered for a similar time and by similar elements, for we all had known wins and losses, praise and blame, respect and slander, times of happiness and times of pain, sickness and sorrow.
Wildly disparate had been our paths since Duntroon days, our collective rite of passage, our initiation, boys into men. And here is the good news: it seemed to have been good medicine for all. Forty years on we were a bunch of men at ease in our lives, confident and happy together. Yorro! Yorro! Everyone standing up alive!
Wives were there too of course but my initial curiosity was directed to my class mates. All around warm hand shakes, smiles and greetings. I was hard put to find names for faces, and got some jeers as I peered at the name tags. One of the wives, Shirley-Anne Dyer, who had recently been to a school reunion advised, "After a few minutes you will notice the wrinkles fade away." True!
Quickly I sought out Nick Jans to reassure him of my promise of good behaviour. "I was afraid I might have embarrassed you", I said of the email exchange with the Commandant. "Are we still friends?"
"We were never not," he replied. Ahhh, the generosity of enduring friendship.
Other old cadet mates thanked me for the spice my emails had given to the Reunion. Some looked me in the eyes and told me, in all sincerity, I had not changed at all! (The fourth class mugshots of Fourth Class of '61 on the cover of the Biographical Notes suggested otherwise!)
Brian Willis and Huong
We stood around and sat around in small conversation groups in the drawing room and on the veranda of Duntroon House drinking wine and nibbling finger food brought by contract caterers. (Outsourced and gone now Service Corps soldiers providing Officer's Mess service!) So many stories to be uncovered here, it was difficult to know where to begin.
There were no ceremony, no speeches that night except for Nick calling us together to make some Reunion house keeping announcements. We surged eagerly around him like we had the distributor of the mail when we were new cadets, listening intently for directions, welcoming the opportunity for smart-Alec comments. The goodwill amongst us palpable.
Col Toll, Rod Usback, Jock Anderson, Trev McCormack and Maurice Wallin
Golf tournament had been organised for the morning next day. Seems golf is an occupational pleasure of former Army officers. The tournament took place on the Duntroon course, the construction of which was begun by volunteers while we were still cadets; many an old boy had played their first round of golf there.
But I missed out on the golf gene and rejoined the Reunion for lunch at Duntroon House. The golfers returned exhilarated: the good fun climaxed by a spectacular thunder and hailstorm that had swept through and washed the tournament out.
We were washed out of the garden and the marquis provided too and the lunch, a carnivore's delight with many different meats and few vegetables, was eaten it in a recreation room, juggling plates and drinks on low tables and ledges.
A guided tour of Duntroon House was also on the agenda and after lunch we split up into small groups to be shown over the recently restored Duntroon House, the Cadets Mess and the new Duntroon Museum and Library.
Duntroon House was out of bounds to cadets except for First Year (= fourth year) cadets when they got the privilege of access to a bar there. So for the most part the stories of Duntroon House were unknown to us as cadets. Now there is a Heritage Committee and Duntroon House story telling and conservation is institutionalised as an old boys service.
A team of distinguished grey haired guides appeared, their bearing telling of military service as senior officers as much as the smart in the Duntroon navy blue and maroon striped blazers they were wearing. Flash: as a cadet I had worn one too.
My tour group had the benefit of the knowledge and insight of the youngest of them by 20 years, Colonel Smith, who as President of Duntroon Mess Committee and acting Commanding Officer of the Corps of Staff Cadets, had overseen much of the recent restorations.
First he showed us the Cadets Mess, extended since our time onto the ground where once the old gymnasium stood. What impressed were the extensive rolls and photo galleries of honour and the many holy relics on display.
There was a photo of Johnny Redward, (now a now a go kart racer, all round sports lover and real estate developer in New Zealand) leading the Passing Out parade of class of '64 and giving the salute with his Sword of Honour. There too was Paul Mench, winner of the Class of '64 Queens Medal (best academic result), and he had been a top soldier, commanding officer 3RAR at the time of his now death from a bush walking accident 14 years ago.
The skeleton of Casey the mythical lost cadet and RMC ghost was hanging in a glass case there. And also a tribute to the bravery of two cadets involved in a failed rescue of 5 fellow cadets who drowned in a Lake George boating accident in 1958, one of the dead from my High School.
As we passed the flagpole (as per the Fourth Class Screed: 76 feet six inches tall plus a half inch of accumulated birdshit), we noticed a change: now installed at its base stone plaques engraved with the names of Duntroon graduates dead in the various wars. Grant Ross's name was there from our Class, killed while defusing a grenade in Nui Dat, Vietnam in 1971. Grant's boyish face grinned at us from the class photos of 1961. Age shall not weary them ...
While there a bright eyed female cadet came marching by and saluted the plaques. Colonel Smith explained that the salute was a relatively new RMC ritual and had been introduced by him as CO. I watched the comely bum of the cadet disappear into A Block and wondered what difference the presence of female cadets would have made to our Duntroon days.
Colonel Smith conveyed great pride and love for Duntroon RMC as an institution and he himself had put much skilful effort into preserving and perpetuating its traditions. For it is the learned wisdom of many generations of soldiers that, in the direst stress that war may bring, it is the little things, like a quirky ritual here, or an odd story there, that bind soldiers to stand by each other each other even unto death.
Making honourable soldiers it seems requires the making of honourable traditions, enduring myths. And generations of Duntroon graduates have been and are now working on it and will in the future.
Duntroon House was even more of a revelation for me. Built in 1843 by the Campbell family, wealthy traders and builders of the first commercial wharf in Sydney, the house and gardens were well established long before it became home to the Royal Military College in 1911.
News to me was that it came with a ghost! Story is that the youngest daughter of the Campbell family matriarch, Lucy, died suddenly as the result of a 'tumbling accident' and her shade hangs around yet. Colonel Smith was not joking about this; his dealings with the ghost included oversight of an exorcism in a nearby married quarters residence where the ghost had been seen repeatedly watching over a sleeping baby.
The ghosts of Duntroon House were nothing compared with the ghosts stirred up by the reading our cadet files in the Museum. The files were in folders, thinner than I expected, obviously culled, each folder identified by our regimental number: mine 2023. That is I was in the 50th entry class and was the two thousandth and twenty-third to be sworn in as a cadet at the Royal Military College.
Other classmates who had already seen their file had spoken of surprises; of finding reports recommending expulsion because of poor performance even though they had gone on to full and successful Army careers. In mine, the list of charges and summary punishments showed the pattern of my persecution. I had accumulated some 95 'extra drills' plus some 6 or 8 charges for which the punishment was 21 days confinement to barracks and 84 days stoppage of leave. Most of this accumulated in my third year.
Graeme the haunted
This list of punishments went over 6 pages and the punishments were three times in number more than of my nearest peer. They started off mild enough: for 'lack of zeal' and 'untidy room' and so on, but towards the end of my stay and the end of my file they got serious: 'failure to attend Church parade', "failure to attend Reveille parade", 'forgery' and 'AWOL'.
In the beginning I had been very conscientious and high achieving cadet, getting top marks in my year at the end of Fourth Class. But in second year (Third Class) I bent the rules too far by acquiring a car (a big no-no then) as part of a syndicate of my fellow classmates. At that time the Army gave its staff officer cadets money with one hand (a pittances deposited in a CSC account - was it 30 shillings a week?) and took it away with the other by charging mess fees and other costs of unrequested but compulsorily supplied items and withdrawing payment directly from the account). We were perennially cash strapped and a shared car was the means to become less socially isolated.
Trouble came because I didn't have a lot of driving experience or skill and ran the car off the road on the way to a football match (2nd XVIII) in Queanbeyan. Another cadet on board, a fourth class, our best player, banged his head hard on the roof as we bounced along. The first car to stop after the prang was the team coach, a Major. He sounded a little apologetic when he told me he would have to report it.
In another universe for our initiative and team problem solving in acquiring the car, we might have been awarded medals. But this was Duntroon and we were there to become leaders of men by first learning instant obedience to command. The inculcation of the latter is the core training in any disciplined army and is indeed considered an essential survival skill for any soldier or junior officer. Though sometimes this rigidity gets a lot of soldiers fruitlessly killed as for example the slaughter of the Australian Light Horse who, at the Nek, Galipolli, charged in five waves, one after another, into Turkish machinegun fire and certain death.
How to train armies which are responsive to the demands of changing times and technologies? Always difficult and Duntroon ever evolving is always little behind, erring on the side of conservatism. At the beginning of WWII cadets had horses. In the 60s the need to teach officers more technology skills was being recognised, but drill sergeants and the military minds such as that of Major Morrison still dominated our daily cadet lives with the pressing need to spit polish boots and stack folded shirts and underwear to prescribed dimensions
My mates and I were charged and punished with 21 days confinement to barracks. To me it seemed my major offence was moral inturpitude. No one ever asked why we did what we did.
Toxic was the dressing down I got from the presiding officer, Major Morrison, OC Kokoda Coy. Maybe his wife had dumped her PMTs on him that morning; maybe he was just another suffering creature having a bad day; whatever, the venom in his words and manner went deep and I marched away feeling deeply degraded and fiercely angry. On that wound I vowed never ever to let myself be so treated again.
At the previous Reunion my classmates on hearing this story explained how I had been unlucky. Morrison's behaviour was an aberration and officers doing it do not last long as commanders of real units of real soldiers, they said. Lucky or unlucky who knows? May be it was fate that I was so vulnerable at that time. Whatever some trust deep inside was betrayed and from that time on I had little respect for what I saw as the military mindset.
At first when the summary punishments piled up, they were something to be endured and I took them in my stride. Literally. In fact because I soon became the most experienced defaulter and sometimes the stride of the defaulters parade adjusted to my own.
When we marching on the far side of the parade ground, 6.15 am to 7.45 am with rifle and full pack, in the dawn light of a misty winter morning, my dissenting mates (I remember Pete Roper being one such) we would subvert the shouted commands of the Orderly Corporal and as a squad would march with eerie slowness in the mist, half pace or less, and on a course independent and obtuse to the impotent commands of the far away Orderly.
Defaulters parades were time wasting and tiring in a place where time was a premium, so much demanded, so much expected. The military mind seemed to think that the more defaulters parades one suffered the more likely one was to redeem zeal for the Army. For me it was time-wasting stupidity upon time-wasting stupidity and the more I was punished, the more resistant and devious I became; and the more I came to notice of Corps of Staff Cadet officers as a rotten apple in the ranks. Then the persecution began in earnest and with the express purpose of breaking my spirit and getting me gone.
In third year it was not uncommon for me to return to my room after some engineering lecture to find it in disarray, cupboard contents dumped on the floor by some inspecting officer, and a note on my desk: "Put yourself on a charge. Untidy room!"
For me and also many of my classmates too 1963 was a winter of discontent and in the evenings my barrack room meeting place for malcontents. I had had enough: I wanted out but was biding my time, wanting to accrue maximum academic credits for an engineering degree before I departed. Check parades and defaulters parades became a lifestyle.
In my file I found letters typed by my mother, and signed by my father: one denying me permission to resign after my second year (thus setting me up for the persecution that followed and the source of a rift between us for years to come); another giving me permission NOT to attend Church parade, which the Major General Finlay, the commandant of the time, acting in 'loco parentis', had overridden, denying my right to freedom of and from religion. The CO of the time, a Lieutenant Colonel Dunstan (no relation) had punished me with 21 days confinement to barracks for sticking by my principles.
Most interesting was the copy of the response by Colonel Dunstan to a request from Army HQ in Melbourne to explain why the resignation I, now 21 years old, had tendered at the end of third year should be accepted. For although I was most punished cadet and manifestly at odds with the military minds of those who were persecuting me, I was still getting top grades in my engineering subjects, high grades in military subjects that interested me (NOT drill!) and enjoying the physical training and sport (Australian Rules Football and basketball).
The Colonel began by acknowledging my excellent examination results and followed with three pages of reasoning for sending me packing, prominent amongst which was that I was bad influence on other cadets. Specifically named as examples were my close friends Batty and Anderson. Both, he said, had shown potential to be good officers, both had resigned because of my influence.
He also referred to another unnamed cadet as being adversely influenced: this, I guess was my Kapyong Company class floor mate, Jim Strong, who resigned a few days after me and went on to study law and become a corporate celebrity: a former CEO of Australia Airlines and Qantas, and now Chair of Woolworths.
Jim Strong failed to show at the Reunion but both Jim Batty and Jock Anderson were there and I eagerly told them of the official recognition of my bad influence on their lives. Jim Batty now lives in tropical paradise as 'Mr Jim', the sleek manager of a successful investment company in Vanuatu. Jim and I had been reprobates together from the start, drinking and girl chasing companions and scammers, always in trouble together always laughing. Colonel Dunstan's accusation was no surprise to him.
By contrast my friendship with Jock Anderson had been a quieter one. He had a fine mind and had entered RMC deeply committed to soldiering and already well read in military history, an interest he was to awaken in me. He was top of our year in military studies, but he too became disaffected with the aspects of military mind as displayed by Major Morrison, his Kokoda Company commander, and Colonel Dunstan, the Commandant. We sought each other out in consolation; me enjoying the stimulation of his intellect, his quiet and thorough analyses of things.
Jock might have become a killer of a company commander in Vietnam and elsewhere, but instead he resigned from Duntroon, enrolled at Medical School in Adelaide and became a master of triple by pass surgery, a master mender of broken hearts. He is now much venerated and tours the world teaching advanced vascular surgery.
Jock's response to my revelation of official evidence of my bad influence was typically a considered one:
"Next time I am in Boston addressing a conference of the American College of Surgeons, I will begin by acknowledging that the reason that I am standing before them is the bad influence of my Duntroon cadet friend, Graeme Dunstan."
Jock followed up with story about a post surgical meeting he had had with the now Lieutenant General Dunstan, former Commander of the General Staff and Governor of SA at the time. He had learned that Jock had been a Duntroon cadet and upon being introduced to him in the recovery ward inquired:
General: "What years?"
General: "I was there then."
Jock: "Yes and do you remember giving me 21 days confinement to barracks and 84 days stoppage of leave."
Jock recalls that there must have been something vindictive in his tone for the Brigadier's hand shot to check his balls were intact.
Jock and Marie Anderson, Peter and Marie Roper
But not only the ghosts of dead files stirred in me, also the tragic story of my beloved of that time, Lynette Murray by name: dead 40 years now. She too was calling to be remembered: she the beauty of my days and the sweetness of my nights; she the soothing balm on the great ache of my life, the only gentle touch in my effort to stay sane and achieving as a cadet.
We had met in the beginning of 1963 when she was sweet sixteen. Difficult it was for me at that time to find a willing woman. Being a Duntroon cadet seemed to be a disincentive to Canberra girls I met but maybe it was my intensity and neediness, which repelled them. But Glenys, the black eyed virgin, 14 year old daughter of the South African Trade Attachˇ, and Jim Batty's pet obsession at the time, took pity on me and tipped me off about a new girl arriving at her school, Canberra Girls Grammar.
"She is beautiful and you will like her," Glenys informed and supplied name and address.
My heart trilled and the next Sunday I hastened to her door, an address in Campbell, which is the suburb adjacent to Duntroon. Wings of desire lightened my steps as I walked through the bushland of the Mt Pleasant reserve, over the hill and into Campbell. I was a man on a mission: to have this beautiful stranger as my partner at the upcoming Duntroon Social.
An elegant grey haired woman with impish smile answered my knock and I fumbled to introduce myself. "May I speak to Lynette? My name is Graeme and I am a cadet at Duntroon, the army place across the hill. Do you know it? "
She smiled upon me and it was if she had been expecting me. "Indeed I do know Duntroon and my husband too. We were in residence there while he was an instructor."
Ding! Lynette Murray was revealed to be the only daughter of the now late Winsome and Brigadier (later Major) General Noel Murray, he Master General of Ordinance and Member of the Military Board at the time. (Please note that names have been changed so as to give no offence to living relatives and friends.)
Lynette came to the door and stood smiling at my awkwardness and impetuosity, a radiant beauty, 5 foot six, dark eyes gleaming, dark hair straight and shining and me all ajumble on her threshold. She accepted my invitation to the Duntroon Social, more out of kindness I do believe.
Such was the opening scene of a story I needed to tell, a story of kindness, passion, heedlessness and tragedy, a young woman's memory calling to be honoured forty years on.
I yearned to find an ear for it and thought of telling one or two of the wives - the empathetic Kath Kingston, long time service wife, came to mind. But it was not to be. I had missed making contact with my cadet mates staying at Olims before they had gone off in groups to dine that evening.
So I took Happy Wheels and Jennifer, a bottle Coopers Stout and a tin of mull up to the top of Mount Pleasant, the promontory behind the Duntroon parade ground. It is a popular place with lovers, joggers, dog walkers and push bike riders and offers a grand view over the College, Fairburn airbase, the Molongo Plains east, and from there a 270 degree view of Canberra grandeur.
Putting out my camp table and chairs, I brewed up a coffee and it was no sooner poured that a security car pulled up along side. The guard was a contractor of Maltese descent, half way through his shift, he had time on his hands and elastic-bindings on his wrists.
My presence was no problem to him, he said. "Guys sometimes come here to smoke joints," he offered as a matter of fact rather than judgement.
Might some such have been the errant cadets so recently busted, I wondered? Choosing to stand in truth and solidarity, I responded at once: "I am one of those."
The security guard accepted my invitation to take a break and come sit with me awhile. I perked him a cup of coffee and he offered me his tobacco pouch for a rollie. At my request he rolled a spliff for me with mull from my tin.
We sat in camp chairs, a candle lit lantern on the table between us, looking out at the last of daylight colouring the sky and upon the lights and aircraft landings at Fairburn. His name was Adam and he told me about his RSI, his family and his wee daughter who had recently fallen from a sofa and broken arm her arm, poor thing. Life as suffering.
Adam also confirmed the Duntroon House ghost stories with uncanny, night security guard experiences of his own: of the cast iron chairs of the Duntroon House veranda inexplicably tipped over or variously rearranged, and of a phantom in black track suit sighted in the cadets mess and so on.
"When the mist hangs low at night over Duntroon gardens, beware," he said.
Me at ease on Mt Pleasant; pleasantly drunk, pleasantly stoned, and pleasantly flowing with memories, I told him of being a Duntroon cadet come back for a 40th reunion and the Passing Out parade next day.
"I got a tragic love story to tell. You wanna hear?"
Sure, he said. How rare these moments, hey? The ear of a sympathetic stranger and a night made for stories.
I told him how, at the Duntroon Social, which was in an auditorium between the barrack wings of Kapyong and Kokoda companies, I had whispered to my new found love as we shuffled in a make do foxtrot: "Do you want to come to my room?" She nodded her assent as is if this was somehow expected and I led her from the floor and down the corridor to my barracks room. A big Corps of Staff Cadets no-no.
Entering the room I went ahead to turn on the bed lamp and she closed the door and stood with her back to it. Our eyes met; she read my need, anticipated my intention. "How much clothing do you want me to take off?" she oh so sweetly inquired.
The gates of heaven were opening; my heart pounded, my voice was thick: "You can leave your suspender belt on." Could have been a line from a song.
As she lay down beside me she said that she was okay about petting but she didn't want penetration. But she might well have suggested the flow of the mighty Mekong change its direction. She was a woman soft and yielding and I was a semen Vesuvius. Once lost in a desert, now I had found an oasis and thrown himself in its waters. I immersed in the softness of her body, swam in the sound of her voice. She giggled at my clumsiness, surrendered to my persistence, stroked me tenderly and whispered poetry. Baudelaire!
It was very, very late and she no longer a virgin when I called a taxi to General Bridge's grave and spirited her back to her parent's home, swearing my forevers, happy, happy, happy.
Adam sighed. This was a story about re-finding the garden of Eden and how what was harsh and difficult had transformed and became soft and sustaining, a story that resonates in every heart. But then come the thorns.
I told Adam of my elation and how next morning I had been impatient of Church Parade and after, had run to the barrack public telephones to call Lynette and arrange to be with her again. Her mother answered the phone and in grim tones she told me it would be best for all if I never saw Lynette again.
Shocked, I pleaded to speak to Lynette and I was told, "She is not back from hospital yet." Hospital!
Hanging up I hastened to Campbell, running over the hill and through the bush, a different kind of urgency this time. Lynette came to the door, hospital bandages on her wrists. She had slashed them with a razor blade during the night!
Our eyes met again and, if I had been swimming before, now I was drowning, sinking into emotional depths hitherto unknown. Both of us were feeling guilt and shame and both of us seeking some absolution in each other. Her mother seeing us so locked in voiceless tenderness and pain, stood back, and made no objection to my suggestion that Lynette and I take a walk.
We walked to Kings Avenue, I remember, that great Burley Griffin avenue that connects the Parliament to the War Memorial, decisions with consequences. It was still scrubby then and we sat together amongst the long native grasses, me tenderly holding her wrists, horrified and in love, totally confused and totally committed.
I cannot remember ever asking or hearing why she had tried to kill herself, such reaches of being were unfathomable to me and she mystery itself. She often talked to me in riddles, teased me for my ignorance, opened me to other worlds that included French poets, Joan Baez and the Blues, but always kind, always tender to me. I didn't know what was going on but as deep as I could reach, I understood, and she too, that we were bonded now as if the flesh cutting and blood were some sign and seal.
Lynette's parents sensing that bond surrendered to our union too and accepted me as their defacto son in law, welcomed me into their home and were most kind, as if we as a couple were always meant to be, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer.
The Brigadier was a man of depth and cultivation and he had some understanding of love, suffering and serendipity. He was a Duntroon graduate of 1937(?) whose first posting was as Adjutant to Australian Army's first Mechanised Brigade in Darwin; when he arrived it was equipped with one truck!. Sent to North Africa Rommel soon rounded him up along with most of his Brigade and he was held prisoner of war first by the Italians, then by the Germans. During his internments he became fluent and literate in Italian, German and Russian.
Winsome was a girl not long out of Brisbane Church of England Grammar School when they married and she flung first in to the officer's mess life of the tropics and then into the anxiety of being a maybe widow of an officer missing in action. She was a gay spirit, brave and vulnerable and her husband's fellow officers (some Duntroon Classmates ) and their wives, had gathered around her and looked her after in her time of need.
Lynette was their only child, born in the post war years when the Army was downsizing, soldiers with service records were many, and Army careers for officer prisoners who had missed most of the action, unlikely. They doted on their child and she combined the fine intellect of her father and the beauty and social graces of her mother.
And at 16 she became my comfort woman and confidant. On weekend nights when I was confined to barracks she would come to me (via a taxi RV at the Grave) and I would roll from her embrace into uniform to attend the check parades then hurry back to fall out of uniform and into her arms again.
It was a poorly kept secret and a knowledge of it must have enraged my tormentors and all the more so because they would have understood that busting me with a Brigadier's daughter would mean more scandal and trouble for the College than my scalp was worth.
My resignation and abrupt departure from Duntroon and Canberra tore us apart. The resignation had been processed in record time though Brigadier Murray later told me he had delayed it on his desk for 5 days. I suspect it was he who prompted Colonel Dunstan to commit to writing his reasons for accepting the resignation.
To Melbourne and my family I returned, angry, desolate and totally broke. We lost contact there for a while and my regimental son (Staff Cadet David Noble 2123) stepped in at my request and became her comforter ... and lover.
But the next year, she and her mother moved back to Melbourne and our affair resumed again with the same parental misgivings and passionate intensity. Duffle coat days and me a desperately poor student and living at home, our couplings were in the backs of cars, other peoples beds in seedy digs, Bohemian, sordid and furtive. 1964 was not a happy year for me ... or her.
Her successful suicide came in October and it came as a surprise to me, though it was no surprise at all when I recalled what she had told me and what, in my neediness, I hadn't wanted to hear. Her death she had carefully planned: sleeping pills accumulated, an abortion organised and accomplished, suicide notes all wrapped, sealed and delivered.
Father, mother, lover, each of us aghast and aggrieving. The parents let me come to her wake and their Army friends gathered around them and offered me comfort too. I remember sitting in their lounge room of their Black Rock bungalow staring at a semen stain I had left on the carpet a week or so before, tears streaming, inconsolable guilt and grief.
No blame came to me from her parents.: to the contrary they took me in as a son.
The movie, Zorba the Greek, was playing at the time and I saw it six times and could recite the dialogue. I recommended it to the Brigadier who saw it at least twice. For a while there, Zorba's philosophy ("... wife, children, the full catastrophe!") and his dance in the face of madness, cruelty and ruin, became the common ground of our resurrection. I can remember one time the pair of us, in between dry martinis, simulating Zorba's dance in the kitchen.
They worried for my well being and the effect that my grief might have on my upcoming university exams. When the Brigadier returned to duties in Canberra, I moved into their Black Rock House, slept in Lynette's bed (the scent of her still in the room) and swatted up engineering subjects while Winsome, mothered, and tendered me with food, hot drinks and encouragement.
Strung out on Ritalin I passed the Engineering exams with honours but then crashed into depression and the next year ran away to another city, another university campus and another life. In the years that followed I visited Melbourne and saw Winsome and Noel only infrequently.
Of the tragedy we had shared I told neither my parents nor my friends of the time, for the story was like a widowed bride's wedding dress, carefully wrapped and stored away, a memory too precious, too painful for airing to a mundane world. (And here was a night anything but mundane.)
Initiation by water, I was devastated then. But older now I have learned that there is joy concealed in grief and it was humming to me across the years. Jelaluddin Rumi (1207-73) says it like this:
"There is a bankruptcy that is pure gain.
The moon stays bright when it doesn't avoid the dark.
A rose's purest essence lives in the thorn."
Adam listened to me wind up the tale with tears in his eyes. For more than an hour he had been sitting with me and now it was time for him to attend his duties.
He gave me his home phone number, noted my website and invited me to meet his wife and children. He also offered to guide me to a quieter part of the Duntroon grounds when I might camp and sleep without interruption. I declined the offer saying I wanted to meditate on the sunrise and hear reveille over the parade ground.
And so I did: sitting cross legged in the doorway of Happy Wheels, witness to a beautiful big sky sunrise, and to the bugle call over the empty Square - no defaulters parade on Passing Out day.
Adam must have made some report of our meeting for in the morning when the joggers came by, two of them, one a young woman, the other an older man of thinning hair, independently of each other, made respectful contact with me, both I guessed to be officers in jogger mufti. The woman squatted down to admire and pet Jennifer and, with me beside, her eyes searched mine with tenderness and familiarity before she went jogging off again.
The man hailed me: "Great place to meditate", he said though he hadn't seen me in the act. It was offered as a respectful affirmation, a salute. I could not but agree and he jogged off.
I wondered if this was not a new Duntroon tradition in the making: old boys meditating on Mt Pleasant and putting ghosts to rest.
Tim Britten, Col Toll and Des Mueller
Barry Smith and Ross Stewart
After the Passing Out parade and along with other reunion groups and families of cadets, we assembled for morning tea under marquis spread about in Duntroon gardens. It was there that I learned from Rollo Brett that the invitation to lead the loyal toast for our black tie Class of '64 Reunion Dinner that evening was still a goer. Here was a major challenge for wit and tact.
Dear Rollo told me he loved my Eureka work and understood the significance of the flag and the story for the defence of rights and liberties in this time. He also cautioned me to be respectful for there were many of our classmates who were royalists - maybe half Š and the rest republicans including some like 'Kingo' Kingston who were vociferously so. Kingo was proud to tell be was a founding member of the Australian Republican Movement.
I didn't push discussion of politics. The horrific and concurrent subjugation of Fallujah, for instance, was never mentioned. Never the less many took opportunities to let me know where they stood apropos the Eureka150 publicity.
Few of my classmates could understand the choice of Terry Hicks as Leading Light for the Eureka Dawn Walk, it seemed. For some of them his Guantanamo Bay incarcerated son, David Hicks, was an Australian born mercenary who had joined a terrorist army and was getting everything he deserved. This was the Bush/Murdoch media lie straight down the line.
My response in a nutshell:
"In the wrong army in the wrong place and at the wrong time, whatever, David Hicks is a soldier who has been denied his rights as a prisoner of war and as an Australian citizen. Terry Hicks is a father standing up and speaking out for a fair go for his son. I would do likewise if it was my son. You too. When the rights and liberties of the least of us are protected, the rights and liberties of all of us are protected."
My Nick Jans was typically forthright in his response.
"I agree entirely with the analysis that you have made about David Hicks and the poor devils who share his misfortune", Nick later emailed. "It is all disgraceful and shames us as Australians."
All praise to the open hearts and tolerance of my classmates. Mutual respect prevailed and never once was I under attack or abuse. Nodding in agreement or smiling at my provocation, they were ever generous of spirit.
And talking of provocation, I still had trickster mischief in me urging me to fly the Eureka flag. The formal (and now traditional) Reunion Dinner was my last chance.
The Dinner was held in the Carlton Room of Olims, formerly the Ainslie Rex and our drinking hole as cadets. I went early to check the room and assess what dressing I might bring to it from the kit of banners, flags and poles aboard Happy Wheels. The dining room was drab, beige and well worn and its only saving visual grace was the streetscape outside of a wall of high windows where a low streetlight lit up a copse of fir trees.
When the company assembled, resplendent in their dinner suits and fine dresses (Bodha Gwen, my partner looking stunning in blue), I pulled back the curtains of these windows and there revealed Happy Wheels, its signage bright in the street light saying:" Eureka Dawn Walk/Courage in the Face of Tyranny/Peacebus.com" and an array of four Eureka banner plus a rainbow peace dove flag hanging above.
Beautiful to behold, pretty as a postcard, an image layered with stories, and the punch line of an extended Reunion joke. In front lay my patient companion, Jennifer the Maremma ... she, the true scene stealer.
My fellow classmates and their wives loved it and those who had been most vocal in warning me to be well behaved and desist with Eureka flag flying, came to clap me on the shoulder and say well done!
The Reunion Dinner was a great success and not because of the food (it was okay), or the service (also okay) or the dˇcor (brighter for having the Eureka colours), but because of the good company. The room was warm with the sound of conversation and laughter. The more we learned of the careers, post careers and home lives of one another, the more wondrous our diversity became, the more improbable our association.
The Group photos - boys and girls
Between courses we were moved around, three times which meant I got to sit beside and speak with six different wives, each of them a delight and in particular the elfish Bunny Hobbs, wife of Ross, who told me about the horses and many other creatures in their care.
Tradition has it now that there are three toasts given at our Reunion Dinner, each with a short introductory speech: to the Queen, the Ladies and the Class. Johnny Redward, 100% Kiwi, toasted the Ladies with a ribald story.
Nick Jans toasted to the Class by bringing forth a sociological analysis based on the biographies too expressed his pride by observing what a wonderfully disparate and high achieving bunch we were. He led us to toast, not to the graduating Class of '64, but to the Fourth Class of '61 and so embraced the disparate and high achieving dropouts too.
And I got to lead the loyal toast to the Queen for whose class and privilege I have no loyalty at all. So I had to be a tuck with full twist to dive into the pool where I had been swimming with other soul fish Š gratitude for enduring friendship. This is what I said.
I remember in January 1961 being in a train coming into Canberra, me one of a bunch of the new intake who had embarked from Melbourne the night before. Ian Bryant and I were standing by the open wooden door at the carriage end of the rattler as it crossed the Molongo Plains and he pointed out the white buildings of Duntroon up against Mt Pleasant.
"I think our lives are in for a big change," he said. And he was right.
Changes came thick and fast and they began with the swearing of an oath of loyalty which was administered in front of framed photograph of Elizabeth Windsor in a non descript basement room of the Corps of Staff Cadets by the knuckle-head Adjutant of the time, Captain Hodgkinson.
I was one very confused young man at the time but what I understood was that once sworn we were in the Army and a whole new set of rules applied. Personal choice, rights ands liberties went out the window, and from that moment on our lives were in the hands of a hierarchy of knuckleheads who could do pretty much what they liked with us.
There was no turning back. We swore the oath and became the staff cadets of Fourth Class, Royal Military College Duntroon: strangers of only a day before, now thrust together in Army life and aspirations of Army careers.
Forty three years on what has become of all those aspirations? What became of all the foot drill and the arms drill, the bastardisation and the screed test, the defaulters parades and the passing out parades, the Army careers, the struggles, the triumphs and the defeats?
It had come down to this: a bunch of long time friends and their wives enjoying meeting again.
So I want to be respectful of the Queen and grateful to her for bringing us together and I want to join the toast to her with another; a toast to enduring friendship.
Here is a teaching from the Buddha about friendship. When the Buddha talked about friendship he used the Pali word Kalyanamitta, which means noble or uplifting friendship. Everyone in this company would know what he is talking about.
As most of you will know, the Buddha was warrior prince who 2,500 years ago renounced his royal responsibilities, his family and his wealth to become a penniless wanderer in search of the truth about the cause of human suffering. He was 29 when he left his father's palace.
In his 35th year, by his own strenuous efforts and unaided and unguided by any supernatural agencies, he achieved Enlightenment. There are silent Buddhas and teaching Buddhas and Gautama chose the latter more difficult path. He founded an order of monks and travelled about teaching his peace making, angst ending Dharma for the next forty five years of his life. A great teacher, a perfect example, a great administrator, a great counsellor, honoured by kings he was a great social reformer.
For the last 20 years of the Buddha's life his cousin, Ananda, was his personal assistant and constant companion. Ananda had a phenomenal memory and he could recite place, context and substance, all of the Buddha's teachings - 84,000 of them - word perfect. But he was not enlightened and the Buddha sometimes had cause to correct him.
One day while gathered in a forest grove in the company of 500 monks, an enlightened companionship with an Enlightened teacher, it had all seemed too perfect to Ananda. Each monk, even the newest, was well disciplined and restrained in action, speech and thought. All dressed in saffron and heads shaven, they glowed with the good health of right living and clear mind. They were the best of their generation.
Ananda was moved to say: "I am beginning to understand that uplifting friendship is more than half of the holy life."
The Buddha responded thus: "Don't say that, Ananda. Don't say that."
"Uplifting friendship is all of the holy life."
Let me round off with a poem about friendship from the Islamic world. It seems appropriate to be recalling the cultural finesse of the people that the Australian Army is presently committed to kill.
The poet is Hafiz and he was a 14th century Muslim mystic from Shiraz: a drunkard and a womaniser; always in love, always in trouble.
"Dear friends, there is a Friend
inside the night. Remember.
And the duty of serving others,
In the middle of any excitement,
when the musical moan of your lover
As you put your hopeful hand on her waist,
as the face of one bringing you a song,
lights with recognition, remember.,
Just as your horse,
is passing others, remember.
As you sit down to take command,,
remember Hafiz' face and the way of kindness.
As the empty threshold,
Ladies and Gentlemen, let us raise our glasses: to the Queen and enduring Friendship."
That was my speech, dear reader, and that my story.
There are many who inspired these words and assisted in drawing them forth.
First up thank you to classmate Bruce Manning who generously paid my way at the Reunion and to his partner, Irene, and her sister, my Reunion partner, Bodha Gwen Gould, for including me in their concurrent Canberra Christmas family Reunion.
John Griggs, Bruce Manning and Foo
Thanks too to Nick Jans who has valued our Duntroon class association and served to bring the Reunion together. He also previewed this text, gave me valuable advice and comment and inspired me to think about it as military sociology.
Brian Glance, Nick Jans and the gift of flowers
Thanks to Brian Glance also one of the Reunion organisers and one who also values both reunions as rite of passage and friends across the years.
Thanks to Rod Usback who inspired by getting the biographies together so providing a map of our astonishing diversity.
Thanks to Rollo Brett. You are a good man, Rollo.
Thanks to 'Kingo' Kingston whoever a generous soul provided me with the photos to illustrate the above.
I am grateful to all of the affirming friendships of the Fourth Class '61: Brian Glance, Jim Batty, Rollo Brett, Jock Anderson, John Durant, Col Toll, Barry Smith, Peter Reid, Tim Britten, ... the list goes on and on.
And the wives too for their stories and empathy: Kath Kingston, Pammie Britten, Bonny Hobbs, Marie Anderson, Marie Roper, and all the rest.
I came away from the Reunion with many invitations from old classmates to come visit their homes. May there be time in this lifetime to accept them all.
Thanks to my nomad friend and mentor, Jack Wayward, who feted me with fine food, wine and ganja when we met afterwards in a nomad's camp by the Bay at Altonaand listened attentively to my Reunion story. He understood its 'culture denting' significance and encouraged me to write it.
Gratitude too to my sister, Wendy, and brother in law, Syd Myers. While wrestling these words and memories into digital storage, I was camped on the front lawn their home in suburban Greensborough over Christmas. During that time I was entertained by a tribe of midgets, 4 grandnieces, two grandnephews all under 5 years and Syd fed us all well.
May all above be well and happy.
May all beings be well and happy.
The old Ballarat Mining Exchange prepared for the Eureka150 Dawn Walk, Saturday evening 4 December 2004