This (serv­ing)


The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Ted Strugnell

IT all be­gan for us in Charleville in the early 60s, three broth­ers grow­ing up in a typ­i­cal south­west Queens­land coun­try town with me liv­ing next door. In those days, many young men — to seek em­ploy­ment or just to get out of the place — joined the armed ser­vices. I joined the air force, the old­est brother next door en­listed in the army shortly af­ter and the other two broth­ers fol­lowed me into the RAAF.

Fast for­ward to Dar­win. Af­ter more than 120 years of ser­vice be­tween us in­clud­ing three tours of Viet­nam, four of Malaysia, one of the Mid­dle East, one of East Ti­mor, and one of PNG, the youngest brother, the last to leave, is dis­charg­ing from the RAAF. The el­der brother, an­other ex-ser­vice mate and I have flown to Dar­win to ac­com­pany him on this last sen­ti­men­tal jour­ney from Dar­win to Bris­bane and out of the air force.

We drive by day and by night solve the prob­lems of the world over a car­ton of beer. We sleep un­der the stars; travel through the lands of Henry Law­son and Banjo Pater­son and leg­endary out­back towns such as Daly Wa­ters, Camooweal, Lon­greach and Win­ton.

As we drive through the heart­land of the con­ti­nent we’d served so long, we talk of air­fields and steam­ing jun­gles, peo­ple we knew, a few no longer with us and oth­ers on pen­sions for life. As al­ways a price was paid and many never grew old enough to rem­i­nisce like this. We speak of the eu­pho­ria and the des­per­a­tion; the good times get­ting bet­ter with each bar room retelling, never quite telling the whole truth about the bad.

On the sixth day out, as we ap­proach Charleville, we are all sud­denly quiet, think­ing of our own his­to­ries in the town. We think of first loves, good days at school, bad days at school, foot­ball games won and lost, fights we had and got out of and par­ents and sib­lings long passed away. In three days there we visit old neigh­bours and par­ents of lon­gleft school friends by day, and we visit the ceme­tery. Even at that ten­der age we had left a few be­hind. By night we hit the three re­main­ing pubs to see if there is any­body else we know still alive.

Day eight out of Dar­win and at 2359 hours — just be­fore mid­night — youngest brother is of­fi­cially dis­charged from the RAAF. It is no co­in­ci­dence we chose to be in Charleville on this day, back where it all be­gan. The next morn­ing we awaken, hung over, with the usual hack­neyed jokes: ‘‘You’ve fi­nally reached the high­est rank in the air force. It’s Mis­ter.’’ Now it’s only a short 800km leg home to fam­i­lies and it’s fi­nally over, or is it?

As we drive I think of those who have gone be­fore us and my daugh­ter, who served a tour in East Ti­mor, a nephew who served in Afghanistan and is still in the army, and an­other nephew who is think­ing of join­ing the RAAF and I re­alise: it will never be over.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.