David Edwards, FO, 22 & 38 Combined Bty
In Oct 1994 2/10 Mdm Regt participated as a combined battery (+ extras) in a 4 Brigade exercise at the Tindal RAAF base. In addition to our regiment, there were elements of 5/6 RVR, 8/9 RVR, 4/19 PWLH, the engineers and other units from Victoria. Our fortnight involved a week of gunnery training by ourselves at the Mount Bundey training area, followed by a move down to Katherine for the brigade exercise.
I don’t recall much of the trip up there. The guns and vehicles were shipped by rail and the rest of us flew. We’d had many reminders to keep our fluids up, so by the time we arrived at the training area after a long wait at the Darwin airport and the drive out, everyone was busting (and wanting to beat up the convoy commander – me).
The first week was spent with the usual range activities including live firing. I had one of the three FO parties, with Bdr Jon Moody as my ack (apologies to the sigs as I can’t recall who was in our party). It was very different terrain to what we were used to in Pucka. At it was stinking hot – October with a late wet season building up (not uncommon to find folks sleeping in all states of dress on the gun line).
Those who have been up north will know of the bulldust. There was a main road from where we were located to the echelon area near the main highway that had lakes of it – if you’ve seen the films with helicopters flying through smoke and it billowing around the blades, that’s what driving LandRovers through the bulldust was like. We’d got a flat and asked transport to supply us with a replacement to be dropped at a certain spot. Moods and I drove down to pick it up. When we got there, there was a rim, tube and tyre (some assembly required). Moods lost it. I turned to him and cracked up laughing – he was covered in bulldust, all one grey colour like a mudman from Borneo.
The drive down to Katherine was uneventful, but we did have a cooling off stop at Humty Doo and one of the WWII cemeteries which was interesting. We drove through Katherine and out to the RAAF Base at Tindal – our home for the second week.
Each FO party was assigned to one of the infantry companies, and I think we were assigned to 8/7 RVR. We had a third unit in the exercise – 1st Airfield Defence Squadron (1AFDS) a regular unit. These guys are the fly-in airfield defence unit. They liked to style themselves as the SAS of the RAAF and had all the fancy gear (rumour had it they had their own blacked out C130). I can’t recall who the FO party was that was assigned to them (one of the Geelong crew) but they were run ragged. We spent most of the time sitting on our black-rock OP in the company defensive position or in the company CP.
At that time we’d moved on from the treacherous Musiorians onto the equally dastardly Kamarians. Apparently small groups of them had infiltrated the mainland of Australia and had moved south the probe the RAAF Base. All we know was these small groups were know to be travelling in beige 4WDs (‘cos there’s not many of those up there).
I don’t recall much of the week, but there was a lot of agro. When the base commander was told of the Arty with it’s guns, his comment was something like “you can send those little guns home and park the big ones on the main road as a boom gate”. Perhaps taking guns on a “low level ops” type mission wasn’t the best. As an FO I fired an illum mission without it being cleared by the Brigade Legal Officer and I couldn’t sit down for a day or so. There was a lot of learning from that week.
There was a spectacular thunder storm off to the north one night, as only northern Australia knows. We were sitting on our black rocks, warmed from their day in the sun, enjoying the light show.
The last night after end-ex was a big night (I think). We were assigned an area outside some workers hut accomodation which was fine until the heavens opened up in the middle of the night. People were running for shelter wherever they could find it. The bulldust turned to soup. The next day we boarded the RAAF plan home.