Bomber – As Mad As A Cut Snake

I always wanted a Mercedes Sports car. My father, a child of the Depression, always said that “nothing is handed to you on a plate, Girlie”. The only car he ever gave me was a Matchbox Toy. It was a Mercedes, however. My daughters had to buy their own cars too and both held down part time jobs throughout High School and Uni in order to do so.

My eldest, a slip of a thing, was a tea trolley girl at the Repatriation Hospital where she met some very interesting characters, including Tony Bower-Miles, a Vietnam Veteran. In the Australian vernacular, Bomber, as he is affectionately known, would be best described as rough as guts and as mad as a cut snake. He would also give you the shirt off his back. My daughter grew up surrounded by some hardened old men which meant big, burly Bomber with his beard and six earrings didn’t phase her one bit. In fact this scary looking bloke would assist my daughter to negotiate the wards full of men, mostly vets, many who were in not such good shape.

I’ve recently read Bomber : From Vietnam To Hell And Back. Co-written with Mark Whittaker, who provides the history, time fames and context, Bomber’s running commentary is full of colour, profanities and brothels.

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Bower-Miles is one interesting fella. He likes a cold beer on a hot day, is not fond of authority figures, and is as courageous as they come. In Vietnam, where Land mines, in particular US made M16 anti-personnel mines, were one of the major threats faced by Australian troops, much of Bomber’s work involved cleaning up their aftermath. They were often positioned by the enemy and later used to great effect against Australian troops.

“A quarter of all the 504 Australians killed in Vietnam were killed by mines and booby traps. And of those, 55 were killed by M16 mines which were almost all lifted from the Australian minefield.” 

( True story. There is a line in Redgum’s Song “Only Nineteen”, which goes : Frankie kicks a mine the day that mankind kicks the moon. Private Frank Hunt was seriously wounded on 21st of June, 1969, along with 18 others, with another killed, by an Australian land mine.)

Bomber’s commentary is raw, and in no way prettied up, and is both a fascinating and terrifying read. After Vietnam he was transferred to Singapore for a time, and nearing conflicts end, returned to Australia via Darwin, to assist with the cleanup after Cyclone Tracy, which absolutely decimated the northern city. This too gives a different perspective to what we know about this catastrophe – hearing it from someone on the ground assisting with the rebuilding.

His return to civilian life was not a happy one including a marriage breakdown, and Bomber spiralled downwards into a world fuelled by alcohol and violence, exascerbated by pain from injuries that occurred from having been thrown off tanks on several occasions by bomb blasts in Vietnam. Throughout this period he maintained his friendships with fellow veterans in a self styled support system.

And this is where the true measure of the man comes to light.

In 2001, Bomber returned to South East Asia, putting his minefield breaching and clearance skills to work in the task of locating and destroying some of the 4 to 6 million land mines that still contaminated Cambodia. This trip was self funded as were the others that he later took. 

On a shoestring budget, Bomber established the Vietnam Veterans’ Mine Clearing Team. The men were removing mines planted by Pol Pot about 30 years ago as part of his battle for power. The Vietnamese planted mines during their invasion of Cambodia, and some farmers even used the mines to stake their claims.

The problem is none of these are recorded on maps, and walking around Cambodia can be life threatening. It’s anticipated there are about 40-thousand amputees in  Cambodia as a result of land mines. In early 2008 the Vietnam Veterans Mine Clearing Team – Cambodia Inc was registered as an incorporated entity in Queensland. (IA:36313) and registered with the Australian Government Business Register . 

Now that Cambodian Self Help Demining has official status, they work within the rules and that means Bomber and his mates must confine themselves to fund-raising. Interestingly, each of the mine detectors purchased through fundraising for the de-mining operation has a plaque attached in honour of one of the Engineers killed during the war in Vietnam.

Yes, Josie, you are quite right. Bomber is a larrikin and unsung hero, and most certainly, as mad as a cut snake.

 

 

Australian Author Challenge – Aussie, Aussie, Aussie by Ben Probjie.

Ben Pobjie is an Australian comedian, poet, and writer. He studied history at the University of Western Sydney. He pursued a career in comedy writing and is known for his TV columns in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, and political satire for New Matilda, Crikey, and the ABC, among others. His books include Superchef, The Book of Bloke, and Error Australis. He has written for the TV shows Reality Check and The Unbelievable Truth.

Someone told Ben Pobjie he was both clever and funny – and he ran with it. He certainly has the gift of the gab…….. in the same vein as a used Car Salesman, as far as I am concerned.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie : Questionable Histories Of Great Australians is a selection of celebrated Australians and their achievements. Remember your Social Studies classes at Primary School when you would learn about a different person’s achievements each week? People like Helen Keller, Nancy Wake and Madame Curie, for example?

Well, this book is a bit like that, though containing only Australians.

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The blurb from the booksellers states this book is “Australian history made palatable.” Palatable. When did history have to become palatable?

Maybe since “Child psychologists in Britain have issued new guidelines advising doctors to change the age for maturity from 18 to 25 years old. According to the experts, their decision was based on recent findings relating to emotional maturity, hormonal development and neurological activity.”( according to the Medical Daily)

Now step back and read those two sentences again.

I did enjoy the inclusion of some different names to the Usual Suspects, such as Aboriginal activist, Vincent Lingiari, and Movie Producer, Charles Trait. ( Who, right?)
The continual chatter became boring and I felt I was reading the ramblings of a 16 year old kid. Funny? No. Self indulgent? Yes. You can most certainly see the experience the author has gained from writing television commentary.

At the end of each Australian identity Probjie lists a task – Fun For You At Home.

Under Albert Jacka VC. MC, and first decorated Aboriginal, the task is:

Learn what it was like as a soldier in World War 1. Dig a trench in your back yard, half-fill it with water, and ask your friends over to shoot at you. If they come too close, stab them. Now you’re living like a real war hero”.

Look, I’m no history buff, and I enjoy irreverence as much as the next person. This is, however, neither clever nor funny. If I really wanted to be controversial I would suggest that the young Sydneysiders who thought they were hipsters would eat this up.

My Tip: spend the money on Avocado on Toast instead.

Palatable history. Now that’s funny.

In Harm’s Way by Doug Stanton

When I was still living in the family home Friday nights meant gathering around the television to watch a film from the “Golden Age of Hollywood”. Black and Whites, Classics, and Who Dunnits, all included a five minute presentation by film critic and journalist, Bill Collins, who just bubbled with enthusiasm, sharing information about the actors, filming techniques, theme music and all sorts of trivia connected to the film. Mothers, grandmothers and maiden aunts adored Bill Collins. I loved his personal library containing books which had since been turned into movies. His collection was massive.

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At the recent charity book sale I picked up a book called In Harm’s Way, which because it had an illustration of a ship on the front cover I purchased thinking it was connected to a John Wayne movie of the same name.

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Big mistake. In Harm’s Way by Doug Stanton tells the true story of the USS Indianapolis which was torpedoed in the South Pacific by a Japanese submarine in the dying days of WW2.

Of the 1100 plus men on board at the time, less than 320 survived, having spent almost five days in the sea battling oil slicks, thirst, hypothermia, and shark attacks, until their rescue. Yes, you read that right: shark attacks. All I can say is how bloody awful.

Despite the content the author has excelled in writing in a totally jargon free manner so you don’t have to have an understanding of ships, or the Navy, to grasp the situation (which is just as well for me).

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The story is told in a very personal format weaving the background of three of the survivors – the Captain, the ship’s Doctor, and a young Private – from beginning to end, with lots of quotes included from other survivors.

Not only is the sinking of the ship and the resultant mayhem a tragedy in itself, but the Captain was also court-martialed and became a broken man, finally committing suicide.

I read this book in a single sitting, wanting to know more. As usual with such dreadful wartime tales there are also the wonderful, uplifting stories of the strength of the human spirit that make this old heart sing.

An interesting footnote at the end stated that where the survivor’s efforts to clear Captain McVay of blame failed, an American High School student, as part of a history project, was able to make the politicians listen, albeit too late. Way to go!

Somewhere in an unpacked carton in my garage I feel I may have this story on DVD, but it has to be twenty years old. I just have this faint recollection of sharks and a red headed actor in navy whites. You know, the ranger who was the first bloke on television without pants……Yes, that chappie.

You know I’ll be wading through boxes tomorrow, don’t you?

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