Updated: May 19
May 18, 2022, Raymond Fulton, 1999
This is the full transcript of the document that Ray wrote by hand in about 1999. When he died in 2008, it was left to Annie and she gave it to me in 2014.
This is my attempt to write about the traumatic experiences I went through while serving in the Australian Armed Forces, the lead up to these experiences and the dramatic effect on my life as a result of them, also the lack of willingness on behalf of the Australian Government to make any effort in giving any assistance to me.
I was conscripted into the army in 1969.
To get some pay was most important because I had a wife and daughter at that time. Basically I just wanted to be left alone and be able to do my work and provide for my wife and daughter. These were my basic inbred values. I loved work, I was a carpenter specialising in constructing the frame work for houses. I was self employed and had a high earning capacity. I employed a couple of tradesmen and would have employed more if not for the ‘National Service Act’. I fully intended to continue in this line of work for a few years and then begin to build houses complete on a speculative proposition, when funds permitted. I had no doubt then as I have no doubt now that is exactly what was going to happen. There was plenty of work and I had plenty of ability.
Unfortunately, I decided to do two years in the army as against two years in prison. My thoughts at the time were to get these two years out of the way, then, with this deal off my back I would continue as I was before it ever happened. The only other way out that I could see was to bolt, and head for the bush. That for me was out of the question because I didn’t want to be dragging a wife and daughter thought that, I felt they deserved much better. It’s also fair to say that I did have some of that patriotic shit in my head, as a result of my upbringing and schooling. However had I had even the slightest indication as to what was going to happen to me as a result of my service I would have gladly given myself up to do two years in prison. Two years in prison would have been bliss compared with what I did and experienced in the army.
It appears that in recruit training, the army tries to reduce everyone to a common denominator and when this is completed they reconstruct the common denominator into what they want. Which is obviously a soldier. I had heard that saying “Join the army and become a man”. Well, I was conscripted into the army and felt I was becoming a dickhead.
There was absolutely nothing I enjoyed about it at all. I pulled at the traces all the way and was extremely reluctant to give in to their demands. In fact my rebellion was to such an extent they told me if I didn’t toe the line the other fifteen members of my hut would be refused leave simply because of my behaviour. I’ve never been the type of person to allow others to suffer on my behalf and because of that I made an attempt to do what I was told. I just wanted these two years to be gone so I could do what I was doing prior to being conscripted.
During training I never ever had any problems in being able to cope with physical or mental ability. Whatever we were supposed to learn or do, I had no problems at all. As a result, I was sent to Infantry Corps training. Most nashos got infantry or a similar corps unless they were extremely smart or extremely dumb – I guess I was in the middle somewhere.
What I hadn’t really accepted was that I was being groomed for Vietnam and in fact that was what National Service was all about. The Australian Government wanted more soldiers in Vietnam to please America. Now I hated playing war games to such an extent that I reasoned being in the army in Vietnam could not possibly be any worse that what it was here [in Australia]. I thought that by living it rather than ‘playing’ it would be better.
In some ways I think I may not have been playing with a full deck even in those days but the truth is I was ignorant and quite simply just didn’t know. The fact is I was sent to Vietnam from Ingleburn Infantry Centre. I was posted in 1 Australian Reinforcing Unit (1ARU) in Nui Dat. Friends of mine had gone before me and were already in 8RAR – they were doing operations and were out of base for long periods at a time. This held great appeal to me as I was still getting ordered around and given heaps of duties in Nui Dat. We did regular patrols and I preferred this to being in base. I was obviously trying to get away from being told what to do when I could see no purpose in doing it anyway. But on patrols, I’d do what was expected without question because I knew it was for real.
The first incident that happened where I can now see that my personality was being changed, occurred one night in Nui Dat. A corporal came back from the boozer quite drunk and began throwing his weight around. I walked up to him and put a knife to his throat and told him to drop off. He did, but his mate had me charged and as a result I did a few weeks in prison in Vung Tau. I’ve never been the sort of person that anyone would mistake for a saint or an angel or anything like that but I had never come at a caper like that before. The thing is that I didn’t see anything wrong in it [at the time]. I also felt I was hard done by to be locked up. I can also see that that corporal was out of his tree and he’d end up a basket case in Australia. Of course I couldn’t see this type of thing then and this all became the done thing. I had at that time had no combat experience yet that was how I behaved. Being in prison did nothing for me and eventually I was sent back to 1ARU. The only difference was when that corporal started throwing his weight around he kept well away from me.
After about three or four months, I was posted or transferred to C Company, 8RAR. I felt happy to be out of 1ARU. The day I arrived in C Company, they were going for a 24 hour leave in Vung Tau. I thought I had hit the jackpot. In Vung Tau I was with a mate who like me had just been transferred to C Company. We were in a bar and fooling around with one of the monkeys the locals had on a chain. The monkey bit both me and my mate but I didn’t think any more about it.
When we returned to Nui Dat, he must have reported it and also told them that I had been bitten as well because I got called out and sent to the RAP [Regimental Aid Post] just when my platoon was going out for a 6 day TAOR [Tactical and Operations Reconnaissance]patrol. The doctor who examined us said that rabies was not as common as some people believed and he said that treatment for it was quite a problem anyway, so he sent us back to our lines. When my platoon returned, I was treated as though I was some sort of bludger and that I was just trying to get out of going bush. It seemed that most of them kept quite reserved and didn’t want much to do with me and yet nothing could be further from the truth as I preferred being in the bush. I don’t [really] know whether I liked being in the bush but I hated being in camp.
One incident happened while they were out and I was left on base. I was going to do my picket [duty] on the wire and a corporal said to me that our forward scout had killed a Viet Cong. Apparently he had just received this over the radio. I didn’t know what or how to think [about it]. I didn’t know if it was a good thing or a bad thing that a man had lost his life. I just stood there not saying a word because I didn’t know what to say. He said, That’s great’ and I said, Yeah. When he left, I thought, Well, that’s how it is. It’s good to kill a Viet Cong.
Somewhere I found quite a few boxers of tracer rounds. It was sometimes recommended to put a tracer round in our magazines about every four or five rounds. Well, I filled all seven of my magazines with straight tracer. One night we set up an ambush in some rice paddies and under the cover of dark the Viet Cong were coming out of the hills in twos and threes. They came in contact with us on their way to the village. The thing I found out about tracer was that I could see where it was going but they could see where it was coming from. While I wasn’t doing too badly with accuracy, they were obviously trying to stop me. It’s enough to say that I never used another round of tracer for the rest of my time in Vietnam.
The interesting thing about that [incident] was that I had no fear. I was only intent in laying down accurate fire. I can see now that all through my reluctance during training and not wanting to play along, the army was quite able to put the program in my head. I can remember that night because the program in my head took over and I performed like a soldier. The bloke next to me was frozen like a statue and never fired a shot – yet previously, he’d been okay. It was like I had entered into a different world. In actual fact, the army had quite successfully programmed me to shoot and kill people that I had absolutely nothing against at all. In truth, I admired the Viet Cong and certainly respected them. I could see what they were on about and didn’t blame them. In fact, I couldn’t see that it was any of my business at all. I had looked at the peasants and could easily see that they were my kind of people. They basically wanted to be left alone to grow their rice, bananas and whatever and provide for their family.
The Viet Cong were obviously programmed and told whatever they were told but one thing is for sure – I am now unable to see how America could in any way be justified in being there. The Viet Cong, in my opinion, were more justified in doing what they were doing than I was in even being there. Yet the program took over and provided for me to kill them and to have absolutely no feelings regarding the matter at all. I never ever doubted that they would eventually win and get exactly what they were going for. The effort that we put in seemed to me to be almost a nothing.
Body count was important. The powers that be seemed to get a kick out of that – but I could see we were counting, yet there was no way anyone could possibly count or number the Viet Cong. This never deterred me but rather I became all the more vigilant. I give full credit to the army because what they do to recruits they do very well. The program in me allowed me to shoot and kill my own brothers under the sun without batting an eyelid. I never thought of doing anything other than what I was doing as good as I could.
I – like the others – was placed in the position of being able to go up to any peasant and ask for his or her ID card.
If they didn’t have one, I could blow holes in them. Yet these were the very people I had nothing against but instead had everything in common with. They simply wanted to produce, provide and live exactly the same as I did. Fortunately, I didn’t think like this then or I may have frozen like a statue as my mate had done. Maybe the program in him failed for a moment, just long enough for him to think, What the hell am I doing here?
But there I was in a country I had not known existed, with life or death in my hand against a people I had nothing against but in fact admired. Yes, all credit goes to the army for what they do – they do it very well indeed.
After this night I was accepted by the boys and I felt a part of the Company. We were encouraged to drink beer as soon as we came back from patrols or operations. This is how I released the built-up stress. We’d go out on operations, come back, get drunk, get cleaned up and then go and do it all again. When I was in the bush, I became completely switched on – my senses became extremely acute. I could hear, see and smell to a much more heightened degree than I ever could before, but back in camp I’d get as drunk as I could. This pattern became well established in me.
We were doing a cordon and search of a village. The idea was to set up inside the village and anyone coming in after curfew, wore it. The problem was that there may have been Viet Cong already in the village and once they knew what was going on, they would try to get out before we started the search in the morning. While most of my platoon were positioned facing outward, three of us were placed behind them facing inward as a rear defence. A Viet Cong trying to get out came across some of our boys who were facing outward. They heard him and opened up. He fired back at them but he had been hit. With what life he had left he started to crawl away from them but what he didn’t know was that his new trajectory put him on course for the three of us at the rear. He managed to get about halfway and got into a shallow sort of ditch. The next thing we could hear were the most horrific cries coming from him. It didn’t even sound human. I became as cool and calm as I have ever been in my life and I called out to the sergeant that I’d go and finish him off. The sergeant came and got one of the other three that I was with and we went over and did just that.
I never at any moment had even the slightest thought about doing anything in the way of first aid or anything like that. My only intentions were to stop him making that terrible noise. I became so calm and methodical there was not a trace of nervousness, fear or anxious thought in me. It was very dark and I could not see him but when we were close enough to guess where he was, my mate and I cut loose. I had no fear that he may take a shot at us, just calm. I believe that I took part in killing that person through compassion. I made up my mind on the spot that this bloke had done enough suffering. So I ended it for him.
Over the few months I was with C Company, we were involved in a number of contacts. Our main go was to find some sign of where the Viet Cong were and ambush it.
We were out in the bush on one occasion and we came to a river. Our sergeant was in charge – he said we would set up an ambush and stay the night. After setting up a picket, he said we could have a swim and a wash in the river, a few of us at a time. This was the first time that anything like this had happened and I was selected to be in the first few. No sooner had we got in the river than we were ordered out. He had just received a message over the radio that some Viet Cong were headed our way. We got dressed and he deployed us in our positions. Under these circumstances we usually formed a triangle with the platoon HQ in the middle. And this is what he did on this occasion as well. Each point of the triangle consisted of an M60 machine gun and the rest of us lying as close as possible to the gun. The way it worked out was a gun at each point and five of us at each gun, including the gunner and his 2IC. Although we weren’t dug in, we called these gun pits.
When he came to us [our point of the triangle], for some unknown reason he put the gunner, 2IC and me on the gun but he put the other two about four to five metres to my right. So what we had was the machine gun with the gunner lying behind it, another grunt lying on his right and me on his right. Three of us side by side but the other two off to my right. He’d never done it like this before but he did it now. I didn’t think any more about it but during the night the three of us rotated on watch but the other two were out of it and could sleep all night. The three gun pits were all facing out from the centre with these two over to my right in a most unorthodox position.
The only time I’d ever experienced fear was when I was supposed to be asleep but I’d wake up and think I should be on duty. That thought of being asleep on duty would terrify me. During that night that was what happened but the guy next to me whispered it was okay.
Sometime later, one of the M60’s got going behind us and after a few bursts someone yelled out to the sergeant that they had opened up on a torch light. As soon as that gun first started, I was instantly awake and for some reason I had never known fear like I had for those first few moments. Visibility was nil because we had a heavy jungle canopy over us and there may have been no moon. I heard movement to my right and whispered, There is a wounded Nog over there.
I heard more movement and groaning and I again whispered to the two next to me that there is two of them and at least one of them is wounded. We waited and I indicated that they were to my right front. I then said, Hook in.
I shot off twenty rounds, the machine gunner opened up and I was changing magazines when the bloke next to me said something. I’m not sure what he said but all of a sudden I remembered those two over to my right. Apparently they woke up groaning and for some reason – maybe half asleep – they began moving forward. They may have been coming over to us but they went in the wrong direction because no one could see a thing. By pure instinct I knew one of them was dead and the other wounded.
I was in some sort of shock and I couldn’t move. I don’t think I could speak either. The sergeant told the medic to go and do what he could but I couldn’t move even to try and help. The medic got to them and told the sergeant one was dead and the other wounded in the leg. The sergeant came over beside me and when he could hear where they were by the noise the medic was making, he said ‘I know what happened here’. I never heard him say another word about it ever.
A chopper was called in and they were both dusted off. I was completely and totally devastated. I couldn’t feel or think. I was like a zombie. In the morning, the machine gunner said, ‘Look where the rounds went’. Not far in front of the gun there was a log cut up a bit but I didn’t need any of this – I( knew full well that I had shot them up. What they didn’t say was that they also forgot those two were over there. The one that did not fire a shot never bothered to say why he never – if he remembered then why didn’t he tell me. The sergeant never wanted to say anything because he was the one that put them there. Actually, nothing at all was said but I felt lower than any person could and still be breathing.
A clearing patrol was sent out the next morning and I was just sitting there when my mate led the patrol in. When he looked at me, I just looked at the ground in front of me and stared. Now I know that they held nothing against me because of the way it happened but I didn’t know that then and I became quite certain that one of them would kill me the next night. I accepted that and thought it should happen – maybe that kept me from committing suicide. I sure felt that I should not be alive. I would have given anything to swap places with the one that died.
The operation continued and I remained with them. I don’t know how I kept going but I do know that I felt like a piece of garbage they were carting around. I don’t believe this feeling came from them – it was just how I felt.
Later on we joined up with the rest of C Company and I must have been reasonably alert because we were doing a clearing patrol for the Company and I told the sergeant I could smell Viet Cong. Within minutes he received a call over the radio that twenty Viet Cong had been seen by a picket on duty. What had actually happened was that we were very close to one of their bunker systems. We were all kept on 100% stand to and in the morning they sent a clearing patrol out and we ambushed them. One of them fired an RPG [Rocket Propelled Grenade] into the trees above us and the three of us were wounded by shrapnel. The machine gunner and 2IC got most of it and I just got a bit in my arm and didn’t bother to mention it. A corporal told me to bury the Nog we had killed and when I had finished he said, Were you wounded?’
I told him I got a bit and he apologized for making me dig the grave. I told him I was okay but a chopper was called in and the three of us were dusted off. I never complained about going back – I just knew there was something wrong with me.
After I had been checked out by the doctor in Nui Dat, I joined the other two at the boozer. I was then called in to see our Platoon Commander who had remained at Nui Dat. He asked me what had happened and I told him I had killed one of our boys and wounded the other. He told me that they were hit by incoming rounds. One was killed when he was hit five times in the stomach by 7.62 shorts which came from an AK47 [the most common Viet Cong weapon]. He said the other was wounded in the leg by the same weapon.
I told him that there were no incoming rounds at all. He said that the way he said it was the way it was. It was plain to me that that was the way they wanted it and it would be recorded that way. It seems the presentation is more important than the fact. A part of me wanted this to be the truth but I knew what I had done. I’ve never been known as a liar and I’ve always owned up to anything I was accused of if I was in the wrong. Now I’ve got this puppet telling me what happened and he wasn’t even there. I would have given anything for it to be true but I knew it wasn’t.
I went back to the boozer and saw my two mates and told them what he had said and then finished by saying, ‘I did do it, didn’t I?’
They had no problems confirming that I did do it. The M60 gunner was quick to say that he had fired directly in front. He also said that in a way it was not an accident. He said, ‘You listened, you waited and you fired’. The 2IC had nothing to say at all.
There was no inquiry at all into the incident. What had happened certainly had happened. I think it would have been better for me had there been an inquiry. At least I would [have been] able to speak about it and in some way try to express myself but the way it went there was almost nothing at all said. And what was said came later.
The next day I was sent to a fire support base and re-joined my platoon. We again went out bush and later returned to Nui Dat. We went on leave for a couple of days and I was different. By being in Vietnam I had changed from the person I was prior to going but now I was changed even from the person I had become. I felt different and distant even from my own mates. I felt like an outcast although they didn’t make me that way – it’s just how I felt. My mate that had led the clearing patrol in the morning after I had shot up our boys said he was unable to say anything because he couldn’t think of what to say.
We came back to Nui Dat one time after an operation and were sent to a rifle range to shoot off our excess ammunition. As I was shooting, it was lightly raining. I felt cold and I was shaking. Our Lieutenant said, ‘That’s not good grouping – you’re supposed to be a good shot’.
I looked at the others to see if they were cold or shaking but they seemed to be okay. Over the next few days I went in spasms of sweating then I would feel cold and shaky. I also felt very nauseous. I began to line up at the RAP parade in the mornings. Although I didn’t feel that bad in the mornings, I would tell them I hadn’t been feeling well. They would take my temperature and say it was a bit high but that was not uncommon in the tropics. For some reason, we remained at Nui Dat for a while. Sometimes during the day I would feel like I would collapse.
One day I was marched in to see the Company Commander by my Platoon Commander. On the way he said I was being transferred because I killed one of our men. He said he was not going to try to go against the decision because I had always played up too much in camp and on leave.
The major started blasting me and I just didn’t care. I felt so weak and sick it was all I could do to keep on m feet. In fact I thought, ‘I he keeps going on, I’ll probably just crash on the floor. The thought of that didn’t bother me at all – I think I was just about beat. That Platoon Commander and the Company Commander never gave me any reason or any way of thinking any decent thing about them at all. Actually I didn’t give a stuff about them. I felt so sick I could hardly walk. The RAP had started implying that I was a malingerer and trying to get out of duties. For a while I thought, ‘I could die here with everyone around me saying’ There’s nothing wrong with you.’
I was transferred to Admin Company and saw the Company Commander. I told him I wanted to be transferred to A Company. He said he was surprised because usually soldiers transferred to Admin Company didn’t want to be in a rifle Company any more. When he asked why I had been transferred I told him it was because I didn’t get along with the Major in C Company. He explained that A Company was on leave and as soon as they returned, I would join them. Over the next few days while I was in Admin Company, I began to get worse bouts. At times I would stagger as if I were drunk. I was due to go one R&R and was going to Australia. I became very worried that what I had may be contagious. Yet the RAP was [still] saying there was nothing wrong with me.
In the tent where I was staying there was a soldier whose job it was to take the mail from Nui Dat to soldiers who were in the Vung Tau hospital. This bloke fancied himself as a bit of a medic and when he returned one night he asked me how I was going. I told him that I was sick and there was something wrong with me. He pulled out a thermometer and took my temperature. When he looked at it, he jumped back from me and said, ‘Don’t worry, this thermometer’s fucked. I’ll get the RAP Sergeant.’
The RAP sergeant came with the other bloke babbling like an idiot. He took my temperature and asked if I thought I would be okay until morning. I said, No worries – because I have been worse than this.’
He told the bloke to keep an eye on me through the night. The next morning I’m in a chopper going to Vung Tau Hospital and I’m supposed to be going on R&R to Australia the following day.
In the hospital, it took them a week or two to work out what was wrong with me. At first they said I had malaria. Then they said I had glandular fever. Then they said I had malaria and glandular fever. And finally they settled on encephalitis. I didn’t care what it was but I sure knew I was sick. I didn’t eat for three weeks. I could hardly walk at all but the worst thing was when I thought about going back to the bush I was terrified. I didn’t tell anyone how afraid I was and I knew I’d go if I was sent but I was riddled with fear.
After a few weeks, the doctor said I was going to be medically evacuated to Australia. It was a great relief to know I was going back to Australia so just on seven months in Vietnam, I was sent home.
My mother and wife would go shopping and they’d ask me what I wanted to do. I would tell them I wanted to come because I couldn’t stay on my own. I was very frightened but I never told them that. I couldn’t walk very far so they’d leave me on a seat in the shopping complex. I know one of them would have stayed with me if I had told them I was so frightened. But I couldn’t and I just went through hell. I had become very hard and cold. I had no gentleness or tenderness toward my wife at all. I tried to but it just wasn’t there.
After a few weeks’ leave, I had to go back to the army. I was posted to Albert Park Barracks and was put on permanent dish-washing in the officers’ mess. At this point in time there were two things I hated above all else in the army and that was washing dishes and officers. And now, after being medically evacuated from Vietnam, I copped them both. Not as a punishment but as a permanent number.
My behaviour had been off-key quite a bit before I went to Vietnam but what I was to find out was [that] it was chicken shit compared to how I was now that I had returned.
I was told that when the officers had a do I had to stay back and wash their dishes. Well, I had been washing their dishes everyday for a while, getting covered in grease and crap, when one day they told me I had to stay late. When I asked for how long, they said until about two or three in the morning. I went ape. All around the walls of the kitchen were shelves and on these shelves were all their pots and things, real big pots. I started grabbing them and throwing them at everyone. The catering Warrant Officer bolted and so did the sergeant cook and corporals. They all scattered but I kept throwing all their pots all over the place and screaming that I hated all the officers. The kitchen was in such a mess it looked like a bomb had gone off.
Then I went out to get changed and go home. The sergeant cook said, If you leave, I’ll call the guard.
I said, I don’t give a fuck what you do but I’ll kill anyone that stands between me and the gate.
There was no doubt in my mind that is exactly what I’d do. I finished getting changed and walked out ready for murder but fortunately no one was there. I know I’d never gone off like that before. I was so far gone I think I must have been orbiting around Jupiter or something. But I didn’t think I was too bad at all [at the time] – I just thought it was everyone else.
When I got home, my wife could see something was wrong so I gave her a watered down version of what had happened. She got a bit upset and later talked me into going back. She thought I’d just walked out because I hadn’t bothered to tell her I’d gone berserk. Anyway I went back and there were greasy pots and stuff everywhere and I couldn’t get started. The back of the bar opened up into the kitchen. I asked the barman for a glass of beer. He’d heard about my performance and was probably too afraid to say No. Well, I kept coming back and asking for more. After a while He said he would have to stop because he would get into trouble. I said, Then give me a jug and that will be it.
I ended up getting so pissed that I crawled like a snake, tugged on the bottom of his trousers and when he’d look down I’d pass the jug to him again. He kept telling, No more. I kept saying, Okay, make this the last.
Next thing I knew I’m getting soapy water thrown over me. What had happened was I passed out on the kitchen floor. Everyone has gone except the cook because he had to clean all the pots and stuff and now he was washing the floor and he was washing me out with all the bits of food and crap on the floor. I got up covered in soapy water and food and just said Goodnight and I left. I didn’t have a shower or anything but I drove home as I was. On the way, I smashed into a parked car but I didn’t bother because my car was still going. When I arrived at our flat, I had to get up the stairs. This was extremely difficult because I couldn’t walk. I crawled up them and was lying on the doormat. I gave the door a couple of hits with me fist. It must have been about 4am. My wife came out, then looked down and saw me. She was very worried at first thinking something terrible had happened. She was saying, Are you all right?
I kept saying, Of course I’m all right, What’s wrong with you, thinking something is wrong.
I remember thinking, ‘This woman has got some problems’.
The next day I was marched up before someone and he wasn’t very impressed with me at all. Fortunately, he wasn’t even told half of it. He said he would give me a break and pout me to work in the Q Store.
The Q Store was in a very long building with a polished lino corridor with heaps of offices on either side. The corporal in the Q Store seemed okay and told me one of my most important duties was to bring in the flag at the end of the day – then I could leave. At the end of the first day he told me to follow him. He marched down the long corridor and out to the flag pole. He came to attention and saluted the flag. He undid the rope and brought it down. He told me that under no circumstances was the flag ever to touch the ground. He rolled up the flag, tucked it under his arm and retied the ropes. He did an about turn and marched all the way to the Q Store.
That was the first afternoon. On the second afternoon, I was sent on my own. I walked out of the Q Store and raced flat strap down the corridor. Anyone coming out of any of the other doors I would send flying – male or female, it made no difference. All I could think was ‘fuck the flag. I raced down there like a mad bull out of control and out to the flag pole where I undid the rope, lowered the flag, undid the flag and threw it on the ground. Then I stood on it while I retied the rope. I then grabbed one corner of the flag and bolted for the Q Store, dragging it behind me. I opened the Q Store door and threw it in and said, Here’s your fucken flag!
I made up my mind that even if the Queen was there, that was how I’d do it every day and I did.
I developed an incredible stubbornness in this insanity and once I had made up my mind, I’d die before I’d change it. The problem was that when I made up my mind it was usually [about] doing something crazy but I couldn’t see it.
I was later discharged as being medically unfit. This all started when I did my thing in the kitchen and must have been supported by those around me when I was doing my Q Store thing.
The last person I saw regarding a medical examination was a Colonel Wilson. I liked him and he seemed to be a good bloke. Within a couple of weeks I was sent to Watsonia for an urgent medical discharge. When i got there they said they did not have my paperwork and I would have to return to Albert Part barracks. I hit the roof again and told them I was not going back to that snot hole again and if they had a problem they could go and see Col. Wilson. I went on to tell them that the only thing I was sure of was I was getting out tomorrow. I don’t know how it happened but the next day I was discharged as medically unfit, being a liability to the Army if I remained in any longer.
I began work immediately. When things went wrong, I would scream, smash power tools and kick doors in. I had almost no control at all. I began employing carpenters and they would look at me and walk off the job. I think it was just my stubbornness that kept me going,, on and off for about twelve months. By that time I had a few reasonably permanent carpenters employed.
I was a mess: I was drinking more and becoming argumentative in the pubs. I would never leave before I was drunk. Finally, I could not stop drinking. My wife had left me for the second or third time. She came to see me and somehow got me to go to the Heidleburg Repatriation Hospital. I went out there and saw some arsehole shrink. He was asking me all these questions, then he said, Did you see any action in Vietnam?
I just screamed at him. What the fuck would you know about it?
I didn’t want to be there any more; I tried to stay calm but I was losing it. I told him I was going. He asked me how I’d got there and I said by car. He then said he’d give me something to calm my nerves so I could drive okay. He left for a short while and came back with a glass of black stuff. I grabbed it and drank it straight down, hoping to make him happy so I could get out of there. As I was standing there, he began edging towards the door and I realized he had drugged me. I tried to get to his throat but I was moving in slow motion. He wasn’t – and he got out the door before I could get to him. After a while, he came back with two heavies and they carted me off in a government car.
When I woke up I was in a padded cell. I could only remember these two heavies holding me and I was screaming at the doctor in this place, trying to get him to kill him [the first doctor?] but I couldn’t. I thought I must have killed him and this is where I’ll stay. I was let out of the padded cell but they kept me locked up for a week or so and then I talked my way out of there. No one made any approach to me to talk or try to help me in any way at all. It was a very sad place and I made up my mind to keep away from psychiatrists and the repatriation system.
To my knowledge, the only person who ever tried to give me a good steer was my wife’s Pop. An old World War 1 digger. Early in the piece, he was always at me to make a claim for a pension. I hade been given 10% [of the Totally and Permanently Incapacitated Veterans’ Pension] on discharge but they stopped it for some reason.
Old Pop knew the score and if he was alive today, I’d thank him for his efforts. I did go once or twice with him. I remember telling a room full of people sitting around a table to get fucked. Of course they seized on that and I got 0 out of 10 – but I never was too keen on the pension idea. I only wanted to work but I couldn’t see that it was all falling apart on me.
Certain reports I’ve recently read say that symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) begin to show six months after the traumatic experience. That’s true in my case. Some say that if those symptoms aren’t treated, they get worse. Alcohol abuse being one. That’s also true in my case – everything got progressively worse.
My wife on one occasion said, Look at your drunken father.
I instantly intended to kill her but when I saw my daughter crying hysterically I didn’t – because I didn’t want to upset my daughter. The frightening thing was that I could see see absolutely nothing wrong with killing my wife. Anyway, she finally left and I knew it was for keeps this time. I sacked the blokes I had on. Everything was a mess. I tried to work but I just didn’t have it. Whatever was [had been?] there, was gone. I used to try to get to sleep at night by nursing an automatic shotgun. I had it fully loaded, safety catch off. I’d be trying to think, How long will it take to get my finger from the trigger guard to the trigger?
I would sleep for a couple of minutes and then get up and search the place. I’ve even searched the knife and fork drawer. This kind of thing would go on all night. Then i realized that when I was completely drunk, I didn’t need the shotgun and I could sleep. That’s when I began to drink to be unconscious.
I had a very big conflict going on in my mind. Going around one way was ‘I want to kill people’ and going around the other way was ‘I don’t want to hurt people’.
It was not uncommon for me to start trouble in a pub and knock someone flying. Then I’d have this sort of change come over me and I’d be the sorriest person you’d ever seen. Quite often the person I’d knocked down would get up – I’d be apologetic and they’d punch hell out of me. So I got knocked around quite a bit.
In the finish I just drove out of Melbourne. I still had car and some money. I lost count of the cars I’d smashed – everything appeared in ruins. I really knew that I’d blown it. I’d lost my work, wife and daughter for good and it was a very sad and lonely time for me. In about a year from being discharged from the army not one person I had ever known wanted anything to do with me at all. I’d punched my dad so no one there wanted me. I went around once to see them – he shut the door in my face so I kicked it in. He called the cops but I had gone. I had to pay for the door two years later when they caught me for something else. No neighbours in the street that I had known all my life would speak to me. The same applied to relatives, brothers and sister. No one came near me or wanted to know me.
Denial plays a big part in this as far as I can see and I continually blamed others for the condition I was in. I began hating people for leaving me and what was actually happening was that I was getting crazier. The only thing I continually tried to do was get drunk. Alcohol has an effect which suppressed emotional problems and all I wanted was to be unconscious. The dreams and plans I had were completely shattered and with them went my ability to do anything in any kind of an orderly rational way.
I travelled around the country in a drunken stupor. I tried to get hold of a rifle in Brisbane. I wanted to shoot police. I thought if I could kill about six or so before they killed me, I’d be doing okay. I fought with police on a couple of occasions. For a while I thought they were the enemy. By 1974, I’d done some jail but this time I ended up with two years to do. I was paroled after one year. The condition I was in when I was apprehended was an absolute disgrace. I could not stop drinking. I’d failed at suicide and I was completely penniless and homeless. I got eighteen months and I was very pleased to get it. I was happy to be taken out of society because I had no control over myself at all. I was in complete despair. I got an extra six months while I was doing the eighteen months, so that made two years. I had escaped from a prison farm. I was sent to Goulburn and did a year there before getting parole.
During the year I was in prison a most amazing thing happened to me. It happened at a time when I saw myself as being completely hopeless. I could see that whenever I drank, I could not stop and I knew that for me there was no way I coild avoid starting to drink. No matter how good my intentions were, whenever I got out of prison or an institution I always ended up on the booze. I also could see that I was always getting into trouble for doing something that I never meant to do.
I reasoned that the best thing for me to do was to make sure I had enough grog when i got out and just sit down somewhere and keep drinking until I was dead. I thought about hoisting a semi-trailer full of booze and driving it into the bush somewhere but then I thought that i could be caught before I was dead because a semi-trailer is quite big. Then I thought that having enough money to buy grog would be better because money would not take up so much room. I knew I couldn’t work at all, so I began thinking about doing an armed robbery. I settled on this idea. I would get out of prison and get a double barrelled shotgun and cut it down. The whole operation hinged on one very important fact. I would have to keep off the booze for about seven to ten days when i got out. I felt reasonably confident that by preparing and planning for the robbery I should be able to do it. I wanted about $100,000 – I thought this amount of money should keep me going until I’m dead. I wasn’t troubled at all about the thought of being dead but I thought there were three people who should die before me. I began to make plans about how I could kill these three people.
I was specifically planning the death of one of these people when a voice spoke to me in the cell and told me something. I was quite shaken and a couple of nights later, I was pacing my cell. I’d been walking up and down for an hour or more when all of a sudden my whole life flashed before me. I saw everyone I had ever known and I knew without doubt that no on, not one person, had ever told me the truth. That’s what I saw – they hadn’t necessarily lied to me but they had never known the truth themselves. There was no need to blame them because they didn’t have a clue. No one knew the truth and so they couldn’t tell me. The whole thing was just a maze of interwoven bullshit. No truth because no one knew it.
Over the next couple of days I could not stop thinking about a Salvation Army bloke who spoke to me when I was in the army. I had to clean up the ‘everyman’s hut’ and he got talking to me. He asked me if I believed in God. Now I knew this bloke couldn’t charge me with anything, so I gave it to him straight. I said, No. It’s all a heap of shit.
I could see he was a bit offended and I was getting ready to drive my point of view home a bit plainer, when he said, When you get to Vietnam and you’re being shot at, you’ll believe in God.
I said, Pig’s arse. When I get to Vietnam and I’m being shot at, I’ll believe in aiming straight and fuck God.
Then he said, If you ever read the bible from cover to cover, then you’ll believe in God.
I said, What a load of crap.
He got pissed off with me and made me go on with my cleaning. I had to do this as some sort of extra duties for doing something wrong.
That was in 1969 and now in prison in 1975, I could not stop thinking about what he’d said. I thought, he’s wrong on one count because when I was being shot at, I never had one thought about God. I decided to read the bible from cover to cover , just to prove him wrong on the second count.
My cell didn’t have a bible, so I had to ask around a bit. Finally I got a Gideon’s one and began to read it. As I was reading it, I kept saying, That’s crap, that’s crap.
I was going on like that when one night the whole cell filled up with this incredible power. I was sort of frozen. I didn’t know what was happening. Then a voice spoke to me and said, How do you know it’s all crap. Do you understand it?
I felt a bit stupid because i was saying it was all crap and [yet] I didn’t understand it, so I said, No, I don’t understand it.
Then this voice said to me, If you don’t understand it, then say ‘I don’t understand it – and an understanding shall be given to you.
The next thing that happened was the power left my cell. But there was a different feeling left behind. I had shut the bible by this time, I was still lying on my bunk and i was wondering what the hell was going on. I felt reasonably okay so I started to read the bible again from the first page. As IU was just about to say, This is all crap, I said, I don’t understand it. Then the most incredible thing happened. I’m not real sure how I saw what I saw but I kept saying, This God is for real. I was absolutely convinced that God was for real. And anyone that had been telling me about it when I was a kid were all full of shit because they never had a clue. But I knew God was for real.
My mind never at any time ever went back to doing the armed job or killing the other three people. In fact, I forgave those three people for what they had done to me and I kept reading the bible every day.
A few of the crims had a bit of a dig at me in a light-hearted way. They said, We hear you’re reading the bible, Ray.
I had a bit of a laugh and told them I’d never read it before and it was amazing.
The one thing I got out of it was I knew beyond any doubt at all the they power that came into my cell could fix me. I became obsessed with this idea that God could ‘fix me’. I knew the power that came into my cell was God and I knew that power could ‘’fix me’. I really knew in some sort of a way that there was something wrong with me but I didn’t know what. I enjoyed reading the bible more than I had enjoyed doing anything in a long time.
I was friendly with a guy who was doing time for running drugs into Australia. One day I said to him, My problem is when I get out of the slammer, I get on the piss and I can’t stop.
Then he said to me, What you need is to smoke dope and then you won’t want to drink. I talked about it to him for a while and it made a lot of sense to me. Another bloke told me when you smoke it the first time, make sure you smoke it again and then you’ll be okay.
I could see that the ones smoking dope seemed to be much calmer people and then I thought maybe all those hippies in the sixties had the right idea. Then I thought, If I smoke dope, read the bible and walk around the country like a hippie, I’ll be okay.
Another unusual thing happened to me when I went to see a parole officer. When I was sitting in front of him, he had all these papers in front of him on his desk. I knew I was not a walk-up start for parole because I had nowhere to live, no job to go to, not even a change of clothes. So I was trying to be on my best behaviour and he kept asking me what I was doing in here. I said, I’m taking guitar lessons, and he said, That’s good.
He asked what else I was doing and I said I was writing poetry and he said, That’s good. What else? And I said, I’m making a guitar.
And this was going on for quite a while when I got the thought that maybe this rooster is one of those bible-reading type people and maybe I can con him a bit so I said, I’m reading the bible. He said, That’s good. I knew I’d missed him and that I hadn’t conned him at all. He was continuing writing on the papers in front [of him] when he looked up at me and said, Jesus Christ is living in my heart.
Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. Matter of fact, you could have knocked me out with a down feather plucked from a yak’s arse you’d find in the Himalayan back blocks.
I was speechless and felt like I was chained to the chair. I couldn’t move. If I could [have] moved, I would have punched him. I would have spat at him. I couldn’t even scream. He started to talk to me and I could move but I didn’t want to hit him. I didn’t know who he had living in his heart but I knew one thing for sure was he believed it was Jesus Christ.
He asked me what I was reading in the bible and I told him I wasn’t even halfway through it and he suggested I read the Gospels. I said, Okay. He asked me if he could send me a book and I told him other crims had things sent to them, so I should be able to have a book. After a bit of a rave he left. He later sent me a book written by Billy Graham and I didn’t like it so I got rid of it but I did read the Gospels.
As I began reading the Gospels I could see the J.C. didn’t give a fuck about the ones calling the shots and shitting all over the poor. I could see he was interested in my kind of people, the ones that were continually shit on. I got quite a lot of comfort out of this and I enjoyed it very much.
I ended up getting parole and went to Sydney. My parole officer arranged for me to stay in some sort of halfway house. It was run by a minister and most of the ex-crims [there] were drug addicts. I got talking to a young bloke and told him I wanted to get some dope. No worries – I gave him the bread and he took me down to the park and we smoked the lot. I was hallucinating and didn’t know where I was. I had a really wild experience but the next day I felt okay. The next day I remembered what I was told about smoking it so I got him to get some more. This time I spaced it out a bit better. For me it was definitely a good thing that I could believe God could fix me up but other problems began to arise. I started to become some sort of marijuana prophet. I began to stop seeing that I had any problems at all and once again I started seeing heaps of problems in everyone else. As a solution to this I began telling everyone that if they’d read the bible they’d be okay, like me. Well, I don’t know whose tree I was in but I wasn’t in mine. I was getting around everywhere stoned and laying this ‘read the bible’ bit on anyone I came across.
What I didn’t know or want to know was that no one wanted to hear this sort of thing. Unfortunately I missed the whole plot once again. I began travelling around like a hippie but by this time I was doing my hippie type gig, the hippies had given this sort of thing the flick and they all had somewhere to live. I felt convinced that anytime the sun would begin to shine out of my arse and everyone would be able to see that I knew what I was on about. In the meantime while I getting around the country waiting for this to happen, I was actually going crazier. I had long hair, a beard, bare feet and wore a sarong and an Indian shirt. I was doing my version of the J.C. lookalike.
Just about everyone avoided me. No one wanted to talk to me and the only conversation I had was what I’d read in the bible. Because I was rejected anywhere I went, I got into a doomsday prophet type of thing for a while. When people rejected me I’d tell that them that they would all end up stuffed because they were all full of shit and couldn’t see the truth. Amongst all this I would hit them with a heap of bible quotes.
At times I would also hit the grog. I never drank all the time but I drank ion benders. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I would drink for a few days to a few months. I became the laughing stock of whatever town I was in. To avoid this pain, I would say they were all crazy and go to another town.
I often felt that the answer may lie in the forty days in the wilderness type of thing so I tried hard at times to keep away from everyone and not to eat for lengthy periods at a time. The reaction this had on me wasn’t the best either because I’d just scream that it seemed like the most terrible torture but I kept backing up for me because I wanted God to fix me. At one point in time I became so convinced I’d be able to walk on water that when I pulled this stunt, no bastard would ever laugh at me again.
I got into magic mushrooms and all this encouraged me in these way-out ideas I had. I often thought when I was approaching a town that at any minute everyone would come out and want to have a rave with me. When this would not happen, I would think ‘The bastards can die in the ignorance.’
In those days I would smoke dope whenever I had the chance, drink whenever I had the chance but mostly just walked along the side of the road. When I couldn’t walk any more, I slept in the bush on the side of the road. It was a very lonely existence. When the police would pull me up to question me, they’d say, Empty your pockets.
I’d say, They already are.
They’d say, Smarty, eh?
I’d say, Well, if that’s smart where you’re coming from, then Yeah, I’m smart.
Of course they didn’t like this sort of thing and so I often got knocked around a bit by them. I guess it didn’t bother me all that much but I didn’t like it either. I’d always come back with a few damnation type bible quotes and lay that on them.
I tried after a few years to make another comeback at work. I gave house painting my best shot. It was good in one way because I could roll up on the bones of my arse with no tools and sometimes get a job. I was out of the sarong and into jeans at this stage but still no spare change of clothes. Generally speaking, after a few hours or a few days, I’d crack up completely. Often I’d just stand there and think, What am I doing here?
No answer would come so I’d just walk away. Over the years I built three boats. The first two I built on the dole. The third one I built from money I earnt. It took me a couple of years between benders on the booze. At times I worked for a couple of weeks. I always made good money but I’d be crazy. I used to smash things, scream abuse at people and finally just walk off the job.
From the time I got out of jail and became a guru, I also was involved in a lot of religions. Different people would come up to me and tell me about their religion and I made a number of attempts to be involved bit I somehow never felt a part of it. I really wanted to in one way because I was very lonely on my own but I couldn’t handle being with other people for very long.
At one stage in Darwin when I was known as a derelict, I got involved in a Holy Roller type hallelujah religion. For one year I never drank or smoked tobacco or dope. All the stiffs laughed t me because I was into the religious bit. I had no identification with anyone in the religion and simply didn’t relate to anyone. I studied the bible so much that when the preachers laid on their rave on Sunday, I would see them after and tell them where they went wrong. They hated my guts but couldn’t do much about it because I knew what was in the book. If they hit me with a few sayings, it was all I needed and I’d cut loose with so many bible quotes they’d have to walk away while I was still doing my thing. The year I spent with them was a very difficult year. Finally they told me not to come any more because I had the devil in me. They told everyone in the church not to speak to me or have anything to do with me.
I felt very sad and lonely and in no time flat was on the cigarettes and booze again. This time it was much worse because the [other] derroes wouldn’t talk to me because of how I’d been preaching at them for a year. The church people said I had the devil and when I’d go into a bar most people would laugh at me. In no time at all I was back sleeping on footpaths. I went to the hospital a few times over the years and they were trying to recommend a way of abstaining from grog but I just couldn’t see it.
About the mid-eighties I finished my third yacht. I tried to learn from my former experiences where I very nearly died at sea. I was still into the forty days bit and not eating, so with my second boat I sailed out of Darwin with just about no food. The idea was that when God fixed me up, I wouldn’t need any. The boat was extremely unseaworthy – it was leaking and the sails were tearing as I was leaving Darwin. A bloke had given me the mainsail and it was completely useless but I just wanted to get out of Darwin so bad[ly], I hooked it up and away I went. I used to get very paranoid at times and thought the solution would be to head for the sea and get away from everyone.
I had a little bit of something to eat that lasted for three days. I sailed across Joseph Bonaparte Gulf and hit the biggest sea I’ve ever seen. The sail was tearing, the boat [was] filling with water and I was as calm and cool as an ice-making machine. When I knew my life was right on the edge, I was always calm. I got blown right out to sea and never saw land for twenty-two days. When I was blown out there the wind stopped so I just bobbed about for a long time. I never had anything to eat for just on three weeks and the last three days I had no water at all. I began to hallucinate – I liked that and was used to it because of the mushrooms I had had over the years. I spent a lot of time lying down and when I got up I would spin out so I learning to sit up first, wait a while and then stand up, hanging on to something. Then I was okay to move around.
I was hoping God would pull the shit out of my head and fill it with good stuff so I’d be okay. I used to see it like that. I thought I had all this black stuff in my head that no one could fix. I believed God could pull it out somehow and replace it with good stuff. I suppose I was referring to my brain but didn’t know it. I saw land in sight one night and saw how I’d floated into a nice harbour. In the morning I went on deck and there was only water, no land at all. A few things happened like that. At times I felt as high as a kite, then I’d go into the black hole. I think I hated that more than anything. It was like everything was black. I’d start screaming and smashing things. I’d lose control completely and would have no say at all in what I did. Then I would be very remorseful and disgusted in myself for doing what I had done. At those times, I would scream abuse at God. I thought God was doing all this to me. One time I was screaming and I told God to piss off and stop fucking around with me and if he had the guts to present himself to me, I’d kick him to death. I’d lose sight of everything and I just couldn’t see that I had sailed that boat out there.
Once I saw a man and his wife sitting in a cosy lounge room of their house reading stories to their young children. They were all clean and had eaten a nice evening meal and I got very sad. I thought why the hell couldn’t I have had a life like that, why am I stuck out here with the arse out of my brains.
After twenty-two days, I came ashore at Cockatoo Island. I didn’t have any clue where I was. I left Darwin with a compass and a road map of Australia. There were some people on the beach and I asked them for a drink of water. I was very fortunate [that] they looked after me for a few days. I was so skinny I could almost feel my backbone from the front – even my toes were skinny. After a few days, I left there and sailed to Broome. I swapped the boat for a car that didn’t look very good – but it went okay. The car was later stolen.
So now I’ve got the third yacht. For some unknown reason I still could not see the sense in taking much food. I was pissed off that I didn’t get the turn-on I wanted in my second yacht but I think I still had a bit of the ‘forty days in the wilderness’ with me. I built this yacht cheap. It was made to the specifications of an H28. A bloke I’d got to know in Darwin was the mastermind behind it and he provided all the gear plus the know-how and I built the ferro-cement hull for just over $1,000. I did a bit of work here and there over the next couple of years and finished it. At times I’d get on the booze and end up in Alice Springs or Western Australia. Towards the end of it I was right into hash. I chanced upon quite a bit of it and it kept me going for quite a while. I had brand new sails from Hong Kong – no motor of course. I was far too much into the a la naturel. And also [the thought that] if Captain Cook can do it with no motor, why not me?
Basically what I’d learn from my former [attempts] was I had [what I needed] – new sails, a good hull and charts to get me to Indonesia. My navigation was spot on and I arrived in Ambon, Indonesia.
The problem was that I could not comprehend that I was where I was because previously I never knew where I was. Now with a good yacht, charts and a compass, it was all too much for me. I hadn’t spotted the Ambon Harbour but it wasn’t far away. I thought I may even be on the wrong island but I anchored and went ashore. I only intended to be on shore for a few minutes. I had on an old pair of shorts and a T shirt. I walked to the closest village. Everyone was looking at me as though I came from Mars. I spoke no Indonesian and no one spoke any English. I said, Ambon?
One old girl got me and ushered me to two young blokes. They had torches and apparently they were going to Ambon. The penny hadn’t dropped that they would be coming back in the dark – so it was obviously quite away as it was now about 2 pm. They beckoned to me to follow them and away we went. On the way I realized what was happening but I couldn’t go back because I didn’t know how to get back. It was a beautiful walk through lots of little villages and rainforest, but it was nearly dark when we got there. I turned around for a minute and these two kids pissed off. I didn’t have any idea where I was or how to get back to my yacht. If I had had money I would have got drunk but I had nothing with me at all. The more i walked around, the more I got lost.
It became dark so I walked up to a bloke who looked like a cop – there were a few of them in a little office. He didn’t know any English. I just told him I’d lost my yacht. He gestured [for] me to wait. After a while another bloke came who could speak a little English. I told him that I had lost my yacht. He [asked] where and I said that was my bloody problem, I didn’t know where. I was trying to keep my cool but I didn’t have any to keep. Finally he made other enquiries and told me to come with him. He took me to his place where he had a family and told me I could stay the night and the next day he’d get this bloke who was up somewhere in the government to help me. He was very kind to me and gave me a feed and a place to sleep.
The next day this politically connected bloke arrived and he could speak English a bit better. He took me to the Army where I met a real evil-looking high-ranking army officer. They showed me a map of Ambon and asked me to point out where my yacht was. I started thinking about it and I tried to assess things as best I could, then I pointed and said, That’s it.
They asked, Are you sure?
I said, Yes, positive.
And in fact that was about the only thing I did have right. Next the three of us went to the Navy who gave us three armed guards and I’m starting to smell a rat. The six of us got a vehicle and went to a wharf, where they took over a boat with a bloke to drive it and his mate. It was a large planing type of boat. In the meantime, the army bloke had dropped into a couple of brothels for a back-hander. They didn’t bother hiding their corruption there like they do here.
Anyway, off we all go to find my yacht. The first bloke, the one I met aty the house I stayed at, was a bad bastard too. He started sounding me out for money. He said he would have to pay the boat driver, his mate and the three armed guards. I said, Okay. He told me not to let them see when I gave the money to him when we got to my boat.
Everyone got wringing wet going around and when we got to the place my yacht was, it wasn’t there. We went to the next bay and there it was. The locals had shifted it because a big blow had come and it was safer in their bay. I shelled out some money to the political bloke – about $50. It wasn’t much but I didn’t have much. Obviously, it would be split between himself and the Army bloke.
Two weeks had passed since I’d left Darwin and I’d had a gut gull. They suggested it would be better for me to sail around and anchor in the Ambon Harbour at the Army barracks. I thought that was a good idea – yet I’d been warned by other yachties to keep out of main ports if I didn’t have a visa and here I was sailing into the [biggest] port in the whole area.
Before I left, a young bloke said he wanted to come – he couldn’t speak much English but he said he knew where the Army barracks was. When we got to Ambon Harbour, I could see he didn’t have a clue. He said, That’s it, so I anchored.
It wasn’t the Army barracks at all – we had anchored out the front of a brothel run by the navy. The next day some navy people asked me a heap of questions and told me something which I didn’t understand. But I think they said something like, Don’t leave.
I just nodded my head and when they were gone, I hoisted the sails and tried to get out of the harbour. I was halfway out when a patrol boat came alongside and told me to go back. I just nodded my head and kept going. They pointed their rifles at me and I turned around and went back to the navy and anchored. When I went ashore, some high-ranking Navy officer said, Why did you try to escape?
I said, Look, pal I don’t want to be here any more, so I’m going.
He went on to say I didn’t have a visa and I was under arrest. I was talking about the Geneva Convention and quoting quotes I was making up as I went and he couldn’t give a stuff. I was kept there for one month and confined to my yacht until they got me a visa. There were some Taiwan fishing boats that had been brought in under arrest for fishing in the wrong water and these people were good to me. They gave me fish and noodles and rice because I didn’t have any food at all.
I was in a situation that I didn’t want to be in and i would have sailed out during the night but every night the wind dropped off and I couldn’t motor our, of course, because I didn’t have a motor. Me or Captain Cook.
I was allowed o go ashore to work and also under escort to Ambon to work on the visa at the Customs Offices. I was coming back from washing one evening when a Captain was sitting with some sailors. He was drinking and asked me if I’d like a sip of whisky. I said, Sip. Sip.
I got right into his bottle, so he gave me one and said to take it out to my boat and leave it there, then return and sip, sip with him. I took the bottle out and was back in a flash, having a sip, sip with him. We finished the bottles we had and when he was leaving, he said, You go back to your boat and sip, sip – slowly sip, sip.
I was a bit pissed when I left him and when I drank my bottle down, I went berserk. I went ashore and started screaming for Captain sip sip to come back. The navy personnel on duty were phoning all around trying to get him. Finally they kept telling me he wouldn’t be here for a day or two. I kept racing around screaming out I wanted more sip, sip.
I performed like that after a similar incident and they called the guard. Two little blokes came in all dressed up with guns. I said, Are you going to shoot me?
They looked horrified and said, No.
Then I said, Give me your gun and I’ll shoot myself.
They started backing away and I was begging them to give me their gun so I could shoot myself. Then they bolted. There is not one doubt in my mind that if they had given me their gun, I would have killed myself.
Finally I was let go and I sailed out of Ambon with a visa. I knew the wind would drop off, so I anchored in the first bay I came to out of the harbour. The wind dropped off. The tide went out. The swell came in and all these rocks started appearing. I tried for hours to keep my boat clear of them but me and Captain Cook didn’t have motors and finally my yacht got thrown on the rocks. I got out with my passport and ship registration papers and that was it. A local fisherman put me up for the night in his village and the next day a guide took me back to the Navy. I had met an Australian exchange teacher while I was there and the Navy got in touch with him and he put me up for two weeks while I got in touch with my brother who sent the money for a plane fare back to Darwin.
About this time, I had just about given up any hope at that God would do this instant hit on me and I’d be okay. In fact I couldn’t think what to do. I was quite deflated and disappointed. A woman I had known in the religion I was in for one year used to write to me. She used to play the piano and after a few weeks I got an idea that if I spent some time with her I should be able to write some songs – then the whole world would know that they were living in a shit hole. I stayed off the booze for a while and went to see her in Victoria. I ended up marrying her and this marriage lasted for about six months.
We lived on the south coast of NSW. I was on the booze and the dope. She said I was crazy. People around began to be afraid that I’d shoot them. They made certain complaints to the police. I became very unpopular and finally I left.
My intentions were to go to Queensland and live like a dingo in the bush – to try and keep away from everyone because my behaviour was becoming more unpredictable. I was hospitalized again in Sydney. I was back to sleeping on footpaths again. I met some people who convinced me I may have a show if I gave the grog away. They told me it was possible to keep off the grog and so I hung around with them.
What I went through coming off the grog over the next three or four years, I wouldn’t wish on a maggot. For the first year, I was absolutely insane. I got the TPI pension [again] that year. My mind was just racing. After a year I moved to the bush and lived for a couple of years in a shack. The obsession to shoot people raged in me day and night. At the end of the second year I was ready to commit suicide. I didn’t want to die but I just could not handle the pain in my head or the continual madness.
I got admitted to a psychiatric hospital and told them some of the things that happened in Vietnam twenty years ago. I think these years were the worst in some ways because I didn’t have the grog to fall back to. I began to see that I was a completely and totally fucked unit. I knew that if something didn’t [change], eventually I would commit suicide. There was nothing surer than that. I somehow knew that I was in a hell of a mess.
Going to this hospital and having time out for two or three weeks and identifying with the other patients who were all potential suicide cases turned out to be one of the better decisions I had ever made. I spent the first few days just sitting around and trying to let go of all the madness in my head. I told them I didn’t want any medication and I knew that if I went berserk, they’d give me some for sure. It appeared to me that the main thing they were on about was to get in touch with your emotional feelings.
Well, I didn’t have any and neither did some of the others there. I knew I had a mind and a body but no gut-type feelings that I was aware of. After about a week, I sat in on a group. They were talking about their problems and I began to be extremely afraid. When the session was just about over, almost in an uncontrollable way, I started saying, There’s no hope – all the ropes are broken and frayed. There’s no hope.
I was repeating this and even though most of the patients were lunar walkers, they were all staring at me.
When the staff member said the group was finished, he sent everyone to lunch. I was walking around in a daze, saying, There’s no hope.
I went to have lunch but couldn’t handle being around anyone and I knew I would be unable to eat. I went out on the verandah on my own and sat there – and it dawned on me that the broken ropes I could see was the connection between my brain and my emotional feelings. Anyway, that’s how I saw it and I knew there was no human able to fix it. Somehow somewhere along the line, these had been severed. I just sat there looking at this hopeless mess.
Then I told God. I said, I can’t fix this and neither can anyone else so if you don’t fix it, I’m finished.
At that moment, I felt like I was punched in the guts, from outside of me [a] power hit me and filled in the gap between my feelings and the ropes that were broken. I could feel this feeling inside my gut. It stayed there and grew with intensity over the next twenty-four hours and was like a hand grenade going off in slow motion.
That evening, I said to another patient that something was happening to me. She suggested I see the staff members. I saw them and they said, See your counsellor in the morning.
I didn’t know who my counsellor was – maybe I hadn’t paid that much attention to maybe I didn’t have one – I don’t know. What I do know was that night was one of the wildest nights I’ve ever had.
There were two patients per room and the bloke in my room wasn’t travelling all that well. When I lay down to sleep I saw a great big snake sliding through my head. I thought, I’m two years off the piss and I’m in the horrors. In the morning, I felt like a piece of dog shit that had been run over by a Mac truck. But the other bloke was sitting there as white as his sheets. When he saw I was awake, he started jabbering like an idiot. He said, You were in Vietnam last night. You were shooting them and they were shooting you.
My blankets were all over the place.
He said, No way was I going to sleep. I was shit scared you were going to neck me.
I went out to have a shower and then I knew without doubt that if I never got in touch with what was happening, I’d eventually kill myself. I didn’t want ti die and I made a decision there [and then] that I wanted to live. I could see that I’d been only on a death trip for a long time and I wanted to be dead but now I decided I wanted to live.
During the day, this grenade in slow motion started moving up my chest and into my throat – then all of a sudden I saw my mate that I had killed in Vietnam. I heard a voice inside me say, Put him down to rest.
I sort of just let go of him. It was as though I’d been carrying a dead man for all those years. As I did that, I was completely overwhelmed by sadness and grief. It was like I could see a well inside me that apparently had no bottom and it was full of sadness and grief and then it was though a comfortable feeling came over it which would enable me to function.
During the rest of the day, thoughts came to me regarding his relatives. I wondered if I should get in touch with them and tell them the truth. I didn’t know if I should but I was willing to. For the next few days I was very sad. One afternoon I decided to take a long walk. As I was walking, I remembered that a couple of days before I killed him we had been sitting together and talking. He seemed to be a quiet thoughtful type of person and he was telling me that when he got out of the army he would like to go to England. Now as I was walking, I got quite emotionally upset as I began to realize that I could take the trip for him. I also felt so unworthy that I should live and he should be dead. I knew that I was incapable of going to England in the near future but the thought stayed with me.
Also for the next year, I didn’t have the obsession to shoot people. I did later on for a few months but by looking at the problems within myself and accepting the way I was, it has again subsided to a big degree.
I was recently seeing a shrink and I told him about killing my mate and the thought I’d had for a couple of years about going to England for him. I asked him if he thought it was a stupid thought and he said, No. He [also] said, Sometimes, some people are responsible to do certain things for other people.
For me to think in real terms of going to England for him makes me feel very sad.
I also spoke to another veteran who had accidentally killed someone in Vietnam – not one of ours, but someone very young. This man has also suffered severely because of it. He said to me that his psychiatrist had suggested to him that he grow a tree for this child. I felt like crying when he was telling me this and then I told him about my England idea and what it was all about. As I was telling him, he looked like crying. I guess to many it may sound weird, but he and I knew what the score was.
I’m going to go to England and I don’t want to be a slob or some sort of bum or derelict. I’m going to walk down the street dressed real sharp with my head up with dignity.
I’m beginning to see a truer picture. To take another man’s life is to take everything and this includes taking his dreams and aspirations. My dreams and aspirations have long since been destroyed and what remains for me is to attempt to grow into a peaceful way within myself. But I feel now that I still have his [dreams and aspirations] in me which are as yet unfulfilled. I put him down to rest two years ago but that was the dead part and that’s the part I’ve been living for twenty years. When I feel torn apart I think now that I’m only being torn apart from the dead part. I still have guilt, sorrow and remorse but I can see a way of standing up in the midst of all that by going forward to fulfil the thing he wanted to do.
He died by my hand and I died also to a big degree. I’ve wanted so much to swap places with him and now I finally know I can’t And for me to dwell on this does nothing good for me and in fact is a hindrance ... to prevent me from doing what I now know is correct.
My mind has also gone to the Viet Cong I blasted. People I never hated. I never had one ill thought about them. I liked the peasant people as well. I related to those people because they were doing what I wanted to do, run my own business and provide for my wife and daughter.
They were my kind of people and I’m not ashamed of that. My kind and class of people and yet here I was pointing a rifle at civilians and ordering them to show me their ID. If they didn’t have an ID card I could have blown holes in them – yet they were my people. What a disgusting set-up. I was never the type of person to get off on ordering other people around or being a stand-over, but here I was with a program in my head and life or death in my hand.
I don’t know one good thing about war. If I owned a bullet factory or manufactured bombs or military gear, I’d do it because I’d make a fortune. But I don’t and never will because quite simply the type of person that profits from war is a completely different kind of person than me. One thing I do know is that no one ever came and told me that after experiencing war you’ll never ever be the same person you were before you went. Whether it be good or whether it be bad, that’s a fact.
There is no glory in war. There’s a type of madness that says there is but that’s just another way of avoiding the reality of the traumatic experiences that occur in war. A good friend in the Vietnam Veterans’ Federation who was and is a big support to me when all this reality began to dawn on me said, Ray, these are the things that happen in war.
Well. Here I was twenty years down the track and still too dumb, stupid or naive to know or accept the facts of life regarding war. These things and many others are all the shit that goes down to make a war. To boast of the glory of war is surely an attempt by sick people to walk on the glossy-painted but very thin surface of horror.
There is however a lot of power and money to be gained by some. Statistics show that there were five times the amount of bombs dropped in Vietnam than in the whole of World War 2. To consider the profit made by those who sold the bombs is way out of my depth. So money and power for a few, death, pain and sorrow for the rest. The lust for power and money goes on by a selected few while the majority receives the painful backlash of their greed. Had I have done the two years’ prison instead of two years’ army, I’m sure I would not know these things to such an accurate [degree]. But for me to know these things and to be able to accept these things, I’ve paid a very dear price.
I sometimes think it would also have been nice to have lived the life of the ignorant – a shrug of the shoulders, who gives a stuff and have a nice day.
The only war that is of importance to me at the moment is the war that’s been going on inside me. In that hospital a couple of years ago, I also saw that I had never been switched off. Nor had I been de-programmed in any way at all. Because I came back in a very sick state, in many ways I hadn’t even accepted that I was here and not still there. That may account for why I still have flashbacks or I’m taken out of this timeframe and I believe I’m still there.
I’ve seen Viet Cong. I once walked through a part of Sydney and I thought I was in Vung Tau. I walked in slow motion, saying, I really know I’m in Australia. I just kept saying that over and over and I walked real slow.
I bashed a bloke in a 7/11 store because when he came the bounce, I thought he was a demonstrator twenty years ago. All I can say is what a balls-up. At times I get flashes and I don’t know who I am or where I am. It just comes in flashes. Other times, my brain goes dead. That can last for a while and I wouldn’t even know the answer to one plus one.
I joined the VVF a year ago and in a small way I’ve been able to contribute and assist others in making disability claims. I can read these blokes like a book – they’re just about all astral travellers. I can identify with just about everything everyone says that’s crazy and we spend a lot of time laughing about it.
The people that make the bucks don’t want to part with it, especially when it comes to looking after those that got fucked in the head as a result of their money-making venture.
The Government joined the attitude of the demonstrators and we were treated like shit. The psychiatrists they employed to piss us off were probably crazier than us but didn’t know it. The RSL were saying we didn’t go to a [real] war. A definition of the word war is: In a state of hostility or active military operations.
They were also saying, Lest We forget.
No matter how hard they tried [not] to forget, it has done nothing to stop the whole thing happening again. There were exceptions, of course, but I’ve found that the dickheads usually make the most noise. I believe there is a truth in what a school teacher used o tell me, Empty vessels make the most noise.
Actually he was very noisy himself but I think he may have got that saying right. Basically, I felt as though I was treated like somebody else’s garbage.
To look towards politicians or anyone in any position of authority for any answers or solutions for problems, to me would be a sign of madness. To expect any fair play or decency in any way, shape or form would also be madness. To consider that these people have even the slightest inkling toward living in peace is absolute madness.
But for me, by accepting that these people have absolutely no ides or intention of ever doing one solitary thing for anyone without it being a constructive step toward their own growth in their lust and greed for power and money brings about in me a rational and comprehensible understanding of the way things really are. The fact that no good thing will ever come from these people and that they are blinded by their greed is something I’ve now accepted, but not before many years of illusion, frustration, bitterness and anger.
They draw their power from the mass of people that have less than they themselves have. They inflict their rules and regulations to screw and torment the poor and draw power from their suffering. If I could attain to a state where I would freely give then what they want and could remain peaceful within myself then they would be unable to draw power from my suffering because I wouldn’t be suffering. Surely then they would be seen in truth as Nothings going Nowhere.
To attempt to accept the truth without becoming once again too judgemental and indignant is something I don’t do easily. But I do know that making judgements with indignation gives me no peace at all, so while I’m going through the process of accepting what has been and what is happening, I’m often all over the shop. Sudden fits of uncontrollable rage have been with me for twenty years. And I’m often quite frightened by the way I can go from the standing start, being relatively calm, into an uncontrollable maniac.
I live on my own because I do not have the ability to live with anyone else. The more I calm down in my mind, the more I see I’m afraid of just about everything. I’m frightened of the traffic, the noise, the lights, crowds of people, etc.. My tendency is to adopt the tough-guy image and be ready to throttle someone.
The best therapy is to be able to contribute, to put back or be able to assist someone who’s suffering in a similar manner to myself. By my own condition, up to date, I’ve been unable to do very much – but that is acceptable to those who know me. Where I’ve avoided other Vietnam veterans for twenty years, now I find that by associating with them, bit by bit, has had a good effect on me.
I’m no longer ashamed that I never was the type to be in a war. I’ve not met anyone that was – only people that mistakenly feel that way. Certainly for me the most difficult part had been and is facing up to my own condition and accepting myself just as I am. I don’t expect that I’ll ever get to perfect some of this stuff but working towards it is better than the direction I’ve previously been on.
I’ll make every effort and when the wherewithal comes together, I’ll take a trip to England. Just for me and my mate.