Sunday, February 9, 2014

They'd Have Fallen Down the Steps

Many are the memories associated with 20 years in the RAAF, some good and others not so. Fortunately for me, the good ones outweigh the bad many fold - in fact, it is hard to recall more than a few of the latter. One of the best came very close to the end. It is one I often reflect on and it is one that, for me, illustrates the strong bonds that exist between those who have worn the nation's uniform.

Before I proceed it is necessary to explain a specific term for any civvie that may read this, and that is 'fell down the steps'. I have known this term since my apprenticeship days at Wagga. There is an associated term, 'contact counselling'. I can't recall where I picked this one up. It was one I learnt in the RAAF but I cannot be certain that it is as universally known.

An illustration. At Wagga one of our number did not bathe as frequently as the rest of us deemed necessary for personal hygiene and, perhaps more importantly, for our personal comfort. One evening he was counselled. Domestic cleaning chemicals were added to a bath that was prepared for the counselee. He was then assisted to undress and enter the bath where he was scrubbed with a bask broom.

This mild form of contact counselling is the only time I have seen the art used and it proved effective. Obviously, more intense counselling sessions could,  at times, leave their mark. I can't recall ever seeing the relevant order, but I am sure it was there somewhere as everyone knew it. When asked by the Officer after being counselled 'What happened to you lad?',  the correct answer was 'I fell down the stairs, Sir'. Now to the story.

Presentation of the Defence Force Service Medal for 15
years efficient service
For my final six years in the Service I was a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Among other things, Adventists - at least 'good' ones - abstain from alcohol. They also encourage vegetarianism as a better lifestyle choice than an animal based diet, although this is more of an option for Church membership than alcohol. These were never an issue for me. While I was in Butterworth the second time I had gone off the booze and had almost transitioned to vegetarianism without giving any thought to becoming a Christian.

Now there was in the RAAF a practice of regular social functions where we could relax and enjoy each other's company in work time. These may have been periodic extended lunches or early 'stand downs' - the RAAF term for finishing work for the day. I attended these at every opportunity despite me being a 'little different.'

I remember one lunch at Young and Jacksons, one of Australia's more famous pubs, well known for the painting Chloe. When the waiter asked for our orders I asked if they could do something vegetarian. 'Certainly sir, the Chef can do a very nice Spanish omelette'. And so he did - tomatoes, cheese, mushrooms and I can't remember what else. Out came the steaks and out came the omelette. The response almost seemed envious. Not only did it look great, it was about half the price of what everyone else paid.

Despite what people may say about Melbourne, it is a beautiful city and around South Melbourne where we worked there were a few nice parks, including along the South Bank of the Yarra. Melbourne can have some glorious weather and the parks provided a great venue for a 'do'. I had a station wagon and that came in handy for picking up the supplies and, if necessary, replenishments if stocks ran low which they sometimes did. The fact that by this time I may have been the only one sober enough to drive also came in handy.

Warrant Officer Major Majerison was the CMC (Chief Master of Ceremonies) of the Sergeants' Mess, Melbourne. I had the pleasure of working with the Major in one of my roles at Support Command, but I can't remember which one.

Just before I left Major said something to me I have always treasured. 'Ken, we knew what you stood for. You came to our do's and stayed much longer than we expected. There was always a risk that someone would spike your drinks. If we had seen this they would have fallen down the steps.'

Those few words epitomise for me what the RAAF was all about. We may at times have had our disagreements. We didn't necessarily see things the same way and we believed different things. But we were mates, and mates look out for each other. And it therefore seems fitting that one of my fondest memories is associated with my leaving the Service.

No comments:

Post a Comment