Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Great Travel Rort

Overseas travel was something a lot of Aussies could only dream of in the 1970s, so the chance to spend a couple of years in Malaysia gave RAAFies and their families a rare opportunity to see something of the world beyond our shores. Air fares were expensive and so were international phone calls. This was pre-Skype, Facebook and e-mail. So for most of us it meant either 24 or 30 months relying on snail mail as the only means of communication with family back home.

There were a few who took the opportunity to travel further. While the Poms were still in Singapore a small number hitched a free ride to England with the RAF, and I knew at least one bloke who did a trip to Japan. Most of us however remained in Malaysia and Singapore with a possible trip to Thailand – something I did on my second tour.

Inside the National Mosque, KL

The few regrets that I have from my time in Butterworth is that I did not take the opportunity to see some of the popular places in the country, such as Langkawi Island and the Cameron Highlands. I do remember one trip however to the Genting Highlands to visit the recently opened casino. This was part of the return leg from Kuala Lumpur where we had experienced the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Unfortunately for me I was not required to deposit $M200 at the door as were Malaysian nationals. If it wasn’t for a couple of mates I would have had to hitchhike back to base the next day. As it was I came to grief not too far south of Butterworth. I was riding behind a long line of traffic and when it started to slow I thought I had plenty of time to stop – until the concertina effect started, with each car parking in the boot of the one in front of it. I tried to slip to the left of the car in front of me but clipped it with my leg. This left a good sized dent in the rear of the car and left me with a badly bruised leg for months. Years later I still had strange sensations in my upper leg that I put down to this.  For a few weeks after the prang I relied on a pillion to kick start the bike for me.

No doubt to compensate for the isolation from family back home the RAAF picked up the tab for travel and accommodation for one holiday a year anywhere in Malaysia or Singapore for married men. Single blokes were entitled to two trips a year in recognition of the fact that if they had been in Australia they would have been provided with free travel to visit next of kin once a year. All that was required to claim reimbursement was a receipt for accommodation from the furthest point of travel.

In Malacca (probably)
Fortunately, one didn’t need to travel to Singapore in order to obtain a receipt. Sitting on a shelf in 75 Sqn Engine Section – and most, if not all sections at Butterworth – was a receipt book for a hotel in Singapore. One did not have to leave the confines of Butterworth to lodge a claim and receive the appropriate reimbursement. I have never understood why I didn’t take advantage of this opportunity for it was, after all, easy money, it was done openly, and therefore there was little, if any, chance of getting caught. But, then again, I have always been a little too lax with money so it was most likely just that I never got around to it.

In the latter half of 1973 my mate Zeke and I decided we would do a trip around the country accompanied by our girlfriends. The plan was to head down the west coast through Ipoh, KL, Malacca to Singapore and then up the east coast through Kota Bharu where we would visit the Beach of Passionate Love.

The first half of the trip went well. We avoided the tourist class hotels until we got to Singapore. These were of varying quality, ranging from acceptable to rather dodgy. The one in Ipoh was the cleanest and most comfortable, except for the fact that I lay awake half the night expecting the fan to fall from the ceiling at any moment but refusing to turn it off because of the heat.

Things went well until we got to Singapore. Here we lashed out and stayed in a good quality tourist class hotel. Other than the stay at the Genting Highlands, this was I believe my first experience of such an establishment. I was intrigued by a door in the wall so I decided to open it to see where it went to, only to be confronted by a rather attractive young Chinese woman wearing a black bra and matching knickers. I don’t know which of us was more embarrassed, but I quickly slammed the door.

Somewhere on the East Coast (I think)
 We stayed in Singapore longer than planned as Zeke became ill. This part of the story is hazy but he must have been admitted to a military hospital for a few days before being flown back to Butterworth. The girls and I continued the trip without him but only made it up the east coast to Kuala Terengganu before we ran out of time. This was before the opening of the Highway from Kota Bharu to the west coast so we had to return to Kuantan and across to KL to return to Penang. I still have many slides from that memorable trip but unfortunately I didn’t keep a record of where they were taken.

I returned to 38 Squadron, Richmond, in March 1974. Sometime later some of the troops that had been in Butterworth were called to the orderly room. Someone in Canberra, probably with the help of one of those new computer thingos, had come to the conclusion that some of those travel claims looked dodgy. It all had something to do with the time lapse between receipt number 24 and 25. Those that were caught went all the way from the top to the bottom – Officers Commanding, Commanding Officers, Sky Pilots to lowly LACs.

Which just proves that sometimes being too slack to get around to something pays off in the end.

1 comment:

  1. There was another crackdown in 1970 or early 1971. I thought that if you were too lazy to organise a free trip to Singapore and Bangkok like we did then you deserved to get caught and made to reimburse the Gov.

    Friends of ours only went as far as Ipoh for a weekend at our prompting. Got caught taking the money though.

    Cheers Stretchlizard