Finally got back,
From fighting phantoms in black,
Twelve months there and twelve days at sea;
I couldn't believe,
That I'd ever receive,
The welcome home, which was waiting for me.
At last my release,
Two-year stint would soon cease,
Although orders continued to bark;
Seemed too great a task,
Too much to ask,
To receive one friendly, final, farewell remark.
Signed off and paid,
Medicals ‘brief’ and ‘OK’d’
Yet not even a ‘thank you’ was heard;
That we quietly retired,
Any counselling in those days absurd.
Many soon found,
They could not settle down,
Back into their previous lives;
Right from the start,
Marriages falling apart,
Far too much for some veterans’ wives.
And the single blokes too,
All of those whom I knew,
Most had changed, seemed different, somehow;
To fathers and mothers,
Friends, sisters and brothers,
Couldn't relate, just didn't know how!
Aged years in each mind,
Now searching to find,
Most having just turned 22;
Any Outback employment,
Searching any enjoyment,
In hindsight, I simply ‘shot through’.
Behind left my girl,
Escaping this world,
To amongst our native races;
One year spent up there,
Time to think now to spare,
Found freedom in wild desert spaces.
Yet, ‘Blacks’ are not ‘Whites’,
Tried Sydney’s bright lights,
Occasionally working on farms;
Though still kicked around,
This time I soon found,
By clowns without stripes on their arms.
In the M.I.A. picking fruit,
No tie nor a suit,
Payment low, ’twas tiring and hot;
Beat that prior hell-hole,
Or getting the dole,
Since I’d rather be working than not.
As a plumber’s right hand,
Simply driving a van,
Selling whatever, or mowing some lawns;
Back in the Terr-it-or-y,
The Gulf out at sea,
On an old trawler netting for prawns.
In humble abodes,
Down dusty old roads,
Each new place, a mere mark on the map;
Out on some trail,
Just chasing my tail,
A feeling as if caught in a trap.
Searching in vain,
For ‘I know not what’ once again,
From rural towns, to here by the sea;
Jobs short in supply,
For which I’d not qualify,
Little suitable for veterans like me.
With one major skill,
Having learned how to kill,
Now an expert in army munitions;
And how to read maps,
But no use here perhaps,
In these tame civilian conditions.
Tried any work,
From the coast back to Bourke,
Sometimes blindly, picked with a pin;
For strangers and neighbours,
All sorts of labours,
Regarded ... as just ‘fitting in’.
* * *
A mining collapse,
Overseas work then perhaps,
So off to New Zealand I sailed;
To islands such as Fiji,
And even Tahiti,
Yet their economies also had failed.
And when I returned,
I luckily earned,
A job prospecting for copper and gold;
The pay was real good,
Yet I soon understood,
About things I had never been told.
To this country’s far reaches,
Mountains and beaches,
For base mineral exploration;
Our resources were ‘raped’,
Fragile lands re-shaped,
Again, foreign exploitation.
A fellow geologist's smile,
Bragged how he’d been balloted out;
A family doctor who’d lied,
A university hide,
And supporting parents wielding their clout.
Next, as an inspector,
A sample collector,
Stopping pollution, into our streams;
Content all alone,
In the field on my own,
Working in vain in some cases it seems.
And four Yankee ‘fat cats’,
Base wallah bureaucrats,
At the end of the war just laughed;
To their home they returned,
A land they once spurned,
Here on high salary, avoiding ‘The Draft’.
One decade I taught,
In our schools so I thought,
Sorting out that confusion in youth;
A blackboard jungle out there,
A real-life nightmare,
Separating out fiction from truth.
Along by my side,
A colleague would hide,
A young man, escaped from New York;
Here he crashed on a Harley,
Prosthesis then helped him to walk.
Fleeing his own country’s call,
Going ‘over the wall’,
Way back in the year ’69;
Left leg amputation,
Yet, ironically not from a mine.
In torment, twenty years,
His lonely world full of fears,
Nightmares and pain were his lot;
It was not up to me,
To judge him you see,
Whether he was innocent or not.
Some things become plain,
Some things seem insane,
Telephone message received from his wife;
Guilt that he wore,
He couldn’t bear any more,
Garry ended up taking his life.
With nowhere to hide,
On a catamaran, cruising the coast;
Out free on ‘Gypsea’,
No one else there with me,
Alone, ’cept the odd haunting ghost.
Each night on the News,
Heard ‘Conscription’, the agenda once more!
With Iraq and Iran,
Was nothing ever learnt from before?
Yet, today some still fight,
Against wrong and for right,
Though again, little chance likely to win;
Valued lessons long lost,
To society’s cost,
And it’s bloody hard ... just ‘fitting back in’ !
This poem traces the life of a soldier since his return from Vietnam in 1967. For some it has not been an easy task to fit back into a ‘normal’ life in Australian society. NB. M.I.A. in this context does not refer to ‘Missing in Action’. It refers to the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (of south western NSW).
♪♪ And the sign said: LONG-HAIRED FREAKY PEOPLE ... NEED NOT APPLY!
So I tucked my hair ... up under my hat ... and went in to ask him why?
He said: ‘I think you look like ... a fine up-standing young man ... I think you’ll do!’
So I took off my hat and said: ‘Imagine that! ... Me! ... Workin’ for you!’
Signs! ... Signs! ... Everywhere there’s signs!
Breakin’ up the scenery, breakin’ my mind!
Do this! Don’t do that! ... Can’t you read the signs? ♪♪
- from the song Signs by Five Man Electric Band, 1968.
Author as a geologist in Kimberley Region W.A.- 1983 Camping in the Myall Lakes NSW - 1980