Running On Empty
Running on Empty
From near Ararat,
North west of Ballarat,
As a young lad to Sydney I’d come;
A notice by mail:
‘BE THERE WITHOUT FAIL!’
’Twas a lottery, a select few of us won!
Now a ‘bushie’ like me,
From out in the mallee,
Was used to the wide open spaces;
Not cities or towns,
Taking orders from ‘clowns’,
Nor restrictions on military bases.
“All wakey wakey!
Hands off ya snakey!”
’Twas still dark and barely cracking dawn!
“Hands off ya cocks,
And put on ya socks!”
Oh my God! ... All freedom finally gone!
“Stand by ya bed!”
Our corporal said,
At attention, stood all ten, erect;
Salutes exchanged with ‘brass’,
In this daily farce,
Homage paid which they’d expect.
For dress and quarters,
Insignia clear upon their gowns;
From hut to hut,
This party would strut,
An entourage of ‘stripes’, ‘pips’ and ‘crowns’.
To us reluctant boarders,
Mere ‘boys’ who had just turned twenty;
With a: “Yes Sir! No Sir!
Three bags full Sir!”
Exhausted and nigh running on empty.
* * *
Fixed eyes awaited,
For this ritual hated,
Some trying real hard not to grin;
A smirky smile,
Would vanish meanwhile,
If stubble spotted on one’s chin.
And ’twas our job,
To ensure ‘two bob’,
Could bounce upon our made-up bunks;
Blankets not tucked in,
’Twas a dreadful ‘sin’,
Like untidy lockers, or metal trunks.
Hours of ironing,
Brass and leather shining,
Any flaws noted by our ‘Sarge’;
With no defences,
Like leave cancelled, guard duty ... or a ‘charge’.
As that time drew near,
We’d grab eating gear,
Metal mug, knife, fork and spoon;
’Cause once again,
When mealtime came,
Up at the mess lined our platoon.
Perhaps beans ‘n’ bacon,
Or ‘things’ mistaken,
All half-cooked, with some kind of brew;
The ‘chef’ meanwhile,
With a cheesy smile,
Enjoyed what he alone just knew.
Yet, despite all that,
It was indeed a fact,
There was certainly food aplenty;
In order to get through,
The rest of the day we knew,
’Twas no good running on empty.
* * *
“Emu bob outside!”
Our corporal cried,
Usual sighs uttered, yet all in vain;
“Pick up papers and butts,
Around these huts,
And when that’s done, go ‘round again!”
“On Parade!” … once more,
Came the corporal’s roar,
So we’d form up in three straight rows;
Numbered from the right,
According to height,
A fixed pattern each soldier knows.
Names from A to Z,
As the sergeant called the roll;
Ensuring that all,
Answered to their call,
And no one missing as AWOL.
Drill practice each day,
In the same old way,
“Quick march! Left-right-left!”… then …“Halt!”
Repeated over once more,
Such a dreadful bore,
Until done without a fault.
Around our base,
The CSM’s red face,
Delivered all orders with a shout;
Like: “Stand-at-Ease!” was one,
“About face!” ... and then ... “Fall out!”
Controlled by military law,
In this circus with clowns aplenty;
Like puppets on a string,
We were robots nigh running on empty.
* * *
Whether fine or raining,
Slight variations, there might have been;
With rifle range and drills,
PT and bush craft skills,
For the infantry, ’twas routine.
And there were many ways,
Like a route march, 5 Ks,
All designed to get us fit;
Only real trouble,
’Twas done at the double,
Carrying rifle and in full kit!
‘Exercises’ were run,
Each odd month there was one,
When we’d practice all theory taught;
Map reading patrols,
Picket and ‘sig’ protocols,
Until perfected, so we thought.
Boring lectures we’d face,
At night in our base,
‘Brain washing’ ’tis what I feared;
And biased war zone news,
As our departure time then neared.
Came 10 o’clock, with a shout:
“All lights now out!”,
Exhausted bodies racked with pain;
All too soon ’twas morn,
Reveille’s bugle at dawn,
Up to do it all again.
Now, I look back at that time,
Back then in my prime,
Images of tough days, when I was twenty!
Yet, thoughts of home on the plains,
And ‘The Bush’ in my veins,
Meant I was never really running on empty!
Running on Empty - Jackson Browne (from You-Tube)
Author at Corps Training - November 1965
When the initial 3 months-long Recruit Training program had been completed (either at Puckapunyal, Kapooka or Singleton camps) all ‘graduates’ were allotted to their respective corps (Infantry, Artillery, Engineers, Armoured, Ordinance, Services, Medical etc). Each corps was stationed at various localities around Australia. ‘The Tigers’ (the Fifth Battalion of the Infantry or 5RAR) were stationed at Holsworthy in Sydney’s south west. It was there where the real training for war (for them) was centred.
Periodically, an exercise was held in some remote jungle location over a couple of weeks so as to hone the skills being taught. Meanwhile, the mundane routine of camp life continued. This poem attempts to capture some of that routine.
‘ - U U U U - ’ ‘ The Unwilling, led by the Unqualified, doing the Unnecessary, for the Ungrateful’
- (Some American soldiers in Vietnam chalked up this slogan on their helmets).