Reading David Marr’s publication of a few years ago, ‘Stories, Essays & Speeches’ … it surprises me at times the way that personal connections have a habit of arising unexpectedly. In Marr’s essay on John Gorton, he mentions Gorton’s elevation to Minister for the Navy in 1958, explaining Gorton being told ‘never to use the old aircraft carrier Sydney, moored in the mothball fleet off the zoo in Sydney Harbour.’ Gorton, so Marr records, says ‘We went and had a look at her. She was full of barnacles and had to be cleaned out. but we just gradually got her out. We said we needed the Sydney for operations on the coast with the Army. we made her a bit better, and then said we could send her to New Zealand on combined operations. As a result she was ready for Vietnam when she was wanted. We wouldn’t have had any troops and materials to send to Vietnam but for the Sydney.’
Which is where the personal comes in, cos I served on the Sydney for a year, ferrying soldiers back and forth between Oz and Vietnam on a couple of occasions. Years later, tried writing something about the experience, (here’s a para)…
Mention of Anzac Day brings back a flood of memories, chiefly of soldiers returning home aboard what was
popularly termed ‘the Vung Tau ferry’ — HMAS Sydney, an ageing aircraft carrier with empty hangars specially fitted to sleep hundreds of returning vets side by side on makeshift beds. At night a projector screened movies at one end of the hangar where bums on seats were provided for on hard wooden stools which by turn skidded across the hangar floor from one bulkhead to the other with the rise and fall and sideways pitch of the ship as it sailed inexorably through the night, heading home. And on arrival, the possibility of a march through Townsville, or Brisbane, with patrons disgorging from pubs to offer frothy schooners of ale to the marching men: ‘Have one on me mate!’ Or gliding through Sydney Heads into the shelter of the harbour and patrolling aft on duty watch, observing the bobbing lines of well-worn army uniforms snaking in the white of the ship’s wake as soldiers changed from jungle greens for the last time, into ceremonial dress for the march through Sydney’s streets.
LINK—Giles Hugo’s interview with David Marr, published Famous Reporter 7, April 1993.