Jervis Bay Marine Park
23 July 1996
Tuesday, 23 July
Tuesday morning, we departed Canberra and headed to the coastal town of Jervis Bay through Kangaroo Valley. Jervis Bay was home to the Aboriginal Wandandian people, and another stopping point for Captain Cook’s expedition in 1770. After a small nap I made a real effort to observe the beautiful terrain. It ranged from sheep filled pastures to smooth topped mountains similar to the Appalachians. Our first stop was the Aboriginal Arts and Crafts center in Huskisson, owned by Uncle Laddie Timbery, an elder of the Bidjigal clan and a world-renowned artist. His shop was an old wooden schoolhouse, with delightfully squeaky wood floors, situated on the coast. The walls were covered with different shapes and sizes of colorfully decorated boomerangs, bullroarers, and numerous other woodcrafts. The floor was the showcase for a variety of other, larger forms of artwork. Mr. Timbery was so engaging – he treated us like we were the most important people he had spoken to all day. After we purchased our items, he followed us outside and demonstrated how to throw a boomerang.
For lunch we toured the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA), essentially the Air Force Academy, West Point, and Annapolis rolled into one. The ADFA simultaneously trains junior officers for the Royal Australian Army, Navy, and Air Force. The academy is organized as a single corps, with units containing officer cadets from every branch. Each cadet wears the distinct uniform of their service. Opened in 1986, the campus was compact and modern. After a briefing and tour, we had lunch with a variety of military officers in the white table clothed ADFA officer’s mess. It was a little intimidating at first. Dressed in casual civilian clothes, we felt a little awkward being attended by uniformed stewards. Their tri-service dining customs were significantly different from dining-in/out – so we watched first, then just did what they did.
We weren’t done with Monday yet.
We toured the RAAF 34 Squadron, a VIP transport squadron, and the Australian Helicopter Training School.
That night we attended our first AirTC meeting with our host cadets’ unit, 34 Flight. It was the one time anyone wore the blazer uniform (Rob), and as I recall, that was only because of colder weather. Brian wore his navy blue IACE windbreaker – an optional purchase that I eschewed. I borrowed Rob’s windbreaker, so we looked fairly uniform. I’d say their flight had about twenty to twenty-five cadets. We watched their training classes, some taught by cadets, and were truly impressed by their presentations. In between classes we were able to socialize with the cadets again, especially Cadet Flight Sergeant Gordon Mercovich, a cadet who really stood out. Really. He was over seven feet tall, and had a personality that matched his height. While indoors we presented our host cadets with CAP Certificates of Appreciation. This was also our first time to observe Australian drill and ceremonies, which followed the British tradition of long arm swings and exaggerated movements – at least relative to the American marching style.
I indulged in a long hot bath that night. I remember nothing else.
After changing into our IACE uniforms, we went over to the AirTC 30 Flight meeting, which was right on base. Their Flight was similar in size to Canberra’s, probably about twenty to twenty-five cadets. We had a chance to socialize with the cadets and they were a cheerful group. At the end of the meeting the Flight practiced their drill. We cadets stood observing the drill, Kacy was talking with the adult instructors. The Flight’s CUO approached us and asked to whom the flight should report. Brian and Rob pointed to me, sticking to the rank conversation we had on the plane. I opened my mouth to playfully argue with them a little - rank was such a trivial thing - but thought better of it. With my luck, it might appear to be a real squabble. I moved to the center of the drill field and came to the position of attention. The CUO took over the unit, reported to me, and I reviewed the flight. Afterwards I found myself off to the side with the CUO, who pulled his rifle award off of his uniform and gave it to me as a memento. It was flattering.
Here’s an activity that would be absolutely forbidden today: after the meeting we adjourned with the eighteen-year-old cadets to the base Officers Club for mixed drinks that cost 30¢. I think beer cost even less. We lounged in comfortable leather chairs, chatting and laughing for a couple of hours. I had a pocketful of loose change, and sure enough, all of the $2 coins fell out. Everyone laughed and cursed the coins as I fished them out of the cushions. I was ready for bed after two small drinks.
I made sure my door was unlocked.
ADFA recruiting photo
Wednesday, 24 July
My notes for Wednesday become an excited scrawl.
We started at the Naval Aviation Museum, which was on Albatross. It was a nice museum with lots of intricate details and artifacts. Next, we went to the Parachute Training School, which was also on base. At the end of our tour, I purchased a maroon t-shirt and a sticker from the school’s shop, which had a logo of a kangaroo beneath a parachute canopy. There was a little paperwork involved with the transaction, and when the soldier asked for my last name, he and everyone around him howled with laughter at my response. I still have the receipt. My name is written in all caps: RAMBO.
My favorite activity was not on our itinerary and was a surprise – a trip to the Nowra Nature Park. It was an Australian petting zoo. After the wild emu and kangaroo encounters, it was a dream come true. As we approached the large animal paddocks, a few donkeys brayed excitedly. Carol was smitten. She was normally camera shy, but was so enamored with them, I managed to get a wonderful - albeit distant - photo of her with them. When I look at it I can still hear her cooing to the donkeys. We got to pet a koala named Buddy as he snoozed amongst eucalyptus leaves in his large enclosure. His gray fur felt like soft dense carpet. We hand fed grain pellets to goats and a troop of gray kangaroos. The keepers advised us to keep our hands low when feeding the kangaroos, otherwise they rocked back too much on their tails, and were tempted to kick. Mark was so tall he had to bend over at the waist to keep the kangaroos grounded. They enthusiastically grabbed my hands with their tiny hands. If another kangaroo got too close, they would grapple with each other, punctuated by an occasional back kick. The kangaroos who weren’t interested in food lazed on their sides like giant cats, following us with their ears. A few females had joeys – you could see their back feet protruding from the mums’ pouches. We spent most of our time with the kangaroos. I also got to hold a lace monitor, blue-tongued skink, and a blanket wrapped wallaby joey named Nosey. The park even had a few dingoes in a large natural enclosure. One beautiful red dog came down to investigate us, wagging its tail. At the end of the day, in a fit of youthful exuberance, we all slid down the park’s very long metal slide.
We finished off the day at the Officers Club again.
We then went to Jervis Bay Marine Park. While crossing a bridge, I spotted two gray kangaroos hopping below, moving from a bare expanse of rock towards a grassy area. Carol parked the van, and we got out intending to walk around the park. But we noticed the kangaroos were deliberately angling our way, intently cropping grass with their heads down, ears twitching, using their thick tails as props as they moved forward. I assumed they were tame and looking for tasty hand-outs. I could barely restrain myself, but I had learned a lesson from the emu incident. As I approached the kangaroos, I paused to ask Mark and Carol if they thought it was okay to pet them. Carol nodded and shrugged at the same time. Maybe – maybe not. I cautiously touched them with just my fingertips from arm's length, as everyone watched tentatively. The kangaroos were absolutely unconcerned and didn’t even bother to stop eating. Their brown-gray fur was soft, like a dirty cat. Kacy later gave me a copy of her photos, and our step wise progression is hilarious – from our cautious approach to boldly petting the kangaroos. My sequence of photos shows the kangaroos from a distance, then closer and closer with every shot. The series ends with me crouched next to a kangaroo, petting it like a dog, grinning from ear to ear.
Near sunset we took a walk around Jervis Bay. The pale sandy beach was covered with a lacework of small shells. Shore birds skittered along the waterline, chasing then retreating from the waves. In the waning light the sky, sea, and shore became a broad vista of pastel colors.
We checked into our first military base, the Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Albatross, in Nowra. As we approached the base Mark and Carol gave us a quick briefing on the RAN’s base customs. The buildings were considered ships, and the grass was considered water. You can’t walk on water. All of the facilities, toilets and showers included, were coed. There were separate stalls, but they didn’t go all the way to the floor, and a dude could be tapping his toes right next to you. The RAN had a tradition of predawn orange juice. If you wanted morning OJ you left your door unlocked. A steward knocked around 0600, asked if you wanted juice, then entered the room and left the glass on a metal shelf above the sink.
We each had a small private room with a single bed, sink, and some basic furniture. This was the only time we did not stay with a host family, and it had its virtues. I can’t speak for the group, but I was ready for a little off hours privacy for a while. The room also had baseboard heating, which was a little inconsistent, but provided more uniform warmth. I’d miss it terribly in a couple of days. After a week in Australia, I still hadn’t acclimated to the colder weather.
I could be wrong, but I think our building had a laundry room, and this was my first opportunity to wash clothes.
Carol Moreau with the donkeys.
24 July 1996
Mark Creighton at Jervis Bay
23 July 1996