Sunday, 28 July
According to my itinerary, we slept in a little, then again assembled at Adamstown Army Depot. Kacy and I returned the black leather boots to the supply room. When we were all together, we gathered into a loose group for some unexpected presentations. Our passing comments had been noted, and these became special gifts. One of the adult officers heard that Brian was a geology major, and gave him several multi-colored maps of Australia. Someone noted Rob’s comments during the conversation about uniform hats, so he was presented with an AirTC slouch hat. He was rendered absolutely speechless. Everyone loved my last name, of course. I was presented with a set of embroidered AirTC RAMBO nametapes. I still have them. I have forgotten exactly what they presented to Kacy but I think it was education related. We thanked the Flight many times.
Sunday was a parade day for the Reserve Army units at the depot. One unit gave a demonstration of an infantry assault with armored personnel carriers. Another unit included a bagpipes and drums band that played several stirring tunes including Scotland the Brave. I was almost moved to tears – I was an undeniably patriotic American, but I didn’t want to leave Australia on the 31st. At home I was a poor college student who occasionally struggled to meet basic needs. Here, the people were wonderful, the land was beautiful, and the animals were captivating. Being treated so well was sublime.
We had lunch, then departed for Sydney. I was headed back to the Crowleys. Tazzie was waiting.
Monday, 29 July
Monday morning, dressed in casual clothes, we drove to the city of Wollongong – a small city on the coast just south of Sydney. We met up with a small group of Wollongong Flight cadets who would accompany us for the day. Belinda was also with us. Our tours focused on Australia’s natural beauty. We first stopped at Illawarra State Conservation Area, and hiked its trails. We then went to nearby Minnamurra Rainforest, which is described as a “rare remnant of subtropical and warm temperate rainforests which is representative of the once extensive rainforests of the Illawarra region.” Minnamurra had a long trail with a series of waterfalls tucked away into the lush green forest. Both parks had immense fig trees. I have a photo of a group eleven people, eight in the front, standing at the base of one fig tree – it is several feet wider than the group. The canopy was so dense most of my photos looked as dark as twilight.
After ice cream.
Rob, Brian, Belinda, Ashley, Kacy
29 July 1996
Back with our hosts, we changed into civilian clothes and rested for a while. Later that night we had an Aussie steak dinner with a group of cadets and adults at the Bush Barn – a banquet hall style restaurant full of wood picnic tables jammed together end to end. Everyone eighteen or older ordered a beer, so we did too. I found I was particularly fond of a brand called Victoria Bitter – which wasn’t bitter at all. Over a few hours, we had a two or three each. A group photo near the end of dinner shows a bunch of pink-cheeked, smiling people.
I don’t remember how we coordinated this after-hours expedition, but after dinner, our host’s older sister gathered Rob, Brian, and I in the family car and took us to a popular dance club in Newcastle called Fanny’s. The club actually had a dress code, and we did not meet it in jeans and uncollared shirts. Apparently young Australians were expected to dress up to go clubbing. When we showed our passports at the door, explained we were Americans, and didn’t know any better, we were allowed in. Our casual clothes attracted attention at the bar and on the dance floor. I explained several times that we were Americans, which got surprisingly exuberant responses. We didn’t last very long at the club, maybe a couple of hours. We all had a lot of fun, but after a drink or two, we were ready to sleep, not dance. As I recall, our host did not have a drop of alcohol since Australia had very harsh penalties for impaired driving. We must have been terrible company – we all fell asleep in the car. A little alcohol and fatigue don’t mix well. I collapsed into bed.
At the Bush Barn.
27 July 1996
We had lunch at the Minnamurra Rainforest Centre, seated on a huge elevated deck. A few black and white magpies perched in the trees and on the deck rails, anticipating hand-outs. Again, I couldn’t help myself, I tossed a few pieces of bread to bring them in closer. A staff member quickly emerged from the Centre, and scolded me for feeding the birds. I politely apologized, and explained that I was an American who was excited to see their beautiful birds. His expression completely changed. He backpedaled and apologized, saying he mistakenly thought I was an unruly resident. I smiled and promised I wouldn’t do it again. He continued to apologize and retreated back into the building. I blushed as everyone else laughed and shook their heads at me.
We returned the cadets to their unit. Carol took a hilly coastal road back to Sydney. I think we found the only ice cream truck operating in southern Australia, parked at a beautiful vantage point on top of a hill. We stood, stared out at the water, and ate our ice cream. The sun set and bathed the hills in a golden light.
It was dark when we returned to the van. We snapped a few last photos with the Sydney Opera House in the background. We brought our IACE uniforms with us, and changed when we arrived at the NSW and ACT AirTC headquarters. It was our final opportunity to formally thank our host organization. We presented CAP plaques to the leadership and our escorts, Carol and Mark. We each made a small speech of our own. Then it was over.
Carol dropped each of us off.
It was time to pack. I kneeled in front of my open bag in the Crowley living room. I had some decisions to make. I had gathered so much additional stuff, that Carol gave me a small duffel bag to carry it in, but it still wasn’t enough to take everything back home. I weeded out anything unnecessary. I tossed out most of the IACE uniforms – we traveled home in civilian clothes. I gave Belinda my University of Alabama sweatshirt, one IACE epaulet, and my nameplate with the American flag on it. I carefully packed my six precious rolls of film in my uniform shoes.* Tazzie drifted by, and curiously sniffed the mess I had made. I gently placed her in the middle of my suitcase and pretended to zipper it shut. She gamely wagged her tail. Behind me I heard a whispered “Oh, Belinda! She’s got the dog! Get Tazzie!” I laughed but really wanted to cry. I would truly miss these people.
Hard Rock Cafe with Carol
Lovely tablecloth I'm wearing.
30 July 1996
Tuesday, 30 July
This was it – our final full day in Australia. We returned to our original starting point at The Rocks, and focused on last minute souvenir purchases. Carol and Mark steered us into a couple of opal jewelry shops. The Australians were very proud of their fiery opals, but they were a bit beyond our reach financially. We went to one high-end Aboriginal art shop, and realized there too, we were in over our heads. We had lunch at Sydney’s Hard Rock Café, then hit the shops again. We considered pricey Akubra hats, pricier Driza-bone waxed canvas coats, and the loud but immensely popular Coogi sweaters. Ultimately, we bought mugs, t-shirts, magnets, and various little mementos. Belinda and I wandered off to one last shop, which was tucked deep into an alley. There, in a lighted glass cabinet, was what I had been looking for all along, and didn’t know it. It was an assortment of small, but weighty, bronze animal sculptures by the artist Pete Smit. They were exquisite, and I only had eyes for them. I wanted them all: kangaroo, kookaburra, platypus, wombat, sea turtle, and koala. They each cost about $75 USD (in 1996 dollars), so there could only be one. I dithered for a few minutes between the kangaroo and koala. I chose the koala. It was such a costly purchase that I charged it to my low-limit credit card. The shop keeper carefully wrapped it up in a flexible sheet of foam, and cinched it into a cloth bag.
Saturday, 27 July
We gathered at Adamstown Depot, dressed in our camos, to return to Williamtown. This was the only day it rained, and even then, it was a mist that ended around noon. In the morning we were each taken up for a flight in a purple cloth airplane called a Gazelle. It was small, but sporty. My notes say we went to the Officers Mess for lunch.
In the afternoon we went to the base rifle range for a few hours to shoot .22 rifles “and whatever the RAAF can muster on the day”. The RAAF mustered a standard issue Steyr AUG rifle – the Aussies just referred to it as a Steyr. I had experience with rifles throughout my teen years and the AR-15 in Army ROTC, so I did pretty well with the .22. The cadets referred to me as “Annie Oakley”.
I think we went to either Rob’s or Brian’s host family for a light dinner of pea soup. We returned to our host family’s home to change into our IACE uniforms, then drove to RAAF Base Williamtown for 35 Flight’s Parade Night. While the Flight was practicing drill, Rob, Brian, and I were talking with a senior cadet. I vaguely heard someone approaching behind me, then the stomp of the person coming to a British-style halt. I was in the middle of a conversation with the senior cadet, my hands stuffed in the pockets of the windbreaker I’d again borrowed from Rob, so I kept talking. Brian and Rob widened their eyes in an effort to get my attention. When that didn’t work completely, they whispered “Ashley...” and made an exaggerated look and nod behind me. I turned to see a lanky junior cadet saluting very rigidly. I was embarrassed to have kept him in that position, so I removed my hands from my pockets, returned his salute, and simultaneously said, “I’m so sorry! There’s no need formality – we're not in uniform. Hi, my name is Ashley,” and extended my hand. He stood so rigidly he was quivering. Puzzled, I tried again, “Hello, my name is Ashley. This is Rob and Brian.” I gestured in their direction, then reextended my hand. He held his salute. Out of the corner of my eye I saw three adult AirTC members hustling our way. Two bodily led him away, still locked in salute. The third apologized, clearly mortified. She said that he was their problem cadet, and they were trying to work with him. I wondered why Rob or Brian didn’t return his salute, when I realized they were still treating me as the ranking cadet. They were so respectful, not just to me, but to everyone we encountered. Belinda might disagree with that statement, though.
We again returned to our host’s home. I was so cold and tired - it had been a long twenty four hours - I took a long hot shower before bed. The glass of the shower was set on about nine inches of tiled concrete. I found a piece of clear plastic in my toiletries bag, and placed it over the drain, to create a shallow bath. I soaked in the hot water and dozed a little. I returned to the bedroom, and stood next to the bed for a minute, steeling myself for the cold sheets. I dove in, threw the covers over my head, and was asleep in minutes.
*I had never taken so many pictures. Truthfully, I needed more. I have no photographs from some tours such as the Parachute Training School. Developing them cost about $10 per roll.
I still have him. Bronze koala by Pete Smit.