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Thirty-Three Years Since HMAS Leeuwin

Thirty-three years ago on 1 October, 1980, sixty teenage boys from around Australia entered the gates of HMAS Leeuwin [PDF 3MB] as the 73rd Intake.

The Tasmanian contingent from Hobart began our long journey from the recruiting centre at the bottom of Liverpool Street (from memory). We bused out to Hobart Airport for our flight to Sydney and the three hour second leg to Perth, Western Australia. Then the excruciating bus trip in silence out to Fremantle. It was close to midnight when we entered through the main gate. I can’t recall whether that bus carried all of us or whether some arrived early.

As we entered past the boom gate we passed a scarce row of telephone boxes to the left and a parade ground. The bus stopped. Large looming accommodation buildings to our right.

We were shuffled up the hill into New Entry Division where our short-sheeted and three-sheeted beds had been pre-made by recruits from the previous intake. That made us New Grubs; the 72nd were Shits and the 71st were Top Shits. New Grub to Shit to Top Shit was the reverse-hierarchy of bastardisation at HMAS Leeuwin.

The divisions had a television room on the ground floor, showers and toilets blocks on every floor and rooms with three beds and no bloody doors. So you were pretty much at the mercy of any group of more senior junior recruits while in training.

In New Entry Division we spent three months of relative protection. Above us, on that hill, was Ramsay Division and across the roadway was Stevenson Division. The other divisions had long closed as the JRTE (Junior Recruit Training Establishment) had slowly scaled back over the years. After three months as New Grubs, we became Shits and were split into those other two divisions to share rooms with the new Top Shits of the 72nd.

There were a lot of things I didn’t like about HMAS Leeuwin. There were some things I really enjoyed. And it was great being a part of something bigger – the JRTE and the Navy experience. There are some people from back then who will always be welcome in my life; there are some people from back then that make me never want to attend a reunion to have a beer at the same bar. My memories of HMAS Leeuwin could be described as complex. However, while I had my enemies in the 71st and particularly the 72nd intakes, my woes were few compared to the bastardisation meted to some of my peers.

We graduated, fifty-seven strong, on 9 June, 1981. Dispersed for category training and then into the Fleet.

While in Fremantle for an art symposium in 2005 my partner and I visited the old HMAS Leeuwin for a nostalgic look. It was renamed as Leeuwin Barracks. It was army. They were completely open. I walked into the canteen and there were piles of cartons of whiskey. Nothing could have said it better – time sinks more ships than cannon or missile.

Thirty-three years. My original Tingira badge is still in my mother’s photo album.

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Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark and I live in the Derwent Valley in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a mazer & a yeast farmer (making beer, fruit wine and mead as by-products of continuous improvement in my farming practices). I'm a photographer, although my film cameras are currently silent. I do not tolerate idiots. I do not tolerate bigotry. I do not tolerate excuses. Let's be clear, if you sit with my enemies you my are my enemy for life.

Blogger. Thinker. Brewer. Drinker. Life partner to the amazing and incredible Megan.

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