Recent planning for the redevelopment of the ex HMAS Leeuwinsite has aroused considerable interest amongst the naval community and we are pleased to have some further thoughts from Roy Stall, who was from the first intake of Junior Recruits in July 1960. Roy continues to reside in the West.
By Roy Stall
The stone frigate HMAS Leeuwin, like a number of other institutions, has been in the news in recent years,and not for the best reasons.The Gillard Government’s Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sexual assault covered schools, educational establishments and ‘care institutions ’but in November 2012 we also saw the establishment of theDefence Abuse Response Taskforce. Cases of abuse at places like ADFA led to others coming forward with their stories of alleged abuse that took place decades earlier.
But let me go back a few decades, to when Leeuwin was initially established as a naval depot. NHS members will be aware of the contribution by Vic Jeffrey in the September 1990 edition of the Naval Historical Review and his article, HMAS Leeuwin- a short history.This provides a concise account of the early days of the presence of the Royal Australian Navy, including the war years when a torpedo maintenance depot was built on the north-east corner of the base.
After the War, the base was used for training of Naval Reserve personnel as well as national servicemen, until the decision of the Naval Board to introduce a ‘Junior Recruit’ training scheme. The plan was to attract boys aged 15½ to 16½ to undertake twelvemonths of academic and naval training before they headed to other shore establishments in the eastern States.
Having visited the National Archives office in Perth and read many of the files relating to the acquisition of land, the planning of building construction,and also the infrastructure required leading up to the commencement of the Junior Recruit Training Establishment, or JRTEas it became known, the government cut it very fine,with facilities being planned and provided only months before the scheduled July 1960 commencement of JR training.
I was one of those in the first in take so let me provide a little personal background to the main theme of this contribution,viz. the abuse which took place within theJ RTE. Prior to joining the RAN I had been a boarder at a Marist Brothers college in New Norcia for a year as a thirteen year old, following which I had attended a day school for two years in Highgate,WA, run by the Christian Brothers. I recall the extremely strict discipline and harsh punishment of both institutions, and where corporal punishment was a regular practice.When I think back on my year atNew Norcia I can say I was honestly totally unaware of any sexual abuse that was taking place at that time. (But it certainly was taking place as we have subsequently learned.) And revelations from the recent Royal Commission show there had been Marist Brothers and Christian Brothers, as well as some of the monks from the Benedictine Community of New Norcia involved in many cases of sexual abuse from the 1950s through to the late 1980s,when all secondary education at New Norcia ceased due to the declining demand.TheNew Norcia Catholic College closed its doors in December 1991 and there has been no school operating in the town since then.
Indeed, a student who had been at New Norcia at the same time I was there in the late 1950s contacted me some years ago regarding his treatment, and we subsequently met and discussed his traumatising experience. And later, to provide moral support, I accompanied him to the Perth hearings of that Royal Commission when he gave evidence of his abuse.(Ihad been compiling ‘stories from past students’ at the boys’ college which I subsequently published on a CD.)
Another relevant factor that influenced me personally at Leeuwin was the fact that I had two years service as an Air Training Corps cadet whilst at high school, immediately prior to joining theRAN. As such I was somewhat used to parade ground discipline, which certainly made it easier for me to accept the treatment dished out by navy Chief Gunnery Instructors and others when learning how to march, handle a four kilogram .303 Lee Enfield rifle, do the ‘beat the retreat’ routine,as well as be part of a firing party at a naval funeral.
During theyears 1960 and 1961 when I was a Junior Recruit,I have to state categorically that I was unaware of any sexual abuse that took place, either by JRs them selves or by any senior instructional staff. This, ofcourse, does not mean that none took place. There were among the JRs quite a few who found the transition from civvy street to the RAN as being pretty rough, especially when being bawled out by a red-faced CPO, PO or kellick with bulging eyeballs as he screamed abuse at some poor sod who did the wrong thing during parade ground training. And as with most males living in close quarters there were some who felt the need to assert themselves with some sort of ‘pecking order’. This occasionally led to fights which took place between the dongas,with little or no staff intervention. (Perhaps they adopted a ‘boys will be boys’ attitude but as I recall there were no serious incidents or injuries.)
Hazing was a different matter. With the second intake of JRs in January 1961 marched through the gates they found themselves with the rank of JR2,the first intake were the ever so slightly senior JR1. Both were, of course, pretty close to the ‘lowest form of marine life’- as we were frequently reminded. ‘Initiation’ceremonies were alleged to have taken place but I have absolutely zero recollection of any such events in the twelve months I was at Leeuwin. However, I was aware of cases of ‘nuggeting’, where an individual was singled out for the degrading treatment o having black shoe polish applied to his genitalia- indeed, this happened occasionally at camps or ‘bivouacs’ that the Air Training Corps provided.
At the JRTE we had to call ALL other uniformed navy personnel ‘Sir’, including those of Able Seaman rank. Of course there were some ABs who were unable to adjust to this elevation to being called ‘Sir’ and had delusions of grandeur, and exercised their authority ruthlessly.
I don’t want to blur the boundaries between Hollywood and the real world but some readers will have seen StanleyKubrick’s film, Fullmetal jacket. In the opening sequence a marine drill sergeantis berating a new intake of recruits with colourful, demeaning, racist, and obscene language.Take away the racist slurs and you could see one of the POs or CPOs at Leeuwin as he tore strips off Junior Recruits as they attempted to march in step,i n line, or in accord with the shouted instructions.And yes, instructors would stand inches in front of you and deliver a foam flecked tirade of personal abuse. This was standard – it was NOT out of the ordinary.
Kubrick’s drill sergeant,when seeking a sole dissenter who spoke out of turn also threatens to ‘PT’ his recruits ‘until (they)****ing die’. PT or physical training as a form of punishment? Yes, this was often applied at Leeuwin in the Drill Hall next to the parade ground – with unbridled enthusiasmby some PTIs to JRs if theyw ere seen to misbehave or had fallen behind in the desired state of obedience. The wall bars fixed to the walls of the Drill Hall were where you had to hang suspended from your arms, as you attempted to obey the instruction to extend your legs horizontally in front of you. And thick opes hanging from the ceiling had to be scaled, using your feet to grip the rope as you ascended. Then when you were at a suitable height you were ordered to take your feet away and take your body weight in your hands.
MUPs or ‘men under punishment’was another form of what these days would be regarded as flagrant abuse. MUPs had to get up early,undertake extra duties, do at least another hour of parade ground drill after one’s normal day duties, and also retire later at night. The parade ground ‘drill’could include being frog-marched with your .303rifle held high above your head.You could also be ordered to‘double’around the parade ground with your rifle either held above your head or on your shoulder, bumping painfully against your collarbone. This was a daily occurrence for defaulters. Woe betide you if you let your rifle dip or sag as you shuffled around the gravel parade ground. (In1960/1961 the parade ground,or ‘bull ring’was gravel and not bitumen, as itwas in later years.This gravel dust didn’t exactly make it easy to keep your rig in a neat or clean state, either.
Kit inspections, both scheduled or ‘spontaneous demands’ for inspections were another opportunity for abuse, though not always taken up. Like kit inspections in all services, each item had to be neatly ironed, laid out, and in a very particular manner.And now and then,if something was displayed in the wrong way, the entire kit could be upset onto ‘the deck’ (aka thefloor) and the JR ordered to repeat the exercise and fold, arrange, and display his kit in the correct manner.
In many ways, the Junior Recruits of the first intake were guinea pigs. The officers, senior sailors, and other ship’s company were very much feeling their way with the new scheme and so mistakes were bound to be made. Even those in Navy Office,who in initiating this new scheme were taking something of a gamble with the investment of manpower and resources.
So did it work and was it all worthwhile? In my personal view, Yes, it was a winner.Over the years that followed about 13,000 boys were trained via theJunior Recruit scheme. An excellent account history has been written by Brian Adams, as one of the ‘Papers in Australian Maritime Affairs (No. 29)’, with the subtitle‘ HMAS LEEUWIN – the Story of the RAN’s Junior Recruits’. Brian Adams, who was in the22nd intake of JRs went on to become a RearAdmiral – sure proof of the value of the scheme.