Updated: Mar 16
As I have received the BNTVA magazine on a regular basis I have toyed with the idea of putting my thoughts down on paper of my time at MARALINGA South Australia between 1964 and 1965.
These are my own thoughts and do not reflect anybody else.
I first came across ‘MARSU’ when serving onboard HMS MAIDSTONE berthed at Faslane Scotland carrying the flag of SM3 squadron as a Royal Naval radio operator. Every so often I would read the Defence Communication Instructions (DCI) to keep up to date on communication issues, one section gave areas around the world and ship borne that wanted staff. As I was due a Foreign posting (‘Draft’ to the Royal Navy) I came across one for ‘MARSU’ Maralinga South Australia. As I had then never ventured beyond UK waters (Iceland included on fishery protection duties) it took my fancy straight away. I applied through my Divisional Officer on a Naval request form and was duly accepted.
Within three weeks I was on my way to the otherside of the world, at just short of 22 years old it was a big adventure for me at that age. From London (I think by Britannia Airways) to Singapore, forgot where we stopped enroute.
At Singapore I was met and put up in HMS TERROR Naval base for a few days. From there I caught a flight to Darwin Northern Territory and was met by Royal Australian Naval personnel (RAN) who looked after me until the next leg of my journey by air to Sydney New South Wales.
Arriving in Sydney again I was met by RAN personnel who escorted me to the Naval Barracks to be billeted there for one night, collecting extra uniform for use at MARSU (kept the Aussie hat for ages until my brother got his hands on it on my return to Blighty)
The next leg of my journey was by train to Adelaide, being met again by RAN personnel who escorted me to the airport catching a flight operated by ‘ANSETT ANA’ on a DC3 aircraft to Maralinga.
Upon arrival at Maralinga I was met by the other RN Communicators who filled me in on the base. The tour of the base took a couple of days covering the NAAFI shop, Airport and playing fields/football pitch. I was informed why I arrived there in a hurry (another story) After a couple days settling in I was put to work in the communications complex if you could call it that, a teleprinter link with Woomera hours of work 9 to 5 day on day off Monday to Friday only.
During my time at Maralinga I met socialized with quite a few people from UK, Australia and New Zealand along with UK/RAF/ARMY and RAAF personnel (One Army sapper I came across out in Aden Yemen in later years, a good reunion was had. If I remember rightly the RAF used to cook the food and Fridays was always a good day because of the fresh Crayfish on the menu a rush at dinner then.
Accommodation was adequate and I was allocated a ‘DONGA’ to myself and found that entertainment was a bar (bring on the ‘pitchers’ of beer), the snooker table and cinema. I eventually ventured to the NAAFI shop and using the old OZ pound shillings and pence purchased a few items during my time there. A few pets were around the Dongas, a couple of dogs and I had a cockatiel/parakeet for a while.
Being servicemen standards had to be kept up namely ‘DIVISIONS’ RN version of the parade where we had to wear our No 1 uniforms.
One of the most distinguished serviceman I had ever met was Warrant Officer BERESFORD who’s job was to be in charge of the Transort section during my time there.
He taught me a lot about Australian bush and Aboriginal people by taking me along with him on his visits to their settlements with old clothes, shoes and for some reason old newspapers. On my first trip out with him before we got to the settlement he told me to stand by the rear of the station wagon Land Rover to stop them going in.
On that first trip I didn’t understand why UNTIL turning my back for a split second the rear door was flung open and in they dived clearing nearly everything in a flash, it didn’t go down well with Mr Beresford, a lesson was learnt on that trip. I came away with lots of items that would not be allowed to leave the country today now lost over the years.
On occasion ideas were thought up to pass the boredom, one idea was for the RN boys to take out FOUR short wheeled Land Rovers for a jolly in to the bush. Mr Beresford laid the law down to us regarding the vehicles as he had lost a long wheeled vehicle driven by RN personnel and was a right off.
Away we went into the bush ending up on a salt plain. It was decided we would have a race across the plain, we headed of and got speed up until my vehicle hit the rocks and had BANG BANG BANG, three of my tyres were punctured. The only way to get my vehicle back was to utilise the other vehicles spare wheels. Mr Beresford was not impressed the RN was in the dog house for a while.
As I mentioned my job was to man the teleprinter link with the civilian workers at Woomera a good repore was had with them.
On my days off fed up of running around the football pitch and swimming/diving for coins in the water tanks I decided after learning of what had gone on there to participate in the clean up.
This clean up for me was to be kitted out in a white full length suit with gas mask which I changed into in a designated building from my own daily clothes. My first trip I was allocated a Foden lorry with a tractor and plough on the back and told to travel on the ‘dirty track’ to the dedicated area that needed attention.
Driving the lorry was an adventure in itself for me, this was the biggest vehicle I had ever driven. I had to stand on the accelerator once in gear with my left foot and hang out of the drivers window as I was too short to sit down, I managed to get to the area in one piece. At the area I had to unload with the help of another person, hitch the plough to the back of the tractor and away I went felt like a young farmer ploughing his field. It was hard going in the jump suit and gas mask in the OZ heat.
At the end of my allotted time I was ferried back on the dirty track to the cleansing building to shower change and check giger counter readings, thankfully these were really low. I did quite a few trips up the dirty track and ploughed until one day I was instructed to take the lorry, tractor and plough to an area that had a hole the size of a football pitch this contained Land Rovers, Hillman Huskeys, engines still in their grease proof brown wrapping along with other items and leave them there. I presumed they may have been buried in the hole.
During my time at Maralinga I had the chance to go on a ‘SWAN’ to Alice Springs Northern Territory. This was the most enjoyable and memorable time of my service life. We travelled overland in the bush from Maralinga to Alice Springs with the convoy consisting of 1 Bedford lorry (all the stores etc.) 2 soft top long wheeled base Land Rovers and 1 station wagon at which I took turns with the other occupants in driving on the corrugated tracks, the journey north took us through settlements and farms in the middle of nowhere, only stipulation was that the last vehicle had to close the gates behind us because of straying animals.
We spent five glorious days at Alice at a camping ground more of a quarry than a camping ground with all the large rocks strewn around we pitched our tents where we could.
One of my RN colleagues and I took a Land Rover out and about to explore the area visiting the MOUND over looking Alice Springs spread out inside the horseshoe range of mountains, photographs I still have to this day. In ‘Alice’ there was an open air cinema and one of the young people that frequented the camp site to see us was the daughter of the cinema so we got in free, still remember that young blonde lady.
At the end of the five days we decamped and headed back through the bush to Maralinga. That trip has remained one of my most memorable memories which has stayed with me all these years, have even been back to Alice Springs in later life but as you know it is never the same as things change.
The other enjoyable part for me when at Maralinga was being allowed to go to Adelaide on either a three or five day R n R weekend by air paying only for hotel accommodation. The majority of servicemen stayed at one hotel (name escapes me) making it a base whilst enjoying all that Adelaide had to offer.
My wonderful year came to an end in 1965 heading back to ‘Blighty’ for leave before my next ‘draft’ ship. On leaving Maralinga I was presented with a tankard which I still have from friends of Maralinga RN Element and support units (even though over the months I paid for it). It is still something I treasure to this day hoping one day to pass onto one of my Grand children with the whole story of what happened there and elsewhere.
I often wonder what it is like now……………
As previously mentioned these are my own thoughts and happenings during my time at Maralinga and I feel for personnel and families of the tests of what happened during those sad times.
Alan S. Fawcett
Ex Royal Naval Operator