Ever heard of the Kamchatka Leaf Warbler?

Ever heard of the Kamchatka Leaf Warbler? Neither had I, until a couple of years ago when I read online an ABC Great Southern story about how this tiny Russian bird had been sighted in Broome, Western Australia. This was news because it was the first sighting of this leaf warbler ever made in Australia, and birdwatchers were very excited. Apparently these pretty little birds normally holiday in Indonesia to escape the Russian winter. Sounds like a smart move, except this ‘outflier’ was apparently blown off course and ended up in north-west Australia. It’s lucky it wasn’t declared an illegal immigrant and sent off to labour camp!

I used that news report as the basis for a short story, ‘A tough little bird’, which has made the shortlist for the Margaret River Short Story competition and will be published in the 2019 anthology by Margaret River Press, Western Australia. Author and poet Michelle Cahill, who chose the winners, is also editing the anthology.

My story is actually about two tough little birds – the Kamchatka Leaf Warbler and a fictional woman in a Perth hospital who’s clinging on to life. I worked and re-worked this story, and changed its title a couple of times, but finally came back to the question I have taped above my desk: ‘What are you trying to say?’ Margaret River Press is a quality publisher, and this volume will be well worth looking out for.

Educating an army in peace and war

Most people know as much about the Royal Australian Army Educational Corps (RAAEC) as they do about the Kamchatka Leaf Warbler. Yet Education in the Australian Army has a strong history – one that starts in the killing fields of Europe 100 years ago, then after a twenty-year break, turns up in the jungles of the south-west Pacific in World War II, spends a little time in Japan and Korea, detours into Vietnam and Papua New Guinea, then comes back to Australia in the final decades of the last century, and continues with a significant and active contribution to the needs of the Australian Army in the current century, including in overseas deployments.

French class, 1st AIF troops, Europe 1919

I know a little bit about that history because two of my published non-fiction books, A sweet use of adversity and The Chalkies, are about the history of the Corps, and I’m currently researching the Corps’ role during the Vietnam War 1965-72. I was also an RAAEC member as a National Serviceman for two years. It was because of that interest that the Head of Corps, Colonel Fiona Curtis, invited me to give a talk about the history at the annual conference of the Corps, held at Simpson Barracks, Melbourne in early February, 2019.

I called my presentation, ‘An Adaptive Corps for an Adaptive Army’, because the Corps has continually had to justify its presence in a military organisation, and therefore needs to be adaptive. I pointed out that Army Education began life in WWI as the AIF Education Service – and has always provided a service to Army, but it has come to be recognised as a Corps of professionals. I talked more than I intended to, but the audience was generous and interested, and it was good to chat with Corps members afterwards and at the formal dinner that evening.

Photo: The author with former Head of Corps Col. Katrina Schildberger & current Head of Corps, Col. Fiona Lewis, at the RAAEC dinner.

Until next time

Darryl R Dymock

What writers say: 

The ambivalence of labels and the intersections of race, class and gender for Australian women require that these conversations become more flexible and nuanced as we negotiate the next phases of multiculturalism.  ~ Michelle Cahill

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Chalkies book launched

A sizeable and enthusiastic crowd gathered at Avid Reader Bookshop, Brisbane, on 8 October, 2016 to hear Colonel Katrina Schildberger launch my book, The Chalkies: Educating an army for independence.

It’s amazing how many will turn up when free wine and nibbles are on offer 🙂 Everyone I’ve spoken to said they had a good time, and lots of books were sold.

Colonel Schildberger is Head of the Royal Australian Army Educational Corps, and travelled from Sydney for the occasion. She gave a great speech to launch the book.

The Chalkies tells the little-known story of some 300 teachers who were conscripted into the Australian Army between 1996 and 1972 and quietly sent to the then Territory of Papua New Guinea while Australian troops were fighting in Vietnam. It is published by Australian Scholarly Press, Melbourne.

The conscripted teachers, colloquially known as ‘Chalkies’, were posted to the Royal Australian Army Educational Corps, and their task was to upgrade the educational levels of indigenous troops of the Pacific Islands Regiment in what turned out to be critical years leading up to the country’s independence. For many it was their first year of teaching and their first time out of Australia.

The Director of Army Education at the time, Brigadier Ernest Gould, described the initiative as ‘an educational scheme which for magnitude, scope, intensity and enlightenment is without parallel in military history’.

Yet most Australians have never heard about it.

With the aid of an Army History Research Grant, I drew on the recollections of more than 70 former Chalkies and archival sources to tell the story of how these conscripted teachers (one of whom was me) responded to the challenges of a life most of them never wanted or imagined for themselves. A small go group of ex-Chalkies gave me feedback on my research to help keep me on track.

It was very appropriate that Colonel Schildberger launched the book, because not only is 1966 the 50th anniversary of the scheme’s beginnings in PNG, it is also the 75th anniversary of the establishment of Army Education in World War II.

The jacket blurb says The Chalkies is ‘a unique tale of the good, the bad and the unexpected, told against the background of military and political developments of the day’.

A former Australian Governor-General, Major General the Honourable Michael Jeffery, who served two terms in PNG, wrote the foreword.

If you’re interested in reading The Chalkies, in Australia you can order a copy through your local bookstore, or direct from Avid Reader Bookshop in Brisbane. Alternatively, you could ask your local library to buy a copy. The ISBN is 978-1-925333-77-0.

Till next time

Darryl Dymock

 

What writers say

By the time you have perfected any style of writing, you have always outgrown it.                                                                                                                 ~George Orwell

 

 

 

New book: The Chalkies

To misquote a well-known saying, the road to publication is paved with good intentions.

I certainly had good intentions about maintaining this blog more regularly this year.

My excuse is that I have been too busy doing other things, including quite a lot of writing.

And I am delighted to tell you that one of those writing efforts has been rewarded with publication:

My non-fiction book, The Chalkies: Educating an army for independence, will be published by Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, on 1st September, 2016.

Chalkies front cover

Here’s the back cover blurb:

‘Two years isn’t a long time in your life, but at age 20 it can be significant.

Between 1966 and 1973, while Australian troops were fighting in Vietnam, some 300 conscripted teachers were quietly posted to Papua New Guinea. Colloquially known as ‘Chalkies’, their task was to raise the educational level of troops of the Pacific Islands Regiment in what turned out to be critical years leading up to the country’s independence.

Drawing on the recollections of more than 70 of those National Servicemen, Dr Darryl Dymock, a former Chalkie, tells the story of how these young teachers responded to the challenges of a life most of them never wanted or imagined for themselves, in an exotic land on Australia’s doorstep. It’s a unique tale of the good, the bad and the unexpected, told with flair and insight against the background of political developments of the day.’

Papua New Guinea flag

Papua New Guinea flag

Major-General Michael Jeffery, a former Australian Governor-General, and an Army officer in PNG twice during the Chalkies’ time there, has kindly contributed a foreword.

The book can be ordered from Avid Bookshop, Brisbane at a special pre-publication price.

The Chalkies: Educating an army for independence

Darryl R Dymock

ISBN: 978-1-925333-77-0

Australian Scholarly Publishing

Format: Paperback

Publication date: 1st September 2016

 

Pre-publication offer: $35 if ordered from Avid Reader Bookshop, Brisbane, by 31st August 2016 (RRP: $39.95)

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Go to:

http://avidreader.com.au/products/chalkies-educating-an-army-for-independence

Avid Bookshop, 193 Boundary St, West End Qld 4101

avidreader.com.au

or call (07) 3846 3422

books@avidreader.com.au