DRINKERS OF THE NORTH By Percy Angilley, 8/9 RAR
In 1986 I was chosen as the Infantry Signals Corporal to the Raven Trails Team to test the new Plessey Radio Communication System. Gerry Bruegum was the detachment sergeant and we had two great diggers from 6 RAR Signal Platoon.
On our first trial we were out at Charleville Showgrounds before heading out on our little driving expeditions. The SASR detachment had already headed off the day before and we had organised scheds with them privately to test the equipment. The next afternoon we were talking to them from rod to rod at the lowest power setting. They were just over 400 kms away and one of the British staff walked by and heard us talking. When he asked who we were talking to and looked at the radio settings, he and all the other staff didn’t believe us, until the pub patron asked them to call him to prove that the SASR were where they said they were. The Brits creamed their pants over this as it was impossible to get such distances in Europe due to much variability.
By the way, before we even started the trial phases, the Brits boasted about the temperature variances that the equipment could handle and still operate, so we took it upon ourselves to both freeze the radios and batteries and also cook them as well to see if they were right – they did work amazingly.
On the hot trials the main base was in Mt Isa and one of our detachments scheds was at Quamby – a railway sliding which was a pub, a six pack from Cloncurry. The first night a Torres Strait Island railway gang turned up for a drink and later that night a sergeant and senior constable from Cloncurry Police station turned up for a drink with us, as they’d heard that we were around. About 10 pm they kicked the TIs out, locked the doors with us still inside and then we kept drinking through until about four or five in the morning, when they decided that they had to go home and knock off. It was quite funny as both were trying to convince each other that they were more sober than the other to drive home – both of them were nearly legless. The next day we decided to travel up to the Three Ways for a look – this trip was measured at 18 stubbies by the locals and I can tell you that it’s accurate as I was driving and drinking.
In the hot wet trials the main base was above Tully and our first stop was at Gordonvale just below Cairns when Cyclone Winifred touched down. Being smart diggers, we decided to set up camp in the pub in the middle of the town. When we turned up, the publican apologised for being unable to serve drinks as there was no power. We soon sorted that out with our portable generator. We also supplied up-to-date weather radio information and even kept our scheds at the same time. It was awesome to watch the town’s sawmill roof being peeled off one sheet at a time and yet stand on the main street footpath drinking a beer with next to no wind or rain around us. We ended up with having most of the town partying with us that night.
If only one solution can be found for a field problem, then it is usually a stupid solution.