A little departure from the norm tonight. First up we have a classic thank you message. I absolutely loved reading it and quite frankly, I reckon this guy should write a book. I would love to read it. What a great Aussie life! With his blessing (and after having had it cleared) I am sharing his letter in its entirety for your enjoyment!
I would first like to say thank you very, very much for taking the time and effort to make me a laundry bag. To be honest, I think it is far too nice to use for dirty washing. I have no idea what I’m going to use mine for but it won’t be for that. Maybe I’ll hang it up when I get home. I was surprised when they told us that we could fill in a form and someone at home would custom make us something! I had never heard of anything like that before. I think it is an excellent idea!
I was born in Alice Springs, but my parents moved to Katherine in ‘82, which is where I stayed until I joined the RAAF in 2000. I had a fantastic child hood; learning to drive a little car that looked like World War II army jeep but smaller, and being trusted to take it out bush exploring with just my mate when I was 9. Having a cat who would try and fight the little donkeys as they wandered too close to the house. Getting lost numerous times, and not being allowed inside to eat my cold dinner until after I had hosed myself down out back, hours after it had gotten dark. Not having much of anything until after I had a job and could buy things. I grew up on a river with crocodiles and barramundi in it. Learning to swim, fish, canoe, drive a boat and how not to get eaten pretty much all at once. Apart from Darwin, I hadn’t seen a city until I was 15, when my mate’s parents shouted me a trip to Surfer’s Paradise for helping them move their motor mechanic business form one side of town to the other. That was my first time on an aircraft and the first trip I had taken outside of the Territory.
I joined the RAAF pretty much on a whim. Mum suggested I have a look into it and the next thing I knew I was in Adelaide, out of the Territory for the second time, at rookies, freezing, and wondering why the sun was still in the sky at nine o’clock at night! I remember my first weekend off base. We were driving past a field full of sheep and I got excited! Sheep don’t do too well in the tropics, and I had never seen that many before, that I could recall. Everyone in the car had a good laugh at the boy-from-the-bush excitedly pointing at sheep!
From Adelaide I moved to Wagga Wagga for my aircraft technician trade training, which lasted a year. It wasn’t really the first time I had lived away from home because I never spent much time there anyway. I could be staying at a mate’s station for months on end, or in the caravan in the front yard. It was however the first time I had lived in a fancy house with a garage, but I only had a motorbike so I didn’t really have much use for it. Wagga was another lot of firsts for me. The first time I’d seen thick fog. The first time I’d seen hail. The first time I had to driven in a big city! I joined the local canoe club and went for a paddle with them. In Katherine, I would just drink the river water when I got thirsty. The local paddlers in Wagga were aghast when I took a sip out of the Murrumbidgee! I didn’t know what all the fuss was about! It tasted fine to me!
After Wagga, I moved to Ipswich, near Brisbane to work on Caribou aircraft as a Black Hander. Those old aircraft were so much fun! They were World War II technology, from a Korea War vintage, purchased in the Vietnam War era, and were still flying for nearly ten years after I got there! They could take off and land from a very short, semi-prepared airstrip and carry loads higher than a helicopter. Because of that, they were perfect for the mountainous conditions of Papa New Guinea. Some of the flying we did over there was incredible. Landing on ridges that were no more than four wheel drive tracks in the Owen Stanley Range or flying through valleys, dodging clouds trying to find a way out was quite exciting! I missed out on East Timor, but I was lucky enough to get deployed to the Solomon Islands with the Caribous in 2004. I was very fortunate to be working with a great bunch of people, doing something that we loved and having so much fun doing it. Another aspect I loved about the Caribou was that it had no auto pilot. When the pilots got tired and wanted a break, one of them would climb down from the flight deck, see who in the back was awake and chuck them up front to steer while they revived themselves in the back. I can’t sleep on an aircraft anyway, so more often than not I would find myself up front flying to wherever it was we were going! Flying over the Solomon Islands would have to be some of the prettiest flying in the world. The greens of the jungle, the blues of the sea and corrals and the whites of the beaches were picture perfect. Very similar to flying over the Whitsundays, but better! And a lot of World War II relics to find and explore. It really was paradise.
I’ve now lived and worked in the RAAF in Ipswich, Tindal (just outside of Katherine), Townsville and Richmond, near Sydney. My fiancé (who I will be marrying when I return to Australia) and I also took a year off and lived and worked in London. She is a primary school teacher so I thought I would work in a school for a change as well. I worked as a teacher’s assistant in a year three class in South West London (Wandsworth) and Nat taught a year six class somewhere in East London. I mainly worked one-on-one with an autistic boy, but I helped everyone else I could as well – not only in my class, but I ended up doing a lot in the school from talking about basic electronics to fixing a boy’s motorised wheel chair, to dealing with problem children, putting up displays, fixing the plumbing etc. It was a massive eye-opener for me. I had never worked with children before but I learnt so much doing it – about kids and myself. But never again! Give me a plane to fix any day! One of the girls in my class brought me a present for the end of the year (they all did actually!) and she told me it was an Australian Bear. I thought to myself “But we don’t have bears in Australia, I wonder if she means a koala. Don’t these Poms know not to call them bears? That’s what makes them angry and drop on you from out of the gum trees!” She said I couldn’t have it until after class, so I thanked her, told her she didn’t have to get me a present, and forgot about it. After school her mother came over to me and gave me a six-pack of Fosters! Oh! Australian BEER! Now that was a thoughtful present! They really were good kids!
I’m now currently deployed to the Middle Ease working on C130J-30 Hercules aircraft. We are based at an air base called Al Minhad which isn’t too far from Dubai. I thought it used to get hot in the Territory, but over here it’s ridiculous! It was quite pleasant when we got here in May. The weather was very similar to what I’d left in Sydney. And it even rained several times too! Now however, every day is around 50 deg C and it’s still getting hotter. And it’s very, very humid, which I still find weird. All around us is sand. There are little saltbush type plants here and there, and grasses, but mostly just sand. But at night, when the sea breeze is blowing and the temperature is still in the mid to high 40s, the humidity kicks in to the point of fog developing! The condensation rains off the buildings – it’s incredible! It is certainly not what I was expecting. We are very lucky to have air conditioned buildings over here including a hangar big enough to fit a Herc into.
We are supporting both the Australian and ISAF missions. We fly into Afghanistan often moving people and cargo around the Middle East to where it needs to go. As a maintainer, we are always flying with the aircraft in case it breaks and needs fixing. There are so many different countries involved. The other day I was in a French restaurant eating a hamburger with my rifle and cams on a military base in a Southern province in Afghanistan! Very surreal! The bases are like little towns with KFCs, post offices, banks, heaps of shops and lots of people on them. The bag you made for me has been on a couple of missions now to different places around the Middle East and Afghanistan, with some photos I’ve taken of it attached to this email.
The time and effort you have put into the bag for someone you’ve never met humbles me. It’s laying on the bed beside me as I type this. Instead of just saying thank you, I thought I would tell you about the person the bag has ended up with. Again, thank you very much.
Hanging out of the window of a C130J-30 Hercules
Parked on the ramp at Kabul, Afghanistan
No prizes for guessing where this one was taken!
The following three photos were shared on Facebook earlier but I am repeating them here for all the non-facebookers.
I had a slight interruption to my sewing day on Sunday but it was well worth it. I had to cook a special dinner for my family and two recipients. They were just in town for a few days for a course and it was a great chance to catch up. The fellow on the left arranged quilts and laundry bags for the entire team that he deployed with last year, which included the fellow on the right. He has been had been in contact with me for some months before that as well. As you can imagine, I always enjoy meeting our recipients, but it is extra nice when it is someone you have become friends with over time but have not yet met. Thanks for coming guys. It was just great to meet you both. You are welcome any time.
The week before they can down to Sydney these fellows were lucky enough to be in the flight pictured below. My friend in the shorts received a quilt with multiple Chinook Helicopters on it. As I once was an Air Traffic Controller I told him it was an ATC’s nightmare. This was his work day in Townsville on the 20th of June. Six CH47’s (first time all chinooks up at one time EVER). He said it was a good day for flying. Slight understatement that one.
I am still in contact with a recipient from the Navy who received his quilt whilst he was on HMAS Melbourne for Op Slipper. He sent me this picture with the following comment.
LOL the things you see popping around the fleet. In one of the accommodation blocks at Cerberus. I wonder where this came from! LOL
As usual here is the list of those who have posted off quilts and laundry bags this week. If you think you should be on the list and are not please email me to let me know.
That is all from me. Caroline is going to do the post for me tomorrow night as I will be in transit to Townsville all day and then chatting with quilters etc (recipients very welcome too) on top of Castle Hill tomorrow night.
Till next time…………….keep spreading the word and happy stitching! JMxx