July 2010 LEEUWIN Memorial
COMMODORE Jim Dickson’s address to J.R.T.E. reunion at Burswood Casino Perth 13 JULY 2010



I AM DELIGHTED TO BE HERE WITH YOU AND I KNOW THAT ALAN FERRIS, THE ONLY OTHER MEMBER OF THE 1960 JRTE STAFF PRESENT, FEELS LIKEWISE. AND 1 THANK YOU FOR GIVING ME THE OPPORTUNITY TO SPEAK TO YOU TONIGHT.

I'VE BEEN LOOKING FORWARD TO THESE FEW DAYS FROM THE MOMENT I HEARD THERE WAS GOING TO BE A CELEBRATION OF THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE OPENING. I FELT IT WOULD BE FUN TO SEE WHAT THE RAVAGES OF TIME AND NATURE HAVE DONE TO THOSE WIDE-EYED, ANGEL-FACED, EAGER BABY BOOMERS I MET AT THE GATES OF HMAS LEEUWIN 50 YEARS AGO THIS MONTH -AND TO SEE HOW THEY ARE FARING NOW AS THEY MARCH INEXORABLY TOWARDS THE RANKS OF SENILE DELINQUENCY WHICH SOME OF US HAVE ALREADY REACHED. I WASN'T AWARE OF THE FACT UNTIL THIS REUNION WAS ANNOUNCED, BUT IT TURNS OUT TO BE THE CASE THAT I AM THE SENIOR SURVIVOR OF THE BRILLIANT JRTE STAFF WHICH GREETED, WELCOMED AND WET-NURSED THAT FIRST INTAKE OF JR'S IN JULY 1960 AND WEANED THEM GENTLY AND KINDLY INTO THE NAVY. BUT LET ME FIRST TAKE YOU BACK TO THE LEAD-UP TO THAT CELEBRATED DAY. I'D BEEN IN THE SERVICE ALREADY FOR TEN YEARS BY THEN AND 1'D BECOME ACCLIMATISED TO THE USE OF ACRONYMS. BACK IN THE 50'S, BEFORE NAVY AND DEFENCE HEADQUARTERS MOVED FROM MELBOURNE TO MALFUNCTION JUNCTION IN CANBERRA WE TALKED ABOUT ACNB AND FOCAF AND CNO'S AND FND AND OD'S AND SO ON AND ONE QUICKLY GOT TO UNDERSTAND WHAT ALL THESE ABBREVIATIONS STOOD FOR. BUT IT WAS WHILE I WAS SERVING IN THE FAR EAST IN 1959 IN HMAS TOBRUK THAT I LEARNT I WAS TO BE POSTED TO JRTE IN EARLY 1960 AND JRTE WAS AN ACRONYM I'D NEVER HEARD OF. I ASKED A SENIOR OFFICER IN TOBRUK WHAT THE LETTERS STOOD FOR AND HE TOLD ME THAT JRTE WAS A NEW TRAINING SCHEME BEING INTRODUCED BASED ON THE CONCEPT OF 'JUNIORS RESPECTING THEIR ELDERS'. WELL I NEVER QUESTIONED WHAT MY SENIOR OFFICERS TOLD ME - NOT IN THOSE DAYS ANYWAY - SO I ACCEPTED THAT: IT SOUNDED AVERY SENSIBLE IDEA. TO MAKE SURE I WAS SUPER-FIT AND THEREFORE DESERVING OF EVEN MORE RESPECT THAN OTHERS I WENT AND DID THE SHORT PT OFFICERS COURSE AT FND BEFORE ARRIVING AT LEEUWIN BRIGHT-EYED, BUSHYTAILED AND RARIN' TO GO IN MARCH 1960. I WAS 24 YEARS YOUNG -TALL, DARK, UPRIGHT, PURE, VIRGINAL (AS FAR AS 1 CAN REMEMBER); I WAS A SEASONED SEA-FARER, HAD TWICE BEEN TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD, - AND WAS THEREFORE DESERVING OF ALL THE RESPECT IN THE WORLD FROM THESE ACNE-FACED YOUTHS I'D BEEN SENT OVER TO TRAIN. WE WERE A MAGNIFICENT TEAM AND WE'D CLEARLY ALL BEEN HAND-PICKED FOR THE TASK BEFORE US.

LET ME JUST REMIND YOU THAT AUSTRALIA IN 1960 WAS VERY DIFFERENT FROM AUSTRALIA IN 2010. TELEVISION HAD JUST ARRIVED (BLACK & WHITE ONLY OF COURSE); IT WAS THE DAWN OF THE COMPUTER AGE; MOBILE PHONES, VCR'S,CD'S, DVD'S, IPAD'S, IPOD'S, GPS ETC WERE THE STUFF OF SCIENCE FICTION. PLAY STATIONS WERE EITHER SPORTS OVALS OR BEDROOMS; GAY MEANT COLOURFUL; SWINGERS WERE CIRCUS ACROBATS; WEDDINGS WERE MOSTLY CELEBRATED IN A CHURCH AND SENSITIVE, FORWARD-LOOKING WIVES PROMISED TO LOVE AND OBEY; DEFACTOS WERE FROWNED ON; AFFIRMATIVE ACTION MEANT SAYING `YES'; DRUGS WERE SOMETHING YOU GOT AT A CHEMIST TO TRY TO HELP YOU SLEEP; AND WORST OF ALL, THE PILL HADN'T BEEN INVENTED, WHICH IS WHY YOUNG NAVAL OFFICERS LIKE ME WERE PURE AND UNBLEMISHED. IT WAS IN THIS BY-GONE AGE THAT, ON 11 JULY 1960, THE FIRST BATCH OF STARRY-EYED JUNIOR RECRUITS ARRIVED IN FREMANTLE TO BEGIN THEIR ILLUSTRIOUS (OR IN SOME CASES LESS-THAN-ILLUSTRIOUS) NAVAL CAREERS. THERE WERE 155 OF THEM AND AS THEY SHAMBLED THROUGH THE GATES OF LEEUWIN IT BECAME PATENTLY CLEAR TO ME THAT MY EXPECTATION OF GREETING A SMART, OBEDIENT, RESPECTFUL, EASY-TO-MOULD CROSS SECTION OF YOUTHS FROM ALL STATES IN THE COMMONWEALTH WAS NOTHING BUT A DREAM. MY DAY OF DISILLUSIONMENT HAD ARRIVED! THE ORIGINAL DIVISIONS WE PUT THEM INTO WERE CALLED WINIAN, MOKARE, NAKINA, KAIBER AND YAGAN -- ALL ABORIGINAL NAMES I'D FOUND WITH THE HELP OF A DELIGHTFUL BIRD I WAS DATING WHO WORKED IN THE STATE LIBRARY. THE FACT THAT THESE NAMES WERE ALL OF TRIBES WAS ENTIRELY APPROPRIATE FOR TRIBAL INTERACTION BECAME A FEATURE OF DORMITORY LIFE AT LEEUWIN AND BATTLES WERE FOUGHT WITHOUT ANY REGARD FOR THE CONVENTIONS OF NAVAL WARFARE OR THE MARQUIS OF QUEENSBURY RULES. BUT THOSE DIVISIONAL NAMES DIDN'T LAST:

WE WERE TOO FAR AHEAD OF OUR TIME. POLITICAL CORRECTNESS AND NAVAL TRADITION DICTATED THAT DIVISIONS BE CALLED AFTER FORMER SENIOR NAVAL OFFICERS AND THOSE INTERESTING INDIGENOUS NAMES WERE ALLTOO-SOON DISCARDED. I THOUGHT THAT A GREAT SHAME - PARTICULARLY AFTER ALL THE WORK MY LIBRARIAN GIRLFRIEND AND I HAD PUT INTO RESEARCHING THEM. THROUGHOUT 1960 AND 61 THE ESTABLISHMENT BUZZED WITH ADVENTURE AND EXCITEMENT AS WE, THE KINDLY, HELPFUL STAFF PAMPERED AND SPOON-FED THE LITTLE BLEEDERS AND MOLLY-CODDLED THEM INTO NAVAL WAYS. SOON THE WORD WENT OUT THAT THE SCHEME WAS A RESOUNDING SUCCESS AND IT BECAME GENERALLY ACCEPTED THAT THE ACRONYM JRTE NOW STOOD FOR `JUVENILES REVELLING IN TOTAL ENJOYMENT'. BUT GOOD THINGS DON'T LAST FOREVER AND WE, THE 'COMMISSIONING CREW' WENT ON OUR WAY AFTER A COUPLE OF YEARS, SATISFIED THAT WE'D ESTABLISHED THE SYSTEM ON A SOUND FOOTING DESPITE THE DETERMINED ATTEMPTS OF THE FIRST INTAKE TO DERAIL OUR EFFORTS. GENERATION WERE MOVING INTO THEIR 20'S AND THE WHEELS OF ORDERLY SOCIETY WERE BEGINNING TO FALL OFF. AROUND THE WORLD THERE WAS SOMETHING OF A REBELLION AGAINST LAW AND ORDER, REGIMENTATION AND DISCIPLINE.

THOUGH THE NAVY HAS NEVER BEEN, (AND SHOULD NEVER BE), A TEST-BED FOR SOCIAL CHANGE, IT MUST BE REACTIVE TO IT. DESPITE THE TENDER LOVING CARE BEING LAVISHED UPON THEM THE 1R'S AT LEEUWIN EMBRACED EVERY DAMAGING TREND THEY COULD FIND AND DID THEIR BEST TO DESTROY THE NAVY'S TIME HONOURED CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS. ULTIMATELY THIS LED TO THE PILLARS OF NAVAL JUSTICE, LAW AND ORDER COMING UNDER FIERCE ATTACK. THE LONG-STANDING NAVAL DISCIPLINE ACT WHICH MADE PROVISION FOR HANGING FROM THE YARDARM, KEELHAULING, OR SUCH- OTHER - PUNISHMENT-AS-ISHEREINAFTER-MENTIONED, WAS ABANDONED IN FAVOUR OF LAX, GENTLE, WRIST-SLAPPING LAWS WHICH THE NAVAL TRAINEES IN FREMANTLE FOUND MUCH MORE TO THEIR LIKING. WHAT THE TRAINEES FAILED TO APPRECIATE WAS THE FACT THAT IT WAS ONLY THE JUDICIOUS USE OF THOSE OLD POWERS BY THE WELL-MEANING STAFF WHICH HAD PROTECTED AND SAFEGUARDED THEM FROM THE RAVAGING HORDES OF NUBILE SANDGROPER GIRLS WHO LINED UP AT THE GATES OF LEEUWIN SINGING THEIR SIGNATURE TUNE' ALL THE NICE GIRLS LOVE A SAILOR' EVERY AFTERNOON. GIVEN FREEDOMS PREVIOUSLY UNIMAGINABLE JR'S RAN AMOK. IT TOOK MONUMENTAL EFFORTS FROM THE CARING STAFF TO MAINTAIN LAW AND ORDER AND PREVENT THE ACRONYM JRTE BECOMING BETTER KNOWN AS A PLACE HOUSING `JINGOISTIC RATBAGS TRAUMATISING EVERYONE'. BY THE 1970'S THE BABY-BOOMERS WORLD-WIDE, NOW APPROACHING THEIR 30'S, WERE CAUSING CHAOS AND CONSTERNATION EVERYWHERE. FREMANTLE WAS NO EXCEPTION. FREE LOVE, POT, SWINGING, LIVING TOGETHER WITHOUT BEING MARRIED, MEN WITH SHOULDER-LENGTH HAIR, GIRLS GOING BRA-LESS-THESE WERE JUST A FEW OF THE SIGNS OF THE DECADENCE OF THE TIMES WHICH SYMPTOMISED HOW CUSTOM AND CONVENTION WERE BEING CAST ASIDE AND THE ORDERLINESS OF SOCIETY DESTROYED. WE OF THE PREWAR GENERATION MAINTAINED A STIFF UPPER LIP OF COURSE AND CAST DISPPROVING EYES ON THE GOINGS-ON OF THE YOUNG. SOCIETY'S ACCEPTANCE OF RELAXATION OF THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT WITH MEMBERS OF THE OPPOSITE SEX WAS PERHAPS THE ELEMENT WHICH CAUSED US MOST CONCERN, (AND ENVY).FROM STORIES REACHING THE FLEET IN THE 70'S THE IMPRESSION WAS GAINED THAT INSTEAD OF `REVELLING IN TOTAL ENJOYMENT' AS THE CLASSES OF 60 AND 61 HAD DONE, JR'S OF THE 70'S WERE REALLY 'JACKS RELISHING TESTOSTERONE EXPERIMENTS'.

AS THE 80'S APPROACHED THINGS GOT WORSE. THOUGH GOUGH WHITLAM'S REIGN IN CANBERRA WAS TERMINATED IN 1975 IN ONLY SLIGHTLY LESS BRUTAL CIRCUMSTANCES THAN KEVIN RUDD'S WAS A GENERATION LATER, 'GREENS' AND 'PEACENIKS' AND THE 'PERMISSIVE', OR 'ANYTHING GOES', SOCIETY' HAD BECOME FIRMLY ESTABLISHED. THE RESULTING UNREST DID NOT SIT COMFORTABLY WITH THE FOUNDATIONS ON WHICH JRTE HAD BEEN BUILT AND PRESENTED CHALLENGES TO NAVAL TRAINING WHICH HAD NOT BEEN FORESEEN OR FORESEEABLE WHEN THE JR SCHEME WAS STARTED. ONCE Q U E S - TIONS BEGAN TO BE RAISED ABOUT THE COST AND VIABILITY OF CONTINUATION OF THE SCHEME EVERYONE IN CANBERRA HAD AN OPINION TO OFFER. THE FACT THAT THEY WERE THOUSANDS OF MILES AWAY TO THE EAST, THAT 90% OF THEM KNEW VIRTUALLY NOTHING ABOUT THE NAVY, THAT MOST OF THEM HAD NEVER VISITED W.A. - LET ALONE HMAS LEEUWIN –DID NOT PREVENT BUREAUCRATIC EXPERTS EXPRESSING AN OPINION ABOUT THE WORTH AND VALUE OF 1RTE. I OFTEN WONDER IF THEY REALLY KNEW WHAT THE ACRONYM JRTE STOOD FOR: IT SEEMED TO ME THAT EACH DEPARTMENT PUT ITS OWN INTERPRETATION ON WHAT THE LETTERS MEANT. I GOT THE IMPRESSION THAT TREASURY'S VIEW WAS THAT IT WAS'JUST RUINING THE ECONOMY'; THAT ASIO FEARED IT WAS A PLACE WHERE'JIHADISTS RECEIVE TERRORIST EDUCATION' AND THAT ATTORNEY GENERAL'S CONDEMNED IT AS A PLACE AT WHICH 'JUSTICE IS REFUSED TO EVERYBODY. THE EARLY 80'S WERE DIFFICULT DAYS IN AUSTRALIA. THE NATION HAD BEEN THROUGH A DECADEOF POLITICAL TURMOIL AND SOCIAL UPHEAVAL. THE ECONOMY WAS IN A MESS; ANTI-WAR AND ANTI-MILITARY SENTIMENT WERE RAMPANT. CHANGE WAS HAPPENING EVERYWHERE. NAVY WAS NOT FARING WELL IN CANBERRA IN INTENSE COMPETITION WITH ARMY AND AIR FORCE AND TWO DECISIONS OF MONUMENTAL IMPORTANCE TO THE FUTURE OF THE SERVICE WERE MADE, (IN MY OPINION) WITHOUT DUE CONSIDERATION AND UNDERSTANDING OF THEIR CONSEQUENCES. THESE WERE THE VIRTUAL ABOLITION OF THE FLEET AIR ARM AND THE CLOSURE OF JRTE. IT WAS A SAD AND SUDDEN ENDING FOR A SCHEME WHICH, IN ALL SERIOUSNESS, HAD PRODUCED AMONG ITS NEARLY 11,000 GRADUATES, SOME OF THE BEST AND MOST DEDICATED PERSONNEL THE R.A.N.HAD IN THE SECOND HALF OF THE 20TH CENTURY. MY REMARKS TONIGHT HAVE BEEN DELIBERATELY LIGHT-HEARTED BUT IN A MORE SERIOUS VEIN I AM ACUTELY AWARE THAT FOR THOSE WHO WENT THROUGH THE SCHEME IN THOSE YEARS OF SOCIAL UPHEAVAL IT CANNOT HAVE BEEN EASY. ALTHOUGH NAVY STROVE TO ADJUST TO CHANGING SOCIAL ATTITUDES AND MORES IT REMAINED A RELATIVELY STRICT AND DISCIPLINED ENVIRONMENT AND DENIED YOU, AS TEENAGERS, MANY OF THE FREEDOMS YOUR CIVILIAN CONTEMPORARIES ENJOYED. THAT SO MANY OF YOU STAYED THE COURSE AND WENT ON TO ENJOY SUCCESSFUL SERVICE CAREERS IS A TRIBUTE TO YOU AND THE FACT THAT ONE OF YOUR NUMBER, VICE ADMIRAL RUSS CRANE, IS NOW CHIEF OF NAVY IS IN MY OPINION THE ULTIMATE MANIFESTATION OF THE SUCCESS OF THE SCHEME. MANY ENTRANTS TO JRTE DID NOT COMPLETE THE COURSE BUT I DOUBT THAT THEY, OR OTHERS WHO LEFT EARLY, NOW REGARD THEIR TIME AT LEEUWIN AS ANYTHING OTHER THAN A BENEFICIAL AND CHARACTERBUILDING EXPERIENCE.

I BELIEVE THE DECISION TO CLOSE JRTE WAS PRECIPITATE; I ALSO BELIEVE THAT THE WHEEL OF NAVAL LIFE WILL TURN AND THAT AGAIN, SOMEWHERE DOWN THE TRACK, THE CONCEPT OF TAKING JUNIORS INTO THE SERVICE AND LETTING THEM GROW UP IN IT WILL RE-EMERGE. I THINK THAT THE NUMBER WHO HAVE MADE THE EFFORT TO ASSEMBLE HERE FOR THIS REUNION BEAR TESTAMENT TO THE SUCCESS OF THE SCHEME AND ILLUSTRATES THE SPIRIT AND SENSE OF CAMERADERIE IT DEVELOPED. THAT ADMIRAL CRANE, IS NOW AT THE HELM AND IS SHAPING THE COURSE THE NEW GENERATION NAVY IS TAKING IN THE EARLY DAYS OF THE NEW MILLENIUM IS, I'M SURE, A MATTER OF PRIDE TO YOU ALL AND THE FACT THAT HE'S FOUND TIME TO BE WITH YOU HERE TO PARTICIPATE TODAY AND TONIGHT ADDS LUSTRE TO THE OCCASION AND THERE I'LL STOP - BECAUSE YOU'RE ALL LOOKING JRTE - JADED & READY TO EAT.




The News Broadcast from channel 10 Perth on the 50th anniversary at LEEUWIN


John and Di Amourous enjoying LEEUWIN on 13 July
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