Geelong, September 1976
As a child of the 1960s most of my memories of the Vietnam War were generated through the images beamed to our black and white television, often featuring in the 6:30 news. The tanks, gunfire, helicopter gun-ships, strike aircraft – jungle warfare. In my mind Vietnam was far away. However, my older cousin Bob went off on his tour of duty there. Even as a kid I could see that the American forces had a huge involvement in that conflict.
The eastern world, it is explodin’,
Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’,
You’re old enough to kill but not for votin’,
You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun you’re totin’,
And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin’,
But you tell me over and over and over again my friend,
Ah, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.
Growing up in Geelong we had the Avalon airport just down the road. Avalon was constructed post World War Two to accommodate the length of runway needed for the new technology of jet aircraft. Avalon was a mystery to me. I knew that the government assembled the Canberra jet bombers at Avalon. The CAC Sabre was pushed to its limits and broke the sound barrier there. The RAAFs frontline fighter – the Dassault Mirage – was assembled at Avalon and I remember their resultant sonic booms as they flew over Geelong- but what else happened at Avalon? What else lurked in the semi-circular hangars barely visible from the Melbourne road?
By my mid-teens the Vietnam War was winding down. Conscription had disappeared due to the Whitlam government. But my interest in aircraft had enlightened me to a greater threat – the Cold War between the world superpowers. The nuclear threat was real, but to a kid in Geelong it too seemed far away – or was it?
I clearly remember a sunny, but crisp morning in 1976 where I was on the outdoor basketball court at school. I wasn’t sporty, so didn’t particularly enjoy physical education lessons at Geelong High.
In the blue cloudless sky something caught my eye. At a really high altitude was something – metallic silver. It was glinting in the morning sun and moving very slowly. My first thought was that it was too slow for a jet but I could not hear the tell tale throb of a radial engine if it happened to be a RAAF DC3 or Wirraway trainer. Reconnaissance? High-altitude bomber? UFO?
All I could think of was the story of the B29 Enola Gay approaching Hiroshima – a single silver bomber slowly approaching the city on a sunny day ready to unleash a weapon with destruction the world had never experienced.
The mysterious object above the Geelong sky rattled me with the realization that perhaps Geelong was not immune to the Cold War fear. It made sense that a city with an oil refinery, motor vehicle production, aluminum smelter and other primary and secondary industries could be a nuclear target in the event of war. It dawned on me that Geelong was closer to the Cold War than I had ever imagined.
Don’t you understand, what I’m trying to say?
And can’t you feel the fears I’m feeling today?
If the button is pushed, there’s no running away,
There’ll be no one to save with the world in a grave,
Take a look around you, boy, it’s bound to scare you, boy,
And you tell me over and over and over again my friend,
Ah, you don’t believe