Gary Oakley - Culture shock

Running time
4 min 23 sec
Date made
Place made
Department of Veterans' Affairs


It's a culture shock. It was a culture shock because to go to Leeuwin you cross Australia and we did by train. So we all muster down at the railway station in Central and none of us had ever … I'd always been a bit of a kid who liked the uniforms because I was in cubs, the scouts, Air League and Army Cadets before I even joined for real. So I kinda liked the military life.

You know, if your family brought you to Central railway station in Sydney, you, well, first off you actually went to HMAS Kuttabul, then the family dropped you off at Kuttabul then Navy took you over. And at that time then when I joined the Navy said, "Alright, your train leaves at eight o'clock at night, we’ll take you down o Garden Island and we’ll give you a look at a couple of ships and give you a bit of familiarization, which is kind of interesting, because when they took us down to the wharf, they took us on the HMAS Melbourne.

Melbourne had just run over the Frank E. Evans and she had this big chunk out of the front of it, you know, we went down there and this is handy, this is what you're going to expect. So then you went to the railway station, they bussed us to the railway station and that's when you really started to know you were in the Navy because they had a bunch of leading seaman, seamen and then petty officers who started screaming at you then and getting you all in little groups and then you got in the train.

And then in those days, too, there wasn't a straight train line so you went to Albury Wodonga change at Albury Wodonga. Then you went to bloody Melbourne and Melbourne, you went to Adelaide, change at Adelaide, then you change at Port Pirie.

So, you're doing about a three-day train trip to get there and I think we lost about 40 blokes before we even got to Leeuwin, who’d had enough and didn't want to play.

And we were two intakes Collins and Walton, 28th intake. So we were quite a big, several 100 of us and they split us into two intakes and then you did your 12 months at Leeuwin and your 12 months at Leeuwin was basically you went back to school, so you did geography, mathematics, physics, navigation, ships husbandry, firefighting, drill, PT, it was like high school with military stuff and then at the end you categorised and then you went to do your sea training, and then you went to do your trade training … but it was culture shock for me just to go across Australia in a train.

And you know, you're 15 years old, you have never left home, the furthest I'd gone to play football or something, you know, about 100 miles. And I went, "Oh my God ", you know, and that was a culture shock for some kids, they just couldn't handle it and then you went into this other world, this navy world and they made me the creature I am today.

I'm so fussy and anal about where things are stowed, how things are done and how things are tidy. I mean, that's how they turned you into that creature. I found that, you know, you make your own bed, you have to do it a special way and you have to pull it all apart and do kit musters and, you know, everything out the cupboard in your locker had to be … I came home after my first six months away and my parents, "What have they done to you? " and I couldn't talk to the school kids, the kids I went to school with because I went, "You’re fools ".

They turned you into this other creature and because they broke you down and then built you up into this beast that they wanted. And I mean, I'm still that person. It worked. But it was a big culture shock from here to there. And then it's another culture shock when you get on a ship, and you're all gonna live in a space.

And if you don't get on with people, where are you gonna go, you know, and I mean in those days, too, bastardization ruled, I mean, at Leeuwin it was like if somebody did something wrong, one o'clock in the morning, you're all there with your bed rolls over your head and running around the bloody parade ground at one o'clock in the morning. It was pretty tough. But I enjoyed it actually. It was just something that I gravitated to.

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