Young men from all over Australia descended upon the gates of HMAS LEEUWIN in Fremantle Western Australia, to undertake Naval Junior Recruit training. All of the interstaters made their way via a privately hired aircraft (TAA) which collected us from our relevant states and to our brand new life. I’m not sure if this was the first time they had chartered a flight to collect members, but it was definitely the last. You should have seen the state of the aircraft by the time we touched down in Perth. Upon landing, the cabin staff thought it was safe enough to now unlock themselves from their cabins and escort us onto the tarmac. On to LEEUWIN with our new found mates. This was to be a sign of the way Rhoades Division conducted themselves. We were all issued naval uniforms and we were made to stamp each item with our names. Our kit was then placed into a big duffle bag and then we marched to our new home in “D Block”, and placed in our dongas (cabins) in alphabetical order.
What a shock it was to be regimented, after living a life that was free and easy as a teenager with not a worry in the world. If we all knew what awaited us i’m sure there would have been quite a few that would have run away. I actually thought to myself, what have I put myself in for, we had only been on the base for less than an hour and were already being yelled at. This was the Navy’s way of training, letting us know our place in the grand scheme of things. Our 1st night was spent carrying our bedding around the parade ground, mattress and all. Our division was off to a very shaky start behavioral wise, especially when you consider we didn’t even know one another yet. We were continually being doubled around the parade ground or the worst of all punishments, duck waddling up the hill to our block. I’m not sure why the Navy took a dim view of our antics. Placing PO Green’s Mini into the foyer of the block, having a fire hose fight with the division across the street or continually jacking (rigging) the pinball machines for free games. It was really kids just having fun.
There were four very different layers to the establishment. When we started we were called “New Grubs” and were the lowest of the low. We were the new kids on the block and were treated to some of the most physical and psychological treatments imaginable. This was all part of the “growth” process. There were inspections every morning and evening, kit musters at the discretion of our divisional staff, doubling around the parade ground late at night as punishment for something that would have happened earlier within the division. After three months we were upgraded to a “Grub”. We were suddenly allowed out on some weekends but had to be back on board early unless you were lucky enough to have a sponsor and got to stay overnight. After six months we got to the heady heights of “Shits”. Then after nine months we were elevated to being “Top Shits” and with that came untold privileges and wealth as our fortnightly pay also increased. With these privileges we were able to progress easily down the “SCRAN” line to get to the front. Of course the LEEUWIN staff knew that’s how it operated, and on occasion reversed the line so that the end was now the front. And it was a mad scramble to get back to the front of the line again.
Training was varied to say the least as all had not yet finished school in the true sense. We had History, Geography, Math’s, English and these were complemented by Navigation, Seamanship, and other Naval subjects. Sports also played a big part in our activities as did Parade ground training, rifle drills and others. Of course the highlight of any day was to see which class could change step the loudest on the way to or from classes. This was normally done behind the food hall where the echo had the best effect. The life style was so different but so exhilarating at the same time. It instilled a camaraderie that is still evident in each of us today.
The day we were all looking forward to was upon us, our Passing Out Day. We had completed the entire Junior Recruit training and had all been put through the wringer, some more than others, but it was all worth it. Everything went well, our parents were there to witness this event and afterwards we had a Passing Out Ball which was held at The Parmelia Hotel. The first part of our Naval Career was gone but will never be forgotten. As a proud member of HMAS LEEUWIN and the Royal Australian Navy, the feeling of “belonging” as a Junior Recruit is a little something we can all hold on to as we head down the road towards the final sunset! The original intake consisted of approximately 205 boys between the ages of 15 and 16 who enlisted from all over Australia. Of these, according to our Passing Out booklet, 133 graduated and were subsequently posted to various ships and establishments of the RAN.
Now that we had passed out we were all excited about getting to the eastern states to further our training before being posted to our ships. The Navy had learnt its lesson from chartering an aircraft, subsequently we were all loaded up into buses for a 3 day trip across the Nullabor. Now there is one thing to have us all together for 3 or 4 hours on a flight, but another to have us cooped up on a bus for 3 days. Even though we were now another year older, we were still only 16 and alcohol was freely taken on the trip. Now let’s see, forty five 16 year olds, alcohol and a 3 day trip. With our history, what could go wrong? Well apart from the odd fight, the toilets overflowing down the aisle due to our inability to hold so much liquor and sleeping anywhere possible like the luggage racks, nothing much at all. Actually the buses probably ended up in better condition than the aircraft, just that there were 4 of them to clean up.