Women’s Liberation Down Under

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The Australians used the WWI-vintage bolt-action SMLE rifle throughout World War II.

Back in 1997 I deployed to Australia as part of Operation Tandem Thrust. While I can’t say that I personally ensured the security of Western civilization against the communist hordes, I did make some good friends and had a great time. If you were paying taxes back then, sincerely and from my heart, thank you.

We Yanks found ourselves in Rockhampton in Queensland. This delightful little village on the northeast coast of Australia reminded me a bit of my own hometown. It’s denizens seemed unabashedly friendly, pleasantly unrefined, and, just like Clarksdale, Mississippi, everybody talked kind of funny.

The accumulated American troops were quite the local novelty. My time there gave me just the tiniest glimpse into what it might have been like to be an American in England in the months leading up to D-Day. Little kids would come up to me in public and ask me the time just to sample my accent.

I saw koalas, kangaroos, and emus along with some simply epic crocodiles. As that was where those gosh-awful-huge great white sharks live I naturally stayed away from the beach. I really have a problem with big fish. You just can’t be too careful.

One of the most delightful aspects of the trip was interacting with my Australian counterparts. I was assigned to an Aussie infantry unit. We talked weapons, gear, and tactics just as have soldiers since the dawn of time. There was also a fair amount of bartering.

These were the days before the internet and Amazon, so the world was larger then. I traded my Leatherman tool for some uniforms and insignia. I also gave the Australian Infantry Major with whom I worked a Nomex flight suit. He said he wanted to see his wife in it. I didn’t press him for details.

Australian grunts are called Diggers. At least when I worked with them,
their worldview was fairly different from our own.

Attitudes about men and women have evolved considerably in the past thirty years or so, to say the least. Nowadays we seem even to struggle with the most basic of definitions. Back in my day, however, ours was already a fairly equal opportunity military. I worked for a few female officers whose leadership I found to be inspirational. There were others I wouldn’t follow out of a burning building. Of course, the same could be said of their male counterparts. While Americans were already tasting the first vestiges of wokeness and went to great lengths to avoid causing offense on the basis of gender, our Digger counterparts were clearly not yet so encumbered.

One fine day an attractive female Australian Intelligence officer gave us a briefing. The Aussie grunts catcalled and whistled like it was 1952, while the accumulated Americans just sank into our chairs and wanted to die. For her part, the Aussie spy seemed to bask in the attention.

The Infantry guy who ended up with the flight suit for his bride related a most insightful tale that illustrated the stark differences between our respective cultures. His wife had been an athlete of some renown, having earned an Olympic gold medal for crewing. That’s where you are part of a team and can row a boat really far and really fast. At some point she and he had the obligatory marital spat, and she left for her parents’ place for a few days to cool down. That left my grunt buddy alone in the house to his own devices.

Australia fields a professional and respected military. They are superb allies.
Back in the 90s, the relationships between Aussie men and women was eye-opening for me.

In a mindless fit of stupidity this idiot guy took his wife’s Olympic gold medal off the wall, pawned it at a local pawnshop, and spent the proceeds buying drinks for his buddies at the local pub. Several days later when his wife returned they made up and resumed the business of living. She noticed the absence of her medal and inquired as to its whereabouts. He dutifully trekked over to the pawnshop only to find that it was by now ancient history.

At this point in our tale cultural influences intervened. Had this been America the woman would have simply murdered her husband. The presiding judge would then have ordered that she be awarded a new medal both bigger and brighter than her previous example. Oprah would have extolled her many manifest virtues on television, while book deals, fame, and fortune would undoubtedly have followed. As this was Australia, however, the woman was angry, got over it, and loved the moron anyway.

I shared dinner with this longsuffering lady and was indeed enormously impressed with both her character and forbearance. These two exhibited all the hallmarks of a well-adjusted, loving military family, albeit of the Australian sort. It is simply that things were different down under.

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