REBEL WITHOUT A CLUE – The Singleton Story

Microphone

I have long been a rebel, and I’m proud of it. But sometimes it provoked an extremely disconcerting and costly reaction from the particular authority I was defying. This was certainly the case in 1971 when, not only did I manage to get fired from the Commonwealth Public Service, but was marched off the premises of Singleton Army Base at gunpoint.

I was anything but a rebel as a child. In fact, I used to get picked on by other kids for being a “goody goody” and sucking up to the teachers. But all that changed over the Christmas Holidays of 1964. It was a combination of puberty and my first venture into “the real world”. For the first time I worked right through Christmas school holidays. I was employed as a sales assistant at Woolworths in Campsie. In those days there were no checkouts, just separate departments with their own counters and cash registers. I worked in the Stationary Department with our supervisor, Mrs. Abrahams, two other school kids my age, and the department’s permanent, Irene, a redhead who had left school at fifteen and was now a year older. Irene was worldly wise – been there, done that. I had too long walked in the shadow of my parents. Irene showed me the possibilities and the power of asserting one’s confidence and independence. I fell in love with her of course. By the time I returned to school I had become a rebellious smart-arse who thought he knew everything. On my first day back I found myself in the principal’s office three times. It was the birth of the new me. I was never suspended, but I spent a lot of time in that office and got used to being caned and strapped on a daily basis.

Somehow I managed to complete my Higher School Certificate – despite spending the final day of school running through the yard of the girls school next door in my underpants (they never found out who it was), changing the locks on several doors of teacher offices and setting off the fire alarm twice. I did one year of fulltime university studying Economics then switched to part time the following year after securing my first full-time job as a clerk with the Department Of Army at Victoria Barracks, Sydney. I seemed to get into regular trouble there too. Took regular sickies, and my boss absolutely hated me. When a vacancy came up for an assistant paymaster at Singleton Army Barracks, I was the first one offered the position. For some reason my parents were also very encouraging.

So I moved out of home and caught the train to Singleton. My new boss, Phil, picked me up at the station and took me to the Sergeant’s quarters where I had been allocated a room. Most non-working hours were spent in the mess where we ate and drank our time away. After one week I had antagonised a number of my fellow residents, particularly one, who physically attacked me late one evening. I defended myself just a little too well, and the following morning I was moved to the officer’s quarters where my boss was accommodated. I was to remain there for the duration of my time in Singleton.

Most of the officers there were second lieutenant conscripts of my own age (my birthday fortunately wasn’t called). I made some good friends, especially the guy in the room next to mine, George. I also made some enemies of course. There were generally the more senior officers who were “regular army”. I didn’t particularly like most of them either, so it didn’t bother me too much. The rules and regulations regarding the officers’ mess were much more stringent than I had previously encountered. For instance, Sunday dinner dress code was a coat and tie. I consistently obliged, except when I would turn up in JUST a coat and tie – and nothing else. One time I wore thongs instead of shoes. When I was pulled aside by a major and sternly told that I knew they weren’t acceptable, I simply removed them and made my way to the table.

Apart from learning to drink, I assumed the role as singer with the barracks band that had been put together by a number of musical conscripts of differing ranks. Their regular singer had been discharged and they were looking for a replacement. After auditioning I got the gig. The pianist, a brilliant musician who would produce hand-written charts for all our songs for each instrument, led the band. Those instruments were guitar (two), drums (what a talent he was), trumpet, saxophone and violin. We played at every Saturday night dance in the main hall of the camp, the Singleton Army Base Area Theatre. We participated in special concerts that were arranged for the troops. And we eventually branched out and started working some of the clubs and pubs in the Hunter region. We were good. Ironically, at one concert we were the main act. Performing before us was a truly professional musician, Marty Rhone, who already recorded a few minor hit singles. Yet, on a local basis, at that time, we were more popular.

As always the lead singer got most of the attention and I was never short of a date. The girls seemed particularly impressed with a song that I had written myself called “Another Day”. It was a poem originally (I was constantly writing poetry) and our bandleader helped me add the music. The song may have been a big hit with the local women, but it was ‘mushy” and slow, and most of the guys hated it. But we trotted it out in every performance. In the week leading up to the annual officers ball, for which we had been booked as the entertainment, I had been in trouble yet again. One involved me being caught speeding through the camp grounds by the Military Police and leading them on a chase through the darkened back roads that I knew so well. I managed to shake them and returned to the officer’s mess where I nonchalantly ordered a drink and sat down with some mates. The MP’s entered the mess soon after to accuse me and said that my car engine was hot. I immediately stood up and loudly yelled “So, who’s been driving my car this time?” I got away with it.

The camp’s senior officer, the colonel, sent me a message through my boss, Phil, saying I wasn’t to sing any more than three songs at the ball – and I wasn’t to sing “Another Day” at all. I’ll never forget that evening. Everyone was there, including the colonel’s wife and daughter. I hadn’t met them before, and I was particularly taken with his daughter, Melissa. She was about my age, very intelligent, and with a wild and rebellious streak I had not imagined. The band was at its best that night and I delivered the three songs as requested. But Melissa wanted to hear my own song and dared me to do it. Well, naturally, I obliged – twice.

I spent the rest of the evening with Melissa and by the time I dropped her at the colonel’s home at around three o’clock the following morning, we had become quite close. I returned to my room with a smile on my face and went straight to sleep. Just after 8.00am, I was awoken by a loud knock at the door. It was the Military Police, sent by the colonel to escort me from the base. I refused as a matter of principle. Next thing my door flew open and there stood three soldiers, all with their guns drawn and pointed at my head. I was marched to the front gate at gunpoint. My car and belongings followed. I was told NEVER to return.

Some years later I took my wife, Elaine, on a Sunday drive to Singleton and I managed to get through the security gate using a false name and a bodgy excuse for being there. We parked at the back of the officers’ mess and I took Elaine for a walk while reminiscing about my stay there. A young officer, clearly a conscript, emerged from the mess building and asked what we were doing. I told him that I had once lived there, working as a civilian in the pay office. He asked my name. “Geoff Mooney”, I replied. His mouth dropped. “THE Geoff Mooney - you are a legend around here”. He ushered us inside where we spent two hours with a group of young servicemen talking about my “exploits” at the base. ALL the stories had been embellished beyond belief. I had become a rebel icon in that small part of the world. Elaine was very quiet on the way home for some reason.

Geoff Mooney