We look down at the near century old corpse. We all laugh. The beret’d Sergeant tells us to shut the fuck up and concentrate. At the bottom of the pit lays the skeleton of the previous occupant. A cheap burial perhaps? The wood has mostly crumbled into dust. It’s been 99-years and they are getting moved on. The coffin lowers into the six-foot hole with a quiet concentration. Later that day we will lower the corpse of my very good mate. It is both a moment of gravitas and levity.
There are seven of us. Six Other Ranks (ORs) and a Sergeant. The Sergeant and four of the ORs are from the Regiment. Two Signal blue from Townsville. Might have been an even number of beret’d and Signal blue? We all know each other or are known to each other. A good set of blokes. It is an official burial with a catafalque party in Perth, WA.
We finish the practice session.
On the return to Campbell Barracks we read the paper. In the pages are the latest updates on the third murder. A serial killer was stalking the streets of Perth. Three girls. All similar. Young. Good sorts. The first two in 1996 then a big gap until last month. No idea who was murdering them.
One of the Boys tells us that the WA ‘coppers’ have visited the Barracks recently. They haven’t ruled out it might have been a soldier who was knocking off the women. Just a friendly interview at this stage just to rule the Regiment out of it.
Opinions rattle and roll around the bus. It’s good banter and it takes our mind off things.
I rattle off a quick-fire set of statistics. I don’t yet know it but my brain has changed in the last month and I am now recalling information differently than before the MLD [Mefloquine Loading Dose]. At the end I opinion that it was highly unlikely for a Regiment guy to be the killer because most US serial killers historically kill after they leave the services. Not always, but mostly. Think Jeffrey Dahmer. I read a lot of criminal investigation books in those days.
Everyone is impressed with our wisdom until the Sergeant comments out of the side of his mouth.
“Fuck off you idiots”.
We all laugh. Another moment of levity before the tension of the day.
To the Lost.
Image: The West Australian
I’m ready to heal yet I still need to count the cost. Others have made the attempt and fallen short. It might be my most important piece of epidemiology to date. It might pan out to be nothing. At least now I can do it systemically and at a slower pace.
It’s personal for me.
The chart above is still a work in progress. I’m starting to get some good feedback from other veterans… If you want to add to this chart please reach out.
Last updated 12th November 2019
10th September 1999. Brigadier Jim Molan & Ian Martin directing the evacuation of Dili, East Timor. Source: Twitter (John L. Gould)
When I find out in March 19’ I send myself over the edge. I have pushed too hard. Way too hard. I’m almost 500-days free of alcohol. I’m using St. John’s Wort to assist with sleep. It also heightens memory recall. I’m going through the horrors. I’m writing in a note book. I ask a simple question. Did the Army turn me into the Batman or The Joker?
I go insane again in late September 19′. This time I’m drinking. I made 537-days before I just gave up. It’s too much. I’ve accepted that I turned into The Joker back in the day. ANZAC Day 97′, I launch at a group of other AJs [Army Jerks]. I have no fear. I’m beating one of them to death in a nightclub because he has been impolite. The guys grab me. Put me in a taxi. The next day I’ll be in hospital. Anaphylaxis is mentioned. Allergies, they ask? I’m calm by the time I hit the hospital. I love medics and nurses.
I bury a friend a month after my MLD [Mefloquine Loading Dose]. I tell the Land Commander the radios are killing us. I farewell my Dad on a bed covered in blood. My face turns red in 2014. Psoriasis. It’s an accepted condition of Mefloquine. My Dad doesn’t die and I don’t talk to him for 20-years. I’m lucky. I speak to him on the phone in 2017. He dies the next year. We never say our goodbyes face-to-face. Another regret. He leaves me $10,000. I use it to get sober. I start getting my memories back. My head is a horror show.
Anyway, this will be my last horror story. I now live quietly in a small cabin with no hot running water and an outside dunny. I isolate when I feel The Joker coming on. I love the peace and the silence. Being disconnected is part of the disease.
As I watch The Joker I see the similarities. I have written similar notes. I’m adopted. I wash my Mums hair. I have a different laugh. A different dance. The same crazed run from the cops. I’ve been running for 22.5-years.
I write. It will help some, hurt others. There’s a bit of Batman in there. It doesn’t matter. Do I look like a guy with a plan?
I have grief. I have pain. I have no regrets.
Image: Warner Bros. Pictures
If you or anyone you know of a veteran who needs help I would strongly suggest you reach out to Open Arms 1800 011 046.
It really kicked off in early 2019. The vivid memories have been replaced by flashbacks. It’s hard to describe. I try to explain it to 11M. It comes and goes in waves. He is both interested and worried. As far as they know I never went to war. I’m almost certain they are right but I’m trawling through the evidence now. There isn’t much. I never kept many photos. I certainly didn’t share them with the kids. Now, all of my memories are questioned. It was so long ago.
My 14M gets involved. We get side-tracked. We are discussing Bruce Lee for some reason. My mind flips to another memory. I remember his son dying on the set of Raven.
“Raven”, I say excitedly. We used Raven radios after we got rid of the PRC-77s. The terminology is coming back because my advocate wants me to apply for my back and hips.
The three of us jump on the computer. 14M loves electronics and Army radio’s make for an interesting breakfast topic.
I type in ‘raven radio Australian Army’. There are four lines of pictures shown. I’m explaining to 14M about how the Army was finally starting to go digital in the early 90s when my 8M comes up to give me a hug.
“Look at this guy Dad”. He points at a young soldier talking on a radio. It’s on the second line of photos.
I look. “It’s ME!” A ghost from 1992 I think. I haven’t seen this photo for almost 30-years. I get an image of CPL S* straight away. It’s the hill behind the Squadron. He isn’t in this picture but he will be close-by. The last time I really talked to him was at Campbell Barracks in 1997. He touched base via social media a few years previously. We talked about dead friends. I closed that social media account not long after. Too many ghosts reaching out.
“The chopper is on the next hill, Digger…”
Mefloquine and Tafenoquine are two different types of anti-malarial drugs that have been in use potentially as far back as 1990 but trialled extensively by the Australian Defence Force at the turn of the century. From 2016 via the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Defence force admits soldier shouldn’t have been included in East Timor anti-malaria drug trial. Excerpt:
The Australian Defence Force has acknowledged it accidentally exposed one of its soldiers to controversial anti-malarial drugs during trials in East Timor, despite the soldier having a medical history of mental illness which should have precluded his involvement.
The soldier, Chris Salter, developed chronic depression and psychosis after inclusion in the Timor trials of psychoactive drugs mefloquine and tafenoquine.His illness has led to repeated suicide attempts and more than a dozen stays in psychiatric hospitals. He is unable to work or care for his family.
Since the trials, which included thousands of Australian soldiers between 2001 and 2003, a small group of veterans have developed severe mental illnesses. They believe the ADF erred by giving them the drugs even though there was a significant body of research which pointed to the drugs’ side effects, which in some cases are permanent.
I just wanted to get a chart posted which highlighted the use of Mefloquine and Tafenoquine in Australian soldiers over the past 30-years. Currently most of the documentation concentrates on the trials conducted between 1998 – 2002, however there is some evidence that groups of soldiers were subjected to trials of mefloquine as far back as 1992 during Operation SOLACE (Somalia). I’ll update the chart as new information comes to hand.
1992-93: Somalia – Awaiting more information
1993: Cambodia – Awaiting more information
1994-96: Rwanda – One confirmed mefloquine dosage. Awaiting more info
1997: PNG – One confirmed mefloquine dosage. Awaiting more info
1998: Bougainville – Peace Monitoring Group – 201 troops given Tafenoquine (note: Stuart McCarthy’s notes state 374 troops were given Tafenoquine).
2000: East Timor – 639 troops given Tafenoquine during trials.
2000: East Timor – 162 troops given Mefloquine during the Double-Blind trial
2000: East Timor – 492 troops given Tafenoquine during the Double-Blind trial
2001: Australia – 31 troops given Tafenoquine to test for Relapse Prevention
2001: East Timor – 1,157 troops given Mefloquine during the last major trial of the drug
An excellent resource for understanding the trial intensity of both anti-malarial drugs is Stuart McCarthy’s Summary of ADF Mefloquine and Tafenoquine Clinical Trials 1998 – 2002. See attached: