When it was issued by the World Health Organisation I was still at school. I wasn’t interested in global issues. I should have read it but I don’t. I’m getting my final paperwork ready for the Army. I’m failing school. The Army accepts Year 10 and I have good grades to that point. School seems so pointless. Something is kicking off in the Middle East. We are going to smash Saddam Hussein in the fucking teeth. I don’t want to miss out on any action. I’m still too young in 1989 but I am slotted in for Basic Training early next year. I am 16-years old. I am so Green.
I’m good judoka. I’m not interested in black belts, I just love the training. I train twice during the week and on weekends if we get enough interest. My Sensei is amazing. He is a psychiatric nurse. He is tough. We laugh as he tells us the story of the bloke who tried to jump him in the supermarket. It supposed to be a joke but W* throws him. The checkout chick is terrified. It’s a great story. I meet him a year or two later. I’m home on leave. I’ve put on 15kg and I’m Army tough. As we train one of the kids clumsily kicks me in the balls as we practice sacrifice throws. It’s an accident but I’m in agony. W* tells the story to the other bouncers at the nightclub he is working at part-time that night. I’m still tender. We laugh. I get free entry and a drink voucher. I feel like a God in the early 90s but that hasn’t happened yet.
I’m working in a greasy Indian restaurant on weekends. The Indian family who own it treat me like one of their own. I get paid $10 per hour cash-in-hand (which is big money back then). I smell like sauce as I go to school on Mondays. The smell lingers till Wednesday. Indian food smells when you do the dishes. It takes me years to get coached into an Indian restaurant with my best friend and his girl. The food is amazing. I’m catching up with another friend and her man next week. We are eating Indian.
I’m so busy. I’ve been training for years to get this far. I’m an accomplished Venturer. I teach others how to abseil, orient a map or whatever. My Venturer leader is an amazing soldier. He is old but still fit. He smokes constantly. Under the stars one night he tells me how he started smoking. He is on patrol in Malaysia back in the day when his best mate cops the full blast of something. He is covered in his blood. Bits of flesh drip off him. When he gets in front of a medic they think he might be damaged. His mate cops the full blast, he walks away without a scratch. The medic puts a cigarette in his mouth and lights it. That was his first smoke. I’m sixteen and this amazing man is sharing his real story. We have a moment. I’ll meet other amazing soldiers in the future. Men and Women. We will share moments. I’ll forget it all.
It’s been 30-years since the World Health Organisation issued their warning.
I wonder why they never followed up on it?