Not a Hero in Sight by Brad Cooper
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Not a Hero in Sight by Brad Cooper

 

Not a Hero in Sight by Brad Cooper
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"In a country overwhelmed by political correctness, this book is a refreshing expose of the diggers’ larrikin culture.  Cooper has penned an achingly funny view of what was, in many respects, a sad chapter in our military history. Once started it is difficult to put down but is not the ideal read for those easily offended."
Colonel R A Simpson AM (Retd)
Oatlands, Tasmania


Having the pleasure of reading the Draft copy and knowing the author after he arrived in Tasmania, I reckon he writes as colorfully as he speaks. It is a very descriptive book but growing up as he did I sort of wonder how he made it to his twilight years. Having served in the army myself I felt as if it was me in some of those situations he describes. This is a brilliant publication.
Dick Duckett
St Marys, Tasmania


Having read all but the last 20 pages of the first draft I can relate to the early years as I had a similar childhood and up-bringing.  I can’t wait till the book comes out to re-read and complete the story of all the phases of one mans life. Bloody bewdy.
Denis Whitehouse (civilian)
Bagdad, Tasmania


I read in two sittings this extraordinary roller-coaster, well-designed and charmingly illustrated novel ‘of non-fiction’. It is deeply moving, side-splittingly funny and warrants an honourable place in Australian literature for its honesty and at once ephemeral and eternal reflections of people.
Brad Cooper weaves a disarmingly insightful and humorous life story from the central character, Gazza’s, childhood in Tasmania and Gippsland, through leaping from the frying pan of a first job in a dysfunctional civil bureaucracy, into the fire of the Vietnam War. After active service in Vietnam, Gazza, remained in the army, serving in military intelligence both in Australia and overseas.

The lasting damage inflicted by war and alcohol on victims and their loved ones are recurring themes—not in a lecturing way, but ever-present, like a winter’s fog that does not quite clear away.

In the first pages Gazza, mentions his childhood passage to the mainland on the SS Nairana and link to Australia’s minor interference in the Russian Civil War. The depictions of alcoholically self-medicating men returned from the world wars and Korea are fleeting but vivid—like the long gone numbers of limbless men that could once be seen on the streets, showgrounds and trotting tracks of country Victoria. The roaming, independent playing of children, poverty and class structure of country towns and the onset of awkward puberty are all recounted.

To escape the ennui and unemployment of country towns in the now mythologised 1950s, Gazza secures a job with HM Customs. There he encounters ‘returned men’, the endemic alcoholism by which he was seduced, and a corruption that was retail compared with today’s wholesale societal canker. First love was fleeting amongst the turmoil of a life not going according to expectations. Gazza ended up in the army and then Vietnam.

Some sixty thousand Australians served during the course of that wretched war (1962-1972). Gazza’s experience hardly mentions combat; a couple of examples of ‘stuff-ups’ sufficing to cause the reader to smile in disbelief that it happened and relieved it did not turn out worse. Comical vignettes come thick and fast, with mostly basically decent people, diggers and Vietnamese women dealing with their circumstances. There is enough sex and bawdy humour to make a Puritan purple. According to the tale of Gazza, it happened; sex is the stuff of life as the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey attests. The demurring reader can make up their own mind ... Brad Cooper's descriptions  do not, by the way, impugn the overall reputation for valour and conduct of Australia's military forces over the years; far from it as he makes clear on the dust jacket. 

Gazza’s scandalous adventures in the post-War army and diplomatic settings are not mentioned in the aptly named Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and less appropriately titled Department of Defence websites. However, if the regional locals know about this stuff, Australians probably should also.
  
Then comes retirement and the realisation of the impermanence of human affairs; a reflection occasioned by the touching annual return of two yellow tailed swallows after their two thousand mile journey. One year they come later than usual. The event causes Gazza to reflect on ageing, relationships and what it all meant.

Not a Hero in Sight is a wonderful, astute snapshot of Australian society from the end of WWII to the increasingly fraught second decade of the 21st Century. It belongs on every Australian bookshelf and not a few others.
Lance Collins (5 August 2016)
Author of: A Dowry for the Sultan: a tale of the siege of Manzikert 1054, paperback, epub and mobi. and with Warren Reed, Plunging Point: intelligence failures, cover-ups and consequences, HarperCollins, Sydney, 2005, paperback.


I have witnessed Gazza’s attack on a cache of grog on a few occasions and his capacity to swill and tell belly busting yarns to infinity and beyond are legendary.

Having now read his autobiography I can now more fully appreciate where the phenomenal stamina, thresholds and capacity for pain, pestering, purpose and grog, and origins for a life of raconteuring derive.  His whole life has been one long celebratory training run.

If every army comprises the array of characters lovingly portrayed in this diary then I am at a loss to explain the end of any conflict. On deeper examination it now explains why every army needs a continuous supply of wars. This cohort of men in every age need the caring environment of an army at war to permit full development of latent qualities that would otherwise lie suppressed in depressed individuals.

I can see why some of the atypical new breed of Morrisonites might object to an objective truthful description of raw army life. Take heart in the knowledge that on 25 April 1946 the book on the siege of Tobruk, “We were the Rats” by Lawson Glassop, was banned as obscene. I predict that NAHIS will become a compulsory text at The Royal Military College Duntroon and will be held in every RSL library.
Dr Gary Bacon
Ferny Grove, QLD


Dear Brad Cooper,
So I have read your book (well actually I read it in 13 hours, a month ago) and have finally got around to writing a review for you Haha. I think the book was amazing, honestly I loved it! It was full of fun, small, true honest tales and interesting facts, that not many books hold. One of the biggest standouts in your book for me was that it was not filled with massive amounts of devastation or horror tales, many writers write of these in order to keep their readers in suspense or to heighten ones interest to keep reading but not you. You were able to write a book with the very minimalist of such, you only used the horrors and bad experiences in your book that were needed in order to help your readers understand your beliefs and values that you hold today, which I see as important and needed for a reader to connect with an author and enjoy a book. It's not always easy to write a book that is not full of horror or devastation in many of its pages and still have an interesting book to read, so I congratulate you for that. You were able to write a book that kept me turning pages by the sheer volume of humour and exciting tales, which no book has ever done before. I really truely did enjoy it. You also helped me to be able to see a man's perspective and to acknowledge and learn things I never knew or understood. I was truly upset to read about the massacre at Xuyen Moc on your last night in Vietnam and I can remember in your book where you wrote that it seemed to you, that against good and bad times, bad times won hands down! It must have been a terrible and terrifying experience for you and I'm sorry you had to experience that but for me to read of that it helped me to understand the horrors of the Vietnam war, something us young ones of today should understand. I really loved reading chapter 6 "Reflections", all those mini stories of other people were entertaining and some were pretty darn hilarious!! Fergie and Dick's speech problems had me in stitches of laughter and who would of knew the good ol dunny man was a retired middle weight champion!!
I loved reading the part on how smiley brought Giang's 5 year old  daughter a bike, with training wheels, and how much of an affect it had on Giang, enough of an effect to find you your favourite drink and bring it to you although it cost her a whole days pay to do it, really wonderful guys. Uncle Sydney's story was really touching, I felt quite saddened reading it, it was heartbreaking, two lives completely turned upside down and countless other lives affected, it was devastating but glad that in the end he was commemorated on Anzac Day in Villers-Bretonneux. Thank you for sharing so much of your life and sharing the stories of so many others, it was exceptionally enjoyable and I had a great laugh, hell you guys could really drink!!! P.s. if I am ever in Thailand I'll be sure to say hi to Smiley. Thank you again for the great book. Kind regards.
Cass
Kempton, TAS


Brad Cooper’s book follows on from a long line of disrespectful, confronting, undisciplined but loveable colonial characters coming from a people born out of isolation, brutality and rebellion, energised by rum and sly-grog.

At my last visit to the Australian War Memorial I was annoyed that I couldn’t find a copy of this book anywhere! Nor could I see a copy of it at the library in the local RSL! The need to cleanse our military history of people like Gazza and his mate Smiley is now necessary in this post deconstructionist era where we only recognise the civilised people who served in uniform. Indeed just a few years ago Scott McIntyre was sacked from the SBS (sister station to the left-leaning ABC) for a politically incorrect tweet about Australian troops in Egypt in World War 1:” On Good Friday 1915, things got out of hand. Around 2,500 Anzacs rioted in the Wazza district of Cairo, sacking and setting fire to brothels, terrifying the locals, and clashing with military police who tried to intervene. These were no angels. Between 12% and 15% of the AIF had contracted venereal disease. The battle of the Wazza, as it was dubbed, was not the only riot that took place. Others followed.

Drinking and whoring, leaving bills unpaid, threatening, bullying and beating locals because they were “n-----s”, and generally behaving in ways that we now condemn our sportsmen for behaving was standard fare for these boys who had money, were far away from home, and had no one to control them”. Sound familiar Gazza? (Is the similarity of the names a pure coincidence???)

I enjoyed reading this work because I knew it to be a true cathartic experience. Having worked as a psychologist treating DVA clients I was well aware of the experiences of soldiers serving overseas and how they used alcohol, sex and larrikinism to mask their anxieties particularly when their own people at home did not support the cause they were fighting for. Worse than that was the fact that their commanding officers often did not understand these “colonials” either.  In fact, as far back as 1942 MacArthur asked the Special Services Division of the US Army to write an instructional manual for US military Officers on dealing with the “psyche” of the Australian soldier entitled “Instructions for American Servicemen in Australia”. It contained the following pearl of wisdom: “

"The Aussies don't fight out of a textbook. They're resourceful, inventive soldiers, with plenty of initiative. Americans and British have the idea they are an undisciplined bunch; they aren't much on saluting or parading, and they often do call their commanding officer by his first name, but when the fighting begins, there isn't any lack of discipline or leadership either."

I enjoyed the book too because it was not an attempt to justify the reasons Gazza and his mates never really “grew up” or blamed the Vietnam War for their behaviour (“I was only 19”). They were just young blokes from a “lucky” country that had not yet lost its innocence and they were out to enjoy it all.

So it is from the perspective of a practicing psychologist   that I read and enjoyed Gazza’s adventures in the Australian Army with an emphasis on the Vietnam War era. The book appears to me to be a work of cathartic experience --a way to provide relief from strong or repressed emotions.  I hope that other servicemen adopt Gazza’s idea of expressing their feelings and experiences of previous war-time “adventures”. The results are not just therapeutic for themselves but entertaining for others.

Thanks Gazza for an entertaining piece of non-PC literature and in particular to the way you pictured my favourite character in the book --“Smiley”. The Australian larrikin will never be dead whilst you two are alive. Long may you two drink and talk bullshit at The Tequila Bar.
Dr. Ray McLaughlin PhD
Howlong, NSW



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © by Brad Cooper