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Robert Hunter

Robert Hunter

Corporal, Australian Army


Corporal Robert Michael Hunter

Australian Force Vietnam Provost Unit, Australian Army
Service number: 2789489
Rank on discharge: corporal

"We’d do patrols, from about seven in the morning to about five or six at night, of the villages around our camps and bases.

When it got dark, the area was locked up. It was under martial law.

We ran patrols. We investigated vehicle accidents Australians were involved in. But we had a lot of freedom over the areas we were responsible for, to investigate and patrol. We could go maybe 10–15 miles around Nui Dat, and 15–20 miles out from Vung Tau, so we could see a lot more of the countryside."

Bob Hunter was a trainee radiographer at Manly Hospital when his name came up for National Service. He said, “As long as I continued training and passing the exams, that gave me an exemption. Unfortunately, I failed badly in the physics exam. So, I gave up on physics and went into the Army.”

Bob was placed into the Military Police Corps, and he was posted on rotation to Vietnam in 1970. Bob said, “The military hired out a Qantas plane once a week to take doctors, nurses and people that didn’t come from big units, whereas the infantry went on HMAS Sydney.”

“The Military Police had 60 or 70 personnel in Vietnam at any one time. There were three groups with about 30 at Vung Tau, 20 in Nui Dat, and maybe about 20 in Saigon. I spent six months in Vung Tau and six months in Nui Dat; they were very different environments.”

“The Australian Military Police in Vung Tau were doing patrols of the area, firstly to enforce the curfew and secondly because there were a lot of Australian, New Zealand and American soldiers on R&C there having a few days off. The overall role of the Military Police is to maintain military discipline and good order. In other words, too many soldiers on leave might get drunk and might do crazy things.”

“Vung Tau had a significant number of bars, massage parlours and other places of ill repute. Our Australian Army medical teams would carry out medical checks of the bar girls, and if they found there were diseased girls working in a bar, that bar was placed out of bounds. So, one job of the Military Police was to make sure that no one went into those out-of-bounds bars.”

“Vung Tau was vibrant like a holiday place, and everyone could be out enjoying themselves until curfew and then ‘boom’, the lights go out and everyone had to return to their base or R&C centre. We had to keep patrolling at nighttime in Vung Tau itself amongst all these darkened places. Every now and then someone would be sneaking around and get caught.”

“Another thing we were doing, was trying to control the black market to stop the enemy Vietnamese getting hold of American dollars. There were three lots of currency in circulation. There were MPCs (Military Payment Certificates) and American dollars and they were not allowed to be used with civilians in Vung Tau. You were supposed to use the local currency, the Vietnamese dong. But the enterprising Vietnamese bar girls might say a massage cost 500 dong, but if you had American money, the price was half.”

“We also got involved with motor vehicle accidents. The Australian government had a liability policy with the Vietnamese, so that if an Australian had done some damage or a civilian was injured or killed in an accident, there was the opportunity for the Vietnamese to seek compensation. So oftentimes, we had to do an investigation.”

“At Vung Tau our compound was on a sandhill, and looking down you could see the military hospital and the hospital helipad, and further down you could see the water. Because we were so close to the hospital, oftentimes the nurses would come up to our compound to have a break from the hospital. We were able to get the latest movies when they came in on the American aeroplanes, so the nurses would be watching our pictures and when the helipad siren went, they could just go down and meet the helicopter with the injured people on board.”

“Another thing the Military Police did was look after the jail or holding compound. I forget what our terminology was, it wasn’t ‘prison’, but it was a purpose-built compound within the Australian Task Force area where they put soldiers if they were playing up or broke curfew. We had an average of 10 to 15 soldiers there coming and going for one reason or another. The area where the jail was built was very sandy, so they spent most of their time there filling sandbags.”

“At Nui Dat there were convoys every day going down to Vung Tau to pick up supplies, or maybe going to Saigon. So, the Military Police would go out on convoy patrols. We were also on standby if the infantry came across someone who they thought was enemy. They would send out a helicopter with one or two Military Police and we would bring them back to a holding unit that was called the Playboy Club, but in reality, was a prisoner of war compound. I think we were only able to keep them there for two days before we had to hand them over to the American authorities.”

“Because we were stuck in the middle of this big compound, we couldn’t do anything at nighttime. So, we’d have one or two beers and oftentimes guys we knew from other units would join us. One night one of the regimental policemen said there was a bloke that wanted to see me, and he was very persistent. It was Rodney O’Regan who I knew from before. He was in a bit of a dirty state because he'd just come back from doing some tunnel ratting. So, we had a beer and a good old chat, and then the next day he was gone. I didn’t see him much until later back in Australia, he was working hard doing his mine clearing, a terribly dangerous job.”

“At Nui Dat we would also do patrols of the places that were regarded as ‘friendly’ like the little hamlets at Binh Ba rubber plantation or Ba Ria. We normally went out on Land Rovers with two Australian Military Police, one American Military Police, and one Vietnamese policeman or an interpreter. We’d do patrols from about seven in the morning till about five or six at night, because when it got dark the area was locked up. They were good patrols because you had the freedom of driving anywhere within your area, in a radius of maybe 20 miles. So, we ended up seeing a fair bit of countryside and we were able to meet some of the locals because we were there on a regular basis.”

“The Military Police got to go to the afternoon Intelligence meetings, because sometimes someone would see something on one of our daytime patrols in the areas that were supposed to be neutralised. And maybe someone else will have seen something and they put one or two things together and they would form a bit of a picture. Though to be honest, people didn't know who's who or what's what.”

“The main highway from Vung Tau to Nui Dat was a two-way tarred road but it was pretty skinny and right up against the rice paddies and paddocks. The paddocks were ploughed by water buffaloes and on one or two occasions it was obvious that when a water buffalo was getting a bit old and not working hard enough, they would bring him close to the road and then give him a big push on the backside halfway through the convoy.”

“In the convoy you’d have say ten or more trucks. The vehicles at the front and back were to protect the convoy, they were normally APCs (armoured personnel carriers) or some other vehicle with machine guns. The rule is that you can’t break convoy, you just have to keep going. So, if a water buffalo runs into the middle, you have just gotta keep going. So, I think the Vietnamese must have realised that and maybe they were successful in getting compensation for a worn-out old water buffalo.”

“I didn't spend any significant time in Saigon. I was sad I missed out because the guys that were there seemed to have a much more vivid social life whereas we got locked up every night in Nui Dat. To break the monotony, we had a pet monkey and two dogs. One dog was just some mongrel dog but the other dog, Tiber, was brought over from one of the regiments. With the regiment, the dog came under very heavy fire, and he bolted. The regiment found him later badly wounded and deaf from the explosion. As he was of no value to the regiment, the Military Police were told to remove him. He was taken by the Military Police where they unofficially looked after him in our Nui Dat unit.” 

“The dogs and the monkey had a great time fighting and playing with each other and keeping morale up. But unfortunately, the colonel in charge of the Nui Dat area was worried about rabies and he didn't like the idea of Army units having non-military animals. So, he issued a directive that all animals that weren’t working animals were to be destroyed. Tiber was a lovely black Labrador, and we just couldn't destroy him. So, the Military Police down in Saigon found a civilian in the Australian Embassy who took the dog home and looked after him. And we do believe that after the Fall of Saigon, those people still had the dog.”

Bob was in Vietnam for around 12 months. He flew back to Australia in April 1971 on a Qantas flight from Tan Son Nhut Airport. “When I arrived back in Sydney my father and sister were there, and they took me home. A week or two later I went to the Military Police at South Head for a day or two and then I was discharged. Because I was covered by the National Service Act, Manly Hospital had to take me back even though I failed the exams. I couldn't pass the physics exam when I was two or three years younger and had a different mindset, so I had no chance then, and so, I resigned.”

“But as it happened when I was in Vietnam, we had one or two senior Commonwealth Police Officers seconded to us to help with criminal investigations and I became friendly with one of the blokes and he said when you get back to Australia, think about joining the Commonwealth Police, so that’s what I did.”

“One of the Commonwealth Police jobs I had was the night shift at Gough Whitlam's house. When he was the opposition leader, he bought a house in the safe seat of Cabramatta, and he lived there for the duration of the election. I was on duty the night he won and the whole place was a hive of people coming to celebrate. He spent the Saturday night there and on Sunday morning, he went down to the TV studios in Sydney to do some interviews. He came back on Sunday night, and then on the Monday he went down to Canberra and that was the last time I saw him. Whitlam ended conscription in 1972, that was one of the first things he did after he got voted in. Later in life, I became an OHS consultant specializing in healthcare facilities and accreditation auditor.”