Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Scheyville Experiment

During the period of two-year military conscription in Australia, between 1965 and 1973, some 2700 young men were selected from each Army National Service intake, representing about 5% of the total number of those called up.

These men had volunteered to be Army Officers, and because they were conscripts, rather than regular soldiers, serious misgivings and some resentment resulted in military circles. This also created a rather strange situation - the men were volunteers yet conscripts at the same time. It also was a contradiction of the very old, tried and true Army maxim - keep your eyes open, your mouth shut and never volunteer. It was determined from the outset that they would have to prove themselves in a harsh testing ground before they could become Officers. The whole concept represented largely unchartered waters for the Australian Army.

The location of this military experiment was Scheyville, (pronounced Sky- ville) on the then outer limits of western Sydney. An ex migrant camp, the facilities were spartan but not uncomfortable and had the advantages of being close to the Air Force base at Richmond and also the Blue Mountains where many of the troop exercises were to be held.

The facility was called the Officer Training Unit (OTU) Scheyville and produced a massive culture shock to the incoming twenty year old conscripts, many of whom had come straight from the universities, farms and offices of civilian life.



The OTU Scheyville coat of arms
(Click on image to enlarge)

This carefully handpicked group then undertook a gruelling 22 weeks course, designed to place as much stress as was legally permissible on each individual, who were continuously evaluated during the period. 14 hour days with no weekends off were the norm, together with periods in the bush on combat rations under full tactical conditions, simulating infantry patrols in Vietnam.

The failure rate was high – eventually only 1801 would pass the course, meaning about one in every three was eliminated. Looking at the broader picture this meant that Scheyville graduates represented less than 3% of the total National Service call up of the period.

There were four intakes every year with a graduation parade held every three months. This graduating group then went on to complete their two year National Service obligation as Second Lieutenants in the various Army Corps, several serving with distinction in Vietnam, where 8 were killed in action.

The first intake of 1969 (Click on image to enlarge)

Two of the three platoon commanders at the iconic Battle of Long Tan were National Service Officers and Scheyville men. Gordon Sharp was killed in action there and Dave Sabben led his men with distinction and was subsequently decorated for gallantry. See
http://passingparade-2009.blogspot.com/2010/11/weather-goes-to-war-battle-of-long-tan.html

The OTU Graduation Parade held on July 16th 1969
(Click on image to enlarge)


Several Scheyville graduates remained in the Army after their National Service period had expired and became respected senior officers up to and including the level of Major General. However, the majority returned to civilian careers where most were highly successful across a broad spectrum of endeavours.

Scheyville graduates today represent possibly one of the most successful groups of Australian males of their generation. In politics, business, the arts, government and the military, Scheyville graduates form an elite group.

Two of the highest profile graduates are Jeff Kennett (ex-Premier of Victoria) and Tim Fischer (ex Deputy Prime Minister of Australia), but there is also a liberal sprinkling of senior police, chief executive officers, university professors and vice chancellors from within the Scheyville ranks.























The memorial plaque commemorating the Scheyville graduates who fell in battle during the Vietnam War.
(Click to enlarge)

An interesting fact quoted by numerous graduates is that they believed that their Scheyville training had played an important part of their later civilian success. This was due, amongst other things, to their learned ability to cope with stress, think laterally and maintain attention to detail in fast moving situations.

After the demise of National Service in 1973, Scheyville gradually fell into ruin and was finally demolished in the late 1990’s to make way for today’s Scheyville National Park. The concrete slabs that formed the foundations of the huts are still visible beneath the long grass and light forest that has gradually reclaimed the area.

Scheyville camp in ruins 1990.
(Click on image to enlarge)


Scheyville was designed to produce a National Service Officer who was capable of commanding an infantry platoon in Vietnam, and in this it was highly successful. But it achieved far more.

Scheyville proved that provided a suitable selection process is undertaken, an operational junior Army Officer can be produced in six months. It was also demonstrated that contrary to conventional wisdom, conscripts can become effective Army Officers. And finally, the Scheyville graduates themselves learned that military skills and training are of considerable value in the civilian workplace.

Hopefully these lessons will not be forgotten.

Nil bastardum carborundum.

For some very rare vision of the graduation parade of the last class of 1967 go to

http://1otuscheyville.zenfolio.com/p906752097/h27287697#h27287697

For a look at the official OTU Recruitment video shown for all intakes at Puckapunyal and Kapooka Recruit Training Battalions from 1965 to 1972 go to

http://1otuscheyville.zenfolio.com/p343961062

References:

1. The Scheyville Experience, Roger Donnelly, University of Queensland Press, 2001.

2. The OTU Association website:

http://www.otu.asn.au/

6 comments:

  1. Nice memories. John Britton. Class 1/69
    Well done.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes indeed. It was one hell of a place. Gordon Dickens 2/69

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  3. The 22 weeks I spent in OTU changed my life. In December 2014 I meet with 3 other graduates and we will have dinner. It is the first time in 41 years we will all be in the same city at the same time.
    All of us have had hugely successful professional lives. I attribute my success to the discipline need to survive OTU and the dedication of the instructors

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  4. 17 Sept ‘17
    I have written a Book of Remembrance
    for 48 air cadets in Western Australia,
    who died in service. Each cadet has 2 facing pages.
    We will prob print 100 copies, mostly for the
    cadet organisation, rels, and a few in the local air museum.
    One of the cadets, Major Lyn Hummerston was killed in a Nomad crash.
    and I found the photo of the Scheyville grad parade on your blog, on the internet.
    We would be most grateful for permission to place this in the
    tribute to the cadet killed. Credit would be noted as per your requirements.
    Thank you so much,
    kind regards, Charles Page
    AAFC Branch Historian
    172/76 Ridgewood Bvd, Ridgewood, WA 6030, Australia
    chaz747@bigpond.com

    ReplyDelete
  5. No problems, Charles; Please attribute to "Compliments of the OTU Association". All the best with your Book of Remembrance. Just in case you don't have it I've also sent you a copy (by email) of "C Class" 1/69, of which Lyn was a member. I recall him well. Cheers Dick Whitaker

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    Replies
    1. Many thanks Dick, wilco. It's a great photo, with the little boy watching. I knew Lyn's father, Peter, who was WWII Nav. I hope to see his rels soon. Cheers, Charles Page

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