Defending our sovereign borders – Hoo-ah (0oRah)

US Marine convoy NTI was sitting outside a remote Northern Territory roadhouse in the sun, enjoying a Mars bar, musing on the whys and wherefores of life when I was somewhat startled by the appearance of a troupe of US Marines. I know we’ve been out of touch for a while, but surely this was a ‘friendly’ force…
They had stopped off at the Victoria River Roadhouse to buy snack food, use the latrines, saying y’all and howdy and that. She who reads Facebook when she can’t buy Newspapers said she encountered a few Marines coming out of the ladies loo. Neither of us was aware there were women in the US Marines, but there was the evidence right in front of us, wearing attractive salmon pink fatigues, faces already pink from the relentless northern sun. It wasn’t the first convoy of the day. A variety of road vehicles rumbled by, including a low loader carrying a grader, supply trucks and several armoured vehicles which I lack the technical know-how to accurately identify and describe.
The locals say the US Marine presence is building up. Private Nonamenopackdrill (Ms) from Oklahoma told our investigator they were bound for Bradshaw. Our reporter said “I don’t know where that is” and the private replied “Neither do I” and they both laughed – having a moment.
The Bradshaw Defence Area, 8 kms west of Timber Creek, is a training camp owned by the Australian Defence Force (ADF). The Bradshaw Defence Area is what Kevin McCloud would call ‘vast’. The ADF bought Bradshaw Station from private owners for $5 million and generously allowed the former owner to keep his cattle, on the proviso that he cleared the 990,000ha property of livestock. So Bradshaw then became a defence asset, sprawling 8,700 square kilometres in all directions, with rivers on two sides and pastoral properties on the other boundaries.
The first thing the ADF did when it bought Bradshaw was to spend $10 million building an all-weather bridge across the Victoria River.DSCN3138 Citizens are not permitted to cross the bridge, although it is quite the photo stop on the route that takes in historic monuments like explorer Augustus Gregory’s monument and a big old Boab tree thoughtlessly carved with the dates it was “discovered” by white explorers.
Most of the information about Bradshaw comes from the US-based Nautilus Security Institute www.nautilus.org, which keeps track of all things military. The Nautilus Institute says it is used by Australian, US, and forces and those from other countries (including Singapore) for infantry and armoured formation manoeuvres, ground and air live firing and bombing.
We got a bit more personal run-down on Bradshaw on a sunset river cruise 35 km down the 800 km long Victoria River, while being expertly piloted by skipper and tour guide Neville Fogarty, a long-time resident of the nearby town of Timber Creek, population 300, including four Aboriginal communities. This is one of the longest permanent rivers in Australia, named after a then newly crowned Queen of England, after Captain J.C Wickham sailed up the river on the HMS Beagle in 1819.
On our three-hour sunset cruise Neville regaled us with stories of crocodiles taking on Brahman cattle when they come down to the river to drink. Even though Bradshaw was destocked, about 40 head of unbranded cross-breed cattle, descendants of those that were shipped elsewhere, still run wild on the property. Apparently a bold croc will lie in wait, just under the water, and then lunge, grabbing the beast by the nose, dragging it into the water. The drowned beast is left to decompose some and then ripped up later by one or more crocs. Lovely.
If you can appreciate the analogy, amphibious apex predators patrol the banks of the river, making sure no rogue beasts cross their borders, while on dry land thousands of soldiers play war games, ostensibly for training purposes, but ready to repel boarders.
There is a long tradition of border patrols up here in the Territory. After the Japanese bombed Darwin and other NT locations, an Army unit, nicknamed ‘The Nackaroos’ kept vigil, patrolling the northern shoreline on horseback, aided by local aboriginal guides. It seems a futile task, given the vast expanse of shoreline across the top of WA and the Territory. Nevertheless, the Bradshaw pastoral lease is doing its bit to protect our sovereign borders. US Marines took part in exercises last year that involved the strange-looking Osprey, a tilt rotor aircraft with both a vertical take-off and landing and short take-off and landing capabilities. It is a bit hard to bring aircraft like that into the remote NT without people noticing.
The 2011 decision to allow a US Marine battalion to set up camp in northern Australia raised fears that it makes us more of a target than we were when it was just Pine Gap and other US-linked bases around the country. Nautilus says the main reason the ADF chose Bradshaw is the abundant space, a long, long way from large-scale human habitation. Despite the growing popularity of the Kimberley as a tourist destination, the area around Bradshaw is sparsely populated, not counting the 2,500 single accommodation units on Bradshaw.
US Marines last ‘invaded’ this part of the world back in September last year for full-scale military exercises. There is much speculation that exercises will be held earlier this year, with September in the Territory maybe a bit on the hot side for the Americans. Now most of you would know that there is a battalion of US marines permanently based in Darwin. It was controversial at the time and it still ought to be. We can put this one down to Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard cosying up to the latest Sheriff of Washington, but we doubt Tony Abbott has plans to change this arrangement any time soon.
As the latest batch of marines milled about in the hot noon-day sun at Victoria River Roadhouse, a tall black man with the bearing of someone in charge shouted something that sounded like “H’okay. Move’m out.” The response was a chorus of “Hoo-ah” or maybe OoRah, a common Army and/or a US Marine response to command which apparently means “anything and everything except no”. “Hoo-ah” is also said to date back to the 19th century British army acronym for Heard, Understood and Acknowledged. Again, it could have been an appropriated from Indian (ie American First Nations’-ed.) chant.
On the other side of the Victoria River from the Bradshaw Defence Area lies the vast (there’s that word again) Auvergne pastoral holding, once owned by the listed Australian Agricultural Company and now owned by a British group. I once had shares in AAC but sold them after discovering the extent of that company’s involvement in live cattle export. In that sense, a big wide river separates our ability to stop funding something on ethical and moral grounds, while on the Bradshaw side of the river, our tax dollars ($29.2 billion 2014-2015) are put to work, with no right of veto.

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