I first met Bill Brooker in 1959 when I was posted to Snake Creek as the replacement for Peter Daetz, who had completed his tropical tour. At that time Bill was the Corporal Armament Fitter at Snake Creek. Other armament personnel there were WOFF Alan "Smokey" Graham (EE), Geoff Buckley and Roy Hopwood. FLTLT Alan Ouston (IOX) used to do the annual explosives inspections and for that he would come over from Narcanning in WA.
Bill was accompanied by his wife June and two children, son Lee and daughter Kim. Being a very small community Bill and June treated Geoff Buckley and me as family, which we greatly appreciated. As a group we made many social visits to Katherine, Mataranka, Hayes Creek, Grove Hill and Darwin. We also were very involved with the families at Adelaide River and Mt Bundy Station and the Adelaide River War Cemetery. We were heavily involved in advertising Swan Lager, for which we were well rewarded, during the celebrations of the Darwin centenary in 1960. Also the legacy of our involvement in the celebrations has been carried on with the Adelaide River Horse Race meeting being held every Queens Birthday weekend. We held the first one as a part of the 1960 celebrations.
Bill and family left Snake Creek just before Xmas 1960 and I think he was posted to either Kingswood or 2AD.
I again met up with Bill in May 1969 when I was posted back to Arm Sect 481 (M) SQN from East Sale. At that time Bill was the FSGT in Armament Section. I Left Williamtown in August 1969 when posted to 75 SQN Butterworth and never caught up with Bill or the family again.
RAAF "Snake Creek" 1959
R - L? Civy, Greg Gannon, Roy Hopwood, Bill Brooker, Ron Wilson (Med Ord) Brian Worrell (MTD)
I met Bill when he arrived at 2AD from Darwin in 1962. I met him again after that when he came up to Butterworth. We didn't see a lot of him as he was in 2 Sqn, and I heard that he went from there to Vietnam. We did have a few beers together at his place on the front road at Hillside. June told us of the time they got married, when Bill got on a bender and was blind drunk when they met. He proposed that night, was married, and the next day couldn't believe it when they told him. I never saw Bill again after Butterwoth, but heard that he had bought the "Rabbit Trap Hotel" in Albert NSW. There was a steady stream of visitors that flew or drove out there to spend a few days, Kanga Kennedy, Col Walker, Ken Edwards and many others. Bill was an unforgettable character and our world is poorer with his loss.
The Rabbit Trap Hotel
All Gunnies have memories… and especially of memorable people. Here’s a few that include (then Sgt) Bill Brooker:
An exchange posting in March 1968 saw me arrive at what was then KWD, later 1CAMD Kingswood - seen as the Armourer’s graveyard (until you got there and into the swing of things).
There, I stencilled boxes of 100 Series bomb tails for Mk 10 bombs for Vietnam until a vacancy came up at ADF (Ammunition Demolition Flight) the fore runner to the Americanisation of EOD. Flt Lt Sam (The Seal) Reynolds, WOff Dick Sharpe, Sgt Bill Brooker - he wore the largest hat size in the RAAF!!! Cpls Bill Alltman, then Les Hill, and Ted Lange (just back from 2 Sqn) and many LACs of all sizes were the happy crew.
We blew up hundreds of 60 lb rocket heads and unserviceable (or dangerous) 500 and 1000 lb bombs. I remember Bill Brooker one day not breaking up a cracked Sidewinder motor candle in the burn-pit which was already full of ejection seat cartridges and smoke flares. Spectacular fireworks ensued as the half-inch by four-foot square steel lids went flying off the pit and the (by then) screaming cordite motor’s core whizzing around the Proof Yard, randomly chasing all and sundry who ventured near. Also remember him on another occasion setting light to a pyramidical stack of 4.5 inch recce flare candles - from the bottom!!! That was even more spectacular, even in the middle of the day.
Bill and “Seafouse” Comber (another Sgt) had a perpetual friendly wrangle that went on over the many years. Bill, when Seafouse was at Bomb Maintenance, and himself further into the bomb dump, at ADF, had a permanent setline for eels in the fire-fighting dam nearby. The lunchtime bus that transported us to/from the explosives area and the domestic facility used to be forced to stop nearby while Bill ran his line. (I recall Bill – if Seafouse ever made the mistake of sitting towards the front of the bus – quietly pass Seafouse by…. And then turn back on him and sink his top teeth into the top of Seafouse’s head!! Huge joke; all arms waving and much screaming!!)
One day whilst returning to work after lunch, there was a terrible hullabaloo as Bill fought something extremely vigorous on the end of his setline for about fifteen minutes – until he discovered that someone had got to his set line and had tied the lid of a bomb tail canister to the business end - this caused the line to whiz backwards and forwards through the water as it was pulled upon. The look of rage on Bill’s face was enough for Seafouse to evacuate the bus and scarper for Orchard Hills through the scrub with Bill in hot pursuit raging and ranting (he was ever the calm and composed type - not!).
We “cleared” the range at Evans Head, in late '68. "ADF" went up to clear the place (first time since WW11) and we drove up from Kingswood with a semi (driver and Gunnie Sgt - Bill Brooker, plus LAC "Lofty" Roberts), an International Scout car and trailer (the Flt Lt - Sam "The Seal" Reynolds + Woff - Dick Sharpe), plus Cpl Les Hill and his family (two Hills and two little Hummocks) in their Kombi, plus me, LAC Fred Neville and AC Brian "Spot" Dunn in my new Hunter GT. We had a riotous trip up the Putty Rd - just after a major bushfire - dead goannas all over the place; one as big as a reasonable croc - then, having to wait at each petrol stop for the semi with all of our ACRO Trenchgard to catch us up. Each stop saw W/O Dick signing petrol imprest vouchers to fill all vehicles - no AusGov credit card back then. Great big meals on imprest at the truckie stops – the sight of Bill Brooker absorbing big, country-style hamburgers at every stop.
On arriving at Evans Head, we were booked into the Pacific Motel (which is still operating today) whilst Les and family opted to live in their Kombi Camper on the camping reserve. We all, polite as usual, headed directly for the pub, to get to know the locals (we had to change into uniform to impress the huge crowd of about three who were propping up the bar). A good contest was entered into and we were all still standing at about something after midnight – no locals remained upright.
Next day it was just hard slog getting the semi and several tons of equip't out to the range through dry, white, powdered sand tracks - lotsa boggery! The Inter Scout was a pig in both 2WD and 4WD but was, at that time the only 4WD available as a troop transport vehicle. Bill quickly installed himself as driver. The Scouts were almost square in their geometry and therefore bloody unstable at any speed. With the semi unable to get close to the UXBs' locations we had to shuffle everything with the Scout and trailer for several hundreds of metres.
There were no dramas whilst clearing the range, except for hitting water just a few feet down, and then finding "coffee rock" in a thick layer which took a lot of effort to break through a short time later. But we dug up, winched out, examined for why “no bang” – I remember:
• Sam “The Seal” sitting on an excavated thousand pounder and declaring it to be a smoking zone!!
• Sand, sand, and deeper sand.
• Bill, bouncing up and down on the Scouts front seat as we hurtled along the sandy tracks.
We finally made all the found munitions go “Bang!” as they should have… and then, just for practice, we part filled in the holes!!!! But, to get back to the fun bit, whilst ensconced at the motel where we were lodged and fed, everything on the menu was available on imprest - except for oysters!!!! We forewent that pleasure and had to console ourselves for a fortnight with lobster and steaks and one bottle of wine per person per meal - tough times!!
Bill was a nice bloke (in retrospect); a bugger to work for, but a really memorable character, all the same. Another famous incident up at ADF was Bill’s return from leave one time, to find that Cpl Les Hill and the willing workers had made him a hard-hat especially to fit his large head – normal workers’ hard hats looked silly perched on Bill’s oversized cranium. We had retrieved an old 30mm ammunition box (H60) from the dump, painted it white and added Sergeant’s stripes in gold at the front. A chinstrap and the name “Brooker” stencilled on the back of it completed the item. It had been quietly hanging on Bill’s clothes hook whilst he was away enjoying whatever it was that he did whilst on leave. Let’s just say that his reaction on discovering it on his return was spectacular in the extreme!!
(Ex LAC Dalton (Fred) Neville)
Lynne Neill wrote:
My father was an assistant armourer at Marangaroo just outside Lithgow in 1956 to 1960. He was then posted to Richmond. He died in 1987 from a melanoma. I came upon your wonderful website about Bill Brooker. Bill was at Marangaroo with Dad before heading to Snake Creek.
Thanks again, I lost contact.