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Charles Hill's Oral History


Between 1996 and 2000 the National Parks Association of the ACT (NPA ACT), recorded a series of oral histories from people associated with the formation of the Association.

The history shown below is extracted from a longer interview recorded by Charles John Hill at his residence on Wednesday 24 July 1996 with the purpose of recording Charles’ involvement in environmental protection, and in particular his role in the organisation and campaigns for the National Parks Association of the ACT.

The history is reproduced by permission of the Association. The full version can be found on the Association's website.

Charles's Story

REG:- What was your first job and where was it?

CHARLES:- ... I was 16, I think, when I took up a job in 1938. That was the time when there was a lot of tension in Europe, and it was pretty obvious there would be a war within the next year or so. I was sent to the Maribyrnong Naval Armament Depot to work, with the main emphasis being on arming merchant ships that would take part in convoys from the coast of the southern Australian cities to all parts of the world. We then saw that the men were trained and they had sufficient ammunition for their tasks. Some of these ships were subsequently sunk by enemy action during the war but others, we like to think, did use their weapons to good effect and either got through unscathed or left their mark.

REG:- You remained with one employer all your working life, but where did it take you to after you left Maribyrnong?

CHARLES:- I did several training courses at the Flinders Naval Depot in Western Port Victoria and then looked at some of the armament depots at Newington in Sydney. Newington is on the Parramatta River really, and two or three of us used to go for walks at lunchtime and look at anything interesting we could find on the way.

REG:- After Newington, where did you go then?

CHARLES:- I was still down at Maribyrnong in the early years of the war. When the war was becoming much more serious as far as Australia was concerned, I was told that I would be shifted to the Naval Armament Ordnance Depot on Spectacle Island in Sydney Harbour. Newington came in a little later. At times I served in various places in Sydney. There were a couple of spots on the Parramatta River, Newington and a place just across the river from it, where large ordnance was stored. These depots were run according to the regulations that were bought out in England by the Admiralty. What we did, we had no real say in policy and methods, but carried them out from textbooks which were sent from the Admiralty.

I was married in 1949. I had transferred myself to Sydney the year before, 1948, and right after the wedding and honeymoon we moved. I was married to Audrey and we shifted all our belongings and prepared for having a home in Sydney.

As time went on, I gained promotions in various positions, still in the Naval Armament Supply Branch. The courses I did were sometimes naval and sometimes run by the Public Service Board in administrative training.

REG:- When did you go to Melbourne, Charles?

CHARLES:- There is a little bit to come first. I was selected to do a long-term course with the Admiralty in England, and Alga Skelton and myself sailed there by ship. I remember I had become interested in skiing by this stage, and I rather sneakily left my skis and skiing gear up in the ski lodge I helped build at Mt Buller in Victoria. We finally had one last weekend to bring my gear back to leave it at home in Melbourne.

REG:- When did you join the Melbourne bushwalkers?

CHARLES:- We had bought a house in Sydney by this time, and we were very happy there. It was with a certain amount of reluctance I was told I was going to be transferred to Melbourne permanently.

REG:- What year was that Charles?

CHARLES:- It was 1954. Several members of the branch were interviewed in early 1944 to receive a commission in the Navy as a Lieutenant. I was selected to do the task. I was in the special reserve on active service and had a beat across the south-west Pacific where my responsibility was to examine and supervise all the ammunition dumps in that area. This was when the Japanese were being driven from the various spots they had. The ammunition was being stored quite often on desert islands with palm trees and other growth, it was good for scenery, lovely to look at but it didn't do the ammunition or the guns any good.

LEUT Charles John Hill, RANVR

LEUT Charles John Hill, RANVR (photo reproduced by courtesy of the family of Charles Hill)

I had no staff myself but had authority to use staff from anywhere else in the Navy to do what was needed. This went on until the war ended on VJ Day. I remember that day and night very clearly. The Captain of HMAS Magnetic where I had my headquarters while I was up further north but which I had only visited a couple of times, he thought that the atmosphere in the towns or city was such that quite a few young ladies would attempt to gain entry during the day and night all in good fun. I would have less of a task keeping order with a few men than if I had formed friendships previously. This was true enough. I didn't get much sleep but, I think, the personnel of the Depot had a lot of fun. All this came back fairly clearly to mind when the 50th year celebration of this event took place recently.

After VJ Day I took some leave, which I hadn't been able to get at all while I was in the Pacific, and reported to Headquarters in Victoria Barracks, Melbourne. I volunteered to go back to the Pacific and finally clean up all the remnants of our ammunition dumps and stores which now had to be got out of the way as safely and speedily as possible. I had gained quite a liking to some of the spots I had explored on walks when we had some local leave while I was up there. I thought it would be very nice to look at these spots without pressure of occasional bombing and so on and be able to take, I hoped, a little bit of time to look at the beautiful rivers and gorges and mountains in Papua New Guinea. However, the answer was clear and very firm, I was not to return to the north at all. Other people would take care of this task as there were things down in Melbourne that I was required to do, amongst them write a chapter in the Navy confidential publication of lessons learnt from the war.

My base had been shifted down to Melbourne at this time. I did a course then, mentioned earlier in this interview. It was in Admiralty and took 14 months altogether.

There were about half a dozen Admiralty senior young executives on it with Skelton and myself. We did fairly well and I came top of this course. We flew back to Australia in a converted Lancaster Bomber with bunks being made on the extra petrol tanks inside. Still, you get used to funny local environments in the Naval Armament world. I was observing what I could from the plane. It wasn't built for sight seeing; you either had to kneel on the floor to get enough height to look out the small windows or sit on a seat and twist around in it in a fairly uncomfortable position. I didn't complain because it was a beautiful trip from the point of view of scenery. ...

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Robert Curran
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