This is the ANZAC DAY Address given by Barry ‘Baz’ Vassella in Coolah, NSW on 25 April 2016.
I’d never heard of Coolah until I met Paul Large back in 1965. We had ended up in the same platoon, same section at Enoggera, young Nashos straight out of recruit training. There were a lot of us and we were mostly strangers to each other so, as you do, we started introducing ourselves, names, towns, and what we did for a crust in civvy street. 12 Platoon turned out to be mostly from country NSW. I was the only city slicker from Brisbane. There was Bluey, Noel, Detto, Dave, Shorty, Slacky, Pete, Luto, two Toms, Stevo, Kev, Geoff and Bill. The town names were mostly familiar; Tamworth, Dubbo, Wellington, Armidale, Canberra, Cowra and Inverell. But there was one I’d never heard of – Coolah.
“Hey Paul, where the bloody hell is Coolah?”
I was sorry I asked. It turned out that Coolah was the best town in NSW. Not only was it a dynamic financial hub of the North West, but its farmers were the best in the country, its cricket and footy teams swept all before them, the dances were great and the sheilas were the most beautiful to be found anywhere.
“Thanks Paul, but where the bloody hell is it?”
“Baz, have you heard of the Black Stump? Find the Black Stump and you’ve found Coolah. I’ll take you down there one day and we’ll go shooting.”
From then on, we heard plenty about how good Coolah was. Paul had something new to share about his town everyday. It was pretty obvious that the boy was very proud of this little bush community.
At this stage everything was novel. It was like a big game, using big boys toys. Then the training started in earnest. Harry, our OC, worked us hard, very hard. We were joined by our Boss, Dave, and our Sergeant, Paddy in early ’66 and the platoon was complete. Our Section Commanders, Drinky, Chico and Mac had been teaching us fieldcraft, navigation and how to live in rough country. We spent a lot of time in the bush. Our military skills and weapon handling improved markedly. As we got to know each other a lot better and became mates, a bond and mutual trust formed. ‘I’ve got your back and you’ve got mine.’ Our teamwork developed and we came together as sections and platoons and became Delta Company 6RAR. We were pretty chuffed at how well we were doing, but it was never good enough for Harry. He drove us on to greater levels of fitness and performance. He seemed to realise what lay ahead.
“ How are your family, Paul?”
“They’re great. And Coolah won the cricket final and the footy team are running second in the premiership. They will win the final for sure. We’ve got too much Coolah spirit when the chips are down. The other towns won’t stand a chance.”
“Geez, Paul, does any bloody Coolah team ever lose?”
“No Baz. Greatest town in the country. You’ll see when you visit.”
It was a bit of a shock when we were warned that we were going to Vietnam. We all went on final leave, to our home towns, Paul to Coolah.
When we moved to the War Zone we soon realised that this was no longer a game. We aged quickly. Boys became men. We were glad to have our mates around us, giving one a sense of security. You knew they would be there for you, and you for them, the Digger Spirit living on.
We spent the first weeks patrolling, looking for the enemy. Then they came looking for us. There was a battle, a big battle and Delta Company were sorely tested but eventually prevailed. In the aftermath, we learned that 11 Platoon had been badly hit [13 killed], 10 Platoon had lost three and 12 Platoon one – Paul. He had fallen in battle, facing the enemy, rifle to shoulder. His parents, family and Coolah had lost a favourite son. For his mates, disbelief turned to numbness. There was no time to mourn or grieve, that would have to wait. The war went on relentlessly.
We returned home in June ’67. The nashos were discharged and everyone disappeared to their home towns. Coolah had already taken Paul home and enveloped him in the earth of his little town.
Some years later while travelling, I found myself close to Coolah and decided to visit Paul’s grave. When I asked for directions to the cemetery from a shop in town, I was asked
“Looking for someone in particular?”
“Yes”, I said, “a good mate I served with in Vietnam.”
“Oh, you mean Paul.”
I was surprised that he was remembered and in such a familiar way.
I came to know that the whole town remembered Paul. He was their son and they loved him still.
Paul will not grow old,
as his mates who are left grow old.
Age will not weary him as it does us.
We have kept his memory in our hearts for nearly fifty years and I still see him as he was then, a young country boy, full of life and laughter. And when we are gone we know he will not be forgotten.
His town, Coolah, of which he was so proud, will remember him forever.
On behalf of 12 Platoon and all his mates, I would like to sincerely thank Coolah for looking after our good friend, Paul Andrew Large, and for keeping the memory of this brave young soldier alive in the town he loved so well.
Lest we forget.
Private Barry ‘Baz’ Vassella, 12 Platoon, Delta Company, 6RAR
ANZAC Day, 25 April 2016
Last Post Ceremony in honour of Paul Large held at the Australian War Memorial on 18 August 2013: