I graduated from the RAAF School of Technical Training (RSTT) in June 1971 as an instrument fitter, a trade that I really enjoyed. I was posted to RAAF Base Williamtown in New South Wales, near Newcastle, were I got to work on the Mirage and Macchi aircraft. Having been brought up on the Gold Coast I was naturally a surfer and so Newcastle was a great place for me. As a young 17 year old I was naturally keen to fit in with the local surfers and more importantly the young girls. Unfortunately, in the seventies, if you didn’t have long hair you were treated as a virtual outcast and all the locals instantly knew you were in the RAAF and you were pretty much shunned by all. So a couple of enterprising young RAAF guys bought short-haired wigs and grew their own hair underneath. There was a sympathetic local hairdresser that would match the wigs to your hair and then cut them to suit your particular hairstyle. I jumped onto this bandwagon straight away and it wasn’t long before I had a reasonably long mane that was pulled into a ponytail and pinned to the top of my head and the wig was placed over the top. Morale improved considerably and it wasn’t too long before the trend among young RAAFies caught on. We estimated there were close to one hundred of us on the base.
Working on the Mirage flight line at No 2 Operational Conversion Unit was a great experience. When seeing an aircraft back into the flight line the marshaller would proceed to stand beside the left air intake after the engine had been shutdown and bang on the side of the aircraft to let the pilot know when the engine had stopped turning. This was a timed procedure that would indicate if and when the engine bearings were becoming worn. All the experienced troops knew that you didn’t stick your head in the intake until the engine was close to stopping because there was still a significant amount of suction present and one could lose personal items down the intake and severely damage the engine. This was known as foreign object damage or FOD.
Postings in and out of the Squadron were a common and regular event and new guys were always being trained on flight line procedures so that they could become effective quickly. Sometimes procedures were not checked by an experienced troop and they were passed on verbally. On the fateful day a new guy was detailed to see in an aircraft and told “don’t forget to stick your head in the intake when the pilot shuts the engine down and bang on the side when it stops!”.
This new guy was one of the ‘short-haired wig’ fraternity and he had on a wig, a floppy hat and his ear muffs. As luck would have it, as soon as the pilot shut off the engine, he stuck his head in the intake and all his head wear departed his head and proceeded into the compressor of the engine stopping it quite suddenly. The pilot was perturbed at the short time taken for the engine to stop and equally surprised to see a long haired youth standing sheepishly at the bottom of the crew ladder. The senior engineering officer (SENGO) was enraged and proceeded to drag the young man off to his office for interrogation. During this enlightened discussion in the senior engineering officer’s office the young man, fearing for his career, informed the SENGO that just about everyone had a short-haired wig.
The SENGO immediately informed all section heads that he would be conducting a special ‘hats off’, ‘hair pulling’ inspection of all troops the very next morning and charging anyone who was found to have a short-haired wig on.
I was on ‘B’ shift which started at 4:00pm and went to 12:00pm each night. So on the fateful day I arrived at work to find out what had happened and what was going to happen the next day. ‘B’ shift gathered to receive a briefing on the nights work to be done and at the end the Sergeant in charge of the shift started talking about ‘this short-haired wig stuff’ stating that he didn’t believe anyone would be able to get away with wearing one. He then pointed at me and said that he would certainly know if Frawley was wearing one. I smiled and grabbed the top of my wig and pulled it off, I released my ponytail and let my hair drop down to my shoulders. The Sergeant, one ‘Snow’ Cannom was stunned. After gathering himself together and seeing the funny side of the whole ruse he told me to complete my tasks on the aircraft and leave as soon as possible.
Naturally there was a lot of disappointment among the troops and a few attempted to find a way to keep their wigs but it was not to be and the Base barber did a roaring trade getting everyone back to military style haircuts. I look back on that time with a lot of happiness as I made good mates and they remain so today after 47 years. As for my wig, well I don’t recall what I did with it, probably ended it’s life in a tip.