Greg Kater is an Australian-based
author. He lives in Sanctuary Cove, Gold Coast, Queensland and has recently
retired from a 55-year international career in the resources industry. The
Warramunga’s War is his first work of fiction.
The principal fictional characters interact with
actual historical figures and events which have been rigorously researched. The
subject of the novel is partly inspired by the experiences of the author’s
father during the war in the Middle East, and partly by his own experiences in
northern Australia where he worked extensively throughout the Northern Territory
and the Kimberley. The Warramunga’s War is the first of a trilogy.
For Anne .... with love
Zap! Zap! Zap! The machine gun bullets thudded into
Jamie’s knapsack, which protruded just above the jagged limestone rocks where he
was sheltering. The bag was disintegrating under the onslaught.
“Bloody hell! Bloody hell! Bloody hell!” Jamie
muttered to himself through the limestone dust and gravel that partly covered
his mouth. Just as well I’ve got no grenades in it! he thought.
Lieutenant James Munro was part of the army
engineers’ unit attached to the 2/5th Battalion currently fighting the pro-Nazi
Vichy French in Syria and Lebanon. He and Sergeant Jim Brennan had set out in
early July 1941 ahead of the main Australian force near the Wadi Damour south of
Beirut. Their task was to reconnoitre enemy positions to coordinate artillery
targets; however, they had come under heavy fire from a machine-gun position
manned by French Foreign Legion elements of the Vichy French armies.
Sergeant Brennan had been hit and was probably dead
behind him. Now, Jamie lay flat behind the low limestone rocks, not daring to
“Bloody hell, bloody hell!” Jamie lay as still as he
could in the prickly heat, pinned down by the accurate fire. Insects and sweat
competed for space on his hands, face and inside his shirt. His knees and arms
were skinned and bleeding a little from throwing himself flat onto the rough
limestone gravel. He shifted his position slightly to restore the circulation to
his limbs. This movement not only accentuated the discomfort of the sharp rocks
under his chest but also brought new intensity to the machine gun fire pinning
He knew his rifle was about four feet away to his
right – just out of reach. He dared not move so there was no chance of using it
anyway. He estimated he’d been under fire for a couple of hours and it would now
be about noon, so he figured he would have to stay very still in this position
for another six or seven hours when nightfall would allow him to retreat under
cover of darkness. As several flies and ants began crawling up his nose, he
wasn’t looking forward to the rest of the day.
Suddenly Jamie sensed rather than heard another
presence beside him on his right.
A low voice said, “G’day, Captain, how you goin’?”
Jamie slowly moved his head so that he could make out
a handsome brown-skinned soldier whose black eyes studied him with a slight
twinkle of amusement as machine-gun bullets whined overhead, sending splinters
of rock flying or zapping into Jamie’s knapsack.
Jamie managed to croak out, “How did you manage to
“I was told you were up here somewhere, and when I
saw where you were I squirmed along like a snake so that the Frenchie up there
wouldn’t see me.”
Jamie asked, “Are you from one of the Indian units
“Naw! Don’t let the tan fool you, Cap. I’m as
Australian as you are, or even more so. Name’s Corporal Jack O’Brien but you can
call me Jacko, Cap.”
In spite of his relief at seeing a friendly face,
Jamie felt a slight irritation. “I am not a captain and you can call me
“Okay, Cap. Anyway, we’d better do something about
this shootin’ Frog.”
Jamie watched as his companion slowly turned on his
back and drew his .303 Lee-Enfield rifle on top of him. Gradually, Jacko lifted
the rifle with his hands and one foot to point roughly in the direction of the
intermittent machine-gun fire.
Jamie was mystified and asked, “What are you trying
“Listen, Cap. Just pick up that stick near your right
hand and slowly raise it above the rocks somewhere between us. I want the
Frenchie to see movement and figure he has a new target.”
“Okay, but for Christ’s sake, don’t call me Cap!”
Slowly Jamie clutched the stick and brought it
forward until he was able to wiggle the end of it above the rocks. This was
greeted by a renewed burst of fire just to Jamie’s right and the next moment he
was deafened by the boom of the .303 rifle, which recoiled backwards with Jacko
holding onto the strap. The machine-gun fire sprayed the rocks in front of them
with renewed vigour.
Jacko whispered, “I think I was a little high with
that shot, Cap.”
Jamie rasped back, “Did you honestly think you could
hit him that way, Jacko?”
Jacko nodded. “We’ll just try it again, Cap. Get
ready with what’s left of your stick.”
Jacko slowly worked the butt of the rifle onto the
toe of his boot and, after cocking it, lifted it carefully with his hands.
“Wiggle your stick, Cap.”
Again the machine-gun fire was directed at the
position of the moving stick end and Jacko squeezed the trigger. Boom! Then
“I think we got him that time, Cap.”
Jamie sat up cautiously and saw the distant gunner
slumped over his machine gun and his Syrian assistant trying to pull him off to
free the gun.
“Great shot, Jacko.”
“You can call me Cap or whatever you like after
Jamie threw off the remains of his knapsack, picked
up his own .303 and shot down the other figure at the machine gun.
With a big smile Jacko said, “Good shot, Cap.”
“Yeah, but at least I could see the target.”
Jacko pointed at the knapsack. “Do you want to bring
“Bloody hell no! It’s only full of lead sandwiches
He and Jacko then worked their way a few miles
forward until they were looking down from the heights onto a Vichy French
encampment beside the Damour River.
Jamie was still stunned by the recent events and just
had to ask, “Jacko, that was the most amazing shot I have ever seen. Where the
hell did you learn to shoot like that?”
Jacko thought for a while and replied, “Well, I
wasn’t actually taught by anyone to shoot like that. It’s just that I’ve
got a good sense of direction, probably inherited from the black side of my
“The black side?”
“Yeah. You see, I’m half Warramunga. My family come
from around Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory. When my mother was young
she met a government geologist name of Paddy O’Brien helping the gold-diggers
around the Tennant in the 1920s. I was the product of that meeting, you might
say. Later, in the mid-1930s, Mr O’Brien, my dad, was back to help a one-eyed
prospector with some of his gold claims and my mother introduced him to his son
– me! Paddy was a good fella. He obviously didn’t want this situation to disrupt
his tranquil family life in Darwin, but he also wanted to do the right thing, so
with Mum’s blessing he sent me to boarding school in Charters Towers in
Queensland where they belted education into me. But I think I’ve still got some
of the old Warramunga so-called mystic skills. My grandfather can put a lump of
bark on the ground, walk around behind a large boulder and hurl a spear over the
boulder dead centre into the bark. Never misses. That’s a real sense of
Jamie slowly shook his head. “I can well believe that
now. Just amazing, Jacko.”
“You’ll have to visit my family one day after this
war. My people have the best corroborees in the whole of Australia. The
Warramungas are the masters of song, dance and spectacle and our corroborees are
accompanied by costumes and fire which lights up the sky. You’ve never seen
anything like it.”
Jamie was intrigued and becoming more than curious.
“Jacko, it really sounds great. Is it a sort of war dance?
“No, Cap. Nothing like that. We are not Red Indians,
although some people in the big smoke think we are. Our corroboree is a merry
celebration in honour of the spirits and the animals, which keep the tribes
alive. It’s hard to explain.”
“Okay, Jacko. You’ll have to tell me more, later. In
the meantime I’ve been making a list of the map coordinates of all the enemy
installations down there. I’d like you to take these back to our lines so they
can direct some artillery to stir up those Froggies down there before the main
attack. I’ll stay here to observe and I’ll see you later.”
“Okay, Cap. No problem.”
Jacko was quickly gone and Jamie settled down to wait
in the heat, shaking his head at his good fortune. Being able to brush the flies
and other insects away added to his relief. He thought about Jacko’s accurate
shot without being able to see the target and shook his head again. Must truly
be mystic or something like that, he thought, or as Jacko had said, just an
incredible sense of direction.
Nothing much seemed to be happening in the Vichy
encampment below. Vehicles were coming and going mainly along the road extending
to the north towards Beirut. He knew that other battalions of the Australian 7th
Division would soon be closing in on that city, which everyone hoped would bring
about the final surrender of the Vichy French forces in the Middle East.
Hungry now, Jamie remembered his rations that had
been chewed to pieces by machine-gun bullets.
After a few tedious hours, he saw a couple of spotter
planes high above the valley and the whine of artillery shells passing overhead
filled the air. Shells falling in and around the encampment caused a lot of
confusion and people were running in all directions. One of the shells hit a
fuel dump raising a cloud of black smoke over part of the area.
Jamie watched the spectacle for a while and then
decided to withdraw and get back to his lines. However, he hesitated when he
heard several voices from the steep slope in front of him and realised he might
have been spotted earlier.
“Damn and blast!” he muttered, quickly retreating
behind a large rocky outcrop and cocking his rifle. Four heads rose above the
ledge of the hill with rifles at the ready and he recognised the language as
French. As they came nearer, Jamie realised they would eventually find him and
he would have to fight it out.
Carefully he took a bead on the nearest soldier and
squeezed the trigger. As he fired, the others dropped behind several rocks and
began returning fire at his position from different directions. The enemy
soldiers called out to others who were still climbing the hill and Jamie
realised he would be facing a much larger number than he originally thought.
“Bloody hell! Bloody hell! Bloody hell ...” Then he
noticed one of the Aussie spotter planes circling overhead and after a short
while the ground erupted just in front of where he was hidden. The spotter was
obviously directing artillery fire at the enemy company climbing the heights
towards his position, probably not knowing that he was there. He lay flat on the
ground up against the rocks and held his arms over his head.
The ground was shaking and the noise was deafening.
Amongst it, he could hear loud screams and shouts in French and Arabic to his
north as more shells fell close by. Suddenly the whole world seemed to erupt
around him and he could only mutter, “Bloody he...” as he lost consciousness.