The AIF 'Boomtown Boys'
This is the story, simple and straight forward,; of the men of "Boom‑Town", a term which requires some explanation. Search as you may, you will not find "Boom Town" on the map; it is, nevertheless, the war station of a Queensland A.I.F. company "somewhere in Malaya." To the New South Wales company from which the Queenslanders took over, the lonely out post was, to use their own expression "the Riviera of Malaya."
Most certainly if you paid a visit to "Boom Town" you would come to the immediate conclusion that the "Riviera" title was satirical but these men of New South Wales were not bluffing when they admitted, after almost a month at this location that they would have liked to stay another eight weeks. And the Queenslanders are just as keen. What is the Digger appeal in this spot miles from anywhere, where work is hard, duties constant, and living conditions rough?
Read the story of "Boom Town" and answer the question for yourself The main post clings to the slope of a river bank bukit strategically selected at a bend of the stream and commanding two reaches ‑ one towards the mouth and the other towards the source. The only buildings are attap, huts ‑with walls and roofs of palm leaf thatching and a kitchen. A lean‑to serves as a canteen which is run so successfully by a committee appointed by the men that a handsome profit is being returned for company comforts. One has to be wide awake to win a place near the head of the queue that forms nightly to purchase bottled beer, soft drinks, cigarettes, tobacco, matches, soaps and powders.
At Boom Town there are no lavatories as men knew them in developed camps. Deep pits in well drained sites serve the purpose as hygienically as conditions permit. There are no showers or even ablution points. Instead there is a pontoon attached to a short jetty where kerosene tins are available for dipping into the river. It is quite a work of art balancing on this rickety pontoon while the first tine of river water is poured over the body to give it a surface for scraping, and afterwards lifting four or five tins right over the head and tipping each at an angle that allows the contents to run over every part of the body.
Occasionally while the men are thus engaged a sampan will paddle by with native women on board. At first the men of "Boom Town" were very conscious of their fleeting presence until it was discovered that the native women, with the characteristic modesty of all bush people, always looked the other way.
Swimming is strictly forbidden at "Boom Town" because of the danger of crocodiles whose repugnant forms are spotted occasionally basking in the mud.
There are no dhobies (native washer boys) to do the washing at "Boom Town". The men use well water and are allowed half a day weekly to tend to their laundry personally. It follows naturally that creased trousers are scarce. There are no home comforts in the huts at "Boom Town" with hard earth in place of the polished floors, carpets or linoleums these men once knew. As one unit put it: "Everyone is on the ground floor at Boom Town;
There is the risk of malaria, though mosquito nets are firmly tucked in at sundown more as a safeguard against stray rats, scorpions or snakes that the malarial mosquito. At 5.30 every afternoon "skeeter shorts" ‑ which when turned up and buttoned are shorts, but when unbuttoned become ankle length trousers ‑ are lowered away and shirt sleeves rolled down. This is the official "Boom Town" dress until 7.30 next morning.
There are many amenities lacking at "Boom Town': but there is no parade ground soldiering. In fact, it is this work without ceremony idea which appeals to Australians who really enjoy a task that is tough.
How do they spend their time at "Boom Town?" The whole company is kept busy improving the ire defences which surround the post on both sides of the stream: digging solidly to strengthen the ground works, patrolling the dense country surrounding the station searching for and plotting any track through the jungle which the enemy might use; maiming the well armed pill boxes 24 hours a day‑, patrolling the wire defences hourly night and day; watching every boat coming towards the boom opening, with the aid of searchlights in the hours of darkness, and investigating thoroughly any doubtful craft; and being ready to close the boom at shortest notice. In fact they carefully guard a vital invasion laneway of water which the jungle had perforce to leave unprotected by its thorns against an attack.
One of the novelties of the place to Australians are the tongkans attached to the post and mounted with necessarily small, but useful guns. These powerfully engined craft, covered with attap awnings, are used to bring up the daily rations and water supply, to ferry meals across to the post on the opposite bank, and to do the dozen and one other jobs which a river station entails. Occasionally one of the river gun boats of the British Navy pays the post a visit to collect rations.
But perhaps the most vivid picture of "Boom Town" inhabited by Aussies is obtained in the brief, twilight after the evening meal. One or two late duty men are on the pontoon bathing, not in but out of the river,‑ on a little jetty are three or four patient men fishing for shrimps which they catch occasionally up to a foot in length as a result of their patience; another group is playing darts with the board attached to a rubber tree, trickles of white sap marking shots which missed the target; over near the wire are several men amused by the antics of scores of monkeys, inquisitive but shy, incessantly chattering and leaping among the trees at the jungles edge; out on the river, but never out of sight of the station, are four brawny Aussies expertly handling two native canoes and enjoying the thrill of a race back to the landing stage; from a levelled area under a huge tree comes a droning voice from yet another small group: "Dollar he heads 'em! "(conclusive evidence that the Diggers are in occupation); and sitting in small cleared areas on the river bank are groups who yam or think while the fire‑flies wink in thousands only to be outdone as darkness closes by a search light trained on a small craft noiselessly making the bend.;
Had James Fitzpatrick, recognised master of travel films, visited this outpost he would have shot these scenes for his now famous closing sentence; "And so we say farewell to "Boom Town", a lonely spot on a jungle lined river where Australians watch for and wait to quell and threat to Malaya which means in turn a threat to their beloved home land many hundred of miles away in the peaceful south."