G’day Y’all; Whimsical wanderings and wonderings from Kentucky to Australia
Rob Roy Herzog, Xlibris Corporation www.xlibris.com.au
Reviewed by Tim Coyle
THIS is the autobiography of Rob Roy Herzog, the only person who went from Kentucky (the Deep South) to Townsville (the Deep North) via five US Navy aircraft carriers, then onwards to the Australian Defence Intelligence Organisation (DIO), where he served as an imagery analyst and latterly as an all-source intelligence analyst.
It is a unique memoir of life as an imagery specialist in a war zone and provides a never before published description of intelligence analysis in DIO in the 1980s and 1990s. Herzog had his text cleared by the relevant security authorities and his warts and all commentary on DIO in the 1980s and 1990s alone is well worth the modest price of this book.
The book title, combining the Australian greeting ‘G’day’ with the good old Southern form of address, ‘Y’all’, sums up the extent of the book. It is divided into three parts: Hawesville (Herzog’s home town) and the US Navy; Townsville, Queensland and Intelligence Service. Herzog writes in a humorous whimsical fashion laced with ‘good old boy’ reminiscences straight out of a 1950s television situation comedy with all manner of appealing characters. The tone changes when he describes his service as a Photographic Intelligence man operating in stifling conditions on aircraft carriers in the South China Sea during the Vietnam war. Herzog details the imagery analysis techniques of the day, not far removed from World War II photo interpreting procedures.
Herzog’s description of photo reconnaissance analysis will satisfy any reader curious as to how this science was accomplished in the 1960s. He tells in fine grain technical detail the missions flown, imagery obtained and how it was processed and analysed. His return to the world of imagery analysis at DIO in the late 1970s continues this theme, but with the added spectrum of the role of satellites.
In recounting his time in DIO, he emphasises the striving for professional excellence as he explains the methods and specialist knowledge required to produce intelligence assessments. He also highlights his interaction with colleagues of the ‘five eyes’ community at intelligence sharing conferences and his travels to associated locations. At this point of his memoir, Herzog is generally critical of certain aspects of DIO management and cites instances of jealousy, substandard staff management and poor productivity by some staff.
Herzog’s comments on DIO management and his experiences were probably paralleled in other Defence and wider public service agencies at the time. Some readers may disagree with some of his observations; however, this is a memoir and are the author’s personal experiences as he saw them. Reforms within the Australian Defence Organisation in the last 20 years have done much to eradicate many previously substandard practices.
Herzog’s early life in Hawseville, Hancock County, Kentucky in the 1950s appears idyllic. His stories introduce characters who are straight out of southern folklore. Some examples: Hancock County was ‘dry’ therefore those seeking alcoholic beverages had to go across the Ohio River to Cannelton, Indiana. Martin, one of the Hawseville characters, would ride his horse to the ferry landing, take it on the ferry and tie it up outside the Cannelton tavern. Later, highly inebriated, he would be carefully placed on his horse by the bar staff and patrons, the horse would make its way to the ferry landing, the ferry crew would ensure the horse and Martin were safely ashore on the Hawseville side and the horse would take Martin home.
Joining the US Navy ‘to see the world’, his recruit training and early service also border on the slap stick. Assignment to the scullery party at the huge Great Lakes Naval Training Station often led to practical jokes for relief from the unpleasant duty. One such joke resulted in one of their number using a trolley loaded with breakfast food scraps as a skate board, cannon-balling through swing doors over the loading dock and upending the lot over a senior inspecting officer’s staff car.
At the Norfolk naval air station, Herzog was posted as a sentry to scrutinise aircrew identity cards as they passed through a checkpoint between the taxiway and the runway. The only problem was that the aircrew were in taxying piston-engine transports who, quite naturally, refused to stop for this rather ridiculous security check. One pilot flashed what Herzog thought was a dry cleaning docket.
Herzog arrived in Australia as a member of a US Navy photo intelligence unit where he met his future wife Daphne and decided to take his discharge. For several years he did various jobs such as prospector’s assistant, postman and a lengthy employment as an officer of the Australian Electoral Commission. A similar cast of characters coloured Herzog’s life in Townsville as had in Hawseville.
‘G’day Y’all’ is a unique memoir of a most appealing ‘whimsical wandering’. It tells of the recent past in war and peace. In 1959 the novelist Peter Devries wrote that ‘nostalgia ain’t what it used to be’. Try this one for a pure form of nostalgia.