The RAAF at Butterworth
By Mathew Radcliffe
Published by New South
RRP $39.99 in paperback
Reviewed by guest reviewer Kelli Jones
I lived in Malaysia from June 1980 until July 1982 because my father was serving in the RAAF at Butterworth. Consequently, I was delighted at the prospect of reading Mathew Radcliffe’s Kampong Australia.
My recollections of my family’s time in Malaysia are based almost entirely on a child’s view and experiences, which include the wonderful RAAF School, playing sports at the RAAF Hostel (‘the Hostie’), swimming at the Penang Swimming Club, eating newly discovered food, and experiencing trishaw rides, Lion Dances and the fascinating Hindu festival of Thaipusam.
Fortunately, Kampong Australia provides a vastly broader insight into the RAAF’s time in Malaysia than I had been aware of. It begins with an explanation of the political and historical reasons for the RAAF’s presence in Malaysia, and moves on to discussions of the relationships between the Australians and the British, who were still in Malaysia when the RAAF first arrived, and Australians and the local people.
Differences in the experiences of single versus married RAAF personnel are also discussed, as are various experiences of RAAF servicemen’s wives (virtually all of the serving RAAF personnel seem to have been men).
While I enjoyed the whole book, I particularly enjoyed the last chapter – Remembering Butterworth. In it, Mathew shares comments from various people who experienced life in Malaysia, as serving members, spouses and children, as provided to him via the questionnaire he distributed to inform his research.
An interesting and highly recommended read for anyone with an interest in RAAF history, and particularly with an interest in the RAAF’s time at Butterworth.