In 1948 the Royal Australian Air Force instituted an apprentice training scheme for 15 to 17-year-olds to provide skilled tradesmen who could keep the Service flying. During the 45 years that the scheme operated, around 6000 young Australians graduated into the engineering and radio trade groups after three years of training, followed by two years of on-the-job training at aircraft depots and squadrons, to meet this crucial need for ground support.
The 12th Intake of Engineering Apprentices, nicknamed the ‘Wombats’, and No 7 Intake Junior Equipment and Administrative Trainees, was a typical group of future airmen when they entered the RAAF School of Technical Training at Forest Hill, outside Wagga Wagga, NSW, in January 1958. By the time they graduated in December 1960, they had become a close-knit and cohesive group which in many way epitomised the apprentice spirit.
Over the next half-century, members of the Wombats remained in close contact as they completed their time with the Air Force and moved on to other careers, other lives, in diverse fields of endeavour across the nation, and beyond.
This book encapsulates the experience of a group of RAAF airmen, ordinary yet extraordinary at one and the same time, throughout their time as apprentices. It then provides remarkable insight into the later lives of all members of the intake by tracking their progress over the decades – especially the more than 100 who stayed the course and graduated.
Wombats pays tribute to one of the most innovative and farsighted training schemes ever implemented in Australia. Not only was the apprentice scheme of lasting benefit to Air Force, but the impact of its success was felt across the nation over three generations, in ways not like to be seen again.