Of bars, prosthetic legs and statements that are no longer operable

May 31, 2021

Whether General Angus Campbell was aware of the “Fat Ladies Arm” bar or not, fact is, it was allowed to operate, and its mere existence points to a broken culture within the ADF.

Mark Willacy of ABC Investigations has published an exclusive article on ABC Just In which seems to demonstrate that the Prime Minister’s facility to “just keep walking, and not look back” has spread to other parts of the Commonwealth Government. Willacy’s story, dated 27 May, is titled “Defence chief was told of infamous Afghanistan soldiers’ bar years ago, documents reveal”.

Willacy quotes evidence given by the head of the Australian Defence Force, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell Defence to Senate Estimates in March. Campbell was asked if he had ever visited a notorious, unauthorised bar in in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan called the “Fat Ladies Arms”. Campbell replied:

“I was unaware of it. I never visited it and have not sighted it. I don’t even know if it was a physical location or if it was a concept around which drinking occurred”.

According to Willacy, documents obtained by the ABC show that on at least two occasions, Campbell was made aware of the bar – once in a report sent to him in August 2015 by the then Special Operations Commander, Major General Jeff Sengelman and again at in a high-level meeting Campbell chaired in 2016, when Campbell was the Chief of the Army. On both occasions, the context was concern about discipline amongst Special Forces.

The bar was frequented by Special Forces and others, where soldiers reputedly drank out of the prosthetic leg taken from the body of an Afghan killed by an SAS patrol in 2009.
Willacy reported that, “responding to questions from the ABC, a Defence spokesperson said: ‘Having not sighted, nor visited the place or places which came to be known as ‘The Fat Ladies Arms’, [General Campbell] stands by his testimony at Senate Estimates (March 2021)’.” (Emphasis added). Willacy says that Defence confirmed that General Campbell had “learnt of” the Fat Ladies Arms in 2015.

But what about Campbell’s first sentence: “I was unaware of [the bar]?” The truth appears to be that Campbell was aware of the bar, but that he says he never visited it. Nor did he apparently do anything to have it closed down.

General David Morrison famously, and to his great credit, said in 2013 that “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept”. Today’s norm seems to be “Don’t look back at what you did or said. Just keep walking and hardly anyone will even remember.” Shades of Orwell’s “1984”.

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