Christian Buthmann – Navy Diver

Comments (3) Interviews

From apprentice diesel mechanic to Navy clearance diver to SAS squad member and back to diesel mechanic, Christian Buthmann is one local business man who has had many life transitions. Chrissy Jones chats with him to find out more.

How long have you lived and worked in the area, Christian?

I have been in the area for approximately 8 years and along with my wife Yvette, own Hastings Diesel Injection Service in Wauchope.

Your work life has varied over the years. Take us through that …

After leaving school, I worked for my father at Diesel Electric in Tweed Heads. I learned the trade of reconditioning injectors on diesel engines while I waited to get into the Australian Navy. Upon passing my entry to the Navy, I was posted to HMAS Albatross as an Aircraft Mechanic.

I also worked on McDonald Douglas A4 jet fighters (Skyhawks) that were attached to the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne.

When the aircraft carrier was disbanded, we were required to change our trade or transfer to the Army or Air Force. I chose to become a Navy Clearance Diver. After completing my training in 1984, I served my country with diving teams in locations across Australia, doing many interesting things like detonating old WWII bombs.

What did Navy Clearance Diving involve?

We had a vast array of responsibilities and tasks to perform in Sydney Harbour, such as inspection and maintenance of naval installations and ships, underwater searches and surveys, ordinance and demolition of various installations and expired ammunition. We had recompression facility duties, where civilian divers would be treated for the bends. The main job was blowing up bombs located along the East Coast and in North Queensland.

What were some of the things you found, and what did you do when you found them?

British buoyant mines were located regularly – about one a month. We destroyed them where we found them; the explosive contained in the mine was very dangerous and unstable. Some other jobs were locating and destroying bombs, ammunition and any other ordinance found.

Did Mother Nature pose any problems?

Diving in Far North Queensland was usually very hazardous, due to the crocodiles and sharks – not to mention all the other snakes, box jellies etc. Diving in no visibility conditions and night diving operations also had its down side.

Night diving can either make you or break you as a diver. You either excel at it, or you just can’t do it – there is no in-between. This is where a lot of Navy divers, or want to be Navy divers, can’t make the cut. You have to feel comfortable in the dark first before you can carry on. You can’t let your imagination deter you, worrying about what might be in the water around you, because you don’t know what’s there – so you don’t assume things.

We carried out a lot of night diving operations in Far North Queensland on the outer Barrier Reef. Where we dived, we knew there were sharks around, because sharks feed and breed at night.

Sounds stressful; what did you do to unwind?

I played rugby union for the NAVY – in 1982 we won the Mons Cup. I also played for rugby clubs wherever I was posted.

Meet anyone interesting over the years?

I have met some very interesting people, including one couple I met when I was carrying out security operations for the Secret Service. We were to secure areas where the Vice President of the USA at the time, Mr and Mrs Dan Quayle, were visiting. When we had finished securing our last site, the outer reef tourist area and pontoons off Port Douglas, we got a radio message that the Vice President wanted to go diving.

We were already well on our way back to Port Douglas, so we turned the boat around and went back to the pontoons. When we arrived, the Secret Service said that they both wanted to go diving.

Luckily we carried enough diving gear to cater for them. I got two sets of diving gear ready, and the Vice President and his wife stepped onto the dive boat. I gave them a dive brief, and for the next hour we were sharing the beauties of the Great Barrier Reef.

When we got back to the surface, I debriefed them. They were very impressed with all of us, in the way we presented ourselves and the professionalism displayed by the Australian Navy divers.

After this you volunteered for the Special Air Service Regiment (SAS). Tell us about the gruelling selection process to get in:

In 1990 I did the SAS selection course – 28 days of intense, hard testing and assessment was carried out to see where you could serve. The first week was physical testing, swimming with your kit of basic webbing and rifle for a period of time and running, running and more running. Twenty kilomtres full kit march, 3.2 km run with basic webbing, 5km run in pt gear. Plus other tests like shooting and fighting and theory and IQ tests etc. etc.

2nd week: extreme sleep deprivation and bastardisation; running with full kit day and night. 3rd week: 6 days navigation test. Navigating 6 hills in 6 days in full kit – seems easy, but the hills were approx. 20 km apart and about 3000 ft high.

The last week: the hardest, called the lucky dip phase. No food, navigating as a patrol through very hard terrain, with approx 80 kg of weight, including crossing rivers and swamps for a lot of kilometres. Out of the 180 personnel that started the SAS selection course, 34 passed, including me.

During the selection course I had a back injury and was able to struggle through the last couple of days with the assistance of a medic friend who supplied me with Panadiene Forte.

I later had a disc fused in my lower back, got myself fit again and joined my SAS squadron as an SAS assaulter.

We did a heap of things that I wouldn’t like to tell you; one involved an oil rig in the middle of Bass Straight. My job in the SAS was MOE and Assaulter, where I would open the entry point for the team in the counter terrorist squadron. The SAS, because of the nature of the duties and type of operations that are carried out, is a very dangerous unit to be a part of. A lot of SAS personnel have died in peace time, including some of my friends. It was very sad for me when the Black Hawk disaster happened in 1996; I lost some good friends.

On a positive note, these people strived to be in the SAS and were very proud of their achievements and loved serving their country, just as I did. After completing my time with the SAS, I returned to the Clearance Diving branch CDT4 Special Duties Unit in WA.

What came next?

Moving on from the services, we (my now wife and 2 dogs) moved to Brisbane. I had many jobs, including Commercial Diving, QLD Railways and an OH&S co-ordinator working with the QLD Dept Mines & Energy and with the QLD Police Service.

I have throughout my career met a lot of people who have taught me things. I have had mentors who have guided me, and I have a great family that has supported me every step of the way. I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

What attracted you to the Hastings Valley?

The country was calling. My wife, Yvette grew up in the Hastings. After numerous trips visiting my wife’s family over the years, the opportunity came for us to purchase the business previously known as Wauchope Fuel Injection.

We sold up in Brisbane and moved to Wauchope – we have never looked back. Operating as Hastings Diesel Injection Service out of our Wauchope workshop, we serve customers from as far away as New Guinea, the Northern Territory and Melbourne. We have computerised technical data for servicing fuel pumps and injectors and a website to help customers at www.hastingsdiesel.com.au

We repair and recondition diesel injection pumps and injectors and cater for all types of diesel engines. We are specialists with most types of diesel pumps and injectors such as Bosch, Denso, Stanydyne, Lucus, Delphi and Zexel. One of our new areas we are gearing up for is common rail diesel.

I believe in trying to show low overheads and try to minimise costs wherever possible to be able to deliver our products at a reasonable price to customers.

Yvette and I live on a property west of Wauchope, have 2 young boys and we all love the country life. Although Yvette swore she would never return to her birthplace, she often says we live in paradise and wouldn’t change it for anything!

Thank you Christian.

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3 Responses to Christian Buthmann – Navy Diver

  1. Harry Moonen says:

    I was Christians’ comrade in arms while posted in far north Queensland at HMAS Cairns and did a lot of explosive work out on the reef and a hazardous swamp detonation at Second Stoney Point. We spent a week at Thursday Island clearing ordnance left over from WW11 in extreme conditions. As we are both retired from the Navy our friendship remains.

  2. Paul Rush says:

    Well well… Mr Chris Buthmann – He and I served together at Clearance Diving Team 4 back in the early ’90s. We both succumbed to lower back injuries, and spent many long hours consoling and feeling sorry for each other 🙂 (Although – and I’m sure he’ll argue otherwise – I think I was doing it tougher than he was…)

  3. Greg Thompson says:

    Hey Chris

    How did your knee hold up on the selection course ? Good I guess.

    Paul: Did you ever go back to have another crack at it after the 1/88 attempt at selection?

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