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75 years since Rotto gun testing
The West Australian

The 75 years since the thunderous first testing of the Oliver Hill gun on Rottnest Island have not blunted the vivid memory of the occasion for former Australian army serviceman Arthur Carbon.

It was soon after his 18th birthday in 1938 that he watched that blast from the 9.2-inch gun battery. He returned to Rottnest last weekend to celebrate the recently restored gun's anniversary.

"When the gun went off, there was a tremendous bang and the whole gun and placement shuddered," Mr Carbon said.

"There was a recoil of about four-foot (1.2m) and it was deafening. We were standing about 30 yards behind the gun."

Mr Carbon even recalled the luck of a friend who had been standing by the side of the gun, but just as it was about to fire was called away by a sergeant.

"The concussion would have killed him if he'd got to the front of the gun," the former WAFL umpire said.

Mr Carbon said he and many of his army friends had hearing damage and he was now 60 per cent deaf. There had been no ear protection, with soldiers told to bend to face their helmets in the direction of the firing to blunt the impact.

His island return also rekindled memories of his service days. Six soldiers would share a small tent on the Rottnest parade ground. He was later transferred to Campbell Barracks in Swanbourne, where he honed his skill in loading 58 "100-pound shells" in five minutes.

Mr Carbon believes he fired the Swanbourne gun's "only shot in anger" when he blasted a dummy shell as a warning to what was eventually identified as an American vessel.

His memory was it was the day before several of his friends died in the sinking of HMAS Sydney.

Mr Carbon, who turns 93 tomorrow and still plays golf twice a week, has six children, 19 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren. He was discharged from the army on his 25th birthday in 1945 after seven years of service.

"I would say joining the army is the best thing I've ever done," he said. "I've never smoked. I only drink moderately. I've had a lot of friendship. Anybody looking for work, if they join the army, it either makes you or breaks you.

"If you do the right thing, you can have a good life."