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indigenousr Brothers in Arms
© Michael 'Deaky' von Berg MC
Recce Platoon 1966-67
Michael 'Deaky' von Berg MC

I was recently driving from Melbourne on Remembrance Day where as a part of that commemoration the ABC aired a program on the contribution of indigenous Australians and their contributions over many wars. I was aware that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island soldiers had fought in every war but had no idea that they also fought in the Boer War. Considering that Aboriginals could not 'vote and were not permitted on licensed premises you need to consider what was driving these proud individuals to fight for a country that didn't properly recognise them and the many who didn't return.

When you're driving for some 8 hours there is plenty of time for reflection and the program led me to think of all of the Indige­nous soldiers that I had the pleasure of serving with. The more I thought about the various individuals and their characteristics and foibles, I realised that I have always looked at these blokes as soldiers first and their Indigenous background secondary, if indeed at all. I remember so many and in every instance recall that not only were they good blokes but bloody
good soldiers.

Cpl Ray OrchardRay Orchard, who sadly recently passed away, section commander in C Company 5 RAR first tour was an exceptional soldier and one of the nicest blokes you could ever meet; "Darky" Wright a Corporal in 1 RAR first tour was as tough as teak and a damn fine rugby half; Zeke Mundine a wonderful NCO and one of the real characters of 5 RAR, badly wounded in Vietnam during his second tour of duty he continued on to serve in the Battalion as a CQMS. More importantly in his rugby playing days he used the "goose step" well before Campese which had the crowd on the sideline in hysterics. Lance Corporal Billy Rhodes a West Australian who went to Vietnam with 1RAR on their first tour, always had a twinkle in his eye and really enjoyed a good laugh; Cpl Ron Harris ex 1 RAR and then SASR who was a fine SAS trooper killed in Vietnam; Stuey YowCPL Roy 'Zeke' Mundine Yeh, originally 1 RAR who served in Vietnam on their first tour and then served with 8RAR in Vietnam on their first tour. When on the rugby pitch as a winger, this mountain of a man frightened the day­lights out of his own players as much as the opposition. The Yow Yeh's are a well respected Kananka family hailing from Rockhampton. Massa Clarke an absolute legend who has fought in every war since World War 2 and a professional Lance Corporal Ex 1 RAR who served in Vietnam with 7 Platoon C Company, 7 RAR where on Operation Coburg as a great natural tracker he found the enemy and many of them, in what was to be one of 7 RAR's major battles. Norm Womal, MID a great section commander and leader who was mortally wounded in the Nui Thi Vai Mountains in October 1966 was one of nature's gentlemen and had he lived and gone on with his Army career he could have achieved anything. I will never forget that fateful day and the effect it had on the entire Battalion.

CPL Norman J. WomalI am sure that there are so many of us who share the same values, beliefs and experiences and it's quiet telling where something as innocuous as an ABC program sets you up to think of some individual that you have served with as being indigenous first and soldier second yet when you served it was very much the reverse. I am just waiting for some self righteous individual with no idea of what we went through together to suggest that the basis of this missive is somewhat racist when it's quiet obviously the opposite. What these people don't get is that all soldiers are colour blind! You don't look for colour. You just look for that mate to protect your back or to get you out when you're in a bit of a tight spot. Within a military fighting environment the only colour is that of your Battalion Colours and lanyard and the respect for all who wear it.

Society as a whole owes an enormous debt to the many thousands of indigenous soldiers who fought and or died for this country and I am immensely proud in my own small way to have served with some of the greatest soldiers and characters that I have been privileged to know.