Jemahl Casper
Goreng Goreng and Torres Strait Islander man
Royal Australian Corps of Transport
Australian Army

Australian Operational Service Medal – Operation Resolute, Border Protection
Defence Long Service Medal
Australian Defence Medal


I’ve served more than eighteen years in the Australian Army now, over two enlistments. Before I joined the Army, I didn’t see much of a future ahead of me. After finishing school, I’d done an apprenticeship as a sign writer and had a young family, but I couldn’t find work in my trade. Then, one day in 1994, I was down at the CES (Commonwealth Employment Service), looking for a job, and I saw a soldier standing there in his dress uniform. He looked real deadly. Turned out he was a recruiting officer, and I had a good talk with him. He told me there was a lot you could do in the Defence Force. Well, it didn’t take me long to make up my mind – a month later, I’d signed up for the regular army and was off to do my basic training.

Recruit training at Kapooka was hard, physically but mentally too, especially since I knew I had a young family depending on me back home. It was my family who kept me going and successfully completed the course. I served ten years as a regular before I decided to take a bit of a break from service. I was out for four years, but every now and then, someone would say something, or something would come up, and I’d want to be back in the Green Machine, as we called it. So, in 2008, I re-enlisted, this time in the Reserves and posted to 9 Combat Support Battalion out at Warradale.

Joining the Australian Army has strengthened my culture. Now I share my culture by mentoring the young soldiers here at Warradale and the kids who are looking at a career in Defence. I’m very much involved in the ADF’s Indigenous Pre-Recruitment Course. In IPRC, we bring together two cultures, Indigenous and Defence, to prepare young Indigenous people for a career in the ADF. I perform traditional dance and speak with the young recruits about what a career in ADF can offer them and about my own experiences.

Outside the Reserves, I’m now a Senior Traffic Camera Operator for SAPOL (South Australia Police). These days I also put my artistic talents to good use, honouring my Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and their long history of service in defence of this Country. My murals feature on the walls of the Vietnam Veterans Federation in the Tee Tree Gully RSL and the Plympton Glenelg RSL. I decorated an Army slouch hat and rifle for NAIDOC week in 2015 with traditional designs, honouring our people, our land and our service. The design included the kangaroo and emu protecting the rising sun and the flags of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people. I then donated both for display at the Norlunga RSL in South Australia to honour our Aboriginal and Torres Strait service men and women.

My great uncle, Freddy Felhaber, served in the infantry in WW2 and was killed in action as a flag bearer in New Guinea. So, in 2013, I was very honoured to lead the catafalque party at the opening of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Memorial in Adelaide, an iconic and memorable moment. My name is engraved on the stone of the memorial, which is a great source of pride to me.

In my great uncle’s time and before, our Indigenous service men and women weren’t treated well when they returned; it was degrading. It saddens me to think about it. But I see big changes now, and to me the future looks pretty bright the way Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and women are recognised these days and how Defence is actively recruiting and supporting young Indigenous people to follow a career in the ADF.

Thinking back all those years ago, that recruiting officer in the CES had been right – there was a future for me and for my family in the ADF. Enlisting in the Defence Force was a turning point, it changed me, and I’ve never looked back. I can’t deny that there were rough times, but having my beautiful wife, Ruth, stand by my side helped me through. We have two children together, and I have three more from my first marriage. I am proud of my children: Hayden, who is a carer; Nelson, who is a business owner; Lachlan, who is currently serving in the Royal Australian Navy; Scarlett, who is an up-and-coming tattoo artist; and Gray, who is studying law. I have three beautiful grandchildren, Oliver, Charlotte and Thomas, who I love very much.