Desmond Mayo
Muran, Wardaman and Wavehill people
Lance Corporal (retired)
Royal Australian Infantry Corps
Malaysia and Vietnam Veteran

Australian Active Service Medal 1945 – 1975
Australian Service Medal 1945 – 1975
Vietnam Medal
Anniversary of National Service 1951 – 72 Medal
Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal
Queen Elizabeth ll Diamond Jubilee Medal 2012

I was born in 1945 in Peterborough, South Australia. My family was evacuated from Darwin during the World War 2 bombing of Darwin, leaving on a truck and being driven to Adelaide. My mother Gladys Kruger/Mayo/Ahmat was a member of the Stolen Generation, taken from her mother, Polly Warrambul in Donkey Camp, Katherine and placed in the Kahlin Compound, which was located at Myilly Point in Darwin. I have cultural connections to the Muran, Wardaman and Wave Hill people. Growing up in Darwin we lived in a Sydney Williams Hut in Parap Camp, which was in what is now known as Stuart Park. I was raised by John Ahmat along with my eight brothers and sisters. I met my biological father, Tom Calma Senior, when I was 18 years old and also met another brother and three sisters. I grew up in Darwin and have spent most of my life here. I stayed in school until year 10 at Darwin High School and then left to work as a labourer.

In 1965 I was conscripted into the Australian Military Forces, under the National Services Act, and was attached to the Australian Army. I completed my basic training at the Infantry Training Centre at Puckapunyal in Victoria. I was initially posted to the 3rd Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) and was later transferred to 4RAR in preparation for being posted to Malaya, where I did a tour of 14 months. A highlight of my service was in 1966 when I was a member of the Australian Army Guard of Honour for the Queen Mother during her visit to Australia. A lowlight of my service was contracting malaria in Malaya, I don’t think I have ever been as sick as that again in my life.

In 1968 we left Brisbane on HMAS Sydney and sailed to war-torn Vietnam, disembarking at Vung Tau and were based at Nui Dat, Phuoc Tuy Province, where I stayed for a 12-month tour. I was a keen sportsman and during our downtime while on tour I participated in many extracurricular activities, including boxing, basketball and football. I received many sporting awards during this time and was given the name ‘Spiderman’ due to my long arms and reach.

In 1969, after completing my tour in Vietnam I discharged from the Army and returned to civilian life becoming a Fireman with the Commonwealth government. Upon returning to Darwin in 1970 I met my wife Beatrice working at the Parap Hotel in Darwin and went on to have an almost 50-year marriage before she passed away in March 2020. We have four daughters, 10 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren.

In 2014 I was asked to be the Northern Territory Patron for ‘NAIDOC – Serving Country: Centenary and Beyond’. Through my participation in the various NAIDOC events, I have built up a range of networks and since then have gone on to give numerous interviews about my time in the Army and growing up in Darwin, most of which can be found through a Google search. I also helped inform an exhibition at the Australian War Memorial, ‘For Country, For Nation’. It shares stories of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experience in wartime and peace, including my own.

I have no regrets about my time in the Army, or being on active service, although some of it was very sad and tragic; I met a lot of good men who are still my mates to this day.

Thanks to Desmond Mayo for kindly providing these images to the Serving Country Project.

Christmas card sent to my sister while in Malaya

BBQ with mates after an operation in Malaya

4 RAR Boxing Team in Malaya

4 RAR Boxing Tournament in Malaya

Riding on a tank in Vietnam

On the rifle range, Nui Dat, Vietnam

Nui Dat, Vietnam – ready for R & R in Hong Kong

With M16 on the rifle range, Nui Dat, Vietnam

Being interviewed for NITV in Darwin

L-R: Danny Seaton, Alec Illin, Neil Robinson, and myself. We met in Adelaide and served together for 3 1/2 – 4 years in Malaya and Vietnam.