George Singleton
Royal Australian Corps of Transport
Australian Army


Quite a few of my friends and family who are connected to the Yarrabah community where I was born served in many theatres of war from WW1 onwards. One died while serving in WWI and is buried in Palestine. When I was just seventeen and a half, I walked into the Social Security office in Cairns and asked how I could enlist in the Army. Vietnam was on, and I volunteered to serve my country and be a role model for my community. There were three of us from Yarrabah in that intake in September 1971, I did my training in Kapooka, and then to the Military Engineering School at Casula before going to Chowder Bay to the Small Ships. I did three years; I had the option to continue, but when my Dad passed away, I decided to discharge. I was 21. I still wish that I had taken the opportunity to go to Vietnam as a storeman, but I was disappointed when my Commanding Officer said I couldn’t go. I would have been on the last ship to Vietnam, the John Monash, which was going to Saigon to bring back stores.

I focussed on sport and working with the council and then decided to see a different part of Australia, so I travelled to Western Australia and worked there for a few years. I went back home to Yarrabah when I was asked to coach the local rugby league team and led them to the Grand Final of our local competition in Cairns in 1979. I met my beautiful and lovely wife, Marleen, in Cairns, and we have been together for 45 years. We raised two boys and a daughter together, and I have another boy and girl from an earlier relationship. They are all special to me.

As an Aboriginal person being a tour guide for both international and national tourists for over twenty years, I was able to break down the barriers and negative attitudes about Aboriginal people and tell the real history of Australia. I was a bit outspoken; I’d tell them about the stolen generations to educate them about the history of the area and Australia. I would tell them about how, in 1897, the Queensland Government implemented the ‘Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of Sale of Opium Act to ‘protect and control’ our people up until the 1970s. When I was a kid, to leave Yarrabah I had to get a pass. In 1957, my dad and his two brothers were part of the ringleaders who staged a strike to protest against inadequate rations, poor working conditions and wages, and the violence committed by the superintendent. Although many residents were given exemption from the ‘Protection Act’ and left the mission over the next two years, my Dad, in 1972, had to apply for an exemption to live in Yarrabah, the place where he was born, so he could live out his final years at home.

I had complaints about me, but it’s our history and people need to learn the real bad history.  I told tourists many stories, including people who were intentionally chained to rocks and were downed when the tide came in. I told them about how Atherton, who, when crossing a river, would put the older people on the outside and the younger people on the inside so the crocs would eat them, and the younger ones would have their elders to teach them. I knew these stories because the old people told me. There were four of us tour guides at the time, and we did a great job, it meant a lot to us knowing we could do this. There are a lot more Aboriginal guides around now, and that’s a really good thing.