Gilbert Green
Bundjalung nation
Retired Private
Royal Australian Infantry Corps
Royal Australian Corps of Military Police
Australian Army
Vietnam Veteran

Australian Active Service Medal 1945-75 – Vietnam
Vietnam Medal
Australian Defence Medal
Anniversary of National Service 1951-72 Medal
Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal
Infantry Combat Badge
Returned from Active Service Badge

I was born in Kyogle on the NSW North Coast, the youngest of 8 children. My Mob is Bundjalung. My family lived on the Aboriginal Mission at Woodenbong until I was about five. Then the authorities split the family up and took my brothers and me away to Kinchela Boys Home and my sisters down to Cootamundra. My mother, Nell, fought hard until she was able to get us all back together again. She was a very strong woman, she was one of the first Aboriginal nurses in NSW. She got her Bachelor of Arts degree in creative writing when she was in her seventies. Her great-grandfather was King Mickey Johnston, a spokesman for the Wadi Wadi people in South East NSW. After Mum got us back, we lived in Blacktown, in Western Sydney.

When I left school, I wanted to be a butcher, but couldn’t get an apprenticeship. I knew my uncles had served in WW2, so I enlisted in the army in 1969 when I was 18. We’d heard about Communism taking over and threatening Australia, and I felt proud at the time to be doing my bit for my country. After training, I was posted to the 7th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (7 RAR), and in February 1970, we sailed for Vietnam on HMAS Sydney. We were in Vietnam for a year, based at Nui Dat, but spent most of our time out patrolling and setting up ambushes. They made me an M60 gunner and teamed me up with Graham Cornes, the South Australian AFL player, who became coach of the Adelaide Crows. He was in 7 RAR, too, and we’re still good friends. We’d take turns being the gunner and the number two with the spare parts and ammo. The M60 was big and heavy, but once you were used to it, you appreciated it because it was the most powerful weapon we had in the section. We’d be out on operation four, sometimes six weeks at a time. Usually, we’d go out in helicopters or APCs (Armoured Personnel Carriers), but once, we had to do it on foot, walking all through the night. It was always stinking hot over there, and one of our guys died of dehydration that night.

Our tour of duty finished in February 1971, and we flew home. We didn’t get a very good reception when we got back. I felt proud of what I’d done, and it hurt to get abused by people. They didn’t ask us about the good things we did over there, going out in our spare time to help the villagers, or how the kids loved us. After Vietnam, I transferred to the Military Police and was promoted to Corporal, serving another three years until my time was up and I left the army. I worked at various jobs until I moved to Adelaide in the 1980s and began working as a vocational officer with the Commonwealth Employment Service. That was a very rewarding position as I was able to help a lot of young Aboriginal kids get apprenticeships and not miss out on opportunities as I had. I developed a cross-cultural package for ATSIC before setting up my own business, with contracts throughout the country. In 1995, I married my wife, Danielle, and we have two girls. I also have two children from a previous marriage.

I’d thought I was alright after Vietnam, but a lot of hard things happened over there, having to shoot people, and we were only kids still. I’d have nightmares, things I buried deep and wouldn’t talk about. I thought it was normal, but my wife encouraged and supported me to go and get help. I went to Vietnam Veterans Counselling, and I talked with my mates when it was really bad. I find it easier to talk with someone who’s been through it like I have. I became very close to those blokes I served with. They’re like family; we have a special bond. There was never any racism, not that I saw. Anzac Day is very important to me; it’s like a family reunion, and we have a good time together. I had good times and bad times in the Army, but the good times far outweighed the bad. I was very young when I joined and the Army made me grow up and gave me experience, taught me to be more understanding of people.