John Scrutton
Wulwulam and Woolwonga Peoples
Retired Corporal
Air Frame Fitter
Royal Australian Air Force

Australian Service Medal 1945-75
Defence Force Service Medal
Australian Defence Medal

I enlisted in the Air Force in 1967 and served as an Air Frame Fitter with the RAAF until 1973 on a variety of aircraft types including servicing Canberra bombers in Malaysia during the Vietnam War. I re-enlisted in 1978 after Cyclone Tracy. After more than 20 years military service, I retired from the RAAF in 1992.

“Since I got out of the RAAF, I served some time on a committee for Aboriginal children in schools as my wife was also Aboriginal. I ended up chairing and organising the meetings. This led onto mentoring a couple of boys well known to the Justice Department and I sat with them in court sessions. In 1974 the last term of school was vacant as one of the lady Aboriginal/Islander education officers at Midvale Primary School was moving on, so I filled in. They liked my skills and understanding and I got the job from 1995-2000. I then moved on to the same job at Forrestfield Senior High School until 2002. I then left as I was in burn out with PTSD, Anxiety and Depression. The only sweet spot was recognition of service as an Aboriginal and we marched at the head of the ANZAC Parade in Perth and then unveiled a plaque in Belmont to commemorate Aboriginal servicemen especially in Vietnam but in all wars. Peace keeping missions and other duties also had defence representatives of an Aboriginal background.

I did Security for the next 3 years in mostly isolated and unsafe areas but it gave me a break from a broken marriage and many other worries. So from 2003 to 2006 I basically worked 12 hour shifts 5-6 days a week. In 2007 and 2008 I took out juveniles to do community work for their offences. I then left Perth and came up to Darwin close to home. I did night watch on boarding students at Kormilda college, minded a property at Adelaide River, aged care with Red Cross and 3½ years as handy man at Aboriginal hostels. Then being 66½ years old I got a Housing unit and retired. This gave me more time to chase up defence and claims I had started. In February 2016 I finally got my other two medals and in 2021 I finally got my knee claim recognised. It has not been an easy road as I still struggle with PTSD, Anxiety and Depression. I find now I do not fully fit in with the RAAF life and lost my Aboriginality so I have no solid footprint in either culture.

But I have done a successful story of my grandmother who was Aboriginal, had lots of help and recognition from the Arts Perspective and earned a couple of certificates.” – John Scrutton, 2022

In recent years, I have been a part of the Darwin CemeNTheads community arts program for people dealing with mental health issues. I read my poem, ‘Gone Fishing’ (see below) and other stories at the 2017 and 2018 Darwin Fringe Festivals, at the 2018 Darwin Festival for ‘SPUN: True Stories Told in the Territory’ and at Meeting Place in Alice Springs. In 2020, my story about my Aboriginal grandmother, Nellie ‘Shotgun’ Flynn, ‘The Real Map of Batchelor According to Me’ was published, with illustrations by artist, Robyn Frances. My close collaboration with Robyn continued when her portrait of me won first prize in the 2020 Portrait of a Senior Territorian Award. In 2021, I was the Winner of the NT Arts Access Awards which acknowledges NT based artists with disability who have made outstanding contributions through their creative practice.

The Real Map of Batchelor According to Me

Gone Fishing – by John Scrutton

Hot, too hot to walk, too hot. I was once acclimatised, now I am not.
I’ve been away too long but I learnt heaps so it can’t be wrong.
Secret waterhole over there in that rock. It’s a white man’s place now, fence across.
I’ve got to have a cool drink. I know where it is, I don’t need to think.
Shift the cover rock. Cool and clean. Slurp, slurp, slurp, burp, ah! That’ll keep me going, you know what I mean.
Somewhere a dog is barking. I don’t want to get caught, it’s time I was departing.
Heck, I’m not black anyway but I’m still scared of whites. I’ve got Aboriginal in my veins, I try to be proud of that. I was shown that waterhole by them old fellas long gone. But being on his land, too hard to explain.
That secret waterhole I left it as I found it. Forty years I’ve been away. But I walked up to it like it was yesterday.
I fought and drank and smoked and worked. I couldn’t hide. Many thoughts of suicide over the years.
I laughed off hurt and shame even told fart jokes while getting drunk with other blokes but inside I’m dead. Killed as a kid.
Twenty years in the services, even served overseas. I heard I left a kid there, she was Chinese.
I always drank too much, couldn’t cope. I didn’t succeed. My last wife is gone. Alone again. I got no greed.
I sold up, sold out, got rid of the lot. Came home again and I’m walking my country.
I’m going to roam but I got old.
Not used to this place. Not as young as I used to be and I can’t hack the pace.
Who cares? I’ll die happy in this land I love.
I built me a little lean to in the scrub next to a spring where I can do my own thing.
The early years of abuse have left me a bit loony. Years of counselling. I’ve always been too black to be white; too white to be black. So now it’s OK to be an Abo so I came back.
It seems fashionable; I even get employed and paid. I don’t want no land claim. When you say I’m part Aboriginal, I wasn’t that game.
Just leave me be. My life has been tattered and torn. My mob was here before you were born.
In 1908 my Black Nana and White Pop bought some land here and decided to stop.
Carved out a cattle-station. Did railway work too. Raised vegies and kids and chooks and mangos and angora goats too. Struggled and struggled and built it up good.
Then one Aunty slowly culled all her brothers and sisters but she never got any blisters but she had the lot.
Her son looked after it. Crap and wire and grog and broken bits.
Every broken down drunk had been there before. I cried like a baby at what I saw.
I slashed my arm in rage. Her two flash daughters had a smash at her funeral fighting over that land.
It’s just a dump now in the scrub. That property sold for hardly nothing. That place I love. The place I grew up.
They built a mining town. They hated us blacks, put us down.
Some people felt sorry for us, abused and hurt but they didn’t say nothing or they too would have copped dirt.
Well, I’m back. Gotta face them old ghosts. Not many years left now. Gotta give it the most.
Haven’t had a happy life, inhibited and shy. Abused as a kid and too scared to try. Didn’t do too well but I got by.
Too many scars on my soul. I just had to go.
I hate paedophiles, white mongrel bastards. Half the kids in town copped it, boys or girls.
I went to the fiftieth school reunion to face the past. Only a couple of us hurt ones went. Rest in Peace you others.
They shot up drugs, suicide, broken marriages, grog; they died.
They all copped it like my brothers and sisters. Some of them died. I don’t know why I didn’t.
Whole life it tortured me so let me be. I never passed it on. Never did wrong. Too scared. I froze up inside. Still do. I always felt like I need to be out in the open.
I always felt locked up. Needed to be outside. Always kept a low profile, trying to hide. Scared of it happening again maybe. Even in man games and horseplay I froze up inside.
Footy games and such, chucking each other in the creek something inside me slimy and dirty would shriek.
I don’t need no civilisation. I’m too old now. I don’t want nothing to do with nobody. Some reckon I should have fought back. But you don’t, you can’t, when you’re a kid.
Couldn’t talk to no one they wouldn’t understand. You carry it with you when you become a man.
Life has been a stuff up. Been there done that. I suffer from depression and in my heart I’m Black.
I don’t touch nothing that’s not mine. Did I mention I don’t own housing no more?

I’ve got my service pension so I’m going fishing.