Marsat Ketchell
Wakaid Tribe of Badu Island and Zagareb Tribe of Murray Islands, Torres Strait
Petty Officer
Royal Australian Navy
Vietnam Veteran

Australian Active Service Medal 1945-75
Vietnam Logistic and Support Medal
Active Service Medal 1945-75 – SE Asia
Defence Force Service Medal with 3 clasps (26 years service)
Australian Defence Medal

BHSc Mental Health, Dip ATSI Health Practice, Dip ATSI Health Community
Consultancy with Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatry
Veteran Affairs Mens Health Peer Education,
Black Dog Institute
Vietnam Veterans Counselling Service
Clinical Council Queensland  Health

My bloodline is Wakaid from Badu, Zagareb from Mer, Wuthathi from Nth Eastern Cape York, and the Straits of Johor through Timor. My Totems are the Crocodile for Land, Mating Turtles for the Sea, The Tern for the Sky and the Heavens informing us of the weather, for healthy community and environment in Flora I have a Croton and a Guyu, a sweet drink and coconut. These are the Totems of my four grandparents.

I felt serving country was in my DNA because of my connection and protection to our traditional seaways and boundaries and also our Elders’ stories of our warrior status. My grandfather, father and brother served – so it was my natural obligation and responsibility to protect and care for country. It was also to honour the thousands of Indigenous service people, both past and present, who have served and sacrificed for our nation. For me personally, it was to honour the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion that was formed in in May 1941.  In 1943 they became the first All Indigenous contingent in Australian Defence Force history.  I am forever proud of these men and women who laid the foundation for us up North. This is an opportunity to reflect and recognise the truth that not all serving personnel and veterans were treated equally both during and after service. Very little was known publicly about the presence of Indigenous men and women in Australia’s armed forces prior to the 1970s, and more so, how much our Indigenous Cultures and Traditions meant to us and how this affected us, either in Community or in the workforce. It is well documented about the trials and tribulations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service personnel who have served in conflict and peacetime.  The prosecutions, judgements, tests, experiments, ordeals, hardships, pains, sufferings, miseries, distress, difficulties, and anxieties. To counter these remarks, we proved ourselves through sport.  We carried that Respect throughout our career.   The occasional abuse and discrimination continued throughout my career, sometimes openly and a lot in silent contempt because of my rank.  This made me a better man in countering racial discrimination and vilifications, and by serving I saw other people’s identities, cultures and traditions. These with my own, made me who I am today.

I was just 15 when I enlisted – it was at the height of the Vietnam war and from day one in uniform, I felt uneasy with racist remarks that were harmful and also in jest.  Having been promoted in rank, and patrolling or visiting Indigenous coastal Communities of Queensland, the NT and Western Australia, I realised that I also had other commitments in the Navy – I had to do something to protect and advance acceptance for us Mob before I left. I read a quote from an early Governor in NSW stating a line “We must Discipline these Savages” it blew me away and that one-liner started a whole new ball game for me. The future is always a moment away. I decided now was the time to Savage the Discipline.…to integrate our Culture and Traditions with Defence Force Culture and Traditions. This gave me the opportunity to gain their understanding and for me to achieve levels that were available through advancement on merit.  On merit, I achieved a few returns in being appointed to the UK based in HMS Collingwood as Parade Ceremonial Drill Instructor assigned to the Royal Family visiting Southern Counties of England.  Being appointed as the first Indigenous Recruitment Officer in Defence Force Recruiting to be attentive solely to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander recruitment.  I was answerable only to the Minister for Defence and Chief of Naval Staff.

On the flip side I was assigned to train up Patrols for Counter Piracy in the Philippines.  During that time, because of my colour, I was befriended by the Mayor of Davao City.  He later becoming the President of the Philippines.  Police and Military undercover bodyguards…freedom to move. And in Cambodia, and part of training their Navy, I was invited to dine at the official table of the Chief of Defence.  He yarned how he was the only member of his family remaining after the Khmer Rouge regime’s social engineering policies.  Police and Military escorts…freedom to move.

I retired from the Navy in 1996, and used my Defence Force regimented and diligent life-style to continue into my current work in Mental Health and studies, gaining a BHSc in Mental Health and associated fields as a Specialist Consultant.  Why mental Health? To give back to Community in appreciating their care throughout my career and prevent PTSD amongst our Veterans in Queensland. I have been with Queensland Health in the Mental Health field for the past 26 years – the same amount of time I served in the Navy.

The inequities and racist policies of the past have been relegated to history and today’s service personnel are recognised for their service, not on their ethnicity, gender or religion, but on the values and abilities that make our ADF one of the most equitable employers in the nation. The friendships and networks built while serving stay with you for life, and the people that you serve with become your allies in working towards a reconciled Australia and help to build a stronger nation.