Michael Markham
Retired Private
9th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment
Royal Australian Infantry Corps
Australian Army

Medals and Awards
Australian Active Service Medal 1945-75 with clasp
Vietnam Medal
Australian Defence Medal
Anniversary of National Service 1951-72 Medal
Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal

I was born in 1947, everyone calls me Micky, but my story begins with my mother, she was named Bimbilliring, after the yellow wattle flower. She’s one of the Stolen Generation, her father was an Irish policeman here called Bill Kelly. Cohabitation was against the law, so she was taken from her land at Pine Creek, the land of the Jawoyn (Bolmo) clan. But, it wasn’t right traditional way to have white men come in, break the law of marriage in blackfella way. My father was a drover, he fell in love with my mum, but he died young of cancer – we kids were taken away and put in a home. Mum was traumatised, started drinking and her life went upside down. When I see that first rain here, that wattle tree come up with that yellow and I think mum’s here. It’s special to Aboriginal people because fauna and flora represent us. Leo, Sandy and Billy, they my uncles, they’re all passed on now, but they’re full blood, they accepted me as a Jawoyn traditional owner and Elder, which I’m very grateful. We are one of the Native Title Holders of the lands around Pine Creek – we fought for 20 years for this. Under Australian property law, we have same rights as private land owners.

My uncles and grandfathers, they all were ringers at Stapleton Station, so at 14, I jumped on the truck with them and said to mum, I’m going ringing mate. Grade five or six was enough education for me. I guess one of the best times of my life has been ringing with full blood cultural people that knew the country. They employed them because you’re not going to get lost. They walked the country, they knew the country and they tell you everything. They taught me a lot about the bush survival, and everything and all the aspects about caring for horses.

On the 4th October 1967, I got called up for two years of National Service, I can remember up in Woodside, in South Australia doing our training, rifle section and the M60 Machine Gunner. I didn’t know where Vietnam was. Mum said ‘Why do you want to bloody go over there for them? People not coming over here and hassling us. Why do you want to go over there and kill them for? Tell them white bastards to go and get lost. You might get killed.’ And I said, ‘Mum, I won’t get killed’. So, in November 1968 we went to Vietnam, they dropped us off in the jungle, we replaced three battalions in the rubber plantations, and from there we went to operations in Phuoc Tuy province. Then the reality set in with me, our first kill was an accidental, one of ours got killed by our own ‘friendly fire’.

Once, we had to go in after the B52 strike and do body counts and all this and that. They’re 30 metre craters, 1500 pound 2000 bombs, cutting big trees like that, clean and half the shrapnel like this would be nothing that’s clean and half. It was a dirty war, they used Agent Orange. We got ambushed a lot. One day, we walked in the middle of North Vietnamese regular army – they were waiting for us – they opened up, we got one kill and six seriously wounded and I was on the left flank with the machine gun and giving coverage. One thing I learned being a ringer, an Aboriginal person, I can lay flatter than a snake can.

Only way out was to bring in the artillery. So, when they smoke, they come over us and they shot into the enemy. And that was hell-raising for all of us because those sounds of that helicopters and bloody shrapnel and timber going everywhere and the sounds of human cries. The Vietnamese were good fighters too. When the artillery stopped. Sweat rolls out, and fear comes and goes. You get goosebumps and you stare at your mate laying there dead. That happened probably what, 47 years ago and I can still hear the sounds of it.

I probably could have spent a lot more years in the army, but I thought, no, I’m going back to catching buffalo and ringing back to the bush. We were called ‘bloody women killers’ and all this. That’s not a good feeling. We killed women, they were shooting at us, we buried a lot of ’em too. They could still pull the trigger of a rifle, their fingers still as good as a man and that’s just war. They use women in defence of their country. But two years that I was in there, it never leaves you. I had nightmares too – was told I had post-traumatic stress, started alcohol abuse – got in fights, lots of people tried to knock me out, but I got in first, still got all my teeth. But I learned that alcoholism is like drugs. It just stalls the problem.

My wife of today and my kids went through hell with me. I’m happy with my life, but if I can help other vets or Aboriginal people that are going into the services, and I try and tell it as it is. Before and after. When I got back from Vietnam, I never wanted to see the place again – too many bad memories. But now, I’ve taken the whole family back. I’ve been back there six times and I love the people and it’s not the people, it’s the government of the day. Now there’s Vietnamese men and Aussies ex-Vietnam vets married Vietnamese women. I was in the Vietnam Veterans Association as a president and helped raise money and support people in need.