Patrick Mills
Gaw Clan, Naghir Island, Torres Strait
Petty Officer
Marine Engineer Diesel Propulsion 2 (POMED2)
Royal Australian Navy – MV Jeparit
Vietnam Veteran

Australian Active Service Medal 1945-75
Vietnam Medal
Vietnam Logistics and Support Medal
Australian Defence Medal


My name is Patrick Mills, an ex-Royal Australian Navy personnel, official number R65244, D.O.B. 17th of March 1949. I am a Torres Strait Island Australian.

I served in the Royal Australian Navy as a Petty Officer Marine Engineer Diesel Propulsion 2 (POMED2) for 12 years, from the 4th of April 1966 to the 4th of April 1978. The ships I served on were the HMAS Sydney, HMAS Stalwart, MV Jeparit, HMAS Hawk, HMAS Paluma, HMAS Assail, HMAS Bayonet and HMAS Cairns, from where I was discharged. I also served on numerous other establishments.

My active service was in Vietnam on the MV Jeparit, a civilian vessel manned by Naval personnel to carry cargo (live ammunition, including bombs and other provisions) to Diggers at Vung Tau and Cam Ranh Bay. Although I wasn’t directly on the front line. while at Vung Tau, I witnessed extreme violence, including the murder of an allied soldier on R & R by a Vietnamese civilian.

After my service, the ship’s company were each to be honoured with a Vietnam conflict medal for serving in the war zone. There was a ceremony on the back deck of the MV Jeparit where Lieutenant Hackworth presented the medals. Every member of the Naval crew was awarded this medal except for myself. I was surprised and was directed to the Divisional Officer to inquire about it. I was told by the DO that I was not eligible as my father did not serve in WW2. However, on speaking with the other members who did receive the medal, their fathers were not WW2 veterans either. I came to the conclusion that there was still some misunderstanding. However, I kept asking about the medal in the ensuing years and was continuously fobbed off by the DOs that came and went and who did nothing about it. It was very embarrassing for me, as I had been singly excluded from receiving the medal, which set me apart from the rest of my colleagues, particularly on ANZAC Day. Then I did a Petty Officer’s course but was sidelined for five years waiting for a promotion due to working under senior sailors who were racist in their views. It was made very clear to me by them that it was the colour of my skin (I am a Torres Strait Islander) that had prevented me from receiving my medal and being promoted through the ranks like white sailors.

This had a very negative psychological effect on me. I found that I lost confidence in myself and in the structure of the Forces. I couldn’t control my moods and eventually, this psychological distress led to a temporary demotion for striking a junior rating. I left the Forces with a very low opinion of myself and the Navy as a whole. I drank and smoked heavily to cope and found it hard to mix with non-Indigenous people. I was argumentative and depressed and couldn’t see a way forward for myself. I started to isolate myself from people and finally lost my marriage. When my wife took the children and relocated to Brisbane.

I then spiralled into what can only be described as a breakdown. I would drink myself late into the night, and then when I woke up, would drink again. I got into many fights and trouble with the police as I couldn’t take an order from anyone. I was very confused and contemplated suicide. Luckily for me, however, I was offered a job fishing in PNG waters, and this saved my life.

I have made some progress in recovering from this breakdown. I was advised by ex-servicemen to seek counselling help through the RSL in Cairns. I now receive a small benefit, but this is only for my loss of hearing. I wasn’t aware of any other benefits that may be available to me until now. When talking to Mr Elley Mundrabey, who represents Indigenous ex-servicemen in far North Queensland. Up until this time, there has been no representation to assist Torres Strait Islander ex-servicemen with their problems, and there are others like me who also need help.

I was a loyal member of the Defence Force and proud to be protecting my country. I volunteered for the position on active duty in Vietnam and served to my utmost. Had not this medal scenario occurred, I would’ve stayed in the Navy and completed my 20 years. I feel I would’ve worked my way through promotion and achieved seniority in status and financial terms.

Ironically, I finally received my medal in 1993 – 25 years late – through the intervention of an ex-Digger who passed through Torres Strait on a yacht and came to an ANZAC Day parade. After hearing my story, he wrote to the Queen, and the medal came to Torres Strait via the Governor-General and was presented to me during the Torres Strait Light Infantry Jubilee Celebration. However, by this time, a great deal of my life had passed by, and I feel had been wasted due to the stress I felt as a result of being discriminated against during my service years.