Samat Ketchell
Wakaid, Badu and Argan Clans of Badu Island in the Torres Strait
Totems: Kodal (Crocodile), Samu (Cassowary) Garp (Sucker fish) Surlal (Mating Turtle) Tupmul (Stingray)
Lance Corporal
Royal Queensland Regiment (31 RQR) Reserve Infantry Battalion
Australian Army

 

Akole, meda keid ( means which way, how you?) in the Western Island language. I am Samat Ketchell, a proud Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal man born on Thursday Island, 17/12/1952.
This story of my short but fulfilling journey, enlisting with the 31st infantry Battalion unit based in Townsville at the Kissing point Barracks in 1978. I have tried previously in the early 1970s to enlist, but being underage, I was denied entry unless I had consented to my parents. So, in 1978, I and 5 cousins, with the help of my 2 other cousins who had enlisted before us, were persuaded to an orientation weekend bivouac behind Mount Stuart on Lavarack Barracks training grounds. We all enlisted in the infantry division.
During my service with the Battalion, I was promoted to lance corporal and put in charge of a section which was mostly made up of Torres Strait Islanders. My time in the service with the reserve unit was very good and I learnt a lot from being there. Things like being a Marshall at a live firing range, serving Commissioned Officers at dinner tables to be involved with two large-scale Army exercises held at Shoalwater Bay training area in 1980 and 1981, and learning how to be a mortar operator. By then, my rank was a full corporal.
My Heritage..first here is my father’s story, and then I’ll give you my mother’s story
My grandfather, who came from Singapore in the 1870s to dive for trepang, started in Broome, Western Australia and ended up in the Torres Strait. He met is wife, who is from Badu island a native of the Wakaid, Badu and Argan tribes all of Badu island. Their totems are – Wakaid – crocodile (kodal) surlal (mating turtle), suckerfish (gapu), Badu – stingray (tupmul) and Argan – cassowary (samu)- snake (tabu). My father, two brothers, and three nephews served in the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion from 1943 to 1945 or thereabouts.
Now my mothers story..
My grandfather came from eastern Samoa with the missionaries around the 1890s and arrived at the Top end of the Torres strait in Saibai island, his stay was short, because he headed south to mainland Australia and settled in Mapoon. During this time, he married a girl who was living in the mission dormitory. He and my grandmother lived in Batavia, which was a outstation for the mission, my mother and her siblings were all born there in Batavia Old Mapoon. My grandmother was collected by a Government officer from Normanton in the Gulf area around 1905 and taken to the Bavarian mission in Old Mapoon. All my mother’s brothers served in the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion as well.
You might be wondering why I recognise only my Torres Strait heritage. Well, I have good reason…my grandfather took his family and his Aboriginal wife to start a whole new life on Badu Island.
Because my grandmother was removed by the Government, till today, we don’t know our connection to our Aboriginal people in the Gulf or Cape region, especially my great-grandmother’s people.