Gary Oakley - Michael Thwaites: The Jervis Bay

Running time
2 min 21 sec
Date made
Place made
Department of Veterans' Affairs


I turned 17 on the way there, my first trip, it was kind of funny. When I joined the Navy. I had no concept of Vietnam, I had no concept of going there. I didn't pay attention to the news. So you know, it was just something that when it happened, I went "Oh ", it just happened, you know.

I didn't actually join the Defence Force thinking that I would go somewhere like that. I just joined to basically get away from a middle of nowhere bloody town … my dad's the indigenous one of the family, my mum's not. My mum was adopted as baby and her adoptive parent, father, was a Church of England minister and he was an ex-chaplain in Darwin during the Second World War.

And he always had a thing about the Navy and he gave me a book for a birthday present called HMS Ulysses and it was this book about a British ship in the Second World War. And I'd been interested in poetry too and learned a part of a poem called HMS Jervis Bay, the Jervis Bay and that sort of sparked an interest in me in about the Navy.

And then because I wanted to get away from this country town, the quickest way that I could do that and get a wage and travel the world and do the things that I could probably never ever do as an indigenous kid in a country town was joining the Navy and the Navy opposite that opportunity, to get away at 15 which is quite interesting, because many, many, many years later, when I was working at the War Memorial, and I started the service up the back of the War Memorial, now we have an indigenous service every Anzac Day.

We have a service every November 11. And we used to do it up the back of the hill behind the War Memorial, there’s a little memorial up there. The guy and his wife who put that up there, it was a private memorial, was a fellow by the name of Michael Thwaites.

Michael Thwaites wrote that poem, The Jervis Bay, and I got to meet him and things just sort of clicked together. But really, it was a case of the quickest way out of this town was to join the Navy.

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