Roy 'Zeke' Mundine (Australian Army), Indigenous Serviceman

Running time
2 min 36 sec
Copyright
Department of Veterans' Affairs

Prior to serving two tours in Vietnam, Roy Mundine had served in Malaya in 1959. He was mentioned in dispatches in 1969 when he had continued to command his section after being severely wounded by a mine and until he could safely be reached. He later became the Australian Army's first Indigenous Elder.

Transcript

Roy Mundine, a Bunjalung man, grew up in Australia at a time when Indigenous people had very few rights and almost no status in society.

"I came up in the days of the Exemption Certificates, you know, where you had to have them to get a job, to get to school, if caught on the street after a certain time under the Native Protection Acts and of course South Africa adopted those things from us."

But in the army, he found a particular kind of equality.

"I think it was Colin Powell said, when they asked him about it, course they had a segregated army, and he said: 'Misery, in the front pitch, needs company.' And that's a known fact.

You all depend on one another. And you become like a secret society sort of a thing. And I think this is why when veterans get together for these reunion things, like Anzac Days and all that, they all welcome one another like long-lost prodigal sons."

Roy did two tours to Vietnam, the second as a section commander. He had a firm view of his responsibilities.

"A Civil War general in the Union Army said, when he was a corps commander; he was out and exposed I think at Gettysburg. And one of his aides said, 'Sir, you're exposing yourself, you'll get killed.' And he said, 'there are times when the corps commander's life doesn't count'. And at times it looked that way, that at times you've got a responsibility to try and get those people home."

In 1969, while leading his section on patrol, Roy's luck ran out.

"We saw this bunker system, so I went forward to have a look at it and I tripped a mine of some description and it just went off, bang! Blew my leg off."

Roy's men tried to get to him, but he ordered them back.

"Well they started to move forward and they would have probably come into the area where there was more mines and if there was anyone up there then they would have shot them. So we had to reorganize back on the ground so if anyone in that system had attacked us we'd be able to hold them off. And that's what happened. Because it's better one's mangled than ten. You know."

Roy returned to Australia, underwent a long period of rehabilitation and stayed in the army until 1995. Even now, it remains a large part of his life.

"And I went and helped veterans with pension things, went to different states and seen blokes, went to funerals of blokes who'd hung themselves or killed themselves, died of cancer and all that. In lots of ways, Australia has probably failed the Aboriginal people, but they will never ever admit it; and that's a sad fact of life, whether they like it or not."

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