Stories from the Frontline – Episode 4, Col Watego

His career as a gunner started in 1974 in the Army Reserve, when he and his brother took their enlistment letters to the Kelvin Grove Barracks in Brisbane, until reaching his compulsory retiring Age in 2018.

For Col Watego, the Royal Commission is all about family.

His career as a gunner started in 1974 in the Army Reserve, when he and his brother took their enlistment letters to the Kelvin Grove Barracks in Brisbane, until reaching his compulsory retiring Age in 2018.

Back then, being unfamiliar with ADF Acronyms, the boys were meant to report to the 9th Royal Queensland Regiment (Infantry) 0rderly Room, however, going to the wrong building by mistake, they found themselves enlisting into 5th Field Regiment, Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery.

That was the start of a 43-year career as a ‘Gunner’, transferring to the Australian Regular Army (ARA), conducting many overseas deployments, including Active Service in East Timor. Several years later his younger brother also enlisted and served in the ARA.

“We choose to join the Defence Force because of our passion to serve and protect. But for me personally, it was an honour for me to follow in the footsteps of my ancestors who served. Our father also proudly served, as a ‘Gunner’ in WW2. My grandfather, his brother, and his brother-in-law (my great uncles all served in WW1 and deployed overseas), and two of my father’s brothers (my uncles, and my grandfather again, served together in WW2).” Col said.

“As I reflect on my service as a proud Indigenous veteran soldier, I now realise that on the day I enlisted into the ADF, I also enlisted my family.”

“I believe that most people have some understanding of the significance of what it means for Defence Personnel to go into combat. Be away for long periods at a time and conduct the essential high-risk training required to prepare for combat. But I also believe, that when someone joins the ADF, there’s not enough awareness of the impact and the effect that service can have on their families.”

“To frequently my observations have been that our Defence Personnel experience high rates of breakdown in family relationships. As an organisation, Divorce rates are sky high, and this breakdown in family relationships can and does impact on the mental health of not only the veterans, but their families as well. Without the appropriate Social and Emotional Wellbeing Professional Support, sadly, can and has resulted in suicide.”

“This needs to be addressed by the Royal Commission”, Col says.

“The ‘Test of Elementary Training’ is a series of weapon safety drills designed to ensure that  ADF Personnel maintain the highest standards of safety and proficiency, when using their Individual Weapons Systems, to maximise protection for them and their mates when in carrying their weapon. Continual and frequent training and testing is conducted to maintain the highest safety and protection. I believe that  continual and frequent appropriate Social and Emotional Wellbeing Training is as equally important to maximise protection for Defence personnel, their families, and their mates. I believe that pro-active prevention is a very powerful tool of protection.”   

As a very proud First Nations Australian, he worked for more than a decade in the development and delivery of sponsored ADF Career Pathway Programs encouraging and equipping our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women with the necessary training and skills to join the ADF or APS.

Col stated that, “Enlistment provided an opportunity for our First Nations men and women to proudly represent their families and communities whilst contributing to the Defence of our Great Nation. Not only is it an excellent medium for recognition and reconciliation, but for many it also meant that they too could follow in the footsteps of their ancestors and family who served.”    

“However, for many of our First Nations Service Personnel, there are special challenges that still need to be addressed.”

“I remember being called in to talk to a soldier who had joined the ADF from a remote community, but he hadn’t yet been through Cultural Initiation,” Col said.

“His family needed him to come home to Country for Ceremony. This Ceremony could potentially take several weeks but unfortunately there is no provision for Full-time serving ADF Personnel to complete Cultural Initiation. For some of our Cultures not completing Cultural Initiation is extremely serious”.  

“If he didn’t go back, he could be ostracised from his own family, and even his own mob. Then he wouldn’t be able to go back to his own country without consequences. This stuff is real.”

Unlike some others on the DAVLS Expert Advisory Group, Col’s experience of military life was overwhelmingly positive.

Col said that “I have seen a lot of changes over the years and respectfully pay tribute to our Defence leaders at the highest levels, for their commitment to create equal opportunities for our First Nations Peoples.”

“I am also extremely optimistic that moving forward will not only result in the implementation of outcomes to provide the best possible support for our Ex-serving, currently serving, and future serving Defence personnel, but essential support to their families as well.”    

“It has been an honour and a privilege for me to have had the opportunity to serve as an Indigenous Veteran in the Defence our Great Nation, and to proudly follow in the footsteps of my ancestors, my father and my family.”


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Publication date: 16 May 2023
Publication type: AudioPodcast
Language: English