George Bostock is a Bundjalung man from Grafton, NSW, who grew up in Brisbane and Sydney. He is a veteran of the 4th Royal Australian Regiment (4RAR). He served for 20 years and saw active service in Malaysia, Borneo and South Vietnam, holding many jobs including as an infantryman and a paratrooper.
As a part of the NAIDOC Week celebrations, July 2014 George spoke to Queensland Council of Social Service (QCOSS) staff about his experiences serving as an Aboriginal man in the Australian Army.
My name is George Bostock. I'm a Bundjalung man from Grafton I was born in Grafton New South Wales. I came up to Brisbane when I was a young fella and I went to school at Moorooka State school and I left school at 14 years of age and I worked as a labourer in factories and on building sites.
I knocked about in Brisbane and in Sydney as a knockabout kid. Some of the people that I knocked about with weren't exactly the best role models that anybody could have and I got a tap on the shoulder one day by somebody and they said to me look you've got a choice you can either join your friends in prison or you can join the army. I chose to join the army.
I joined in 1961. I did 20 years’ service. I had seen active service in Borneo and in Vietnam as a section commander. I've had various jobs in the army one was six years as a paratrooper the others were as a warehouse supervisor.
So after twenty years I got out with the rank of Staff Sergeant. And when I got out I was asked by a lot of people “What was it like serving as an Aboriginal in the army and did you come across any racism?”
So I was a soldier I was not an Aboriginal. I was a soldier I had my identity my number, name and regimental number.
My regimental number, name and rank that's all they wanted to know. They didn't know if I was Greek, Italian or bloody Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. They just wanted to know “What's your name son?”
I had no problems. I had people that were… made racist remarks. As I was saying I sorted them out but from there on, everybody was friends, everybody was mates.
When I first went to the battalion that I was posted to I knew I was in for the stick when my section commander he come up to me and he said, “Oh an Aboriginal”. He said “You're my forward scout” and I said to him, I tried to explain to him, I said look, “I'm a city black fella. I grew up and I knocked about in the streets of Sydney and Brisbane. The only bush that I've ever been through was the botanical gardens.” But it was no good, my pleas fell on deaf ears and my first job in the army was as a forward scout.
An occasion that really stuck in my mind was when I came home from Vietnam in 1969. There was a lot of demonstrations going on against the Vietnam, fellas who served in Vietnam, but we arrived - we were a Brisbane battalion we did our training in Brisbane and we left Brisbane to go to Vietnam and we come back to Hamilton Wharf - and we said “What's going on? We going back to Enogerra?” and they said no we're marching through the streets of Brisbane, Queen Street, down Queen Street and up Adelaide Street. And we said oh God and we all started thinking about protesters being there waiting for us and what we were going to do to them.
And so we all formed up at the Botanical Gardens and we marched down George Street and there was just a trickle of people and I was thinking what a waste of time this is and I kid you not we turned into Queen Street - they didn't have the mall in those days it was just the one street down the hill - we turned into Queen Street and it was about four to five deep of people. 100s of people lined the streets of Brisbane.
There was ticker tapes and streamers were coming out of the buildings and we must have looked like we were in shock because there was an old bloke I heard him say, “Come on boys give us a smile you're home now.” And I'll never forget that, as long as I Iive.