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David Williams

David Williams

Chief Petty Officer, Royal Australian Navy



Ordinary Seaman (Engineering Mechanic) David Allan Gordon Williams

HMAS Vampire, Royal Australian Navy
Service number: R64538
Rank on discharge: chief petty officer

"I followed my friends to Vietnam. Wherever you’re from in this wonderful country called Aussie, you’ve got your mates there. 

And a bunch of my friends got conscripted. I figured, “If they’re gonna go and do that, I’m gonna go and do that.”

It was all the guys I played footy with.

They were all conscripted into the army. But I didn’t want to walk everywhere, so I joined the navy."

Dave Williams was born in a place called Baryulgil about 500 clicks northwest of Sydney. He said, “I went to 13 different schools as a kid growing up. I lived on properties, and I lived in cities, and I learned a lot of life skills and I copped a lot of crap having curly hair and being born black this far south.”

When the National Service scheme started in the 1960s some of Dave’s friends were conscripted. Dave said “We all played football together, we were mates. So, if your mates are gonna do something, you’re gonna do something. That’s how you think at that age. You don’t have the capacity to understand the bigger picture.”

“For me it was either two years’ National Service or nine years in the Navy. A lot the guys were conscripted into the Army, but I didn’t want to walk everywhere.”

“As an Ordinary Seaman you did three months’ basic training, and then you went to a ship, and you did a further approximately 12 months, minimum. You would go to each department. You got to experience each department, so you would know if you made the wrong choice or you had some potential to excel, say in communications.”

“I knew I wanted to be an engine driver. My uncles, both strong Aboriginal men, were both New South Wales Government Railways engine drivers. I was fascinated with the heat engine, and I’d read about the Stanley steam car and all of that.”

“My Uncle Ben drove the first Garratt steam engine into Casino. I was at the level crossing, and he pulled me up and he shunted me, and I made sure every kid knew that was my uncle driving that train. So, I knew I was gonna be an engine driver, I didn't know it'd have a propeller hanging off the back end of it instead of a wheel.”

“My ship was the Vampire, a Daring Class destroyer. In 1966 we were in the Malacca Strait doing patrols off Malaya and Borneo. I was only a young bloke, and all I knew was we were there to back up our diggers that were ashore in the jungles and so forth. Then we came back to Manus Island, to pick up the Sydney and escort her up to Vung Tau.”

“We were an escort. We weren’t on the gun line. We escorted the ‘Vung Tau Ferry’ up there and the Sydney anchored and unloaded, and we anchored as well. And we had dive operations every four hours. You could see flashes in the distance of a night. I didn’t have the overall political picture. All we were told was the Communists were coming and they’re doing this and doing that, and ‘it’s better dead than red.’ I look back now and I’m thinking what a waste. It hurts.”

“As a young bloke, you just do your job, and you’re gung-ho and that’s probably what Defence needs. You obey on command. You don’t question or think, that’s not your part on the ship, you just get in and do it.”

“I was on a ship; I was part of the ship's company. We had the most senior Aboriginal at the time on that ship. His name was Able Seaman Ross ‘Lefty’ Leon, and then you had me and Billy Simpson as the two young pups out of recruit school. And I think Errol Hunt was on there too; he was gunnery. There were about nine of us identified. The other nine didn't.”

“Here was I, an 18-year-old dipstick and they’ve got me in a part of the ship, that if I don’t do my job, it ain’t going anywhere. And this is a little black fella from the bush. When I look back, I feel for the guys on that ship of mine that didn't identify. That’s their call not mine. But what I wanted to say to them was, know your stuff, know your history.”

“After I’d done my two years, I had a lot of practical Navy skills. The Navy requires you to get an appreciation for every other department; people mightn't think much of the cooks, but you're not going anywhere if you can't eat. We got taught it takes at least five guys to keep you where you’re at.”

“Twenty-nine members of my extended family fought for this country, from the Light Horse right through to the present day. We were trained to defend Australia, and that's for all Australians. And we’ve got the best country in the world. So, you know, you can’t have this without that.”

“Unfortunately, we've now got our kids being controlled by these electronic devices. People say bring back conscription. I've always said I disagree with that because I want the person that's got my back to want to be there, not to be forced to be there.”

“I say to people the military is equal opportunity for Indigenous people, pretty much worldwide. They realised they needed us because they couldn't find their way across the creek, and more importantly which road to take.”

“It took me and my colleagues till 2019 to get the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags in the Anzac Day March. In 2019, I had to march up front, but I wanted to stick the flags up front and march with the squadron and let the TV cameras do the talking.”