Reconciliation SA caught up with Kokatha man and military veteran Gordon Franklin.
Born along the Nullarbor plains, SA, Mr. Franklin and his family eventually moved to the Eyre Peninsula of SA. His family had links to the area, and it was close to the land of the Kokatha people. After some moving around the peninsula, at 14 years of age Mr. Franklin’s father settled in Port Lincoln.
Of that time, Mr. Franklin says “My ambition was to become an electronics engineer, but without being allowed to finish high school, I needed to get an apprenticeship. Because this opportunity was not available to me, I worked as a clerk at the Barley Board.”
Speaking of his youth, Mr. Franklin says “For some reason, we were not forced into the reserves as many of our family and friends were. The government banned us from mixing with those friends and relatives that they had put on the reserves. One of my father’s best friend, Uncle Dick, told us many years later that we were the poorer for not having our culture taught to us. Uncle was quite correct in that assumption, sad but true.” Mr. Franklin admits that as a child, his life was culturally barren, however, before his grandfather taught him aspects of his culture.
Recalling a story from his childhood, Mr Franklin says “My father highlighted the difference between our two cultures on a trip to see an Elder, Uncle Mooney Davies at Andamooka near Woomera Rocket Range. [along the way] We met a stranded English migrant. My father stopped to help and gave him half of everything we possessed at the time, food, money and unfortunately petrol. Our old car was gravity-fed, no petrol pump, causing us to have back up the hills until we got to Andamooka.”
Reflecting on his Army days, Mr Franklin says “I joined the Australian Army at Keswick Barracks in May 1964 at age 19 for a six-year term. I left South Australia for the first time to attend recruit training at Kapooka Barracks near Wagga Wagga in New South Wales. I trained as an Electronics Technician at Balcombe near Mornington and East Hills in Sydney”. He continues with “In December 1966, I was posted to 103 Signal Squadron Nui Dat in South Vietnam.”
Recalling the tragedies that the Vietnam war reaped on him, Mr. Franklin says, “I had an extraordinary friend I met at recruit training at Kapooka, Signalman Ian “Lofty” Logan. We were both country boys, Lofty from Mildura and me from Port Lincoln. We celebrated my birthday together at Nui Dat. Lofty was on patrol with an American unit when he died from explosive wounds.” The following month, he continued, “103 Signal Squadron returned to Australia and was replaced by 104 in June 1967. I did have a great mate, Corporal Dennis Connelly, another country boy from Mudgee in NSW in that unit. We met at corps training two years earlier. Dennis helped me with my grief at the loss of Lofty. In August, he was tragically killed and died in my arms. I returned home in time for Christmas.”
Before retiring in 1970 at Keswick, Mr. Franklin recalls his final posting “it was at 110 Signal Squadron at Vung Tau. It was like a holiday camp on the “sandhill”. My best friend Paul and I climbed up a huge cliff to take some great photos of the South China Sea. Unknown to us, it was a Rest and Recreation camp for North Vietnamese. After a real fright, when they ran towards their weapons, we sat down and happily showed each other photos of our families while drinking a mug of black tea. I returned home to Keswick in May 1970 and retired.”
Mr. Franklin faced many challenges after he completed his service, “my mates who died in Vietnam left me grief-stricken. I struggled with the many anti-war marches and demonstrations.” He disclosed. Continuing, Mr. Franklins says “My memory was a mess because I still could not remember the last three months of my first tour. In 2008 I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome.”
Work was also scarce, with non-available in Port Lincoln or Adelaide, Mr Franklin found employment in Melbourne as a test technician at Eriksson in the telephone exchange industry. After nearly 20 years working as a technician, he began to drive Taxis, which he did until 2008.
Mr. Franklin then took the War Service Pension, early, to study a Law/Arts degree at Latrobe University which he completed in 2014. He is now doing a Master of Laws degree at La Trobe, and as a casual lecturer, tutors Aboriginal and Torres Strait students at both Deakin and Victoria Universities.
For Mr. Franklin’s full interview, click here.