John Staines

John Staines is a Wiradjuri man whose grandfather and uncle fought in the Second World War. This interview is part of the ‘Honouring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Service Men and Women Who Served Their Country’ project. John talks in his interview about the impact that inequality can have on Indigenous servicemen and the negative legacy that war service can have on their families. In the excerpt below he recalls racist incidents experienced by his grandfather during and after the war.

He experienced it [racism] in the army. On one occasion he came up against an English officer and I believe the words were: “You black bastard, get your arse into gear”, something like that, and [he] actually hit the officer and was going to be court martialled, and only because he said it in front of numerous witnesses that he wasn’t court martialled. When he came back from overseas there was one occasion where he was going to the local hotel in Glebe – I believe it was the Friend in Hand Hotel – and they told him to get out because no Aboriginals could go into the pub; and there was a number of white Australian soldiers there as well and they said to the publican “If you don’t let him in we’re not coming in either, and we’ll find a pub that will let him in” and the publican changed his mind and let him. Also when he applied for jobs when he came back from overseas he was knocked back, couldn’t find work, and after that became a very heavy drinker, an alcoholic, and more or less drank himself to death. It was a shame to see a proud Aboriginal person deteriorate after what he’d seen overseas; and the way he was treated when he came back, it was hard to live with. He couldn’t understand why a black person that went and fought alongside white people for the same thing, and to protect Australia and those back in Australia, that he was thought of as a second class citizen when he came back.

Fabri Blacklock