Anzac Day: Indigenous Vietnam veteran to be honoured in Rottnest Island ceremony

Pte Hansen Joined Australian Army. Photo supplied by Hansen Family Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers should be aware that this article contains images and names of deceased people.

"Operations in Vietnam, which on most occasions lasted up to six weeks of continuous living in jungle conditions without any amenities and carrying everything required to live and fight on our back, were times [where] Paul would shine," Retired Lieutenant Colonel Paul Andrews wrote about Aboriginal soldier Private Paul Hansen.

Born in an old tin shack in Broomehill in WA's Great Southern, Pte Hansen was in his early 20s when he eagerly joined the Australian Army in 1970 — against his mother's wishes.

"I first met Paul when he joined the 4th Battalion as a National Service soldier prior to our active service in South Vietnam in 1971," Lt Col Andrews continued.

"It is now more than 40 years later, but my memory of Paul as a young, fit, strong, capable, reliable, resourceful and highly respected man is clear.

"The innate hunting skills and resourcefulness derived from his heritage enabled him to be of real value, particularly in locating signs of the enemy."

Pte Hansen completed a seven-month tour of Vietnam on search-and-destroy missions against the Viet Cong.

Until the day of his death from cancer — four days before Anzac Day last year — Pte Hansen called the soldiers he fought with "brothers" and was "bursting with pride" for what he had contributed.

"It meant everything to him, everything. He was a proud Vietnam veteran," his life-long partner Patricia Websdale said.
His family said a warm welcome home from the wider community was "non-existent" and their patriarch had to fight for years to get the recognition he deserved.

Like many other veterans, his battle scars ran deeper than the physical and Pte Hansen had post-traumatic stress disorder in the years that followed his return.

Instead of being overcome by it, Pte Hansen became an advocate for the rights of Indigenous war veterans — eventually becoming the co-creator and president of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Veterans and Services Association.

Rottnest trip becomes ritual

Six years before his death, Pte Hansen was invited to represent all Indigenous servicemen and women at the Anzac Day ceremony on Rottnest Island.

Rottnest was an especially important place for the veteran to represent Indigenous men and women because of the island's Indigenous history.

It became a ritual for the brothers and grandsons in the family to travel with Pte Hansen to be at this side during Anzac Day.

"He definitely loved the Rottnest ceremony," son Nathan Hansen said.

"He wanted the family to carry on [tradition], especially his boys... his grandsons."

This Anzac Day will be the first year that four generations of Pte Hansen's family, including the women, will make the crossing to the island for the ceremony in his place.

"It's a good healing process for us and it's just keeping Paul's memory alive and the significance of him going to Vietnam and the impact it had on his life and his family's life," stepdaughter Tina Pickett said.

The family is preparing for the day they know will be hard — a day where they will have to overcome their own grief to stand proudly for Pte Hansen, in the place he stood so many times before.

"It will be sad, that we're all here and he's not, but I know he'll be with us in spirit," Mrs Websdale said.

"He'd be up there, smiling down at us. For all of us to be together."

It is a tradition the Hansen family hopes will continue for generations to come.

Anzac Day: Indigenous Vietnam veteran to be honoured in Rottnest Island ceremony - Eliza Laschon, ABC News, 24 April 2017