Vietnam veteran Ed King was drafted at age 20.
“It was the only raffle I’ve ever won,” he laughed.
“I wouldn’t have volunteered to go over there, I don’t believe in taking chances.”
Now 68, Mr King said his war experience had changed his life.
“Being 20 years old you’re very vulnerable,” Mr King said.
“It changes you a lot, makes you a lot more mature. It makes you appreciate life more.”
Mr King is one of dozens of indigenous Australians featured in an exhibition at La Trobe University’s Phyllis Palmer Gallery.
Indigenous Australians at war: from the Boer War to the present includes a display with Mr King’s photo and his helmet.
Mr King said he had kept most things he had collected in that period of his life, but didn’t like talking about it too much.
“I don’t like to glorify it,” he said. “I just told my kids I went over there, it just happened,” he said.
Mr King was called up in 1966 and joined the army as a forward scout, “the eyes and ears of the group”.
“They said I had the best eyes and I was pretty sharp,” he said. “A lot of Aboriginal people were scouts back then. Apparently Aboriginal babies are born with better eyesight.”
Mr King said war was a harrowing experience.
“We got shot at the first night we got there,” he said.
“Every day you think you are going to die.
“It reminds me of death row – you know you’re going to die but you don’t know when.
“I saw terrible sights over there that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I have one group photo and the guy on either side of me died.
“I saw one of them split in half.”
Mr King spent just under 12 months in Vietnam before he was injured when his armed personnel carrier hit a mine.
“I started getting really bad headaches and earaches so they medivacced me out in 1967,” he said. Mr King – who has suffered from hearing problems ever since – returned to Bendigo where he raised a family and built a panel beating business in Eaglehawk.
Indigenous Australians at War is at the Phyllis Palmer Gallery until February 22, presented by the Shire Trustees.