FRANK Mallard of Ellenbrook, who just last week was named the 2019 Western Australian Senior Australian of the Year, says it has been a very good year for him.
On Australia Day this year Mr Mallard was recognised by the City of Swan for his volunteer, charity and unpaid work when he was named citizen of the year as well as senior citizen of the year.
Now he gets not just a state-wide opportunity to promote a charity, which he and his wife Tanja joined in 2006, but also the chance for it to become known Australia-wide when he takes part in the national awards on January 25 in Canberra next year, where the four Australians of the Year will be announced.
Mr Mallard is thrilled that the Amurri Divine Mercy Foundation, of which he is a director, was recently registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.
In the past 18 months Mr Mallard, 73, has also met family he did not know he had.
A Yamatji from Northampton Mr Mallard said when his mother was alive she never told him who his father was and his name did not appear on his birth certificate.
A member of the Stolen Generation he was eight-years-old when he mother had to sign away her Aboriginality.
Mr Mallard was taken to St Patrick’s College in Geraldton and his sister sent to a girl’s boarding school.
He eventually found his father’s name in a file the Protectors of Aborigines agency kept on his mother.
The file revealed that his father was Frank Refeld, who had been with the Royal Australian Air Force.
He also discovered his father had three other children – two sons and a daughter.
His oldest half-brother Robin Refeld, now 80-years-old, was in Perth recently for a family reunion, which Frank attended.
He has met his other half-brother but not his half-sister.
Hating boarding school, he wanted to run away.
“But looking back now it gave me a good education and I made the best of the opportunities I was given,’’ he said.
The discipline he learnt at the Catholic boarding college and school cadets and being the son and nephew of men who served in World War I and World War II, partly explain why he was attracted to a military life.
He said farm work for 5 pounds a week and your keep meant shearing and harvesting whereas the army offered 22 pound a fortnight and your keep, uniforms and the opportunity to travel, which really interested him.
“But I didn’t realise I was travelling to war situations.’’
He spent 36 years in the military – 23 years (1962 to 1985) in the regular army and 13 years in the reserves (1986 to 1999).
While in the reserves he was also a prison officer in Townsville.
During this time he took some time off between 1993 to 1996 and went to Croatia where he met his wife.
He worked as a warehouse supervisor with the United Nations and when they left he continued that role with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
After he returned to Australia he kept calling Tanja asking her to marry him.
“She refused for a while and I went back twice to get her to change her mind then in 1997 she agreed over the phone to marry me.’’
He said to organise it and he would be there.
They married on October 4 in 1997 in Split in the Church of St Francis on St Francis’ day.
In 2005 his cousin Iris said “he needed to front up” and become part of his Aboriginal family.
Now an elder he is also a proud ambassador and advocate for the contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and women.
He saw active duty in Borneo and Vietnam – but on returning home, like other Aboriginal soldiers, was rejected by the RSL.
Today he is the Ellenbrook RSL media officer and a dedicated veterans’ issues volunteer.
He is the chairman of Voice of the Voiceless Ministry, which helps people with addiction, mental illness and social issues.
In 2015, he received a Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm Unit Citation as a member of the 1RAR Group.
About six years ago Mr Mallard was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and for more years than that has also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Due to the Parkinson’s disease he has started to lose his voice and has slight body movements but he continues his active volunteer and charity work by maintaining a positive outlook and not letting it get him down.
By Anita McInnes