Possibly one of the most fascinating conversations you’ll ever hear is the tale of Ted Mulligan … he’s 102 years of age, sharp as a tack, with a cheeky sense of humour. Serving Australia in WWII and having been involved with (and founded) many organisations over the years, Ted is a community-minded but extremely modest individual who plays down his awards and achievements. We thought it fitting to speak with Ted ahead of ANZAC Day …
Hi Ted. What’s your background?
I was born in Armidale, in the old St Kilda Hospital, a long time ago – 1916 – but my family lived about 12 miles out of Guyra on the western side. I grew up on Glenore and was one of seven children.
At one stage our family owned a lot of country, and there were around 40 family members living in the area. We had our own tennis team, our own cricket team … I thought how I grew up was normal. It wasn’t until I was older, I realised how fortunate I was.
We were practically born on horses and used to ride everywhere; I had some cousins around the same age as me. On Sundays we’d go to church, then we’d come home, light up cigarettes once we’d left the house and spend the days chasing foxes and rabbits.
How old were you when you joined the Light Horse – and why did you join?
I joined the 12th Light Horse Regiment in 1937. I joined the Armidale troop, because in those days Guyra didn’t have a troop.
Back in those days, when you were in the Army you’d get 13 shillings a day – eight shillings for the horse, and five shillings for yourself. That was big money!
I think everyone knew there was a war coming, so it was just something we all did … join up, whether it was infantry or whatever. I didn’t like walking, so I joined the Light Horse!
I used to play a lot of cricket; it was always my ambition to be a professional cricketer. I practiced and became quite good as a batsman and did get to play for NSW Country, but there wasn’t any money in cricket. I’ve been involved with the Guyra Cricket Club my whole life, and played representative cricket until I was 66.
Where did you see active service/travel to during the war?
I served with the 12th Light Horse, the 2/7th Armoured Regiment (tanks), 16 Small Ship Company and 13 Small Ship Company.
We marched through Newcastle and Sydney, and we were supposed to board the Queen Mary to travel to the Middle East. You know … it must have been known in advance that the Japanese were going to come into the war, because at the last minute we were sent to Western Australia, where I spent some time, before I travelled to New Guinea.
When I left tanks for ships, I guided landing barges all over the Southeast Pacific; there wouldn’t have been many countries in that region I didn’t visit.
When did you come back home to Australia?
In about ’46. It was pretty good coming back home!
I found out later that when I was on my way home, my grandfather had a dream about me. He told my mother he’d seen the ship I was on (which was an American Liberty ship at that stage) had hit a mine in the sea, and it was blown up and sunk. He thought I wouldn’t make it home. The thing is, at that particular time we actually were on a ship just off Fiji, trying to get out of a mine field! The RADAR was broken, and it took us a day and a half to get out of that situation.
Of all the young Mulligans who joined up for the war (a couple didn’t make it back) four of us went to Sydney after we got home and spent a couple of weeks celebrating. We had an absolute whale of a time!
What did you do to earn a living after you came home?
I worked on my father’s property, and a few of us grew peas for a while and trapped rabbits; there was good money in rabbit fur. In 10 weeks, four of us (including my brothers and a cousin) caught 40,000 rabbits! Before the war, in winter time, rabbits were worth one and six a pound, but after the war we’d get 13 and six a pound (six skins) – that was an absolute mint!
I later bought the property Ellerslie, adjoining my father’s property.
You’re received many awards – an OAM in 2006, Guyra Citizen of the Year in 2008, you earned 10 service and bravery medals during the war. What achievements are you most proud of?
I’m not one to push myself forward – I just take it as it comes. I’ve been involved with many things, but I’m just happy to have been able to help so many people in the community. I’ve been involved with cricket, Pony Club, the Guyra Show, the RSL Sub Branch … I’m Patron of quite a few clubs (laughs). I’m a professional Patron! I put a big emphasis on family – family is number one.
And, you were invited on a very special trip to Beersheba too?
In 2008, I was one of six Australians invited to Israel for a service to dedicate a memorial to Australian soldiers at Beersheba. I gave a presentation at the Dawn Service, and there were 24 nations present. It was a great visit. It’s a lovely country; the little farms over there support perhaps three – four families … Very different to here. We stayed for around 12 days.
Do you still go to ANZAC services these days?
Oh yes – I haven’t been to the Dawn Service for the past couple of years though. I was President of the RSL Sub Branch for 10 years, and I still go to meetings. There were around 550 from Guyra and district who went off to war; there aren’t many of us still around these days.
I reckon, without any shadow of a doubt, it’s important for people to go to ANZAC services. When all is said and done, Australia has got a fair bit to be proud of. There’s nothing worse than war – war itself is nothing to be proud of – but we can be proud that Australia has contributed significantly over the years to the war effort and for our freedom.
If I had my time over again, I’d try to rectify any mistakes I’d made! But I’d live the same sort of life again.
Thanks Ted. Interview: Jo Robinson.