FAREWELL FRIEND: Harry Mimi was one of Rockhampton’s more colourful characters.
FAREWELL FRIEND: Harry Mimi was one of Rockhampton’s more colourful characters. Christine Mckee

Our Harry tells his story, one last time

HARRY Mimi was born in 1944 on the outskirts of the small citrus-growing town of Gayndah.

Living in a three-roomed shack, life as one of 13 children could not have been easy, especially since the Mimis were one of few Aboriginal families living in the area. Times were changing for Aborigines in the 1950s.

The Queensland Government had established missions over the state in an effort to "protect" the health and safety of Australia's indigenous people.

Harry Mimi in one of the colourful costumes for which he became well known.
Harry Mimi in one of the colourful costumes for which he became well known. Allan Reinikka

Harry says he was one of the lucky ones. His family were given permission to live on the outskirts of Gayndah to work.

Like many others who weren't living in a mission, Harry's family worked on stations and performed domestic work in town.

He recalls that times weren't good for Aborigines as they were being roped off from "white fellows", locked up from society and still had to carry a piece of paper saying they could live outside a mission.

His childhood was speckled with school, sport and working life.

Being a member of the Waka Waka tribe, Harry went to one of the only Aborigines' schools in Queensland two days a week.

But it soon closed down and Harry and his sisters then travelled to attend a state school.

A glisten appears in his eyes as he fondly chuckles about his speed and sporting abilities.

His list of assets of good looks, charm and lightning quick speed lay in the Mimi genes.

Speed let him do anything.

Winger/fullback of the football team or wicketkeeper on the cricket squad, Harry was there.

Harry left school at 12 to pursue work with his father as a rouseabout on Mar-nah station near Gayndah.

His love of sport was put on hold as he fixed fences, checked water and woke early to milk the cows.

He still kept up his fitness, choosing to herd the cattle on foot rather than on horseback because he loved running.

Harry found himself playing football for the under-16s and working in an orchard at 15.

He and his cousin were the only two Aboriginal boys on the team. Despite his love for the game, Harry had great dreams of being a soldier.

His life completely changed when he enlisted in the army and travelled to Brisbane for tests.

On that same weekend, scouts from a Canberra NRL team came to watch his team play.

In a life-changing decision, the scouts decided to offer a contract to his cousin instead.

"I think I would have gone with the army if they picked me anyway. I always wanted to be in the army."

Whether it was fate or not, he wouldn't have had it any other way.

The next three months flew by for Harry as training, a change of scenery to Wagga Wagga and regimented structure took over his life.

It was also the time in history when the Australian Government had established a strong alignment with the United States.

Australia was becoming involved in the South-East Asian conflicts in the 1950s, sending soldiers to Borneo, Malaya and Korea. In the early 1960s, the spread of communism took hold in Vietnam.

Harry Mimi enlisted in the Australian Army aged 17.
Harry Mimi enlisted in the Australian Army aged 17. Contributed

While the battalion of soldiers left on HMAS Sydney on a two-week trip to Vietnam, Harry was one of 103 men chosen to fly in to Bien Hoa that night.

He was one of the first Australian soldiers to arrive.

"We were the ones who made it safe for the others to arrive.

"We set up base with the American 173rd Airborne Brigade and began our mission."

For Harry, it was one long year serving his country.

He was there when the troops arrived, he was a part of many battles against the Viet Cong and sadly he witnessed many deaths.

Harry lost his battle to cancer on December 8.

He was diagnosed several weeks ago after feeling unwell for some time.

The funeral to celebrate Harry Mimi will be held tomorrow at the Gayndah Town Hall.

The service starts at noon and will be open to the public.

Harry's family asks for attendees to wear bright colours to represent Harry's legacy.