As a kid, Mark Donaldson VC was always in trouble. He got into fights and would paint graffiti on the sides of trains, but then he turned his life around and did something extraordinary.
He became the first Australian since the Vietnam War to be awarded the Victoria Cross for his extraordinary courage in Afghanistan on 2 September 2008; he was named the Young Australian of the Year in 2010; and got to meet the Queen – twice.
But the splendour of Buckingham Palace was a long way from where he’d come from.
Mark Donaldson was born in the Newcastle suburb of Waratah on 2 April 1979, the youngest son of Gregor and Bernadette Donaldson, and grew up in Dorrigo in the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales. His father Greg was a Vietnam veteran, but Donaldson never dreamt that he too would become a soldier one day too.
“No one ever thought I was going to join the military, or go to war, or do any of those things, but my favourite game when I was younger was playing wars, running around with fake guns, hiding in the bush, and trying to ambush each other,” Donaldson said. “We were a little crew of boys up to adventure, so in a strange way it was going that way, but it never ever felt like it was.
“My dad always said, never join the military … The whole Vietnam thing probably wasn’t so great for him … He was always: ‘You’re never going to join the army.’ But my dad was a soldier at heart. Everything he did was a soldier’s mannerism. He was always up early, making sure the house was clean – which drove me mad when I was younger – and he always wore his slouch hat around the yard, or around the house, or going to work. He always wore his army greens from Vietnam – so for someone who was totally opposed to the military it came out in other ways.”