William was born in Mount Gambier, South Australia, in 1878. He was one of three children with his siblings John James A.I.F. 2206 and Sarah also in the family of James Westbury and Ellen Baker, with Ellen being of the local Boandik people. Ellen was the cook and lived at Benara Creek part of Schanck outstation, near Lake Bonney West of Kongorong SA. The family moved often between Beachport and Port MacDonnell, following work and visiting family. It was however Boandik coastal country that the family called home and where many of William’s family still live today.
William attended MacDonnell Bay School. He enjoyed his school days but the outdoors was where his heart was. He won several prestigious foot races prior to and after his service. He was strongly built and a good athlete, his complexion was listed as Grey, Eyes Brown with Hair Grey; he had a scar on his left shin, and perfect vision in both eyes. Like many of his family was a skilled horseman and these skills enabled him to be widely known and respected as a reliable stockman and labourer throughout the district.
William was working as labourer in Pinnaroo prior to enlisting there 1914. This was to follow on from his service in the Boer war. He was very proud to be serving his country as an Australian soldier and as an Aboriginal man. During his attestation, he listed 1 years’ experience with the Lameroo Rifle Club and 18 months in the 5th and 6th South Australian Imperial Bushman, William’s Boer war unit.
He enlisted in the AIF on 25th August 1914 and after his initial training, he was posted to the 10th Infantry Battalion, A Company. The 10th Battalion was among the first infantry units raised for the AIF during the First World War. The battalion was recruited in South Australia, and together with the 9th, 11th and 12th Battalions, formed the 3rd Brigade.
He embarked from Fremantle on 25 October 1914 aboard the HMAT Ascanius.
Near Pinnaroo, he had been working as a labourer for M. J. O’Loughlan, who gave William a young kangaroo as a parting gift which sailed with the troops and was a welcome distraction for the men.