Ink in the Lines

Online exhibition

William Seraphina, of 2RAR, 1950. Each tattoo represents a place he's been, over decades of service.

William Seraphina, of 2RAR, 1950. Each tattoo represents a place he's been, over decades of service.

The art of tattooing has captured the imagination of many. Where tattoos were once seen as the sign of a sailor or a rebel, they are now widely socially accepted; many Australians, including members of our Defence Forces, wear tattoos.  The reasons for being tattooed are as varied as the people themselves, but there is almost always a single, definitive and unifying purpose for getting inked: To remember.

Whether it’s a young mariner deploying overseas, thinking how much she’ll miss her family, or a career soldier mourning the death of a friend, many members of the Australian Army, Airforce and Navy have at some time, carefully designed an image to symbolise their hopes and memories. These personal memories are then inscribed on their own skin, allowing them to permanently embody the people, places and experiences which have the most importance for them.

Tattoos: Have you got one?

Artwork of a man getting a tattoo

The Memorial is interested in the history of tattooing in the Australian military and are keen to explore the way our service people and veterans use tattoos to commemorate military service. 

If you have a tattoo and would like to share it with us, there are a couple of ways you can do it:

Online form: To share your tattoo with us and have it considered for inclusion in future online or physical exhibitions, please follow this link and fill out our short online form

Social media using hashtag: If you would like your tattoo to be considered for display on our webpage, share a photo and a brief story to your own Instagram  account using the hashtags #inkedAWM and #militarytattsAWM

Collected podcast episode 4 - Australia's military tattoos

Listen to episode four of our Collected podcast and learn about the history and meaning of tattoos in the Australian Defence Force. In conversation with curator Stephanie Boyle, Canberra tattoo artist Peter Bone and through oral histories, Louise Maher shares the ways servicemen and women, their loved ones and veterans have inked their skin in commemoration, pride - or just to pass the time. Listen to more episodes

Learn more about the history of tattoos in the Australian military

Watch a talk delivered by Stephanie Boyle, a Senior Curator from our Photography, Film and Sound team. Stephanie discusses the history of ink tattoos in the Australian military, and their representation in the Memorial’s collection.

Stephanie Boyle talking about tattoos in the military

Telling their stories vodcast

Tattooing has long been practiced within the armed forces. Senior Curator, Stephanie Boyle, discusses her recent encounter with a female soldier recently returned from Afghanistan, and the particular meaning that her tattoos hold for her and her family.

Blog articles Inked: tattoos in the military

  1. Inked: Tattoo Stories, Beyond the World Wars

    15 March 2018

    This is the third in a series of articles on the history of tattoos in the Australian military, exploring their origins, meanings, and their representation in the Memorial’s photograph collection.

  2. Inked: Tattoo Stories from World War II

    15 March 2018

    Part two in a three part article exploring the rich history of tattoos in the Australian military. 

  3. Inked: Tattoos and the Military

    16 January 2018

    This article explores the history of tattoos in the military by exploring their origins and meanings,  and their representation in the Memorial’s photograph collection.

Denise Helliwell/ Armstrong’s tattoo story

“I have tattoo on my forearm, mine & my great grandfather’s dog tags. His served in WW1 & was KIA in polygon woods on the 26/09/1917. I served in the Army for 21years. The reason, I have this tattoo, is to remember him & to have him close to me.”

Jacob Parker’s tattoo story

“I was medically discharged from the 6th Royal Australian Regiment in 2014 due to injuries that I obtained during service. My service and the injuries I have been left with have pretty much made me into the person I am today. At times I struggle but it wasn't until I decided to own it that I could actually cope. The tattoo of is my own horse drinking out of my slouch hat and also the DCPUs which were uniform at the time of my service.”

John Mottershead’s tattoo story

“I was one of the first intake into 104 Bty in 1965 when it was reraised and did 2 tours of Vietnam with 104 Bty. I left the battery in 1973 and the times l had during my service is etched in my DNA now.”

Martin Webster’s tattoo story

“I am a Kokoda trek leader and had the chance on several occasions to meet Ovuri Ndiki who was a fuzzy wuzzy angel. My 2 great uncles fought at Kokoda with one being buried at Bomana Cemetery. Ovuri had the most powerful eyes of a life lived. The tattoo on my arm reminds me of this man and the sacrifices my great uncles and many others made for the life we live today. Lest we forget.”

Melissa Thomson’s tattoo story

“I was part of the crew of HMAS ANZAC who got to experience Gallipoli 100 years to the day of our original landing. Sailing into ANZAC Cove before dawn and pulling our ship in under Lone Pine for our church service made me think about what I wanted as my personal tribute. I designed these Poppies in watercolour as my everlasting memory.”

Christine Hall’s tattoo story

“I got this Tattoo in 2012 to celebrate the safe return of my husband from Afghanistan. My husband is a current serving member and has been deployed a few times now.

My grandfather was also in the Army and passed away before I was born. I have his service record and photos passed down from my Mum.

I feel that getting the tattoo was a sign of gratitude and respect to the sacrifices made for us by service men and women and we should never forget them.”