People learn through stories. There’s a story behind everything.
James loves his tattoos maybe as much as he loves his family. And he is the fifth generation to enlist. “I was never pressured, just always wanted to serve my country”.
His family served in the First and Second World Wars; his grandfather served in the navy during the Vietnam War, and his mother was in the Royal Australian Air Force. James himself enlisted in the Army, deploying to Afghanistan in 2013 with 2nd Cavalry, as part of the Advisory Task Force, initially based at Tarin Kot. His roles included ‘guardian angel’ (protection work), reconnaissance and clearance patrols. Overall James found the deployment a positive experience, and as James says, “Everyone come home from my group safe. I would go back in a heartbeat.”
One of his seven tattoos is a portrait on his ribs, depicting his grandfather as a young sailor. James was inspired by the role his Pop played in the Vietnam War and is acutely aware of the connection between his own experiences and those of his grandfather:
I didn’t understand as a kid, marching with him on Anzac Day - now being a veteran myself, at 27 years old, it’s still surreal to understand what my Pop’s been through.
James wanted the tattoo to have a “wow factor” equal to the love and esteem he has for his grandfather, who also helped raise him.
What did Pop think of this large portrait tribute, especially one applied in such a sensitive place?
He told me I was stupid to get tattoos. But, funny story – just after I got it done, and said, “Hey Pop, look at this”, he thought it wasn’t real. He rubbed his finger down it and I nearly died of the pain! Then he went off and sat by himself, with a tear in his eye - and he never shows emotion.
Later Pop’s pride asserted itself; James said that “for the first six months, when we go somewhere, he lifts my shirt and goes “Look, look, that’s me!”
James bears another striking tattoo on his upper chest, a “horror-beauty theme” as he calls it, showing a paradisiacal beach at sunset with a macaw on one side, a skeleton on the other, and a sailing ship on the horizon. James feels that different peoples’ responses to this scene merely reflects their different views on the world.
Some people look at the skull and think that’s beautiful the way the skull’s done; some people find the macaw beautiful, but the skull’s ugly. It’s just people’s perspective on life – ‘That’s beautiful, that’s ugly’... My chest is me. That’s how I am. You either love me or hate me, just pick a side.
James recognises that stories can be told in different ways; books may work for some but pictures work for others, and face to face conversations are vital for communicating someone’s truth.
People don’t understand passion when it comes to some personal art being tattooed… being tattooed doesn’t make you a bad person… It’s a matter of opinion but what the Memorial is doing, once the exhibition comes out, a reality check will happen for a lot of people. Which I think is needed.