They said, a warrior … should have a tattoo. So I said, ‘Yeah ok, I’ll get one’.
Tony was given his striking tattoo, a traditional Iban design, while deployed to Borneo as an assault pioneer. The Iban men worked as trackers and border scouts with his platoon. Despite language difficulties, Tony got to know and trust them well. He describes being tattooed as a simple procedure: They split a stick, put three needles in it, some charcoal, sugar and water, and just tapped it in. It didn’t hurt. It got hot, that’s all.
Tony’s later service in Vietnam affected him and his family. He can now speak frankly about his PTSD and credits his wife for getting him to a psychiatrist, enabling him to begin his healing journey. He finds benefit in donating his time to the community, and his tattoo is not unlike the delicate colourful paper butterflies he makes for hospitals and doctors’ surgeries.
Photography by Bob McKendry