THIS is the story of a war veteran who led an heroic charge against a superior force in the infamous Battle of Long Tan and fought on with only a bayonet when his ammunition was spent.
It’s also the story of a journalist who helped unearth vital information that forced a Royal Commission and led to the freedom of a wrongfully imprisoned woman. And of an explorer who became the first to forge across the wild unknown of Papua New Guinea solo in the 1970s. An immigrant who travelled to Australia as a young man in the hope of a better future. And a family man who fell in love, and raised two daughters.
Today, on Australia Day, 2013 Order of Australia Medal recipient Frank Alcorta will reflect on his deep love for his adopted homeland and the fulfilling and varied life it has afforded him.
The Bargara man was awarded an OAM for his service to veterans and their families, and to the profession of journalism.
Mr Alcorta grew up in the Basque region of Spain and immigrated to Australia in 1960 at the age of 23. As he tells it, he came to the country with an empty wallet and not a word of
English, but a strong set of shoulders and a willingness to work hard.
He forged a friendship with a young man named Alexander Holland, who shared a desire for adventure and the pair drove across much of Queensland working in a variety of jobs. They worked in mines, shot dingoes and kangaroos for bounty, built fences, worked on cattle stations and prospected for opals.
The pair made a decent living and saved some money but found it soon ran out when they travelled to Brisbane for a change of pace.
“It didn’t last long when we had an opportunity to taste the urban delights of the city,” he said.
It was largely a financial incentive that spurred on the pair to take a walk to Brisbane’s army recruitment centre in December 1961.
But on August 18, 1966, a day he has never forgotten, the then sergeant stepped off an armoured personnel carrier and straight into a swarm of enemy soldiers on the edge of a rubber plantation in the infamous Battle of Long Tan.
Sgt Alcorta’s Alpha company had gone to the aid of the struggling Delta company, who were vastly outnumbered by a reported 2,500 Viet Cong.
When he ran out of bullets, Sgt Alcorta defended himself with his bayonet as the enemy began to flee the surprise attack. His company was eventually able to break the enemy line.
Like many other deserving cases, he was never officially recognised for his bravery. Still, Mr Alcorta credits the Australian military with making him the man he is today.
“The army was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said. “I had the makings of a wild colonial boy, let me tell you. “The army taught me discipline and gave me the opportunity to make something of myself – it was an enormous privilege and it’s something that I’ve never forgotten.”
From 1968, he was stationed in Papua New Guinea as a paramilitary patrol officer, known as a Kiap, to keep peace between warring tribes. He later worked as a school teacher.
In his final year in the Oceanic country, he made an arduous two-month journey across the country at its widest point, from Aieta Pe in the north to Daru in the south.
In what was the first solo expedition of its kind, Mr Alcorta encountered tribes that had never been in contact with Western civilisation before.
He believes he was the first white man many of the Papua New Guineans he encountered on his travels had ever seen. When he retuned he wrote down his experiences in a series of journal entries that would later become “A Trip To The Stone Age.”
“I wanted to examine the nomadic patterns of those tribes that had never been in touch with Western civilisations before,” he said. “I don’t think I answered any questions but I certainly raised a few more of them.”
Mr Alcorta worked a variety of jobs when he returned to Darwin in the late 1970s, including as a teacher and lecturer at the Darwin Community College and speech writer and media advisor to the Northern Territory’s first chief minister, Paul Everingham.
He went on to be one of the founding editorial staff of the Sunday Territorian when it began in 1985.
The Top End produced no shortage of news for the publication, among them the imprisonment and subsequent acquittal of accused murderer Lindy Chamberlain.
Investigations led by the NT News and Mr Alcorta unearthed evidence that raised serious questions about the prosecution’s evidence in the murder case against Chamberlain. In February 1986, she was released from prison and her conviction was overturned by the NT Government.
Mr Alcorta said he had been humbled to receive notice of his OAM and he would be eternally grateful to his adopted homeland of Australia.
“When I first got here I couldn’t speak a word of English and a few of my mates up in the Northern Territory would probably say I still can’t. This has been a good country for me and I’m very glad to have served it in war and in peace.
“Australia is a great place and I am glad to have reached this old age where I’m at peace with myself and everything that happened in the past.”
ED: The nominal Roll shows that Frank received a Mention in Dispatches