Len Waters was born on an Aboriginal reserve. A Kamilaroi man, he left school at just thirteen years old in order to help his parents. A bright lad, his one dream was to fly. World War Two gave him that opportunity. At twenty years of age, Len Waters made history by becoming Australia’s very first Aboriginal fighter pilot.
Stationed in the Pacific with 78 Squadron, Waters flew many missions and gained the respect of his peers as both a pilot and champion boxer. When the war was over, having broken through the barriers of race, he believed the years ahead would be filled with opportunities. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Despite his wartime record and his impressive status and intelligence, Waters was cast aside as just another Aboriginal man. From respected pilot to a non-citizen, Len Waters quite literally became a missing man.
Peter Rees, author of “The Missing Man”, shines a light on the hypocrisy and injustice that Aboriginal Returned Servicemen faced, as well as the many bureaucracies that let them down. They could die for their country overseas, but they couldn’t live for it at home and they were certainly not rewarded for their efforts. War gave many Aboriginals opportunities they weren’t previously able to enjoy, but once the war was over, they were once again stripped.
Len Waters say these opportunities and, as a bright and hardworking young man with a solid work ethic, he seized them with both hands. From enlistment and training as a mechanic to flying Kittyhawks and then returning to Australia, Peter Rees followers Water’s life, granting the reader a real insight into the mind of this truly incredible man.
Whilst the years after service were tough for Waters, it seemed he never truly stopped trying to better himself or the position of his family. To say that this story is an inspiration may be an understatement. As inspiring as it is though, this book is also a stoic reminder of the racist past of the Australian nation. A time not too long passed.
“The Missing Man” incited a number of emotions within me. I was proud and happy for Waters. What he accomplished was no small task, especially for a man who didn’t finish school. I was also ashamed and disappointed in my country for the treatment of people, a country that so prides itself on multiculturalism. I was confused, as no doubt many of those who served were, that someone could be seen as an equal in the Defence Force, but a nobody in the civilian realm. It was only after his death that Waters truly received the recognition he deserved.
Peter Rees’s “The Missing Man” is an incredibly important novel and a highly recommended read.
- Ashayla Webster
“The Missing Man” is written by Peter Rees and published by Allen & Unwin Books.