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John Sholl

Friday 12 July, 2019

Twenty years ago, in August 1999, I made a split-second decision that saved another man’s life. I was in East Timor, working as an observer for the United Nations and tensions were rising as the East Timorese went to the polls to vote in a referendum.

There was much at stake: the result would lead to the recognition of Timor Leste as a fully-fledged, independent nation. In the meantime there was violence as pro-Indonesian militia clashed with locals; there were shootings and many East Timorese were killed.

As a UN observer in the town of Viqueque, 180 km away from Dili in the eastern part of the island, the civilian police often asked me for help – as an Indonesian speaker I’d work as a translator, and sometimes a mediator on the ground.

There was one day when tensions reached a climax: an East Timorese man was dead and the Indonesian police feared reprisal. The police commander arrived accompanied by a local parish priest, asking the locals to keep the peace.

I remember seeing the machete and knowing I had to intervene. On instinct I put myself between the attacker and the police chief, stopping the machete before it fell.

I was awarded a Bravery Medal for what happened that day, though I don’t see my actions as necessarily brave. As a serving member of the Australian Defence Force, I did what I had been trained to do.

In the years that followed, I was exposed many times to danger in conflict zones overseas. I joined the Army at the age of 19 and struggled to find my niche at times, yet always found that I thrived in chaos. My thinking became clear, I knew how to act and I discovered my purpose. That sense of purpose is something that I’ve brought home with me today.

Since leaving the ADF, I’ve applied my skills in the corporate world, assessing risk for Australia’s leading companies both here and overseas. I currently work for BHP and find that my military training remains a foundation of my thinking – the ADF taught me how to make ethical decisions when you’re surrounded by confusion and uncertainty.

Today, I feel strongly about helping others in my community facing crises of their own. I’m a member of my local Parish Council and visit families of veterans needing help as a volunteer with the charity Legacy. After so many years serving with the army both at home and overseas, it’s great to call Highgate my home.


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