When Manilla born and bred Ian Bignall dons regalia to take part in his hometown’s Anzac Day March next Monday, it will be “probably my swansong for a while”.
In June the Vietnam veteran will pack every piece of camping gear imaginable into his trusty 4WD and head into the outback sunset for several months. “I might be home for Christmas,” he joked.
Affectionately known as Biggles since school days, Ian, who has been participating in the local Anzac Day march since 1972, recently closed the books on 50 years of involvement with the Manilla RSL Sub-Branch – “left it in very capable hands” said Ian, who has worn the caps of president, secretary/treasurer, welfare & pension officer and has been a Legatee for 20 years.
“Back in 1972, I marched alongside Boer War, WW1 and WW2 vets, but now of course, those numbers have dwindled.”
Ian’s association with the Returned Services’ League kicked off back in 1969 when he enlisted for service in Vietnam. After several months of training at Puckapunyal (V) and Canungra (Q), Ian was posted to South Vietnam with the First Armoured Regiment as a Centurion Tank driver, smiling as he recalls the mateships which developed between himself and his three fellow crew members during their 11 months together.
“We’re still great mates – I’ll be meeting up with them on the road in the coming months.
“Vietnam was life changing. It’s very hard. I’ve noticed that the ones who got married after Vietnam seemed to struggle whereas those who were married prior are still together.”
Besides the lifelong ‘Biggles’ tag, Ian also carries the nickname of 1080, a name he has responded to since army days.
“I worked on the PP Board (now Local Land Council) here in Manilla, and my job was to help eradicate the rabbits using 1080 poison. That name stuck with me right through the army – my ute number plate is even TEN 080,” he joked.
Ian, who considers himself an outback junkie, has crammed a colourful lifetime into his already seven decades. Alongside his army contribution, Ian has also been involved in raising millions of dollars for underprivileged children by way of the well-known Variety Bash.
Since 1992, Ian has participated in 25 fundraising bashes.
“They’re an amazing success story started by Dick Smith. When I left in 2011, they’d raised around $90 million. It would be millions more by now. It’s been a big part of my life, even being a member of the survey team for seven years. That’s a big job which required three individual surveys involving the decision on where to go – it’s always been B to B – Bourke to Broken Hill perhaps. Police, councils and venues to cater for 400 people with 120 cars needed to be organised. Availability of venues had to be double checked, then we’d have to make sure all the roads were open prior to setting off.
“The bashes are an awesome experience. At Baradine one year, a bloke mentioned to me that I had a fuel leak, but then said, ‘I’ve got an old car in the back yard’. With a chain and his ute, we tipped the car over, took the petrol tank off, put it onto mine, and I was all finished by the time the rest of the drivers had finished lunch. Every bash has a story like that.
“During my bash time, we’d raised money for wheelchairs for disadvantaged kids and computers or playground equipment for schools.
Mainly what is raised in one year is spent in that year. And you meet some great people – one good mate now is John Williamson, who even came her to my 70th birthday bash.”
As Ian sets out for the open road in June, first stop will be good mate John Williamson’s concert on the Gold Coast where his job will be to drive visitors through the property to the venue in an old Toyota Troop Carrier.
“Then I’ll head to Bedourie where I’ll be helping cook 1000 Diamantina Dogs (bread roll and snag), for the crowd, most of whom will be either coming for the camel races or returning from the Big Red Bash at Birdsville. Then I’ll probably end up at The Cape at some stage.”
By Vinnie Todd