I was the mad, magical school teacher of Watabung
PNG LNG – tough grinding work with a very big outcome

The many splendid lives of the legendary Frank Alcorta


Frank Alcorta OAMYESTERDAY'S AUSTRALIA DAY AWARDS made amends for the long overdue recognition of a great Australian.

Francis Xavier (Frank) Alcorta has been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for services to veterans and their families and to journalism.

I write this tribute to Frank in the hope that the Australian public may learn about this unique man, who I first came to know and respect when he was teaching at Aitape High School in the West Sepik in 1973-74.

It is very difficult to do justice to Frank’s life as it has been so diverse. In each facet he has reached seemingly impossible goals.

When I first met him, Frank had arrived in Australia without much English or money from the Basque region of Spain. He cut cane and worked in the outback, fought in Vietnam and then ended up in PNG.

His modesty meant that he never told me about his exploits in Vietnam; I only discovered years later when I found articles from his Battalion newsletter.

I was astounded when I read his war record and saw that his company commander, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mollison, had recommended him for a Victoria Cross.

Lt Col Mollison wrote:

Frank on the way back from VietnamFrank Alcorta is the bravest man I have ever met. It was a privilege to have served with him and it is a monumental miscarriage of justice that he was not the recipient of several bravery awards. Cumulatively, his bravery deeds warranted a VC but all he got was an MID. Two things mitigated against Frank Alcorta being suitably recognised.

The first is that I was no longer commander of A Coy and the second was that, when we attempted to submit commendations towards the end of our tour, we were told not to bother as the whole ―quota for the Task Force had been awarded to soldiers in other units.

The same thing happened again after the Battle of Bribie in February 1967 and after a few other battles and contacts. He was awarded a Mention in Despatches during Operation Vaucluse in September 1966 while acting platoon commander 2 Platoon, 6th battalion RAR.

Frank first went to PNG as a patrol officer (Kiap) but he decided to take to teaching, becoming a high school teacher at Aitape.

In 1974 Frank made his unique, epic and unaided lone crossing of PNG. Much lesser stunts in PNG have captured the attention of the world, made people famous and led to books being written about them.

After returning to Australia, he obtained degrees and became a lecturer at Charles Darwin  University.

A Trip to the Stone AgeAfter his academic role, Frank carved out an outstanding new career as a journalist for Rupert Murdoch’s Northern Territory News and found the time to write some excellent books, He also became known as one of the Territory's great characters.

Frank’s books include Explore Australia’s Northern Territory (now in its sixth edition), The Darwin Rebellion (documenting the rise of labour movement in northern Australia), Australia's Frontline: the Northern Terrritory's War and A Trip To The Stone Age, the fascinating account of his arduous expedition across PNG in 1973-74.

He retains outstanding loyalty and love for his adopted country, Australia.


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Tony Hayward-Ryan

Frank was a fearless writer, as well as soldier and explorer, and a distinguished Territorian.

I understand he has since passed away, which is frustrating because he had yet another role to play.

I would be grateful if his surviving family could contact me because I need to get in touch with surviving military officers of honour to clarify the outcome of a common project.

I can be contacted at PO Box 40308 Casuarina NT 0811 or by email at [email protected]. I would also like to talk to Rob Parer (phone 04 7400 3123)

Kelly Lovai

I was a student at Aitape high school when Frank came to teach Geography in 1973, ironically about Southeast Asia.

I remember him saying, why would they teach you about Europe and Africa when they are not your neighbours, very smart man.

Frank was tall, had massive chest and abs and strong as a bull.

He had a clear loud voice, and I noticed he had an accent which he explained by telling his immigrant story to Australia, cutting cane and joining the ADF.

He told us to encourage us what we could achieve I’m sure he had a 4 or 5 year old daughter.

I knew about Long Tan (and the Battle ) long before I heard of it in Australia. Frank also planned and told us of his desire to cross PNG at the widest area meaning walking from Aitape or Lumi to Greenriver, then walk-in from Greeriver to Daru.

We thought it was another crazy white man idea, but Frank was real.

He organised 1 or 2 local trips with students along the coast to remote villages one of which I and 10 or more students went along with on an overnight.

I have yet to read his book on the crossing so it will be interesting. But Frank was a real Hero. God bless him.

Manu Martin

Zorionak Patxi, milesker denagatik, you are a credit to your proud Basque roots and an invaluable asset to Australia. hopefully we will meet one day soon.

Colin Hayward

I would like to congatulate Frank on this, his latest award. I honestly believe he deserves another civilian medal for his time at Northern Territory University.

In spite of a very shonky and politically motivated administration, he managed to run a very large department and was unfailingly supportive of his staff.

I will never forget the afternoon at the airport pub when he was 'ordered' to report back to the Casuarina HQ and his very succinct response.

I hope all continues to go well for him.

Robert L Parer CMG,MBE

There was an article in a Newspaper yesterday and Posted on Facebook " I used Live in PNG " about the life of Frank Alcorta.It attracted many comments and many were doubting what he had done in his amazing life.Unfortunately the person writing the article called Kiaps - Paramilitary Patrol Officers - and this in particular drew scorn.Some did not believe he treked across PNG and was just a Guy looking for fame.Of course any one who knows him knows it is the exact opposite.I suggested they look up what has been written about him.Hopefully they will apologise for the hurt it could cause.

Tony Hayward-Ryan

Congratulations, Frank. Justice finally done.

You also captured my respect with some of your articles published in the NT News. One of these is now suddenly relevant so, if you are reading this, please contact me [email protected] as the matter is of national significance.

John Stacey

Well done Frank..... 50 years late, but thanks to the persistence of people like Harry Smith, it finally came about.

Rob Parer

Battle of Long Tan: Commanding officers embellished role to receive awards at expense of own men, retired colonel Harry Smith says.

By Bruce Atkinson ABC Radio 18th Aug 2015

Retired Colonel Harry Smith calls a cover-up at the highest military and political echelons & the torment of his memories and a fight against those who managed the gallantry honours system has continued to haunt him for the past 49 years.

Immediately after the battle in which 18 Australian soldiers and hundreds of the defeated enemy died, Colonel Smith recommended some of his men for gallantry awards but they were ignored.

He only fully uncovered how and why his men did not receive proper recognition after 1996 when the 30-year Official Secrets Act expired and their version of events was revealed.

Colonel Smith has written a book called Long Tan: The Start of a Lifelong Battle which was launched today, 18 August 2015.

In it, he revealed his two immediate superior officers embellished the role they played in the battle to receive the highest gallantry awards at the expense of his men.

Colonel Smith feels the time is now right to speak up about his two former commanding officers.

"I've never, ever gone into the detail of what was in their citations but at 82 years of age I feel it's time for people to know exactly what was in their citations and that they were perjury," he said.

Retired Major General John Cantwell, who was commander of Australian forces in the Middle East in 2010, and deputy chief of Army before that, agreed their actions were questionable.

He said there were "absolutely unforgivable failures of leadership and administration" when it came to medals for Delta Company 6RAR .

"Any reasonable person who looks at what occurred in terms of the distribution of honours and awards after that battle would have to raise real doubts about who got what medal and for what reason," he said.

"It's pretty obvious that senior officers who weren't involved in the fight looked after themselves and sprinkle them and their mates with high awards.

"The quota system for rewarding gallantry that was in place for Australian troops in Vietnam in 1966 worked against D Company's heroism being fully acknowledged.

Cooks and postal staff working behind the lines received awards while those on the front line missed out.

"It's a really dark spot in my view on our military history," Major General Cantwell said.

"Not only was there some terrible loss of life but we saw a travesty of justice when it came to the awards and honours that should have gone to those brave soldiers, that didn't."

Major General Cantwell said D Company's amazing feat of arms against such a vastly bigger enemy force of up to 2,500 troops was a great success that could not be compared to any other action in Australian military history.

From next month, the Defence Honours and Awards Appeal Tribunal is due to start hearing Colonel Smith's claims to have the remaining 12 soldiers given the recognition he is adamant they deserve.

"I think the tribunal now understands that justice has to be done and you just can't keep on going on and on saying we can't go back in time," he said.

The efforts of the men Colonel Smith nominated may not have been recorded correctly by their senior officers, or the accounts may have been lost, he said.

Colonel Smith urged the tribunal to think carefully in its deliberations to finally right the injustice.

"But Long Tan has been put up on a pedestal by the Australian public and the ex-service public and it needs to be put to rest and I hope that it is done before the 50th Anniversary."

"I didn't withdraw at Long Tan and I won't withdraw from the fight to have my men properly recognised".

Arend "Dutchy" de Weger

Frank, first of all congratulations on your Award. I intend to read some of your books. You deserved many more medals as a result of your military service. What a life you have led. I served with you in Vietnam. I was a Sapper attached to you while you were at the Horsehoe (I think it was 2 Pl A Coy 6RAR). I recall you were a great cook and could do wonders with ration packs, as well as a great leader of men. I was known as "Dutchy" but I doubt if you would remember me as I was not with you for long I think. I would love to make contact with you as I am trying to piece together my time at the Horseshoe with the "Grunts" who I really enjoyed being with.

Mario Ferreira

Para Frank,(y desde luego para Lurdes) un gran abrazo y mi mas emocionado sentimiento de alegria por este reconocimiento, los que tenemos el placer y honor de conocerte estamos felices!

Alex Harris

Embarrassed that I have not before now heard of Frank Alcorta.

Great story. Thanks too for the list of books.

Colin Huggins

I agree wholeheartedly with Barbara. A medal well deserved.
A nice story for a change and what a life story, amazing.

Mrs Barbara Short

Congratulations Frank. A medal to wear with pride. You deserve it!

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