More Than Meets the Eye: Members of Defence Forces Share Stories at ‘Ink in the Lines’

Ink in the lines

The inked skin of Australia’s veterans tells tales far beyond the tattooed images. Their body art commemorates people, places, and moments that shaped their lives. Now, their stories are shared in the Redcliffe Museum exhibition Ink in the Lines – but the tattoos are just the opening through which broader military experiences and memories emerge.


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Throughout 2019, the Australian War Memorial captured the stories of Australia’s servicemen and women through interviews and photographic portraits. Many examples from this collection are now displayed in the touring Ink in the Lines exhibition, which can be viewed at the Redcliffe Museum from February 24-May 12.

One who helped launch the exhibit was Rob Douma, an award-winning artist, tattooist, and infantry veteran who deployed to Timor. 

Ink in the lines
Rob (Photo credit: awm.gov.au)

Douma’s own skin bears many tattoos reflecting his travels and experiences, including in the Middle East. One in particular on his forearm displays an Arabic proverb about honesty. 

Douma explained its backstory is that a king would behead liars, but the deeper meaning for him is to live authentically and freely by being true to yourself and others. He felt an affinity with this concept of liberation through truthfulness.

Photo credit: awm.gov.au

Douma’s artistic aptitude led him to open a tattoo studio, complementing his art career. His military background also enriches his tattoo work, as many clients are fellow veterans who open up and share their stories with someone who relates. Douma notes these conversations often go beyond the tattoo to illuminate connections through shared service.

Regarding the exhibition, Douma observes that whilst ostensibly focused on tattoos, it also draws out more expansive personal stories. As he says, the tattoo is just an entry point to tell meaningful tales of military experiences – the real heart of the project. 

Another meaningful tale was that of Bec, a former RAAF linguist who did a life-changing tour in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2007. As the only Australian embedded with a combined forces group at the massive Kandahar airbase, her deployment alongside allied nations was deeply impactful. 

Ink in the lines
Bec (Photo credit: awm.gov.au)

She explained that for six months, from the moment she woke up to when she went to bed, she was constantly dealing with IEDs, rockets, death, war, Taliban, terrorism and insurgents. It was an unrelenting environment. 

Ink in the lines
Photo credit: awm.gov.au

To honour this life-changing experience, Bec got a tattoo of the word “Kandahar” in Arabic – representing the place that so transformed her life and service. 


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To hear more of these moving stories and view the body art that inspired them, visit the Ink in the Lines exhibition at the Redcliffe Museum, Wednesday to Friday, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and on weekends, 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m until May 2024. 

Those moved by the stories can also participate by taking photos of their own commemorative or military tattoos and sharing them on social media with the hashtag #InkintheLines. 

Published 22-February-2024