Harrison's unconventional army tale

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Justin Harrison is the most recent Wallaby to have been in the army but his story is by no means conventional.

Harrison, known best for his incredible lineout steal in the 2001 British and Irish Lions series, stumbled across a military stint after being invited on a rugby tour.

All he knew was he needed to turn up at Randwick barracks the next morning, so that’s what he did.

He didn’t think much of it until he arrived at the main hall and told his name to a stern-looking colonel, who ushered him inside.

“That kind of made me stand to attention a bit,” he recalled.

Harrison was put through the same recruitment interviews all personnel are, including a psychological interview, among roughly 100 other men in the hall.

The military was not entirely unfamiliar for Harrison - his father was part of the Army reserves when he was growing up - but entering the army was not something he had seriously considered before.

Some knew that he was there with the view of adding to the armed services’ second row, some were none the wiser and that made it all the more real for Harrison as he held his newly issued privates’ uniform.

“It all felt suddenly real, I was looking at my greens and thinking ‘I’m actually going to be a soldier’,” he said.

The tour went to Fiji, battling against some of the national players and while it was a rugby test, it gave Harrison a far greater perspective on life.

While his time in the services was brief, Harrison said it gave him an incredible insight into the strength of those who have been in more.

“Talking to a lot of the guys during the tour, they had these incredible stories about their experiences,” he said.

“It really taught me so much about the strength of people and what they are willing to sacrifice or risk for their country.

“I have so much respect for everything that those guys did and what soldiers do on a daily basis.”

Harrison had come fresh out of the then-Australian U21s, never predicting his next representative opportunity would come in the Armed Services.

A professional rugby career came calling in the following years, with Tests to follow, and while he said it didn’t trivialise those achievements, his stint gave him a lifelong admiration for those who serve for Australia.

“I obviously understand the significance of what we wanted to achieve in rugby,” he said.

“I really admire what our armed services do for Australia and I think it’s really important to acknowledge that.”