Bill Coolburra was from Palm Island in Far North Queensland. He joined the Army in 1964. Bill served in Borneo in 1964-65, Vietnam in 1965-66, Malaya in 1967-68 and Singapore in 1971-73.
Bill was one of the legendary Tunnel Rats, serving with 3 Field Troop and 1 Field Squadron. He was wounded twice in Vietnam. First through asphyxiation in a tunnel at Ho-Bo Woods in January 1966 and later by a booby trap in March 1966. Bill spent a total of 16 years in the Army and was well known for his good nature and infectious laugh.
Bill was highly respected in the north Queensland community for his support and mentoring of Indigenous youth. Over the years he actively encouraged youth participation in sport as a pathway to a healthy and purposeful life.
Over 500 people attended his funeral on Palm Island in 2009, where he was honoured with a three-volley salute fired at the grave site by the 3rd Combat Engineer Regiment. The Bill Coolburra Shield, an annual Rugby League match between the Palm Island Skipjacks and Army Thunder, started in 2008 as a way of strengthening the relationship between the Indigenous community of Palm Island and the Army.