''I'VE been hit with open hands, closed fists, pieces of wood, iron bars and bamboo about two inches in diameter,'' Tom Uren says.
He was hardly more than a boy then - a prisoner of war and slave of the Japanese in his early 20s on the Burma-Thai railway.
But Tom Uren would take many more hits as his long, often controversial life wore on, but he rolled with them all and refused to lie down.
Today, aged 91, with most of his opponents fallen away - and a lot of them forgiven by him, including the Japanese - he will receive the highest honour his nation can bestow on a civilian: Companion in the general division of the Order of Australia.
Others to be so honoured today include the foreign affairs minister in the Howard government, Alexander Downer, the astrophysicist and joint Nobel prize winner Brian Schmidt of the Australian National University's Mount Stromlo Observatory, and the director of the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture in Canberra, James Mitchell Haire.
Mr Uren's honour is for ''eminent service to the community, particularly through contributions to the welfare of veterans, improved medical education in Vietnam and the preservation of sites of heritage and environmental significance''.
All true, but it's an inadequate summation of the life of the Balmain-born man who, impoverished, left school at 13 years and seven months.
He fought for the heavyweight boxing championship of Australia at 19 (and lost), marched into the hell of the Burma-Thai railway at 21, served the Labor Party as member for the Sydney electorate of Reid for 32 years, became a cabinet minister in the Whitlam government, his party's deputy leader in opposition, and later found himself consigned to the junior ministry for four years in the Hawke government.
As a whip-thin prisoner shipped from Thailand to Japan to labour in a copper smelter, he watched the sky discolour when the Fat Man atom bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. It stopped the war and freed him, but he became one of Australia's leading anti-nuclear campaigners.
The Japanese, he says, were as much victims of militarism and Fascism as anyone else.
Long a man of the Left, Mr Uren's early excursions into the peace movement were so passionate that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation believed he was taking his instructions from the Soviet Union. When the newspapers published the libel, he sued and eventually won enough for two holiday homes, which he took delight in calling the ''Fairfax Retreat'' in the bush and the ''Packer Lodge'' on the NSW south coast.
His insistence on marching against the Vietnam War earned him several stretches in jail, including Long Bay in Sydney and Boggo Road in Brisbane.
Mr Uren was appalled by the dehumanising effect of the old jails and used his influence to get at least one fellow prisoner a job in a government department in Canberra.
''So many people are crook on their fellows, but I just look for the love in people,'' he says.
Often Mr Uren found himself talking, he says to ''2½ dogs''. He was one of the early proponents of self-determination for East Timor but no one seemed interested for many years. He kept at it until it became mainstream.
The defining period of his life was the Burma-Thai railway. Taken prisoner on Timor aged 20, he marched into his first prison camp on the railway at the age of 21.
Always a big strong man, he became known for his
willingness to put his body between furious Japanese guards and his comrades, figuring he could take the beating that might kill a mate who was weakened by hunger, disease and slaving.
It was the influence of the camp commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Dunlop, that stayed with him. ''Weary'' Dunlop, a surgeon, taxed fellow officers to build a small bank to buy medical supplies and food, saving the lives of hundreds of men - and he ensured that the strong looked after the weak, the young looked after the old and the relatively healthy cared for the sick.
It was, Mr Uren says, collectivism, a principle he adopted for life and which during the Cold War found him branded a communist, though he never was.
He never forgot his fellow POW survivors and for 23 years fought for them to be granted extra benefits, arguing that they died younger and suffered greater illness than other returned servicemen.
In 2011 the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, announced that all remaining POWs would receive an extra $500 a fortnight.
Of the 22,000 Australian prisoners of the Japanese, only about 400 are alive but Mr Uren said Ms Gillard's action displayed compassion and justice, which he valued above all else.
And his elevation to Companion of the Order of Australia?
''I just want to thank my fellow Australians for their support, their warmth and their love in my evergreen years,'' he says.