WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that content on this page may contain images and references to deceased persons.
Indigenous Australians have served in all major conflicts, from the Boer War to Afghanistan. With the centenary of the Anzacs we remember and commemorate all those who have served in the armed forces. I would like to pay a special tribute to the Indigenous Australians who fought in the wars; including the women who enlisted in women’s services or worked in war industries.
With the First World War Australia saw over 1000 Indigenous Australians serve in the AIF. It was difficult for them to enlist, being rejected due to Australia’s Defence Act of 1903 which excluded people who were not substantially of European descent from enlisting. Some managed to slip through and once in they served in the same conditions as other members; many experienced equal treatment for the first time in their lives and were paid the same as other soldiers. But it is sad to note that on return to civilian life many found they were treated with the same prejudice and discrimination as before.
Why did Indigenous Australians want to serve? Loyalty and patriotism may have encouraged Indigenous Australians to enlist. Some saw it as a chance to prove themselves the equal of Europeans or to push for better treatment after the war. But this was not to be. After the war, in areas such as education, employment, and civil liberties, Aboriginal ex-servicemen and women faced greater discrimination when they came home than before they left. (Even unable to vote, it wasn’t until 1962 that voting rights were granted to all Aboriginal Australians; although some Aboriginal people were granted voting rights in the 1850s in some states).
Despite the treatment of Indigenous Australians by white Australia, they supported the country’s defence. Indigenous Australians are to be remembered and given the same recognition as all those who served (are serving) our country without any separation. They served with courage and sacrifice, placing others before self.
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13 King James Version (KJV).
The Spirit of ANZAC is a cornerstone which underpins our Australian image, way of life and indeed is an integral part of our heritage.
We will remember them.