Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

AWM acknowledge Aboriginal service

Lieutenant R.W. Saunders VC DCM (left) and Lt T.C. Derrick (right) shaking hands as they congratulate each other following their successful graduation from the Officer’s Cadet Training Unit at Seymour. Lt Saunders was the first Aboriginal commissioned in the Australian Army. Picture: Australian War Memorial. Source:Supplied.

Megan Palin, Our shameful past: Australian ANZAC’s who were treated like second class citizens upon their return home, 25 April 2017

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers should be aware that the following article contains names and images of deceased people.

They fought and died for Australia but were treated like second class citizens upon returning home.

At least 1000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander soldiers served in World War I, according to the Australian War Memorial.

While the Defence Force provided mostly equal conditions for all personnel during WWI, indigenous diggers arrived home to find the treatment was short lived.

In the face of widespread and ingrained racism, many returned to Australia believing their military ­service would improve their status in the eyes of the authorities. But they were wrong.

Instead, they found they were not allowed into RSL clubs or offered assistance by Legacy. Others ended their days as “inmates” in asylums including those at Cherbourg and Charters Towers, Queensland.

Some were never given a proper service grave or do not have their names on official cenotaphs.

Indigenous soldier Charles Blackman was one of the first Aboriginal men to enlist in World War I. He died and was buried in Charters Towers.

As many as 8000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may have enlisted during World War II and more were deliberately denied due to their race.

It is not known exactly how many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women served during wartime because there was no indigenous identification process in the Defence Force until the 1990s.

Australian War Memorial records and photographs show Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander diggers served in every battle since the 1901 federation, from the Boer War to current conflicts.

Indigenous Affairs minister Nigel Scullion today said the service of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders for Australia was an “extraordinary record that’s not always recognised”.

“During World War II, nearly every eligible Torres Strait Islander enlisted in the Australian Army even though they initially received just one third of the pay of white soldiers of equal rank,” Mr Scullion said.

“It was not until 1986 that they received their full back pay for their war service.”

Established in 1942, the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion remains the only indigenous battalion ever formed by the army.

“First Australians have also made a significant contribution to the wartime effort on the home front, as well as modern-day peacekeeping operations,” Mr Scullion said.

While in recent years the contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander veterans has become more widely acknowledged, there’s still a long way to go.

The National Ceremony this year marks the 102nd anniversary of the landing of Anzac troops at Gallipoli.

Today indigenous veterans and their families lead the national Anzac Day march in Canberra for the first time.

It follows a push for better recognition of the contributions of indigenous veterans to war efforts in Australia’s history.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Veterans and Services Association’s Garth O’Connell said many indigenous veterans had never marched before “for various reasons”.

Advocates described the move as an overdue acknowledgment for the thousands of indigenous veterans who were ignored on their return from service.

The Australian War Memorial’s Anzac Day commemorations started at 4.30am when excerpts of letters and diaries of those who experienced war first hand were read aloud by a representative from each of the armed forces. The half-hour dawn service was heralded an hour later with the playing of the didgeridoo by Warlpiri man and leading aircraftman Brodie McIntyre.

Mr O’Connell said it would be a “very special and poignant moment” for many families of indigenous veterans who have since died.

It comes as this year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum which gave the Australian Government the power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and for them to be counted on the census for the first time.

But it’s not just those who served for Australia who are finally being commemorated. There were several indigenous civilian victims of war too.

First Australians were among those killed during the bombings that occurred across the Top End during World War II.

“The stories of courage and sacrifice like that of the Yunupingu brothers during the bombing of the HMAS Patricia Cam must be remembered and acknowledged,” Mr Scullion said.

The Rirratjingu Aboriginal Corporation today commemorated the World War II bombing of the Royal Australian Navy vessel HMAS Patricia Cam.

“HMAS Patricia Cam was attacked at the Wessel Islands in the Northern Territory, by Japanese aircraft in 1943, killing three Yolngu men from Yirrkala, Northern Territory and taking the only Australian prisoner-of-war captured inside Australian territory,” a statement from the organisation read.

“Milirrma Marika, Djimanbuy and Djinipula Yunupingu died in the attack.

“Leonard Kentish was beheaded by the Japanese after being taken as a prisoner of war.”

For fifth generation serviceman Lieutenant Nigel Browne, Anzac Day is about honouring the sacrifice of his Aboriginal ancestors and inspiring the next generation.

Standing with his daughter at Darwin’s Anzac Day dawn service on Tuesday, the Larrakia man was proud to represent his family’s long military history.

Lieutenant Browne has relatives in the army and navy dating back to 1900. “My old man passed away last September as well, so it’s the first year we’re having Anzac Day without him,” he told AAP.

“It’s important to acknowledge those who have come before you.” The 38-year-old, who is a legal officer in the navy, said Aboriginal diggers were once treated as second class citizens but now the Australian military’s contribution to Northern Territory indigenous communities is profound.

“The defence force employs a lot of people from communities and they’re fantastic role models for the younger generations,” he said.

“In this day and age I can say from experience that the defence force is very open and offers people an even playing ground.” Anzac Day is remembered each year at Darwin’s Cenotaph overlooking the harbour that was bombed by Japanese enemy planes in World War II.

The commemorations come two months after the city marked the 75th anniversary of the attack that was more savage than Pearl Harbor.


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