ABORIGINAL MEN AT GALLIPOLI: THEIR SIGNIFICANCE TO ANZAC

The identification of Aboriginal men who are known to have served on Gallipoli has continued to grow from the 56 soldiers acknowledged in 1915. In 2018 the names of those who took part in the landing or arrived in the following months has surged to over 70.

This is in line with the increase in total numbers of known Aboriginal volunteers: the latest edition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Volunteers for the AIF: The Indigenous Response to World War One (published 2018), contains in addition to commentary and context, the names of 189 volunteers not represented in the 2015 edition. This and the fact that since publication the names or eight more men have been uncovered shows that the process of uncovering these men is still an ongoing one.

While acknowledging the service of all Aboriginal men is important, it is their presence on Gallipoli which symbolically places them and their comrades within the Anzac story central to Australia’s war remembrance. The Gallipoli service of these men shows not only this but that Aboriginal men volunteered from the outbreak of war in 1914. By examining their service records, photographs and other documentary sources it is readily apparent that the Aboriginal heritage of almost all of these men would have been evident to the recruiters. This makes it clear that from the first, at least some recruiters and medical officers were prepared to ignore the provision of the Defence Act 1901 (amended 1909) which prohibited the enlistment of men not substantially of European origin – and that their actions were not simply linked to low recruiting levels.

Aboriginal men went on to volunteer throughout the course of the war and to serve elsewhere in the Middle East, France and Belgium. The Australian War Memorial estimates that approximately 160 Aboriginal men  were killed or died of wounds during this conflict – and included amongst these are some of the 34 Aboriginal men known to date to have been decorated for bravery. Australians have repeated Lest We Forget over the one hundred years which have elapsed since the end of the First World War. However it is an inescapable fact despite this that we did forget the service of Aboriginal men – and later women. As the century draws to a close the situation has begun to change, accelerating in recent years, so that now on Anzac Day 2018 it can be truly said that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who served  Australia have at last received the public recognition and remembrance by their nation that they  have always deserved.

Philippa Scarlett

25 April 2018

 

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About Indigenous Histories

Author & Publisher of Australian history, art and culture.
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