Frederick Prentice AWM P10966_001

More research and a confluence of information has made it possible to identify a photograph of an Aboriginal World War One soldier in the collection of the Australian War Memorial. This until recently was captioned ‘unknown’ but is now described as ‘probably Frederick Prentice’. My own position supported by his foster relatives Eric Catterall and Christine Cramer, is that comparison of images and coincidence of documentary information all lead to the conclusion that the unknown Aboriginal soldier is Frederick Prentice.

I first came across this photograph, in early September 2014 shortly after making the post Finding Frederick Prentice. The South Australian origin of the photograph created by Adelaide photographers Edwards and Errington, the obvious height of the soldier and his general physical appearance all made me think that this man could be Prentice. This perception was fuelled by the discovery that Edwards and Errington had opened a studio at Mitcham camp, Adelaide to produce portraits of AIF recruits. Frederick Prentice was at Mitcham prior to leaving Australia on 26 August 1915

Together with Eric Catterall and Christine Cramer I embarked on a mission to positively identify this man. Using his Lee Enfield rifle as a yard stick it was possible to determine that he was over 6 feet tall (c. 183 cm.) This coincided with information in Northern Territory police reports obtained by Eric Catterall relating to Frederick Prentice’s death in 1957. Although Prentice’s AIF attestation shows him as just under 6 feet it is not uncommon for lack of precision to exist in AIF records.

Information from the Australian War Memorial about the message on the reverse of the photograph was also encouraging. This is unsigned but reads ‘Just a little card to remember the good times at Paratoo’. Paratoo was a pastoral station near Yunta in South Australia and also the name of a railway siding. The community associated with Paratoo was not large and most would have been known to each other. Frederick Prentice is recorded both before and after his war service as working at Manunda Station in the Yunta area and playing cricket for Paratoo. The McLachlan family, owners of Paratoo Station, were keen and accomplished cricketers and the Paratoo team which played regularly against neighbouring teams would have drawn on talent in the area. Frederick’s education, foster family background and sporting prowess no doubt facilitated his acceptance into community life – attested by press reports of his farewell and return from the war and his role as clerk of scales at the Yunta races in 1926.(for more about these three reports see Finding Frederick Prentice).

Amongst those mentioned as attending Frederick’s farewell was a Miss Fitzgerald. This provided another point of coincidence. The recipient of the photograph of the unknown man was Gertrude Fitzgerald, a member of the Fitzgerald family of Paratoo.

Although a note obviously added to the photograph decades later by a relative of Gertrude’s states that, unlike Frederick, the soldier in the photograph died in World War One, this is consistent with the belief of the extended family of Frederick’s foster parents, the Kells, and one perhaps which later was widely held, no doubt assisted by the early deaths of Walter and Isabella Kell – both had died by 1926 and the fact that shortly after this time Frederick moved to Western Australia.

Further research has so far failed to find a photograph of Frederick as an adult. However following contact by Eric Catterall, a search of the Scotch College archives by Drs. Alex Pouw-Bray and Robert Craig has resulted in the location of two school photos. These are of Frederick at Kyre College in 1906 and 1907 and show a clear resemblance to the unknown man in the Edwards and Errington portrait. They also compare positively with the photographs of the boy in European clothes taken by the anthropologist Baldwin Spencer at Powell Creek.

Comparison of the writing on the reverse of the photograph of the unknown Aboriginal soldier with the hand sometimes evident in Frederick Prentice’s Army pay book (digitised on the National Archives website) reveals a strong similarity. The relevant writing is the signature and the personal detail entries. These are in a different hand from other information which would have been filled in by an official.

The Adelaide, South Australia location of the photograph, comparison of photographs of the soldier with earlier photographs of Frederick Prentice, the similarity in the two handwriting specimens, coincidence in the height and build of Frederick Prentice and the unknown soldier and the association of both men with Paratoo and with the name Fitzgerald all point to the conclusion that this unknown soldier is Frederick Prentice.

The search goes on for information about Frederick Prentice. Much has been added recently, some of it throwing up more questions than it answers about his later life and the circumstances of his death. A major goal is to discover more photographs perhaps as a member of one of the sporting teams which he belonged to in South Australia and Western Australia before and after the war. Christine Cramer’s research into the family of Gertrude Fitzgerald shows she married Reginald Roy Shanks from Kadina near Wallaroo in 1920. Perhaps some of her descendants can provide more information about Frederick Prentice. Descendants of the other people recorded as attending his farewell at the Penna’s house in Yunta 1915, named as Misses Ethel Penna, Komell, May and Evelyn Penna, and Messrs. Patman, and Penna, may also have something to contribute. In July 1915 Frederick attended a gathering of Kyre College old boys who had volunteered for the AIF. It is possible that these men were recorded in a photograph commemorating the occasion and that a copy is in the possession of some of their descendants. Their names are listed on page 10 of the Advertiser of 10 July 1915.

Research to date has gone a long way towards giving life to Frederick Prentice and changing the latter day image of him as an unknown ‘half caste’ Maori who died in Katherine apparently friendless and without family, to that of a talented Aboriginal man who was valued by family and friends, someone who was described as an accomplished sportsman, and a ‘fine type of man,’ of ‘manly bearing’ who on return from the war ‘won plaudits from the large crowd that gathered at the station to welcome him home.’ While the discovery of more about his early and later life has revealed its tragic elements it serves to reveal the calibre of the man who was Frederick Prentice.

Philippa Scarlett

24 December 2014


Recognition of Prentice has also been given by the Northern Territory Government on their Territory Stories (recently updated to include his photograph) and by the Katherine community. Not only has a song been written about his war service but his memory and service are now honoured and commemorated by a plaque in the Katherine Memorial Cemetery. In addition he has received recognition in the state where he spent most of his early life. Ian Smith from Aboriginal Veterans South Australia BlogSpot has commented that Frederick Prentice’s  name has been selected to form part of a travelling exhibition which will feature South Australian  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander veterans.

Posted in Aborigines sport, WW1 | 1 Comment


While the experience of Aboriginal men in the AIF is receiving increasing attention the experience of their families – particularly wives, mothers and sisters on the home front has to date been relatively neglected.

Aboriginal women’s stories are in many ways the same as those of non Indigenous women – but they are also different. The difference is created by the circumstances of Aboriginal life – lived in so many instances ‘under the Act’ and subject to restrictions on personal liberty and removal of children by the state. Not only this but allotments made to them from a soldier’s pay were in some cases made to a state Protection Board rather than to the woman herself.

Information about these women is not readily forthcoming but should not be impossible to piece together starting with service records, the most readily available source supplemented by other selected primary and secondary sources and hopefully helped by memories and knowledge held by families.

Women of Empire Exhibition is a travelling exhibition launching in February 2015. After touring Australian locations it will move to New Zealand and Canada and possibly further afield. The project is keen to include stories of Aboriginal women.

Contemporary newspaper articles show that Aboriginal communities supported the service of Aboriginal men they saw as fighting for the Empire and for King and Country, ironic though this seems in view of the treatment of Indigenous people under the Empire’s rule. Barambah in Queensland was one community which was active in raising funds for the war effort.

More about the Women of Empire Exhibition can be found at Contact details are

 Philippa Scarlett

22 October 2014

Posted in WW1 | 1 Comment


Frederick Prentice MM died in Katherine, Northern Territory on 22 November 1957 unknown and without family or friends. Using the fact that Prentice had told a fellow worker that he had served in World War One, the Acting Superintendent of Police, Northern Territory asked AIF Base records for help in identifying his next of kin. The information the police already had was that the dead man was half Maori and had died of a heart attack. In fact according to Eric Catterall descended from a branch of Prentice’s adoptive family he was also recorded as having second degree burns to one side of his body – consistent with rolling into his campfire, a not uncommon occurrence. Base Records was able to identify Prentice but by 1958 all links with his family and former life had gone.

Prentice joined the AIF in May 1915 and served in France with the 12th Battalion and later the 1st Pioneer Battalion. His successful enlistment was just another example of the inconsistent application of the provisions of the Defence Act which prohibited the enlistment of men ‘not of substantial European origin’. Frederick was not Maori but Aboriginal. In July 1916 he was awarded the Military Medal for his actions at Mouquet Farm, Pozieres. Here he ‘showed great courage, resource and ability in bringing machine guns and ammunition through the enemy barrage in the dark and broken ground.’

News items in South Australian papers show that his farewell before leaving for the front in 1915 was a stylish occasion.

There was a large gathering at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. J. Penna, Yunta, on July 15, to bid farewell to Mr. F. Prentice, who leaves shortly for the front. Songs and recitations were given by Misses Ethel Penna, Kornell Fitzgerald, May and Evelyn Penna, and Messrs. Prentice, Patman, and Penna. Mr. Prentice, prior, to enlisting, was employed on Manunda Station. Mr. Penna, on behalf of all present, wished Mr. F. Prentice and a comrade a safe voyage, God speed, and a safe return. Mr. Prentice responded on behalf of himself and friend. All present assembled at the railway station to see the boys off. Chronicle 24 July 1915 p. 46

Prentice who was an athlete, excelling in football, cricket and running, would have cut a dashing figure in his uniform – almost six feet tall and well built according to the details recorded in his attestation. Four years later his safe return was recorded by another paper.

Amongst the soldiers who returned to Wallaroo on Saturday last was Cpl. F. M. Prentice, M.M., who is a native of the Northern Territory and was for many years associated with Mr and Mrs Kell of the local post office, formerly residents of the N.T.  Cpl. Prentice is a fine type of man, and his manly bearing won plaudits from the large crowd that gathered at the station to welcome him home. He has been on Active service for about four years and was attached to the machine-gun section. He regards his safe return as providential. Twice, six of the machine-gun section (consisting of seven men) were killed by enemy fire, he alone escaping on each occasion. The Kadina and Wallaroo Times 4 June 1919 p.2

Frederick Prentice was born about 1894 at Powell Creek, Northern Territory. His father, Alfred Leslie Prentice was Justice of the Peace at Powell Creek at the time of Frederick’s birth. Alfred Prentice came from Victoria and was variously a drover, station manager, station owner and mail contractor in the Northern Territory. Frederick’s mother was an as yet unknown Aboriginal woman. The name Prentice can be found associated with several other Aboriginal people born in 1900 living at Elliott near Powell Creek and Newcastle Waters and identifying with the local Tjingili/Jingali people, suggesting that Frederick was not Alfred Prentice’s only child. Alfred died in 1916 probably unknown to Frederick who was serving in France.

Frederick’s early childhood was spent at the Powell Creek Overland Telegraph Station with the stationmaster Walter (known as Dan) Kell and his wife Isabella nee Birkett, who arrived there in 1896. The Kells had no children of their own and adopted Frederick and another Aboriginal child, a girl. Isabella who was 43 when she married Kell, her second husband, was a nurse and formerly a respected matron at Palmerston hospital.

The home that Frederick lived in until 1905 when the Kells moved to South Australia was characterised by its comfortable and friendly atmosphere. This was described by anthropologists Spencer and Gillen when they stayed with the Kells in 1901 during their expedition into central Australia. Spencer writing in his diary stated that

Mr & Mrs Kell received us most kindly and we are quite at home already. The station is really pretty with a splendid garden

while Gillen describing Powell Creek in Camp Jottings Vol. 3 wrote

There is an air of comfort about this Station in great contrast to the batchelor quarters of the Tennant and Barrow Creek. The verandahs are broad and strewn with great easy chairs that present an inviting appearance to the weary traveller …The Station is picturesquely situated on the bank of Powell Creek just where it junctions with a smaller creek called the Kintore; looking to the north the eye rests upon a scene of almost tropical luxuriance: around a spring on the bank of the creek a variety of trees are growing and one very fine tree, bauhinia, is near to us. Peeping out from behind the trees are rows of banana plants, some with yellow clusters of fruit hanging from them, the whole making a decidedly pleasing and refreshing picture after the arid dreariness of the track. In the afternoon I stroll with kindly Mrs. Kell in the garden and eat bananas fresh from the trees … We discuss Mr. & Mrs. Kell and vote them both jolly good fellows and regret that we cannot find an excuse to devote a month or two to the Chingilli tribe – and the Kells. p.269.


Garden scene at Powell Creek Station.The seated woman is probably Isabella Kell who was the only white woman living in the Powell Creek area; Walter Kell (Centre) and ‘Wallaby’ Holtze (Right). Identification Eric CatterallNorthern Territory Collection, State Library of South Australia

The reason for Spencer and Gillen’s visit to Powell Creek was to study the Aboriginal people in the area, the Tjingili, several of whose camps were close to the station. Spencer took many photos of the place and some of its people and also recorded ceremonies which he said occurred every day. The photos include a number  featuring a small Aboriginal boy and his dog. He wears European clothes and is almost certainly Frederick Prentice. His mode of dress compared with the Spencer’s other subjects underlines his separation from his culture.

Frederick Prentice Powells Creek 1901 (2)

Detail from a photograph of Powell  Creek Station 1901. The complete image appears on p.449 of Baldwin Spencer and F. J.Gillen Across Australia. This and others taken by Spencer at Powell Creek including photographs of Frederick’s sister can be seen at the website ‘Spencer and Gillen. A Journey through Aboriginal Australia’

Also visiting Powell Creek in 1901 was the Bishop of Carpentaria who commented on Frederick and his sister.

Mr. and Mrs. Kell have with them two half-caste children, of whom the Bishop of Carpentaria (Dr. Gilbert White), who visited Powell’s Creek in 1901, wrote in his journal under date July 7:-“At morning prayer I baptised two half-caste children. The future of these half-castes is a serious question. When young they often receive some kind of education and training, but the danger is lest they should be thrown on the black’s camp when they grow too old to be treated as children.” Mr. and Mrs. Kell have determined that their adopted children, whose intelligence is remarkable, shall be educated in the best schools available. Advertiser 17 August 1905.

These words echo the fear of ‘the blacks camp’ commonly held by white Australians and the belief that ‘half caste’ children should be separated as soon as possible from what was perceived as the camp’s pernicious influence. These were the justifications used in the 19th and 20th Australia for removal of children of lighter skin – a process championed by the churches of all denominations. The Protector of Aborigines South Australia (who was also responsible for the Northern Territory) noted with satisfaction in his 1909/1910 report that

During the year several half-caste children have been removed from the blacks’ camps and placed under the care and control of the State Children’s Department with most encouraging results … [they]will, I feel confident, grow up self supporting members of the community, as they will know nothing of the habits of the aborigines and will be given an occupation. Several letters have appeared in the press in opposition to the removal of these children from their cruel surroundings, but I think the writers have failed to grasp the seriousness of the problem now facing South Australia and some of the other States. p.1

He went on to emphasise the

necessity of steps being taken to convert these people into useful members of the community, instead of allowing them to grow up in the camps, where they acquire the lazy habits of the aborigines which unfits them for any regular occupation.

The Kell’s actions although no doubt aligned with this thinking had a personal element. Not only was it unlikely that they would have children but Alfred Prentice was a friend of both Walter Kell and his brother-in-law Waldemar ‘Wallaby’ Holtze who also lived at Powell Creek. What is unknown are the circumstances Frederick lived in prior to his association with the Kells. He could have lived with his father or what is more likely in one of the adjacent Tjingili camps. The whereabouts of his mother who was probably a Tjingili woman, her wishes or even whether she was still alive when Frederick joined the Kells are also unknown.

In 1905 Frederick’s life changed. The Kells moved to Adelaide when Walter Kell became senior telegraphist at Unley and true to their word and no doubt to the gratification of the Bishop, sent Frederick to Kyre College, the predecessor of Scotch College also in Unley. Here he excelled in athletics and won a prize for music. In 1914 when Frederick was 20 Walter Kell was appointed postmaster at Wallaroo also in South Australia. Frederick, who in 1915 was working as a station hand at Manunda gave his sister Isabella Kell of Wallaroo Post Office as his next of kin when he enlisted in May indicating his continuing association with his adoptive family.

Eric Catterall and Christine Cramer whose great great great uncle was Walter  Kell have traced Frederick’s later life via electoral rolls, newspaper reports and information in his service record. These shows that he returned to Manunda station after the war and remained there until at least 1926 perhaps not coincidentally the year of Isabella Kell’s death. Walter Kell died in 1919. His engagement with the community is demonstrated by his appointment in 1926 as clerk of scales at the Yunta races. By 1930 he was working as a miner in Kalgoorlie where he stayed for thirteen years. Here during the 1930s he participated in local sporting life as a valued team member. He played cricket and was a high scorer for the Kookynie Cricket Club and as well as playing for Shenton in the Menzies Football Association competition. Comments like that of the official who said thatas soon as he can get F. Prentice into the ruck he will have a team that will waltz all over to triumph and victory’ attest to the quality of his game and his reputation.  He was also a paid up member of the Australian Workers Union until at least 1940 and was made AWU representative for Comet Vale in 1937.

Between 1943 and 1957 his life seems less stable. During this time he worked in mines at Westonia, Comet (Marble Bar) and Blue Spec (Nullagine) where in 1951 he was described as ‘an old hand’. His name no longer appears on electoral rolls after 1958 the year following his death. The information provided to AIF Base Records in that year by the Northern Territory police paints the picture of a sober and solitary man.

This person had only been in Katherine about three weeks and did not associate with any other person in the town or frequent hotels. He was known to only one other person in the town a man named Weatherall who claimed that the man was called Fred Prentiss and that he had worked with him at various places in Western Australia. However he knew nothing of Prentiss background from where he a came if he were married or the name of his next of kin but he said that Prentiss had told him he was in the first world war and served with a South Australian regiment. 

AIF Base records could give the superintendent no more than the information in his service record. The early deaths of his foster parents and probably his sister according to family story and the fact that the Kells had no natural children meant that he had no immediate known relatives. There is no evidence that Frederick married or had children. He seems to have lived an increasingly solitary life moving around Western Australian mining towns until his death in the Northern Territory.

Frederick Prentice’s story has some parallels with that of World War One Aboriginal servicemen like William Punch, George Aitken and Douglas Grant all of whom became dissociated from their Aboriginal families and culture and were brought up in European families.

Aitken and Punch died in World War One. Douglas Grant survived. Like Prentice he lost his immediate foster family leaving him in a family sense virtually alone. Both Prentice and Grant were  men of character, athletes and educated and neither married. Both men at times occupied positions which show they had the confidence of others – Grant as a spokesman in the German camp where he was held prisoner and later as secretary of the Lithgow RSL and Prentice as a race official at Yunta and an AWU representative. As Aboriginal men brought up in a white world and unable to connect with their Aboriginality, family and culture both men’s lives had deep tragic elements.

Almost certainly Grant and Prentice would have been subject to the prejudice of racist white Australia. The reports describing Frederick’s departure and return to Australia show him as respected and part of the community he lived in. Significantly they do not refer to his Aboriginality but do mention his friends and adoptive parents. This situation is unlikely to have continued as he worked his way round Western Australia mixing with people who knew nothing of him and his white family, despite the personal qualities which gave him some recognition as a sportsman and in his union. Separated from both his Aboriginal and his adopted family he would have been very much alone.

What is different about the experience of Douglas Grant and Frederick Prentice is that Frederick spent his early life living close to the Tjingili camps and his own people, in earshot of their ceremonies but distanced by the fact of his adoption into a white family. This differentiates him from Grant who was taken to New South Wales from Queensland far from his people and makes the situation of the solemn faced little boy shown repeatedly in Spencer’s photographs even more poignant.

Walter Kell dispensing rations Powell Creek 1902 P42 The Chronicle

Walter Kell distributes flour to Tjingili men at Powell Creek, 1902 to. Chronicle November 1902 p.42.

Frederick’s adoption by the childless Kells was no doubt emotionally rewarding for them and considered to be in that ambiguous and discredited phrase ‘in the best interests of the child’. By ‘saving’ him from camp life his adoption satisfied the sensitivities of the people aware of the particulars of the white side of his heritage. He was educated and secured employment as desired by people like the Bishop of Carpentaria but at the same time he was denied access to his culture and his extended family. It is impossible to know how different his life could have been but it is likely, should he have avoided removal by the state, that it would have at least involved a sense of identity and an absence of the loneliness and disconnectedness inherent in the circumstances of his death.

In the 21st century as a result of extensive research by Eric Catterall and Christine Cramer,  something of his story is at last being uncovered. Their ongoing research which was originally prompted by comments made at a 1991 family reunion that Isabella Kell had adopted two Aboriginal children, has had rich results. Of course much is still missing but as a result of their efforts it is now possible to gain an impression of the man and the forces which shaped him and affected his life.

One other avenue remains to be investigated. It is conceivable that there are descendants of Alfred Prentice alive to day. The existence of other Aboriginal people named Prentice in the Northern Territory suggests that it may be possible to trace some Aboriginal people who are related to his son Frederick.

In 2014 Frederick Prentice lies in an unmarked grave in Katherine cemetery. There are moves to identify this with a headstone recording his story and war service.  Perhaps it will also be possible to find members of his Prentice family who could visit his grave in what would be a belated recognition of his family and identity.

I’d like to thank Eric Catterall and Christine Cramer for alerting me to Frederick Prentice’s background and for sharing their research without which this post could not have been written.

Philippa Scarlett 

5 September 2014



Posted in WW1 | 22 Comments


Damien has recently pointed out that Thomas Bungelene was an Aboriginal man who served on Her Majesty’s Colonial Steamer Victoria from 1861 to 1864.

Peter Gardner who has written extensively on Thomas Bungelene and his family from 1978, was the first to draw attention to Thomas Bungelene’s naval service. He elaborates on this in Gippsland massacres: the destruction of the Kurnai tribes 1800-1860 first published in 1983. and in more detail in Through Foreign Eyes 1988 in which a chapter is devoted to the Bungeleen family. Information about Thomas Bungelene from archival sources as well as a photograph showing him in uniform was published in 1993 in My Heart is Breaking, a guide to records about Aboriginal people in the Public Record Office of Victoria and the National Archives of Australia’s Victorian Office.  

Thomas Bungelene or Marbunnun was the son of Gippsland GunaiKurnai leader Bungelene (Bunjil-ee-nee) who with his children was detained by the Native Police during the celebrated/notorious search for the ‘white woman’ in 1847. His father, who was brutally treated, died the following year in the Native Police barracks.  Attempts were made to ‘civilise’ Thomas who was sent to the Merri Aboriginal School at the junction of Merri Creek and the Yarra and later worked in the Lands Survey Office. Subsequently Thomas came under the control of the Victorian Central Board Appointed to Watch Over the Interests of the Aborigines.

In 1861 the Board, as a disciplinary measure, arranged for him to become a member of the crew of the Victoria with the rank of ‘seaman’. He spent three years on this ship during which time the Victoria travelled to the Gulf of Carpentaria seeking to locate evidence relating to the disappearance of the explorers Bourke and Wills. His service was punitive not voluntary and although he sought to leave the ship he was in effect a virtual prisoner. Not only that but he was not paid. 

Bungelene may have been the earliest known Aboriginal member of a colonial force – naval  – as opposed to the men who later served in military units – but his service differed from that of these men. It was coerced: he was in the power of the Central Board and he received no remuneration. His service was part of an attempt to control and civilise and bore no relation to the service of the Indigenous men who followed him, who served of their own free will as volunteers. 

He died the year after he left the navy on 3 January 1865, aged 18. The Board noting his death in its annual report for 1866 recorded his short, stolen life as a failure.


Thomas Bungelene, an Aboriginal, who for some months was employed in the [Board] office in Melbourne, and gave evidence of some talent, is dead. A hope was entertained at one time that he would become a useful member of society; but, whether owing to defects in his early education or a natural propensity to evil, he became nearly as troublesome in the office as he was when on board the Victoria.  He died of gastric fever

Thomas Bungelene undoubtedly served in the Victorian navy and undertook on oath to serve the Queen ‘on board of any armed vessel belonging to Her Majesty’s local government of Victoria’. However his tragic story lies more appropriately with the story of the stolen generations than it does with that of Aboriginal service in Australia’s armed forces. 

Philippa Scarlett 13 August 2014

Posted in Aborigines Colonial naval service | 1 Comment


New information about Jack Alick shows that his military service predates the Boer war in which he served in New South Wales and Commonwealth units. This information has been provided by David Deasey historian, soldier and New South Wales Chairman of the National Boer War Memorial Association.

Previously I knew only that Jack Alick was initially a member of the 1st Australian Horse and sailed for South Africa with its second contingent. David Deasey has pointed out that the 1st Australian Horse came into existence not at the onset of the South African war but in 1897 and received volunteers between 1897 and 1898. It was a crack cavalry unit raised as part of an expansion of the New South Wales armed forces by the commandant of forces Major General G A French.  By 1898 the unit was made up of 628 volunteers chosen from 3000 hopefuls and was training regularly at Young NSW. Those men who sought to join its ranks were expected to be proficient in riding and shooting and to be able to work in bush conditions.

The two contingents from the 1st Australian Horse which went to the Boer war were chosen from its 628 members. This means that Jack Alick, who was selected for war service in the second contingent, already belonged to the 1st Australian Horse, joining either in 1897 or in the following year. The fact that not all existing members were selected to serve in South Africa underlines the level of skill of the men like Alick who were successful volunteers.

David Deasey also points to the likelihood that Jack Alick was presented with his Queen’s South Africa Medal by the Duke of York. This occurred when the Duke and Duchess visited Australia in 1901 to open the new Federal Parliament. They used this opportunity to meet with men who had served in the South African war. The New South Wales ceremony took place on 1 June at Government House, when members of the first and second contingents, 1st Australian Horse were amongst those scheduled to receive their medals from the Duke. The list of these men, taken back to the United Kingdom on the Royal yacht Ophir, includes Jack Alick. Press reports note that not all were present at the ceremony but it seems likely that Jack Alick did attend from the annotation on the list. Most but not all names are accompanied by ticks – which a handwritten legend says denotes medal issued. But what is more important about this list is that it shows not only names and unit served in during the war, but where ‘serving at time of enrolment’ (1). Jack Alick is shown as already a member of the 1st Australian Horse.

This additional evidence confirms what the facts suggest that Alick was not only a veteran of the Boer war but a member of a military force before the war. In doing so it gives his military service new perspective and backdates it to c.1897.

Jack’s mother Ellen/Helen was the daughter of Etienne de Mestre and Aboriginal woman Sarah Lamb. His grandfather Etienne was an excellent horseman and outstanding race horse trainer who in 1861 and 1862 won the first two Melbourne Cups with his horse Archer. This could have a bearing on the horsemanship of his grandson Jack Alick – which qualified him for inclusion in the elite 1st Australian Horse pre-war and then for service in South Africa.

This new information makes Jack the second earliest positively identified Aboriginal member of a colonial military force – the earliest confirmed to date being Jerome Locke. I understand other men are currently under investigation.

Philippa Scarlett 22 April 2014

My thanks to David Deasey for his comments and for alerting me to the history of the 1st Australian Horse and its relevance to Jack Alick.

(1) The National Archives [UK] (TNA): WO 100/232: Her Majesty’s Ship OPHIR –   Presentation Lists 1899-1902  

Posted in BOER WAR | 3 Comments


The list of men of Aboriginal descent who served and in some cases lost their lives at Gallipoli, compiled by David Huggonson and posted on 29 March 2014, contains the names of 32 men. A further name was added after I was contacted by the niece of Tasmanian Alfred John Hearps. Since then the Gallipoli service of twenty more men has been found bringing the total to 55.  There are likely to be more. In fact a number of others are said to have served at Gallipoli but it has not been possible to locate a service record for the men in question. In yet other cases confirmation that men suggested as serving in this campaign were in fact of Indigenous heritage has been impossible to locate. I have found too, because of its iconic place in Australian military history served in World War One, are often apt to assume it was at Gallipoli – when research can show that an individual’s service and the national consciousness, that families whether Indigenous or non Indigenous who know that one of their members was actually in the equally challenging conditions of the Western Front. The list as it now stands appears below. Names I have added to David Huggonson’s original list are shown with an asterisk. Details of the service of these men can be found in their service records, digitised on the website of the National Archives of Australia. The place name after each service number is place of birth. All men listed here are either named in the referenced listing in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Volunteers for the AIF: The Indigenous Response to World War One or will appear in a forthcoming edition. Why is it important to draw attention to these men? It’s because Aboriginal war service was ignored for so long and because showing the presence of Indigenous men in this campaign is one way of incorporating (but not assimilating) Indigenous service into the story of Australian military history and the history of Australia.

Some Men of Aboriginal Descent Who Served at Gallipoli

Compiler DAVID HUGGONSON  2014

BINDOFF, Edgar George 1720, Sydney, New South Wales

BOLTON, Alfred Frederick 682, Windsor, New South Wales

BURKE, James Ernest 529, New South Wales *

CAMERON, Alfred 1173, Meningie, South Australia

CROUGH, Kenneth 1125, Warrnambool, Victoria

DICKERSON, James 392, Gin Gin, Western Australia

DRURY, Albert Matthew 863, New South Wales *

FARMER, Larry 62, Katanning, Western Australia

FARMER, Lewis 421, Katanning, Western Australia

GOLDSPINK, William 2172, Tumbarumba, New South Wales *

HARRIS, William 2538, Wellington New South Wales *

HEARPS, Alfred John, [409] 2nd Lieutenant, Forth, Tasmania *

HOLT, Harold John 2289, Launceston, Tasmania *

HOMER, Arthur Charles 115, Bathurst, New South Wales *

HUTCHINS, Charles 307, Busselton, Western Australia

JACKSON, William John 1952, Bunbury, Western Australia

JOHNSON, Cyril Allen, 1340, Sheffield, Tasmania *

JOHNSON, Jack Roy, 1867, (served as John Rollins) Warrnambool, Victoria *

JOHNSON, Vernon Phillip, 2225, Sheffield Tasmania *

KARPANY, George 3502, East Wellington, South Australia

KELLY, Alfred William 590, Macksville, New South Wales

KIRBY, Richard Norman 2305, Dubbo, New South Wales *

LAVENDER, Andrew 285, Wellington, New South Wales *

LOCKE, Henry James 532, Waterloo, New South Wales *

MARTIN, Richard 1359, Brisbane, Queensland

MASON, Allan 1962, New South Wales *

MAYNARD, Edward  2294, Flinders Island, Tasmania

MAYNARD, Frank 1153, Flinders Island, Tasmania

MAYNARD, Leo 3992, Flinders Island, Tasmania

MCCALLUM, Arthur Edward 165, Albany, Western Australia

MCDONALD, Allan 764, Condah, Victoria

MILLER, John William 1227, Peppermint Bay, Tasmania

MUCKRAY, Hurtle 757, East Wellington, South Australia

NALEY, Charles Gordon 1310, Eucla, Western Australia

OLSEN, Andrew 736, Toowong, Queensland

OWEN, Frank Edgar 4193, Wallaroo, South Australia *

PATTERSON, Hurtle Austin 34, Townsville, Queensland

PERFECT, Joseph 200, Rockhampton, Queensland

PRIESTLY, Norman 2786, Gordonbrook Station, New South Wales

REID, John Patrick  2195  Cooma, New South Wales *

ROBINS, Alfred Arthur 1426, Junee, New South Wales

ROWAN, John 1506, Healesville, Victoria

SAYERS, Frederick Leslie 1042, Busselton, Western Australia *

SHAW, Claude 2413, Gin Gin, Western Australia *

SIMPSON, Stamford Wallace 687, Kangaroo Island, South Australia *

SKELLY, William 2933, Mount Hope New South Wales *

SLOANE, John 783, Forbes, New South Wales

SMITH, Leonard Gilmore 1303, Norwood, South Australia

STAFFORD, Charles Fitzroy 190, Mudgee New South Wales *

STOW, Albert Edward, 2162, Dungog, New South Wales

THOMPSON, Albert Victor 1644, Perth, Western Australia * 

TRIPP, Hubert Frank 1428, Victor Harbour, South Australia

WALKER, Arthur Thomas 2466, Wallaroo, South Australia

WALLER, Charles Stephen 1337, Kangaroo Island, South Australia

WRIGHT, Alfred 2017, Nyngan, New South Wales *

ZEISSER, Peter 168 Sydney, New South Wales *

Philippa Scarlett  27 May 2014

Thank you to Peter Bakker for pointing out the service of Simpson and Thompson

Posted in WW1 | 29 Comments


Kevin Gilbert Canberra Times 2 Feb 1991 

Kevin Gilbert Courtesy Fairfax Press

In early September 1991 Kevin Gilbert was photographed by Richard Briggs against the background of the Australian War Memorial. He carries a cross in almost Christ like manner as he walks towards Anzac Parade. However it is unlikely that this symbolism was Christian. Gilbert’s creation spirit was Baiame. Rather the cross was generally symbolic of the sacrifice of the Aboriginal inhabitants of Australia during more than 200 years of undeclared war against invasion and of the ongoing suffering of his people. Gilbert himself said at the time

I represent Aboriginal people who have fought with honour and given their lives for justice and for the land – as none have done for so long as my people. This is a memorial to those who have fought and died and continue to die in the continuing massacre against us. Interview with Amanda Uhlmann, Canberra Times 3 September 1991. 

Kevin Gilbert-ForThoseWho Died in Defence of Our Land  6325 (2) Kevin Gilbert with journalist  Amanda Uhlmann, Anzac Parade. Courtesy Eleanor Gilbert

In seeking recognition of Australia’s first and unfinished war, and commemoration of the sacrifice of its participants he brought his plea and protest to the hub of remembrance of the war service of Australians and linked it with the phrase used to encapsulate the act of remembering war: LEST WE FORGET. The wayside memorial he constructed in a then vacant space on Anzac parade – already lined with officially sanctioned memorials – bears the sign THIS SITE IS A MEMORIAL TO ALL ABORIGINAL PEOPLE WHO HAVE DIED IN DEFENSE OF OUR LAND LEST WE FORGET.

The use of the phrase ‘Lest we forget’ of biblical origin was boosted by Rudyard Kipling’s poem known as the Recessional which was adopted by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission after World War One. The poem, which cautioned against the hubris of power was written for Queen Victoria, whose Empire was responsible for the dispossession of Aboriginal people. It reads in part ‘… we hold Dominion over palm and pine. Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, Lest we forget – lest we forget!’ Despite the later official and general use of this phrase the war of invasion has been largely forgotten or is ignored by non-Aboriginal people.

Members of Kevin Gilbert’s immediate family served in World War Two and others of his extended Wiradjuri family volunteered for World War One. However in 1991 the story of Australia’s war participation was predominantly a white one which excluded Aboriginal war service. Although the movement to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service in Australia’s overseas wars was growing, it was still in its infancy. In 2014 to a large extent this battle for recognition has been won. Not so the battle waged by Gilbert and others to achieve recognition of the ongoing war which began with invasion, in which Aboriginal people fought for their country, their land. Recognition by some historians has been forthcoming but this is only half the battle. The next step is for this long and bloody war to be officially remembered by the Australian nation and the Australian War Memorial.

Philippa Scarlett 24 April 2014  

Thank you to Ellie Gilbert for permission to use her photograph and for additional information.  More about the extent of the war and its casualties and the attitude of the Australian War Memorial can be found at

Posted in Uncategorized, WW1, WW2 | 4 Comments