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 | 25 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 and the national consciousness,  that families whether Indigenous or non Indigenous who know that one of their members served in World War One, are often apt to assume it was at Gallipoli – when research can show that an individual’s service, 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


Research earlier this year by Hamilton historian Peter Bakker has located another Aboriginal man who fought in the Boer war. Bakker has found that Jack Alick was in the pre-Federation New South Wales First Australian Horse and has also been able to locate an attestation for Alick in the name of John Allick for service in the 1902 Australian Commonwealth Horse. Information in this record links Alick with a well known Aboriginal family originating in the Braidwood area of New South Wales.

Jack Alick detail from Federal Contingent 1902 Town and Country Journal

Detail from a photograph of the Federal contingent before it sailed for South Africa in 1902 . It was published in the Town and Country Journal and  shows Jack Alick (bottom right). The photo and its caption combined with information found in contemporary newspaper articles were the keys to Peter Bakker’s discovery of the Boer war service of Jack Alick.

John/Jack Alick (and spelling variations) also known as Jack Bond (service number 1063 ) was one of a group of Braidwood volunteers who left Australia on 17 January 1900 with the second contingent of the First Australian Horse. The contingent arrived in Cape Town, South Africa on 23 February, 1900 and joined up with the first contingent in March. The group advanced to Pretoria and beyond, taking part in action ranging from minor skirmishes to battles including engagements at Poplar Grove, Zand River, Diamond Hill, Zilicats Nek, Kameel Drift and the battle of Belfast. They arrived back in Australia, in Sydney on 2 May 1901 after almost a year and a half of war. Jack Alick’s arrival with the second contingent was mentioned in passing by another Braidwood volunteer in a letter home.

The last contingent of Australian Horse joined us a fortnight ago with Captain Thompson, Vaughan, and a few more Braidwooditcs, but none of my old mates whom I expected. Jack Alick was telling me that the Kings tried hard to come, but luck was against them Well, I was disappointed at hearing that.

The experience of the non Indigenous Kings contrasts with Jack Alick’s own. Jack Alick’s experience also contrasts with that of the other identified Aboriginal men in the Commonwealth Australian Horse. F King and E Davis are referred to as ‘Black Trackers’ while Jack Alick who was also a tracker is not referred to as such and was enlisted as a trooper. The enlistment of all three was before the question of service overseas of men not of substantial European origin had been addressed by the newly established Commonwealth of Australia. Jack Alick elaborated on some of his pre-Federation service in a letter home published by the Braidwood press in September 1900.

The following letter from the black tracker, Jack Alick, who joined the Australian Horse and went to the war, will be interesting. It is addressed to Mr George Larkins, Krawarree, and was received on Tuesday last :— 

Korvall Pont, Convalescent Camp, September 4, 1900,

DEAR George,— I now take the opportunity of writing you a few lines to let you know I am still alive and kicking. I have been unfortunate enough to take an attack of fever from which I fell sick at Johannesburg just three months ago, but I am pleased to say I have almost fully recovered and am feeling well again. I have not seen the regiment since I fell sick and I am not particularly anxious to rejoin them as I am quite satisfied where I am now having an easy time here, doing no duty. I have seen quite enough fighting and have had some very narrow squeaks. It is a very healthy place here and we are close to the Orange River and also the bridge which was blown up some time ago. We are surrounded on all sides by kopjes, and after 10 o’clock in the morning we are free to roam wherever we like and sometimes I take a turn at climbing, but not often as I have seen enough of these kopjes. I have been amongst all sorts and sizes of troops since my sickness, regulars and volunteers from almost every regiment out here and I must say they are as a majority a most lively and jolly lot of chaps and damned good company, especially in the tent where I am now. I understood yon bad a good days races at Snowball on Easter Monday and hope yon all enjoyed yourselves. Of course it wasn’t my luck to be there, but I enjoyed a night out in the rain on the veldt on Easter Monday without tents, and also the two following nights, after which I felt slightly washed out. I haven’t space enough to go into details of all the fighting, &c I have been through, but will give you all particulars when I return home, which I hope won’t be long, as I reckon it has lasted just long enough. Give my kindest regards to the Mrs. and the children and accept same yourself,

from your old friend  JACK ALICK 

The letter was probably written on his behalf as Jack Alick signed his 1902 Attestation with ‘his mark’. The fact someone took the trouble to write it for him as well as the letter’s contents indicates that Jack Alick’s experience with his fellow soldiers was a positive one. It also shows he was beginning to tire of war. However this did not affect his willingness to serve again and he joined 1 Battalion of the Australian Commonwealth Horse on 20 January 1902 (service number no. 356). This second foray into the South African war was of much shorter duration. The Commonwealth Horse left Sydney on 17 February and returned to Australia on 11 August 1902. It’s main duties had been to clear the district north of Klerksdorp. Peace was declared on 31 May 1902.


Attestation of John Allick 1902. NAA:B4418, ALICK JJ.

Jack Alick’s Braidwood community was supportive of him and his colleagues and the local paper recorded his leaving and his first return, when a welcoming reception was held by the mayor of Braidwood. For some reason there seem to be no reports relating to his service with the Australian Commonwealth Horse or of his second return – one possible reason being the change in the mood in relation to the war in some quarters following the discovery of the mistreatment of Boer civilians.

P L Murray who documented the names and a little of the events surrounding Australia’s part in the Boer War differentiated between the trained militia and the untrained volunteers whom he called ‘much rougher material’ and noted that

Many of the recruits, however – a large majority in some cases – were mere rough bushmen, countrymen, handicraftsmen, farm labourers, and the like, who had never soldiered before, and had everything to learn in the way of drill and discipline.  

in this pre-empting some of the later comments by Charles Bean on the composition of the AIF.

Jack Alick Bond fell into the bush labour force category described by Murray. As well as being a tracker and skilled horseman he was a farm labourer from the country bordering the Shoalhaven river west of the town of Braidwood, overshadowed by an extension of the Great Dividing Range, the Gourock Range also known as the Jingera mountains. His family frequented Mt Elrington, Ballalaba, Krawarree (sometimes spelled Crowarrie and Quarry in service records), Jembaicumbene, Major’s Creek and the Araluen valley and belonged to the Jincro ‘tribe’ of the Walbanja Yuin. He and his father, Alick (Jack) Bond were possibly related to another, older Jack Bond who collected blankets (distributed by the New South Wales Government) at Mt Elrington in 1838 and 1841. This man was named variously Mundula and Mundalie and was recorded as a being a chief or king by the Braidwood community which presented him and his wife with a ‘silver shield’ inscribed.

JOHN BOND, King of Major’s Creek, and KITTY BOND His Queen. Presented to him by his White Subjects.(Braidwood Dispatch and Mining Journal  4 November 1927 p, 2).

This status may have derived from within his group and but could also have come from the perception of his importance by the local white community which he served as a police tracker or it could have been a combination of both. On her death in 1881 his wife Kitty was referred to as ‘an old Aboriginal, queen the wife of Mr. Jackey Bond, now a trooper in her Majesty’s service.’ It was reported that more than 100 people attended her funeral.

Jack Alick Bond’s father, Alick also sometimes called Jack was the husband of Ellen or Helen De Mestre, a woman of French and Aboriginal heritage. In addition to Jack Alick Bond they had three sons Andy, Joseph and William.


william bond SRNSW gaol photo

William Bond 1893. He was born at Jembaicumbene according to information with this photograph but in 1917 gave his birth place as Ballalaba when he volunteered for the AIF.  State Records of New South Wales NRS2138 [11/1739]

Andy and William volunteered for World War One, only Andy serving overseas where he was gassed in France and invalided home in 1918. William’s attestation contains the information that he too was a police tracker.

ANDY BOND post ww1 in Wallaga Lake gum leaf band wering army jacket Andy Bond wears his former AIF jacket in this post war photo of the Wallaga Lake Gumleaf Band. Courtesy David Huggonson

Like some other Boer war veterans Jack Alick also volunteered for the AIF putting his age down by six years. His application made in September 1918 was unsuccessful although there is no indication of why. One factor could have been the imminent end of the war.Jack Alick WW1 attestation NAA MT1486 1 Page one of Jack Alick’s World War One attestation 1918.  His place of birth written for him as ‘Quarry’ is actually Krawarree and his occupation written as ‘trapper’ is likely to be ‘tracker’. NAA: MT 1486/1, Alick /Jack.

While there was a movement of Aboriginal people away from Braidwood from the late 19th century, Jack’s attestation shows that he and his brother Joseph were still in the Braidwood area in the early part of the 20th century. Andy’s service record records his move to Wallaga Lake, Tilba Tilba, South Coast by 1916 and also that of his mother. Jack Alick volunteered from Braidwood for South Africa in 1899 and in 1902. He was recorded by the Aborigines Protection Board at Wallaga Lake mission in 1916 and at Kent Farm Tilba Tilba in his 1918 application to join the AIF. Although Jack Alick/John Bond was probably still living at Wallaga Lake and at Bega, South Coast as late as 1936 and 1937 when his name appears on electoral rolls, by the time of his death in 1941, run over by a tram, he was living at La Perouse, Sydney probably at the La Perouse War Veterans home.

A notice inserted in the press on 7 November 1941 showed that he had not let go of his Boer war service. In this the South African Soldiers Association requested its members to attend his funeral – an indication that Jack Alick was probably a member or at least known by the membership.

. Jack Alick funeral notices 1941

Jack Alick had no known children but there are many Bond descendants and descendants of his mother Ellen De Mestre from her subsequent marriage to James Ahoy, some still living on the New South Wales South Coast and in the Wallaga Lake area. Genealogies and research on the De Mestre family website and the autobiography The Calling of the Spirits by Eileen Morgan, a granddaughter of Ellen De Mestre and James Ahoy, contain useful information about the Bond and related families, including in the latter case a photograph of Andy Bond being presented with his World War One service medals. Michael Smithson’s detailed study Munkata Yuin, drawn on here, is also an important source of information about the Bonds and the Braidwood Aboriginal community.

Despite all this, there seems to be no surviving knowledge of Jack Alick’s Boer war service. The discovery of this by Peter Bakker and the research he has undertaken make an invaluable contribution to both the history of Aboriginal involvement in the Boer war – and to the story of the Bond family. Peter’s research is ongoing. Anyone wanting to contact him with information can do so at

Philippa Scarlett  22 April 2014 (revised May 2016)

Particular thanks to Michael Smithson author of Munkata Yuin for his informed comments




Posted in BOER WAR, WW1 | 17 Comments


Arthur Quong Tart wounded at Pozieres courtesy Lois McEvoy

Arthur Malcolm Quong Tart, Brisbane, 1917. Courtesy Lois McEvoy

The public image of the men of the first AIF given currency by Charles Bean, the editor of the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 and author of some of its volumes, was one of bushmen – white men – from rural Australia, like those he had met when he wrote the series of articles published in book form in 1910 as On the Wool Track. In this he spoke of ‘these large-hearted, intelligent, simple men of the Far West – the best material in Australia, the truest mates in the world’. Translated into the AIF they were mates of British origin fighting for King and country – and also for a white Australia. Bean saw Australia as an Anglo Saxon country and wrote approvingly of the ‘White Australia’ policy. Introducing the AIF in Volume 1 of the Official History he wrote

The Australian was half a soldier before the war; indeed throughout the war, in the hottest fights on Gallipoli and in the bitterest trials of France or Palestine, the Australian soldier differed very little from the Australian who at home rides the station boundaries every week-day and sits of a Sunday round the stockyard fence (p.47).

On the Wool Track does mention ‘natives’, ‘blacks’, ‘black fellows’ and Chinese but not as part of the bush work force whose qualities Bean saw as so formative of the Anzac legend.

In reality many of the men in the AIF came not from the bush but from the cities and urban areas. Moreover not all were white. As well as men of Aboriginal heritage there were men of other ethnicities. Amongst these were men of Chinese heritage. While Chinese have been part of the Australian story since the early days of the colony of New South Wales, their presence was boosted in the 1850s by the influx of thousands of Chinese following the discovery of gold in South Eastern Australia. By 1914 their descendants and those of later Chinese immigrants were amongst those who volunteered for the AIF. In doing so they were faced with the same enlistment problems encountered by Aboriginal men, stemming from Australia’s restrictive race based legislation and their acceptance or rejection followed similar patterns – and was just as inconsistent. This is apparent from the service records of AIF volunteers of Chinese descent which closely parallel those of Indigenous Australians – often recording initial rejection because of race followed later by acceptance or in other cases simply rejection.

One of those who did not succeed in joining the AIF was George Kong Meng born in Victoria, the son of a Chinese British citizen from Penang and a mother born in Tasmania. His brother Herbert was able to enlist in 1914 and was already overseas when Kong Meng was rejected twice for lack of substantial European descent. The experience of his second rejection in January 1916 is recorded in a letter of protest he wrote to the Melbourne Argus.

I attended the recruiting depot at the Melbourne Town Hall on Friday, the 14th inst. and after giving my name, age, and religion to the recruiting sergeant was taken in with some others to the examining room and told to undress, preparatory to the officer examining me as to my physical fitness. After my height, weight, and chest measurement had been taken by one the officials there I was sent to the medical officer. Upon going before him I was told to get dressed again, and when I asked if I had failed to pass the medical officer he said he would not swear me in. When leaving the depot I received a certificate with “not substantially of European origin” written on it, and signed by the medical officer. 

George Kong Meng was a British subject and an Australian citizen by birth who had already spent six years military service in the Victorian Mounted Rifles and the 8th Light Horse. His rejection for service in the AIF left him embittered, diminished and disillusioned with his country:

Evidently the authorities at the Melbourne Town Hall depot seem to think I am not worthy of helping to defend the Empire. The Prime Minister has appealed to every man of a military age to join the colors; but, if this is the treatment the native-born are to receive, I am afraid the appeal will fall on deaf ears. England and France deem it fit to use coloured troops to defend their shores, but the great Australian democracy denies its own-subjects the same opportunities. I might state that I have gone to Melbourne on two occasions to offer my services to my King and country, and, after paying all travelling expenses, to be treated like this does not give one any encouragement to go again.

Kong Meng’s words are equally applicable to the Aboriginal men who shared similar experiences. Aboriginal Australians were ‘natural born British subjects’ and required to attest to this when applying to join the AIF.

When Kong Meng complained in the press of his exclusion a correspondent replied pointing out that another Australian Chinese man, Arthur Quong Tart with ‘origin … about the same’ had recently embarked for the front. Both Tart and Kong Meng , whose father was Lowe Kong Meng of Melbourne, were the sons of well known and respected Chinese businessmen. Tart’s father, Mei Quong Tart, a naturalised Australian, was born in China and his mother was an Englishwoman, Margaret Scarlett.

Arthur Quong Tart although accepted for service in the AIF was no stranger to  discrimination. He had experienced racial taunts as a school child and at an official level when visiting New Zealand in 1910 he was detained because of his race by Customs officials. He was only released when it ‘was shown that Mr Tart was a half caste’ and not subject to the New Zealand Immigration Restriction Act.

Arthur Tart also experienced rejection before he was finally accepted for the AIF in August 1915 aged 23 but this rejection was, ostensibly at least, not because of his race but his height.

Pte. Arthur Quong Tart of the 7th Reinforcements of the 19th Battalion is the eldest son of Mrs and the late Mr. Quong Tart, of ‘Gallop House,’ Arthur-street, Ashfield. Prior to enlisting he was engaged in wool classing and wool buying, having gained his experience In New Zealand, Queensland, and New South Wales, He has been educated at Petersham Public School, Ashfield College, and Burwood Grammar School, and finished his studies at Riverview College. Private Quong Tart made [several?] attempts to enlist, but was not successful in joining the ranks until the height standard was reduced to 5ft 2in.  

His service however did not last long and by February 1917 he was back in Australia.

Pte. Arthur Tart, the talented young soldier at present convalescing at the Booloominbah Home, Armidale, is the son of the late Mr. Quong Tart, the well known Sydney business man. Pte. Tart was blown 20ft into the air in France by a shell, and is now making good progress from the severe shock he received.

He had been buried four times by exploding shells at Pozieres between 22 and 26 July 1916 and was left temporarily without power in his legs, hysteria, a stutter and later a limp and not surprisingly suffered from shellshock. His mother died on 27 July 1916 only a day after Arthur was being assaulted by shell fire at Pozieres.  Grief on eventually learning of her death contributed to ongoing trauma on his return home intensified by the accidental death of one of his sisters the day after his arrival in Sydney. After recuperation he went to Queensland where he attempted to resume his pre-war career as a wool classer but was plagued by depression. Photographs he sent to his family, taken in Queensland after his return, show him in uniform, a diminutive figure who stands legs apart as he appears to steady himself with a cane. The stripes on his uniform do not correlate with his service and indicate that the uniform was borrowed for the photograph but that it was important to him to be seen to be wearing it – perhaps because of his early return home. A literary work he registered for copyright in 1925 gave his Ashfield, New South Wales address – no doubt used as his principal address when away. It also shows that he was in Sydney in 1925 when he applied for registration. The work itself titled The Living Dead is a story of murder and passion set in north west New South Wales, Queensland and South America with brief references to the war. Possibly writing it was one way of exorcising some of the demons which his war time experiences summoned up for him.

In later years information about Arthur’s life was lost by his family and it was only relatively recently that Lois McEvoy wife of his nephew John McEvoy and his first cousin once removed James Errol Lea-Scarlett, were able to locate a record of his death. He died in Brisbane in May 1927 just ten years after his return from the war. He was unmarried and it is reasonable to assume that like so many others his life and expectations were blighted by his horrendous war time experiences.

Arthur Quong Tart as a wool classer and buyer in country New South Wales and Queensland lived in the bush environment and communities described so vividly by Bean in On the Wool Track and himself belonged to one of the range of bush workers Bean features in his observations. But Bean had no place for men like Arthur Tart or for the Aboriginal men who also inhabited and worked in this environment. Although these men were part of the world Bean saw as the wellspring of the behaviours of Australian men at Gallipoli and beyond, they were not for Bean and writers who followed him, amongst those who were the cornerstones of the legend called Anzac.

Some men of Chinese heritage, or who according to their attestations were born in China, successfully enlisted in the AIF even though they lacked the European descent required by the Defence Act. Yet others, despite the fact that recruits were urgently needed as the war progressed, could not gain acceptance, their rejection showing that the urgency for recruits was not always sufficient to overcome the negatives which led to the strict adherence to the provisions of the Defence Act.

The digitisation of the records of World War One service by the National Archives of Australia and their availability online have facilitated research into the diversity of the AIF. More information about Chinese in the AIF can be found in Alastair Kennedy’s 2013 study  Chinese Anzacs.

Philippa Scarlett 6 April 2014 

My thanks to Lois McEvoy for permission to reproduce the photograph of Arthur Quong Tart and for her comments on his life.  

Posted in Other non white Australians and the AIF, WW1 | Leave a comment


David Huggonson has been at the forefront of the movement for recognition of Aboriginal war service. Not only is he the author of numerous articles both journal and press which tell the story of Aboriginal men in the AIF but his efforts to locate photographs of Aboriginal servicemen, involving contacts all over Australia, led to the creation of a unique record of Aboriginal war service. The photographs collected by him and made available to the public in the exhibition Too Dark for the Light Horse toured Eastern Australia between 1986 and 1995 and were later shared with the Australian War Memorial. Now the phrase ‘Too dark for the Light Horse’ taken by Huggonson from a Bulletin cartoon (31 August 1916) is synonymous with Aboriginal service in World War One. The images in the Huggonson Collection of Aboriginal men in the uniform of the AIF send a powerful visual message about the Aboriginal presence in this conflict. Most recently he has sought to identify men of Aboriginal heritage who fought at Gallipoli. The thirty two men he has identified to date are listed below. They are from all Australian states and not all survived. On Anzac day 2014 the name of another man ( see Comments below) has been added to this list bringing the number  to thirty three.

 Some Men of Aboriginal Descent Who Served at Gallipoli

Compiler David Huggonson 2014 

BINDOFF, Edgar George 1720, Sydney, New South Wales

BOLTON, Arthur John (served as Lee, Arthur John) 1040, Rooty Hill, New South Wales

BOLTON, Alfred Frederick 682, Windsor, New South Wales

CAMERON, Alfred 1173, Meningie, South Australia

CROUGH, Kenneth 1125, Warrnambool, Victoria

DICKERSON, James 392, Gin Gin, Western Australia

FARMER, Larry 62, Katanning, Western Australia

FARMER, Lewis 421, Katanning, Western Australia

FIRTH, Francis Walter 1162, Pilliga, New South Wales

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

HUTCHINS, Charles 307, Busselton, Western Australia

JACKSON, William John 1952, Bunbury, Western Australia

KARPANY, George 3502, East Wellington, South Australia

KELLY, Alfred William 590, Macksville, New South Wales

MARTIN, Richard, 1359, Brisbane, Queensland

MAYNARD, Edward 2294, Flinders Island, Tasmania

MAYNARD, Frank 1153, Flinders Island, Tasmania

MAYNARD, Leo 3992, Flinders Island, Tasmania

MCCALLUM, Arthur Edward 165, Albury, Western Australia

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

PATTERSON, Hurtle Austin 34, Townsville, Queensland

PERFECT, Joseph 200, Rockhampton, Queensland

PRIESTLY, Norman 2786, Gordonbrook Station, New South Wales

ROBINS, Alfred Arthur 1426, Junee, New South Wales

ROWAN, John 1506, Healesville, Victoria

SLOANE, John 783, Forbes, New South Wales

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

TRIPP, Hubert Frank 1428, Victor Harbour, South Australia

WALKER, Arthur Thomas 2466, Wallaroo, South Australia

WALLER, Charles Stephen 1337, Kangaroo Island, South Australia

To date this is the only public list of Aboriginal men who served at Gallipoli of which I am aware. It concretely links a group of Indigenous men with the World War One campaign which features most prominently in Australians’ war remembrance. It is very likely incomplete and the names of more servicemen can be added as they come to light.

Philippa Scarlett 29 March 2014 

My thanks to David Huggonson for permission to reproduce his list. Some of his publications can be found in the Australian War Memorial’s reading list of material related to Indigenous war service.

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The play Black Diggers opened the Sydney Festival at the Sydney Opera House on 18 January 2014 and concluded with standing ovations. Individual reports and reviews also attest to its success. It consists of a series of stories crafted to portray the  range of experiences of Indigenous men in World War One and in the post war period. The writer is Tim Wright and the director Wesley Enoch with a cast of Aboriginal actors playing a multitude of parts. I was unable to attend but look forward to catching up with it elsewhere in Australia.

The recognition which Black Diggers will generate in the wider community is long overdue – despite the efforts of individuals over the last four decades. Black Diggers follows in the tradition of David Huggonson’s Too Dark for the Light Horse, an exhibition of photographs of Indigenous World War One service men. The exhibition which showed Indigenous men in the uniform of the AIF, collected by Huggonson toured south eastern Australia and Queensland from 1988 before later being shared with the Australian War Memorial. The impact on the eye of the photographs has proved so much more compelling and immediate than the printed word. In the same way this production which presents Aboriginal  soldiers to audiences as flesh and blood, combining visual appeal with dialogue, will be invaluable in getting across the message that despite prohibitive legislation Indigenous men actually volunteered and served in World War One. The play will tour within Australia from September.

In the centenary year of World War One, as a visual and verbal presentation, Black Diggers will go a long way towards raising the general public’s awareness of the service of Indigenous men – both in World War One and following wars. This has been either neglected, ignored or buried by the racist Australia in which these men volunteered and which they returned to and their descendants continued to endure. Hopefully things are changing but there is still some way to go. Black Diggers is the most important milestone to date in the process of recognition and reconciliation with the men and their descendants. It is now recognised that the history of Australia is a shared one between black and white. Within this so is the history of the AIF and its sister services. Black Diggers eloquently makes this point.

Philippa Scarlett 29 January 2014

Meyne Wyatt, Isabella Edquist  and Wesley Enoch Black Diggers 18 Jan 2014

After the performance: Opening night 18 January, actor Meyne Wyatt, Isabella Edquist and director Wesley Enoch

Posted in Philippa Scarlett WW1 | 1 Comment


Warangesda etching 1883 Illustrated Sydney News

Warangesda Mission 1883

The following account is based on reports of the New South Wales Aborigines Protection Board and entries in the Warangesda Mission Managers Diary. The authors of both sources are white officials and the picture they paint is basically one of contrived good cheer. Never the less they do give some idea of the experience if not what the people at the mission actually felt. The life span of the mission was 1880 – 1924

Records of the Christmas season at Warangesda in the 1890′s show it to have been a busy period.

In the days before Christmas in preparation for the holiday to follow, the people were occupied cleaning up their yards and cottages.  The mission buggy went back and forth from Darlington Point Station, meeting children of the white staff coming home for the Christmas holiday and any other Christmas visitors, as well as picking up the Christmas parcels sent from Sydney which contained food and  toys for the children.  While the men went shooting for game for the Christmas table, the manager as well as attending to his usual duties spent time selecting prizes and planning the sports to be held on Boxing Day and New Year.

By Christmas eve, the church had been decorated with pine boughs and other greenery and a Christmas tree set up by the men. Christmas day was celebrated with church services, Christmas cards were given out and Christmas fare – roast beef and plum pudding (quality unknown) was distributed to the people.  The Christmas period was usually very hot, 108°F in 1892 and 114° in 1896.  In 1892 the awful heat was put to a sudden end in the evening by a southerly buster so severe that it forced the evening church service to be abandoned.10  The 1896 heat was unrelieved, causing the death of one child  – Julia’s baby – probably from heat exhaustion and dehydration.  That evening there was a terrible dust storm “and as the lamp in the church would not burn there was no service.”

Boxing Day was a day of organised sports at the river, but on Boxing Day 1894 many instead had attended the Darlington Point races and were considered unfit for the dancing Mr Nash (the school teacher) had arranged in the school that evening. On Boxing Day 1896 those who did not go to the races “partook of a tea which had been provided by the matron, consisting of fruit cakes, lollies and coconuts which were afterwards scrambled [for].”

The sports usually continued into the next day – 27 December and were followed in the evening by a concert and prize giving.  The next day, 28 December, could be taken up with a cricket match. In 1893 there then followed an exodus of the visitors from Cummeragunja mission who had spent some of the Christmas holiday at Warangesda, as well as Warangesda families leaving to pay a reciprocal visit.

In the last days of the year preparations were made for New Year’s Day and the men cleared ground by the river for the New Year’s Day picnic.  The New Year was welcomed in with “rough music” into the night, and on New Year’s Day, there were more sports by the river, followed by the usual prize giving ceremony on 2 January, so ending the festive season.

This is an extract from Warangesda Daily Life and Events 1994

Men from Warangesda or with Warangesda connections volunteered for World War One. James Smith, Walter Bright, Joe Gotch, Thomas Lyons, Tom and Dick McGuinness, Alex Little, Arthur Weston, Allan Gowans, David Kennedy and John Heland all volunteered for service with the first AIF as did John and Duncan Ferguson, two sons of William Ferguson. David Kennedy over 40 years old, John Heland and Duncan Ferguson did not serve overseas, Dick McGuinness lost his life. The others returned to Australia, in Walter Bright’s case after a period in a German prisoner of war camp. John Ferguson was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry.

Philippa Scarlett 30 December 2013

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