By Dr Renée Ralph, Co-Founder, The Brilliant Foundation
Aboriginal war hero Frederick Prentice recognised 105 years after his bravery on the Western Front
Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac) Day, 25 April, is a significant Remembrance Day for Australia. It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War.
Anzac Cove is a small cove on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey. It was a World War I landing site of the Anzacs on 25 April 1915. Following the landing at Anzac Cove, the beach became the main base for the Australian and New Zealand troops for the eight months of the Gallipoli campaign. Major films such as The Water Diviner (2014), starring Russell Crowe and Gallipoli (1981) acted by Mel Gibson have been inspired by the Anzacs.
The first Anzac day was celebrated in 1916. The Dawn Service observed on Anzac Day has its origins in a military routine followed by the Australian Army. The half-light of dawn was one of the times favoured for launching an attack.
Indigenous Australians have served in the Australian forces since 1901. Anzac commemoration service for Indigenous Australians is hosted by members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Veterans and Services Association (ATSIVSA). ATSIVSA was established in 1999 to work closely with other Ex-service Organisations such as the Returned and Services League (RSL) and the Vietnam Veterans Association (VVA), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) to seek out Indigenous veterans to make sure they are receiving any entitlements owed to them as a consequence of their military service.
During World War I, Indigenous Australians were given permission to enlist only if their colour of their skin was considered ‘white enough’.
As the war went on, casualty rates increased rapidly and recruitment numbers dropped, the officers allowed Indigenous Australians to fight in the war.
“Many enlisted with the hope that fighting for the country would in turn change the way they and other Indigenous Australians were treated – to no longer be discriminated against and to be treated equally.”
Source : World War 1 and Australia
· An estimated 50 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people served in the Boer War (1899-1902)
· Over 1,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people served in World War I (1914-1918) and around 70 fought at Gallipoli
· At least 3,000 Aboriginal and 850 Torres Strait Islander people served in World War II (1939-1945)
· In both World Wars, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had the highest participation rates in the military as a proportion of their population in Australia
· Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have participated in all military conflicts since the World Wars - Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and in peacekeeping operations including in Somalia and East Timor
Promises Given to Indigenous Australians, not Kept
One example of this happened after the Boer War, when Aboriginal men who had participated are believed to have been denied entry back home due to the immigration restrictions of the White Australia Policy.
After the World Wars, Aboriginal veterans received limited public recognition or support. Access to schemes that provided returning soldiers with land and job opportunities were denied to the Aboriginals.
For example, the Soldier Settlement Scheme aimed to give land and work to returning soldiers – where splitting up large rural estates into smaller farming blocks and leasing them to returned service-people. However, Aboriginal soldiers were denied access to this scheme.
In some cases Aboriginal land was divided under this land scheme and then was granted to non-Aboriginal soldiers.
During the war, Indigenous Australians who were in the trenches with their Australians soldiers were treated as equals. After the war, Indigenous Australians were denied in public social spaces to have a drink with their fellow soldiers at the local.
NSW serviceman portraits, 1918-1919 - Leslie John Locke. Locke was awarded the Military Medal.
The hardship felt by the Indigenous Australian soldiers were threefold. Firstly, after the war, they were not recognised, respected and supported by the Australian Government. Secondly, they did not belong to the community or become economically viable in business society. Thirdly, the soldiers did not have welfare and income to provide for their family. Segregated from society, the Australian terms Lucky Country, Mateship and Diggers did not apply to the Indigenous Australian soldiers and their loved ones.
The legislation and economic framework disadvantaged the Indigenous Australians and the Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islanders; and they were unable to lead their lives to the fullest potential. Furthermore, Acts passed, like the 1905 Aborigines Act in Western Australia disrupted their lives and culture, rather than enhancing them.
1905 Aborigines Act in Western Australia
The 1905 Aborigines Act was passed “to make provision for the better protection and care of the Aboriginal inhabitants of Western Australia”.
Here’s some of the rules and regulations given to the Chief Protector of the Aborigines to implement.
At a personal level, the Aboriginal Peoples were only allowed to have medication supplies, food rations and material things approved by the Chief Protector. Their food rations were based on an unhealthy diet of tea, flour and milk compared to their traditional way of hunting and sourcing nutritious food from the bush.
( I.) To apportion, distribute, and apply, as may seem most fit;
(2.) To distribute blankets, clothes, and other relief to the Aborigines, at the discretion of the department.
(3.) To provide for the custody, maintenance, and education of the children of Aborigines;
(4.) To provide, as far as practicable, for the supply of medical attendance, medicines, rations, and shelter to sick, aged, and infirm Aborigines;
(5.) To manage and regulate the use of all reserves set apart for the benefit of Aborigines.
In terms of ownership and property, the Aboriginal Peoples had no power or say to owning their home as the Protector has the right to manage the property of Aboriginals.
The Chief Protector may undertake the general care, protection, and management of the property of any Aboriginal or half-caste, and may
(I.) Take possession of, retain, sell, or dispose of any such property, whether real or personal;
(2.) In his own name sue for, recover, or receive any money or other property due or belonging to or held in trust for the benefit of an Aboriginal or half-caste, or damages for any conversion of or injury to any such property;
(3.) Exercise in the name of an Aboriginal or half-caste any power which the Aboriginal or half-caste might exercise for his own benefit;
(4.) In the name and on behalf of an Aboriginal or half-caste, appoint any person to act as attorney or agent for any purpose connected with the property of the Aboriginal or half-caste.
The Act created the position of Chief Protector of Aborigines who became the legal guardian of every Aboriginal child to the age of 16 years, and permitted authorities to 'send and detain' Aboriginal children in institutions and in 'service' (work).
The Aborigines Act of 1905 defined an Aborigine as follows:
Persons deemed to aborigine
(a.) an Aboriginal inhabitant of Australia; or
(b.) a half-caste who lives with an Aboriginal as wife or husband; or
(c.) a half-caste whose as wife or husband, habitually lives or associates with Aborigines ; or
(d.) a half-caste child whose age apparently does not exceed sixteen years, shall be deemed an Aboriginal within the meaning of this Act, and of every Act passed before or after this Act, unless the contrary is expressed. In this section the term half-caste includes any person born of an Aboriginal parent on either side, and the child of any such person.
The Aborigines Act of 1905 was aimed at controlling the Aboriginals and making them their slaves in the guise of protecting them. In essence, the Aboriginals were not allowed to speak their native language(s), and were classified as flora and fauna (not as human beings). In cementing their future relationships with their life-partners, they were not allowed to marry without the permission of the Chief Protector. In order to be Australian citizens, the Aboriginals cannot speak their native language(s) and go back to the land to see their family and relatives.
From 1905 – 1967, half-caste children of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who were forcibly removed from their families by the Australian federal and state government agencies and church missions, under acts of their respective parliaments. This period was known as the Stolen Generation or Stolen Children.
Working for Free
Basically the land was stolen off them and if they wanted to stay on their land, and have that connection to country and that connection to spirit, they actually had to work for free for the person who stole it.
Aboriginal culture - 60,000 years old
Thus, Australian Aboriginal culture of 60,000 years where reverence and respect for the land, community, family, dream time and oral traditions were systemically broken down by the 1905 Aborigines Act of Western Australia that lasted for 58 years. The Aborigines Act 1905 was repealed by the Native Welfare Act 1963 on 1 July 1964. However, the trauma from the stolen generations made its negative impact and toil on the Aboriginal Peoples, the First Nations of Australia.
The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1962 received assent on 21 May 1962. It granted all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people the option to enrol and vote in federal elections.
Bringing Them Home Report
In 1995, a National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families commenced, spearheaded by the President of the Human Rights and Equality Commission, Sir Roland Wilson.
By the end of 1996, nearly 800 submissions had been heard and in May 1997 the Bringing Them Home report was tabled in Parliament concluding that:
For individuals, their removal as children and the abuse they experienced at the hands of the authorities or their delegates have permanently scarred their lives. The harm continues in later generations, affecting their children and grandchildren.
National Sorry Day
In 2008, Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister of Australia declared 13 February a National Sorry Day. A psychological and emotional relief for the stolen generation who realised that it was the legislation framework and existing laws that prevented their mothers for searching their offspring. Furthermore, these mothers and their loved ones had no financial means to claim them back.
Memorabilia Books of Indigenous Australians
In 2018-2019, memorabilia books published by The Western Australian Museum (also known as WA Museum Boola Bardip) tell the untold history of Indigenous Australians who served Australia. These memorabilia books are complimentary and accessible to download from the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries in Western Australia.
"...an insight into the lives of the Aboriginal men who volunteered, No Less Worthy stands as a significant educational and historical resource adding to our understanding of an important chapter in our States history.
As a proud Aboriginal Western Australian who graduated from the Royal Military College in Duntroon as a commissioned officer, it is an honour to pay tribute to each of the Aboriginal men in this book who contributed to World War I and to those who have served since.
Lest We Forget."
Source : They Served With Honour published in 2014 (Researched and written by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs Community Development Directorate, Aboriginal History Research Unit with contributions from staff and the families of the soldiers)
Anzac Day 2021
Due to COVID-19, major state marches are planned for Anzac, with restrictions on numbers such as the national event in Canberra, Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania. Western Australia (WA) had restrictions on numbers and pre-registration. Overseas services will not be held.
On 24 April 2021 Perth city and the Peel region entered a sudden 3 day COVID-19 lockdown and Anzac Day services in the affected areas were cancelled. Australians can still 'Light up the Dawn' in their driveways this Sunday for Anzac Day 2021.
Western Australia celebrated Anzac day after RSL WA overturned a ban on the flying of the Aboriginal flag at Anzac and Remembrance Day services after a public backlash.