Our ANZAC Story

24 April 2019 | General Interest



ANZAC day presents an important reminder to honour the people who served, fought and lost their lives to protect Australia.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have had a presence in every conflict that Australia has been involved in and have a decorated past glittered with heroes.

Although the records are inaccurate as there was no ethnicity listed on the conscription forms it is known that thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders served in conflicts over the last century.

- Over 1000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people served in World War 1 (1914-1918) with around 70 who fought at Gallipoli

- At least 3000 Aboriginal and 850 Torres Strait Islander people served in World War II (1939-1945). This figure could be up to at least 8000 with home security and extended roles included.

- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have participated in all military conflicts since the World Wars, including Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and in peacekeeping operations in Somalia and East Timor.

- Around a third of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander soldiers who served overseas were killed in action or died of wounds overseas during conflicts.

- There were also countless amounts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who contributed to the war effort by supplying services such as construction, farming and butchery at home.

It can be a common question to ask why so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders would risk their lives for a country that didn’t even recognize them as citizens until 1967.

"They were fighting for their Indigenous nations, not for "King and country". They still had that warrior ethic, and they were protecting their country," - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Veterans and Services Association President | Gary Oakley


In addition to this, it was one of the first occasions that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had the opportunity to feel equal and it was a chance to prove their right to equality.

“There was no discrimination at war, because we quickly realised that the enemy bullet doesn’t discriminate. So, we would look after each other. Colour didn’t matter.”

“In the heat of battle, survival would come down to relying on the man next to you, so racism for once, took a back seat. White and black soldiers forged friendships in the trenches of Gallipoli and the Western Front or on horseback with the Light Horse in the Middle East.”
 


The brave and proud efforts to contribute to the country in its time of need served a right of passage and a unique moment in time when cultures aligned under the same goal.

Unfortunately, the constraints of racism and in-equality would continue to exist in Australia after both World Wars, but service in the military provided brief insights as to what the country could be if everyone put colour aside.

As the push for treaty and equality continues to this day, the contributions of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who assisted in service gain attention and remembrance as they claim their rightful place amongst the nation’s identity.