Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in World War 1

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“One of the great untold truths of Australian history has been the courageous contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to the Australian Defence Force. For decades this contribution was unacknowledged and their sacrifices were unmentioned at official ceremonies.” Alistair Nicholson, Reconciliation Australia (2014).

It is estimated that 1,200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women volunteered for the AIF during WW1. It should be remembered that this was a time when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were not recognised as Australian citizens and suffered under the strict policies and practices of the Protection Era.

The Defence Act 1903 initially excluded Aboriginal people from enlisting resulting in many Aboriginals enlisted under assumed ethnicity/cultural backgrounds. For example, Richard Martin from Dunwich (Stradbroke Island) enlisted on 17 December 1914 as a ‘Maori’ claiming to have been born in Dunedin. After enlistment, Martin joined the 15th Battalion at Gallipoli before being reassigned to the 47th Battalion where he lost his life at Pozieres. Following heavy casualties on the Western Front, the Defence Act was revised to accept enlistments from Aboriginals who had one parent (later Grandparent) of European descent.

Despite this socio-political context, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people volunteered, enlisted and served in WW1. The majority of these men enlisted in 1917.

The State Library collections hold significant materials relating to WW1; buried in among these items are stories and references to the Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander people who were there on the home front and the war front. 

The resource guide will assist families and researchers alike to identify materials that may uncover the hidden histories and the untold stories of these ~1,200 men and women. As well as State Library materials, the guide will also highlight other sources for research.

SLQ resources

Resources available at SLQ for research into Indigenous participation in war...

Peak collecting bodies

Major institutions that collect material related to the Indigenous experience of war...

Online resources

Significant online resources for research into Indigenous participation in war...

Researching Indigenous Soldiers from Queensland Communities

The guide is designed to provide support and advice for IKC Coordinators and Indigenous Community Members to research Aboriginal and...

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