Johnnie SAM #20209, 21817

Extract from Service Record, National Archives of Australia

Indigenous Australian, Johnnie SAM, Light Horse Depot Regiment

John William SAM/S or Ah SAM was born in Tambo in 1899 to John William Sam and Fanny Auerbach. By 1915 both parents had passed away and he had been placed in the Westbrook Reformatory School, located near Toowoomba, QLD.  The ‘school’ earned its reputation as the most feared correctional institution of its type in Australia.

Sam first enlisted in June 1917 in Toowoomba, age 18 but was rejected on the basis of his physique, being described as a ‘lightly built youth’. At the time he had no known living family and named the superintendent of Westbrook, Thomas Jones as his next-of-kin.

Sam married Dorothy Cannan in October 1917 and again volunteered to serve with the first AIF on 26 December 1917.  The enlisting officer Captain Adsett wrote for approval stating that Sam was anxious to enlist and had ‘lived all his life with white people’. Approval was initially granted by Lieutenant Colonel Luscombe and John Sam was assigned to the Light Horse Depot Regiment.

Sam’s acceptance was short lived however. When medically examined at Enoggera army camp, it was decreed that because he had no European heritage, ie that his father was Chinese and his mother half-caste aboriginal, he be discharged 3 January 1918.

Johnnie and Dorothy had a daughter in 1918 who died in infancy. Dorothy filed for dissolution of their marriage in 1948 on the grounds that she had not seen Johnnie since 1920.

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The information in this blog post has been researched by State Library staff and volunteers, it is based on available information at this time. If you have more information that you would like to share or further research uncovers new findings, this post will be updated.

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