Joseph ZEEN #58184

Indigenous Australian, Joseph ZEEN, 6th Reinforcements Queensland

When Joe ZEEN volunteered to serve for his country, at age 31, he had already seen much of the darker side of life, and the struggle to survive.

Born in 1887 to Hannah Robinson (1856-1912) and Peter Zeen (1836-1899), both his parents were deceased when he signed his enlistment papers, so instead he named his former employer, Alfred Ernest Mayer, of Teven Creek, as his next-of-kin.

When Joe's father died he left his mother Hannah to care for four children, one was just months old. Hannah was arrested and imprisoned for being unable to provide shelter for her them, while her children were admitted to various 'reformatories'.

N.S.S. 'Sobraon', no date. [Naval School Ship] State Archives of New South Wales

Joe was sent to 'N.S.S. Sobraon' a naval school ship, which served as a reformatory from 1892-1911. Moored off Cockatoo Island in Sydney harbour, his older brother John had been admitted there 5 years earlier.

J. Zeen, age 26. NSW Gaol Description & Entrance Book, 1913

Joe's younger siblings were sent to Warangesda Aboriginal Mission, located on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River. It's not clear how much time Joe and his siblings were kept in these 'institutions', Joe appears as a 'champion milker' in 1915 bragging about his abilities.

Having enlisted in Lismore, like many men from northern New South Wales, Joe was sent to Brisbane to train at the army barracks in nearby Enoggera.

 6th Queensland Reinforcements, 1918. 30668, Joseph Leslie Gossner Collection, State Library of Queensland

Initially assigned to the 6th Queensland Reinforcements, and after several weeks training, Joe found himself aboard HMAT Bakara bound for England. During the voyage he was found to be in breach of military rules and was awarded 3 days field punishment (confined to quarters) and fined for his insolence.

After arriving in England in early November 1918, there was no urgency for these reinforcements to go to France, as the war was soon to come to an end. Joe did go to France in January 1919 but spent most of his time being treated for the 'common soldier’s complaint' VD before heading back to Australia on the Barambah, arriving in Melbourne in October 1919.

Joe was arrested and imprisoned for several offences in the 1920's, but he eventually made a life for himself in Queensland; marrying Christian Thomson Murphy in 1935. Joe can be seen in the image above, attending an Anzac Day gathering in Hughenden in 1950; he died in 1956 and is buried in the Lutwyche Cemetery, Brisbane.

Joe Zeen, centre, Anzac Day, Hughendon, 1950. Courtesy Flinders Shire Historical Collection

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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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