State Library of Queensland Black Diggers Webinar

Until recently, few Australians were aware that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people served in the First World War. Over 1,000 enlisted, and almost 300 of them were Queenslanders. State Library's Q ANZAC 100 team has been working with the Australian War Memorial and other researchers to identify these men and share their stories.

As part of State Library's offer to encourage new ways to remember and recognise Anzac Day, this webinar focused on the untold stories of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in WW1. The video component was part of a Black Diggers Professional Development session for teachers in 2018 - the first segment provides the background context and an insight into the experience of war for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men; while the second segment presented by Marg provides an overview of the research sources and methods for schools to use to investigate more about these soldiers through the curriculum.

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 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.

Despite this socio-political context, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people volunteered, enlisted and served in WW1. The rate of volunteering by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men was consistent throughout the war years; however, the enlistment rate of men who served in the AIF increased after May 1917. 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. Exceptions were also made for Aboriginals who ‘had lived and worked with white people’.

The webinar and supporting resources refer to men as there is only one known or recorded Aboriginal woman who served in WW1 - Marion Smith, a Dharug woman from Sydney who was raised as a child in Canada served as a nurse with the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Nursing Service (QAIMNS). Ongoing research by AWM, Philippa Scarlett, Christine Cramer and others has identified several Aboriginal women who served in ancillary roles on the Home Front.

There are many untold stories and State Library through the Q Anzac 100 Research Hub has identified ~300 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander soldiers - their stories are shared on the WW1 Blog as well as HistoryPin. The Black Diggers Play written by Tom Wright and directed by Wesley Enoch is based on the stories of some of the men who served in the AIF. State Library clients are able to watch a  video recording of a performance via One Search.

The webinar was recorded and is available online at the State Library's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Participation in WW1 webpages. Pre-reading and resource guides are also available on the webpages and provide links to a range of resources, includign community Anzac projects such as the Black Diggers of Logan and the Boys from Barambah.

State Library also encourages descendants and community members to add to these stories - please contact Q Anzac 100.



SLQ Black Diggers PD for Teachers video

SLQ Researching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Soldiers [Downloadable PDF]


Further Reading/Viewing

Black Diggers play – available online per One Search.

SLQ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Participation Webpages

SLQ Q ANZAC 100 Memories for a New Generation webpages

SLQ Black Diggers PD for Teachers video – Session 2 [Resources for Schools]

SLQ Queensland’s Indigenous Servicemen Digital Story

SLQ Indigenous Enlistment in WW1 HistoryPin

Black Diggers of Logan

Boys from Barambah – The Ration Shed Museum, Cherbourg.

Indigenous Histories website [Philippa Scarlett]


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