Century of Loyal Service
This year’s NAIDOC Week theme, Serving Country: Centenary and Beyond,recognises the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who have served with distinction in all of Australia’s military engagements in the past 100 years.
Despite restrictions on enlistment that were only removed in 1949, Indigenous Australians have a long history of Army service, beginning in the Boer War where Aboriginal trackers assisted the colonial contingent.
This legacy of military service continued during WWI, where Indigenous Australians served as soldiers in the First Australian Imperial Force.
While about 800 Indigenous men have been identified as enlisting in the Army, this number may be as high as 1300.
Numerous Indigenous men who attempted to enlist during WWI were rejected on the grounds of race, as policy at the time prevented people who were not of European descent from joining the Australian Army.
Despite this, many did enlist and these regulations were relaxed in 1917, which allowed more Indigenous Australians to serve.
During WWII, Aborigines and Century of loyal service From the Boer War through to recent operations in Afghanistan, Indigenous Australians have made a significant contribution to Australia’s military history, Caitlin Pommer reports.
Torres Strait Islanders enlisted as soldiers, auxiliary soldiers and labourers directly employed by the armed forces. Many of these men died in the fighting and some became POWs.
Some of these small auxiliary forces, drawn mainly from local Aboriginal communities, contributed to reconnaissance and surveillance efforts near Darwin.
The Northern Territory Special Reconnaissance Unit is the most well known group. It focused on reconnaissance and guerrilla warfare in the face of a possible Japanese invasion.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander soldiers continue to display a strong tradition of service across the Army today in a variety of jobs and locations.
They have contributed to Army’s missions overseas, including deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq, Timor-Leste and Solomon Islands, as well as providing surveillance and reconnaissance support in Army’s three regional force surveillance units.