Aboriginal soldiers

Indigenous Australians excluded from joining military service under the Commonwealth Defence Act of 1903 (and further amendments). This prevented people 'not substantially of European origin or descent' from enlisting in military service. After the failure of the first conscription referendum, changes made in 1917 allowed aboriginal men with one white parent to enlist. Despite the racial discrimination in legislation, many indigenous Australians enlisted from the beginning of the war, and continued to do so until the end of the conflict. Although it is impossible to be specific, as a person's "race" was not recorded on enlistment papers, one source suggests that over a thousand aboriginal men enlisted. This included the over 70 aboriginal Tasmanians identified so far. Researchers expect to find many more, as research continues. 

The reasons Aboriginal men felt motivated to fight for a country that did not recognise them varied as widely as for any individual who volunteered. Their motivations to enlist included loyalty to country, adventure seeking, and payment.​

Historian Kristyn Harman has stated "while Aboriginal soldiers were in the trenches alongside other Australian soldiers, there was an equality that hadn't been experienced before between them." Others have noted that once in the AIF, they were treated as equals, paid the same as other soldiers, and generally accepted without prejudice. Returning home after the First World War, Aboriginal ex-servicemen received little public or private support. They were denied access to soldier settlement schemes. In some states Native Welfare Agencies quarantined their wages and pensions. Sometimes they were denied access to military funerals, and the treatment they and their families received at ANZAC Day services and in the local RSLs varied depending on the attitudes of the local community.

Further reading:

Australian War Memorial

Anzac Day websites

Harman K (2014) "Enlisted!: Tasmanian Aboriginal Soldiers in World War One" in Culture Domain (2014), ps 12-13 Accessed 16th April 2014 

Indigenous Australians at war from the Boer War to the present 

Indigenous Histories  

Riseman (2013) "Serving Their Country: A Short History of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Service in the Australian Army" in the Australian Army Journal Culture Edition 2013, Volume X, Number 3

Shrine of Remembrance travelling exhibition - Indigenous Australians at war 

Smith (2014) "Remembering Aboriginal service in the Great War, one century on" in The Australian December 6 2014. Accessed on 16 April 2015.​​