Soldiers, not citizens

torres-strait-islander-troopsThey were willing to face bullets for Australia, but they weren’t allowed to vote.

The extraordinary, and ironic, history of Australia’s Indigenous ANZACs will be the subject of a seminar at Flinders University Victoria Square today (Tuesday 24 April 2012).

The seminar will be given by Flinders archaeology and screen production student, Michael Bonner, a Yanyuwa man from the Northern Territory who grew up in Goolwa.

His six-part television production Soldiers not Citizens, which will also incorporate a travelling exhibition, is in development and is likely to screen on the ABC.

Associate Professor Tracey Bunda of the Yunggorendi First Nations Centre at Flinders, whose own father was an Aboriginal veteran of the Middle East and Pacific campaigns of the Second World War, will chair the seminar.

“It’s a hidden story,” said Associate Professor Bunda.

She said that while complete records of the Indigenous soldiers were not available, Mr Bonner has been gathering material from archives and the Australian War Memorial, and interviewing family members of the veterans.

It is believed that around 500-600 Indigenous volunteers served in the First World War, and some 5,000 in the Second World War.

Some, but not all, Indigenous veterans received land grants as part of soldier-settlement schemes.

“Indigenous people volunteered at a greater rate per head than the general population, yet when Indigenous veterans returned home they found themselves subjected to racism,” Associate Professor Bunda said.

“After fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with white Australians, Indigenous people came back to inequality, living in a country that did not recognise them as citizens.”

At the same time, Associate Professor Bunda said, military service was an experience that helped to put Indigenous people “in touch with the world,” and would eventually play into the post-war global movements that saw colonised peoples work to reclaim sovereignty and the international movement for black rights.

She said that for her father, his army service led to a post-war career in the RAAF.

“Constant employment was very important for someone who was part of an extended family, and it also gave him free access to training and education,” Associate Professor Bunda said.

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One thought on “Soldiers, not citizens

  1. Looking forward to the TV series. As a former military professional, agree that a military career can help families have career certainty and purpose, financial stability and community support to have a multi-generational impact for the better. Hope more can be explored for the indigenous community, starting first with honouring the indigenous ANZACs and their descendants with not just that of which is token, but also the re-embrace into the defense community – this is a great country to protect.

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