The Australian War Memorial archives suggest that between 1 000 and 1 300 Indigenous men and women served during World War 1 (just as an unknown number had volunteered for the Boer War earlier in the century) despite not even being accorded as citizens of their own country. For the most part their service, actions and heroism have been largely ignored and conveniently forgotten during the past hundred plus years. It is apparent that at least 70 Indigenous soldiers took part in the doomed Gallipoli campaign with at least 13 having died there, these statistics having only been confirmed during the past two years. As well as the general lack of recognition for anything achieved by First Australians, certainly a great difficulty was the lack of detail of Aboriginality included on military records (for the most part). Be that as it may, the evidence is clear. There were a significant number of First Australians serving the country that despised, who were paid and treated with equity during this service, and then subsequently relegated back to inferior status on their return. Another shameful episode in our combined history.
Afred’s War is a poignant and powerful tribute to these forgotten war veterans. The reader follows Alfred’s wanderings around the country and his participation on the fringes of ANZAC Day commemorations. There’s been no returned soldier’s settlement land for this digger, nor support for a permanent disability arising from his wounds. Instead he’s chosen a solitary life walking the dusty back roads with his swag and billy, picking up work where and when he can.
Yet his contribution to the war effort and his loyalty to his country was just as valuable as any other soldier, despite his country’s rejection even denial of his and his peoples’ basic human rights.
The book is simply written but is just as effective for all that and an exceptional way to introduce a discussion on human rights, citizenship, First Australian history as well as the Indigenous contribution to the Great War.
Teaching notes can be found here.
Highly recommended for your collection as an important addition for ANZAC and Remembrance Day.
Queenslander, Douglas Grant, arguably WW1’s most well-known Indigenous veteran.