No justice for First Nations war veterans

Photo's taken at the Hamilton Art Gallery 'Shrine of Remembrance' exhibition - April 2013
Gunditjmara elders Keith Saunders and John Lovett at the Hamilton Art Gallery 2013
Families seek recognition for Aboriginal soldiersABC 7.30 VIC

Families seek recognition for Aboriginal soldiers

Treaty Republic First published June 2011

A ceremony was held at the War Memorial in Melbourne to honour Indigenous family members who fought in world wars.

John Lovett's family travelled to Melbourne to honour their family members who fought in various wars from the the First World war through to Afghanistan.

Mr Lovett, the son of returned soldier Herbert Lovett, said that he believes that fighting in the wars gave Aboriginal people some equality that they didn't experience back in Australia.

The families of Indigenous soldiers who served in the world wars are still seeking recognition and land.

Some Indigenous families just want the Australian people, through the Governments, to acknowledge their family members contribution to the wars and others rightfully want compensation.

There are many wealthy farming families in Australia that started their dynasty with soldier settlement bocks on resumed Aboriginal land - but all non Aboriginal farmers and station owners in Australia are reaping their rewards on stolen Indigenous land, most of them still receiving substantial Government subsidies through numerous sources.

Soldier Settlement Blocks
Many returned soldiers were given land to settle when they returned home from service, but this didn't apply to Aboriginal soldiers, if fact, some Aboriginal people had their land taken from them and divided up between the non Aboriginal servicemen, as Soldier Settler Blocks.

One example of this was the closure of The Coranderrk Aboriginal Station in 1924, despite protests from Wurundjeri returned servicemen who had fought in World War I. In 1950 the land was handed over to the Soldier Settlement Scheme.

Boer War Disgrace
It is believed that up to 50 black trackers sent to the Boer War were unable to return home after the war due to the White Australia Policy and were left to their 'own means'.

Aboriginal Returned Servicemen and Soldier Settlements

ABC NSW Teachers professional development material

When Australian soldiers returned from World War One, they were able to apply through the Returned Servicemen's Settlement Scheme for small allotments of land provided by the government. Even though Aboriginal people were legally excluded from serving in the armed forces, more than 300 to 400 Aboriginal servicemen served in World War One, at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. However, on their return they resumed their inferior citizenship status. In NSW only one was successful in gaining a soldier settlement lot.

The second dispossession

Some of the land provided for the Returned Servicemen's Settlement Scheme was Aboriginal reserve land resumed by State Governments. Gradually, more and more government-run reserves were closed to meet increasing demands for land by white farmers. By 1913, 64 of the 97 Aboriginal reserves in South Australia had been leased or sold to white Australians. In Victoria all reserves were leased or sold by the 1920s except one, Lake Tyers, where the land was so poor that white farmers didn't want it. Independent reserve lands were also resumed. Almost half of all reserve land held by Aboriginal people in NSW in 1911 had been sold by 1927, and most of the remaining lands were then leased to white farmers. Much of it was fertile farmland which had been cleared and cultivated. The loss of this land meant the loss of an economic base for many Aboriginal families. SEE: Coranderrk - Aboriginal Farmers and Market Gardeners

When governments resume property belonging to citizens they are obliged to pay compensation. No compensation was paid to Aboriginal people for the loss of their reserve land or for the improvements they had made, such as buildings, fencing, fruit trees and crops. People who had lived independently for decades were left with nothing. There was no consideration by authorities for the difficulties Aboriginal people faced when they were evicted from reserves with no resources for re-establishment. In Aboriginal history this is known as the "second dispossession". With no savings, little prospect of employment and no money for rent, evicted Aboriginal families built shelters on the fringes of towns. Without decent housing and services such as water and sewerage, authorities found it easy to remove Aboriginal children because they were "neglected".

50 Aboriginal trackers left behind during the Boer War


ASHLEY HALL: On this day in 1902 the Boer War in South Africa drew to an end. The rebel leaders agreed to lay down their weapons, abandon their claims to independence and recognise Britain's Edward VII as their king. And so began the process of repatriating the 22,000 Australians who'd survived the distant war. A thousand of their fellow countrymen didn't.

But not everyone made it home. It's claimed 50 Aboriginal trackers were left behind because they were denied re-entry to Australia.

Charlotte Glennie reports from Brisbane.

CHARLOTTE GLENNIE: Griffith University's Indigenous research fellow, Dr Dale Kerwin has spent the last four years delving into a conflict which took place at the turn of last century far away in Africa.

He's especially interested in 50 Aboriginal trackers who were summonsed by the commander of the British forces in South Africa to join the Boer war effort.

DALE KERWIN: I found a telegram from Lord Kitchener in 1901 requesting that these trackers be sent across and I found telegrams going back to the Lord Kitchener saying that, you know, they're being rounded up and they'll be sent on a certain date.

CHARLOTTE GLENNIE: Dr Kerwin says the men came from all over the country but very little else is known about them.

DALE KERWIN: I'm making a guess here that they were part of the Aboriginal police force, you know, the black trackers. These men were skilled in use of weaponry, as well to take orders and you were trained in military fashion.

CHARLOTTE GLENNIE: Gradually Dr Kerwin says he's piecing together parts of the puzzle.

DALE KERWIN: There was a telegram sent from Burketown in north Queensland saying that there was a man wanting to enlist in the war effort and so I've been able to find, follow that telegram. He boarded a ship but I was unable to get his name because they listed him as a deadly blackfella. So in amongst ship passenger ship list, they've named women, men, children, whatever stock's on board and as well as Aboriginal people but there was never any names.

CHARLOTTE GLENNIE: And what were these trackers sent over to South Africa to actually do?

DALE KERWIN: The imperial edicts from the War Office in Britain was that no coloureds were to serve as, in the Armed Forces and so these men were actually sent across as bullock drovers and trackers as such. They weren't really enlisted.

However, I'm finding some indication that a couple of men did enlist and they would have come back with the general enlisted men. But the ones that signed up as bushmen, or bush trackers, were left over there at their own device.

CHARLOTTE GLENNIE: The war ended on the 31st of May 1902 and slowly the soldiers were brought home.

DALE KERWIN: There was a fellow by name of George Valder. In 1907 he was repatriating Australians back to, back to the country, paying their way, their fares on various ships that were coming back. And he indicated that these men fell under the new Immigration Protection Act and because of that, as we know it as the White Australian Policy, there was no coloureds were allowed into this country at the time. And so there's all likelihood that these men haven't come home.

CHARLOTTE GLENNIE: What do you think is likely to have happened to them?

DALE KERWIN: I'm having a guess here that there's descendents in South Africa. There's Aboriginal descendents in South Africa now.

CHARLOTTE GLENNIE: But some are sceptical.

Historian Keith Windschuttle is the author of the controversial book, The White Australia Policy.

KEITH WINDSCHUTTLE: There was no formal thing called the White Australia Policy. There was the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 and that Act could not be applied to Aboriginal people because they were all born here and anyone who was born here, under the Immigration Restriction Act, could come and go from Australia without any legal restrictions whatsoever.

Nobody, I mean there were domiciles in Australia before the bill came in. All Aborigines would have been, and certainly those who fought in the Boer War, could have been possibly affected by it.

CHARLOTTE GLENNIE: Bill Cross is with the Queensland division of the National Boer War Memorial Committee.

BILL CROSS: We can't find evidence that's 100 per cent positive one way or the other but where there's smoke perhaps there's fire and we're certainly happy to have that aspect of the Aboriginal trackers not coming back to Australia as a part of our ongoing research and discovery of what our forebears did or didn't do.

CHARLOTTE GLENNIE: The descendents of Australians who fought in the Boer War say they hope one day a memorial is built to commemorate the first conflict which Australia was involved in as a nation.

ASHLEY HALL: Charlotte Glennie reporting.

There are only five known Aboriginal servicemen buried at Gallipoli, however, it is estimated that 500-800 Aboriginal diggers served in the First World War. Ethnicity was not recorded in the enlistment process and research into indigenous service can involve trawling across many different sources, sometimes we may never know who these servicemen were. Australian War Memorial Website

Indigenous Australians at war

More: Indigenous veteran exhibition honours contribution, fight for justice continues
By Lily Partland - ABC Radio 774 Melbourne 19 April 2013