Indigenous Peoples in the Australian Defence Force: (The forgotten Soldiers)


As may still be unknown to many Australians, Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders have contributed to Australia’s military forces from the Boer War to Vietnam, East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. Aboriginal trackers served in the Boer War, and it is estimated that about 400 to 500 served in the First World War. In the Second World War as many as 6000 Aborigines served as enlisted servicemen, members of irregular units or in support units.

The precise number of Indigenous Australians who volunteered in the Boer War, WW1 and 2 is not known because ethnicity was not actually recorded on personnel files and they were not recognised as Australian citizens until 1967. So why did so many enlist wanting to serve a country that did not recognise them? The mean reason was that many experienced equal treatment for the first time in their lives in the army or other services. They were paid the same as other soldiers and generally accepted without prejudice. Loyalty and patriotism may have encouraged Indigenous Australians to enlist. Some saw it as a chance to prove themselves the equal of Europeans or to push for better treatment after the war. However upon return to civilian life, many also found they were treated with the same prejudice and discrimination as before. But attitudes started changing and restrictions on enlistment into the armed forces were abandoned in 1949. Since then Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders served in all conflicts in which Australia has participated and is still doing so (Source: Australian War Memorial)

Time has arrived to officially recognise the service of Indigenous Australians in the Australian Defence Forces and the roll they played in making Australia the country as it is now. The Griffith War Memorial Museum has given special attention to the involvement of the Aboriginal people of this area in the Armed Forces from the Boer War onwards and sought assistance from their community to set up a display on this local involvement. This display was, in presence of many Aboriginal people, officially opened on Anzac Day 2013. The Museum invited the local Aboriginal community to become involved in this project and asked those families to search their family trees, to identify the family members/relatives/ancestors who served at any time in the Australian Armed Forces and to pass this information on to the Museum.

Copies of service records (if available), photos, personal stories, artefacts, memorabilia, ideas and assistance from Aboriginal people are always welcome and will be added to the permanent display.


Listen to Angus Houston


Please contact the Museum:


In Person: Griffith War Memorial Museum,167-185 Banna Avenue, Griffith NSW 2680

                 Open: Thursday, Friday 10am-2pm

                            Saturday 11am-2pm





Display GWMM




Display GWMM




Alfred Jackson Coombs (right)




Edwin Gene (“Ted”) Harris






In Memory of “Ted” Harris, one of the local Aboriginal Servicemen.

Edwin served in WW2 and was killed in action in Papua New-

Guinea on March 4, 1944.

He is buried at Lae War Cemetery, PNG






Wangaratta, Vic. 1940-12. Group portrait of the special platoon consisting of Aboriginal soldiers, all volunteers, at Number 9 camp at Wangaratta with Corporal Mullett (left), V85813 Major Joseph Albert (Bert) Wright (centre) and Sergeant Morris (right). Major Wright, a World War 1 Light Horse veteran, was in charge of this Platoon, which was the only Aboriginal squad in the AMF (Australian Military Forces). (Donor S. Clarke)

Source: Australian War Memorial




Official Opening of the Aboriginal Display, Anzac Day 2013










Studio portrait of Aboriginal servicewoman, QF267190 Lance Corporal (L Cpl) Kathleen Jean Mary (Kath) Walker, of Stradbroke Island, Qld, a communication worker with the Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS). L Cpl Walker enlisted on 5 December 1942 and was discharged on 19 January 1944. She later changed her name to Oodgeroo Noonuccal and was a well-known Australian poet, actress, writer, teacher, artist and campaigner for Aboriginal rights. Oodgeroo was best known for her poetry and was the first Aboriginal Australian to publish a book of verse.

Source: Australian War Memorial