- Aboriginal people served as Australian forces in every conflict since Boer War
- WW II veterans of Aboriginal descent unable to vote on their return to WA
Veterans Issues Minister Peter Tinley will honour Western Australia's Aboriginal war veterans at a special wreath-laying ceremony in Kings Park tomorrow (May 29).
Although the Department of Defence only began recording the heritage of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander service personnel in 1980, it is believed they have served in every conflict involving Australian forces since the Boer War.
Australian Imperial Force enlistees were required to be of 'substantially' European origin. In 1917 this policy was relaxed to allow enlistees with one parent of European origin, although the rule was not always rigorously enforced, particularly towards the end of World War I.
In 2018, research revealed that 133 WA Aboriginal men enlisted for service in World War I - 23 were rejected on grounds of 'descent'; 83 saw active service and 13 were killed.
More than 3,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men are believed to have enlisted during World War II. In some States, including WA, Aboriginal World War II veterans were not eligible to vote until 1949 despite their service.
At least 160 Aboriginal people served in the Vietnam War, seven of whom died in the conflict. Two of those killed were from WA: Private Andrew Drummond (5RAR) and Corporal Ronald Harris (SASR).
Comments attributed to Veterans Issues Minister Peter Tinley:
"It's important to acknowledge the contribution of Aboriginal servicemen and women in their service to Australia as far back as the Boer War.
"Some actively hid their Aboriginality in order to overcome the colour bar and enlist. Others did not identify as Aboriginal and some were not even aware of their Aboriginal heritage.
"For those prepared to lay down their lives, it must have hurt deeply to return home and find their service was not recognised and that they were not treated as equals.
"That unfair treatment resonates today and in remembering the service of those members of our armed forces, we are also reminded that there is much work to do to achieve a more just and equitable society."
Minister's office - 6552 5300