ANZAC day in Australia means many things to many people but is a strange experience for Indigenous people.
“Half-castes may be enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force provided that the examining Medical Officers are satisfied that one of the parents is of European origin.” In WWI, the enlisting of Aboriginal soldiers was permitted to a small degree.
An Uncle of mine fought at Gallipoli as a result. Shot there and that bullet remained until the day he died 40 years later.
My grandfathers fought in the World Wars. But they fought again when they returned to Australia. My grandfather, Andrew Towney, was a tall, strong man. He could fight too. He was a WWII soldier in the middle east and Papua New Guinea. He returned to Australia to apply for membership of the local Ex-Services club but was rejected. He never set foot in that club from that day on.
“In 1945, after World War II ended a War Service Land Settlement Agreement between the Commonwealth and states, enabled returned service personnel access to land under soldier settlement schemes. Following the agreement, the states and the Commonwealth enacted solider settlement legislation or amended existing legislation.
As in the schemes introduced after World War I, Aboriginal personnel were not specifically excluded but the assessment procedures were prejudiced against them and many were rejected from the scheme. This was particularly cruel as the scheme offered lands that once belonged to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”
Not only did he not receive acceptance or appreciation of his efforts for this country, he was also denied the right to march in the ANZAC day march. So he never marched again. Instead, my grandfather stood on the footpath each ANZAC day to watch the soldiers he fought with and helped protect, to walk by him as the street and community rose in applause for the marching soldiers. Each year without fail, he would watch them.
I don’t know what that rejection is like. I do not know what his feelings were like. He never spoke of those things. Rarely did he speak about the war again.
Our returning Aboriginal soldiers were not allowed to receive the veteran pension, nor their wives a widow pension. That finally changed when we were counted as Australian citizens in the 1967 Referendum.
As Gary Oakley, Indigenous Liaison Officer, Australian War Memorial said:
…We’re not citizens, yet we’re willing to die for this place, we’re willing to die for non-Indigenous Australians, have a think about that one….
It was not just a person who rejected my grandfathers sacrifice, it was a community, a country and once more, a people; our Aboriginal people, who were denied acceptance and not appreciated once more. These men, without being citizens, gave up their lives for this country and for all the rhetoric that was celebrated as an Australian but still dreamed of being equal, being one with this country that formed around us.
If only you could see my grandfathers face every year while standing alone on that footpath.
I know I won’t.
Wiradjuri NEWS founder
Quotes attributed to: https://aiatsis.gov.au/cache/normal/aiatsis.gov.au/explore/articles/war-service_.html
and FB posts by friend, Cleonie Quayle