Journal article

Aboriginal service in the First World War: Identity, recognition and the problem of mateship

Aboriginal Australians Defence Self-determination Indigenous Australia

The popular construction of unconditional mateship, said to make the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) the band of brothers it never was, today overshadows the existence of racism in the AIF, and the fact that the negative treatment Aboriginal servicemen received post-war was often at the hands of those now said to have been their mates. This mateship myth also obscures the failure of white Australia to recognise the service of Aboriginal men.

Aboriginal men who volunteered to serve in the First World War came from a disadvantaged group in a deeply racist Australia.

The complete marginalisation of Aboriginal people in Australian society meant that notwithstanding this comprehensive presence in a war said to lay the foundation of Australia’s national legend, the war service of Aboriginal men was ignored, then forgotten for decades by white Australians. Recognition did eventually come, but it needs careful assessment to avoid the danger of Aboriginal war service being assimilated into the prevailing popular views surrounding Australian military engagement.

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