Australian War Memorial recognises Indigenous Vietnam veterans

New research from the Australian War Memorial has identified more than 250 Indigenous men and women who served for Australia during the Vietnam War.

Researchers say it is important to recognise their sacrifice and service now, especially as Indigenous people faced major barriers to joining the Australian Defence Forces during the time.

“Aboriginal men were exempt from conscription, which was one form of recruitment of the day,” lead researcher, Australian War Memorial Indigenous Liaison Officer, Michael Bell, said.

“You’d be told that you’re not eligible because you’re Aboriginal. There are stories of people who got rejected, walked out the side door and they’d go back in the front door and volunteer to enlist.”

Director of the Australian War Memorial, Matt Anderson, said: “This research helps our understanding and knowledge of Indigenous service in Vietnam.

“It is part of our ongoing program at the Memorial that deals with identifying and recognising the service and sacrifice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service people.”

Mr Bell’s research included 1971 recruitment advertising that list Aboriginals as “exempt”.

“Aboriginality was seen as a reason not to serve, but many still did. This reflects the willingness of our men and women to serve,” Mr Bell said.

“It was a significant transition period for our people and their role in the defence forces.

“We now have a great opportunity to meet with many surviving veterans and to speak to them directly and have their stories recorded.

“We can ask veterans why they volunteered to enlist, we can gather stories on the racial tensions at the time and the equality or inequality they may have experienced.”

The Australian War Memorial is continuing its work to identify and research the extent of the contribution and service of people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent.

“Gathering this list takes many hours of research and we expect to get to 500 names. We want more people to come forward and share their stories,” Mr Bell said.

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