The Australian War Memorial has published its Second World War Indigenous Service List online in time for NAIDOC Week.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a long tradition of fighting for Country and have served in every conflict and commitment involving Australian defence contingents since Federation.
When the Second World War broke out, Indigenous Australians were still not legally allowed to enlist, but many did so. In 1940 the Defence Committee decided the enlistment of Indigenous Australians was “neither necessary not desirable”, partly because they believed white Australians would object to serving with them.
When Japan entered the war, however, the increased need for manpower forced the loosening of restrictions, and thousands of Indigenous Australians enlisted and served.
Danusha Cubillo, a proud Larrakia woman, has been part of the team working on the list with the Memorial’s Indigenous Liaison Officer, Michael Bell.
Cubillo was seconded to the Memorial from the Department of Defence through Defence Indigenous Affairs. She has added hundreds of names to the list and helped confirm many others.
“My work here is discovering or finding hidden names that we didn’t know before,” Cubillo said.
“It’s been a team effort, and we have around 2,000 names now, but it’s a living document, and the research is ongoing, so if you have a name of someone who has served we’d love to hear from you.”
Indigenous Australians who fought for their country returned to face discrimination when the war ended.
“The work that we do is actually a step toward reconciliation, and what we are doing is putting an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander face on the Anzac legend,” Cubillo said.
“They fought for this country, and we want to acknowledge them for who they are, and be able to tell people proudly who this person was.”
This week the Memorial will be highlighting the service and sacrifices of Indigenous Australian service men and service women. Visit our NAIDOC Week hub to view new Indigenous art, educational resources and stories of Indigenous service.
The Indigenous Service list is now available online.
A feature article written by Claire Hunter can be found here.