Australia’s WWI Indigenous Soldiers Are Finally Being Recognised

A group of Indigenous soldiers has performed a ceremony in Sydney before travelling to Gallipoli to honour fallen diggers.

1. A group of eight Indigenous Australians will make history on the weekend when they travel to Gallipoli to perform the first ever ceremony dedicated to fallen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander troops during World War One.

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The group met on Friday in Sydney and performed the first-of-its-kind ceremony for the local Aboriginal community.

“Right now the Army don’t have any ceremony for fallen indigenous soldiers but we’re hoping that after this we will have one,” Major Joseph West told BuzzFeed News.

“We have such a broad diversity of Indigenous serving members that it just makes sense and that’s what we’ve done today. We’ve all come together from all different places and brought our own piece of culture and put our hearts into this.”

2. The group has been rehearsing for the past few months with renowned Indigenous dance company Bangarra.

Allan Clarke / BuzzFeed

The performance incorporates a traditional smoking ceremony to cleanse the earth, and people and soldiers will incorporate traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dance into the ceremony.

A traditional song in Yolngu Matha, the language of the Yolngu people of Arnhem land, will be sung to call back lost spirits.

For Sgt. Norman Daymirringu, travelling overseas and representing his community is cause for pride in his remote community home.

“My mob back at home are really proud of me because I’m the first Yolngu man going overseas for the Army, and for a service, so I am proud too,” he told BuzzFeed News.

Private Alfred Jackson Coombs (front row, centre) served at Gallipoli in the Australian Heavy Battery.

Australian War Memorial

Private Miller Mack of the 50th Battalion

Australian War Memorial

 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were not permitted to enlist in WWI and were not legally seen as citizens. Despite this, many enrolled using fake names and falsifying their heritage.

The bravery shown by these soldiers has become legendary and Lance Corporal Laurence Robertson, who is headed to Gallipoli, says he hopes to do them justice.

“I think I will be at peace with myself after I do this, it’s an amazing honour bringing these men back home.”

The group leaves Australia on Sunday and will perform the ceremony next week. It’s believed the Governor General Peter Cosgrove will be attendance. They will also return soil from the locations they believe Indigenous soldiers fell during the Gallipoli campaign..

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Allan Clarke is an Indigenous Affairs Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Allan Clarke at allan.clarke@buzzfeed.com.
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