Indigenous commemoration for the Centenary

Studio portrait of an Aboriginal serviceman, 5459 Corporal (Cpl) Harry Thorpe MM.

The Memorial has a number of indigenous projects planned throughout the centenary period. The stories of indigenous soldiers in the First World War will also feature in the redeveloped galleries. Including:

  • Headstone of Harry Thorpe MM, an indigenous soldier of the 7th Battalion AIF who was decorated for bravery. Thorpe was killed in action in August 1918, and buried at Heath Cemetery in France
  • Semakh Diorama to tell story of aboriginal members of the 11th Light Horse Regiment, a unit which had a high proportion of indigenous servicemen and was sometimes jokingly referred to as “the Black Watch”
  • Photos of indigenous soldiers in portrait ribbon

The Australian War Memorial is committed to the commemoration of the service of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. As part of this commitment the Memorial is producing a list of Indigenous personnel who served in the First World War, and their stories will be used throughout the new galleries.

The Memorial’s list of Indigenous soldiers who served in the First World War will also be broken down by volunteers into smaller lists, including by casualty, place of burial, and state of enlistment. At present the list has 1,300 names arranged in alphabetical order and giving rank, service number, service, unit, place of birth, date of enlistment, age, locality of enlistment, casualty records, medals, National Archives file number, description, and details of where the information has come from.

Other projects to commemorate the centenary include:

Along with the Australian National University, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and the Australian Defence Force (ADF), the Memorial will be involved with the “Serving Our Country” project, a history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service in the ADF.

The Memorial will provide input to some 15 documentaries and programs focusing on Indigenous service, including the Black diggers stage production; the Eora Journey history project in Sydney; and documentaries such as Celebrating our heroes for NITV, Soldiers not citizens for Kurdakku Media, The war that changed us for Electric Pictures, Unsung heroes for Blue Dory Productions in Canada, Waves of Anzac Cove for Essential Media and Entertainment, and Your country needs you for Same Page Films.

The Memorial will continue its program of working with the Department of Defence, Reconciliation Australia, and various other state and territory agencies and galleries in carrying out their Indigenous commemorative activities. This will include delivering various talks and tours at the Memorial to Defence staff and government agencies in relation to Indigenous service in the First World War; presenting Reconciliation Week talks in the galleries and the theatre; and participating in the Defence/NAIDOC ceremony.

The Memorial will assist various regional organisations with their commemorative programs. These organisations include the Shoalhaven City Art Centre, the Aboriginal Art Project in Redfern, the Bacchus Marsh First World War research group, the North Queensland Historical Re-enactment Society, the Bungonia Park Trust, the Yeppoon RSL Military Museum, and the Sydney Harbour Trust Anzac Day project.

The Memorial’s Indigenous Liaison Officer (ILO) has recently served on the committee for the selection of the City of Sydney Indigenous Memorial, and delivered a  talk for the initial run of the stage show Black diggers at the Sydney Opera House. The ILO also been asked to speak at various institutions over the coming year in relation to Indigenous service. In April, for example, he will be speaking at a three-day workshop on Indigenous service in the First World War organised by the Queensland State Library.