In late 1952, Desmond Parfitt attempted to order some sandwiches from a shop in the West Australian town of Williams. Despite the fact that he was wearing his uniform and service medals, he was refused service and “treated like an outcast”.
“Lance Corporal Parfitt in my opinion should have gone to the police station,” wrote an outraged letter writer at the time, “and the shopkeepers might have learnt something.”
An Indigenous soldier from Western Australia, Parfitt had appeared regularly in the newspaper columns in his home state.
One article noted that, “When [eminent English philosopher] Bertrand Russell was in Perth some time ago he met Parfitt at the Bassendean camp and he was most impressed with him.”
But when Parfitt returned to Australia from Korea, having been wounded in action at the battle of Maryang-San, he faced the same discrimination as before.
Michael Bell, the Indigenous Liaison Officer at the Australian War Memorial, said Parfitt’s story was all too familiar.
“Despite lack of recognition of rights, denial of citizenship, and concerted efforts at exclusion, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have served in conflicts involving Australian defence contingents since Federation,” Bell said.
“When the First World War broke out in 1914, many who tried to enlist were rejected on the grounds of race; but many slipped through the net.
“They served on equal terms and were paid the same rate as non-Indigenous soldiers, but when they returned home, they found that discrimination had worsened.