As the AIF returned to Australia in 1919 for demobilisation no trace of Indigenous service remained in the nation’s military forces, which reverted to being a mostly part-time militia army administered and trained by a small cadre of permanent personnel. Only the RAN and the RAAF, formed in 1921, were predominantly “permanent” organisations comprising full-time personnel. In the case of the RAAF, initial recruitment was based almost entirely on wartime service in the Australian Flying Corps or the British air services, and there is no evidence of men with Indigenous backgrounds seeking to enlist.
Photographic evidence does exist, however, that suggests the RAN may have utilised Indigenous personnel in the early 1920s when a naval sloop became engaged in conducting hydrographic surveys of the Great Barrier Reef in Far North Queensland. An image in the National Library records the presence of six clearly Indigenous men – probably Tiwi Islanders – dressed in white sailor uniforms on board HMAS Geranium in 1922–23. However, it remains unanswered whether these men were formally enlisted for general service as sailors, or, more likely, were present as auxiliaries, taken on board to contribute specifically to the survey with their local knowledge of the reef’s passages and channels.