Thursday 24 April 2008 by Robyn van Dyk. 24 comments
News, Battlefield Tours, Gallipoli

There are only five known Aboriginal servicemen buried at Gallipoli, however, it is estimated that 500-800 Aboriginal diggers served in the First World War. Ethnicity was not recorded in the enlistment process and research into indigenous service can involve trawling across many different sources, sometimes we may never know who these servicemen were.

Garth O'Connell, a fellow member of the battlefield tour, has been researching Aboriginal service. Garth works at the Australian War Memorial and in his spare time created a website that includes information on researching Aboriginal Servicemen. On the tour he took a few moments out to give an interview with Channel Seven about his research: You can view Garth's interview here.

Garth has located and photographed 4 of the 5 graves of Aboriginal Diggers so far.



Good post Robyn. I hope you enjoyed ANZAC Day at Gallipoli. We've been flat-out back home and you've been missed.

Dean Garside

Hi Garth I was interested in your research on the Aboriginal service men. I too have been doing a little digging about for this information. I teach indigenous students in a community south of Cairns in QLD. I recently attended the History Summer School with the ANU in January this year and we visited the War Memorial twice during our studies. On Thursday 23rd we held an ANZAC service for the 39 indigenous men from the Torres Strait who served in the Torres Light Infantry Battalion in WW2. The only Indigenous Battalion ever formed in our military history. It gave my students a real sense of pride and they now realise that ANZAC day is not just a white Australian celebration. I have some footage that will be available soon, if you are interested? Regards Dean

Erica Mielens

Thank you to Robyn and Garth for the infomation posted here. I am a Year 6 teacher in Western Australia and this term we are working on a unit of work entitled Australians at War. I am interested in obtaining as much information as possible on Indigenous Australians involved in the armed forces. If you have any ideas on where I can find more information I would greatly appreciate your input. Regards Erica

Kate Smith

hi Garth, Great work finding those war graves. Look forward to hearing about your trip when you get back. regards, AIATSIS Library Staff.

and when are our great grand father's i going to be included

but my grand father is not being metion at all in the anzac aswell but thats disappoints me and whn we are going to see things like that and wat they did over there where they fought and when they died and my grand father died over there where ever he was fighting it's right that all the white men gett al credits alone for what our colour did over there aswell it's not right at all and it makes me every sad.

Michael Laing

Hi Garth, I really appreciate what you are doing in acknowledging Indigenous soldiers. My aboriginal grandfather landed on the first day at Gallipoli with the 16th Batt. Do you know if there were any other Aboriginal soldiers landing on the first day, and if so, how many? Regards, Michael

Rebecca Dai

Hi Garth, I don't know if you remember, but I recently came on a school camp to the Australian War Memorial. I'm a year 10 student at North Sydney Girls High School, and you gave a very informative talk to us about your experiences (if you don't remember, it was the time when a big bunch of girls came and you printed out a lot of photos to talk abot....impromptu) I jsut wanted to thank you for giving up your time because I really appeciated it. I'd like to refer to you in the assignment we were researching in Canberra if that's ok. Thanks for doing what you do; they really deserve to be acknowledged. Thanks again, Rebecca

Peter Bakker

Attention: Michael Laing (who commented May 12th, 2009) and others, I am a local historian and history teacher living in Warrnambool, Victoria and have been compiling a database on Aboriginals who served in WWI. I am also in the process of producing an educational PowerPoint on the diverse range of contributions made by Aboriginals to Australia's war efforts as well as working with local Aboriginals seeking to get the local council to provide some recognition (memorial) for the amazing contributions made by local South West Victorian Aboriginal servicemen. I am keen to hear from anyone with interest in Aboriginal war time contributions especially those who could provide me with information on any WWI Aboriginal servicemen.

Robyn van Dyk

Hi Peter Identifying our Indigenous service personnel for all wars is a frequently asked question of the Australian War Memorial and difficult to research as ethnicity was not formally recorded by the military. Aboriginals who put themselves forward for recruitment were often turned away on the basis of race, especially in 1915. Their ability to enlist was often on ‘a don’t ask don’t tell’ basis; later the regulations became more relaxed. Lots of people are interested in identifying who our Indigenous servicemen and women are and their stories. There are many informal lists compiled by cultural institutions (or donated to their collections) floating around throughout Australia. The Memorial has several lists that have been donated to our collections or compiled by staff and volunteers in the past. We know of about 3,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service personnel for all wars starting from the First World War. We are intending on developing an Indigenous database identifying Australian Indigenous service personnel and with links to relevant items in our collection for display on our website. There is a still a lot for us to finalise and work out but it is getting underway. We will blog about it more when it is off the ground and Peter we should keep in touch! Robyn van Dyk Senior Curator Published and Digitised Collections

Peter Bakker

Robyn van Dyk & Others, Richard Broome in his recent excellent book, Aboriginal Victorians: A History Since 1800 (Pub, 2005) identifies 42 Victorian Aboriginals who served in WWI. One in his list , also used by many others, is not Aboriginal. After hundreds of hours research I have identified 68 Victorian Aboriginals (and still researching) who served in WWI. A large proportion coming from my home area in the South West of Victoria. I would really appreciate anyone with information on or photographs of Victorian Aboriginals who served in our war time services to contact me by email. SPECIAL EVENTS HONOURING INDIGENOUS WAR TIME CONTRIBUTIONS Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance is holding an exhibition, 'Indigenous Austraians at War' in the Western Vistor centre from 22 May to 8 August 2010. There wi also be a special ceremony to honour returned indigenous servicemen and women on the Shrine Forecourt area on 31 May 2010 at 11am. Regards Peter Bakker

Andrea Gerrard

Robin Van Dyk When referring to indigenous servicemen are you and others referring to full blooded aborigines for want of a better way of putting it or are you interested in those with aboriginal ancestry? I am involved in an intergenerational study looking at convicts and WW1 servicemen using a particular set of servicemen as a basis for the research. As part of this I came across one man who was the grandson of Fanny Cochrane Smith a well known Tasmanian whose mother was Ploorernelle. Fanny married William Smith and they had eleven children. So far I have found seven grandsons who all enlisted - one died at the landing of Gallipoli, one died in action, another of illness and four returned to Australia. Regards Andrea Gerrard

Bianca Cubby

Hi Garth, I am currently researching Indigenous sevicemen of WWI from the Brewarrina area in Western NSW. The Brewarrina Aboriginal Cultural Museum is due to re-open in June 2010. The Museum is keen to expand its WWI display to include all indigenous people who served in the armed forces, overseas during this period. Therefore I am extremely interested in any information that may be able to assist me with my research. Regards Bianca

Helen Carrick

Hi there, A few bits of information that may be of help - 1. - the War Memorial has a great "Museum in a Box" that can be borrowed by schools and community groups entitled "Too dark for the Light Horse". 2. In Brisbane there has been a great ceremony to honour Indigenous servicemen and women at the Shrine of Rememberance for the past few years. This year it will be held during th3 first week of June.. 3. As a retiree with lots of research skills and experience in locating historical material, I would be happy to volunteer to help in this great project in any way I can. I',m based in Brisbane but am a grey nomad happy to travel!! Regards, Helen Carrick

Peter Bakker

Could Michael Laing who commented May 12th 2009( saying his Aboriginal grandfather served at Gallipoli ) - or anyone who knows him, please contact me as I am trying to verify Aboriginals who served in WWI. Many thanks.

Dave Sheldon

I am an indigenous Army Aviation Officer who is employed in the Australian Defence Force Indigenous Affairs Directorate. I would like to add to Peter Bakkers comments on the upcoming SPECIAL EVENTS HONOURING INDIGENOUS WAR TIME CONTRIBUTIONS at the Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance on the Shrine Forecourt area on 31 May 2010 at 11am. I myself will be honouring those indigenous service men and women both past and present, by presenting a speech on behalf of all aboriginal and torres strait servicemen and women. I look forward to, and consider this an extreme privilege to stand before and represent my countrymen and women. I also look forward to seeing many people attending to pay their own respects to our indigenous servicemen and women. Regards, Dave Sheldon Captain Australian Army Aviation Directorate of Indigenous Affairs (ADF) Canberra. Email:

Peter Bakker

On MONDAY, 1ST NOVEMBER, 2010, everyone is invited to attend the dedication of Victoria's first public Aboriginal War memorial on Cannon Hill,Warrnambool.This memorial is dedicated to the services of all Aboriginal men and women from South West Victoria who have served this nation in war time - on the 'Home Front' as well as overseas. At last we have a major public and ceremonial acknowledgement to the significant contribution made by the Aboriginal people in the form of a monument in South West Victoria. SW Victoria Aboriginals not only have made an outstanding numerical contribution from their population but also a number of unique military achievements e.g. Australia's first Aboriginal officer, participants in nearly every major conflict since WWI, a military medal winner in WWI and several men serving in both World Wars or multiple other wars. Many descendants of the local Aboriginal population, along with the wider community and several representatives from all 3 levels of Government, will participate in this historical gathering that starts at the new memorial at 11 am. We particularly would like to thank Warrnambool City Council and the Department of Veteran Affairs for their outstanding support and financial assistance to make this memorial and ceremony possible. Peter Bakker Researcher & Campaigner Warrnambool Aboriginal War Services Memorial E:

Peter Bakker

Apologies...excuse my typo error .. my correct email address is

Peter Bakker

WARRNAMBOOL, VICTORIA - The 1st November 2011 witnessed a wonderful memorial dedication ceremony to honour all Aboriginal men and women from the South West region of Victoria who have served Australia since WWI. The ceremony included the unveiling of a beautiful plaque from under a possum skin cloak and the performance of some traditiopnal dances by the Gunditjmara dance group. Amongst the 400+ persons in attendance were Aboriginal descendants from across South West Victoria, Melbourne, Healesville, Albury and several members of one family who specially made the trip down from Queensland. Denis Napthine (Local State MP), Dan Tehan (Local Federal MP),several Mayors and CEO's from the regions six South West Councils, along with representatives from the Dept. of Veteran Affairs, the Australian War Memorial, the RSL, and community groups attended. According to the DVA this is only the second officially recognised Aboriginal War Memorial in Australia. The first was established in Toomelah, NSW in February, 2009. A committee in South Australia has been working very hard to secure sufficient funding to establish a significant memorial to be located within the Torrens Parade Ground precinct, Adelaide. Check out these web sites for illustration and information on how to support it. Peter Bakker Researcher & Campaigner Warrnambool Aboriginal War Services Memorial

Karen Carney

Hi, My Great Uncle, James Murray (Jimmy) served in Gollipoli in WW1. His Niece, Heather Edwards of Darlington Point (Wiradjuri Nation) is available for commenting. There are approximately 4 or 5 medals that were eventually provided to my family sometime after he passed away which are today the property of my brother Brett. If you would like further information I can have my Aunty Heather contact you direct. Thanks Karen Carney

Andrea Gerrard

I am a masters of arts student at the University of Tasmania. Part of my research is establishing the names of the men who were descendants of our Tasmanian Aborigines and who enlisted and served in World War 1. I have 66 names so far. I can trace each person back to their aboriginal ancestor. I am quite sure that I am missing some so this may always be a work in progress. I would be very interested in contacting anyone who has information about some of the descendants of Dolly Dalrymple who moved to Victoria. Private John William Miller who served with the 12th Battalion was the grandson of Fanny Cochrane Smith who was a well known identity in both the white and aboriginal communities. Private Miller was killed at the landing at Gallipoli. It was John Miller that started me on this journey and as an historian it is a privilege to work on this group of men. None needed to enlist, but the fact that they did so, often against the odds is worth celebrating. Maybe we in Tasmania can have a similar service to that held in Victoria. I wonder if the Shrine of Remembrance is holding a similar service this year.


Oh you are tooo deadly brutha boi! This is my great grandmothers brother that served in WW1 I am sooo proud... So I have connection to all wars except current. PS Make me weak they listed his colour as undesirable!


Just to note... The 'thing' that ticks me when discussing Indigenous representation within the wars is it has never been corrected the removal of Indigenous people off land to be used for WHITE returned soliders. My view is if you have an Indigenous person that has represented in the a war and is buried on that community then you should as a 'community' be given that land under native title or repatriation of that land to its rightful people.


Listing for Brungle people for roll of honour; \\main.dva\userdata\CHome1\cfrasd\My Documents\research for families\WW2 Nominal Roll.mht

Robyn Iredale

I am trying to fiond information on a CY (presumably Cyril) Morgan who enlisted in WW 1. He was an Aboriginal man from Walgett area. How can I find out anything about him?