Indigenous Australians answered the call
Indigenous Australians were barred from joining Australia’s military forces. Nevertheless, despite not even being recognised as citizens in their own country, they tried to volunteer in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). Many travelled hundreds of kilometres to enlist after being denied the chance at recruiting centres closer to their communities. Some were passed by the recruiter only to be rejected while undergoing training in the camps.
It is estimated that around 1,000 Indigenous Australians fought in the First World War.
When war was declared, Charles Blackman was working as a labourer employed by Mr J.H. Salter in Biggenden, Queensland. Salter and Blackman were friends and corresponded throughout the war. In a letter, written in February 1918, Blackman tells Salter how his 9th Battalion comrades helped him out: “They treated me [as] good pals would.”
Once recruited into the AIF, Indigenous Australians tended to experience less discrimination than they would have within Australian society. They received equal pay, and were generally treated as equals by the other men.