Case studies exploring the ethnic diversity of the Australian Imperial Force

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people please be aware that this resource contains images and names of deceased persons.

The 420,000 Australians who enlisted in the AIF during the First World War included Indigenous Australians, and Australians with British, Asian, Greek and Northern European heritage. For some, enlisting was difficult. The introduction of the Commonwealth Defence Act in 1909 excluded any person not “substantially of European descent” from joining up. Regardless, many did so. Anzac Diversity brings you their stories.

The Case Studies

  1. Adolphus Fredrick Schmahl

    Schmahl enlisted under a false name, eventually leading to accusations he was a German spy.

  2. Albert Knight DCM

    For his calm leadership and courage under fire, Albert Knight was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

  3. Alfred John Hearps

    The strain of constant danger and the horrors of war at Gallipoli took their toll on Alfred.

  4. Alfred Lovett

    One of the Gunditjmara people, Alfred Lovett was the first of 21 Lovetts to serve Australia.

  5. Arthur Malcolm Quong Tart

    Arthur fought at Pozières, was buried by artillery fire four times, and suffered acutely from the trauma of his experiences.

  6. Augusta Emelia Enberg

    Of the almost 1,000 Anzacs of Russian ancestry, there was only one woman: August Emelia Enberg.

  7. Caleb James Shang

    Caleb was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for fearlessness, resource and initiative.

  8. Christopher John Lindin Shying

    Born in Sydney, Christopher served in France in 1916 as a driver for 4th Battalion headquarters.

  9. Douglas Grant

    As a prisoner of war, Grant was a curiosity to German doctors. To his comrades, he was remarkable soldier.


The Act which restricted enrolment was in line with the White Australia Policy, which aimed to ensure that Australia retained its white colonial British character. Regardless of these policies, many Australians of Asian descent (including close to 200 Chinese migrants or their children who had created a new home in Australia) as well as over 1,300 of Australia’s Indigenous population, are known to have enlisted.

For Indigenous Australians, joining the AIF gave a sense of equality they had never experienced in civilian life. The army provided the opportunity for training, education, travel and pay, and for those in the field, a chance to form new friendships regardless of background or skin colour.

Many immigrants, who had come to Australia in the late 19th century during the Gold Rush and subsequent industrial developments, signed up as a way of showing loyalty to a new Australian homeland.

During the war, over 61,000 Australians lost their lives and more than 156,000 were wounded. Countless others demonstrated bravery and were awarded medals for their exemplary service. 

After the war, many friendships endured, but some Indigenous and ethnic Australians returned home to the same racism and mistreatment they had encountered before the war. 

In telling the diverse stories of Australians who served in the First World War, the Anzac Diversity project aims to encourage students to examine the Anzac story from a fresh perspective; explore the cultural and ethnic diversity of the members of the AIF; challenge some traditional understandings of who the Anzacs were; and analyse the qualities attributed to the Anzacs as well as how they have become an aspirational model in the national psyche.

Links to the Australian curriculum: History

The content of these stories and classroom activities will provide opportunities to develop historical understanding through:

Key concepts

Sources and evidence, continuity and change, cause and effect, perspectives, empathy and significance, and contestability.

Cross-curriculum priorities

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia.

General capabilities

Literacy, IT competence, critical and creative thinking, intercultural understanding.

While History is the main focus of the learning activities attached to these stories, they also have relevance to other curriculum areas, including English, Science, the Arts, and Civics and Citizenship.

Learning method

This resource adopts an inquiry learning approach, with students encouraged to examine a range of information and source material. After research, analysis, and discussion, students can construct their own understandings, and draw conclusions about the contribution of Australians from a variety of backgrounds during the First World War.

Private William 'Billy' Sing