Skip to Content

Tasmanian Aboriginal soldiers

Contribution and sacrifice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have served in Australian military forces from as far back as the Boer War.

More than 1 000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders enlisted in World War One, including a number of Tasmanian Aboriginal men. At the time, Indigenous Australians were not lawfully able to vote, marry a non-Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, drink alcohol, own property, receive award wages or move freely around the country.

Many Indigenous Australians who tried to enlist were rejected on the grounds of race.

Those who successfully enlisted found life in the armed forces exposed them to equal treatment and mutual respect as they shared the same conditions and levels of pay in the trenches of the Western Front and the Middle East.

Unfortunately, the equality experienced during war disappeared when they returned to civilian life at home. Many could not participate in soldier settlement schemes or share a drink with their mates.

At the outbreak of World War One, about 170 Aboriginal people lived on Cape Barren Island and of the 27 men deemed eligible to serve, 21 enlisted and served at Gallipoli, in Flanders, and on the Somme. Six of the men from Cape Barren Island were killed.

Australian Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders enlisted in World War Two with dozens dying in prisoner of war camps.

In World War Two, about 23 Tasmanian Aboriginal men fought overseas, and approximately another 10 served in the Vietnam War.

Many details about Tasmanian Aboriginal soldiers remain unclear; information or research in this area would be appreciated as the Centenary of ANZAC seeks to remember the role of Tasmanian Aboriginals in military history.

Warning: These webpages about Tasmanian Aboriginal soldiers may contain images of deceased Aboriginal people which may offend Aboriginal and Torres Strait people.