Soldiers not Citizens: Indigenous service in the Australian defence forces 1899-2017

Event details

SDSC War Studies Seminar

Date & time

Monday 09 October 2017


Lecture Theatre 2.02, Sir Roland Wilson Building (120), McCoy Circuit, ANU
ANU Canberra


Emeritus Professor Joan Beaumont


Bell School

In the past century, little was known of the service of Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders Australians in the Australian defence forces. This was largely because for many decades the obligation to serve the nation was placed only on those men who were substantially of European origin or descent. Indigenous Australians were only reluctantly admitted to the defence forces during the two world wars–and then usually if they were of mixed descent. In the post-1945 period, some managed to gain entry to the defence forces, but they continued to be exempted from the national service schemes of the 1950s and 1960s. Only in the late twentieth century were all formal barriers to Indigenous Australians entering the defence forces removed and an active effort made to recruit them.

In recent years this marginalisation of Indigenous Australians in the national memory of war has begun to be remedied, in national cultural institutions such as the Australian War Memorial and in an Australian Research Council Linkage Project conducted at the Australian National University. Joan Beaumont will discuss the findings of this project and its nearly 200 oral history interviews with Indigenous servicemen and their descendants. Why did they volunteer? What was their experience of war? Did they encounter within the defence forces the racism that was so prevalent in wider Australian society? What momentum, if any did military service bring to the advancing of Indigenous claims to full citizenship rights? How is Indigenous service being commemorated today? And how does this commemoration intersect with the growing demand to have ‘frontiers wars’ recognised as part of the national memory of war?

Joan Beaumont is Professor Emerita in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, The Australian National University. She is author the multi-award winning Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War (2013) and joint editor of Serving our Country; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in the defence of Australia 1899-2017 (forthcoming 2018).

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