HISTORY WEEK: Willing to fight a man — Aboriginal Victorians and the First World War

Jessica Horton talks about Aboriginal Victorians who served in WWI and the particular struggles their families faced under Australia’s protection policy.

Aboriginal men who enlisted to fight in the First World War were treated equally to white soldiers in many respects, however the situation at home was very different.

Considered “protected persons” under state legislation, the lives of Aboriginal people were restricted by protection policy and the families whose men fought in the war found themselves in a bind

Although they gained mobility and financial independence from their men’s war effort, it jeopardized their position on reserves as the Board for the Protection of Aborigines questioned their right to government assistance, as well as repatriations. They turned to letter writing in order to assert their rights.

With a focus on Aboriginal agency Jessica Horton explores what these letters (including those from the forbearers of the celebrated soldier, Reginald Saunders) tell us of the Aboriginal experience during the war and the persistent efforts of Indigenous Victorians to combat racism and to assert their rights.


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