World War I: Indigenous Anzacs

An estimated 1,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people served with the Australian Imperial Force in World War I.

An estimated 1,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people served with the Australian Imperial Force in World War I. It is difficult to establish exact numbers because the enlistment process did not record a person's ethnicity.

The Defence Act 1909 prevented people from enlisting if they were 'not substantially of European origin or descent'. During World War I, this law was supposed to be enforced by medical officers but they did not always abide by the ruling – especially as the war continued and more troops were needed. In 1917, military orders allowed 'half-castes' to enlist if they had one parent of European origin.

Curriculum areas

  • Year 11 History
  • Year 12 History
  • Year 9 History

Questions

  • What challenges did Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face when enlisting in World War I?
  • What was the experience of war for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people?
  • Was life different for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who returned from World War I?