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In Defence of Country

In Defence of Country: Life Stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Servicemen and Women OPEN ACCESS

Copyright Date: 2016
Published by: ANU Press
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    In Defence of Country
    Book Description:

    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been protecting country since time immemorial. One way they have continued these traditions in recent times is through service in the Australian military, both overseas and within Australia. In Defence of Country presents a selection of life stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ex-servicemen and women who served in the Australian Army, Navy and Air Force after World War Two. In their own words, participants discuss a range of issues including why they joined up; racial discrimination; the Stolen Generations; leadership; discipline; family; war and peace; education and skills development; community advocacy; and their hopes for the future of Indigenous Australia. Individually and collectively, the life stories in this book highlight the many contributions that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and women have made, and continue to make, in defence of country.

    eISBN: 978-1-925022-80-3
    Subjects: Sociology, History
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Table of Contents

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  1. On 10 November 2013, a ceremony in Adelaide dedicated a war memorial to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who have served in the Australian armed forces. The memorial was the culmination of years of hard work from Indigenous and non-Indigenous supporters alike. One of the themes permeating the dedication speeches was about how during both the First and Second World Wars, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service personnel fought bravely for Australia yet returned home to continuing discrimination. Indigenous contributions to Australia’s military history for the most part went unrecognised and became forgotten in the national...

  2. Mabel Quakawoot

    Mabel Quakawoot is a Baialai (Byele) and South Sea Islander woman. Like so many other black women raised during the assimilation era, she had few employment options and worked as a domestic servant after she left school. It was the retired RAAF pilot whom Mabel worked for that inspired her to sign up for the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force (WRAAF) in 1957. She left the WRAAF when she married and raised a family in Mackay, Queensland. After her children were old enough, Mabel became involved in many community initiatives, particularly around education for disadvantaged youth. In 2014, after this...

  3. David Cook

    David Cook’s life story is compelling because of the many incidents of trauma he has experienced. He was a member of the Stolen Generations, growing up in both Kinchela Boys Home and in a foster home in Raymond Terrace outside of Newcastle. He enlisted in the Army at 17 and served two tours of duty in Vietnam, witnessing the horrors of war and suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. He also speaks extensively about the role of race in the Vietnam War, being treated as an equal within the Australian Army while witnessing discrimination in the American Army. After the war, Cook’s...

  4. Sue Gordon

    Yamatji (Ngoonoroo Wadjarri) woman Sue Gordon is arguably one of the most high profile Aboriginal ex-servicewomen. She has led an incredibly full life: member of the Stolen Generations; raised at Sister Kate’s Home in Queens Park, Western Australia; service in the Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps (WRAAC); work in Pilbara Aboriginal communities; first Aboriginal magistrate in the Western Australian Children’s Court; chair of state and national inquiries; chair of the National Indigenous Council; chair of the Northern Territory Emergency Response Taskforce; and mother. Gordon credits much of her life trajectory to the discipline instilled in her through her upbringing and...

  5. John Schnaars

    John Schnaars has been at the forefront of efforts to recognise and commemorate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander military service. He is the founder of the Perth-based organisation Honouring Indigenous War Graves. The non-profit organisation arranges headstones for the gravesites of deceased Indigenous veterans. John and the other group members perform a small, moving ceremony at the gravesites to mark the placing of the headstones. John Schnaars is a Vietnam veteran himself, and what makes his story quite interesting is that he volunteered for National Service even though it was not compulsory for Aboriginal people. John’s story therefore provides insights...

  6. Harry Allie

    Gudjala man Harry Allie served in the RAAF from 1966–89. He did not see combat, so his service reflects that of many other Indigenous (and non-Indigenous) personnel who served in peacetime between the end of the Vietnam War and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since leaving the Air Force, Harry has been at the forefront of movements to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander military service. He is involved in the Coloured Digger Project in Sydney and was one of the organisers of the annual Redfern Coloured Diggers march on Anzac Day, inaugurated in 2007. In 2012, after...

  7. Neil Macdonald

    Australia was one of the first nations to offer its support to the United States-led coalition against Iraq after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990. The Australian contribution was primarily from the Royal Australian Navy. Serving on the HMASSydneywas Gumbaynggirr man Neil Macdonald. Neil’s life story includes a long career in the Navy but also a strong commitment to Reconciliation, education and providing mental health support for Indigenous Australians. My dad’s Scottish; Dad and his family came out in the late 1950s, early 1960s, and Mum’s Gumbaynggirr from Nambucca Heads. I’m the oldest; I have two sisters,...

  8. Chris Townson

    Torres Strait Islander soldier Chris Townson was one of approximately 1,200 Australians who served in Somalia as part of a United Nations-led peacekeeping force in 1992–93. The mission was to protect humanitarian food aid, but the work entailed confronting local militias amidst a state that was essentially lawless. Servicemen and women from Somalia, like many other peacekeeping missions, suffered post-traumatic stress disorder. Notwithstanding the new understandings about PTSD since the Vietnam era, finding ways to cope has been a challenge for veterans. Chris Townson’s story tells about not only the difficulties of peacekeeping in Somalia, but also how traditional...

  9. Steven Maloney

    The 1990s were a time of transition for the Australian Defence Force. Australia was taking a more active role in peacekeeping missions, exemplified in 1999 when Australia took the lead in organising International Force for East Timor (INTERFET). Steven Maloney was one of the 4,318 Australian service personnel who participated in INTERFET, as well as in a Service Assisted Evacuation (SAE) mission in Cambodia in 1997. Steven’s experiences show an Australian Army in transition towards forward defence in the Asia-Pacific. His story also reveals the challenges Aboriginal servicemen have had to navigate both within the ADF and upon the return...