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Indigenous Australians at War

Because I have Australian Aboriginal Ancestry (my father being of Australian Irish and the Aboriginal Biripi tribe) and an Army veteran myself, it would be remiss of me not to include a tribute to my ancestors, many who made the supreme sacrifice in WWI.

The images I have painted is of a Biripi Tribesman Hunter and the soldier in uniform is of my Great uncle, Ferner Smith who was in the first landing at Gallipoli on 25th April 1915, suffering awful wounds, he died the next day and is buried at Shrapnel Valley, Gallipoli peninsula.

Indigenous Australians were present in almost every Australian campaign of World War I and served in virtually every conflict and peace keeping mission in which Australia has since participated.

After 1788, White settlement of Australia, Aboriginal groups in several areas actively resisted European settlement. In some areas, this ‘frontier warfare’ lasted for 20 or 30 years. Invariably, Europeans mounted punitive expeditions to ‘teach the blacks a lesson’ and gradually suppressed resistance with organized campaigns and modern weaponry. Indigenous groups, whose men were armed mostly with spears, suffered heavy losses and in some areas were virtually wiped out. By about 1880, frontier warfare had ended in most of Australia but sporadic fighting and reprisals continued in north Queensland until 1900, in the Kimberley region of Western Australia until the 1920s and in central Australia into the 1930s.

In the first half of the 20th century non-Europeans officially were barred from serving in Australia’s armed forces but during World War I approximately 500 Aborigines and some Torres Strait Islanders managed to enlist. Sometimes, their skin was deemed ‘white enough’. At other times (particularly after heavy losses were suffered on the Western Front) recruiting officers didn’t care so much about the colour of a man’s skin so long as he was willing to sign on the dotted line – thus putting his life on the line for King and Country.

Some might find it strange that Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders wanted to serve a country that did not recognize them as citizens (until 1967). Reasons for enlistment were many: some hoped that war service might help the Indigenous campaign for citizenship and equality; some believed the war was just; others sought adventure, good pay, or joined up because mates did.

Medium: Acrylic Paint on Canvas (Framed).


Painted: 2013 


Size: 75 cm x 67 cm X 3.5 ( Original Not For sale)

Sale Price: PRINTS ONLY $US150.00 (UNFRAMED)


Thomas Smith Art©2015

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This product was added to our catalog on Monday 27 April, 2015.