Put a Black spin on Digger history to end ignorance

Kerri Carr

Department officer Alison Johnstone addresses Federation’s Friday Forum in April

Including local Black Diggers’ stories when teaching history is a good way to introduce Aboriginal perspectives, Department of Education and Communities learning and engagement officer Alison Johnstone told Federation’s Friday Forum on April 4.

For decades Australia did not recognise Aboriginal Diggers’ service and Ms Johnstone is keen to assist teachers to develop their own units of work that tell the stories of their local Black Diggers/returned Aboriginal soldiers.

She said that through these stories and lessons Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children would get a deeper understanding and knowledge of what happened (see below).

She spoke of “telling the true history through our eyes, so that we can tell our children, so they can tell it again through their eyes, and generation through generation we can break down the ignorance in society”.

Local Aboriginal Education Teams will workshop with teachers to show them how to develop units of work with a local perspective.

Workshops cover how to approach the local Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, parents, the RSL, community groups and elders to get the true histories of the local community.

Ms Johnstone encourages teachers to identify local families and local government representatives to identify the local Aboriginal men and women who served in Australia’s theatres of war.

Aboriginal activist and member of the Black Diggers Indigenous Reference Group Pastor Ray Minniecon said the story of the Black Diggers had been suppressed for too long.

“You people at the educational forefront of this battle for recognition are in the most appropriate place to ensure that this story is not lost to future generations,” he said.

“Yes we can do our marches in the street — that’s easy — yes we can have all the plays under the sun, but unless it’s in the curriculum.

“We’ve got to break through the flamin’ racism in this country in order to get this story into the textbooks.”

Suppressed history

  • Only while Aboriginal Diggers were in the armed forces were they on equal footing with their non-Indigenous counterparts.
  • Some Aboriginal soldiers who served in the Boer War weren’t allowed to come home because they weren’t classified as citizens at that time.
  • An Aboriginal serviceman came home from war to fight for his seven children who had been taken away.
  • On return from war some Aboriginal Diggers couldn’t get a drink in a pub or be permitted by the RSL to march alongside non-Aboriginal diggers.
  • On return to Australia from World War 2 the country’s first Aboriginal fighter pilot Len Waters was denied a pilot’s licence to do an outback charter service.
  • Only one Aboriginal soldier was offered settlement on Crown (previously Aboriginal) land as part of the Returned Soldier Settlement Scheme. (More than 23,600 non-Aboriginal soldiers were offered land).