Until 1967 Indigenous Australians did not have the right to vote and were not included in Australia’s census counts.
This effective non-recognition of Indigenous people as Australian citizens was particularly troublesome for the authorities when it came to them serving, or not, in the armed services.
At the outset of WWI Indigenous Australians who tried to enlist were rejected on grounds of race though some slipped through. As the war progressed and more servicemen were needed, a conscription referendum having been defeated, restrictions were eased and a new Military Order permitted that “Half-castes may be enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force provided that the examining Medical Officers are satisfied that one of the parents is of European origin.” It is thought that over 1,000 Indigenous Australians fought in WWI. Prior to WWI and Australian Federation in 1901 many had served in colonial forces, most noticeably during the Boer War between 1899 and 1901.
In 1939 Indigenous Australians were allowed to enlist in WWII and many did. The following year the Defence Committee decided that their enlistment was ‘neither necessary nor desirable’ partly because White Australians would object to serving with them and partly because there was doubt as to whether they could be trusted or not – Indigenous Australians might see the Japanese as liberators from White rule. Again, as WWII progressed and the need for manpower increased restrictions eased and it is thought that around 3,000 Indigenous Australians may have served, with many killed or dying as prisoners of war.
I should point out that the difficulty in determining the number of Indigenous Australians who have served in the armed forces is due to the fact that ethnicity of enlistees was not documented.
Immediately post WWII restrictions on Indigenous Australian enlistment were re-imposed but attitudes were changing and restrictions based on race were finally abandoned in 1949. Since then Indigenous Australians have served in all conflicts in which Australia has participated.
I am unaware of any official war memorial specifically commemorating the contribution of Indigenous Australians to any war or conflict in which Australia has been involved. Perhaps on the basis that official (hard to determine what this means) memorials commemorate the contribution and sacrifice of all who served there is no need for official memorials for any specific grouping/ ethnicity – my reader can draw his or her own conclusions in this regard. An unofficial memorial was erected at the rear of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra in 1994. See my separate review on that – National Aboriginal War Memorial or Not?
As such, ‘YININMADYEMI Thou Didst Let Fall’ – commissioned by the City of Sydney – and crafted by Aboriginal artist Tony Albert in 2014 is a generally referred to a public artwork rather than a memorial (though the text on the artwork refers to it as a memorial). Whatever called, the artists clear intent, and it does it very well, is that it is to acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who served in the nation’s military, notwithstanding that they were not classed as citizens, could not vote and could not access the same benefits as returning white soldiers post service.
The very poignant artwork is composed of four standing bullets and three fallen spent shells. This arrangement of the bullets, with some standing and some fallen, represents those who survived and those who were sacrificed.
While not discernible from my attached pictures, the artwork sits atop a boomerang shaped base. This recalls the boomerangs that were given by some families to soldiers who left for war, as a symbol of hope for their safe return.
Address: Hyde Park (South)
Directions: Elizabeth Street side of the Park – Close to the ANZAC War Memorial