Senate debates

Tuesday, 10 December 2013


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Servicemen and Women

7:31 pm

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC) Share this | | Hansard source

Today I had the privilege of attending the graduation of cadets at the Royal Military College at Duntroon. Much has been said about the supreme sacrifice and magnificent contribution of the servicemen and women of Australia. More than one million Australians have served and continue to serve in our defence forces. More than 100,000 Australian servicemen and women never came home from the conflicts of the past 100 years. Their contribution will never be forgotten.

Today I would like to highlight the heroic and valiant contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and women. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have been involved in every conflict and peace-keeping mission from the Boer War to the present day in Afghanistan. They enlisted—often by not declaring their cultural identity—to defend Australia. They fought at Gallipoli, in the Pacific, in Africa and in Europe. They patrolled the Top End of Australia and built airfields. Subsequently they enlisted in the Korean, Malayan and Vietnam conflicts and for service in Iraq. They have served with pride in Afghanistan. Yet their contribution has been sadly ignored or forgotten until now.

Adelaide, as you would know, Mr Acting Deputy President Fawcett, is now home to a major war memorial honouring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who have served in peace and war—and I know you have spoken on this topic yourself and were present at the opening of that particular memorial. This culturally sensitive tribute recognises the significant role played by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the defence of our nation, and I congratulate the dedicated members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander War Memorial Committee for their insight and hard work in ensuring this fantastic memorial became a reality. The committee members include: Chair Marj Tripp; Deputy Chair Frank Lampard, Frank Clarke, Rosslyn Cox, Bill Denny—who did a terrific job—Gil Green, Janine Haynes, Bill Hignett, Les Kropinyeri, Jennifer Layther, Mick Mummery, Lewis O'Brien, Ian Smith, Jock Statton, Mark Waters and Executive Officer Simone Campbell.

Mr Acting Deputy President, Aboriginal Australians were not only fighting for their country, they were hoping to earn the respect of their countrymen and progress the campaign for equality and citizenship. In battle, colour took a back seat. Aboriginal service personnel received equal pay and forged great friendships. They were promoted on merit. They served with distinction. They became prisoners of war, and they were wounded or killed in action. Some lie forever in foreign countries. Despite being banned from serving in Australia's armed forces in World War I, 500 Aborigines and some Torres Strait Islanders managed to enlist. As casualties grew, the rules were relaxed and more Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders enlisted.

Upon the outbreak of World War II, Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders were refused enlistment because regulations stated that persons of non-European origin or descent were not able to serve. Still, an estimated 3,000 Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders served in the armed forces during WWII. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, through their war service, dreamt of gaining respect upon their return to Australia. They hoped their economic, political and social standing would improve. Yet the same discrimination and treatment awaited them at home and recognition of their war efforts was not forthcoming. Despite fighting side by side with their mates in overseas theatres of war, they could still be refused a drink in the local pub when they returned.

Today I would particularly like to highlight the contribution of two Aboriginal soldiers: Private Gordon Charles Naley of the 1st Australian Imperial Force in World War I and Corporal Timothy Hughes of the 2nd Australian Imperial Force in World War II. Private Gordon Naley was the second son of William Naley, the station manager of Mundrabilla Station near Eucla in Western Australia. His mother was an East Miming woman whose name we do not know.

Born in 1884, Gordon Naley was working as a labourer when he enlisted on 17 September 1914, just seven weeks after war broke out. He was a member of the 16th Battalion which took part in the landing at ANZAC on April 25, 1915. A month later, Gordon fought on Pope's Hill at Quinn's Post, regarded as the most dangerous place at Gallipoli. He was hospitalised in Malta and England suffering from enteric fever.

He rejoined his unit in August 1916 and fought in the Battle of Mouquet Farm and also in the Battle of Bullecourt where he was wounded and taken prisoner by the Germans. In January 1919, Gordon was repatriated to England. Gordon married Cecilia Karsh, settled in Barmera and had six children. He died at Myrtle Bank in 1928, aged 44, and is buried at the AIF Cemetery on West Terrace in Adelaide.

I also wish to highlight the contribution of World War II veteran the late Corporal Timothy Hughes MBE, MM. The son of Walter Stanford Hughes and Gladys Adams, he was born in 1919 at Point Pearce Aboriginal Station in South Australia. His father was of Narrunga descent and his mother was of the Kaurna people. Educated to the fifth grade, Corporal Hughes worked as a contract shearer before enlisting in the AIF on 4 December 1939. Posted to the 2/10th Battalion, he took part in the defence of Tobruk in Libya in 1941 and fought in the battle of Milne Bay in Papua in 1942.

In December 1942, his unit joined allied forces assaulting Buna, and during the advance along the old airstrip his platoon was pinned down by machine gun fire. Corporal Hughes climbed on top of a dispersal bay and, despite coming under concentrated fire from three directions, threw grenades at two Japanese posts. Using a submachine gun, he then protected his comrades while they took cover. He made three sorties to silence the enemy's weapons, enabling the platoon to consolidate its position. For these actions he was awarded the Military Medal.

Corporal Hughes was wounded at Sanananda in January 1943 and returned to Australia in March, where he was promoted to Substantive Corporal in June and joined the 31st Employment Company in August. He went to hospital several times suffering from malaria, but was discharged in September 1945. He returned to Point Pearce as a share farmer until 1953 when he leased a soldier settler block at Conmurra, where he worked successfully for 22 years. He became the first chairman of the Aboriginal Lands Trust and was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1970. He died seven years later and is buried at Centennial Park in Adelaide.

In battle, the colour of one's skin did not matter. All those on the battlefield relied on each other; they experienced horror, friendship, dangers and valour together. Comradeship came first. The harsh reality of the time was that these Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and women experienced less discrimination in the defence forces than they did at home in Australian society.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander War Memorial in Adelaide is the most significant to be constructed to honour the service and sacrifice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and women. I am proud to encourage all those present and anyone visiting Adelaide to stop by the Torrens Parade Ground in the city and to pause for a moment at this new memorial. Perhaps they could spare a thought for Private Gordon Naley and Corporal Tim Hughes, and all the brave Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who joined willingly, fought bravely and enjoyed a form of equality within the defence forces which was not given to them during their ordinary lives.