WW1 stories spark curiosity, illustrate impact of colonisation

A second edition of No Less Worthy has been promoted as an educational resource which tells the tales of Aboriginal men who volunteered during World War 1.

The book was launched by WA Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Ben Wyatt last Friday and is the result of years of extensive research undertaken by Aboriginal History WA.

Aboriginal History WA researcher Mark Chambers said the book could help increase school children’s understanding of Aboriginal history.

“I look at the book as an educational tool. You sow the seeds within either the narrative, or the photographs, that sparks something in someone that says, ‘I want to know more,’” Mr Chambers said.

“My greatest hope for this book is that it inspires and encourages others to take up the challenge to understand the impact of colonisation in its fullest extent on the Aboriginal community.”

The first edition of the book was launched late last year in commemoration of the Centenary of Armistice. The second edition is an extended version which includes hand-written letters, photographs and memorabilia contributed by descendants of those featured in the book.

Mr Chambers said he felt it was important to acknowledge not only those who served but also the many fit and healthy Aboriginal men who volunteered but were rejected.

The fact that they were willing to serve for their country and they were rejected for [reasons like] … not being of substantial European descent made no difference in putting this book together from my perspective,” he said.

The book honours WW1 volunteers such as Private James ‘Jimmy’ Melbourne who was born in the York area in 1876. Jimmy was the first Aboriginal person to play state level Australian rules football. He was in Gallipoli for only a few hours before being blown up by shell and suffering injuries to his head and knee.

Each year during NAIDOC week, at the game between South Fremantle and Claremont, the Jimmy Melbourne Cup is awarded to the winner as tribute to Jimmy’s role in Australian football history.

Also featured in the book is Private Charles Hutchins born around 1892 in Busselton. He was serving in the front line in Belgium when he suffered near fatal gunshot wounds. Charles received a holy communion while recovering in hospital in Boulogne. He was then transferred to No. 2 General Hospital in England where he met his future wife, Rose.

Dianne Brown, the granddaughter of Charles Hutchins said all Australians need an understanding of the unjust and inhumane laws Aboriginal people had to live under in everyday life.

“Those that were rejected on grounds of ‘not being of substantial European descent’ are acknowledged [in the book]. Aboriginal men who were young and fit. Aboriginal men who were hard workers, respected stockmen, talented sportsmen and descendants of warriors and hunters were deemed less than worthy to serve due to their darker skin,” she said.

Mrs Brown said for too long the stories of Aboriginal volunteers had been ignored and she hoped readers could understand the attitudes and laws that Western Australian Aboriginal people lived under in their everyday life.

“The impact of the discrimination they experienced on their return can never be disregarded. Many were not accepted into RSLs, were denied pensions and not even allowed to move around without passes,” she said.

“Many Aboriginal soldiers had thought these laws would be different after their service, but sadly, some returned to find wages had not been handed over to their wives on missions, their children had been taken and nothing had changed.”

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt said the book had uncovered little known aspects of Western Australia’s history.

“The book has led to a doubling of the known number of Aboriginal volunteers in World War 1 with links to Western Australia,” Minister Wyatt said.

“Just as importantly, it sets a national standard and provides a blueprint or template to inspire other States to follow in bringing to light the lost stories of their Aboriginal servicemen and women.”

Hardcopies of No Less Worthy are available for purchase at the Western Australian Museum shop and Australian War Memorial shop.

By Jade Bradford

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