By Luke Briscoe, FPDN Staff member
Today the nation stops to pay tribute to the ANZACs but for some Indigenous Australians we also pay tribute to the Forgotten ANZACs who returned to a nation that rejected them and their efforts.
Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through the Voice to Parliament would give our Indigenous ANZACs real recognition and respect they deserve.
FPDN acknowledges all our people who fought for their Country against invasion and colonisation and those who have fought overseas. We acknowledge those who lost their lives.
It is widely accepted that the worldwide casualties of the First World War reached 16 million, with estimates that some 20 million other people were wounded. Within Australia around 213,000 AIF became casualties of WW1 with 155,000 returning home wounded. By 1920 more than 90,000 war veterans would receive disability pensions.
It is estimated that more than 1000 Indigenous soldiers served in WW1, many losing their lives and others returning wounded to a country that didn’t recognise them as ANZACs.
While WW1 focused on stamping out the neo nazis campaign, Australia was operating its own exclusionary policies that set out to exclude people based on race. The 1901 White Australia Policy in particular had major policy implications for migrants and people of colour for many years to come. The White Australia Policy was enforced by the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, which sought to exclude all non-Europeans from Australia.
Too many of the returning Indigenous ANZACs were not afforded the same level of respect and treatment experienced by non-Indigenous service people; in particular access to health services was restricted to White Australians under the law of the time.
In recent years there has been a big shift in both society and policy towards Indigenous Peoples and the need to recognise our Forgotten ANZAC as heroes, but for some communities this type of recognition is too little and too late. It is viewed as just symbolism, without bringing real change and impact. The Voice to Parliament is a chance to right the wrongs of the past and give respectful recognition to our Forgotten ANZACs, their Elders and their descendants.
It’s hard to imagine fighting for your country and returning to realise you are not treated equally as your fellow non-Indigenous ANZACs while your comrades had government support for their disability needs, the contemporary policies didn’t allow you to access those government services.
For us as Indigenous Peoples, failed policies aren’t something we need to imagine as something of the past. Even today there is still a long way to go to an equitable First Peoples disability sector. With more than 60 percent of Indigenous Australians living with disabilities and a lack of cultural understanding we are faced with yet another system breakdown among an already broken policy system.
Australia failed our Forgotten ANZACs by not recognising them upon their return or caring for them the same way they did non-Indigenous servicemen and women. Constitutional recognition through the Voice to Parliament is a chance for Australians to be on the right side of history, it’s a chance to create collective stories that define what it means to be Australian, and to right past wrongs.