Indigenous Australians have made a significant contribution to protecting Australia and its national interests for over 100 years, serving in every military conflict Australia has been involved in since the Boer War in 1899.
Over 400 Indigenous Australians took part in the First World War. In the Second World War up to 3,000 Indigenous personnel were enlisted and another 3,000 Indigenous civilians supported the Army, mainly as labourers. Torres Strait Islanders made a particularly significant contribution with the formation of the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion.
Established in 1941 by anthropologist Donald Thompson, this unique Army Unit was engaged to patrol the coastal area of Northern Australia and provide early warning of Japanese attack during World War II. Up to 50 tribal Yolngu men from East Arnhem Land served, using traditional bushcraft and fighting skills to patrol the coastal area and establish coastwatchers. This unit was mobile, lived off the country and used traditional weapons. There is now a War Memorial at Yirrkala in the Northern Territory commemorating the efforts of these Yolngu men.
RFSUs were formed during the early 1980s to allow members of Indigenous communities to make a valuable contribution to the ground defence strength of Australia's remote areas. The North West Mobile Force (NORFORCE), 51st Battalion Far North Queensland Regiment (51 FNQR) and the Pilbara Regiment still exist today as Army units that recruit, train and operate within these regional areas. Indigenous personnel in these units provide unique skills and local knowledge to regular Army units.
The Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion was formed in 1943 to provide additional protection to the path of invasion open from the North during World War II. The Battalion had approximately 700 members with a majority of Indigenous Torres Strait Islanders. These men made use of their tradition as warriors to make a unique and vital contribution to the war effort. Their knowledge of the local reefs and waters proved invaluable to the 2nd Australian Water Transport Unit and the entire Defence Force. Some were also part of the 4th Marine Food Supply Platoon, employing their knowledge of the local marine life to provide food for the thousands of troops in the area.
Oodgeroo Noonuccal, sometimes known as Kath Walker, served in the Australian Women's Service for four years (1940-44) during the Second World War and later participated in the Army's rehabilitation scheme by training in secretarial work and book-keeping. She went on to become one of Australia's most respected and admired poets, educators and influential political activists.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are advised that this website may contain images or content relating to deceased persons. It may also contain words and descriptions that are culturally sensitive.
The term Indigenous Australians will be used throughout to describe all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.