Preface and Appendices to the Book
Stories of Aboriginal Diggers from the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury region
who fought in World War I, 1914 – 1918.
A community project of Mountains Outreach Community Service Inc and
Blue Mountains People for Reconciliation/BM Australians for Native Title
with funding from Department of Veterans Affairs, ANZAC Centenary Grants
Cover design by Leanne Tobin
Printed by Artisan Printing
Published by Mountains Outreach Community Service
Our aim was to bring to light Aboriginal Diggers from our local area and tell their stories. We hoped to track down any descendants and find out if they still lived in the Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains region.
We wanted to document this history for the education of our school children and the wider community.
This project sought not to glorify war in any way but to recognise and honour the Aboriginal people’s significant contribution to and role in the Australian World War I story.
We are not scholars or historians. We defer to other experts who in recent years have begun to document history from an Aboriginal perspective. We are volunteers who love our community and hope to deepen tolerance and understanding.
We found many fascinating stories full of human drama, mystery, tragedy and even some comedy.
Twelve of the fourteen Diggers we identified were members of the Lock/e family, descendants of the eminent Darug woman Maria Lock.
One digger from a Gundungurra family was taken away from his mother in 1902, fostered in Newcastle and enlisted as soon as he was old enough. Another, born in Windsor, was so keen to serve overseas that he changed his identity. Four served at Gallipoli and three served in the famous Australian Light Horse. One found his true love and married her in London. Many were wounded. One lost an eye and some suffered malaria and ‘trench foot’. Some were greeted back to their home towns with a huge welcome, brass bands and mayoral accolades and others were treated with disrespect and their service was not recognised.
Of the fourteen Diggers, all except one survived the war and he died on the troopship back home to Australia.
From their descendants stories we know that two diggers coincidentally trained native birds after the war.
We were humbled by the gratitude of descendants who were so thrilled to have a light shone on their much-loved grand, great, great-great grandfather or uncle.
We hope you enjoy reading this book and visiting our Project website: http://www.aboriginaldiggersWW1.com
From the Project Team
Mountains Outreach Community Service (MOCS), a community managed non-for-profit organisation in the Blue Mountains NSW, partnered with Blue Mountains People for Reconciliation/BM Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (BMP4R/BMANTaR) to apply for an ANZAC Centenary Local Grant from Department of Veterans Affairs. BMP4R/BMANTaR formed in 1997 and is a group of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal BM residents who meet monthly to discuss and take action in relation to a broad range of issues including recognition of the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians; support for the Stolen Generations; challenging racism and promoting respect; recognising the role of Aboriginal servicemen and women in the military. In 2015 we received a grant of $9,237 for a project to Commemorate Aboriginal Diggers from the Macquarie electorate.
A Project Committee was then formed. This included Lyn Bevington from MOCS; Aunty Carol Cooper, Brian Bell, Barbara Lumley, Margo Daly, Sheila Quonoey, John and Elaine Telford, Jillian and Ron Salz, and Keith Davies from the BMP4R/BMANTaR group. The research work was conducted by Margo Daly, Christine Cramer, Barbara Lumley, Sheila Quonoey, Jillian and Ron Salz. The local Aboriginal community were made aware of the project and invited to be part of it.
The aims of the Project included acknowledging and honouring the Aboriginal Diggers from the Hawkesbury-Blue Mountains area who enlisted to fight in World War I. At that time, they were not recognised as citizens nor allowed to enlist. We wanted to tell their stories using historical records so that ‘finally the truth can be heard’. It was also the hope of the Committee to trace any descendants of these Diggers and tell their stories. We hoped to increase community awareness of these Diggers in the historical context. This would be done by holding exhibitions in Katoomba, Springwood and Windsor and creating a website and a booklet that could be accessed by all interested parties including school children.
In July 2015 we engaged Kate Waters to lead an Aboriginal Oral History workshop. As the project developed, connections were made with some descendants of the Diggers who shared their stories.
In April 2016 in partnership with Katoomba RSL and Katoomba High School we participated in ANZAC ceremonies at Blue Mountains District ANZAC Memorial hospital and Katoomba RSL which included the laying of wreaths by descendants of some of the Diggers and oral presentations by descendants. From 25th April – 24th May a roving Exhibition of six Diggers stories was held at Katoomba RSL, Katoomba library and Springwood library. On 11th November 2016 we launched the project website at Katoomba library and there was an exhibition of 11 Diggers stories at Katoomba and Springwood libraries until 2nd December.
On 26th April 2017 we launched the project booklet, website and held an exhibition of 14 Diggers stories at Hawkesbury library in Windsor.
Another aim of the Project was to publicise the Australian War Memorial’s Indigenous Service List. ‘During the last 15 years the campaign has stepped up in research and more accurate recognition and identification of Aboriginal servicemen at the Australian War Memorial,’ says Michael Bell, the AWM’s Indigenous Liaison Officer. ‘We need the community to work with us, to have a look on our website, have a look at our Indigenous Service List, and then say to us, “Why isn’t my uncle (or aunt) or grandpop there, he was Aboriginal”, and then that will trigger the search points and research we would need to do within the war memorial to give that gentleman his proper recognition.’
There are currently 961 people on the Indigenous Service List, with 948 enlisted to serve in World War I. Around a quarter of these men were born in New South Wales. To see the list go to https://www.awm.gov.au/people/profiles/#indigenousservice
The project focuses on Aboriginal Diggers who enlisted, were given a service number and who served in World War I, 1914-1918. There were also Aboriginal men who tried to enlist but were rejected for a number of reasons such as age and health. The Diggers are listed in this booklet according to their date of enlistment from the start of the War. The material presented varies from person to person depending on the information we were able to find.
The Project website http://www.aboriginaldiggersWW1.com contains additional material including links to the service records of all the soldiers featured in this booklet.
Research: Margo Daly, Christine Cramer, Barbara Lumley, Sheila Quonoey, Brian Bell, Jillian and Ron Salz
Descendants: Michelle Finneran, Denise Saunders, Margaret Ann Corrie, Gary Rule, Len Murphy
Permission to use photographs was given by Philippa Scarlett from The Lock Family in World War One by Philippa Scarlett. The originals are held in the collection of the Darug Tribal Aboriginal Corporation.
We have used primary sources eg Australian War Memorial (AWM) service records; newspaper articles from the time and published books to conduct this research (please see bibliography). To the best of our knowledge, the information contained in this booklet was as accurate as we were able to determine at the time of printing. Some of the Diggers were known by more than one name. Where an individual’s name varies between family references, a birth certificate and the AWM service record, we have used the name as recorded on the Service Record.
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs has not participated in the research or the production or exercised editorial control over the work’s contents, and the views expressed and conclusions reached herein do not necessarily represent those of the Commonwealth, which expressly disclaims any responsibility for the content or accuracy of the work.
Aboriginal people are recorded as having lived on this continent for over 70,000 years. They belong to one of the oldest civilisations on the planet and were models of environmental and social sustainability.
Those who lived in and near the Cumberland Plain, from the east coast around Sydney, down to Botany Bay, west to the lower Blue Mountains, and north west of Sydney beyond the Hawkesbury River, shared a common language and kinship ties and lived in family groups or clans, and are known today as Darug people. Those who lived in the Southern Blue Mountains, west to the Cox’s River, southwest to Goulburn and the Southern Highlands, are known today as Gundungurra people. This area included the beautiful Burragorang Valley. These indigenous people understood that they belonged to the land and that all living creatures and flora were sacred and to be cared for, the responsibility for which was understood by clans as well as by totems.
The first record of the Hawkesbury Darug people meeting with white men was on the 14th April, 1791. Captain Phillip, together with a group of men including Lieutenant Watkin Tench who recorded the meeting, had taken a boat up the Hawkesbury River and encountered Goombeeree with members of his clan paddling in their canoes. Goombeeree’s son, Yellomundee was also present. Yellomundee (or Yarramundi) was recognised by the whites as the ‘Chief of the Richmond Tribes’ and his daughter Maria had a significant role in the subsequent history of the Darug people.
Initial meetings between the British and Darug people were friendly and respectful but the arrival of about 400 settlers along the Hawkesbury River in 1794 brought great devastation as the bush began to be cleared for houses and farms and competition for food and resources began. Killings became common place and set a pattern of conflict and dispossession which spread across the country over the next 100 years. Diseases and alcohol which the white settlers brought with them also decimated the Aboriginal population.
In the mid-1800s the British government, which still controlled the Australian colonies, became concerned about the impact of expanding pastoralism on Aboriginal peoples’ access to their Country and so in 1850 small Aboriginal reserves were created on sites that Aboriginal people already used. Many more reserves were created from 1870s onwards and the first appointment of a ‘Protector of Aborigines’ was in 1881. In 1883 the Aborigines Protection Board (APB) was established to look after the welfare of Aboriginal people. This represented a new phase of control over Aboriginal peoples’ lives in NSW. The reserves were created to remove Aboriginal people from society and public view and reflected government policies of protection and segregation. Despite the attempts by the APB to move Aboriginal people onto reserves, most Aboriginal people in NSW lived in places they selected for themselves.
In 1909 the Aborigines Protection Act gave the APB ‘the authority for the protection and care of Aborigines’. Station managers now tightly controlled reserves, particularly who entered and left them. It gave the Board the power to remove Aboriginal people from reserves, and from camping ‘within or near any reserve, town or township’. Admission to reserves was based on appearance of Aboriginality. Children were forcibly removed from their families and often sent to work for white families. This resulted in many Aboriginal families leaving the reserves and by 1900 less than 17% of the Aboriginal population continued to live on the reserves. Quite a number from the Sackville Reach Reserve made their way to The Gully at Katoomba. The Gully community consisted of close family and kinship groups – records from the 1890s show Darug families included the Stubbings/Stubbinses, Lockes/Locks, Webbs and Sheards and Gundungurra families such as the Lynchs, Coopers, Shepherds and Hughes. WW1 soldiers William Hughes, Albert John Shepherd and Joseph ‘Karadji’ Locke were all associated at one time with the Gully. Hughes was born in Katoomba in 1894 and lived there until the 1920s, Shepherd was removed from his mother Minnie Shepherd in the Gully in 1902, aged five, while Joseph Locke moved to Katoomba in the 1930s.
On the edge of town and hidden by the bush, the Gully provided some privacy for its inhabitants, where older residents could continue to speak Gundungurra and Darug. The poor but resourceful community collected wildflowers, blackberries and mushrooms and trapped rabbits to sell and to use themselves; their water came from the springs and they cooked on open fires.
‘Houses were constructed with the limited materials available – saplings, kerosene tins, corrugated iron, hessian – and painted with whitewash. The local newspaper, if it referred to the community at all, called it a “camp” and mission records refer to numerous cases of sickness and premature death indicative of social neglect.’ ( John Low, Local Studies Librarian, Blue Mountains City Library, 2005)
In 1914, the Great World War began. At this time the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 enshrined the policy of a White Australia and the closely related Defence Act 1903 prohibited men not substantially of European heritage from serving. Initially recruiting officers allowed Aboriginals to enlist only if their skin was considered ‘white enough’ but as the war went on, with casualty rates rising and recruitment numbers dropping, the officers were not as selective. It was the Medical Officers who had the power to determine who were accepted and who were not. Many Aboriginal men, who had tried to enlist in the early stages of the war, were rejected on the grounds of ‘defective physique’, which was often a euphemism for ‘black’. Later the law was modified to allow ‘half castes’, especially after the horrific causalities of the Western Front. Many were able to apply again once the rules were relaxed and were then accepted.
It is estimated that at least 1000 Aboriginals signed up and generally served in ordinary units in Australian Imperial Force (AIF) under the same conditions as other soldiers. They fought side by side with their white country men and forged bonds that would sow the seeds of the modern reconciliation movement. They fought in every major conflict including Gallipoli, the Western Front and the Middle East. In the AIF they were generally treated as equals and were paid the same amount as white soldiers. This was better than life in Australia where they had few rights, low wages and poor living conditions.
Chris Tobin, Darug man and descendant of Maria Lock reflects “at the time of the First World War it was an oddity to see Aboriginal men volunteering to defend an Empire that had oppressed and subjugated them since its arrival in 1788 …especially as it was in marked contrast to the respectfulness enjoyed by people in traditional culture… for many to enlist was an escape from the degrading experience and the attendant poverty that followed; while for others the notion of coming together to defend their country is one of the deep and core values of Aboriginal people…Certainly their standing amongst white Australians improved upon enlistment and for many it would be the first time they enjoyed being treated almost as equals by white people”.
Research suggests that other factors that played a part were likely to have been an escape from the life that they had to live. Joining the army gave them adventure, it gave them equal wages, a sense of equality and camaraderie and perhaps a sense of empowerment. For the most part they were accepted with little prejudice. They would be free of discrimination and racism. At the same time, there was hope that on their return they too, would be treated as naturalised British subjects with the same rights and freedom as their ‘white’ brothers-in-arms.
However, this was not to be. Coming home meant an end to equality and they were once again subjected to the same discrimination and racism as before, in some cases, even greater control by local ‘Protectors’. Amendments to the Aborigines Protection Act in 1915 further strengthened the APB’s power. War pensions and back pay were frequently denied and very few Indigenous diggers were welcomed at their local RSL – except sometimes on Anzac Day.
‘White’ soldiers coming home were able to choose retraining programs, and some were given their own land to farm. There is bitter irony in this. As early as 1820, Governor Macquarie gave a substantial land right to the Lock Family around Blacktown and Rooty Hill, in perpetuity. By 1920 all that land had been resumed by the Aborigines Protection Board. The Lock/e men returning from the war lost the land that had been theirs by law as well as by historical legitimacy.
We hope this adds depth to these stories of the 14 Aboriginal Diggers with links to our local
Katoomba c 1915 -16 with soldier wearing a Light Horse uniform and slouch hat in foreground
BM Local Studies Collection PF2936
Australian Dictionary of Biography: Naomi Parry, ‘Maria Lock’.
Eleanor Dark: ‘Bennelong’, 1764-1813.
Australian Army Journal Volume V1.
Brook, Jack: Shut Out from the World, The Sackville Reach Aborigines Reserve & Mission
Burg, D & E. Purcell: Almanac of World War 1, University Press of Kentucky, 2003.
Cane, Scott: First Footprints, The epic story of the First Australians, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2013.
Johnson, Dianne: Sacred Waters, The Story of the Blue Mountains Gully Traditional Owners,
Halstead Press, Sydney, 2006.
Kohen, James: The Darug and Their Neighbours, Darug Link in association with the
Blacktown and District Historical Society, 1993
Scarlett, Philippa: The Lock Family in World War One, 2nd ed. Darug Tribal Aboriginal Corp., 2011.
Smith, Jim: The Aboriginal People of the Burragorang Valley, Blue Mountains Education
and Research Trust, 2016.
Stockton, E & Merriman, J: Blue Mountains Dreaming. 2nd edition, Blue Mountain Education & Research Trust, Lawson, 2009.
Strachan Hew: The First World War, Simon & Schuster, UK, 2003
Australian War Memorial: War History (Battalions)
Dig Deeper, Recruitment Standards.
Military History, A case Study of Indigenous Brothers in Arms during
The First World War, Capt. T.C. Winegard, Aust. Army Journal, Vol VI, No. 1 P. 196/7.
www.gwpda.org. (article by D. Slavett on the French reconstruction)
Australian Light Horse Association: lighthorse.org.au.
The Conversation.com. Indigenous Soldiers Remembered.
Wikipedia org: First Australian Imperial Forces and Black Diggers.
National Archives of Australia: AIF, Base Records Office, B2455, Personal Dossiers