[Note: This post contains images, words and works of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are now deceased]
We can understand ANZAC Day in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in a number of different ways. Here are three ways of conceptualising Indigenous responses –
1) Challenge the authority of ANZAC Day
ANZAC Day as a commemoration remembers the sacrifices of Australian men and women in Australian wars since World War 1. It is a recognition of those who “wore a uniform” in official battles. From an Indigenous perspective, this day is flawed as it fails to acknowledge the thousands of Australians – men, women and children – who fought and lost their lives in the War that was/is Colonisation. The above National Gallery of Australia exhibition created in 1988 is a recognition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have died since colonisation.
2) There were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander diggers too
This perspective acknowledges ANZAC Day but recognises that there have been Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander diggers in every Australian conflict since Federation. These men and women fought proudly beside their comrades. That there has been little acknowledgement of the contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander diggers is linked to the third concept.
3) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander diggers were treated as second-class citizens
This perspective is about a recognition that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander diggers, despite their sacrifice and contribution in wars overseas, were treated as second-class citizens when they returned home. When they returned home they were subject to the same individual and systemic racism from White individuals and institutions as they were when they left.
William Cooper, Secretary of the Australian Aborigines’ League, argued in 1939
that Aborigines should not fight for White Australia. Cooper had lost his son in the First World War and was bitter that Aboriginal sacrifice had not brought any improvement in rights and conditions. He likened conditions in White-administered Aboriginal settlements to those suffered by Jews under Hitler. Cooper demanded improvements at home before taking up “‘the privilege of defending the land which was taken from him by the White race without compensation or even kindness’. Quote source
There are multiple ways of conceptualising ANZAC Day, these are just three. The key is to be considerate and understanding of these different perspectives (and the many others you will encounter) as you approach your investigations of this annual event.