Lest we did forget

THE camaraderie and valour of diggers in World War I is seen as the beginnings of what it means to be Australian.

But that’s not the story for the first Australians.

Aboriginal service personnel were whited-out of the “heroic” narrative when they returned home after the war, author Rachel Bin Salleh says.

The indigenous soldiers overseas were brothers-in-arms and for the first time were allowed to go to the pub with their comrades and were paid the same wage.

But back home they weren’t allowed to live in towns or go into a pub and their lives were heavily policed, Salleh says.

Her children’s book, Alfred’s War, exposes the lack of recognition for returning indigenous service personnel.

• Excerpts from the children’s book Alfred’s War. Illustrations by Samantha Fry

Salleh is a descendent of the Nimunburr, Bunuba and Yawuru people of the Kimberly, has worked in publishing for more than 20 years and is a publisher at Broome’s Magabala Books.

Alfred’s War is a bittersweet tale, simply told for a young audience. “I wrote it for children because we need to start educating them,” she says.

The character of Alfred is based on public records from the time and indigenous families who lived through the Great War.

Wounded and shipped home from France, he’s neither honoured as a returned soldier nor given the government support provided to non-indigenous soldiers.

Poignant story

Alfred lives a solitary life, walking the back roads with a billy tied to his swag, finding work where he can.

“Although he had fought bravely in the Great War, as an Aboriginal man he wasn’t classed as a citizen of his own country,” Salleh writes.

Alfred never forgot his friends in the trenches, but as an Aboriginal wasn’t welcome to march on Anzac day.

“Every year he would quietly stand behind the people gathered and pay homage to his fallen mates,” Salleh writes.

Samantha Fry’s illustrations are gentle and ethereal, adding to the poignancy of a story aimed at 11–12 years olds.

A book launch for Alfred’s War will be at Moores Art Gallery in Fremantle, Saturday March 31, as part of the inaugural Aboriginal Australian Kids Story Festival.

Indigenous author Sally Morgan will attend the event as a special guest.


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