THERE was nothing democratic about Australia in the first half of the 20th century for indigenous Australians.
But that did not stop thousands of Aboriginal people volunteering to fight in two world wars and numerous other conflicts.
Those who served were second-class citizens at home, with no voting rights and for a time even classed as part of the nation’s fauna and flora.
Warrnambool’s Scope Gallery is featuring an exhibition, Indigenous Australians at war from the Boer War to the present, which tells a tale left out of many history books.
“We curated this exhibition in 2009 as a temporary exhibition at the Shrine of Remembrance and a couple of indigenous elders saw it and said ‘we would really like to bring this out to our community’. That was in Shepparton and Portland,” said Jean McAuslan, manager of exhibitions and collections at the Shrine of Remembrance.
“What was an eye-opener to me when I was doing the research was how many enlisted.”
About 1000 Aboriginal soldiers are estimated to have served in the First World War, followed by another 6000 in the Second World War.
“It was really the first opportunity for Aboriginal Australians to experience equality because they had anything but that in their daily lives,” Ms McAuslan said.
But returned soldiers eventually lost those rights and with peace time became “invisible again”. Aboriginal Australians were not given citizenship rights until 1967.
Walking through the rooms filled with the grainy faces of the brave and dead, Robert Lowe snr found locals who had left their homes in Lake Condah or Framlingham to fight.
Among those who served was Wally Alberts from Lake Condah, who was captured by the Japanese in Singapore and died in a prison camp in 1945.
“You talk to Aboriginal people who served in the war and they say our skin was the same when we fought because we had the same uniforms on,” Mr Lowe snr said.
“They served for their country but they never got that recognition, so it will open a lot of eyes.”
The exhibition runs until November 3.