Imperialism, ANZAC nationalism and the Aboriginal experience of warfare
Aboriginal protest played a key role in undermining the celebratory settler-nationalism of the bicentennial in 1988. In the lead up to another major nationalist mobilisation, the centenary of the Gallipoli invasion on ANZAC Day 2015, extensive official efforts are being made to incorporate Aboriginal experiences into the day, through celebration of the role of Aboriginal people who served in Australia’s armed forces.
This article provides a critical analysis of the 2014 NAIDOC theme as a way of exploring some of the tensions in this process. The NAIDOC theme, ‘Serving Country: Centenary and Beyond’, presented a continuity between Aboriginal soldiers in WW1 and Aboriginal warriors who fought in defence of their land during the 19th Century Frontier Wars.
In contrast, this article argues that the real historical continuity is between the massacres on the frontier, which often involved Aboriginal troopers fighting for the colonial powers, and the invasions undertaken by Australian soldiers in WW1. New research documenting the horrific scale on which Aboriginal people were killed by Native Police in Queensland in the second half of the 19th Century is integrated with studies of the political economy of Australian settler-capitalism in this period. This analysis is used to demonstrate how capitalist class interests drove both the Frontier Wars and the development of an Australian regional empire, which was consolidated by the mobilisation of Australian troops in WW1.
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