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The Australian National University

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the defence of Australia: New funding for the ACIH and the National Centre for Indigenous Studies at the ANU

(image by Stella Bowen, Private, Gowrie House, Oil on hardboard, 11 June 1945 AWM, ART26277)

Serving our country: a history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the defence of Australia was awarded more than $1 million as part of the Australian Research Council’s Linkage Projects funding, a scheme designed to support collaborative research between higher education researchers and industry. The funding amount is the second largest in this round.

The project will be led by Professor Ann McGrath from the Australian Centre for Indigenous History in the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, and Professor Mick Dodson from the National Centre for Indigenous Studies at ANU. Sam Furphy from the Australian Dictionary of Biography at ANU is also a Chief Investigator on the project. Chief Investigators from other organisations include Professor John Maynard (University of Newcastle), Dr Noah Riseman (ACU), and Dr Geoffrey Gray (AIATSIS). The partners on this project, who have contributed generously, are the Department of Defence, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, National Archives of Australia, Australian War Memorial and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Serving our country will aim to provide authoritative accounts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander contributions to national defence.

Professor McGrath said the research will shed light on a little-known part of Australian heritage.

“This is an untold part of Australian history,” she said.

Private Samuel Lovett with his niece, Aircraftwoman Alice Lovett, in Melbourne

Private Samuel Lovett with his niece, Aircraftwoman Alice Lovett, in Melbourne. Many members of the Lovett family served in defence of Australia (courtesy Australian War Memorial)

“[Defence service is] a source of deep pride for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and they want this family and cross-generational story of achievement and courage to be told in a range of dynamic and accessible ways.

This project will provide new insights into what it means to ‘serve the country’ and what it means to be Australian. Histories of ‘nation’ and ‘citizenship’ will be critiqued in new ways to provide new tellings of our national story.”

Professor Dodson said the project would highlight the significant contribution made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“This research is very much overdue, because there is little known by the public generally of the enormous contribution that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have made to Australian military engagement over three separate centuries,” he said.

“This contribution has largely gone unrecognised and undocumented, which is why this grant is so significant.”

It is expected that the project will commence before the end of 2013.

Updated: 12 July 2013/ Responsible Officer:  Centre Director / Page Contact:  Web Publisher