By Stan Grant
Somewhere buried in the fields of France is an Indigenous man who gave his life for his country.
He had barely time enough to live. He was not even old enough to enlist; he was not meant to be there.
The military records don’t show his name — he passed himself off under the name of his older brother, John.
By all accounts that wasn’t uncommon in 1914, when young Australian boys were impatient and eager to fight and the Army was willing to look the other way.
Like all Aboriginal men, this boy was legally exempt from military service. This was meant to be a European army. But they joined up anyway.
Why? Much the same as their white comrades: patriotism, loyalty, adventure.
No doubt there was another deep motivation — they were fighting for their country, the country of their ancestors.
It was also a chance to earn a wage. It was a shortcut to equality.
It’s thought about 1,000 Aboriginal men enlisted. The records are patchy.
Their race was usually not mentioned, but there were clues — euphemisms: ‘dark complexion’, ‘curly hair’, ‘dark eyes’.
Only now are we fully discovering the extent of the sacrifice of these brave young boys.
A tradition of military service
John’s real name was Ivan Grant.
In my family it is a story handed down through the generations.
I was told how Ivan changed his name, lied about his age, and set sail for war. He never came home, he will forever rest in France.
His name though lives on, passed down to my cousin Ivan. He is a soldier too, an officer who has served in Iraq.
Like so many Indigenous families, military service has been something of a tradition. Why would it not be? We are from a long line of warriors.
The first Ivan Grant signed up not even a century after his forebears met and fought the British — settlers and soldiers — on the plains west of the Blue Mountains.
In the 1820s, the Sydney Gazette newspaper reported widely on what it called an ‘exterminating war’. The Wiradjuri people, led by a man named Windradyne, fought a long-running guerrilla campaign against what they would have seen as the invasion of their land.
It was effective and it was bloody — on both sides.
The governor, Thomas Brisbane, declared martial law and armed groups hunted down the so-called “troublesome blacks”.