They Served with Honour: Untold Stories of Western Australian Aboriginal Servicemen at Gallipoli

Jade Balfour, Beverley Rebbeck and Anna Wyatt all worked on the book.
Jade Balfour, Beverley Rebbeck and Anna Wyatt all worked on the book.

THE project manager behind an incredible book detailing the unknown story of 13 aboriginal soldiers who fought at Gallipoli will speak at the City’s Remembrance Day event today.

They Served with Honour: Untold Stories of Western Australian Aboriginal Servicemen at Gallipoli was compiled by Anna Wyatt and a team from the aboriginal history research unit at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.

It was released earlier this year to coincide with the centenary of the Gallipoli landing.

Ms Wyatt said the team put in many late nights and weekends to get the book finished before its deadline.

“We couldn’t be late. We couldn’t move Anzac Day,” she said.

But the result was more than she could have hoped, with tales of love, courage and post-war struggles.

“At the time aboriginal men weren’t able to enlist, so they would go from camp to camp to be accepted,” she said.

“Some of the guys enlisted because they wanted to work, and others, like a lot of men at the time, wanted adventure.”

With the lives of these men largely untold prior to the book’s release, Ms Wyatt said her team was not half-hearted about its research.

That meant trawling through thousands of documents to learn who the men were before, during and post war.

Ms Wyatt said the book had brought families together and provided a level of recognition that, until earlier this year, had been lacking.

Despite serving their country some of the men, the team found, had been buried in graves without headstones.

Among them was James “Jimmy” Melbourne, who became the first indigenous Australian to play senior football in a top Australian league when he suited up for West Perth against East Fremantle in 1900.

In September a grave stone made of rock from Mr Melbourne’s birth town of York, WA was sent to Victoria where the veteran is buried.

The City of Cockburn has purchased 1000 copies of the book, which Mayor Logan Howlett described as a “tremendously valuable community asset”.

He said the City wants to connect descendants of the men with their stories.