LEADER: Captain Reginald Saunders, Australia's first indigenous military officer, and Dorothy Mary Saunders. Photo: Glenda Humes collection
Next year's Anzac centenary is a chance to belatedly recognise the efforts of Aboriginal servicemen during both world wars, Australian War Memorial council member Graham Edwards believes.
Aborigines have served in every conflict involving Australia, from the Boer War to the present day, and at least five Aboriginal Diggers are buried at Gallipoli with an estimated 500 to 600 enlisting for the ''Great War''.
Exact figures are hard to ascertain as Aborigines were not legally entitled to volunteer for military service in either World War I or World War II.
Despite this thousands of Aborigines enlisted during World War II, joining all three services and taking part in actions as far afield as Greece and the Kokoda Track.
Because non-Europeans were not allowed to enlist in the military there was no colour bar for Aborigines in the army, navy or air force. They received equal pay and could expect to be promoted on the basis of merit.
Mr Edwards, who has just been appointed to the AWM council for a second term, said it was disgraceful that when Aboriginal Diggers returned home they found their service counted for little.
''They received appallingly bad treatment,'' he said. ''No Aboriginal serviceman received a soldier-settler's block, they weren't allowed to drink in pubs and were not accepted as full citizens.
''It is time to rectify the tragedy of how their service was overlooked,'' the Vietnam war veteran and former parliamentarian said.
A passionate West Australian, he stressed that the centenary of Anzac begins next November with the 100th anniversary of the departure of the first Australian troops from Albany, not the landings at Anzac Cove five months after that.
Mr Edwards said he had accepted a second term on the AWM council because so much of importance was happening.
''I am enthused and inspired by the Anzac commemorations and by the positive attitude and refreshingly direct approach of the new AWM director [Dr Brendan Nelson],'' he said.
It was important AWM activities extended beyond Canberra and out into the country towns and regional centres from which many of the original Diggers had come.
''The memorial is a national asset,'' he said. ''I would like to see kids from remote areas given every chance to travel to Canberra to experience it.''
Mr Edwards' second term starts at the end of June, at the same time East Timor official war artist Wendy Sharpe steps down from the council.
Her place is being taken by National Film and Sound Archive chairwoman Gabrielle Trainor. Ms Trainor is already an adviser to the Anzac Centenary Advisory Board.