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Australia Australian War Memorial uncovering service of Indigenous women in World War II

03:34  24 july  2021
03:34  24 july  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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a woman sitting on a table: Larrakia woman Danusha Cubillo has been researching Indigenous women's service during WWII. (Supplied: Australian War Memorial) © Provided by ABC NEWS Larrakia woman Danusha Cubillo has been researching Indigenous women's service during WWII. (Supplied: Australian War Memorial)

When Danusha Cubillo began looking into the life of Corporal Dolly Garinyi Batcho, she started out with just a photo and a name.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains images and voices of people who have died.

Ms Cubillo, a Larrakia woman, had been researching and uncovering the stories of Indigenous military service at the Australian War Memorial (AWM).

What she learned about the woman known as Corporal Dolly has become one of many little-known stories of Indigenous women's contributions in the efforts to protect Australia.

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What Ms Cubillo did not expect to find was a family connection of her own.

As bombs descended on the Darwin region during World War II, Corporal Dolly led a team of Aboriginal woman who maintained the army barracks at Adelaide River.

Her story is just one among those of 69 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women whose military service during World War II has now been formally recognised by the AWM.

This list is the first national publication of its kind — and Ms Cubillo estimates there are many more names to be added.

"Indigenous heritage was not recorded in paperwork when people signed up, so that information just wasn't recorded until about 1980," she said.

"There are close to about 7,000 people, we estimate, that served during the second world war that were Indigenous."

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The AWM's Indigenous liaison officer, Ngunnawal and Gomeroi man Michael Bell, said the work being done at the AWM was an important part of reconciliation.

"It's important work because of the lack of recognition of our men and women at the time they were serving, and also to balance out the unequal society they went back into," he said.

"Our people were living under exclusions like the freedom to travel, the freedom to marry freely, freedom to own property, the freedom to have custody of your own children.

"Their service needs to be explored. Why would they serve a country that had done so much to them?"

He said the AWM's list of Indigenous women in the military included members of the Australian Women's Land Army and those who stepped into all kinds of roles, including those traditionally reserved for men.

"They seized opportunities that would have been not only prohibited as a female but even more so as an Aboriginal female, in a time when our people were being treated so harshly," he said.

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Corporal Dolly's tears over country

Corporal Dolly left her Larrakia ancestors' lands to serve as the leader of the Aboriginal Women's Hygiene Unit at the 69th Australian Women's Army Service Barracks in Adelaide River during World War II.

It was a perilous place to work, with frequent Japanese bombing raids flying over the Darwin region.

As the war waged on, and with her family evacuated to South Australia, Corporal Dolly became increasingly homesick.

Seeing this, other women at the barracks brought back something to console her after visiting Darwin for a supply run.

Corporal Dolly wept when she received that bucket of sand from Mindil Beach on Larrakia country.

"I think it is amazing that these women knew what would make her happy. They knew what would fix it," Ms Cubillo said.

"Being from Darwin myself and travelling far away from home and being in a place that I initially didn't really know, I felt terribly homesick myself so I can reflect on how she was feeling.

"That connection to country is very strong."

After her military service, Corporal Dolly went on to fight for the land rights of the Larrakia people, gaving evidence to the Lands Rights Commission shortly before she died in 1973.

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Ms Cubillo said Corporal Dolly's story initially resonated with her as they were both Larrakia women.

She found further connections as she went along.

"She is actually a cousin of my grandfather, so I guess you could call her my great-aunt," she said.

"But in looking at her I also found four other uncles, and I didn't even know they had served."

Seeing her own family in her findings, Ms Cubillo wants to help others connect with their heritage. She urged anyone with a story of their own to contact the AWM.

"I know that there were many other women that were working with Dolly, working in Adelaide River, and we don't have their names. It would be nice to know who they are," she said.

"These people, their families would know about them, but everyone else doesn't."

Defence dreams dashed due to marriage

Another story Ms Cubillo unearthed was that of Elizabeth Anzac Lorraine Curley.

Born on ANZAC Day in 1925, she volunteered for the Australian Women's Army Service at the age of 18 and went on serve in the both the army and navy.

Known as "Gunner" Curley for her work on heavy artillery on Rottnest Island, her dream of serving in all three defence services was cut short by marriage.

She was discharged from the air force in 1953, as women in defence forces in the early 1950s were not allowed to be married.

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The current list of Indigenous women recognised for their service can be found on the AWM website.

But Mr Bell said he hoped sharing the stories of people such as Corporal Dolly and '"Gunner" Curley would help them add more names and stories in the future.

"People still have that stereotypical view that the war memorial only wants to tell soldiers' stories," he said.

"But what we're trying to do is look at service on a broader aspect, those who provided services to the military to help with the overall effort of the defence of the country.

"We want other aunties and other family to come forward and tell their stories."


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This is interesting!