Big Sky, 2018
32pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99
Jimmy Watson and Johnno Hogan were the best of friends – swimming-in-waterholes, camping-under-the-stars, sharing-water-bottles kind of friends. Throughout their lives they did everything together and even when their paths diverged because there were different rules and expectations for “white” and indigenous children then, they still came back together as close as they had ever been. And then one day they went into town for supplies, heeded the call for men to fight in a war far away and enlisted…
This could be the story of any number of friendships of the early 20th century when ‘white’ and indigenous kids on farms formed friendships that were blind to colour, cultural differences or any other racial prejudices and its strong focus on that friendship is its positive. While the treatment of indigenous soldiers during the conflicts that Australia has been involved in since the Boer War in 1899 could have been its focus, its power lies in that spotlight on the friendship, the shared adventures and stories, the fears and hopes that are common regardless of skin colour. Teaching notes are available.
Within the Australian Curriculum, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures cross-curriculum priority is designed for all students to engage in reconciliation, respect and recognition of the world’s oldest continuous living cultures, and so this book offers the opportunity to help our younger students understand that despite rules against their enrolment (those not of “substantially European origin” were excluded from enlisting by the Defence Act 1903) and not being recognised as citizens until 1967,their neglect and exclusion on their return, indigenous people have fought for Australia in many overseas conflicts and their contribution has been vital. Now, each year following the Dawn Service at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, there is a special ceremony acknowledging their service.
Further information, and some of the stories of the estimated 1000 who managed to enlist can be found on the Australian War Memorial site and an internet search will provide links to further valuable resources.
Originally published April 23, 2020
Updated March 2023