Topic: AIF - Aboriginal LH
Aboriginals in the AIF
A Scheme for Training the Aboriginal Natives in the Northern Portions of the Commonwealth
Major WO Mansbridge
In 1911, Major WO Mansbridge of the 84th Infantry (Gold-Fields Regiment) wrote the following brief essay called A Scheme for Training the Aboriginal Natives in the Northern Portions of the Commonwealth Military Journal with the aim of promoting the recruitment of the indigenous population in the defence forces. The article reflects the feelings of the time amongst those of European origin and should be seen in that context. The essay was published in the January 1912 edition of the .
Mansbridge, WO, A Scheme for Training the Aboriginal Natives in the Northern Portions of the Commonwealth, Military Journal, January 1912, pp. 99 - 100.
Having lived for some years in the northern portions of the Commonwealth, it has suggested itself to me that some use could be made of the aboriginal native for our purposes. With that end in view, I beg to submit suggestions whereby his services could be utilized, and I am of the opinion that he would become a very useful ally in case of an invasion in those parts.
Approximately there are 50,000 aboriginal natives in the northern portion of the Commonwealth, and one so often hears the question - What can we do for them or with them?
I have a remedy which would not only be beneficial to the individual native, but make him also of some use to the country, as at present he has not any object in life save that of wandering aimlessly around his own particular territory, and this is undoubtedly a wilful waste of human energy. Therefore, why not turn it into our own channels and make them useful, firstly, by providing the male member with instructions in the use of arms; secondly, by engaging the women folk in one or more of the dormant industries indigenous to the soil?
I am well aware that many will argue that the aboriginal native has not yet reached that standard of civilization to understand, much less to assimilate, any instruction or teaching in that direction; yet, after some years' residence in the sub-tropical parts of Australia, the writer is of opinion that both the male and female aboriginal are amenable to order and discipline. His whole life in his savage state is one of warfare with his neighbour, and from birth the embryo warrior is taught the use of his particular arms-the spear and boomerang: and at all times is instilled into him by the elders of the tribe the necessity of being a “man." He is a hunter not only of game, but of men. Their blood feuds with adjacent tribes have been handed down from time immemorial. He has a keen eye, and is inured to hardships, which means much to make an efficient soldier. The stringent discipline of the elders over the young buck is very marked, and it would be necessary to direct this training into our own channels to make him serviceable. With regular rations he quickly becomes contented, and would be of incalculable value in case of an invasion in those parts and any one acquainted with him would be aware of his animosity to anything pertaining to the Orient.
To find the worth of raw and savage levies we have only to look back to very recent times.
In the initial stages of the scheme I would not suggest the concentration of the whole in one locality, for the reason that each tribe has its own admitted territory and hunting grounds. Reserves in the vicinity of these could be proclaimed; camps established where men would undergo training, and until such time as they became sufficiently educated to remain within their own sphere (after the trainees had realised the advantages of their training) there would be no difficulty in concentrating any numbers, be they from North Queensland, Northern Territory, or Kimberley (Western Australia).
The matter of "putting the question" to the native would have to be in the hands of experienced bushmen, assisted by civilized natives. However, I do not anticipate any difficulty in gathering them in.
The matter of clothing would be a minor detail. Kilt, shirt, and cap would be all that was required.
As to the women folk, those who have been amongst the aboriginal nitres will fully recognize the attachment of the man for his woman, and as the young buck is allotted companion when about twenty-one years of age, I do not suggest that they be put apart-in fact, any effort in that direction in the initial stages would weaken the scheme; therefore, not to unduly burden the scheme with extra provision for the female, I propose that she be employed in opening up the several dormant industries indigenous to the soil, such as cultivation of "kapok" and the culture of the "spider silk." The work of both being of a light nature is well adapted to native female labour, with the prospects of developing an export trade in both commodities. Then again the climate and soil are favourable for the introduction and cultivation of cotton, coffee, rice, &c., all of which would provide employment for the women.
In offering these suggestions I have of necessity introduced the commercial aspect for the reason that in any scheme for training the aboriginal native to be successful it would be unwise to have the sexes separated. My suggestion is, therefore, to have both in the one compound, the man being taught the use of the arm, and the woman taking an interest in the industries named.
I am aware that there are many seeming difficulties in the way, yet with time these would be overcome, with the results-protection and development of the country's resources by its' aboriginal folk, a thriving export trade, and a contented and happy community.
Australian Light Horse Militia
Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920
Citation: Aboriginals in the AIF, A Scheme for Training the Aboriginal Natives in the Northern Portions of the Commonwealth by Major WO Mansbridge