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The Islanders, tells the story of the 28 Aboriginal men from the Furneaux Islands in Bass Strait who enlisted to fight in the Great War. Although entry to the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) at the beginning of the war was restricted by the Defence Act 1909, to people of ‘substantially European origin and appearance’, the Islanders became one of the first and largest Aboriginal groups to enlist and fight for the Empire.
Before the War

Between 1914 and 1917, twenty-eight Aboriginal men from two remote islands of Cape Barren Island and Flinders Island volunteered for the AIF. These men were the family of Aboriginal women who were taken to the Bass Strait Islands by sealers as slaves and reluctant ‘wives’ in the early 19th century.

Although initial relations were hostile a unique Islander community developed and by the mid-19th century Aboriginal families were settled across the many small islands in the Furneaux Group. With relatively little interference from the Government, the Islanders developed commercial mutton-birding, traded vegetables and livestock with passing ships and created a viable boat building industry.

The rise of this burgeoning economy was not lost on the European graziers on mainland Tasmania. The mainlanders petitioned the Government and during the 1870s Aboriginal families were again dispossessed of their lands.

Aboriginal families were removed from the small islands of the Furneaux Group to Cape Barren Island where the Government tried to control their livelihood. From 1912 Aboriginal people were forced to live on a small reserve on the island’s north western corner while the rest of Cape Barren and the surrounding islands continued to be divided up for European farmers.

Timeline
1996 Aboriginal people reclaim Wybalenna
2005 Cape Barren Island, Clarke Island returned
1995 The Aboriginal Lands Bill is passed
1993 Lobbying by the Tasmanian Aboriginal community
1991 After Mabo the Federal Government pushes reconciliation
1973 The Islander Council is formed on Cape Barren Island
1967 Commonwealth Government takes responsibility
1951 Assimilation policy forces Aboriginal families out
1937 Australian Government adopts Assimilation Policy
1929 A. W. Burbury reports to the Government on the ‘half-caste problem’
1921/22 Cape Barren Islanders petition the Tasmanian Government
1919 I was born on old Cape Barren
1914 War breaks out in Europe
1911 James Bladon appointed schoolmaster
1902 Mount Chappell leased to a mainlander
1908 Government takes reserve land
1899 Observations from the schoolmaster
1897 Mutton birds in decline
1889 A school for Cape Barren Island
1881 A reserve on Cape Barren Island
1868 A reserve on Mount Chappell Island
1870 Many islands leased or sold
1871 School established on Badger Island
1863 More families on the Bass Strait Islands
1856 2000 gallons and 300,000 birds
1847 Only 47 Aborigines left at Wybelenna
1849 Families on the Bass Strait Islands
1846 Tasmanian Aborigines petition Queen Victoria
1842 Last group of Aborigines taken to Wybalenna
1834 The first Aborigines arrive at Wybalenna
1824 The Black War begins
1829 George Robinson leaves for Bruny Island
1830 Robinson begins the first of his expeditions around Tasmania
1820 Aboriginal women living with sealers on Bass Strait Islands
1802 Sealers are established in Bass Strait
1803 British invasion of lutruwita
1804 Massacre of Aboriginal people at Risdon Cove
1797 The Sydney Cove wrecked in the Furneaux Group
1798 Passage through Bass Strait opens up shipping route
1777 James Cook visits Tasmania
1773 Tobias Furneaux visits Tasmania
1772 Marion du Fresne visits Tasmania
1642 Abel Tasman visits Tasmania
Joining Up

War erupted in Europe in July 1914 and Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August. As her foreign policy was dictated by Britain, Australia was also at war from that day.

Across the country more than 500 Aboriginal men enlisted to fight, many for the same reason as non-Aborigines – adventure, patriotism, a decent income, to escape boredom and unwanted responsibilities or the hope that proving themselves in battle might reduce future discrimination. In 1914 the AIF was the only place where Aborigines received equal pay and suffered minimal racism. Among these men were 28 Aborigines from Flinders and Cape Barren Islands in Bass Strait. We will never know exactly why they left the peace of their beloved islands for the chaos of war. We do know that while their experiences varied widely, as soldiers they were equals, perhaps for the first and only time in their lives.

The impact of war reached every corner of the close-knit island Aboriginal community. Every family had a brother, uncle, grandson, nephew or cousin who left to fight for the Empire. They pitched together and contributed clothing and money at a higher proportion than their non-Aboriginal neighbours. The nineteen men who survived, however, returned to the same discriminatory society they had left. Most could not even drink with their fellow white returned servicemen in public bars. On Cape Barren Island Aborigines still lived under the Cape Barren Island Reserve Act 1912 which included restrictions on owning property. The community continued to fight against discrimination for decades.

For King and Country

School teachers, James Bladon and his wife Mary, came to Cape Barren in 1911. They spent the next seventeen years on the island and Bladon became the island’s longest serving schoolmaster.

Bladon’s appointment coincided with the introduction of compulsory cadet training for males aged 14 to 25 right across Australia. Cape Barren Island was exempt as it did not have a large enough population to support a senior cadet corps under the new legislation but Bladon wrote to the Tasmanian Premier Neil Lewis requesting money to set up a cadet unit. He saw this as a means of instilling discipline into the local youth. When the recruiting officer, Lieutenant Charles Littler, arrived on the island in 1914, it seems he found a receptive audience of young men who could shoot, ride and fight.

When the war broke out Bladon encouraged the Islanders to ‘do the right thing for king and country’ and enlist. While it is doubtful that Bladon had any experience of war, he was not above telling others that they should answer the Empire’s call to arms.

The Recruiter

Lieutenant Charles Littler, whilst waiting to be deployed overseas with the next contingent for the 12th Battalion, took on a role akin to that of a recruiting officer before there was any real need for such a position. Littler travelled to various parts of the state including to the Bass Strait islands. On Cape Barren Island he found Captain James Bladon was very receptive to Littler’s suggestions that he should continue to encourage as many of the local men to enlist. Bladon was already convinced that many would make excellent scouts and marksmen and probably needed little encouragement.

Soldiers' Stories

Brown, Claude Eyre (1891-1954):

Son of William Richard Brown and his second wife Mary Ann Smith who was the granddaughter of John Smith and Plinparina (Mother Brown) and Richard Maynard and his first wife Pulawutiltiltarana.He enlisted on 24 June 1916 and was described as

Brown, Frederick William or William Frederick (1880-1931):

Son of William Richard Brown and first wife Sarah Ann Maynard and brother of Claude. He enlisted on 6 December 1916 at which time he was a 37 year old single labourer from Cape Barren Island. He gave his next of kin as Fanny Brown, his step-mother and third wife of-mother and third

Brown, George Ernest or Ernest George (1897-1916):

Oldest son and fourth of ten children born to Edwin Ernest Brown and Grace Madeline Maynard. Grace was the daughter of David Maynard who was the son of Richard Maynard and a Port Phillip woman, Elizabeth,, known as ‘Granny Betty’. Her mother was

Brown, Henry ‘Harry Boy’ George William (1894-1947):

Son of Henry William ‘Bunny’ Brown and his first wife May Olive Everett. ‘Bunny’ Brown was a grandson of Richard Maynard and Pulawutiltiltarana. May was the granddaughter of James Everett and Wathikawitja and Thoman Beeton and Watanimarina tatiyana. Beeton

Brown, Marcus Blake Norman (1895-1917):

Son of Henry William ‘Bunny’ Brown and May Olive Everett and brother of Henry George Brown and Willard Stanley. Marcus volunteered for service on 27 June 1916, possibly waiting until after the mutton bird season had finished and before winter set in to enlist.

Brown, Willard Stanley (1899-1966):

Keen to volunteer Willard enlisted on 27 June 1916 along with his older brothers Marcus and Henry. On enlisting he stated that he was 18 years of age and working as a labourer. He passed the medical examination and was described as being of very dark complexion, brown eyes and dark brown hair. But it was soon discovered that in fact he had made a false statement about his age and was discharged being underage.

Burgess, Allan Montgomery (1891-1958):

Older of two sons to George Henry William Burgess and Julia Ann Mansell to serve during the Great War. Julia was the granddaughter of Edward Mansell and Pularilpana, and Thomas Beeton and Watanimarina tatiyana. Allan was one of a large group of Cape Barren

Burgess, Sidney or Sydney (1893-1971):

Son of George Henry and Julia Ann Burgess and younger brother of Allan Montgomery Burgess. He volunteered for service on 25 January 1916 along with Henry ‘Harry Boy’ Brown, Archie, George and Thomas Mansell. Sidney described himself as a 22 year old

Everett, Julian Clifford (1896-1951):

Son of George Maynard and Julia Maynard but raised by his aunt Lucy Everett and so took her surname. George Maynard was the great grandson of Richard Maynard and Pulawutiltiltarana. Julia was a granddaughter of Richard Maynard

Fisher, George Godfrey (1892-1964):

Son of John Fisher and Maggie Summers, the granddaughter of Richard Maynard and Elizabeth ‘Granny Betty’. George enlisted on two separate occasions: the first in 1915 when he was rejected and again on 23 June 1916 at which time he was described

Fisher, John Albert (1890-1917):

An older brother of George Fisher and son of John Fisher and Maggie Summers. He too was a single seaman when he enlisted on 20 June 1916, then aged 27 years. He was allotted to the 1-9 Reinforcements for the 40th Battalion departing from Melbourne per Port Melbourne on 21 October 1916.

Holt, Harold John (1893-1964):

Son of William Holt and Ellen Smith. Harold was the great grandson of John Smith and Plinparina and Richard Maynard and Pulawutiltiltarana. Harold was a 22 year old single farm labourer from Whitemark on Flinders Island when he volunteered for enlistment

Mansell, Archie Douglas (1895-1956):

Son of John Nance Mansell and Lydia Frances Maynard. On his father’s side of the family, Archie was the great grandson of Edward Mansell and Pularilpana and, John Thomas and Tikultami (daughter of Manalakina). On his mother’s side of the family, he

Mansell, George Enos aka George Ernest (1897-1963):

Son of John Nance Mansell and Lydia Frances Maynard and brother of Archie. He was one of a group of five young men from Cape Barren Island who arrived in Hobart to volunteer for enlistment. George described himself as an 18 year old single farmer. In

Mansell, James Vivian Gladstone (1897-1975):

Son of James Thomas Mansell and Frances Venetia Rose Borland and a great grandson of Edward Mansell and Pularilpana and John Thomas and Tikultami. He volunteered for enlistment on 14 December 1915 and on completing the attestation papers

Mansell, Morgan (1894-1918):

Son of Peter James Mansell and Rachel Alice Maynard. On his father’s side of the family he was a great grandson of Edward Mansell and Pularilpana and John Thomas and Tikultami. On his mother’s side he was the great grandson of Richard Maynard and Pulawutiltiltarana and James Everett and Wathikawitja.

Mansell, Silas Milton (1897-1975):

Son of Edward ‘Stiff Legged Ted’ Mansell and Jessie Holt. He was the great grandson of Edward Mansell and Pularilpana and John Thomas and Tikultami on his father’s side and a great, great grandson of John Smith and Plinparina and Richard Maynard

Mansell, Thomas Edward (1891-1916):

Son of Thomas Edward Mansell and Clara Jane Smith and great grandson of Edward Mansell and Pularilpana, John Thomas and Tikultami, on his father’s side of the family; and John Smith and Plinparina and Richard Maynard and Pulawutiltiltarana. Thomas was

Mansell, William Henry ‘Willy Boy’ (1889-1939):

Son of William Henry Mansell snr and Florence Matilda Smith and great grandson of Edward Mansell and Pularilpana and John Thomas and Tikultami on his father’s side of the family and John Smith and Plinparina and Richard Maynard and Pulawutiltiltaranaon his mother’s side of the family.

Maynard, Cecil Walter Leon aka Cecil Walter Williams (1897-1980):


Son of Florence Isabel Williams and Frank Redding. He was brought up in the household of Richard Maynard jnr, whom Florence married when Cecil was young. He volunteered for enlistment on 14 December 1915 in company with

Maynard, Edward Stafford Lewis (1885-1915):

Son of David Maynard and Alicia Stafford. Brother of Leo Victor and Roy Leonard and a grandson of Richard Maynard and Elizabeth. He volunteered for enlistment on 21 May 1915, aged 28 years, a single farmer from Flinders Island. He embarked on the HMAT

Maynard, Frank aka Francis Thomas Cohen (circa 1879-81-1916):


Son of John Maynard and Eva Chappela Stafford and a grandson of Richard Maynard and Elizabeth. Eva and Alicia were sisters. Frank was a 34 year old single farmer from Flinders Island when he volunteered for enlistment on 24 April 1915.

Maynard, James Henry Paul (1895-1953):

Son of James ‘Long Island Jim’ Maynard and Ada Mary Everett and grandson of Richard Maynard and Elizabeth as well as being a great grandson of James Everett and Wathikawitja and Thomas Beeton and Watanimarina tatiyana. James was a

Maynard, Leo Victor ‘Abey’ (1893-1970):

Son of David and Alicia Maynard and brother of Edward and Roy. He volunteered for enlistment on 21 July 1916 along with George and Horace Robinson, also from Flinders Island. He had no previous military experience. On filling in the attestation forms he

Maynard, Roy Leonard aka Royal Leonard (1889-1962):

Son of David and Alicia Maynard and brother of Edward and Leo. Roy was working as a labourer and at 5 feet 2 inches, he barely made the modified 1915 height requirements. Like his brother he was allotted to the 12th Battalion departing Australia on

Maynard, William Edward Samuel (1882-1917):

Son of John Maynard and Eva Stafford and brother of Frank. William was a 32 year old single mariner when he enlisted on 19 June 1916 in the company of a group of islanders who all left the Cape Barren Island about the same time. All would enlist over an 8 day period between 19 and 27 June 1916.

Robinson, George Collis (1896-1917):

Son of James Robinson and Emily Wells Collis. Norman Tindale is of the opinion that this particular family is white, but they certainly had connections to the Aboriginal community through William and his descendants and certainly mixed with the local Aborigines.

Robinson, Horace Frederick (1894-1958):

Son of James and Emily Robinson and older brother of George. Horace volunteered for enlistment in company of his brother and Roy Maynard. On examination he was found to have flat feet and was declared medically unfit for active service and discharged.
Return

In April 1919 David Gilbert, Deputy Comptroller for the Repatriation Department, stated that ‘an Aboriginal who has served as an Australian soldier is entitled to the benefits under the Australian Soldiers Repatriation Act and …. [were entitled to] the full use and enjoyment of any benefits granted to him by the Department.’

It was up to the returning Aboriginal soldiers to convince the Repatriation Department that their claims were war related, just the same as settler Australians. The families of Aboriginal men from the islands who died whilst on active service appear to have received the benefits to which they were entitled.

Some who returned to the islands received pensions or health benefits after convincing the Repatriation Department that their claims were war related, just the same as settler Australians. However the isolation of the islands often meant that they would have to travel a long way to receive health care.

It should never be overlooked that these men returned to a deeply divided society where in most cases Aborigines were denied the same rights and privileges as white society.

The Memorials
Communities on Cape Barren and Flinders Islands were devastated by the losses of their men and worked hard to raise memorials to commemorate their service and sacrifice. The Flinders Island Soldiers’ Memorial was unveiled at Emita by Major TH Davies, the Minister for Lands, on 20 September 1936. Twelve months later Major Davies returned to the islands to unveil the Cape Barren Island Soldiers’ Memorial on 10 September 1937.