Publication Date



When Australia went to war in Vietnam, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people still faced widespread discrimination at home. Various state laws restricted the rights of Australian Indigenous people living "under the Act", while racist community attitudes reinforced discrimination Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people confronted in everyday life. Yet, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men still enlisted in the armed forces and served their country with distinction. This article canvasses some of the issues surrounding race and the Australian armed forces in Vietnam through analysis of oral history interviews with various Aboriginal veterans. Their testimonies suggest that although they had experienced varying degrees of discrimination in their lives before enlisting, they found life in the armed forces mostly free from racism. Indeed, several testimonies suggest that the only racism they encountered in Vietnam was witnessing racial tensions between white and black American servicemen. Later in life, many of these Aboriginal Vietnam veterans went on to become community leaders. Thus, analysis of Aboriginal Vietnam veterans' experiences suggests that military service represented an alternative social paradigm in which Australian Indigenous service personnel could thrive and learn skills, despite the difficult conditions of the Vietnam War.


School of Arts

Document Type

Open Access Journal Article

Access Rights

Open Access


Authors accepted manuscript.