Preserving a white military: The Australian armed forces and indigenous people in the second world war

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This paper is a case study of the means by which the Australian government sought to maintain the military as an exclusively white institution in the Second World War. I focus my analysis on the case of Australian indigenous participation and in what circumstances the government would permit the involvement of indigenous people. The government adopted several stances depending on the circumstances of the war. First and foremost, regulations in 1940 prohibited the enlistment of persons 'not of substantial European origin or descent'. The second position, only executed on a small scale, promoted indigenous enlistment in separate units as a catalyst for assimilation. The third attitude, implemented primarily in the Northern Territory, employed Aboriginal people for menial labour deemed unsuitable for white persons. Finally, in regions devoid of significant white settlement, the military formed guerilla indigenous units as scouts. Even among these forces racial hierarchical ideas continued to manifest through preference of Islanders over Aboriginal people (and whites over both). Scrutiny of these overarching approaches to indigenous participation highlights attitudes towards the inferiority of the indigenous 'other', and they also reflect back on how the government saw the military as a bastion of whiteness for the protection of white Australia.

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