Recognising Grant as an intelligent man the Germans put him in charge of Red Cross parcels and in a letter to the Red Cross Douglas wrote requesting copies of the poems of Henry Lawson, Adam Lindsay Gordon and Robert Louis Stevenson, or some Australian life…. “something in which to pass away a few leisure moments which are generally filled with longing for home sweet home far across the sea.''
At the end of the war he was repatriated to the UK and then returned to Australia. There is one other critical point of interest about Grant’s war story – Douglas Grant was an aborigine, a full blooded Ngadjonji man from Atherton Tableland in North Queensland.
I first heard about Australia's indigenous veterans while attending a family history conference in 2012. One of the guest speakers was Brad Manera, the Senior Historian and Curator of the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park. Brad spoke about the largely unacknowledged service of the many indigenous Australians who served in WWI.
Douglas Grant's story is one of about 1,000 Aboriginal men who served in World War I. These men came from all states and territories, and they served in all theatres of war including Gallipoli, the Western Front and Palestine. Like non-indigenous Anzacs, they too experienced the horrors of war, died on foreign soil, were maimed, suffered shell shock and lived in foreign POW camps.
Denied rights at home such as freedom of movement, the vote, control of their own finances and custody of their children, these indigenous veterans fought for Australia and the British Empire. Even enlisting was not straight forward for Australia’s first people. Grant was nearly denied the right to travel overseas until his adopted white father intervened with the NSW Aborigines’ Protection Board. And after the war being a WWI veteran didn’t protect indigenous fathers from having their children removed from their custody.
After the war Grant worked as a labourer at Mort’s Dock in Balmain and in Lithgow at the Small Arms Factory. He lived in Tasmania, Victoria and NSW. He was secretary of the local Lithgow RSL. He also drank heavily and was admitted to the Callan Park Mental Hospital, where the repatriation cottages were a sanctuary for Grant and many other veterans. Many of the buildings along the foreshore of Callan Park were built especially for repatriation soldiers, men who returned from war suffering from shell shock.
While residing there Douglas Grant designed and built, with the help of other veteran patients, a memorial for WWI veterans. The Memorial is a scale replica of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and it is sited in the grounds of Callan Park, at the southern perimeter of the Waterfront Oval, in front of Repat Ward B, where Grant lived along with other WWI veterans. The memorial was opened in 1931 on 4 August, the17th anniversary of the beginning of WWI, and ahead of the official opening of the Harbour Bridge in 1932.
According to K S Inglis in Sacred Places, War Memorials in the Australian Landscape, Douglas Grant was bitter about the fate of returned soldiers and Aborigines. A friend of Grant’s remembers ''He became a sadder, progressively more dejected figure as each April the 25th went by. One day, in the late '40s, I saw him sitting under a tree … 'I'm not wanted any more,' Grant told me. 'I don't want to join in. I don't belong. I've lived long enough'.''
Much of this week's post was sourced or copied from the information board at the Callan Park memorial site and the following sources:
http://www.callanpark.com/?p=477 Extract from Sacred Places, War Memorials in the Australian Landscape, K. S. Inglis assisted by Jan Brazier, Miegunyah Press at Melbourne University Press, 1998, p243
Plaques to WWII servicemen were later added to the northern side of the memorial. This memorial was sacred to the patients and a place of remembrance where Anzac Day services were held regularly for many years.
In recent years the RSL has shown little interest in this wartime memorial and it was not until Friends of Callan Park agitated for its safety and preservation that active steps were taken to secure it.