With due care

Alexander McKinnon was born in Charters Waters in the Northern Territory. He worked as a station hand before enlisting for war in 1916. Alex was one of thousands of servicemen of Indigenous descent—his enlistment papers describe him (in the racist language of the time) as an ‘Aboriginal half-caste’. Before leaving Australia, Alex made a will leaving all his possessions to his mother. When he is killed at Passchendaele, most of belongings are returned to her. But Alex’s mother is denied his medals and deemed unworthy of a war gratuity. They are sent instead to his white stepmother, a women he had never met. This story highlights the discrimination practiced against Aboriginal people. It shows the way Indigenous service and sacrifice went often went unrewarded. It exposes an injustice we have yet to address.

For full attribution of sources, suggestions for further reading and an extended version of the story itself see ‘With due care: Alexander McKinnon’ in Bruce Scates, Rebecca Wheatley and Laura James, World War One: A History in 100 Stories (Melbourne, Penguin/Viking, 2015) pp. 58-60; 355.