I have only spoke for my rights

James Arden volunteered for service in the First AIF in 1916. He was forty-three years of age, a labourer, and described himself as a ‘natural born British subject’. The authorities were more explicit. A recruiting officer didn't bother to record Arden’s height or his weight but described his complexion as ‘Aboriginal’.

Arden and his family had been ‘removed’ to Lake Condah Mission Station in June 1912. Lake Condah was a government reserve, situated on the traditional lands of the Gunditjmara people of Western Victoria. Here so-called ‘half-caste’ Aboriginal people were provided with rations, clothing, and accommodation—if they were ‘well behaved’. Defiance of the Manager could lead to expulsion from the settlement.

James Arden was deeply dissatisfied with the treatment meted out on the Station. Arden enlisted in the war in March 1916 but never went to war. No sooner had he arrived at the training camp than he contracted meningitis. After 196 days service, he was discharged medically unfit from the Army.

The authorities conceded that meningitis was contracted ‘as a result of [Arden’s] war service’. Its effects were crippling. With a condition as severe as this, Arden was granted a pension of a little over £3 a fortnight for himself and his family. He had also accrued back pay—£24 in all—a pittance for a man with seven dependents but enough to cause resentment from the authorities. Within a few weeks of his release from hospital, W.L. Galbraith, Manager of Lake Condah Station, challenged Arden's entitlements. Galbraith and his wife claimed Arden was idle, rude, and extravagant with his pension. But it seems that at the heart of their complaints was a challenge to white authority.  

In order to retain control over his finances, James Arden left the Lake Condah Station. Arden struggled to provide for his own family, let alone others who came to depend on him. And for a man as weak and sick as James Arden it was not easy to find work.

In 1918 James Arden tried again to enlist, only to be rejected as medically unfit by the authorities. He returned to Lake Condah soon after the end of the war. By that time the Mission had closed and many Aboriginal families were uprooted and relocated to Lake Tyers Reserve on the other side of Victoria. James Arden died in June 1935, after a long illness related to his war service.