Retracing the journey of Australia's Indigenous Light Horsemen

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At the outbreak of the First World War, Indigenous Australians did not have the right to vote, were not counted in the census and could not officially serve in the armed forces. And yet, an estimated 1,000 Indigenous Australians served their country in the First World War­­, with the Light Horse having the highest number of Indigenous soldiers in any regiment.

As part of a new NITV documentary with the working title Digging Deep: Lest We Forget, descendants of Indigenous Light Horsemen have journeyed to Israel to commemorate and honour their ancestors on the centenary of the Battle of Beersheba.

The Battle of Beersheba, waged against the Ottoman Empire on 31 October, 1917, was one of the most important battles of the Sinai-Palestine campaign, allowing Allied forces to advance into Palestine. The battle also marked the beginning of the end of the Ottoman campaign in the Middle East.

Around 800 Australians from the 4th and 12th Light Horse Regiments were involved in the charge, which is remembered as one of the last great cavalry charges in history.

But this victory came at a cost and Australian forces suffered 31 deaths and 36 wounded.

The documentary will follow descendants of the Indigenous Light Horsemen as they undertake their own journey of remembrance and discovery.

Frank Fisher
Frank Fisher (AWM P00889.015)

Elsie Amamoo is the great granddaughter of Trooper Frank Fisher who served as one of the “Black Watchmen” in the 11th Light Horse regiment. She says she is “ecstatic” to partake in the centenary commemorations of the Battle of Beersheba.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to share our family history with all Australians and preserve it for future generations, but to do so while ‘galloping’ in my great grandfather, Frank Fisher’s footsteps in Israel where he served 100 years ago is remarkable,” Elsie said.

“This experience also allows us to acknowledge community members before us, standing with those beside us, and creating a future for the next generation.”

Siblings, Lance Waters and Emily Roberts are part of the Gamilaraay nation and are the grandchildren of Jack Stacey, one of the few Indigenous Light Horse Troopers who took part in the Charge of the Light Horse at Beersheba.

While it is well documented that there were Indigenous troopers who took flank reinforcement duties during the Battle, there were very few Indigenous troopers who served in the 4th or 12th regiments in the actual charge.

“Jack Stacey was a Kamilaroi man from the Gamilaraay nation born in 1897…Even though he was not given rights as an Indigenous man in Australia, he was still compelled to protect the interests of Australia, because whether white Australia acknowledged it or not, it was his land and people to protect,” Lance Waters said.

The documentary, developed in a partnership between the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, NITV, the Rona Tranby Trust and Screen Australia, will be aired on Anzac Day, 2018.

For more information on the Battle of Beersheba or on Indigenous service visit the Anzac Portal website.