A modern day warrior from Blacktown in Sydney and currently serving in Afghanistan is related to a warrior from Australia’s indigenous past.
21-year-old Private Andrew Roberts can trace his indigenous family history to the young warrior, Gambu Ganuurru or Red Kangaroo, whose life was recorded in the 1953 Australian classic The Red Chief by Ion L. Idriess.
The story of the Red Chief is an18th century tale of adventure but has its basis in a true story handed down from generation to generation by his tribe and given by the last survivor, "King" Bungaree, to the white settlers of the Gunnedah district of New South Wales.
Today, Andrew is in Uruzgan, adding to his family history, and says he is proud to be an indigenous soldier in the Australian Army.
“When I was young I didn’t really understand what my indigenous culture was all about until my school was involved in a NAIDOC festival,” Andrew said.
“Aboriginal elders taught us about our culture and traditions and we learnt to understand where we were from and to be proud of who we are. My father is from the Kamalroi tribe and my mother was from the Bundjalung tribe,” he said.
“It’s sad a lot of indigenous people don’t know what tribe they are from because of the stolen generation children who were removed from their families in the early 1900s,” Andrew added.
The Kamilaroi people are from the area between Tamworth and Goondiwindi and west to Narrabri, Walgett and Lightning Ridge. In the south-west, their country extends to Coonabarabran and the eastern foothills of the Warrumbungle Ranges and includes the Warrumbungle National Park. Bundjalung people are the original custodians of northern coastal areas of New South Wales in the area including the Bundjalung National Park and Mount Warning.
After completing school in Blacktown and working as a Telstra administrator, Andrew decided to follow his childhood dream to become a soldier and his family always supported his decision to join the Army.
“Especially my younger brother Nathan, who is very proud of me, as is my older brother Adam and my sister Alynda,” Andrew said.
Andrew’s great grandfather, Trooper William Chatfield from Coonabarabran also served in the Defence Forces. He joined the AIF in 1918 and served with the Light Horse Regiment in the Middle East. He was one of the more than 400 indigenous Australians who fought during WWI. They came from a section of society with few rights, low wages and poor living conditions.
Most could not vote and none were counted in the census. But once in the AIF, they were treated as equals, paid the same as other soldiers and generally accepted without prejudice. For many Australians in 1914 the offer of 6 shillings a day for a trip overseas was simply too good to miss.
Andrew is on his first operational deployment and says his role in Afghanistan is to provide security for the Security Forces Assistance Advisory Team as they work with the Afghan National Army (ANA).
“I enjoy going to the ANA compound and appreciate the interaction with the Afghan soldiers,” he said.
“Some of them speak English well and we know some Dari which also helps us to communicate. We are always welcomed and offered food and chai by the Afghans as they are very friendly people,” he added.
Before the Australian mission in Uruzgan there was a single under resourced hospital that was inaccessible to much of the population and the school system had all but broken down.
Now people in every district of the province can access medical treatment and children are being educated opening pathways to opportunity.
Andrew says he is proud to be in Afghanistan supporting the process of transition.
“We will see the responsibility for governance and independent security in the hands of the Afghans by the time we leave,” he said.
When transition in Uruzgan is complete Australia will remain committed to the ISAF strategy for nationwide transition - advising the ANSF as they develop their command and logistics capabilities and providing institutional training.