Honouring the Unique Australian-Aboriginal and Israeli Connection

Barry RodgersArticles, Barry Rodgers

Sumach Soldiers March through Train Station
Reenactment of soldiers on parade, Semakh Railway Station, Galilee, 2017. Photo: Stan Goodenough.

When preparing for the Australian Light Horse Association’s commemoration of the centenary of the charge at Beersheba, I felt it important to acknowledge the role of Aboriginal Troopers in WW1. 

Although relatively small in number, they “punched well above their weight” making a significant contribution in the campaign, particularly in the crucial battle for Semakh. 

To get a significant number of Indigenous folk to represent their forebears at this event in Semach in 2017, we needed to raise around $120,000. That was not surprising, but what was surprising was that at least half that money ended up coming from the Jewish community. 

What was their interest in supporting this venture? 

What was their connection?

William Cooper

William Cooper (c. 1861 – 1941),
Australian Aboriginal leader. Wikipedia

Well amongst other things, it seems like they do not forget those who have stood with them in their suffering. Pastor Ray Minnecon first drew my attention to that great Aboriginal statesman and devout Christian, William Cooper.

Several weeks after mobs roamed the streets breaking the shop windows and looting Jewish merchants in Nazi Germany on the infamous “Kristallnacht”, Cooper led a delegation of the Australian Aboriginal League to the German Consulate in Melbourne, to deliver a petition which condemned the “cruel persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazi government of Germany”. 

There were quite a number of protests in Australia and other free countries, but the protest of the Australian Aboriginal League led by William Cooper was especially poignant when one remembers that, at that time, Aboriginal people in Australia suffered severe forms of discrimination and deprivation, and were not even counted in the national census. Yet they took time out from considering what to do about their own people’s suffering and the injustices they endured in order to demonstrate their solidarity with a persecuted community on the other side of the world—with whom they had no direct connection. This act of pure Christian selflessness put to shame the many others who remained silent.

In more recent years, Cooper’s legacy has been appreciated by the Jewish community. In 2002, a plaque was unveiled at the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Melbourne in honour of “the Aboriginal people for their actions protesting against the persecution of Jews by the Nazi Government of Germany in 1938.” The story of the protest is featured in the Jewish Holocaust Centre’s permanent museum. 

…the Australian horsemen keep on galloping…

The wonderful diorama at the Australian War Memorial commemorating the brilliant battle at the railway station at Semakh, gives special recognition to the Aboriginal Troopers of the 11th Light Horse Regiment.

The ceremonies we conducted in 2017 on behalf of the Australian Light Horse Assn. were most impacting.

C4I Australia’s National Leader Ian Worby presents Indigenous Representative Kerry Johnson with one of 100 commemorative medallions struck for the September 2018 Semakh memorial service.

Last year, to mark the centenary of the battle of Semakh, Vision Christian Tour’s group led by C4I Australia’s National Leader Ian Worby and also Jill Curry’s group, held a significant ceremony at the station that was attended by the Australian Ambassador Chris Caanan.

These occasions hold profoundly more significance than we might realise.

A unique opportunity for your involvement in a very important project:

Christians for Israel Australia have announced they will support fundraising for a full size statue of a Light Horseman to be placed at Semakh to represent and honour the Aboriginal Troopers of WW1, on a dollar for dollar basis.

Our target for the whole project is $30,000 of which C4I will contribute $15,000.

All donors who contribute over $500 will have their names engraved on a plaque of thanks.

Raymond Finn - indigenous participants

Raymond Finn, one of the indigenous participants of the 2017 Centenial reenactment ride in histroic uniform.
Photo: Stan Goodenough

Following our significant ceremony in 2017 I received the following email from Ziv Ophir, CEO of Kinneret College, on whose grounds the station and memorial are located, containing this almost prophetic statement, and I quote; 

“Under a eucalyptus on the river Jordan hope for the future was kindled and the Australian horsemen keep on galloping…”

So, in a spiritual sense you can join in with the “ongoing galloping” of the spiritual ANZACS, by contributing to this significant project.

The memorial site, on the Galilee next to the Jordan River with its museum and gardens are becoming quite a tourist attraction. This project has great significance on many levels, and is another great “bridge building” initiative between the Australian Christian and Jewish communities.

This year is the centenary of the homecoming year for the WW1 ANZACs, and so it would be a fitting year to have an unveiling in September 2019.