Unique NAIDOC lessons link to World War One

A Fingal Head teacher has used his talent and passion for Australian military history to connect students with ‘Great War’ Aboriginal soldiers.

Image: Extract from the Nominal Role of the World War One Australian Imperial Force, showing Charles Gage's details

NOTE: This story contains an image of a deceased Aboriginal person

Fingal Head Public School teacher Cameron Clarke doubles as a Major in the Australian Army Reserve and a Senior Investigator with the Unrecovered War Casualties Team.

This month he’s in France and Belgium to rededicate 16 soldiers who were previously in graves marked as “unknown” and through the work of Unrecovered War Casualty – Army have now been identified.

“The World War One battlefields of Europe can seem a really long way from a beachside town in 2022, but the lessons we can learn from our Diggers are timeless – courage, persistence, mateship,” Mr Clarke said.

“They deserve to be honoured and to be recognised.”

His students undertook literacy and history lessons researching the lives of three of the previously unidentified soldiers who are being honoured during Mr Clarke’s trip to Europe.

Two of the soldiers were brothers from Eugowra, on Wiradjuri country in Central Western NSW; Private Charles Gage, who was killed in action in 1916, and Lance Corporal Christopher Gage, who was killed in action in 1917.

They were Aboriginal soldiers, who joined up despite restrictions around their enlistment and not being counted in the census at the time.

Around 50 per cent of the students at Fingal Head Public School, on Bundjalung country, identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

“Highlighting that aspect of the Gage brother’s story and making it part of NAIDOC really brings it home to our students,” Principal Linda Dawson said.

“It helps them to see a connection where otherwise the history might not seem relevant.”

As part of their studies, Mr Clarke’s students each wrote a letter or poem to Private Gage, acknowledging his sacrifice and legacy.

Three of them will be read out during the rededication of his headstone on the 11th July.

Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up! Is the theme for this year’s NAIDOC Week, which wraps up Sunday, 10th July.

Image: Private Charles Gage, who was killed in action in 1916
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