This Anzac Day, we take a moment to remember the non-European Australians who have played a valuable part in Australia’s history.
Australia’s Anzac Day holiday on April 25 is a time for remembering the service and sacrifices of military personnel during war.
A forthcoming paper by Shannon Whiley (University of Queensland) does just this, shining a light on the little-known contributions of Nikkei-Australian soldiers who served in World War II, during the time of the White Australia Policy.
Defying the State to Serve the State
Whiley’s paper, titled “The Experiences of Nikkei-Australian Soldiers During World War II”, explains that although Australians of Japanese background were officially banned from enlisting in the military, records show that some Nikkei-Australians did serve in World War II.
Whiley writes, “Those who did enlist found themselves in an ambiguous position, fighting for a country that interned their families and classified them as enemy aliens.”
Building on existing scholarship on Nikkei-Australian history, Whiley uses archival material to profile three Nikkei-Australian soldiers, including Mario Takasuka (pictured left). Whiley’s work shows how, despite their common heritage, these soldiers were treated differently by authorities due to differing parentage and places of birth.
Identity and Belonging
The paper “delve[s] into questions surrounding the identity of these soldiers, focusing on the tensions between three different images of Nikkei-Australians:
1) how they were seen bureaucratically and legislatively;
2) how they were seen by their local communities and peers; and
3) how they saw themselves.
It shows that despite being classified as enemy aliens by the state [during World War II], Nikkei-Australians were generally accepted by their peers and did not conform to the stereotypes of Japanese people that prevailed within the government and the greater community.”
Growing Body of Literature
The study also draws on the stories of “non-Australian Nikkei soldiers and Australian soldiers from non-Nikkei racial minorities”, including “Chinese-Australian soldiers and Indigenous Australian soldiers”, and “contributes to the growing body of literature commemorating those non-European Australians who served in the military under the White Australia policy.”
Shannon Whiley’s article is based on her Honours thesis, and will be published this coming June in NVJS 10.
(Image: Mario Takasuka, [Mario on leave in Cairo, 1941], from Building a Country Archive, Pictures Collection, State Library Victoria, #H92.400/96)