I’m sorry – I can’t fight with you until you make me equal


I recently discovered that the Australian Defence Force is pushing for Indigenous Australians to fight for the country overseas. Which I’m happy to do, provided you fight for us first.




As the Australian Defence Forces have continued their push to recruit Indigenous personnel through social media, I was asked how I felt. As an aboriginal what is my first respond to these targeted ads? Well, it’s a complex issue.

Now, the larger issues of the health gap, the inordinate number of us in jail and the stalling constitutional recognition are important points, but for me, it’s a bit more personal than that.

When I was 18 months old, I was removed from the community I lived in with my aunty (just as an aside, not by blood according to Australian law), and was relocated to live in a white family in suburban Melbourne. That family, I came to know as my own, and my new father was a career Navy man (as his father was). There was tradition there, but it wasn’t my tradition. And to be perfectly frank, it was an unhappy home. Looking back, there seemed to be a mutual dislike of the situation we found ourselves in. He desired order, I didn’t. I desired freedom, he didn’t. So on went the familiar cycle of physical abuse, fleeing and returning to that house. Because of the nature of his job, he was away for long periods of time, so the responsibility of raising us was passed onto his sister and her husband, who I now call mum and dad and are beautiful people.

But as a displaced black kid in Melbourne with no roots, I had a restless, directionless upbringing. So I began to blame the Navy for the actions of my father. He was either absent, which was sometimes preferable to him being present. But, I was a teen then, so it was easy to blame them, instead of him. It’s not their fault, it was mostly his. So, in the interim between then and now, I searched for my biological mother, and by a combination of meticulous search and blind luck, I found her, two years before she passed. Meeting her inspired me to trade the concrete of Melbourne for the dust of the Territory, and the community I now work in, all in an effort to get closer to the culture I’ve missed out on.

My opposition for indigenous people serving in the armed forces comes not from my own experience, but rather that of my mother, and those of my blood who walked before me. In one of our few chats, I discovered that both sides of my family, old and new, black and white, had a military connection. She mentioned of how our family volunteered to fight for this country in the past great wars, how my people felt compelled to pick up arms and defend this country overseas, but how, upon their return, no-one defended them. Despite the sacrifices made and the courage built, it was a return to the status quo, a return to second-class citizenry. Shuttled back into community, and away from greater attention. Back to your corner, as it were; leave us alone, and we’ll leave you alone.

I know today is a day of healing. Of being sorry. Of bridging that gap. And I’d like to say that progress has been made. But the awful truth is that you don’t see what I see every day. What is desperately needed is education, employment and health, and picking up a rifle to defeat Islamic State does absolutely nothing to address that.

What’s changed between my relations’ generation and mine regarding this issue is very minimal. The prevailing culture still seems to be that we’re good enough to die for the country, but barely good enough to live in it.

The solution to this is simple. Afford us the same opportunities you deem as your basic rights, and we’ll proudly fight alongside you.


Mellek Steel is a blue-collar schmo who traded the city in for the bush. Alongside his inability to write a gripping bio, he's keen on fishing and whatever footy team is presently losing the most.

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