French students travel to Australia to identify Indigenous digger

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A group of French students has travelled to Australia to solve the mystery of an unidentified Indigenous digger in a rare World War One photograph.

A group of French students is one step closer to solving the mystery of an unidentified Indigenous digger in a rare World War One photograph.
 
The still was hidden in an attic in the French village of Vignacourt for almost one hundred years before being rediscovered in 2011.
 
It was found in a chest full of thousands of glass slides capturing soldiers in rare, non-censored, moments of ease.
 
Lucile Werkin from the Vignacourt Youth Embassy said the picture of the Indigenous digger sparked the imagination of local students because it was so unusual.
 
"It's the only one photo amongst 800 with Australians where there is an Aboriginal digger," she said.
 
The Australian War Memorial's Indigenous Liaison Officer Gary Oakley said the photograph is also unusual for the time because it appears to show Indigenous and non-Indigenous soldiers as friends.
 

"These two guys are mates. People don't get photos taken with people they don't know," he said.

 
Intrigued by the photo of the mystery man, the French students travelled to the other side of the world, gathering for a ceremony today at the memorial to Indigenous soldiers in Canberra.
 
Ms Werkin said many Indigenous diggers joined the war effort to prove themselves, in the hope of achieving respect.
 
That did not happen in their lifetimes, but she said it was never too late.
 
"No matter the situation they were in, how they were treated at that time, what is important now is to be able to give the same respect," she said.
 
Michael Fiechtner from the Vignacourt Project Team said the students have plenty of questions.
 
"They'd like to know a little about where he came from, they'd like to know what he was doing in Vignacourt, what role he played," he said.
 
But the mystery of the Indigenous digger and his white friend is now closer to being solved, thanks to the efforts of the Australian War Memorial and thousands of visitors to the travelling exhibition – Remember me: the lost diggers of Vignacourt.
 
The Vignacourt Project Team's Alison McCallum said, having come so far, the next challenge was confirming his identity.
 
"They're just waiting for a comparative family photo and they have to cross match," she said.  
 
Mr Oakley said many of the Australian Indigenous soldiers didn't identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, and did not declare their ethnicity to authorities.
 
He said he's realistic about the prospect of finding the digger's descendants.
 
"There's a chance we may find him, but there's probably a bigger chance they might not," he said.  
 
It's estimated more than 1,000 Indigenous diggers were involved in World War One.
 
They were not even considered citizens when they fought, and often died, for the country.
Source SBS

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