• World War II veterans Mebai Warusam and Awati Mau unveiled the statue on Saturday. (Vanessa Seekee)Source: Vanessa Seekee
Two surviving members of the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion unveil a new statue to commemorate the group's efforts during WWII.
By
Ella Archibald-Binge

Source:
NITV News
12 Nov 2018 - 7:43 PM  UPDATED 12 Nov 2018 - 7:44 PM

A new statue on Thursday Island honours the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion (TSLIB), which fought to protect Australia from Japanese forces during World War II.

Formed in 1943, the 880-strong battalion was Australia's first and only all-Indigenous army unit. 

Two of the three remaining members of the battalion - Mebai Warusam, 95, and Awati Mau, 93 - unveiled the sculpture in the battalion's 75th anniversary year. 

The third surviving veteran, 94-year-old Getano O'Cloudy, was unable to make the trip from Townsville. 

The region recorded the Commonwealth's highest enlistment rate per capita during WWII - despite Torres Strait Islanders not being recognised as citizens in their own country at the time. 

"I think there were only 10 men of eligible age [who didn't enlist] in the entire Torres Strait -  that’s 49,000 square kilometres of island and ocean," said Vanessa Seekee, TSLIB 75th anniversary committee secretary.

"They left the women and kids on the outer islands as well with no one to protect them or hunt for them – and there were no shops out there then – so the women had to fend for themselves for five years.

"So they have a very proud tradition of military service, because every family in the Torres Strait has a relative who’s served in World War II."

Ms Seekee told NITV News the 660 kilogram bronze statue would recognise the Torres Strait's contribution. 

"It’s a tangible reminder for the service that these fellows have done at a time when they weren’t on the census, they didn’t have the right to vote," she said. 

"They weren’t seen as citizens of Australia but they still volunteered in such enormous numbers.

"A lot of people don’t know the contribution that the Torres Strait people made during World War II and what they continue to make today."

'Very proud': Remembering the only known Aboriginal woman to serve in WWI
Marion Leane Smith's family members hope more people learn about her remarkable story.
Rejected by the country they fought for: New push to give Indigenous soldiers recognition
Indigenous Australians have served the nation in all major conflicts since before Federation, for many this was the first time they experienced equality. But back on home soil they faced enduring discrimination, now two exhibitions hope to shine a light on their experience.