Attestation paper for Trooper Frank Fisher

This attestation (enlistment) paper notes that Frank Fisher enlisted in World War I on 16 August 1917, at age 37. The document does not indicate that he was of Aboriginal descent, however his permanent address is listed as Barambah Aboriginal Reserve in Queensland (later called Cherbourg).

Educational value

  • At the time of Frank Fisher's (1880–?) disembarkation in Egypt in January 1918, his unit, the 11th Light Horse Regiment, was resting and training. But by April it was involved in new operations against Turkish and German forces in Palestine which lasted until the end of October. The regiment also helped to quell the Egyptian revolt against British rule that erupted in March 1919, before it returned to Sydney in August. Fisher was discharged in September 1919.
  • As this document shows, in 1917 Fisher was living on an Aboriginal reserve under Queensland's Aboriginal Protection and Restrictions of the Sale of Opium Act 1897. Many Aboriginal people in Queensland were forced onto reserves or missions, where their lives were strictly controlled. The Barambah Aboriginal Reserve, north-west of Brisbane, was managed by the Queensland Government from 1905 and renamed the Cherbourg Aboriginal Settlement in 1931.
  • Education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders was at best rudimentary and at worst non-existent. Fisher's mark, made on the attestation paper in place of a signature, suggests that he may have been illiterate. However, even if an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person was literate, they were often expected to still use a cross instead of a signature. Education on the reserves was usually delivered by untrained people, often the manager's wife. Curriculum was focused on manual activities, with the boys expected to work in the agricultural or pastoral industries and the girls as domestic servants.
  • Attestation papers such as this record basic facts about the recruit at the time of enlistment. Fisher's attestation paper reveals that he was married to Esme Fisher (listed as his next of kin), that he had three children, and that he allotted 'not less than three-fifths' of his pay during his overseas service for their support.
  • Esme Fisher wrote a letter to authorities concerning her difficulty in accessing her husband's military pay. Under Queensland legislation, the Chief Protector of Aboriginals controlled the wages of all Aboriginal people living on reserves and missions. To access this money, Aboriginal people had to get permission from the Chief Protector or a local Protector.
  • Fisher was the great-grandfather of champion Olympic sprinter Cathy Freeman. Freeman's grandfather, also Frank Fisher, attempted to enlist in World War II but was rejected because of his ethnicity. It wasn't until 1949 that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people could join the Australian military forces unrestricted.