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Aaron Bunch

Indigenous soldiers war service remembered

Soldiers and Indigenous leaders have commemorated the formation of a WWII Arnhem Land army unit. (SUPPLIED) (AAP)

As the WWII conflict in Asia pushed south towards Australia, warring Indigenous clans in Arnhem Land unified to defend the nation from the Japanese.

The three groups of Yolngu warriors joined together using an ancient Makarrata ceremony in 1942 at Gurkawuy, 1000km east of Darwin in the Northern Territory.

They became the Army's Northern Territory Special Reconnaissance Unit and patrolled the coastline for enemy infiltration throughout the war.

The guerrilla group lives on and is a forerunner to the Australian Army's modern-day North-West Mobile Force, which continues to protect Australia's north.

"This is an important but largely unknown piece of Australian military history," NORFORCE Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Medlin said on Friday.

"Aboriginal people came together with the Australian Army to defend our nation."

More than 80 years on, the Australian Defence Force joined Indigenous leaders and community members last week in the NT to commemorate the formation of the unit.

Its history started in 1941 when the Army employed Royal Australia Airforce Squadron Leader Donald Thomson, a former anthropologist, to raise a unit of coast-watchers and guerrillas in the Northern Territory.

He enlisted his mate and famous Yolngu warrior Private Raiwalla Mildjingi to help bring the three groups of Yolgnu warriors together.

Pte Mildingi unified the clans and their non-Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander colleagues through a Makarrata ceremony of unprecedented size near Trial Bay in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The history of the Makarrata in March 1942 continues to be revered by indigenous Australian Defence Force members, particularly Yolgnu soldiers in NORFORCE.

About 30 are decadents of Northern Territory Special Reconnaissance Unit veterans.

Lt Col Medlin led a series of commemorative services and activities to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the ceremony and the formation of the unit at Gapuwiyak in the Eastern Arnhem Land.

"This is a proud legacy which still has lessons for all of us," he said.

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