Beersheeba Re-enactment 100 years

Honouring David Mullett - Aboriginal soldier
Doris Paton received an email from the Department of Veterans Affairs as her Great Grand Father David Mullett had served in the Sinai Palestinian Campaign in 1917, in Egypt and Beersheba in the Remount Unit from Healesville Victoria, under Commanding Officer A.B. (Banjo) Patterson.
Doris was invited to, and accepted the invitation, to go to Israel for the 100th anniversary re-enactment of the Liberation of Beersheba hosted by KKL Israel ( Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael – Jewish National Fund) and JNF (Jewish National Fund of Australia Inc (JNF) Australia.
Doris was one of thirteen Aboriginal descendants who accepted the invitation to attend.
She accepted because she saw it as an opportunity to honour her Great Grandfather’s service and to use it to bring before the public the important contribution made by Aboriginal men to the war effort; one they received no thanks or recognition for, but without whose service the fighting forces could not have survived.
These men were gifted horsemen; attributes needed in those difficult environments, with horses the main means of transportation. They served a long way from home and country.
His story needed to be told, which was motivation for Doris.
David was in charge of looking after the horses, breaking in new horses, and keeping them well so the soldiers could be on horseback and active.
They also secured wells for the essential water for men and horses.
David was also skilled at picking up languages and was able to do reconnaissance work.
Doris noted that it was so dry ‘over there’! So different to where they had come from.
Part of the requirements of accepting the invitation to attend was the doing of a project.
Doris has chosen to write a book.
A film crew followed four of the group and recorded their reactions to seeing places where their ancestors lived and worked. There was the Memorial Museum dedicated to the Australian Lighthorse at Beersheba and the cemetery where it was the first time in 100 years the grave of one of the participants had been visited by a family member.

There was the sharing of personal stories.
For Doris this was an emotional time, thinking about the men away from their country but wanting to contribute. Some did the ANZAC sights while others in the group went with the Jewish National Fund following the ANZAC trails and projects they fund. Visits were made to Tel Aviv, Jaffa Old Port, the Wailing Wall, Jerusalem, the Syrian Border to Gaza with visits to the projects in the deserts, farming kibbutz and schools.
Doris said the experience was memorable with the added bonus of lovely people and delicious food.
Doris would like to return and do the trails at a slower pace to be able to have more time to take it all in and reflect on the conditions the men faced (heat, lice dust) in that situation.
Their efforts were what contributed to the important campaign which stopped the Turkish and saved the city of Beersheba among other battles.
As part of the documentary with the film crew, Doris went to Healesville to visit the Tarrawarra farm and the RSL in Healesville where her Great Grandfather’s name is.
There was a postcard sent by David to the manager at Lake Tyers Mission and given to Doris’ father, by Hilda Rule, whose husband was the Lake Tyers Mission manager at the time.
The words “This is David Mullett with his Tommy mate. David is not a bad chap” inspired Doris to do some research to find his war records in the archives in Canberra.
Further delving with her father Albert and Aunty Margaret brought to light that David had trained as a school teacher, but as an Aboriginal was not allowed to teach in white schools, as well as other information.
David Mullett was a Gunditjmara man from the Lake Condah reserve in the Victorian Western District. Intelligent, ambitious and resourceful, David attempted to carve out a career for himself as a school teacher and then a farm manager before he enlisted in the AIF in November 1915. He served overseas for four years in the Remount Unit of the Light Horse Brigade. Like other Aboriginal men serving their country, David returned from the war to find that this service did not protect his family from the impact of discriminatory racial legislation. The carrot of land following service was denied as were other rights afforded to white men who enlisted, like pensions.
David Mullett was born to James Mullett and Ellen Dutton at Lake Condah Aboriginal reserve. As a boy, he excelled at the Lake Condah mission school and for a period taught at the school. Family recollect that he later attended the Napier Street Teacher College in Melbourne and passed his teaching exam with flying colours. He applied for a job at a school in the Melbourne suburbs but was rejected on the grounds that he was Aboriginal. This was a real blow to David and an end to his teaching aspirations.
However, this led him to use his skills as a farm manger.
In 1904 David Mullett married Maud Emily Stephens, the eldest daughter of Emily Milton Stephens and Harry Stephens. Their marriage took place at Ramahyuck Mission near Rosedale.
David and Maud sought an independent life outside of Aboriginal reserves.
They moved around a lot taking their six children with them as they sought work in various places.
In 1914, they were caretakers of a farm near Tarrawarra in the Yarra Valley. David was ‘in charge of about 1000 - 1500 acres of land, stocked with sheep and cattle’. The farm was near the Coranderrk Aboriginal Reserve, home to relatives and friends.
David was saving money to buy a house but his hopes ended when, in April 1915, he lost his job at Tarrawarra. The family moved to Melbourne and were living in a rented house in Carlton when David enlisted in November 1915.
At the age of 43, David was among the oldest AIF volunteers. His age and his experience with horses meant that he was placed in the Remount Unit of the Light Horse Brigade. The Remount Unit cared for the horses and accepted men up to 50 years old. David had six children under 16 and sent an ‘allotment’ of his pay fortnightly to his wife, as did all married soldiers.
A week after enlisting, David embarked on the ‘Orsova’ in Melbourne and landed several months later in Alexandria, Egypt. For the next four years he was stationed at the remount depot at Jaffa Moascar, Egypt. During this time he developed a heart condition and was judged unfit for continued service. In May 1919, David disembarked in Melbourne and was discharged on July 7, 1919. He was 47 years old.
Upon returning to Melbourne, David found out that his grandchildren had been removed from the care of his wife, Maud, (their grandmother) and ‘boarded out’. It is unclear if he knew of these events whilst at war. The removal of Aboriginal children in Victoria was widespread at this time, and men’s war-time absence made families more vulnerable to official intervention. Whilst he was away, the Board for the Protection of Aborigines (BPA) had also cancelled Maud’s military allotment.
On May 22, 1919, Maud wrote to the Secretary to contest this decision. In her letter, she pointed out her family’s history of independence from the Board:
‘David never enlisted from the mission. We were out earning our own living like white people’
The BPA would not be swayed on its decision to deny Maud’s allotment of military pay and as a result she suffered great hardship.
Once reunited, David and Maud moved into a house in the Victorian Western District with some assistance from the BPA and the Defence Department. Although they had set up a home, their children remained in institutions or white people’s homes.
During the world-wide economic depression of the 1930s, David and Maud requested permission to move onto the Lake Tyers Aboriginal mission. Reliant upon intermittent seasonal rural work, the depression deeply affected Aboriginal families.
Despite this hardship, the BPA denied the family’s request as, according to Victorian legislation, ‘half castes’ were ineligible for government support.
In March 1938, David Mullett was living in the NSW South Coast town of Bega when he wrote to the military about several matters. He had lost his discharge certificate and wanted a duplicate in order to apply for an old-age pension, as he was only receiving £1-1-0 per fortnight as a military pension. David also wished to attend the ANZAC Day march in Sydney. He wanted to ‘wear the old uniform once more’ and asked ‘if there is any chance of being equipped with one (‘an old one would do’). The officer in charge at the base records replied that he could not assist him with application for a pension, or provide him with a uniform. David died a few months later and is buried in Bega Cemetery in an unmarked grave.
His name appears on the Lake Condah Honour Roll.