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  1. Long reads
20 January 2003

Ever the willing ally

Australians were on hand even for the Boer war and the Boxer Rebellion. They were involved in more o

By Bulent Yusuf

Maori wars (1860-69): The first Australians to go to war sailed to New Zealand to fight the Maori rebels on behalf of the British empire; 2,700 soldiers were enlisted to defend the settlers. The number of casualties remains unknown.

Sudan (1885): A contingent of 770 soldiers left Sydney to join a British expeditionary force in the Sudan. This was the first military force ever despatched by a self-governing colony to an imperial war, following outrage over the death in Khartoum of General Charles Gordon, hero of the British empire.

Boer war (1899-1902): Again as part of the British empire, the Australian colonies sent more than 12,000 troops to the war in South Africa. While the British and the Dutch squabbled over control of gold and diamond mines in the Boer republics, 600 Australians died and 500 were wounded.

Boxer Rebellion (1900-1901): Australia’s first involvement in a war on mainland Asia was in June 1900, when the British government requested military aid to protect Christian missionaries and, er, economic interests in China. The threat came from the Chinese “Boxer” movement, fighting against colonial exploitation. Only 556 Australians were enlisted to fight; six died.

First World War (1914-18): From a population of five million, 300,000 Australians enlisted, of whom more than 60,000 were killed and 156,000 were wounded, gassed or taken prisoner.

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Korean war (1950-53): Under the auspices of the UN, Australian troops took part in the defence of South Korea against invasion from the North. More than 15,000 Australians served in the Commonwealth forces; 339 died and 1,500 were wounded.

Malayan Emergency (1950-60): Britain’s failure to keep promises made to an anti-Japanese guerrilla movement during the Second World War led to a surge of anti-government activity by the Malayan Communist Party. British and Commonwealth troops were duly called in to restore order; 7,000 of them were Australian.

Indonesia (1964-66): Australia was reluctant to be involved, but was compelled to because of its membership of the Far East Strategic Reserve. A small, undeclared war sprang up between Indonesia and Malaysia, because Indonesia suspected that Britain was attempting to re-establish colonial rule in Malaysia. Commonwealth forces, with 3,500 Australians, were despatched to contain the fighting before it spread to Papua New Guinea.

Vietnam war (1962-72): Australian support for South Vietnam in the early Sixties reflected the anti-communist hysteria of the United States. Australia had already placed a team of 30 military advisers at South Vietnam’s disposal, but when the US commenced a major escalation of the war in 1965, it turned to Australia for support. More than 50,000 troops were sent; 2,400 were wounded and 520 died.

Gulf war (1990-91): Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait was considered a threat to the free world (mainly its oil supply). An American-led coalition of UN partners responded by carpet bombing Iraq. Australia’s contribution was principally through its navy, which enforced UN sanctions, with zero casualties on Australia’s part.

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