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Australian Aborigines Commemorate Anzac Day

Aboriginal war veterans have marched through Sydney to highlight the sacrifices made by indigenous service men and women. The march coincides with Australia's Anzac Day (4/25), which marks the World War One battle of Gallipoli (in Turkey) in 1915. Many Australians believe their national identity was forged from the courage and spirit displayed by their troops during that eight-month campaign. From Sydney, Phil Mercer has more.

Indigenous Australians have a long history of military service. About 500 Aborigines served in World War I and as many as five thousand served during World War II.

They fought alongside other Australians, with the same conditions of service, and often encountered little prejudice on the battlefields.

It was a very different story on their return home. Aborigines faced racism and discrimination and were not allowed to become Australian citizens until 1948.

Warren Mundine from Australia's National Indigenous Council says indigenous veterans are under recognized.

"Prior to '67 many Aboriginals were not citizens of Australia which is a bizarre situation to be in and yet they had served. They've served in the First World War, they served in the Boer War, they served in the Second World War and many other conflicts," he said. "Vietnam. … Here they were going out and fighting for Australia then coming back home and living under the Aboriginal laws, the Aboriginal Acts where they were treated in an almost apartheid-type system. So these are the forgotten warriors of Australia. They're probably the greatest heroes of all."

The Anzac Day march Wednesday through the Aboriginal district of Redfern in Sydney attracted hundreds of people, and veterans with similar stories.

David Williams served as a sailor on the Australian vessel HMAS Vampire during the Vietnam War. He says that when he returned home from the conflict his service and sacrifice were ignored.

"Purely probably ignorance and the ignorance would deal with the fact that one you were black, two you weren't an Australian citizen and three, you know, who wanted to know you," he said. "I look back now in hindsight and I think, well, my goodness you never stood a chance as a black Australian."

The Anzacs refer to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, which suffered devastating casualties at the World War I battle of Gallipoli in Turkey in 1915.

It was the first time they'd fought under the flags of their newly independent countries.

Many Australians consider the ill-fated landing in Turkey as the day their young country, a former British penal colony, came of age.

Dawn services and marches have been held across Australia and New Zealand as well as among units of Australian forces serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.