Aboriginal soldier from Charlotte Waters killed in WWI


2623 Alexander McKinnon 1LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Sir – With Anzac Day about a month away, it is again an important time to reflect on the role Australia has played in international conflicts and the soldiers and other personnel (doctors, nurses and others) who have served.
Many people from Central Australia served in the First or Second World War, the Vietnam War and a number of other conflicts – and this has included many Aboriginal people.
One soldier who served in World War 1 is Private Alex McKinnon (Service No. 2230), an Aboriginal man from Charlotte Waters.
Despite the fact that Aboriginal Australians had few rights in those days, in particular that they could not vote and were not even included in the census – Private McKinnon somehow managed to enlist and was a member of the 43rd Australian Infantry Battalion.
Tragically, however, he was killed in action in Belgium on October 4 1917, aged only 26.
Private McKinnon’s story is a significant part of our local history and has been documented in a notable publication, World War One: A History in 100 Stories (Scates, Wheatley & James, 2015), and also features in a new mobile phone App, “World War 1 Stories”, developed in Alice Springs and available across the country, as well as in New Zealand.
Tomorrow, March 26, a Last Post Ceremony at sunset (5.30pm) will be held at the Alice Springs Cenotaph, Anzac Hill, in honour of Private Alexander McKinnon. It would be fitting to have a broad cross section of the Alice Springs community, as well as visitors to town, attend this event.
Jonathan Pilbrow
Convener Alice Springs Peace Action Think Tank (ASPATT)
The above photograph is believed to be Alexander McKinnon as a child in the right hand corner, with his paternal grandfather, also Alexander.


  1. Pte Alexander McKinnon, Aboriginal soldier who served with the AIF during WW1 enlisted in Adelaide in May 1916.
    He came from Charlotte Waters, NT and placed on his enlistment form his occupation as a station hand.
    His enlistment number was 2230.
    He was living at Leigh Creek at the time of his enlistment.
    Of course he was killed in action in France.
    His two service medals, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal were consigned to his step-mother, Mary McKinnon in 1922.
    She lived at Kadina.
    She also received his memorial plaque.
    Pte McKinnon’s 70 document service record can be accessed on the internet.

  2. Thanks, Jonathon Pilbrow. Charlotte Waters always a must stop on the way back from Dalhousie, a window into our past, an inkling of life in such an isolated outpost along the OT Line.
    Your post adds another layer. Will chase up the book and the app. Hope the ceremony went well.

  3. Thanks for your comments John and your mention of Alex’s two service medals is worth a detailed look. The story about how Alexander’s two service medals were consigned to his step-mother, Mary McKinnon in 1922, is a very interesting and sad one. There is an account of this given by Arianna Baldieri as part of the 2018 Northern Territory Chief Minister’s Anzac Spirit Study Tour.
    Baldieri explains that “in his Will, McKinnon declares that “‘Cobb’ of Mount Dare via Charlotte Waters Northern Territory Aboriginal my mother all my goods and Chattels real and personal to and for her own use and benefit absolutely.”
    “After hearing the news of his death in 1921, Mary wrote a letter to the Officer in Charge of Base Records asking for more information about his death and also mentioning that Alexander’s mother and father is dead. The thing that is strange about this letter is that Mary signs off with “A. McKinnon.”
    “From then on, an investigation deciding which mother would rightfully claim the late McKinnon’s items, began. Why did Mary say that “Cobb” was dead when she applied for Gratuity? On the 24th of April 1922, a letter was written saying that if the gratuity was awarded to “Cobb” the amount would more likely be paid to the Protector of Aborigines, leaving “Cobb” with nothing. The letter also mentions that “the WAR MEDALS would not be valued by ‘Cobb,’ and would suggest that they be awarded [to the stepmother].”
    “On the 17th of May 1922, it was decided that the medals would go to Mary and the gratuity to “Cobb.” Of course, though the gratuity went to the state. The only thing that Alice “Cobb” McKinnon received from her son was 2 books, pipe, 2 bag handles, 2 handkerchiefs, inkwell, purse, 2 straps, letters, cards, photos, testament and a wallet.”

  4. For John Pilbrow. Alexander McKinnon Junior is my grandfather’s brother (different mothers.)
    I’d love to connect and talk more about your interest and knowledge, as I look back over my family history.


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