Film uncovers Aust-Muslim soldiers’ tales

The sacrifices made by Australia’s Muslim soldiers are an untold part of the Anzac legend, according to researcher Dr James Barry.

His new film, Crescent Under The Southern Cross: Saluting Our Muslim Anzacs, explores the contribution made by these servicemen during World War II.

“It breaks that stereotype of Muslims as a recent group arriving in Australia in the past 30 or 40 years, and the stereotype of Muslims being not really interested in contributing to Australia,” Dr Barry from Deakin University told AAP.

The soldiers came from all over the world including Albania, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Some were working as farm labourers when the war broke out, others were pearl divers evacuated from the north when Japan invaded Indonesia.

“These men were adventurous, they came from small villages all the way to Australia, a country which wasn’t very welcoming to them at the time and also was isolating for them,” Dr Barry said.

Their fates were varied: while some were classified as enemy aliens, others joined battalions or even the Special Forces.

The Special Forces men could infiltrate enemy lines, because they were able to blend in to south east Asian communities.

“These missions were designed to distract the Japanese or to give them the impression that Australian invasions, especially of Borneo, were much larger than they actually were,” Dr Barry said.

Some were captured by the Japanese and killed or died in combat.

The Muslim recruits were paid the same as others in the Special Forces, but usually lived in separate areas of the army camp as they did not drink alcohol and followed a halal diet.

One Muslim soldier featured in the film, Laver Xhemali, came from a poor village in southern Albania and had to leave home at 15 to earn money for his family.

He travelled to Australia in 1938, and when the war broke out he lied about his age so he could enlist.

He served in North Africa, where he tried to desert, before being redeployed to Papua New Guinea, where he fought the Japanese in dense jungle at the Battle of Wareo.

“Throughout his military history, he shows a healthy distrust of authority while also serving his unit well, he ended up being able to settle in Australia after the war,” Dr Barry said.

Mr Xhemali became the first Australian Muslim soldier to have the crescent and star emblem on his military grave when he died in 1991 at the age of 70.

Dr Barry collaborated with filmmaker Simon Wilmot on the project, and with successful previews in mid-December the pair are hoping to secure a television broadcast.

Upcoming screenings will be publicised on the Deakin University website.

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