Joseph ZEEN #58184

Indigenous Australian, Joseph ZEEN, 6th Reinforcements Queensland

When Joe ZEEN volunteered to serve for his country, at age 31, he had already seen much of the darker side of life, and the struggle to survive.

Born in 1887 to Hannah Robinson and Peter Zeen, both his parents were deceased when he signed his enlistment papers, so he named instead his former employer, Alfred Ernest Mayer, of Teven Creek, as his next-of-kin.

When Joe’s father died in 1899 he left his mother Hannah to care for four children, one, just months old. Hannah was arrested and imprisoned for being unable to provide shelter for her them, while her children were admitted to various ‘reformatories’.

N.S.S. Sobraon, school room

N.S.S. Sobraon, no date. State Archives of New South Wales

Joe was sent to ‘N.S.S. Sobraon‘ a naval school ship, which served as a reformatory from 1892-1911. Moored off Cockatoo Island in Sydney harbour, his older brother John had been admitted there 5 years earlier.

J. Zeen, age 26.
NSW Gaol Description & Entrance Book, 1913

Joe’s younger siblings were sent to Warangesda Aboriginal Mission, located on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River. It’s not clear how much time Joe and his siblings were kept in these ‘institutions’, Joe appears as a ‘champion milker’ in 1915 bragging about his abilities.

Having enlisted in Lismore, like many men from northern New South Wales, Joe was sent to Brisbane to train at the army barracks in nearby Enoggera.

6th Queensland Reinforcements, 1918.
30668, Joseph Leslie Gossner Collection, State Library of Queensland

Initially assigned to the 6th Queensland Reinforcements, and after several weeks training, Joe found himself aboard HMAT Bakara bound for England. During the voyage he was found to be in breach of military rules and was awarded 3 days field punishment (confined to quarters) and fined for his insolence.

After arriving in England in early November 1918, there was no urgency for these reinforcements to go to France, as the war was soon to come to an end. Joe did go to France in January 1919 but spent most of his time being treated for the ‘common soldier’s complaint’ VD before heading back to Australia on the Barambah, arriving in Melbourne in October 1919.

Joe was arrested and imprisoned for several offences in the 1920’s, but he eventually made a life for himself in Queensland; marrying Christian Murphy in 1935. Joe can be seen in the image above, attending an Anzac Day gathering in Hughenden in 1950; he died in 1956.

Joe Zeen, centre, Anzac Day, Hughendon, 1950
Courtesy Flinders Shire Historical Collection

Read more …
Service record: ZEEN, Joseph
Embarkation roll: 6th Reinforcements Queensland
Milking. Casino and Kyogle Courier and North Coast Advertiser, 2 April 1915, p.2
Local enlistments. Northern Star, 6 July 1918 p 5
Soldier portrait: The Queenslander Pictorial, 16 November 1918
Queensland’s Indigenous Servicemen

Marg Powell & Des Crump  | QANZAC100, State Library of Queensland