Snake Bay Patrol

The Snake Bay Patrol was an auxiliary reconnaissance unit made up of Indigenous Australian residents of Melville Island in the Northern Territory that was raised by the Royal Australian Navy during World War II.[1] After the first bombing raid on Darwin in 1942, special units consisting of Indigenous Australians were formed, one of which was the Snake Bay Patrol.[2][3] The Snake Bay Patrol unit was established by Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve officer Lieutenant J.W.B. Gribble during the Pacific War to detect any Japanese forces which landed on the island, with local Indigenous Australians being informally recruited and never formally enlisted into the military. The Patrol's 35 members served on a full-time basis, received firearms training, were issued naval uniforms and held naval ranks conferred by Gribble, but were not paid.[4][5] Similar units were raised on Bathurst Island, the Cox Peninsula and Groote Eylandt.[6]

Snake Bay Patrol
BranchRoyal Australian Navy
TypeAuxiliary unit
RoleCoastal patrol, search and rescue
Size35 men
EngagementsWorld War II

During the war the Snake Bay Patrol conducted patrols along the shore of Melville Island, rescued downed Allied airmen and determined the location of naval mines. Two members of the Patrol are also believed to have formed part of reconnaissance parties landed on Timor from Allied submarines.[4]

The former members of the Snake Island Patrol only became eligible for service medals and payments in recognition of their service in 1962.[4] In December 1991 the few surviving members of the Patrol and the other auxiliary Indigenous units received compensation for not having been paid during the war, as well as the Defence Medal and War Medal; these were also provided to the next of kin of the members who had died by that time.[7] The next year the surviving men became eligible for veteran's benefits under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986.[4]

See also


  1. Clark, Chris. "A question of numbers – Second World War". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 10 June 2017.
  2. Cole-Adams, Kate (6 Dec 1991). "Belated honor for 'black diggers'". The Age. Melbourne. p. 6. Retrieved 17 Jul 2019.
  3. "Resource Book for Box 03 - Too dark for the light horse: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the defence forces". Australian War Memorial. Archived from the original on 8 April 2012. "1942, June 18 Aboriginal patrols organised along the northern and western coasts of Australia"
  4. Peryman, John. "A Brief History of Indigenous Service to the RAN" (PDF). A Naval Salute: Celebrating the Centenary of the Royal Australian Navy 1911–2011. Royal Australian Navy. p. 24.
  5. The Hon Gordon Bilney MP Minister for Defence Science and Personnel and The Hon Robert Tickner MP Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (25 April 1991). "Government recognises WWII service by "Black Diggers"". Media release. Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 10 June 2017.
  6. Dennis, Peter; Grey, Jeffrey; Morris, Ewan; Prior, Robin; Bou, Jean (2008). The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History (Second ed.). Melbourne: Oxford University Press. p. 4. ISBN 9780195517842.
  7. "Black diggers recognised belatedly". The Canberra Times. 6 December 1991. p. 4. Retrieved 10 June 2017 via National Library of Australia.
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