The Australian Defence Force has launched a new investigation into claims of bastardisation and racism at army barracks in Townsville.
Defence force chief General Peter Cosgrove today branded as galling a photo in The Daily Telegraph showing Australian soldiers dressed in Ku Klux Klan-style hoods gathered behind seated Aboriginal and other dark-skinned soldiers.
The newspaper also reported claims that a dark-skinned soldier had the armour removed from his flak jacket while serving in East Timor while others had offensive slogans written on their gear.
Gen Cosgrove said the defence force last year investigated the photo, which was taken at the Lavarack barracks in September 2000, and had begun to investigate other claims raised in the newspaper.
"This is a silly, silly thing that's been done," he told the Nine Network.
"My understanding is it was the junior officers involved in the command of that particular group who came up or perhaps condoned this idea (of the photograph).
"An investigation, which is under way to check the further claims of some of the aggrieved people, will determine that.
"But it (the photograph) was investigated when it was first presented in early 2003 and action was taken then.
"There's been further complaints since then, and they're what are being dealt with now by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission and equally by the army."
Gen Cosgrove said he only recently learned of the photo.
He found it galling because the defence force had a good record of looking after indigenous recruits.
"We're the biggest employer of indigenous Australians anywhere and we very much pride ourselves on taking care of them," he said.
"We find the very thought that anybody would oppress other soldiers, other Australians, to be totally abhorrent."
Victims of the abuse were preparing to launch legal action over the photo and other concerns, the newspaper reported.