Aboriginal veterans' service recognised - at last

A war memorial marking the sacrifice and service of Indigenous Australians has been unveiled in Adelaide.

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(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

More than a century of largely unrecognised service by Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders in Australia's defence forces has finally been redressed in South Australia.

A war memorial marking their sacrifice and service has been unveiled in the heart of the city, as Karen Ashford reports.

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(Excerpt from song)

A song composed especially for the dedication of the first indigenous specific war memorial in the state.

It's a monument  that Governor General Quentin Bryce says may yet receive national status.

"Aspiring to be the first national war memorial for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women. It stands in noble testimony to the service of indigenous personnel across Australia in peace and war. Men and women who served in every campaign of our nation’s forces, from the Boer War through to today. It is increasingly clear that indigenous people have contributed substantially to the defence of our nation, more than 800 in world war one,  3000 in World War Two and many others we still do not know about."

Almost 1000 people gathered to pay their respects at the monument, which features life bronzes of a male and female soldier, overlooking a traditional coolamon set on a rock, surrounded by a dreaming serpent.

Frank Lampard was part of the committee which raised more than a million dollars to make the memorial a reality.

“It’s taken an awfully long time to get a memorial of our own, and we could actually ask why. Why, within the environs of this parade ground there are 39 memorials to all manner of men and women who have served in peace and war. Indeed nearby there is a memorial for war horses, and a Goolwa, only an hour or so drive away from the heart of the city, a lovely memorial to war dogs.  Why then are memorials to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in Australia’s wars few, modest and late?”

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill said it is recognition long overdue.

"The Defence Act of 1909 excluded indigenous Australians from enlisting. Those who masked their true cultural identity in order to enlist took an important step of their own towards full inclusion for their people."

Tanya Hosch, from the Recognise movement for  constitutional recognition says the acknowledgment of indigenous defence personal is a step toward wide recognition.

“I think it’s really clear from those ex-service people who are here today just how much this kind of recognition means to see that there is finally some recognition for their sacrifice and their contribution to the wellbeing of this nation. It’s really clear that symbolism does matter to people- it’s definitely part of the continuum of work we need to do as Australians to make sure that Aboriginal and Torres Stait islander people are finally recognised in our constitution.”

For Frank Clarke, who served in Vietnam in 1966, it was a day of pride.

When he enlisted Aboriginal people were regarded as flora and fauna, rather than citizens.

"I came home from Vietnam and that’s when the referendum was held in September 1967, and that’s where I got recognised as an Australian. And at the same time the welfare was coming down to take away my sisters to take them away, while I was in Vietnam."

The Governor General laid the first wreath, before the Last Post rang out, in remembrance of those first Australians who fought for a country that refused to acknowledge them.

"The telling and remembering of experience is crucial to understanding who we are individually and as a nation. This superb memorial reflects so many stories some known, others waiting to be told, which we need to share, interpret and celebrate."

4 min read
Published 10 November 2013 at 7:16pm
By Karen Ashford