The native desert pea is a flower of mourning for some First Nations groups, symbolising a similar narrative to the Anzac poppy. Now, one woman is pushing for the pea to have the same national honour.
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The Point
19 Apr 2018 - 2:24 PM  UPDATED 19 Apr 2018 - 4:23 PM

It's only in the most arid of places that the desert pea blooms. 

Named after explorer Charles Sturt and South Australia's state emblem, the native wildflower has become an enduring symbol of Australia. 

"This little flower has got its roots deeply into Australian culture," says florist Hazel Davies. 

But she says the it represents much more than that. 

"It was the First Nations flower of mourning, a blood flower, like our Flanders poppy," she tells The Point. 

In some First Nations story-telling, the desert pea represents the blood spilt on the land, signifying like the Anzac Flanders poppy, both love and loss. 

Now, Hazel Davies wants the desert pea to have the same national honour as the poppy. Her desert pea project aims to raise awareness about the flower and its historical significance. 

"I came across some very significant stories, the main one I began to work with belonged to the Barkandji people up around Narran Lakes," she says. 

As an non-Indigenous woman, Hazel says she now has permission to speak about the story of the desert pea. 

 

"I began a pretty fiery journey to chase this little flower and learn as much as I could about it," she says.

"I knew a lot about the poppy as a white woman and that was when I came up against the custodial edge where I started to search for permission because I knew that I was holding a flower that signified sadness and that there was deep sadness in our First Nations people from the ground up and still today." 

Hazel Davies work with traditional owners has let her tell the story of the desert pea and with her own money she's created the desert pea project, creating hats, wreaths and pins. 

Her project will feature at this year's Frontier Wars Camp at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra. 

Alice Springs elder Chris Tomlins has been setting up the camp for the past few weeks. He wants the Frontier Wars recognised and says the desert pea, as a national symbol, will encourage Australians to remember their long forgotten history. 

Aboriginal Tent Embassy ask all Australians to remember Frontier Wars
The Aboriginal Tent Embassy will highlight the Frontier Wars in their annual story camp in the lead up to Anzac Day next week.

"To understand that they have a past that's built on genocide and slaughter its something they can come to terms with and learn about. And that way we can grieve and heal and move forward together," he tells The Point.

"At the moment its all hidden secrets, to heal this country we need to heal the people. And to heal the people, we need to look right back into our past and move together from there." 

Mr Tomlins says the desert pea symbolises a story from deep within our past and parallels one of the most historical stories known to the Western world. 

"It's a story of the past the desert pea, its written in the Bible about Kane and Abel where one brother slayed the other," he says.  

"[It's] thousands and thousands years old as well where one brother slayed the other and that's what the desert pea is about, the blood of the earth from our past, the history of the country." 

Hazel Davies' desert pea proposal has been taken to the Australian War Memorial for consideration. 

But Australian War Memorial Director, Dr Brendan Nelson, says while he personally supports such proposals the memorial is a unifying institution.

"We represent and we remember all Australians who have served, who have suffered, and who have died; irrespective of their race, irrespective of their politics, irrespective of their religion and irrespective of their rank," he told The Point

Dr Nelson says the Frontier Wars should be recognised but not by the Memorial. 

"That is a story that needs to be told by the National Museum of Australia. The National Museum of Australia is the institution that tells the story of Australia and our history," he says. 

"That story needs to be told unvarnished in all of its complexity, in all of its truths, at least 20,000 Indigenous Australians died over 120 years in the violent dispossession that happened in the course of those conflicts." 

He says the Australian War Memorial tells the story of Australians.

"Aboriginal Australians, non-Aboriginal Australians; wearing our uniform, serving country in war and in peacekeeping operations overseas. That is our origin, our charter, and our mission." 

But historians like Professor Henry Reynolds from the University of Tasmania argue that Australia's first combat needs to recognised as war.  

"How could you not consider that war, when so much was at stake?" he tells The Point.

"More was at stake for Australians in that conflict, more than any other war we've been involved in because it was fought in Australia about Australia."

Professor Reynolds says new research suggests around 65,000 people were killed in Queensland alone during the Frontier Wars, making the total more than any war Australia has ever fought in overseas. 

"You can't say this is something we have to forget. Get on with the future, don't dwell on the past, don't just become a victim. Nations need to commemorate and remember," he said. 

As the nation prepares to commemorate Anzac Day this year, many like Hazel Davies and the Aboriginal Tent Embassy will fight to see Australia's first wars remembered.  

And for Chris Tomlins it will be one huge step toward unifying the nation. 

"For that to come together will be really incredible and it would be something I would really like to see." 

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NITV’s The Point explores the history of Australia’s Frontier Wars
NITV’s flagship news and current affairs program, The Point, uncovers the real history of Australia’s Frontier Wars in the lead up to ANZAC Day.
Lest We Forget: why we need to remember the Frontier Wars
OPINION | Conflict was protracted and anguishing, but our warriors’ resistance was widespread and persistent, writes Jidah Clark.
What are the Frontier Wars?
The Frontier Wars refer to conflicts between Europeans and Aboriginal people including battles, acts of resistance and open massacres.