The West Australian Government held its 13th annual Indigenous Service Remembrance event at the State War Memorial in Kings Park, Perth yesterday.
Descendants of former servicemen and women, school children, politicians and serving defence personnels attended the event.
As a didgeridoo and a pipe band played together, many laid down a wreath at the Flame of Remembrance and Pool of Reflection. One of the wreath layers was Aboriginal man and Vietnam veteran, William Arthur Thompson.
Now residing in Bevelery, 133 kilometres south-east of Perth, Mr Thompson doesn’t attend the ANZAC Parade anymore, instead, he comes down to Perth every year for the Indigenous Service Remembrance.
“It brings them (Indigenous and non-Indigenous people) together as brothers and sisters, you see faces of people that you haven’t seen for quite a while, and it helps you out and gives you a high,” he told NITV News.
Despite the ban on non- Europeans enlisting during World War I, roughly 500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders enlisted in Australia’s campaign, and an estimated 3000 served in World War II.
West Australian Veterans Issues Minister, Peter Tinley said it’s an important ceremony as it acknowledges the contribution made by Aboriginal servicemen and women.
"Some actively hid their Aboriginality in order to overcome the colour bar and enlist. Others did not identify as Aboriginal and some were not even aware of their Aboriginal heritage,” he said in a statement.
"For those prepared to lay down their lives, it must have hurt deeply to return home and find their service was not recognised and that they were not treated as equals. That unfair treatment resonates today and in remembering the service of those members of our armed forces, we are also reminded that there is much work to do to achieve a more just and equitable society."
The Department of Defence only began recording the heritage of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander service personnel in 1980, it’s believed First Nations have served in every conflict involving Australian forces since the Boer War.