• Cecil Grant (middle row, fourth from right) with fellow troops in Tobruk, Egypt, during WWII. He was not recognised as an Australian citizen. Pic: Stan Grant (Stan Grant)Source: Stan Grant
COMMENT | Today, I remember my grandfather, a Rat of Tobruk and a man who believed in his country, when it did not yet believe in him, writes Stan Grant.
Stan Grant

The Point
25 Apr 2016 - 4:35 PM  UPDATED 25 Apr 2016 - 5:34 PM

There is a photo that has always been with me - that I have always treasured. It is a photo of a group of men, bedraggled and worn, they are tired from war and their eyes look toward home.

In the middle there is a Black face; the face of a man not recognised at home: not counted as a citizen of his country. 

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This man was my grandfather. 

These men were the famed Rats of Tobruk. For months they held off the might of Rommell's forces. This was the German general's first defeat and rescued the allies western desert campaign.

This year is 75 years since that campaign.

Today we remember their sacrifice. I also remember a man who believed in his country when it did not yet believe in him.

My grandfather, Cecil William Henry Grant, was part of a great warrior tradition. His people - the Wiradjuri - had fought the British settlers around Bathurst in the 1820's. This was a conflict reported at that time as a 'War of Extermination.'

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Less than a century later, the Wiradjuri people were signing up to fight for this country alongside the sons of settlers.

My grandfather's brother - my great-uncle -  fell on the fields of France in World War I.

He inspired my grandfather to fight too.

This Rat of Tobruk came home to a segregated country. He could not share a beer in a pub with the men he served alongside.

He could have turned to anger, but he turned instead to another fight: the fight for his people.

He campaigned for our rights to win citizenship, he fought for houses and jobs for our people.

In the year before he died, he finally marched on ANZAC Day. With his medals on his chest, he walked into the local pub in Griffith but was stopped at the door by the police sergeant.

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He blocked my grandfather's path and told him he wasn't welcome. His mates - his fellow Diggers - formed a circle and defied the cop. They led him to the bar, and this man who had given up drinking ordered a beer for good measure.

A Black man whose ancestors had fought white settlers, who had fought alongside white Australian soldiers as one of them, who came back home to demand he be treated as an equal - as a citizen - now stood with his Digger mates: an Australian: a Wiradjuri man.

We can be cynical about this day. There are those who say we have said thanks enough.  These people say we should instead give thanks and recognise Aboriginal people: our suffering and our struggle.

These people imagine that we are a separate people: imagine we can't be Australian and be Aboriginal.

Today I remember a man - Cecil William Henry Grant - whose sacrifice told me we can both.