Indigenous Veterans Commemoration for 2020
Friday, 29 May would have been the Indigenous Veterans Commemoration at the Anzac Memorial. Instead, due to social distancing, a single floral tribute will be placed in the Pool of Reflection.
Mr. Harry Allie BEM, Chair of the NSW Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Veterans Commemoration Coordinating Committee shares a message paying respects to our indigenous veterans.
My name is Uncle Harry Allie and today I join with you from the Hall of Service at the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park Sydney, which is on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation.
I am descendant of the Gudjala People, and I was born and grew up in Charters Towers in North Qld. In my early years I felt that I needed to improve my opportunities for a better life and enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force in 1966 at Townsville in North Queensland.
I served 23 years in the Air Force, and was posted throughout Australia, USA and Malaysia. During My career in the Air Force it was an honour to have served my country and applied for discharge in 1989.
For the following 11 years, I worked in the Defence industry then joined the Commonwealth Public Service being involved in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs and issues.
Currently I am the Chair of the Coordinating Committee of the NSW Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Veterans Commemoration that honours the service and sacrifice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Servicemen and women.
Today, when we would have all gathered to pay our respects and honour our Indigenous Veterans, I bring this message to you to ensure we continue this tradition during these unique times we find ourselves in.
In 2006 the former Federal Veterans’ Affairs Minister,
Mr Bruce Bilson was visiting Melbourne for a military ceremony and he met Aunty Dot Peters, a Wurundjeri Elder from Healesville just east of Melbourne.
Aunty Dot asked the Minister if he would consider organising ceremonies across Australia to honour the many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander veterans who had served their nation and had suffered the indignity of not receiving the same recognition as the majority of veterans. Mr Bilson agreed and made a commitment to Aunty Dot Peters.
In Sydney the RSL NSW and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs combined with representatives from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Veteran and Services Association, Reconciliation NSW, NSW Department of Education, Catholic Schools NSW, Australian Defence Force and Office for Veterans Affairs, and Community Representatives to form a committee in March 2007 to organise a ceremony in the last week of May during Reconciliation Week.
This annual commemoration still continues today 14 years on and is an integral part of our national recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who have served and continue to serve our country.
Since the Boer War, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have fought for Australia. It is known at present that at least 1000 First Nation peoples served in the First World War. At present 13 are known to have been killed in action fighting at Gallipoli, five of which have no known graves.
After the First World War, Indigenous veterans found their war service did not bring an end to discrimination.
It is estimated 3,000 Indigenous Australians served in the Second World War, and in proportion to population, no community in Australia contributed more to the war effort than the Torres Strait Islander people. Around 745 of these joined the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion formed specifically to defend the Torres Strait.
The number of Indigenous Australians who served in the First and Second World Wars vary greatly. As ethnicity was not noted on enlistment documents an accurate figure will never be known, it has been suggested that more than 3,500 Indigenous Australians served in these conflicts.
Indigenous Australians went on to serve in Korea, Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam in the years after the Second World War. Since Vietnam, Indigenous Australians have served with the Australian Defence Force in conflicts and other operations around the world.
And today Aboriginal and Torres Strait men and women are proudly serving in all branches of the Australian Defence Force.
During the annual commemoration held at the Anzac Memorial, the first wreath is placed in the Pool of Reflection. An elder passes the wreath on to two students and symbolises the traditional connection between the water, the earth and the sky.
This precedes the traditional wreath laying ceremony, where flowers have been laid on graves or memorials to commemorate those that have lost their lives. Laying a wreath of flowers is a way to show respect and an integral part of many commemorative ceremonies.
Today a single floral tribute will be placed in the Pool of Reflection by Denis Tarrant from Alexandria Park Community School and Sienna Allie from Mt St Joseph High School, however due to social distancing the tribute will not be passed on by an elder.
Please take care of yourself and your family and friends in the coming weeks and months ahead. On behalf of the committee we look forward to welcoming you back to the ceremony in 2021.