Sydney Catholic school students joined Australia Defence Force members and government officials at Hyde Park’s Anzac Memorial today to remember the Australian Indigenous soldiers who fought for their country in conflicts including the First and Second World Wars.
The ninth annual Commemoration Service for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Veterans was opened with a smoking ceremony and performance by the Catholic Schools Performing Arts (CaSPA) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dance ensemble Murrawadeen Goodjarga.
The event coincided with National Reconciliation Week.
Sisters Aleyah and Caitlyn Joseph, who attend Years 7 and 8 at Bethlehem College Ashfield, were among the performers. Aleyah said the gum leaves the performers held throughout the dance were a symbol of culture. “It took a lot of practice to get the dance right,” she said.
“It depends a bit on where your tribe is from what sort of dance you do,” said Caitlyn. “It was really good to perform.”
Year 6 student at St Patrick’s Catholic Primary Sutherland Preston Schreiber, 11, has Wiradjuri heritage. He chose to participate in the ceremony instead of his school athletics carnival, and floated a commemorative wreath in the memorial’s Pool of Reflection along with another student and Aboriginal elder Aunty Fay Carroll, a Ngunnawal/Wiradjuri woman born on Gadigal land. Much of the current Sydney CBD is Gadigal territory.
“It was really good experience,” Preston said.
“I didn’t know I was going to go into the water and lay the wreath, so that was pretty cool. Last year I went to quite a few Aboriginal cultural events, to do different activities and learn more about it.”
NSW governor David Hurley gave examples of the bravery demonstrated by Indigenous soldiers in various conflicts while acknowledging that much of the nation was slow to recognise their efforts.
This is the essence of reconciliation – a true and pure warrior spirit.
He spoke of one who received a distinguished conduct medal in 1918, after he single-handedly rushed three machine gun posts under heavy fire to capture their guns and crews while on the Western Front. A Vietnam War corporal was praised in dispatches for outstanding leadership and complete disregard for his own safety after he refused treatment for a shrapnel wound until the landmines around him were cleared, almost bleeding to death in the process.
“It is estimate that approximately 3,000 Indigenous soldiers served in the regular armed forces during the second world war,” Mr Hurley said.
“Their homecoming was marred by racism or at best their service ignored. The efforts of many people have restored Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and women to their rightful place in Australia’s history of military service.”
Army Warrant Officer Class One, Colin Watego, asked the younger generation present to embrace the values, the courage and the respect and the ethos demonstrated by Indigenous soldiers past and present.
“Strive to live well and live a healthy lifestyle. Position yourself with self-discipline and education and respect for authority and yourself. Follow in the footsteps of the great warriors before us, both Aboriginal and Torres Strait,” he said.
“You don’t need to wear a uniform to be a warrior. Your warrior spirit comes from within your heart. This is the essence of reconciliation – a true and pure warrior spirit.
“For our older people I respectful request that we continue to support any courage that our youth show. Help them develop their warrior spirit and ensure that we keep them safe, keep them smart, and keep them strong.”