History

Aboriginal Anzac Day war memorials

Australia has thousands of Anzac war memorials, dozens in the big cities. But there are not many war memorials commemorating Aboriginal Diggers.

How many war memorials exist in Australia?

There is no centralised register of war memorials for Australia, but historian Ken Inglis and his research assistant Jan Brazier estimated in 1997 that there were 4,000 - 5,000 memorials in Australia [17], a figure that is likely to be much higher today.

In 2014 the Register of War Memorials in NSW counted 2,334 memorials, the Queensland War Memorial Register listed 1,393 entries [15]. There is no official database of Aboriginal war memorials either. In fact, many Australians don’t even know that there are memorials of Aboriginal people serving in wars.

“We want our own memorial to the frontier wars and the other wars,” says Ray Jackson, president of the Indigenous Social Justice Association [16]. “It is our history and our wars. there must be no watering down or white-washing of that history by governments… There is too much bad history of sublimating our black and white invasion history to trust that task to governments.

“We must have our own war memorial in our own agreed place. a place that is not shamefully hidden up a dirt track behind the national war memorial.”

No official attempt has ever been made to find, mark and commemorate the sites where Aborigines were shot down by settlers, soldiers and police.—Henry Reynolds, author [1]

If Germany can deal with their horror history and establish memorial sites, so too can Australia. Australia has to deal with its true history, as it is only through this effort that this nation can begin to heal—Michael Anderson, Aboriginal leader [13]


Map showing the approximate locations of Aboriginal war memorials in Australia.

Australian Capital Territory

Aboriginal war memorial plaque, Canberra

Anzac: Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Anzac: Aboriginal memorial plaque, Canberra. Two Anzac memorials, two cultures, two dimensions. The Australian War Memorial (left) exhales a massiveness which seems to take the visitor as a hostage, swallowing them with the entrance mouth. The Aboriginal memorial plaque, in comparison, looks like a tiny David, a forgotten place in the bush.
Images: http://www.awm.gov.au Micha,el Southwell-Keely

There is an Aboriginal war memorial plaque in Canberra, ACT, set up not by the Australian government but by private citizens. It is not in the spotlight and not easy to find. You can find the Aboriginal war memorial plaque in the vicinity of the Australian War Memorial, a ten-minute walk away.

Map to find the Anzac Day Aboriginal memorial plaque.

Michael Southwell-Keely describes how to get there: “From the cairn marking the end of the Remembrance Driveway take the path that leads up Mount Ainslie. Cross bridge and go through walkers gate to the junction of two tracks. Take the left metalled track signposted Mt Ainslie Walking Trail. After 100 metres the track goes through two walkers gates and crosses a gravel road. Continue on the track for about 50 metres from the second gate to sign marked Aboriginal Plaque 70 metres. Take the narrow track on the left until you come to a group of boulders.” [2]

Fact The War Memorial has for about 30 years declined to accept that “Australian military history” includes the conflicts with Aboriginal people that occurred all over Australia for over a century.

New South Wales

Australian Indigenous war veterans memorial, Toomelah

On February 20th, 2009 what is claimed to be the ‘first memorial dedicated to Australian Indigenous war veterans’ in an Aboriginal community was unveiled in Toomelah, New South Wales, about 180kms south-west of Brisbane [5].

The memorial features a plaque listing the names of 21 Toomelah and district Aboriginal veterans who served in both world wars and the Vietnam war.

Indigenous servicemen plaque, Moree

22 former Indigenous servicemen are recognised with a special plaque at Moree cemetery. A local researcher and historian, Noeline Briggs-Smith, spent many years compiling a detailed history and ensured all servicemen buried at Moree received a proper headstone [6].

War memorial sculpture, Bondi Beach

A plaque cites words by Aboriginal Captain Reginald Saunders, the first Aboriginal commissioned officer, who fought at the Battle of Kapyong, Korea, in 1951: On Anzac eve we dug in among friends. At last I felt like an Anzac, and imagine there were 600 other like me.

The site is located at Scarborough Crescent, adjacent to North Bondi RSL. It was officially opened in a formal ceremony held on Sunday 27 November 2011.

Saunders was born on the Framingham Aboriginal Reserve, in Victoria, on 7 August 1920. Aged 20 he enlisted as a soldier, leaving the army in 1954. Before his death in 1990 he worked as a liaison officer [8].

There aren't that many war memorials that we are aware of that are devoted to Indigenous memorials.—Norbert Keough, honorary secretary of the North Bondi Sub-Branch, RSL of Australia [12]

Memorial plaque, Rhodes

On the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway in Rhodes (a suburb of Sydney) you find a memorial plaque commemorating Aboriginal Servicemen who fought in the Battle of Kokoda. The plaque was unveiled on November 3, 2012.

WWI memorial, Callan Park, Lilyfield

Douglas Grant (1885?-1951) was an Aboriginal soldier of World War I and worked as a clerk at the Callan Park Mental Asylum where he lived. In his spare time he constructed a large ornamental pond spanned by a replica of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The structure served as a war memorial and was unveiled on 5 August 1931.

You can find the memorial at the southern end of the Callan Park main oval. The Friends of Callan Park have more information.

People standing around the memorial. World War I memorial, Callan Park. Douglas Grant (first from left in the right-hand side group) worked as a clerk at Callan Park Hospital. He built the pond and bridge shown here as a war memorial to his fallen comrades [14].

Planned memorial, Sydney

Sydney currently considers building a memorial to Aboriginal veterans of the wars. The Coloured Diggers Project have been campaigning for an Aboriginal monument, which is now planned to be built in Hyde Park South as the first state war memorial for Aboriginal soldiers in NSW. City of Sydney plans the artwork to be in place by Anzac Day 2015.

“Aboriginal and non-Indigenous veterans and their families want a memorial that truly celebrates the mateship and spiritual bond that exists between Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander military personnel and their non-Indigenous comrades and speaks of healing and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.” [11]

Lord Mayer Clover Moore said, “This very public memorial in Hyde Park South will be seen by visitors from across Australia and around the world. It will be a lasting reminder of the contribution Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples make – and continue to make – to Australia’s protection.” [10]

Coloured Digger co-founder Pastor Ray Minniecon said, “We must also remember what happened to them when they came back and that it’s not glossed over: they struggled overseas fighting bullets, then came back to Australia and had to fight racism.” [10]

Northern Territory

Aboriginal soldier memorial, Yirrkala

Another memorial for Aboriginal soldiers is in Yirrkala, Northern Territory, to commemorate the Yolngu men who served in northern Australia during World War II.

Queensland

Rock inscription, Burleigh Heads

In Burleigh Head National Park (Gold Coast, Queensland) there is an ancient bora ring (sacred initiation ground) with a large rock. The rock features tribal totem paintings and an inscription.

Sacred rock with totem paintings and an inscription. Map to Burleigh Heads National Park. Burleigh Heads Aboriginal rock inscription. The rock rests in a sacred bora ring area which is now a protected site. The map on the right shows how to get there. —Photo: burlheadss.qld.edu.au

The inscription reads:

"This rock is placed here to honour Yugambeh men and women who served in defence of
this country. Yugambeh is the linguistic name of the Aboriginal people whose tribal region 
extends inland from the Logan and Nerang rivers and includes the areas covered by all the 
adjacent streams and creeks. Yugambeh family groups include Kombumerri, Wangeribubba, 
Migunburri, Munajahli, Gugigin, Birinburra and others. We honour those who served in the
armed forces and those who made the supreme sacrifice. The symbolism of this rock serves
to highlight the role played by Indigenous Australians in defence of this country."

The war memorial was erected by the Komburri Aboriginal Corporation for Culture with support and assistance from the Gold Coast City Council on April 21, 1991.

South Australia

Aboriginal servicemen memorial, Adelaide

South Australia unveiled a memorial to honour Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and women in Adelaide on 10 November 2013.

The project was driven by a veterans Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander War Memorial committee and the memorial was the first to specifically commemorate Aboriginal servicemen and women [9].

The circular memorial features two statues of Aboriginal service personnel, one male, the other female, and a central coolamon. There is a Rainbow Serpent in its slate base and a boulder to symbolise Aboriginal creation stories. It is located off the Torres Parade Ground in Adelaide.

Tasmania

Aboriginal memorial plaque, Launceston

The second Anzac memorial for Indigenous people is in Kings Park, Launceston, Tasmania. The memorial plaque carries the Rising Sun and Tri Services Badge emblems and reads: “Proudly dedicated in recognition of the Tasmanian Aborigines who served or fell in the defence of their country 1901 - 1999” [3].

Victoria

Aboriginal War Memorial Plaque, Warrnambool (VIC)

An Aboriginal War Memorial Plaque honouring Aboriginal service personnel from south-western Victoria was unveiled on November 1st, 2010, on Cannon Hill in Warrnambool [7]. It is estimated more than 80 Indigenous veterans had served since World War I.

The Aboriginal contribution has been a missing voice from the Australian military legend and psyche for many decades.—Marcus Clarke, Gunditjmara Aboriginal Co-operative [7]

Western Australia

Aboriginal memorial, East Victoria Park

A RSL Aboriginal memorial can be found on Fred Bell Parade in East Victoria Park, near Perth, WA. It’s a black granite rock with a memorial nameplate and flagpole flying the Aboriginal flag. It reads:

“In memory of the Aboriginal service men and women of the Victoria Park District who served their country in its hours of need. In doing so they helped to build a Nation. Dedicated 3 February 2002.”

Memorial wall at Karrakatta Cemetery, Karrakatta

Located in Karrakatta, west of Perth, the memorial wall commemorates Aboriginal servicemen killed in conflict and buried overseas during World Wars I and II.

The memorial wall was unveiled in January 2012 and is located in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Keeping Place at Karrakatta Cemetery. The Keeping Place is a purpose-designed building holding the skeletal remains of Aboriginal people previously stored in museums around the State and the country [4].

Footnotes

View article sources (17)

[1] 'Questioning the Anzac tradition', Koori Mail 475 p.44
[2] 'Aboriginal Memorial Plaque', http://www.skp.com.au/memorials2/pages/00013.htm
[3] monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/conflict/multiple/display/70495-tasmanian-aboriginal-service-personnel, retrieved 8/10/2014
[4] http://www.mediastatements.wa.gov.au/Pages/default.aspx?ItemId=147667 retri,eved 30/1/2012
[5] 'Toomelah memorial will be first', Koori Mail 440 p.17
[6] 'Recognition project wins high praise', Koori Mail 454 p.38
[7] 'Memorial honours Aboriginal veterans', Koori Mail 489 p.11
[8] 'Capt Saunders' quote features in memorial', Koori Mail 514 p.14
[9] 'SA memorial for Indigenous diggers', NIT 12/6/2008 p.5
[10] 'Calling artists for Indigenous war memorial', City of Sydney, 9/4/2013
[11] 'The Coloured Digger Project', media statement, 23/4/2010
[12] Elimatta Newsletter, Aboriginal Support Group – Manly Warringah Pittwater, Summer 2011 p.1
[13] 'Frontier Wars not forgotten', Koori Mail 525 p.10
[14] http://www.flickr.com/photos/statelibraryofnsw/7737906048/ acces,sed 27/12/2012
[15] http://www.warmemorialsregister.nsw.gov.au www.q,ldwarmemorials.com.au, accessed 13/1/2014
[16] Ray Jackson, email, 1/1/2014
[17] Information Services, Australian War Memorial, email, 17/1/2014

Cite this article

An appropriate citation for this document is:

www.CreativeSpirits.info,
Aboriginal culture - History - Aboriginal Anzac Day war memorials, retrieved 23 October 2014