Finally some recognition for Indigenous war veterans

Australian Indigenous War Veterens Video

ABC 7.30 QLD June 17, 2011

7.30 QLD Report - TRANSCRIPT

JESSICA van VONDEREN: Thousands of indigenous men and women have represented Australia in armed conflicts since before Federation, but they received very little if any recognition. Those who returned weren't allowed to march on Anzac day or to enter RSL clubs for a long time. But slowly one veteran has worked on documenting the role of Indigenous servicemen and women. The first ceremony to honour their contribution was held in 2007. Now in their fifth year, those who attend say these events are helping to heal old wounds and a warning this story contains images of people who have died. Siobhan Barry attended a service in Brisbane.

(FOOTAGE OF TROY CASSAR-DALEY, COUNTRY MUSICIAN SINGING AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL ANTHEM)

TROY CASSAR-DALEY, COUNTRY MUSICIAN: They came back with serious alcohol abuse, and whatever it took to escape the demons that followed them when they got back from Changi they came back one died from tuberculosis about a year after he arrived back in Australia, that was Uncle Ron's brother. And Uncle Ron ended up sort of going up and down up and down on a roller coaster ride of emotion because of what he'd suffered.

SIOBHAN BARRY: For country music star Troy Cassar Daley this Indigenous War Veterans ceremony is deeply personal.

(FOOTAGE OF CHANGI PRISON)

SIOBHAN BARRY: His two great-uncles were prisoners of War in Changi during the Second World War, and returned broken men. But despite their sacrifices, they didn't return as equals.

TROY CASSAR-DALEY: They weren't allowed to vote, they couldn't go and have a beer with their mates when they got back, you know, things were very different back then, and I think they faced an uphill battle.

SQUADRON LEADER LISA JACKSON PULVER, RAAF SPECIALIST RESERVE: They came home and they often found their communities decimated, they found their children stolen. There are a lot of the benefits that other service personnel were entitled to that just simply were not made available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service personnel.

SIOBHAN BARRY: Squadron Leader Lisa Jackson Pulver is in the Air Force Specialist Reserve, and has a family history of Indigenous military service.

SQUADRON LEADER LISA JACKSON PULVER: When aboriginal service personnel come back, they weren't the same as others. And I mean, there's amazing stories of you know, an Aboriginal person going to an RSL club on Anzac Day, you know, and being barred entrance because they're black, or because they're Aboriginal, or because they're not the same.

BOB NOBLE, VETERANS' AFFAIRS DEPT: When these chaps came back from war, they felt that they were not wanted, they came back as warriors, and they felt that they were not wanted or respected.

(FILE FOOTAGE OF INDIGENOUS SOLDIERS)

SIOBHAN BARRY: Indigenous service men and women have represented Australia in armed conflicts since the Boer War. At different stages, Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders weren't allowed to sign up, but many did anyway. Because their ethnic origins weren't recorded, the exact numbers aren't known, but the Australian War Memorial estimates that up to 1,000 Indigenous men served in the First World War, and up to 2,500 men and women served in the Second World War.

GARY OAKLEY, AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL: You either volunteered, they didn't mind. The Australian Army was probably the first um, shall we say equal opportunity employer of Indigenous Australians because if you were willing to put the uniform on and go and fight, they didn't care what colour you were.

(FOOTAGE OF AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL)

SIOBHAN BARRY: Gary Oakley is the War Memorial's Indigenous liaison officer. He says many of the Indigenous men and women who signed up came from missions, probably seeking an opportunity to travel, a good wage, and equality on their return. Inside the defence forces, he says, Indigenous service personnel were generally treated well.

GARY OAKLEY: Colour goes out the window when the bullets start flying. If you can do your job it doesn't matter what colour you are, whether you're Indigenous or Chinese or whatever, and that was the good thing about the Defence Force, they were treated as equals, they had the same pay, they were , had the same rights, they could win awards, they could be promoted just like anybody else.

(FOOTAGE OF SOLDIERS)

GEORGE BOSTOCK, VIETNAM VETERAN: Every man who served was crucial. Every man who picked up a rifle or a machine gun who took part in a fire fight or something like that, they were crucial. You weren't Indigenous, you weren't black you weren't white, you were a Digger and you had a job to do, so that was that.

SIOBHAN BARRY: But according to Gary Oakley after Indigenous service personnel were discharged they didn't get the recognition they'd hoped for and deserved.

GARY OAKLEY: They went back to communities, they weren't allowed to leave their communities, so they didn't march on Anzac Day, you didn't see them. And so, no one really understood, or recognised the significant contribution of Indigenous Australians.

SIOBHAN BARRY: George Bostock is a Vietnam Veteran who's spent years helping to change that.

GEORGE BOSTOCK: One day I said oh, it'd be nice to know how many served of us in Vietnam. So I applied for a grant with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Institute of Studies.

SIOBHAN BARRY: He began travelling around Queensland, compiling a list of the Indigenous Vets who'd served in Vietnam. Once he'd finished touring Queensland, he moved on to the other States.

(FOOTAGE OF INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS WHO SERVED IN VIETNAM)

GEORGE BOSTOCK: I said 'give me a vehicle so I could travel down New South Wales, into Victoria and come back the east coast, and the same thing happened all the way a soldier knew a soldier and that was that. And then I went to Adelaide, and did the same thing all over Australia, and that's how I found 220 Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders that served in the Vietnam War.

SIOBHAN BARRY: His efforts have added to the growing recognition over recent decades of the contribution that Indigenous servicemen and women have made, along with the Indigenous Veterans services that are now held across the country.

(FOOTAGE WREATH LAYING CEREMONY)

SIOBHAN BARRY: The services began in 2007, with the support of the Department of Veterans' Affairs and Ex-service Organisations. Now in their fifth year, they're having profound impacts.

BOB NOBLE: The ceremonies are giving to the community, saying to the community we recognise the contribution that these great people have made in war and conflict and they are now getting that recognition and that healing is starting to, or the hurt is starting to ease and the healing process is starting. It's been quite a remarkable change. They are telling me, Bob these ceremonies are really making a difference in the communities.

SIOBHAN BARRY: For veterans and their families, that healing's another step down the path towards reconciliation.

TROY CASSAR-DALEY: Everyone wants to feel like they belong and this is part and parcel of not only reconciliation, but I think its part of feeling like you belong.

ALANA CUTMORE, VETERAN'S DAUGHTER: In reconciliation we can, it's important to say, we know that they were there. We know that they served and that we are very proud, along with the rest of the Nation that they did their duty, as they would have been.

JESSICA van VONDEREN: Siobhan Barry reporting.