Indigenous Anzacs need recognition and closure

Indigenous Anzacs need closure
Time to rethink Anzac Day?
The Aboriginal Diggers The Country Forgot
Appin Massacre victims honoured

'Black Diggers' Anzac Day
Redcliffe library will have a display of medals and memorabilia and a display on the 'Black Diggers' highlighting the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who served in the world wars.

April 22, 2010

A Western Australian NGO is helping to honour the contribution of Indigenous veterans this Anzac Day.

Aboriginal people have represented Australia in every single conflict since the Boer War, but they have been rarely recognised and celebrated.

John Schnaars established the Honouring Indigenous War Graves Organisation in March, 2005. It's objective: acknowledging the services of our Indigenous Veterans throughout Australia, who were not appropriately recognised upon their return from conflict, or for services provided for Australia and the peoples of Australia.

The group comprises of loyal members from the Bruce Rock Vietnam Veteran's Group in Western Australia and many other 'behind the scenes' supporters and volunteers.

Records show that up until the 1940s, Indigenous soldiers were excluded from formal ceremonies because of their ethnicity.

Yet John's experience volunteering for the Vietnam War reveals the prejudice lingered for long after the protocol changed.

'My experience when I volunteered for national service, when I first put in the paperwork to volunteer ... I got a letter back saying that they didn't want me,' he says.

'There was no explanation, no nothing.

'So, I wrote another letter saying, 'this is going to look good in the media', me volunteering and you knocking me back, and others not wanting to go and you forcing them in.

'About three weeks later I got a letter saying to go for your medical.'

Dick Bligh also served in Vietnam and regards it an honour to have served for his country.

'I feel proud to be an indigenous veteran,' he says.

Yet Indigenous volunteers like John and Dick were not recognised for their efforts when they returned from war.

'Our Aboriginal men and women who fought overseas came back here to this country and didn't get the recognition their white counterparts got for their services,' says Mort Hansen, a Noongar elder.

Prior to the end of the Vietnam War, Aborigines who fought for their country came back to much the same discrimination as before. Many were barred from RSL clubs, and most were not allowed the right to vote.

Nor were Aboriginal people included in the census until 1967.

'Aborigines when volunteering to serve for this country had to sign a document to deny their aboriginality,' says Bert Lane, a Vietnam veteran.

'And that is quite disgusting, actually.'

The Honouring Indigenous War Graves Association travels around the country providing headstones and ceremonies for the families of fallen veterans. It's a process that takes time, and takes a heavy emotional toll on all involved.

'By the time that you get your services done, you feel like you're a part of that family,' says John.

'A lot of these old people have got bitterness in them. The way their loved ones ... got treated when they came home ... and when we do the service, it's like they can close the book on that part of their lives.'

John and other members are convinced these ceremonies provide an invaluable service to the families of Indigenous veterans.

'Each one is important as the next,' he says.

'It lifts the lid on their emotions and gives some closure,' adds Bert.

'That's what it's all about.'

Isn't it time to rethink Anzac Day?

Matthew Da Silva April 23, 2010

Where is the remembrance day for indigenous fallen? Photo: Reuters
In October, some medals turned up in a Melbourne rubbish tip. They belonged to a miner, Edward Ernest Leonard Kimberly, who died "for king and country" in France in 1916. The story engages us unreflectingly, but if it's good enough for The Australian it's good enough for Joe Blow.

The ANZAC legend is always newsworthy because it forms, we're told, the root of national consciousness. The remembrance service is observed by millions.

From the Latin servitium (meaning "the condition of a slave" or "body of slaves"), via Anglo-French servise, the word entered English in the 1400s, after slavery had ended in the British Isles. The roll of observances (from Latin observare: ob-"in the way", "toward"; and servare, "to keep") is endless.

In observing the forms at a service, we safeguard the value of our forebears' service. It is a way to make culture, but can we broaden the cultural franchise to include those on the margins?

In social enterprise, the object of a business is not to merely increase shareholder profits. A company may want to improve the living conditions of ordinary people. Grameen Bank, for example, gives small loans to poor people. A hit in Bangladesh, it was launched in the US for Americans unable to raise a loan through regular channels.

A "social service" could help involve those living on society's fringes. Indigenous disadvantage remains a problem for Australia despite the national apology. Including forgotten Aboriginal warriors in a high-profile, mainstream service such as Anzac Day could be an effective way to address it.

"Your critics are not your enemies," observed Fred Chaney, a federal minister for Aboriginal affairs in the Fraser government and now a director of Reconciliation Australia, during the Myall Creek Massacre commemoration service two years ago.

Chaney told the 430 participants that, walking down the path to the memorial rock just above the site of the crime of 170 years earlier, he had the same sense as on Anzac Day. Lyall Munro, a long-time indigenous adviser of Chaney's, added drily over the mic: "The Europeans outgunned us."

Colonial Aboriginal policy in New South Wales disturbed George Gipps – Whig statesman, ex-military engineer – when he arrived in early 1838 to take up the governorship. His predecessor, Richard Bourke, had left some time earlier, and during the interregnum administrators had sanctioned swift retribution for attacks on settlers.

Replying to a petition from leading citizens soliciting military action in response to Aboriginal attacks near Port Phillip that year, Gipps declared London's resolve: "As I have the most positive direction from Her Majesty's Government, to treat the Aboriginal Natives as subjects of Her Majesty, it is entirely out of my power to authorise the levying of war against them, or to give sanction to any measures of indiscriminate retaliation."

For Aborigines taking refuge on a holding of Henry Dangar at Myall Creek, a run located some 40 kilometres south-west of modern-day Inverell in New England, Gipps' pronouncement came too late. Ten days before Gipps wrote that down, squatter John Fleming with a dozen convicts roped about 30 Wirrayaraay together, pulled them into the bush, and cut their heads off.

They burned the corpses. Colonial police "dispersing cheeky blacks" would also use this tactic.

Gipps worked hard to treat the deaths as murder and seven of the convicts involved at Myall Creek were hanged. It was the first time that Aborigines had been given the same rights as colonists. The ensuing public outcry ensured that it was also the last until the late 1960s.

Many indigenous people would say that their rights are still infringed. They feel, rightly, that they are often placed in the too-hard basket. It's not a rubbish tip, exactly, but you wonder whether we have really done enough to make them feel a part of the nation.

Matthew da Silva is a freelance journalist. The Myall Creek Massacre commemoration will be on June 12, beginning at the CWA hall on the Bingara-Delungra Road, Gwydir Shire, NSW.

The Aboriginal Diggers The Country Forgot

Radio Transcript

Recognising the Aboriginal Diggers The Country Forgot

Broadcast: 25/04/2008 - Reporter: Leonie Harris ABC TV Stateline WA
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As thousands lined the street to watch today's Anzac Day parade, there was one small group marching to remember diggers who have been forgotten by this country.

Hundreds of Aboriginal veterans are buried without military recognition. Many in unmarked graves across the State.

In an attempt to remedy the injustice one Vietnam veteran has taken it upon himself to get head stones erected and hold formal burial services.

Leonie Harris compiled this story, which we warn contains pictures and names of indigenous people who have passed away.

JOHN SCHNAARS, HONOURING INDIGENOUS WAR GRAVES: When you come home from war, in my belief, everybody needs their family there to give them support to get over the traumas of war. So for those guys who went away and fought then came home thinking that everything was going to change and then instead of that they find that their families have been taken away. I don't think anybody would really know how you felt.

LEONIE HARRIS: Aboriginal Vietnam veteran, John Schnaars takes very personally this country's past treatment of Indigenous soldiers.

JOHN SCHNAARS: Vietnam veterans, we know to a certain extent how they felt, because when we come home we were treated much the same way. Abused and spat at, called child killers and what have you, but then we didn't have our families removed.

LEONIE HARRIS: Now he and other Vietnam veterans are working to make amends for the past. Up until the 1960s, Aboriginal soldiers were paid less than their white counterparts, and if they survived and returned home, their service went largely unacknowledged. They were banned from many Anzac marches, and rarely received the housing or benefits given to white soldiers. Still unable to vote, and not yet considered citizens, they weren't even allowed to have a drink with their mates in the pub. And the final indignity of this legacy of racism is that many of them ended up in unmarked graves.

JOHN SCHNAARS: How many people would go and fight for a country that they had no rights in, treated the way they were? Yet every time Australia got into conflicts, up went the hands to volunteer.

LEONIE HARRIS: John Schnaars has traced Aboriginal servicemen and women back to The Boer War, and has made it his life's work to find their final resting places and give them a proper send off - a head stone and a formal recognition ceremony.

JOHN SCHNAARS: It's a closure for the families, and when they see the army involved, when we can get the catafault parties there, it's something special for them.

LEONIE HARRIS: The first head stone erected was for Victor 'Mighty' Nelson, whose son carried the flag at today's march.

FRED SPRATT, VICTOR NELSON'S SON: They served for this country. They went overseas and they put their life on the line, and when they did come back from over there, the Government totally ignored their services - what they did for this country.

LEONIE HARRIS: Fred Spratt says erecting the tombstone and holding a formal ceremony was very important for the family.

FRED SPRATT: Well it did bring a sense of healing to me and my family, because all those years we have waited to get that recognition, which the Government did not place on his grave. I think it's a great honour to do these things, put the head graves on all Indigenous war graves, and their families, to let their families know that they are finally being recognised as heroes.

LEONIE HARRIS: The group of veterans and relatives known as Honouring Indigenous War Graves, has used small funding grants to put head stones on 50 graves, but believes there are about 400 more to go. At this ceremony last Saturday, Gloria Hearn saw her father formally honoured, after a lifetime of being unrecognised for his service.

GLORIA HEARN, DAUGHTER OF MURRAY JONES: I just think you've got to rise above that and get on with your life. But it hurt me to see what they'd done for Dad, and how much it destroyed his life. Because he didn't really have a good life after that because he still had a bullet lodged in his back and he was in pain constantly.

LEONIE HARRIS: Murray Jones served Australia in World War II, before he was even treated as a citizen of this country. Gloria Hearn says the treatment her father received after returning home added to his problems and like many returned soldiers, he turned to alcohol.

GLORIA HEARN: They did swear at the Japanese and swear at his probate officer, whatever that was, I don't know.

LEONIE HARRIS: Originally Murray Jones had a pauper's funeral and his family says it's finally been able to find closure through the formal recognition of his service.

GLORIA HEARN: On Anzac Day you remember what they did for this country, and just to think the suffering they went through and how proud my Dad was for fighting for this country.

FRANK MALLARD, VIETNAM VETERAN: We're honouring them in the way that they would be honoured by our ancestors. We are burying them in the way, and smoking their graves so that their spirits feel free.

LEONIE HARRIS: Marching with the group today, Aboriginal Vietnam veteran, former Tunnel Rat, Frank Mallard, says Anzac Day is a clear reminder of the treatment meted out to his uncles who fought in World War II.

FRANK MALLARD: When we were with my uncles, we were always sitting out the back of the hotel, their friends who they had fought with would bring them out bottles of beer. Even though when you look at some of the photographs of my uncles and that, they were not particularly dark, but they were of Aboriginal descent and consequently they had to suffer the indignity of being put to one side.

LEONIE HARRIS: The people in this group are forgiving, they don't dwell on the past but they are determined to rectify it.

JOHN SCHNAARS: You can't live in the past, you can acknowledge the past, which then helps you to move on in the future as one Australian people, and that's what we try to do.

Appin Massacre victims honoured by Campbelltown Council

David Campbell Macarthur Chronicle 23 April 2010 Friday, 23rd April 2010

Source: Macarthur Chronicle

The memories of the Aborigines killed at Appin in 1816 were honoured with a special flag raising ceremony at Campbelltown last Tuesday.

Campbelltown Council held the ceremony at the Campbelltown Civic Centre to mark the 194th anniversary of what has become known as the Appin Massacre.

On April 17, 1816, orders issued by Governor Lachlan Macquarie resulted in the deaths of more than 14 Aborigines, including women and children.

The flag raising ceremony was held in partnership with the Winga Myamly Minto Reconciliation Group. Campbelltown Mayor Aaron Rule said the ceremony was an important way to acknowledge the significant historical event.

“Council was pleased to host the flag raising ceremony in memory of all of those who tragically lost their lives at the Appin Massacre, and in respect of the traditional custodians of the land,” he said.

“A poignant gesture of reconciliation, this commemorative event is also an important step in the healing process and fosters community harmony based on mutual respect and trust.”

The ceremony featured the Australian flag, NSW flag, Aboriginal flag and Campbelltown Council flag.