By Honey Gillard
The 1st of June 2007 marked more than just the beginning of a winter month for Indigenous Australians; it was a day of tribute to the Aboriginal war veterans, who had previously received nothing but discrimination and prejudice.
The rare wreath-laying memorial ceremony to honour Aboriginal war veterans was held in Sydney earlier this month, reviving tragic memories of how poorly the men were treated on their return to the country and the people that they fought for. But despite the sudden uproar of memories it was not a day of gloom and sadness, but rather a day of pride, remembrance and love.
The ceremony saw Aboriginal children and ex-servicemen and women lay wreaths at the city’s War Memorial.
New South Wales Education Minister, John Della Bosca, was quoted saying: “Thousands of indigenous soldiers fought side by side with white Australians on battlegrounds across the world, and this ceremony … gives us the opportunity to honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Minister Gavin Jennings said that the 40th anniversary of the 1967 referendum on indigenous Australians highlighted the fact that decades earlier many Aborigines fought for a nation that did not recognise them.
“It is extraordinary to think that indigenous men and women went to war for a country that at the time did not accord them the rights and opportunities that come with citizenship” he said.
It is believed that 500 Aborigines fought in World War I – an ample number, when you take in that the indigenous Australian population was a mere 80,000, and it wasnâ€™t until 1917 that â€˜half-castesâ€™ were permitted to enlist. Between 3000 and 4000 Indigenous Australians served in World War II. A further 3000 served in support roles for the war effort.
One family in particular , the Lovett family, share an honourable story of courage and the endless discrimination from their past. Five Lovett brothers went to World War I and five signed up for World War II. All in all, 20 members of the Lovett family have served Australia in war and peacekeeping, from the Western Front to East Timor.
Â Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the Lovett family’s record of service, however, is that four of the five brothers who went to World War I also enlisted for World War II.
But when Aboriginal veterans returned to their homes, they found that both their social and political circumstances had been left untouched. They still were not allowed to vote, buy property or marry non-Aborigines. The men were restrained to reservations and church missions. As if this uncalled for denunciation was not enough the men were cast off from many veterans’ clubs, and after all the struggle that the men must already have to encounter from the physical and psychological effects that the war was having on them, they couldnâ€™t even just go down to the pub for a drink, as they were not allowed to have a drink at the pub.
Perhaps one of the saddest points to this chronicle is that while other returned Australians soldiers were handed blocks of land to settle on and welcomed back to the bosom of society, the Aborigines had their applications for land rejected – even for land, in which they once owned.
Herbert Lovettâ€™s son, Johnnie Lovett spoke of the ignorance saying: “When he’d finished his service for this country, he was given nothing.”
Dispossession of the Indigenous Australians didnâ€™t stop either. William Murray, a Gallipoli veteran, headed the butcher of up to 100 Aborigines in 1928, which has now become known as the Coniston massacre.
Just over a month ago, on Anzac Day, a troupe of indigenous soldiers held a march through the Sydney suburb of Redfern, eschewing traditional Anzac Day services, where the sacrifices that were made by their community were completely disregarded, like they didnâ€™t deserve some honour from their country that they put their life on the line for. This ignorance ultimately made this noble ceremony more important and significant within our community. Hopefully this will become an annual and uncontroversial tradition for our nation.
To read more from me, Honey, visit my blog â€“ honeyz818.wordpress.com