Each year we celebrate National Reconciliation Week for our first peoples, our indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters. This week is that week!
Quite by chance I got a train into the city on Friday morning when I saw Gordana, the woman I always say hello to in our local Summer Hill café Decolata, getting on the same train. It turns out Gordana is a teacher at St Vincents Primary School in Ashfield. She was carrying a floral wreath and was escorting three indigenous students to the annual Indigenous Veterans Commemoration Service in Hyde Park.
I wasn’t able to attend the ceremony at such short notice which I was quite disappointed about, but I did ask Gordana if I could take a photo of her with the school’s floral wreath which her three students were going to lay during the service. But I did have just enough time after my errand to get to Hyde Park to get a programme of the service and to take a photo of the indigenous veterans’ memorial next to the Anzac Memorial.
Again, with luck on my side, I saw a priest standing alone at the memorial. He was having a quiet reflective moment going over his sermon while preparing to conduct the service. He was Army Chaplain Ivan Grant, a Wiradjuri man.
I first became aware that many indigenous people enlisted to serve in WWI when Brad Manera, the senior historian and curator from Anzac Memorial spoke about their service and sacrifice at a family history conference I attended in 2012.
Those veterans were treated as equals by their fellow soldiers, only to find when they returned home after their war service that the discrimination they had always encountered still occurred.
As part of National Reconciliation Week, the NSW Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Veterans and Services Association conduct the annual Indigenous Veterans Commemoration Ceremony around the Pool of Reflection at the Anzac Memorial. The Ceremony commemorates the service and sacrifice of indigenous veterans who have fought for Australia in every major conflict since the Boer War.
As part of National Reconciliation Week, this commemorative service was first started to recognise the many years of armed service Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have contributed — a history often lost to Australians.
“The majority of Australians wouldn’t have a clue about Aboriginal history,” NSW Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Veterans and Services Association president David Williams said.
The service is important not just for the recognition of indigenous service, but also to highlight the continued need to support veterans, Mr Williams said.
National Reconciliation Week (NRW) runs annually from 27 May – 3 June. These dates mark two milestones in Australia’s reconciliation journey: The 1967 referendum and the historic Mabo decision, respectively.
The week is a time for all Australians to learn about indigenous shared histories, cultures and achievements and to explore how each of us can join the national reconciliation effort.
For more information on National Reconciliation Week: http://www.reconciliation.org.au/nrw/
For more information on Indigenous Veterans Commemoration Service: http://www.indigenous.gov.au/news-and-media/event/indigenous-veterans-commemoration-service