After 100 years of commemorating the Anzac legacy, I am proud that Australia’s remembrance of Anzac history now honours the significant contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and women.
Since before Federation, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have served in every engagement of the Australian Defence Force. In war and in peace, the record of Indigenous servicemen and women is significant but went unrecognised for much of our nation’s history. In addition to the disenfranchisement that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander diggers often faced on their return home from war, the defence forces did not ask those enlisting to identify whether they were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander until 1980.
The Centenary of Anzac commemorations which conclude this year have contributed significantly to awareness of First Australian contributions to the defence forces. Last year the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Veterans and Services Association led the march at the Anzac Day National Ceremony in Canberra. The Australian War Memorial has also led a significant program of Indigenous commemorative activities, including historical work to create more comprehensive documentation of Indigenous diggers who lost their lives in WWI. The Australian War Memorial also continues to work with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and the Australian National University to complete Serving Our County: a history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in defence of Australia.
This year I marked Anzac Day at the dawn service in Darwin where we were Welcomed to Country by Larrakia Leader and Navy reservist Lietenant Nigel Browne. Darwin experienced the horrors of war first hand, when it was decimated by bombings during WWII. Katherine and the island of Milingimbi also faced intense bombardment with over 90 bombs dropped across these areas. Darwin now forms a vital hub for the Australian Defence Force, with more than 12,000 Defence Force personnel stationed there. It was an honour to join many of these men and women and their families on Anzac Day.
I hope you also had an opportunity to attend a service, join a march or took a moment to reflect on the sacrifice our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and women have made on behalf of our country. Commemorating their service and their sacrifice remains as important as ever.