War duty for Aboriginal servicemen honoured at last
Tim Lloyd Herald Sun August 03, 2012
The call to create Australia's first memorial to Aboriginal servicemen and women in Adelaide has sparked an overwhelming response that has guaranteed it will be built.
The appeal committee announced yesterday it had taken just four months to raise the $740,000 needed for the memorial to be built, at the foot of the Torrens Parade Ground on King William Road.
The memorial was originally planned to be built in time for next April's centenary of the Anzac landing at Gallipoli, but work on the bronze statues is now expected to be complete by September next year.
The news brought a broad grin to the face of George Tongarie, the oldest known Aboriginal serviceman in SA.
Mr Tongarie, who served in World War II as a leading aircraftman, is in the Disability Services SA centre at Highgate. He cannot speak due to throat surgery, but his face speaks volumes. He scribbles on a board, or has his wife Maude speak for him.
The memorial campaign has been led by an Aboriginal servicewoman, Marj Tripp, and Mr Tongarie has been involved from the start.
Yesterday he was visited by two current Aboriginal servicemen and it became clear how things have changed in the armed forces.
RAAF Flight Sergeant Garry Browning and 7RAR Private Robert Angove, who have both served in Australia and overseas, proudly told Mr Tongarie about their Aboriginal heritage.
Sgt Browning is from a military family. His mother was part of the Stolen Generation and he only recently found out more about his past.
"I think every country and every race should be honoured for what they did in the wars," he said.
Pte Angove grew up hunting and fishing in his Atherton Tablelands homelands. He joined the regular army after taking part in the Kimberley-based Norforce reservist surveillance force.
"It's pretty much an honour to have this memorial," Private Angove said. "It makes me proud, being indigenous."
Bill Denny, who heads up South Australia's Anzac Day celebrations each year, said it seemed everyone except Aboriginal people had been recognised for their war service.
General Background info from Treaty Republic
ANZAC day is the time of the year when many Australians reflect on the European's World Wars and to the 'Invaders' and 'Originals' who lost there lives fighting for 'their' country - or still carry the injuries.
The 'Originals' that fought in the 'Invaders Wars' received no recognition. They were not allowed in RSL clubs; not encouraged to march on Anzac Day; there were no soldier settlement blocks and there is no official memorial.
With Australia spending 24 billion on military expenses last year (2011), the government had no funding for a dedicated Aboriginal and Torres Strat Islander war memorial!
Alice Higgins City Messenger - Adelaide 20th April 2012
Aboriginal veterans will next week mark another Anzac Day without a dedicated memorial to honour their fallen comrades, despite a five-year struggle.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander War Memorial Committee chair Marj Tripp, who was the first Aboriginal woman to join the Royal Australian Navy, said the acknowledgement was long overdue.
"It has been a long, long, hard road," Ms Tripp, who is also the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander War Memorial Committee chair, said.
"One of my committee members was telling me his number came up as a conscript and he went in to sign the papers and they told him `you do not have to go because you are an Aboriginal, you are not a citizen of this country' and he said `the marble did not know that so I am going'.
"It is an opportunity for them to see that this country has finally acknowledged Aboriginal soldiers and those in the air force and the navy who did serve."
An Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander committee first sought permission to erect a $500,000 memorial at the Torrens Parade Ground and begin design work in 2007.
The City Messenger reported it was given City Council approval in 2009 and $225,000 in funding from the council and State and Federal governments.
But the project stalled because the committee could not attract enough money to make up for the $275,000 shortfall.
The RSL had hoped the memorial would be finished in time for Anzac Day 2010, but said this week it was still another 18 months away.
Indigenous Australians have served in every war Australia has been involved in, from the Boer War in South Africa at Federation to conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is estimated about 500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders served in World War I and more than 3000 in World War II.
Vietnam War veteran and RSL state president Jock Statton said the memorial, which will feature two bronze figures of an Aboriginal man and woman, would be a great acknowledgement of their role in defending Australian soil.
"They were not allowed to vote yet they were still supporting Australia," Mr Statton said.
"To have the recognition they have been involved is going to be extremely important to them."
He said the committee had appointed an appeals committee to help raise funds for the memorial.
The committee, which includes former governor Sir Eric Neal and retired Supreme Court judge Kevin Duggan, plans to host a series of fundraising events - although there were not yet any details for these events.
"It is a massive memorial and with funding the way it is, it has been hard to get any sort of funding, regardless of what it is for," Mr Statton said.
"We are confident now we have got the appeals committee that we can raise enough funds."