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On 10 November 2013 Governor-General Quentin Bryce dedicated the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander War Memorial, saying:

‘It stands in noble testimony to the service of Indigenous personnel from across Australia, in peace and war. Men and women who served in every campaign of our nation’s forces from the Boer War through to today.’

The unveiling of the Memorial was the culmination of a long campaign for the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and women.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service

Thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and women have served in Australia’s defence forces. While they have been present at every conflict and almost every peacekeeping mission from the Boer War to the present, it is difficult to accurately determine how many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have served. Policy varied over time, but at some points Aboriginal people were discouraged or prohibited from enlisting. This did not stop people enlisting; but did prompt people to remain silent about their cultural heritage. 

Current research suggests that over 1000 Aboriginal people enlisted during the First World War, and three times this number during the Second World War. Aboriginal people served in Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan, as well as in peace-keeping missions. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service is the subject of ongoing research.  

A memorial to their service

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander War Memorial Committee was established in 2006 to rectify what was recognised as a ‘gaping hole’  in remembrance  – the lack of a major memorial to recognise their service. Marj Tripp, chair, described the group as ‘Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal veterans and friends’, and tireless work over seven years saw the Memorial unveiled in 2013. The Committee included those who had served in the WRANS (Marj Tripp), RAAMC (Frank Lampard), 5 RAR Vietnam (Franke Clarke), 7 RAR Vietnam (Gil Green) 9 RAR Vietnam (Les Kropinyeri) and Merchant Navy (Lewis O’Brien). Building on the work of the Committee was the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander War Memorial Appeal, a group of prominent South Australians brought together to complete the fundraising required to realise the million-dollar project. Sir Eric Neale AC CVO and Bill Denny AM co-chaired the Appeal.

The Memorial

The Memorial was designed and created by Lee-Ann Tjunypa Buckskin, Tony Rosella, Michelle Nikou (designers), Robert Hannaford (sculptor) and Tim Thomson (bronze casting).

The Memorial was designed to demonstrate community respect and instil a sense of pride in those who served. Its conceptual focus gives attention to both fulfilling Aboriginal rituals and those of the Defence Force. 

The ceremonial centre provides a contemplative and reflective focal point to honour the memory and contribution made by all Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander servicemen and women. The encircling wall includes bronze insignia representing Navy, Army Airforce and Merchant Navy. Within the ceremonial centre sits a coolamon, cast in bronze, and a place for ritual fire. The coolamon holds smoking gum leaves to cleanse and prepare the site on significant occasions. The Rainbow Dreaming Serpent, a national symbol of creation, lies at the heart of the ceremonial centre. A boulder placed nearby represents special features in the landscape created by ancestral beings such as the Rainbow Serpent.  

Surrounding the ceremonial centre is a grassy mound on which stand two bronze figures, representing Aboriginal servicemen and women. The male figure is in a uniform from the First World War; the female figure in an Australian Army Medical Women’s Service uniform from the Second World War. Their prominent position on the mound is intended to convey their role as defenders of Australia and holders of a deeper knowledge about the land.  

The site of the Memorial, adjacent to Torrens Parade Ground, is significant for both its longstanding  Kaurna associations (by Karrawirraparri, ‘red gum forest river’) and its military associations, which date back to the colonial period.

The inscription on the memorial reads:

ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER WAR MEMORIAL

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and servicewomen fought and died for Australia,  They have served in every conflict and most peacekeeping missions in which Australia has been involved from the Boer War until the present day.  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have served in defence of our country, but service policies have not always provied the opportunity for them to identify their cultural heritage on enlistment.

This memorial is sited on the land of the Kaurna people adjacent to the River Torrens : Karrawirra Pari-ityangka "in the vicinity of the red forest gum river" , to recognise and commemorate the service and sacrifice of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have served Australia.

Today, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and servicewomen continue to represent their people and their country as valued members of the Australian Defence Force.

Lest We Forget

Dedicated by Her Excellency the Honourable Quentin Bryce AC CVO

Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia and

Marjorie Anne Tripp formerly WRANS 10 November 2013

The dedication

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander War Memorial was dedicated at 11 am on Sunday 10 November 2013. The unveiling was performed by Her Excellency the Honourable Quentin Bryce AC CVO, Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, and Marj Tripp, Chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander War Memorial Committee, in the presence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander veterans from conflicts including the Second World War and the Vietnam War. A crowd of about a thousand people attended the solemn dedication. Speakers included the Honourable Jay Weatherill MP, Premier of South Australia, and Senator Simon Birmingham, representing the Honourable Tony Abbott MP, Prime Minister of Australia.  Vonda Last gave a moving performance of For Love of Country. The ceremony was followed by a community celebration including cultural performances and entertainment.

Mr Frank Lampard OAM, Deputy Chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander War Memorial Committee, said: ‘In 2010, they recorded that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community of Australia have come to view ‘Anzac’ as a party to which they have not been invited. Well, I’m proud to say that lack of recognition ends today’.

Part of the nation’s memorial landscape

Each year the Memorial is the site of services which recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander military service, including a special service during Reconciliation Week.

By Mandy Paul, History Trust of South Australia

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Memorial Unveiling

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Image: woman at lectern speaking in front of sculpture
Image: group of people standing under an open marquee
Image: man and woman shaking hands

The Memorial

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Image: bronze sculpture of man and woman in uniform
Image: bronze sculpture of curved wooden vessel
Image: bronze sculpture of man and woman in uniform, slate pavers in foreground
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