Monday, July 7, 2014

Indigenous Australians in wartime: it's time to tell the whole story

It would be inconsistent to celebrate Indigenous Australians' service in Imperial armies while ignoring the frontier wars. Naidoc's mission to tell the whole story is commendable
Paul Daley July 7, 2014

Douglas Grant (left). Photograph: /AWM
Australia is finally telling the stories of the Indigenous soldiers who have served in our wars and conflicts. This year’s Naidoc (National Aboriginal and Islanders Observance Day Committee) week, which began yesterday, is fittingly celebrating the theme ‘serving country – centenary and beyond’.
It is heartening to see that Naidoc is taking a broad approach by honouring ‘all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who have fought in defence of country ... From our warriors in the Frontier Wars to our warriors who have served with honour and pride in Australia’s military conflicts and engagements across the globe’.
Heartening, because it would be intellectually and historically inconsistent to ignore the many Indigenous warriors who fought colonial troops, paramilitaries and raiding parties on the one hand while celebrating those who served in the Imperial and Australian forces on the other. All were, of course, fighting for country.
There has been a long argument behind the scenes at the Australian War Memorial over whether to commemorate frontier violence that killed at least 20,000 Indigenous Australians and 2,000 settlers, police, soldiers and paramilitary members. The argument simmers on, between historians formerly and currently associated with what is effectively Australia’s secular shrine, its present director, Brendan Nelson, and those of the past………….
Naidoc’s mission to tell the whole story this week is commendable. Australia has been gripped by Anzac mythology since the late 1980s. But only recently have our cultural and political institutions begun to focus on the experiences – especially in the two world wars – of Indigenous personnel. The memorial and the Australian National University are, laudably, leading the way.
So perhaps now is an appropriate time for official monuments to the Indigenous diggers and for the warriors of the frontier wars – such as Pemulwuy, Jandamarra, Wyndradine, Durelle and Kanabygal.
Shane Mortimer, an elder of the Ngambri – custodians of the limestone plains on which the Australian Capital Territory has been imposed – says there should be a memorial to Indigenous diggers on Anzac Parade, already lined with various military monuments, and another to the frontier war fighters at the Aboriginal embassy across the lake………..
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