Speech

Address By

Her Excellency the Honourable Quentin Bryce AC CVO

Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia

ON THE OCCASION OF

Dedication of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander War Memorial

Torrens Parade Ground, Adelaide

10 November 2013

Ms Marj Tripp

Chair, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander War Memorial Committee

 

Mr Frank Lampard

Deputy Chair

 

Senator the Honourable Simon Birmingham

Representing the Prime Minister

 

The Honourable Jay Weatherill

Premier

 

Parliamentarians

Committee members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander War Memorial

Uncle Lewis O’Brien

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to join you today for this special occasion, the dedication of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander War Memorial.

 

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we gather, and the many wise elders who have shared their stories with me across my life.

 

The telling and remembering of experience are crucial to understanding who we are, individually and as a nation. 

This superb memorial reflects so many stories, some known, others waiting to be told, which we need to share, interpret and celebrate.

Its context – time and place – is apt.

As we approach 2014, we find ourselves contemplating the events leading up to the Great War, and the tragedy and sacrifice and huge changes wrought by that conflict and others, before and after.

This site, opposite the Torrens Parade Ground where many Australian men and women have departed for active service overseas, is particularly evocative.

 

In June this year I was privileged to visit the Menin Gate in Belgium.

Thousands of allied soldiers set off for the Western Front from this hallowed place.

On the wall within the arch are inscribed the names of those who would never return, including 6,000 Australians.

How poignant it is to honour those we have lost at the place where they began their journey.

Brave men and women who embarked with mixed emotions – excitement, dread and hope for the future of our country and indeed the world.

This memorial does that and so much more.

 

Aspiring to be the first national War Memorial for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women, 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.

It is increasingly clear that Indigenous people have contributed substantially to the defence of our nation.

More than 800 in World War 1, 3000 in World War 2, and many others we still do not know about.

The stories are being told through the work of organisations like the Australian War Memorial, the Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and Reconciliation Australia in new research at the Australian National University and in our wider culture.

The centrepiece of the Sydney Festival in January will be the theatre production Black Diggers.

Here in South Australia the RSL has uncovered the details of some 200 previously unknown Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander veterans.

Accounts of men and women from across our ancient land:

Peppermint Bay in Tasmania, Lake Tyers Mission Station and Framlingham in Victoria, Point Pearce in this State, Geraldton in Western Australia, the Cox Peninsula in the Northern Territory and in Goulburn, Coonabarabran, Jericho, communities that I have come to know during my term of office.

Historian Henry Reynolds, in writing of the courage of Indigenous people, quotes Edward Eyre (a man forever linked to this State through his great explorations),

“a proud unquailing glance of eye … the individuals before me were very brave men”.

Such bravery, combined with love of country, patriotism, is the stuff history is made of.

We stand in awe of our fine soldiers:

Corporal Harry Thorpe fought with gallantry and leadership near Ypres and was awarded the Military Medal

Private Arthur Walker served at Gallipoli and later lost his life on the Western Front.
He now lies in an unknown grave, far from home.
We are delighted that his family are with us today.
They have honoured his memory by naming ‘Anzac’ a member of each generation since.

Opiatalawae and Tiponikrae captured the first Japanese Prisoner of War on Australian soil in the Second World War.

The Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion included nearly every able-bodied Torres Strait Island man by 1944;

Warrant Officer Leonard Waters flew ninety-five operational sorties in the RAAF.

I am so proud to have among my friends Indigenous Australians whose relatives served in Korea and Vietnam.

As Commander-in-Chief it has meant a lot to me to meet Indigenous ADF members who are serving with professional skills and dedication.

A spectacular performance by the Royal Australian Navy’s Indigenous Performance Group during the recent International Fleet Review was a highlight at the Opera House on a sparkling Sydney Harbour.

One of my favourite stories is of Oodgeroo Noonuccal.

She joined the Australian Women’s Army Service in 1942 after her two brothers were captured by the Japanese in Singapore.

Her story echoes that of many Indigenous personnel.

Despite warnings that she might suffer racial discrimination in the Army she advanced to the rank of Corporal, trained new recruits and made firm friends.

After leaving the Army she used her experiences and contacts to set the foundations for her advocacy for Aboriginal rights.

It has been said that many Indigenous servicemen and women “while fighting to defend democracy, sought secure legal entitlement to the equality that some had experienced in war”.

 

My friends,

the design of this memorial symbolises the harmony which we as a nation aspire to.

The Ceremonial Centre, its Coolamon, creates a space where military and Indigenous commemorations can be carried out with reverence and dignity.

The image of the rainbow dreaming serpent, the boulder representing memories of the past and the markings engraved into it, give due respect to our land and its protectors.

The figures of the service man and woman lend faces to the story.

They invite us to reflect on the service and tenacity of Indigenous Australians.

This wonderful memorial has, from its inception, stimulated story-telling as Indigenous service men and women are named and recognised and have their history documented.

It will stand as a living monument to encourage sharing of these precious memories.

 

I offer my warmest congratulations to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander War Memorial Committee for your vision and for translating it into this magnificent place.

Thank you to sponsors, donors, designers, sculptor and caster for a memorial of enormous significance to veterans and families of those who have served, as well as to all Australians - a grateful nation.

May I suggest that the words of Oodgeroo take a new meaning at this site, in a verse from her poem “Tree Grave”.

                Our wandering fires

                Are now far away,

                But our thoughts are turning

                By night and day

                Where he lies for ever

                Under the white moon,

                By the lit water

                Of the still lagoon.

 

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I invite the Chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander War Memorial Committee, Mrs Marj Tripp, to join me to unveil the dedication plaque.