Monday, 14 July 2014
This year's NAIDOC Week had the theme of Serving Country, honouring all Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders who have fought in Australian wars. This aspect of history has been somewhat neglected by this nation, but that is now changing. The Serving Our Country project aims to collect the personal stories of Indigenous servicemen and servicewomen around the country. Indigenous soldiers often found it difficult to join, with prejudice a significant barrier for many. As our now Governor-General Peter Cosgrove said in a newspaper article last year:
They were not obliged, of course, to serve. In fact … they were discouraged from serving, but so many of them volunteered.
The Governor-General described the Indigenous soldiers who managed to join as 'magnificent' soldiers.
In the 11 July edition of the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen, guest columnist Kurnai elder Linda Mullett said that, despite a proud history of serving the nation in all Australia's major conflicts and peacekeeping efforts, Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander soldiers were not even considered citizens until 1960. And the story is told that, even though they were allowed to serve their nation when they arrived home, they could not be served a beer in a pub. The way we cared for many of our soldiers who did return from war—especially those of darker skin—has been an embarrassment to the nation over a long period of time.
In this NAIDOC Week, people are celebrating that which is important: remembering those that served—whoever they were, whatever station they came from in this country—and what they gave to this nation, to their own families and to the wellbeing of this nation to this day. Having a former serving officer, a brigadier, sitting beside me today makes the situation even more poignant. Whilst we who have not served can empathise with those who have served, until such time as you have lived the life you cannot fully grasp nor understand the importance of their service. To be an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person and be further discriminated against and not recognised must be devastating for the individual. To be a comrade one day and discarded the next must be the greatest pain that you can inflict on any individual in this nation.
Having said those words, I am proud to identify with this NAIDOC Week's theme and all those who served this country, of whatever colour, creed or background they came from. I salute them, I honour them and I wish their families all the best.
Each year in July the electorate of Kingsford Smith pays tribute and thanks to the local Aboriginal community and celebrates its history, culture and achievements through NAIDOC Week. NAIDOC Week, of course, provides an opportunity for our local Indigenous community to showcase its rich and diverse history dating back many thousands of years. This year, there are a number of important events in our community.
A local group, First Hand Solutions, held a Black Market at the historic Bare Island in Goorewall—or La Perouse as it is more commonly known—with a NAIDOC focus and attractions such as spear-making sessions, catch and cook fishing, a smoking ceremony, plant and artefact talks and visits from local Indigenous elders, particularly Laddie Timbery and Esme Timbery, whose family has been running a shell-making business in the community for 188 years and whose ancestry and connection with that land and that community dates back 7,000 years. It makes an absolute mockery of the assertion by our Prime Minister that this country was unsettled prior to English colonisation. I pay tribute to Peter Cooley and Sarah Martin from First Hand for the wonderful work that they have done in establishing the Black Market and getting it running.
I was also honoured to attend a special mass at the Reconciliation Church at Phillip Bay. Father Frank Brennan was the presiding priest at that wonderful service. The mass, hosted by the local Aboriginal Catholic Ministry, acknowledged Aboriginal Sunday and provided a moving service for all those who attended. I think the elders from the community who attended that mass. The NAIDOC Cup, a challenge between the La Perouse Panthers and the Redfern All Blacks, was held at La Perouse. Unfortunately, the Redfern All Blacks, from the neighbouring electorate of Sydney, got up this year! Well done to all those who participated and played in what was a tough game of rugby league.
The La Perouse Aboriginal Land Council paid tribute to those from an Indigenous background who served our nation in wars. It was heartening and quite moving to hear the tributes to some of our local Indigenous people who had served our nation, in particular Vic Sims, a member of the local Indigenous community who served our nation in World War II. There were also wonderful events hosted by Randwick and Botany councils. I attended a wonderful event at the Prince of Wales Hospital which showcased traditional Aboriginal art and also many community events that brought our community together to celebrate NAIDOC Week.