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Celebrating those who dare

Past and present indigenous servicemen and women were honoured and remembered at the Australian War Memorial during the Defence Indigenous Memorial Service on July 4 for NAIDOC Week.

About 200 guests and Canberra school children attended the service, which was supported by Australia’s Federation Guard and the Australian Army Band – Sydney. 

NAIDOC, which stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee, is a celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and an opportunity to recognise the contributions of indigenous Australians. 

One of the themes for NAIDOC Week 2012 was “They dared to challenge”, celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have championed change. 

Chief of the Defence Force General David Hurley was the guest speaker at the ceremony and was joined by Defence Secretary Duncan Lewis to lay a wreath at the War Memorial’s Armistice Stone. 

General Hurley said Defence had a proud tradition of engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. “The Aboriginal and Torres Strait flags fly proudly beside the Australian flag and the ADF flag in Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey Square at Russell Offices to mark the significance of NAIDOC Week,” he said. 

“It’s a small but important gesture to honour the important contributions that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have made to our military history and to acknowledge their continued service today. 

“History shows that our indigenous service men and women dared to challenge the system by fighting for their country in a time of great need and were among the early pioneers of a reconciliation process that continues today.” 

The ADF has a long indigenous history, with indigenous military members fighting in all major conflicts since the Boer War. 

More than 3000 indigenous Australians enlisted during World War II. Another 150-200 served as de facto servicemen, patrolling and performing other military duties along the north Australian coast, while 3000 indigenous Australians supported the World War II defence effort as civilian labourers. 

Across the Top End, indigenous soldiers have played a significant role in the Regional Force Surveillance Units and on border protection command operations such as Operation Resolute. 

Warrant Officer Class One Don Bowie from the Directorate of Indigenous Affairs, who is the ADF Senior Indigenous Recruitment Adviser, took part in the NAIDOC Week ceremony. 

Born on Thursday Island, Warrant Officer Bowie has been a soldier for 32 years. 

He said NAIDOC meant a lot to him as a way to show respect for the contributions of indigenous people. 

“Members of my family served during WWII and I have relatives who are still serving in the Defence Force today,” he said. 

“I see NAIDOC Week as being for them – they have served and fought alongside other Australians for their country for what we are today.” 

First published in Army News Edition 1286. 

Last updated
15 September 2016
Army: Courage. Initiative. Respect. Teamwork.
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