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Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC

On this day of commemoration, I pay my respects to Elders of this land, past, present and emerging and I especially acknowledge the Babana Aboriginal Men’s Group, the initiators of this ceremony, the first of which was held 14 years ago and which has been held every year since. 

This year has a special significance as the nation, like the rest of the world, struggles against the impact of the coronavirus or COVID-19.  So whilst it is technology that allows us to be here - technology which is often referred to as allowing us to live in a virtual world - today’s ceremony, what it represents, who it honours, is nonetheless as real as the Coloured Digger Marches of the last 13 years.  

It also occurred to me this morning as the pink-tinged dawn crept up over the horizon, that this year’s “March” was particularly poignant as we know that the Indigenous community sits amongst those potentially most vulnerable to this virus.  Let us ensure that we keep this enemy at bay.  Let us protect and look after everyone.

Dennis and I feel very honoured to participate with you today.  Can we say, thank you.  Thank you for inviting us, thank you for sharing your stories, stories that were for too long suppressed.  Stories of bravery.  Stories of pain.  Stories of those who were not deserters, but who were deserted by their country on their return. 

We know about the bravery.  Every soldier is brave.  William Allan Irwin and Albert Knight, both from the First World War, were both recipients of the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the Medal awarded posthumously to Private Irwin. They are men of history.  Men of our history.  The men who fought for us. 

So I ask: Why have I only now read about these men?

Douglas Grant, a member of the 13th Battalion which sailed for France in 1916, tells us why. He wrote of the Australian Government's 'broken pledge' to look after each of those:

‘…who gave his all in the honouring of the pledges he made, when he carried the honour, integrity and fair name of Australia, unblemished and untarnished, through four years of horror, blood and unspeakable hell.’[1]

Except that Douglas Grant was Indigenous and along with all Indigenous men who served, he returned from war to rejoin the ‘uncounted Australians’. It was to be almost 50 years following his service, 1967, before that changed.  

And if there could be any greater indignity, any greater deprivation of the benefits given to Australians who fought for Australia, Indigenous Australians were denied the right to march on Anzac Day, side by side with the mates with whom they had shared the pain of battle.

So this is why we say thank you.  Not only because you fought for all Australians, in the First World War, in the Second, in Korea, in Vietnam, in the Middle East, but also because you have told us about an important part of our history.  You have told us our truth. 

Lest we forget



[1] http://www.sydneybarani.com.au/sites/douglas-grant/

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