For our Country sculpture unveiled, marking Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian military service
For our Country, a new sculptural pavilion commemorating the military service and experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, was unveiled today in the Sculpture Garden at the Australian War Memorial.
For our Country is a space in which to reflect on the service of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and servicewomen from all conflicts in which Australia’s military has been involved. It is also a place to contemplate the sacrifices that these Australians have made and continue to make.
Artist Daniel Boyd, a Kudjala/Gangalu/Kuku Yalanji/Waka Waka/Gubbi Gubbi/Wangerriburra/Bandjalung man from North Queensland, was commissioned in collaboration with architects Edition Office to design the new sculpture in early 2018. Their design was selected from a shortlist of submissions and approved by a group of national Indigenous military personnel, curators, and local Elders.
Director Dr Brendan Nelson said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a long history of fighting for Country, dating back to before Federation.
“Within the spirit of equality is a special place accorded to Indigenous Australians. They have served in every conflict this country has engaged in. Despite laws that did not allow them to enlist, thousands volunteered to serve Australia.
“From a desperately unequal society they served, fought, suffered, and died for the young nation that had taken so much from them. Still today, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women continue to do so with pride and professionalism, which is nothing short of inspiring. This sculpture honours their service,” Dr Nelson said.
For our Country features a pavilion set behind a ceremonial fire pit. Behind this is a wall of two-way mirrored glass that reflects the viewer and the Memorial. The work is a striking addition to the Sculpture Garden, and will also serve a practical ceremonial function in future.
Boyd describes the work as a manifestation of the deep connection that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have to the land, and their responsibility to future generations.
“It’s about how they will inherit this relationship, and the generational exchange of knowledge that has happened hundreds of thousands of times: from parent to child, grandparent to child, great-grandparent to child, and so on. It is about our respect for the land, how we would like our children to experience that connection, while understanding the sacrifices made to seek a system in equilibrium,” Mr Boyd said.
The sculpture contains soil deposited from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nations across Australia. Boyd intended that each Nation be commemorated in this place, where a piece of Country joins the lands that the ancestors of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have defended, and from which they came to serve Australia.
Communities are invited to make deposits of soil during Reconciliation Week and NAIDOC Week celebrations by submitting a request form https://www.awm.gov.au/form/for-our-country-form, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
After the conclusion of the dedication ceremony, a new book; Our Mob Served: A History of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories of war and defending Australia was officially launched in the Captain Reg Saunders Gallery.
Our Mob Served, edited by Allison Cadzow and Mary Anne Jebb, is the latest title from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies’ (AIATSIS) publishing arm, Aboriginal Studies Press. The book paints a vivid picture of Indigenous war service through oral histories and treasured family photographs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and servicewomen.
In recent years the Memorial has undertaken a range of activities acknowledging the service and sacrifice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, going back to colonial times. These include:
- Having an Indigenous serviceman play the didgeridoo at the commencement of Anzac and Remembrance Day ceremonies
- The acquisition and commission of a traditional artworks by an Indigenous artists, depicting the importance of protection of Country to Indigenous Australians, such as:
- Participation in NAIDOC Week - Because of her, we can: female Indigenous artists in the Australian War Memorial Collection
- Study by military historian Chris Clark which provides a history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service in Australia’s defence forces.
- Undertaking detailed research of Indigenous service during the First World War, identifying more than 1,100 who served
- Researching and displaying of stories and representation of Indigenous servicemen and servicewomen in the redeveloped First World War Galleries, including:
- The tombstone of First World War soldier Corporal Harry Thorpe MM, recovered from Heath Cemetery, France, and loaned to the Memorial by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission;
- The acquisition of Richard Kirby DCM’s medals;
- A number of photographic portraits and short stories of Indigenous soldiers, including William Punch Reginald Hawkins, Frederick Prentice, and Alfred Jackson Coombs
- The appointment to Memorial staff of a full-time Indigenous Liaison Officer, Michael Bell, who (aside from the above) is engaged in the development of the Indigenous service database, as well as providing advice and leadership to Memorial staff on Indigenous culture and service history, and support and direction for the Memorial’s Reconciliation Action Plan.
- The national tour of a special exhibition on the history of Indigenous military service For Country, for Nation.
- Naming a prominent gallery and meeting venue in honour of the late Captain Reg Saunders, an Aboriginal Australian who fought in both the Second World War and the Korean War. This is the only part of the Memorial named in honour of any single person.
- A recent opinion piece in The Guardian Australia by Memorial historian Dr Thomas J Rogers, Murdering Gully: settlers killed 35 in Aboriginal camp, and threw bodies into the water
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