For our Country – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander memorial

Commemorating the military service and experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who have fought to protect their country.


In 2018 artist Daniel Boyd, a Kudjala/Gangalu/Kuku Yalanji/Waka Waka/Gubbi Gubbi/Wangerriburra/Bandjalung man from North Queensland, and Edition Office Architects were commissioned to design a new sculpture that recognises the military service of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

For our Country is a sculptural pavilion set behind a ceremonial fire pit within a circle of stones. Behind the fire pit is a wall of two-way mirrored glass that reflects the viewer and the Australian War Memorial. This wall is set with thousands of transparent lenses, representing our perception and highlighting our incomplete understanding of time, history, and memory.

Behind the wall is an intimate, contemplative area. This space is described by Boyd as “Blackness - an opaque space where the world we see is not in our own reflection, but the reflection of many”. The layers of rammed earth remind us of the important spiritual connection Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have with the land. Reaffirming that “black is beautiful”, the pavilion recognises that Indigenous Australians have and will continue to protect their Country.

“[The memorial] is a manifestation of a deep connection to the land and responsibility to future generations: how they will inherit this relationship; 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.” [Daniel Boyd, 2018]

‘Daniel Boyd’, courtesy of the artist and Liz Ham, photographer

‘Daniel Boyd’, courtesy of the artist and Liz Ham, photographer.

At the centre of the pavilion is a ceremonial chamber for the depositing of soil from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nations from across Australia. The artist intended that each Nation be commemorated in this place, where a piece of real Country joins the many lands our ancestors have defended, and from which they came to serve Australia.

“Only four or five generations after the arrival of the British First Fleet, having endured discrimination, brutal social exclusion, and violence, many Indigenous Australians denied their Aboriginality and kinship to enlist, serve, fight, suffer, and die for the young nation that had taken so much from them. Having enlisted from a desperately unequal Australia, many found military service to be their first experience of equality. In Australia’s Defence forces they were equals – equal in life and equal in death.”

Dr Brendan Nelson, Director, Australian War Memorial

art

Concept rendering of For Our Country, a commissioned work by Daniel Boyd.

Connection to landscape is important to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. With permission from the United Ngunnawal Elders Council, and in consultation with national Indigenous military personnel, curators, and local Elders, an open invitation is going out to every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Nation to donate soil from those lands to be placed in the ceremonial cham­ber at the centre of the pavilion. 

Communities are invited to make deposits of soil during Reconciliation Week and NAIDOC Week celebrations by submitting the request form at https://www.awm.gov.au/form/for-our-country-form or by emailing forourcountry@awm.gov.au  

For our Country was created by one of our country’s most gifted artists and is dedicated to my Country, my family, my mates, and me. It is a dignified art installation, full of meanings and symbolism. It pays respect to the deep connections and long, proud history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women and their defence of Country. As an Australian soldier and veteran, descended from the Gomeroi Nation, I am proud to see this very special public art piece open here in the grounds of one of our most sacred national institutions.” [Corporal Garth O’Connell, Army History Unit, Royal Australian Infantry]

The pavilion was dedicated by Dr Jackie Huggins AM FAHA (Bidjara and Birri-Gubba Juru) in a public ceremony on 28 March 2019.

The Memorial acknowledges the support of the following advisory Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sculpture commission group:

  • Aunty Roslyn Brown, Co-Chair, United Ngunnawal Elders Council;
  • Ms Vanessa Seekee, Curator/Historian, Torres Strait Heritage Museum;
  • Uncle David Williams, Royal Australian Navy (Retd);
  • Uncle Harry Allie, Royal Australian Air Force (Retd);
  • Corporal Tara Enchong, Royal Australian Air Force;
  • Uncle Roy Mundine, Australian Army (Retd);
  • Gary Oakley, National President, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Veterans and Services Association;
  • Ms Tina Baum, Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, National Gallery of Australia;
  • Ms Nici Cumpston, Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, Art Gallery of South Australia, and Artistic Director of TARNANTHI.
  • Mr Tim Sullivan, former Assistant Director National Collection, Australian War Memorial;
  • Mr Michael Bell, Indigenous Liaison Officer, Australian War Memorial;
  • Mr Ryan Johnston, former Head of Art, Australian War Memorial.

Acknowledgements

The For our Country memorial was created by Daniel Boyd and Edition Office Architects, proudly supported by the Australian government.

The Memorial gratefully acknowledges the support of the Chairman of the Australian War Memorial, Mr Kerry Stokes AC, and the Drummond Foundation.