RSL Queensland Indigenous Veterans’ Ceremony 2022
State Vice President of RSL Queensland, Mr Bill Whitburn OAM; representatives of RSL Queensland branches; Representing the Premier, Mr Bart Mellish MP; Representing the leader of the Opposition Mr John-Paul Langbroek MP; Representing the Lord Mayor, Councillor Angela Owen; Representatives from Indigenous organisations, defence and veterans groups; emergency services; and other distinguished guests.
I begin by acknowledging the original custodians of the lands on which we gather this morning, and extend my greatest respects to Elders past, present and emerging, and to all First Nations people who have served and continue to serve our country in the armed forces.
We gather here at this sacred place; this Shrine of remembrance – to contemplate our national legacy and long heritage, and honour those who sacrificed so much to defend our land and seas and protect our way of life.
Every year as part of National Reconciliation Week, a ceremony is held in each capital city to recognise and commemorate the service and sacrifice of Indigenous veterans who have fought for Australia in every major conflict since the Boer War, more than a hundred and twenty years ago.
More than a thousand Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders saw active service in World War I and of the 34 who landed at Gallipoli, 12 gave their lives.
The place of Queenslanders in this rich heritage is not forgotten. During the Boer War, the Queensland Police sent four Aboriginal trackers to Bloemfontein; their remarkable skills are now the stuff of legend.
Queenslander Leonard Waters was the only aboriginal fighter pilot in World War II, he flew 95 combat missions (against the Japanese) in the Dutch East Indies and New Guinea.
Lance Corporal Kathleen Walker from Stradbroke Island, served during World War II as a Communicator in the AWAS (Australian Women’s Army Service) – And by 1944, nearly every Torres Strait Island man was a member of the thousand strong Torres Strait Island Light Infantry Battalion.
Tragically, when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island veterans returned from those earlier conflicts, they were ignored and largely forgotten.
But they are not ignored now – and they will never be forgotten.
Today we remember them and their brave deeds and we salute the more than 800 Indigenous service men and women who carry on that great tradition in Australia and in peace keeping and training roles across the world – and now, may I leave you with the final words of the inscription etched on the Aboriginal War Memorial in Henderson Park, Mildura:
“Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander servicemen and women enlisted for the opportunity to
be treated as equals, to defeat racism and foster lasting mateship. In the trenches they found
it. They fought side by side and their blood was spilled with their fellow diggers.
Their tenacity is their legacy. And may it exist in all of us today.”