Anzac Day commemorations honour Indigenous heroes

16 Apr 2018

Our First Nations People servicemen and women will be doubly honoured during Newcastle's Anzac Day commemorations through a moving photographic exhibition and candlelight vigil in Civic Park.

The Serving Country portrait exhibition at Newcastle Region Library will feature more than 200 photos and stories covering a century of service by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, who will also be acknowledged at the annual War Memorial Grove Candlelight Vigil in Civic Park.

Photos (L-R): Marjorie Tripp AO (deceased), Women's Royal Australian Navy: "Loved it, my life is better because of it." Tim Walk, Royal Australian Air Force: "To serve your country is to be humble and give it all for the freedom of others." Colin Watego OAM, Warrant Officer Class One, Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery, Senior Indigenous Military Advisor, Australian Defence Force: "Never let the fear of failure prevent you from succeeding." Hayden Neill, Private, rifleman with 5RAR in Darwin "Wearing the same unifrom as my father is a dream come true. Wearing this uniform and being Indigenous is priceless."

Serving Country, by celebrated human rights photographer Belinda Mason and Dieter Knierim, canvasses around 150 individual and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families who proudly served -- and continue to serve -- Australia.

One featured is current Warrant Officer Class One from the Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery Colin Watego OAM, a Senior Indigenous Culture Officer for the Australian Defence Force.

Watego rates serving the same Royal Australian Artillery Regiment as his father a career highlight.

Four men from Watego's family, which lends its name to Australia's most easterly beach at Cape Byron, served their country, with Colin's two younger brothers also enlisting.

"Serving Country provides a platform for sharing stories that exposes the real experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and women, and acknowledges the positive roles they play in the community," Warrant Officer Watego, who has been instrumental in recruiting personnel to the project, said.

"These stories are inspiring and thought provoking, and include accounts of courage, suffering and mateship. Sharing stories is an important part of our culture, plays a vital role in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, and has a strong link to healing mind and spirit within us, our family, our community or our nation."

Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said Newcastle Library was proud to host this "remarkable exhibition".

"Our First Nations People have served our nation for more than a century - from South Africa and Gallipoli, the trenches of Belgium and France, and the battlefields of Korea and Vietnam, and ongoing conflicts," the Lord Mayor said.

"Serving Country highlights the particularly poignant fact that many First Nations People served before being granted the most basic rights of citizenship in the 1970s.

"So the city is especially proud to show our collective gratitude during this year's Anzac Day commemorations."

Artist and Wakka Wakka Woman Aunty Hazel Cowburn is exhibiting her work as part of the Serving Country exhibition. Her portrait Uncle Harry Mi Mi Journey is a painting dedicated to the memory of Wakka Wakka Man Harry Mi Mi, a soldier from Queensland's North Burnet Region who joined the Army at the age of 17 and served in the jungles of Vietnam as a rifleman and forward Scout. Harry came from a family of servicemen.

The annual Candlelight Vigil in Civic Park's War Memorial Grove - on Tuesday 24 April at 5pm - will also honour ATSI servicemen and women.

In deference to the Serving Country Exhibition, the vigil will open with a Welcome To Country from Aboriginal Elder Uncle Bill Smith and members of his family.

Also appearing will be Callaghan College's Yadagi Group performing Corroboree Calling on Didgeridoo and the school's Aboriginal Dance Group performing a dance to Yothu Yindi's Wirrkul Girl.

"The Memorial Grove Candlelight Vigil is a wonderful opportunity for families who can't make the dawn service the following morning to pay their respects," the Lord Mayor added.

Adding to the spectacle will be a group of shimmering Harley Davidsons ridden to the twilight service by the Military Brotherhood and Veterans motorcycle groups.

Serving Country

When: Friday 20 April launch 5.15pm to Saturday 16 June 2018
Where: Newcastle Region Library Lovett Gallery, Laman Street Newcastle (The Gallery will be open from 9am to 2pm on Anzac Day)

War Memorial Grove Candlelight Vigil

When: Tuesday 24 April 5pm - 7pm
Where: Memorial Grove, Civic Park