An ANZAC ceremony in Redfern yesterday sought to commemorate Aboriginal soldiers who fought in wars overseas.
Pastor Ray Minniecon, an Aboriginal war veteran, set up the initiative The Coloured Diggers Project in 2006.
Mr Minniecon marched alongside his two brothers who fought in the Vietnam War.
“The project is to ensure that our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander are recognised by our community for contributions they made to all overseas conflicts.”
Indigenous Australians have fought in every overseas conflict since the First Boer War in 1880.
The Coloured Diggers Project provides the affirmation that Aboriginal diggers did not receive when they returned home from past wars.
“They never got any recognition nor did they get a lot of the benefits that go with being a soldier like land and pensions. They were excluded from RSLs.”
More than 500 people were expected to attend the annual event.
The Tent Embassy also organised a march in Canberra which sparked controversy.
Besides acknowledging conflicts fought overseas the Tent Embassy sought to emphasise past atrocities that have taken place on Australian shores.
Michael Anderson is one of the four original founders of the Tent Embassy.
“We are sick and tired of people saying Australia is the only place in the world where blood was not shed. That’s not true.”
“There have been wars on these shores but the British have never defeated us. We want to make sure Australia’s history is put together properly.”
Like The Coloured Diggers Project, The Tent Embassy are rallyed for compensation long overdue.
“We want the Australian RSL and the Australian government to compensate the Indigenous diggers.’
“They were never given pensions. They need to compensate them to the equivalent of what the white fellas got,” Mr Anderson said.
Don Rowe, State President of the NSW branch of the RSL disagreed with the notion that Indigenous veterans were given fewer rights than white veterans.
He said: “No matter where we came from we were treated equally.”
Both Pastor Minniecon and Mr Anderson claimed Aboriginal veterans were not allowed to enter RSL clubs.
Mr Rowe responded by saying: “A lot of people get confused with the RSL and RSL clubs.
“We certainly have nothing to do with the clubs but we certainly have a number of Aboriginal members of the league.”
David Williams is the NSW President of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Veterans and Services Association (ATSIVSA) and fought in the Navy for 30 years.
He is proud of his service and of his 27 family members who served the country saying “Anzac day it is Australia’s most significant day.
We have our young people over in Afghanistan doing a wonderful job,” he said.
“They are going to come back with all sorts of scars and I will certainly be here as an older veteran for them and I expect my colleagues if they are of good health to do the same.”
Mr Williams marched in Canberra alongside his squadron and said he was disappointed to miss out on the Redfern march.
“There is nothing better than marching the streets of Redfern and have the people say thanks. It’s absolutely brilliant.
Unfortunately none of us can be in two places at once,” he said.
The march was at 1pm in Redfern Park and was followed by commemorative services at ‘The Block’.
By Kate Horowitz