Honouring our Indigenous servicemen and women (29/10/2012)

14 January 2013

indigenous_servicemen_and_women.jpgMr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (19:17): It is my great pleasure to speak on this motion, which recognises the service of Indigenous servicemen and women in our military forces in defence of the Australian people. Over 400 Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders served in the First World War, and in excess of 5,000 of them served in the Second World War and have served since then. During my contribution to this debate I will talk about Private Frank Archibald, who was born in Walcha, New South Wales, on 17 February, 1915.

Frank's military service began on 17 May 1940 when, at the age of 25, he enlisted in the AIF along with his younger brother Ron and his uncle Richard Archibald Sr. Frank sailed out of Sydney on 30 August and arrived in Palestine, where he joined his unit, on 30 September. He served in the Battle of Bardia, then in Tobruk, then in Benghazi and then in Crete and Greece. After a short period of leave back in Australia, Frank's unit, 2/2nd Battalion AIF, left Brisbane on 12 September, 1942. They were bound for Port Moresby and the desperate defence of Australia from the northern onslaught of the imperial Japanese forces. Tragically, on 24 November, Frank was killed in action on the Kokoda Track during the Siege of Buna while trying to save a mate of his. His mate survived; he did not.

Sadly, in some ways this is not a remarkable story; many joined our armed forces and served Australia during this time, and too many of them lost their lives in battle as a result. The story is made remarkable by the fact that Frank Archibald was an Indigenous Australian. Hundreds of Indigenous Australians served in the second AIF and the militia under the same conditions as non-Indigenous Australians, in most cases with the promise of full citizenship and rights after the war.

As a good mate of mine, Freddy Moore, tells me, they could not even get a beer in the front bar of a pub. They had to watch as all their mates who were demobbed at the same time as them walked into the front bar and had a beer, and sometimes if their mates were feeling generous they would pony one out the back door for them. They had to sit under a gum tree out the backa tragic story, repeated hundreds and hundreds of times around the country. These young boys and men risked their livesin Frank's case, he gave his lifeto serve their country.

Since Frank's death in New Guinea in 1942, the Archibald family has felt great sadness that Private Frank, an Indigenous Australian, has been buried away from his traditional country without the necessary Aboriginal traditional rites having been performed to bring his spirit to rest. I am pleased to advise the House today that on Anzac Day this year 12 members of the Archibald family, including members of his family from my electorate, including his only surviving sibling, Grace Gordon, travelled to Kokoda and performed this ceremony. I was very pleased to be able to assist them. I have to pay tribute to the many corporations and individuals, including Qantas, who funded the trip to ensure that this was a successful ceremony.

This Saturday the Kokoda Aboriginal Servicemen's Campaign Committee is holding a special event to the celebrate the 70th anniversary of Kokoda Day at the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway in Concord. This event will highlight the journey to the war cemetery at Bomana on Anzac Day 2012 to visit the graves of six Aboriginal diggers and bring their spirits home to country, and that will be followed by the unveiling of a memorial plaque commemorating Aboriginal servicemen who fought in the Battle of Kokoda. I wish the organisers all the very best for a successful commemoration of a special chapter of Australia's military history and our Indigenous service. In the spirit of reconciliation, I think it is quite proper that we respect their memories; that we do whatever we can to support the families and their ancestors to ensure that they receive the proper rites, as indeed the Archibald family did. I commend the member for Parkes for bringing this matter before the House.