In photos: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Servicemen and Servicewomen Commemoration Service 2024

Highlights from this year’s service commemorating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander veterans, held at the Anzac Memorial in Sydney.

Despite the drizzle and cloud cover, a loyal crowd that included hundreds of school students gathered at the Anzac Memorial last week for the 2024 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Veterans Commemoration Service.

The event, held during National Reconciliation Week and supported by RSL NSW, recognises the service of First Nations veterans, who have served in Defence since the Boer War, and acknowledges the ongoing contribution made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders veterans during and after their service.

Watch a livestream of the event, which is organised by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Veterans and Services Association.

As MC, Air Command Warrant Officer Steve Weaver AM (above) acknowledged that an estimated 1,000 Indigenous Australians fought in World War I, and approximately 3,000 in World War II.

“Indigenous veterans found their war service did not bring an end to discrimination,” he said.

“And in proportion to the population, no community in Australia contributed more to the war effort than the Torres Strait Islander people, [with] around 745 … joining the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion, formed specifically to defend the Torres Strait.”

The Australian National Anthem was sung both in English and in the Dharawal language. The dance performance (above) was provided by the NSW Public Schools Aboriginal Dance Company. Leading Seaman Matthew Joseph (below) played didgeridoo during a traditional smoking ceremony.

“I stand before you to stress the importance of young Australians learning about our military history,” said Patricia Thompson (above), who is Squadron Leader and Senior Indigenous Liaison Officer at Headquarters Air Command, in her address.

 

Thompson, a former teacher, encouraged the school children in attendance to consider Defence as a career pathway.

“My transition from the classroom to the Air Force has been a journey marked by growth, resilience and new beginnings. It has imparted upon me the value of confronting challenges head-on.”

Learn more about what keeps Patricia Thompson and Steve Weaver optimistic about the future.

Artists Danny Eastwood (above, second from right) and John Weeks (second from left) were responsible for the construction of the temporary memorial around which wreaths are placed, adorned with slouch hats and the faces of Army, Navy and Air Force veterans.

Following the service, they were surrounded by a crowd of people seeking to hear their story.

“We were approached by an Aboriginal elder who asked if we could make a memorial for this particular day,” said Eastwood. “We did this about 10 years ago; it’s going back a while.

“We’re so proud – the both of us. To see … how important [the service is] to Aboriginal [and Torres Strait Islander] people. It’s part of reconciliation.”

Those who laid wreaths included: Her Excellency the Hon Margaret Beazley AC KC, Governor of NSW; the Hon David Harris MP, Minister for Veterans, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Treaty in NSW; the Hon Leslie Gladys Williams, Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in NSW; and Rod Holtham, a Rose Bay RSL sub-Branch member and member of the organising committee who represented RSL NSW.

Holtham, was involved in the planning for the very first service back in 2007, and said that the turnout of school students at this year’s event was the highest he’d ever seen.

“We’d have had 500 kids here today,” he said. “We didn’t originally have that plan [to include school students] but the whole service has evolved.”

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