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‘Serving My Country – An Indigenous Story’

July 29th, 2013

Director Brian Butler with war veteran Peter 'Wally' Wallen at the Aboriginal Veterans Commemorative Service and Sod Turning Ceremony which was held on 31st May 2013.

Director Brian Butler with war veteran Peter ‘Wally’ Wallen at the Aboriginal Veterans Commemorative Service and Sod Turning Ceremony which was held on 31st May 2013.

After the success of the past Year 10 History projects, Kildare College decided to honour Aboriginal and Islander (including the Torres Strait) service men and women this year. Their trilogy book includes short stories that acknowledge our men and women who have served in Australia’s defence forces from WW2, Vietnam until today. Throughout this article ‘Aboriginal & Islander (including the Torres Strait)’ will be collectively referred to as ‘Aboriginal and Islander’.

The staff and students felt that Aboriginal and Islander contributions to our country have long been overlooked; and with the unveiling of an Aboriginal & Islander Memorial later this year in Adelaide, decided that this would be a fitting tribute to them.

Unlike previous years, this year all the History classes have taken part in producing a trilogy book that shares short biographical stories of past and present service men and women. Having three classes Kildare College decided that each class would focus on a particular war/era.

Initially discussions focused on the impact of European settlement in Australia and particularly what impact this has had on our Aboriginal and Islander people, helping students make links with the ‘Rights and Freedom’ topic covered in other subject areas.

“We found this very interesting and wondered why these men and women would even want to serve a country with a government that for a long time did not recognise their existence” said the students, “It became evident during our research that many enlisted hoping that their courage and bravery would be acknowledged, and that they would be treated differently on their return; especially during WW1 and WW2.”

However as many of our readers will be aware, it seems that while on the battle field, where our service men and women fought shoulder to shoulder with their mates, they were treated as equals but on their return, nothing changed with regard to the lateral violence and racism surrounding our first nations peoples. As Aboriginal and Islander men and women we would all have to wait another twenty to thirty years before that acknowledgement of us as Australian citizens.

Frank Lampard, Uncle Lewis O'Brien & Ian Hunter Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation 'turning the sod'.

Frank Lampard, Uncle Lewis O’Brien & Ian Hunter Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation ‘turning the sod’.

Class 10C focussed on WW2 and the Aboriginal and Islander service men and women of this era.

“While we would have liked to have had the opportunity to interview veterans first hand unfortunately this has been very difficult. We discovered that there are very few surviving Aboriginal & Islander WW2 veterans here in South Australia; and those that are, were either too frail to interview, or lived too far away to visit.” Said Class 10C

As with many of the oral history recording projects and initiatives we see in production today this issue is proving more and more difficult and critically time sensitive as we race against the ever widening gap in life expectancy, we lose so many of our Elders too soon and if we do not take the important steps to share, enjoy and acknowledge the lives of our people they will be taking with them the important knowledge needed to avoid further culturacide for our children today.

To over-come this hurdle much of the information for this section of their book had to rely mainly on secondary sourced information.

“We have been very lucky to have Mr Gary Oakley from the Australian War Museum in Canberra assisting us to ensure our information is authentic. He is a curator who has previously worked in the Military Heraldry section and currently works in the Exhibition section of the AWM’s new galleries. Mr Oakley also identifies as Aboriginal and his help has been invaluable to us.” Said Class 10C

One of the focus stories is based on Mr Tim Hughes, and while the students could not interview Mr Hughes, who has now passed, the students were able to interview his son, Professor Paul Hughes.

“Professor Hughes provided us great insight into what it would have been like for Aboriginal & Islander servicemen who went off to fight during WW2. At that time Aboriginal & Islander people were not recognised as Australian citizens, and it is believed that many men enlisted hoping to prove, through their bravery and commitment, that they had as much right (if not more so) to be recognised as Australian as anyone else.” Said Class 10C

In addition to three personal biographical stories, included in this section are stories about the men who served in the Torres Strait Infantry Battalion and 2/1st Northern Australian Observer Unit.

“We felt they showed the real bravery and commitment to Australia of our Aboriginal & Islander peoples.” They said

Class 10A’s focus was on the Vietnam Era and the students set out to interview Aboriginal & Islander service men and women who had served in the defence forces during the Vietnam War.

“After initial research and discussions about why Australian troops were involved in Vietnam, our teacher helped us to establish contact with a number of past service men and women who had either served in Vietnam or been in the defence force during that time.” Said Class 10A

A major part in the process was to develop the skills required for constructing questions, interviewing, recording and editing. While some participants were interviewed in person, others lived far away, so questions were constructed to provide the answers that would help the students in writing interesting stories.

Marjorie Tripp (Women’s Royal Australian Navy) at the Aboriginal Veterans Commemorative Service and Sod Turning Ceremony which was held on 31st May 2013.

Marjorie Tripp (Women’s Royal Australian Navy) at the Aboriginal Veterans Commemorative Service and Sod Turning Ceremony which was held on 31st May 2013.

“The questions needed to be open ended to encourage the veterans to expand in their answers. This was crucial as the only way we could conduct some of the interviews was via email or by teleconferencing. The girls who were lucky enough to meet their veterans did say that working face to face with a primary source was by far the best way to gather information.” Said the schools spokeswoman

“We have found it has been an amazing experience to communicate with veterans who were in Vietnam or served during that time. We found their honest account of their experiences before, during and after the war often moved us, and we were worried that we may not do their stories justice.” Said the class

“However after writing, drafting and editing we sent our stories to the veterans and they were really pleased with our efforts. This made the project so worthwhile!” they said.

Class 10B were tasked with Modern Day Conflicts and Peace Keeping Missions.

“The focus of the project for our class was really quite different to the other two classes, because we got to communicate with Aboriginal & Islander service personnel who are still serving today. We spent considerable time researching the different conflicts and peace keeping missions Australia has been involved in since the Vietnam War such as East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq, so that we could develop an understanding of the role Australian Defence Forces have played in these.” Said Class 10B.

“Our teacher then helped us to establish contact with a number of Aboriginal & Islander personnel and we began to construct questions that we hoped would provide us with information to write short biographical stories. While we wanted to write stories about their lives and some of their experiences, we also needed to consider that they are still currently serving and therefore some information might be sensitive and they would not be able to disclose their current locations. It has been a fascinating experience to read their stories and feel their pride in serving their country. While some sectors of Australian society denigrate young Aboriginal & Islander men and women; perhaps they would change their stereotypical viewpoints if they could share the stories we have been privileged to read.” They said.

At one stage Class 10B were really worried their section of the book might not be able to proceed, as the Defence Force heard they had been trying to contact current serving personnel and wanted to know why.

Teachers from Kildare College then had to write a letter to Mrs Lisa Phelps (Director of Indigenous Affairs) and with the assistance of Mr Michael Rowe (Deputy Director) and they were granted permission to go ahead with their project.

“This was a relief and through Mr Rowe we got to write their stories. We also had to research the structure of the Defence Force, various roles that the personnel were involved in as well as machinery, places and other special terms in order to understand out stories completely.” Said Class 10B.

Kildare College student Ms Shania Treloar with Brian Butler inside the hall escaping the rainy day that did not deter people from coming out in force to honour our Aboriginal and Islander service men and women.

Kildare College student Ms Shania Treloar with Brian Butler inside the hall escaping the rainy day that did not deter people from coming out in force to honour our Aboriginal and Islander service men and women.

The collating of the stories and book design became the role of a group of students from all three classes who went on to really hone their ITC skills. These students took part in organised workshops with the school’s Public Relations Officer who taught them to use ‘InDesign’, which is the computer software package they learnt to use to design and format their trilogy of books. This group of girls worked really hard on the project and spent many lunch breaks and after school hours putting the book together.

Once the stories and photographs had been formatted and included in the book a couple of delegates from each class took on the role of proof reading and editing.

“This was one of the crucial stages of the project as we didn’t want to have any errors in the final copy. We were also responsible for writing the overviews at the beginning of each book to inform readers and help them form a better understanding of Aboriginal & Islander Australians’ involvement in numerous conflicts and peace keeping missions.” Said the class.

Due to this important project about past and present Aboriginal and Islander serving personnel, the Department of Veterans Affairs here in Adelaide invited Kildare College to take part in the Aboriginal Veterans Commemorative Service and Sod Turning Ceremony which was held on 31stMay 2013.

“Our role on the day would include assisting veterans, handing out programs, serving lunch and more importantly laying a wreath at the War Memorial, Adelaide. We placed children’s school books in lieu of a wreath and to be distributed to students in schools that are in need.” Said Kildare’s spokeswoman.

A service was then held at the school to acknowledge the many Aboriginal & Islander men and women who have served their country over the years. This special event was held to launch the book ‘Serving My Country–An Indigenous Story’ and provided the opportunity to officially thank the many people who have supported Kildare students in broadening their understanding, by willingly giving their time to be part of this important  project which fittingly coinciding with NAIDOC Week celebrations.

“We received great positive feedback from the men and women who participated in our project and this certainly made the whole process very rewarding and worthwhile; it has been a privilege to research and hear the stories of the many past and present Aboriginal & Islander personnel who have proudly served Australia. Many thanks must go to the past and present service personnel and many other people who generously gave their time to help us produce this book” said Kildare students and staff collectively.

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