A PLAQUE belatedly honouring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander war veterans will not be affixed to the Maylands memorial in time for this year’s ANZAC centenary commemorations.
Bayswater council had been asked to organise the plaque last April.
Mayor Sylvan Albert says the delay was due to extensive consultation with Aboriginal stakeholders and veterans.
“The feedback received is that this interactive process and great involvement during every stage was highly appreciated,” he says.
“It ensured that the commemorative plaque is respectful, appropriate and has the full support of all.”
The plaque is the brainchild of 80-year-old Pam Gaunt, the treasurer of Maylands Historical Society for more than 20 years. It will now be unveiled in a ceremony on July 6 during NAIDOC week.
“I had read several books on Australian servicemen and was always concerned about the lack of recognition given to Aboriginal men who had served Australia with great courage during many wars,” Ms Gaunt says.
“They fought as equals but did not receive equal pay or other privileges on their return home.
“With this year marking the 100th anniversary of ANZAC I thought it would be an appropriate time to finally recognise their unsung contribution.”
Maylands Labor MP Lisa Baker wrote last April to the council on Ms Gaunt’s behalf to request the plaque.
She is delighted it is going ahead, but wishes it could have been organised in time for the ANZAC centenary commemorations.
“I think the council have been a bit tardy and it would have been better if the plaque had been unveiled in April,” she says. “It would have been far more appropriate.”
Her views are backed up by Ms Gaunt’s husband Terry, a former MHS president who says the council was too slow clambering out of the trenches: “Any recognition for these brave soldiers is welcome, but ANZAC celebrations of 100 years would have been, in my view, a great opportunity to present our appreciation to a very wide audience that has now been lost.”
Officially, around 1000 Aborigines served in WWWI and 5000 in WWII, but the figure could be far higher as at the time the veterans affairs department was required only to list names and not cultural backgrounds.
Upon return to Australia, Aboriginal diggers received not thanks but ignorance and racism, and were ineligible for land grants provided to other returned veterans. Membership of Returned Services Leagues clubs was also denied. Some returned to discover the country they’d fought for had removed their children.
by STEPHEN POLLOCK