I was fortunate to have attended the Black Diggers memorial on 31 March, which unveiled Tony Albert’s stirring new artwork which now stands in the southern end of Hyde Park. This evocative piece captures the war efforts of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population so often overlooked at this time, when our community reflects on the atrocities of war and those affected by it. Albert’s work displays four large standing bullets and three fallen bullets laying between, representing the fallen Indigenous soldiers that are scarcely represented in our national commemorations. These seven bullets tell the tragic story of Albert’s grandfather and his mates, after numerous escapes from fascist camps in Europe.
This piece makes visible the history of our Indigenous military service people, who experienced additional challenges of discriminatory practices, despite their involvement alongside other Australians. There are horrendous accounts of discrimination practices that returned Indigenous soldiers experienced. The Soldier Settlement Scheme that granted land to returned soldiers for example, was granted only to one known Indigenous soldier after the First World War. And of course, discrimination was enshrined into law through the assimilation policy, the Stolen Generation, and the denied right to vote for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, overturned only in 1962 – 17 years after the efforts of the Second World War.
It is for this reason that this piece is of paramount importance, in making visible the contributions of Indigenous people to both World Wars, and their continuing service in the military. Whilst we recognise the many soldiers and citizens who sacrificed so much, we must carry in our national consciousness the efforts of our Indigenous brothers and sisters, who have been left behind in our commemorations. Our history textbooks are told by white men, and we must diversify our narrow representations of history. Art has the ability to provoke a new perspective. Albert’s piece is rousing, and I congratulate the Lord Mayor and the City of Sydney Council for endorsing this work.