I was fortunate to attend the dawn service in Melbourne with my family this ANZAC day. It was a stirring service, with 38 000 people packed in to the forecourt at the Shrine of Remembrance to honour the sacrifices of our service men and women across the generations. This year the theme of the service was the recognition of the service of women in our Defence Forces. For the first time, a female serving member of the Australian Defence Force addressed the service, with RAAF Group Captain Annette Holian asking those gathered to provide better support for returned service men and women. We listened to the story of Sister Rachel Pratt, who was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry while serving in a casualty clearing station near Bailleul during the First World War, as well as many other stories of loss and sacrifice from across the ages.
While we are privileged to hear many stories of military service every year on ANZAC Day, the stories that remain silent for many are those of Indigenous Australians, who have served in many of the wars since federation. The recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island military service has remained marginalised for many decades amongst the national narratives of war. The reason for the silence in many cases can be found in the manner in which these men and women were forced to join our armed services. In particular, when referring to the South African War and WW1, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were excluded from all forms of military service until 1917. After 1917, only those of significant European origin were accepted to serve. A similar policy was in place at the outbreak of WW2 and continued for most of the war.
Despite this history of systemic discrimination, it is remarkable that many thousands of indigenous Australians managed to lie about their heritage and serve in conflicts. Thus our understanding and accurate records of the service of indigenous Australians is largely unknown or unclear and to this day remains a work to be researched and uncovered. What we do know is that at least 1000 served in the First World War and up to 6000 in the Second World War. What is even more remarkable is that these men and women chose to serve a nation that refused to grant them full citizenship rights, even upon return from risking their lives fighting in foreign lands.
When we stop to remember the sacrifices, both past and present, from those who have given up so much to defend our country and our way of life, it is imperative that we also remember those minority groups who gallantly served Australia and were equally motivated by a deep sense of pride and commitment.
I would like to close by acknowledging the many members of our Gippsland Grammar Community who are currently serving and have recently served with the ADF. ANZAC Day takes on a particular significance for our families, in particular those members of our Community currently and recently on deployment. They are constantly in our hearts.