By Dr Dale Kerwin, from the School of Education and Professional Studies. He is a descendent of the Worimi Nation of NSW.
As prominent historian Henry Reynolds (2013) asserts, “If there was no war, then thousands of Aborigines were murdered in a century-long, continent-wide crime wave tolerated by governments. There seems to be no other option. It must be one or the other”.
On the 24th of April, a day before ANZAC day, I attended a memorial service in memory of the 2000 Bunda people massacred in 1850 at Paddy’s Island. Aboriginal people of the Bundaberg region were slaughtered in retaliation to the killing of English settler Gregory Blaxland. Sadly, a road is planned to go through this sacred site by Bundaberg Regional Council.
Social memory plays a large part in how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples tell their stories. We are told the stories by our Elders who bring them alive for us and as each generation takes its turn as Elders it is their chance to pass these stories onto the youth.
In Australian society, social memory and historical memory becomes a ritual of celebration. If we travel around this great country in every regional town, a traveller will find memorials to the ANZACs, explorers, and other non-Aboriginal people who have contributed to the fabric of Australian history. The traveller, however, will find very little about Aboriginal peoples – the massacre of the Bunda peoples is not a part of the historical memory, nor are there memorials to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women.
On the ritual of historic celebration, it is apparent that colonising practices are ingrained in many Australians and governmental practices in the telling of Australian history. We can see this with the little recognition in monuments to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia. Other cultures are privileged and ritually remembered, even horses, dogs and a cat on a ledge at Mitchell Library NSW that belonged to Matthew Flinders.
However, slowly this is changing. We can see it with the recognition of Aboriginal men who served in the 2nd Boer War, and memorials to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women. The War Graves Commission provides plaques to recognise the service of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service personnel in unmarked graves.
On the 10th November 2013, at the Torres Parade Ground Adelaide, a memorial to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women was unveiled. Further, in Hyde Park, Sydney a memorial to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women has been commissioned. This consciousness, however, has not penetrated the narratives and collective stories of Queenslanders. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander narratives and story-telling through tangible remembrances have not been etched in the telling of history for the defence of this country.
Australia needs to benefit from telling the story of colonisation and massacres through legacy memorials. Recognising the contribution Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women have made to the fabric of Australian history by erecting memorials would further the decolonisation process. Griffith University is supporting the “Queensland Dedicated Memorial to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Service Men and Women”. The committee is represented by returned Vietnam veterans and ex-service men, women and Elders. The aim of the committee is to have a memorial to commemorate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heroes, etched into the very fabric of Australian history.