Kieran and Alex. Thank you for your thoughts. In 1980 …

Comment on To die for country by John Bell.

Kieran and Alex. Thank you for your thoughts. In 1980 I sat one hot afternoon in the grandstand at the Gardens Oval in Fanny Bay with board members during the National Aboriginal Sports Foundation’s national footy and netball carnival.
I asked our public officer, Captain Reg Saunders MBE, the first Aboriginal soldier to become a commissioned officer in the Royal Australian Armed Forces, what did he think of the War Memorial in Canberra.
Reg paused a moment, looked at me and said with quiet dignity and respect: “It is a good place.”
In 1985 Reg was appointed to the Council of the Australian War Memorial.
I guess what I am trying to say is that if there is a single place in all of Australia that embodies our national identity as a people together, with an inclusive soul for all of us, it is that place.
Within its walls are commemorated our soldiers, nurses, and all those who have served, forever treated equally with quiet dignity and respect – most inclusive of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters.
It is the resting place of the Unknown Soldier, where so many souls of unknown identities of all racial origins are now at peace, brothers and sisters together, free of today’s politics of race and sovereign power.
Everyone who has ever had anything to do with the Memorial, from Brendan Nelson down to the volunteer tour guides, some of whom are my long-time friends, will tell you of the memorial’s all-embracing warmth, an inclusive spirituality that is beyond words.
It is a good place for all Australians.

John Bell Also Commented

To die for country
@ Kieran Finnane: “His emphasis is on Indigenous service in Australia’s overseas conflicts, which he sees strangely as a denial of their Aboriginality.”
With due respect, I strongly disagree with Ms Finnane’s take on Brendan Nelson’s statement. The Australian War Memorial in Canberra is a very special place. A unique symbol of Australia’s national cultural identity.
Over many years, I sat within its walls, gazing at the depictions of old battlefields where my (our) relatives died, contemplating the ultimate sacrifice by men and women from every part of the world, from every race and walk of life.
Every Anzac Day for so many years I stood in the pre-dawn darkness among the trees up the hill behind the Memorial, with the last remaining Diggers of my late dad’s battalion in their fold up seats, rugs over their frail old knees, listening to their whispered stories, gratefully accepting the passed-around hip flask to keep out the morning chill. A thousand candles flickering through the trees down the hillside.
And then, as the Last Post sounded at the break of dawn, the sleeping kookaburras all around us in the trees awoke and rose laughing cheerfully to greet the morning sun. Every year, without fail.
The old Diggers would look up to the sky, thinking their own thoughts, smiling.
Anyone who knows the Aboriginal legend of the kookaburra and the spirit of the young desert warrior now at peace will understand the beautiful cross-cultural significance of that poignant moment.
Above all else, the moment you walk through its portals, the War Memorial wraps you in a lovingly warm embrace of peace and unity, a universal oneness that makes no distinction of race, colour or ethnicity.
That is what Brendan Nelson meant. It is Mumu Mike Williams’s take, and it is my take.


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