Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander diggers

As people gathered at the Aboriginal Memorial in bushland behind the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, Jeff Timbrey’s didgeridoo invited people to remember the service and sacrifice of the thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who have served in the Australian Defence Force.

Just after dawn on ANZAC Day, Wing Commander Lisa Jackson- Pulver, a proud Aboriginal women and serving member of the Royal Australia Air Force reminded us that despite rules against their enrolment and not being recognised as citizens until 1967, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have proudly served for Australia for over the last 100 years.

There are hundreds of untold stories about their bravery, sacrifice and contribution to Australia’s war efforts.

The fact that Aboriginal people captured the first Japanese Prisoner of War on Melville Island armed with only a stick, or that Koori women and girls knitted thousands of socks, jumpers and balaclavas for the war effort at the Cumeroogunga Government Mission, or that the Lovett family, Gunditjmara people from western Victoria, have served for Australia in every war since World War I to the present day—a feat that no other Australian family has followed—are just a few.

The intimate ceremony in Canberra was one of a number around the country to remember such efforts and in the words of recently retired Chief of the Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, “recognise and be thankful for the fine and dedicated service of our Indigenous servicemen and women, past and present”.  

The Ceremony is held each ANZAC Day following the dawn service at the Australia War Memorial and all members of the public are welcome.

By Phoebe Dent, Policy & Research Officer for Reconciliation Australia

Paul House with gum leaves and smoke
Paul Girrawah House

Paul Girrawah House has multiple First Nation ancestries from the South-East Canberra region, including the Ngambri-Ngurmal (Walgalu), Pajong (Gundungurra), Wallabollooa (Ngunnawal) and Erambie/Brungle (Wiradyuri) family groups.

Paul acknowledges his diverse First Nation history, he particularly identifies as a descendant of Onyong aka Jindoomang from Weereewaa (Lake George) and Henry ‘Black Harry’ Williams from Namadgi who were both multilingual, essentially Walgalu-Ngunnawal-Wiradjuri speaking warriors and Ngunnawal–Wallaballooa man William Lane aka ‘Billy the Bull’ - Murrjinille.

Paul was born at the old Canberra hospital in the centre of his ancestral country and strongly acknowledges his First Nation matriarch ancestors, in particular his mother Dr Aunty Matilda House-Williams and grandmother, Ms Pearl Simpson-Wedge.

Paul completed a Bachelor of Community Management from Macquarie University, and Graduate Certificate in Wiradjuri Language, Culture and Heritage and Management from CSU.

Paul provided the Welcome to Country for the 47th Opening of Federal Parliament in 2022. Paul is Board Director, Ngambri Local Aboriginal Land Council, Member Indigenous Reference Group, National Museum of Australia and Australian Government Voice Referendum Engagement Group.  

Paul works on country with the ANU, First Nations Portfolio as a Senior Community Engagement Officer

Acknowledgement of Country

Reconciliation Australia acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing  connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present. 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this website contains images or names of people who have passed away.

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