AN exhibition honouring local indigenous servicemen and women has been given a permanent home at the Nowra RSL Sub-Branch Hall.
The highly popular In Memory exhibition was officially dedicated by Victoria Cross recipient Keith Payne on Wednesday at the Junction Street hall in front of a large crowd, including a number of students from Vincentia High School and many who contributed to or are featured in the exhibition.
The exhibition was first featured in the Shoalhaven City Arts Centre and Regional Gallery for three months from August 2014 and will now be permanently on display as you enter the sub-branch hall in Nowra.
Event host, sub-branch secretary Rick Meehan, said a permanent home needed to be found for the exhibition to honour local indigenous servicemen and women.
“It is now always on display and available for all generations to see and enjoy,” he said.
“I’m the proudest woman on god’s earth at the moment.”Anna Starr
“It is important to remember Indigenous servicemen and women and their service in the defence forces.
“Their services has spanned from the Boer War through to the current day conflict in Afghanistan.
“It is great to be able to permanently show this history and make it available for their families. This history just couldn’t be forgotten again.”
The display, which includes photographs, describes the Shoalhaven’s Aboriginal servicemen and women’s involvement in conflicts, through first hand and family members’ accounts.
Shoalhaven Council Aboriginal Community Development Officer Margaret Simoes, who co-ordinated the exhibition, was delighted to see it to finally have a permanent home.
“It is part of your history, our history and the history of our country.”Shoalhaven Council Aboriginal community development officer Margaret Simoes
“It is important I thank all the contributors to the exhibition. For many it was the first time they had shared theirs or their loved one’s involvement with the defence forces in public,” she said.
“It was very emotional for many of them. It is great to see them recognised. And thank you for trusting us to tell your stories.
“The exhibition has been recognised nationally by the Australian National University and the Australian War Memorial.
“Hopefully the young people can look at the exhibition and understand the important role Indigenous people played.
“It is part of your history, our history and the history of our country.”
She also paid tribute to Shoalhaven City Council for initially supporting the proposal and the Nowra RSL for giving the exhibition a permanent home.
“To president Fred Dawson and his committee and members who have worked so hard over the past few weeks to make this become a reality I say thanks,” she said.
In dedicating the exhibition, Keith Payne VC said it was a “great history lesson.”
“Looking at it myself, I learnt so much. For instance I didn’t know we had Aboriginal trackers in the Boer War,” he said.
“This is all about recognising our Indigenous servicemen and woman.
“The colour of their skin didn’t matter, it was the colour of their uniform we looked at.”Keith Payne VC
“I served with a number of Indigenous personnel. We didn’t see them that way. We didn’t see them as Indigenous. They were no different to me or whoever. I only saw a uniform.
“The colour of their skin didn’t matter, it was the colour of their uniform we looked at.
”I’m pleased to see this exhibition which records our Indigenous servicemen and women’s service and what they have given to the nation. It’s their nation, not ours. It’s theirs.”
ONE of the many family members on hand for Wednesday’s dedication Anna Starr said she was the “proudest woman on god’s earth”.
For Anna and her daughter Denise Cram the exhibition featured their father, grandfather and great grandfather.
“I’m the proudest woman on god’s earth at the moment,” said Ms Starr.
“I’m so proud to see my father and grandfather both in the exhibition.”
“An enormous feeling of pride,” was how Ms Cram described the dedication.
“I’m so proud of my grandfather and great grandfather. I want to know my family’s history and through this exhibition I have been inspired to find out more about it.”
Burrill Lake resident Aunty Nellie Mooney’s brother Joseph Ardler is featured in the exhibition.
“For all Aboriginal servicemen and women to finally get recognition and not just be a number is wonderful,” she said.
“I’m so proud of our people now and what they have done and now their national war service is recognised.”
Nowra man Arthur Scott’s grandfather and father, Cyril and James Scott are both featured in the exhibition.
“When we were young my father would march along side the Anzac Day parade and we never knew why,” he said.
“We never knew they were in the army. But as we got older and grew up he would talk about it. Sitting around the fire he would teach us about how to do secret messages and the like.
“I’m very proud of my two fathers.”
Worrigee man Rob Glendinning from the First Gulf War and Bomaderry’s Denny Lynch, who served in Malaya, were also present for the dedication.
Trish Cruickshank, of Worrigee paid respect to her brother Edward who served in Vietnam, while Leslie Halls, also of Worrigee, was present with her brother Warren Hill who served in Vietnam.
“It is great to see their service is being honoured and remembered,” Ms Halls said.
“When they came back they didn’t want to talk about it. Now it is recognised it is fantastic.”