“They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn,
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them”
LEST WE FORGET
A poem that every ANZAC Day, followed by the bugle’s call, will forever fill my eyes with tears.
Like Namatjira’s timeless paintings of the ghost gums, our fallen soldiers are the ghosts of time. Men and women who saw it as the ultimate honor to fight for their freedom and the country they loved.
Leaving behind their families, their homes and their country for what was a great uncertainty and a great unknown.
Our great Black Diggers - the forgotten soldiers - were the ghost gums of our Australian Infantry. After all, they were fighting for a country that saw them as fauna and flora.
We know the heartbreaking truths; they returned home, not as heroes like their white brothers and sisters, not even as citizens. They returned home still marginalised and unseen by the majority of a nation they had so gallantly fought to defend.
They couldn’t enter an RSL to enjoy a beer with their lucky battalion mates that had made it home. They couldn’t even march in the ANZAC parade. They were the ghost gums of our Australian Infantry.
Many lied about their ethnicity just to find acceptance into the military. Black Irish, Italian, Maori. Anything but Aboriginal. This was commonplace in our history no so long ago, the denial of our ancestry.
Imagine being happy to die for a country that didn’t see you as human.
Today as our nation matures, there is rightly a call for greater recognition of these brave soldiers.
I have had the humbling opportunity to speak to some of these black heroes of war. The question that I ask them all is: why did you fight for a country that didn’t even see you?
One answer from an old north Queensland soldier rang true: “Because despite what others thought, it was still our country.”
As an Aboriginal man, I believe Anzac Day has worked hard and continues to work hard at rewriting the obvious wrongs of Australia’s military history. I know that it was the courage of these men and women that advanced our standings and fought for the opportunities we have today.
So this year, when the bugles sound, think of the great ghost gums from our Australian Infantry.
LEST WE FORGET