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First ever march for Coloured Diggers

As the rain poured so did the emotions of the hundreds of Aboriginal veterans and their descendants who took part in a landmark march and church service on Anzac Day in Redfern as they remembered the part played by the Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders in the wars of our nation reports Claire Thompson in the South Sydney Herald of May 2007.

500 Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders served in the Navy, Army and Air Force to the defence of their land during World War I and as many as 5,000 in World War II, yet failed to receive the recognition they deserved on their return. For many of these soldiers it was on the battlefields that they experienced equality for the first time.

Ex-Naval submariner David Williams, who is now president of the NSW Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Veterans Association, said “When you’re in the trenches the bullets don’t care what colour your skin is,” during a speech in the service for remembrance at St Saviour’s Church, Young Street. He praised the high turnout of people who spilled out of the church and onto the streets in comparison to the mere 40 people who attended the service last year.

The Coloured Diggers’ march left the Block in Redfern at noon, timed so that any veterans who wanted to be part of the mainstream march in the City could participate in both. Proudly leading the march was Pastor Ray Minniecon, the Director of Crossroads Aboriginal Ministries in Sydney and organiser of the event which he says is long overdue. Pastor Bill Simon who marched shortly behind him said that seven of his uncles fought in the ninth division in World War II yet received little recognition. He said, “I’m just happy to be here amongst my people. As a pastor, I marry them and I bury them. It feels good to be here amongst them now.”

Supporters lined the rainy streets of Redfern shouting, “Good on ya fellas!” and handing out sprigs of rosemary for remembrance. The parade stopped outside the church where a traditional Aboriginal smoking ceremony and welcome dance was performed. Glen Doyle who participated in the ceremony which is performed on sacred grounds said that the parade is good for community spirit. “We can’t change history but people are getting a good inspiration from Redfern at the moment. Events like this one today are working towards values we had 50 years ago. We’re in a transition period and Redfern is approaching a good time.”

Source: South Sydney Herald May 2007