“The True Anzac”

I was born in Australia and during my school years there was shockingly little attention paid to the history, culture and appreciation of Indigenous people – the Aboriginal people of Australia.

In my textile work over the years I have researched and explored related themes on many occasions as a response to this woeful lacking in my education experiences.

When EAST chose to commemorate the 100-year end of the WWI, I once again returned to examine the Indigenous Aboriginal role as part of the ANZAC forces. It was illuminating.

On the first of January 1901, the Commonwealth of Australia was proclaimed. In August 1914, when Great Britain declared war on Germany, Australia, out of loyalty to Imperial Britain, immediately pledged a force of 20,000 men.  The prime minister, Andrew Fisher, said Australia would support Great Britain “to the last man alive and the last shilling”.

On the 25th April 1915, Australian troops landed on the beaches of Gallipoli, Turkey. This date later became Anzac Day.  The Anzac soldier stood for reckless valor in a good cause, enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity, comradeship and endurance that will never know defeat.

In World War 1, indigenous Australians, known as the “Black Diggers”, fought alongside their European counterparts in every significant engagement of the War: Gallipoli, Palestine and the Western Front.  For many it was a chance to see the world, earn a decent salary and be treated equally as brothers.  However, it was the hope for fair treatment on return, with a chance of citizenship, that encouraged the indigenous Australian soldier to enlist.

This did not transpire.  There are very few examples of indigenous ex-servicemen being offered land or citizenship rights.  For many the prejudices encountered before the War were even worse when they returned home.  Tragically, those that died had given their lives for a country that they had inhabited before the white settler, yet where they were not considered equals.

Fortunately, in more recent years the contribution and recognition of the brave “Black Diggers” has begun to be acknowledged and included alongside the honour and respect awarded the Anzac soldier.  In April 2012, Trooper Horace Dalton, 11th Light Horse Regiment, was reburied with full military honours and a traditional ceremony.

In my work “The True Anzac”, I  have portrayed two features of Australian culture: that of the indigenous heritage seen in the patterns and paint markings which are included, and on the periphery surrounding the central feature, that of the white Australian.

Melinda Berkovitz

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