NAIDOC WEEK: Defence honours our Aboriginal members

THE haunting drone of the didgeridoo pervaded the Gaza Ridge Barracks at Bandiana yesterday.

A line of indigenous people stood to attention while a plaque acknowledging their contribution to the nation’s defence force was unveiled.

They laid wreaths and honoured indigenous soldiers who have long been forgotten or ignored.

The event was a highlight of NAIDOC Week — the National Aborigines and Islanders Day of Observance Committee.

It was a big day for former soldier Darren Moffitt, who served for almost 27 years.

His grandfather, Harold Stewart, was also a soldier who fought in World War II.

“It’s a very special day — long overdue,” Mr Moffitt said.

He said his grandfather had been treated as an equal while at war, but there were no special benefits on his return.

“Aborigines weren’t citizens and didn’t have the same rights back then,” he said.

Mr Moffitt said he hoped the plaque honouring the traditional custodians would encourage more indigenous people to join the Defence Force.

Lieutenant Colonel Wayne Carman said the army wanted to recruit more indigenous soldiers because their skills meshed nicely with army needs.

“Their bush craft and language skills are valuable,” he said.

“We often train in places we can’t understand the language so having indigenous experts would really help.”

Mr Moffitt said the plaque did not recognise one group because there was confusion about traditional custodians.

“In some places ownership is still in dispute,” he said. “People were taken from country and the traditional owners aren’t that clear.”

The plaque was built outside the barracks’ perimeter where the public can visit it.