Board member Aunty Lorraine's push for First Nations soldiers memorial

It has been a long time coming, but a memorial honouring First Nations service men and women of Queensland is set to be unveiled in Brisbane in May, thanks partly to Australian Army Indigenous Elder Aunty Lorraine Hatton OAM.

Ms Hatton - a 21-year veteran of the Australian Army and the second ever Indigenous Elder for the Australian Army - is President of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Dedicated Memorial Committee Queensland (ATSIDMCQ) and on the Board of University of Southern Queensland Council. She said the memorial will provide permanent recognition of the incredible sacrifice of Indigenous diggers over the years.

The monument will be the first in the state’s capital to honour Indigenous soldiers, specifically those from Queensland. It will be placed in Anzac Square and is set to be unveiled on 27 May, the first day of Reconciliation Week.

Ms Hatton said she hopes the memorial will help to educate the wider community about the contributions of the thousands of First Nations peoples who have served in the defence forces – stories she says have largely gone untold.

“It’s been challenging because since the inception of the Committee in 2013, we’ve had floods, we’ve had drought, we’ve had fires, and now we’ve had COVID. It’s been a long time in the making, but it’s definitely going to be something to behold when we unveil it," she said.

Ms Hatton said the idea for this memorial came about in 2013 and was started by Aboriginal men; Griffith University professor, Dr Dale Kerwin, and Rick Gross was a Minjerribah man from Stradbroke Island who was also a member of the Stolen Generations and Vietnam veteran.

“Rick Gross, who was at the beginning of this project, has unfortunately passed away so he will never get to be there when it is placed in Anzac Square,” Ms Hatton said.

“When you look at a lot of Indigenous people who supported this, there are some who have died along the way and haven’t lived to see their dream become a reality.”

Designed by Wakka Wakka artist John Smith Gumbula and master sculptor Liam Hardy, the monument features four Indigenous service personnel from Army, Air Force, Navy, and Medical Service. Behind them are two dancers, one Aboriginal and one Torres Strait Islander.

“Sometimes when people see this, they go ‘Why are we doing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander memorial?’,” said Ms Hatton. “When we look at Australia’s military history, we have a lot of stories. This is just one story within our military history that hasn’t been told. It’s a story within our Defence family.”

The memorial has been fundedby the three tiers of government, private sector organisations, philanthropy and community donations. The Brisbane memorial will join existing memorials in Adelaide, Sydney and Canberra and soon to be established ones in Ipswich and Woorabinda. 

Calls to remember 'Mother of Anzacs' Annie Wheeler

Meanwhile there have been calls to remember the 'Mother of Anzacs' Annie Wheeler with a statue in Rockhampton.

Through writing letters, Annie Wheeler became the surrogate mother to thousands of Queensland soldiers – and the main source of news for heartbroken families back home.

During World War I, Mrs Wheeler became central Queensland's "unofficial war correspondent" and became affectionately known as the Mother of Anzacs.

Now Rockhampton Region Councillor Drew Wickerson wants to see a bust erected in the city.

Robyn Hamilton, from the State Library of Queensland, decribes Wheeler as "one of Queensland's greats of World War I". She said women's war work was often hidden, and she welcomed any moves to redress the balance.

"For every young man fighting overseas, there are female relatives in the background," she told the ABC. "Women contribute to war efforts as well, just in the past they've perhaps not done it on the frontline."

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