Please be advised that this post includes names and images of people who are deceased.
Like most Australians, ANZAC day for me is a sad day but also one of celebration. We reflect on the sacrifices that people have made in the past and continue to make today, in order to keep our country safe, and we celebrate the people who made those sacrifices.
I think about my friends who have been deployed or have parents and grandparents who served and the impact it has had on their families. I think about the pride those families so rightfully feel for their generous and brave soldiers.
I often think about my friend Tracy who, as a soldier’s wife, has spent many nights not knowing where her husband is or if he is ok; not knowing where his latest deployment found him and knowing that he couldn’t tell her even if she asked. She told me once about a code they had so that if her ever called her and asked a specific question she would know he was in trouble. Apparently this is normal. I cannot even imagine a life like this.
Thankfully her husband has always returned safe. Others are not so lucky. I think of them too.
I also spend a lot of time thinking about the black diggers that defended this country even when they were not recognised as people. The men who persisted and in some cases lied about their Aboriginality to serve and stand for Australia despite the way Aboriginal people were treated. The men who returned only to be ignored and treated like they were nothing. Like their sacrifices didn’t matter. That they were beneath non-Aboriginal people.
I think about the families that lost their loved ones but didn’t get the recognition and respect that non-Aboriginal families suffering the same loss received. I am filled with anger and sadness on behalf of these soldiers and their families. But I am also filled with pride, because despite the horrendous way Australia treated our soldiers, they still stood up and fought for this country, our land.
One of the many Aboriginal people who stood up for this country is Uncle Phillip McLeod. One of Uncle Phil’s daughters, Kaylene, shared his story with me this week and I am honoured to share it with you now.
Born on 19 July 1947, Uncle Phillip was a Sapper under the Royal Australian Engineers and was 19 years old when he served in the Vietnam war. He spent 2 years fighting for Australia, serving on a ship known as the Clive Steel. He was the only Aboriginal person in the squad.
The Clive Steel was hit by two missiles during an attack from enemy soldiers. No one was killed during the attack but soldiers were understandably shaken. Uncle Phil told his family about the attack and the fear felt as the missiles ripped two big holes in the ship's side. Uncle Phil had many stories and in telling them, he shared stories of comradery and a respect that wasn’t often experienced between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in those days.
Uncle Phil returned from war with hearing loss due to the noise from the constant gunfire on the ship. He was just happy to be home safe and to be able to return to his beloved wife, Mary, his family and community.
While Uncle Phil marched in ANZAC marches over the years it was often difficult for Aboriginal Veterans because Aboriginal people, including soldiers, were not allowed into RSLs back in those days and there was a lot of backlash against Vietnam Veterans in general. Aboriginal soldiers didn’t receive the same respect and accolades as non-Aboriginal soldiers who had served along side them.
Uncle Phil marched in the first Black Digger March in Redfern in 2008. I was working with Kaylene at the time and Uncle Phil stopped by the office. I will never forget the pride in his eyes as we talked about the March. Every ANZAC day I think of Uncle Phil and his family and the pride they all showed that day. I am thankful that Uncle Phil got to experience those marches and be honoured for his service.
Uncle Phil passed in 2016.
I am honoured to share Uncle Phil’s story with you and extend the greatest of thanks to Kaylene for sharing her dad's story.
Aboriginal soldiers were for a long time forgotten soldiers. I hope that this week we have inspired you to share the stories of the many great black diggers.
Lest We Forget.
Wingaru Education believes that all children should have access to quality education about Aboriginal people and culture.