Acting Chief of Air Force Air Vice-Marshal Warren McDonald today unveiled a plaque dedicated to the many Indigenous men and women who have contributed to the defence of Australia in times of peace and war, at the RAAF Memorial Grove on the Federal Highway in Canberra’s north.
CAPTION: From left; Warrant Officer Don Taylor, Uncle Harry Allie, Acting Chief of Air Force Air Vice-Marshal Warren McDonald, Leading Aircraftman Kyle Wetherall, Leading Aircraftwoman Rachael Ellem, Flight Lieutenant Melinda Mitchell and Aunty Agnes Shea.
“For Air Force people, NAIDOC week is a time for us to celebrate and honour the service of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters,” Air Vice-Marshal McDonald said.
“Since the Second World War, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have served in nearly every conflict and peacekeeping operation Australia has been involved in. At times they have overcome barriers to do this, such as restrictions based on race, or lack of acceptance and respect.
“Today, here at Memorial Grove, I am unveiling a memorial acknowledging all the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who have served in, or worked directly with, our Air Force.
“This tradition of fine service continues today.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members of the Air Force continue to serve with pride and display the values and qualities that make our Air Force such a powerful and effective fighting force.”
Squadron Leader Gary Oakley, Air Force’s Indigenous Historical Custodian, said it was great to witness the recognition of Indigenous service.
“The Air Force has a long history of supporting Indigenous service dating back to the First and Second World Wars.
“I would like to see a change in the inner belief that we (Indigenous Australians) aren’t capable of achieving what non-Indigenous Australians can. We can stand up and be counted – Air Force will support you,” Squadron Leader Oakley said.
Warrant Officer Brett West, Warrant Officer of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Team within Personnel Branch – Air Force, said that to him the commemoration today was a vitally important part of reconciliation.
“It is Air Force standing up and recognising the service of this nation’s first people.
“We have had Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island men and women serving for many years.
“Over my time in the RAAF, I have experienced my share of racism.
“I have done almost 30 years.
“When I first joined, I joked that I had to carry a mirror – it was the only way to see another black face.
“But Air Force has been fantastic.
“We have more Indigenous men and women putting on the uniform and there has been a definite change in attitude and culture.
“Our Acting Chief of Air Force, Air Vice-Marshal McDonald earlier acknowledged the contribution of the RAAF Association for their vision and efforts, I would like to add to that.
“It was Squadron Leader Bob Weight, retired, and Group Captain Arthur Skimin, retired – neither of whom are Indigenous Australians – that came to the indigenous team wanting to initiate recognition of the contribution by Indigenous serving men and women.
“I really appreciate their initiative.”