South-west war service honoured during NAIDOC week

ALMOST a third of Victorian Aborigines who served Australia during World War I originated from the south-west region, and are among those honoured in this year’s NAIDOC week.

The local NAIDOC event held at Warrnambool Community Health Centre yesterday featured speeches from South West TAFE Koori liaison officer Denise Lovett and veterans access manager for south-west Victoria Keith McKenzie, as well as a children’s corner of activities, promotional stalls, food and performances by Neil Murray and Damian Howard.

“Serving Country: Centenary and Beyond” is the week’s theme, which acknowledges and honours the Aboriginal men and women who served and defended Australia. In 1930 the RSL estimated around 30 Victorian Aborigines had served in World War I, but figures by researcher Peter Bakker now indicate there were 90 Victorian Aboriginal enlistments, 33 from the south-west region.

A photographic exhibition of Aboriginal service men and women, including some who came from towns such as Hamilton, Casterton and Warrnambool, was on display at the event. 

One photo features Private Walter Saunders of Warrnambool, who served in the 10th Machine Gun Battalion during World War I. His two sons, Harry and Reginald, served during World War II, and Lieutenant Reginald Saunders became Australia’s first Aboriginal commissioned officer.

South West TAFE Koori liaison officer and Aboriginal community member Denise Lovett said the theme celebrated a topic that was not common knowledge.

“This week is all about the celebration. We spend a lot of time raising issues about disadvantage, but this week is about celebrating what we have achieved,” she said.

Mr McKenzie said the south-west had a strong Aboriginal involvement in World War II and Vietnam, but the number who died overseas is unknown.

“We simply don’t know how many Aborigines died in service because their ethnicity was not recorded,” he said. 

NAIDOC week continues until July 13.

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