This is my piece which was scheduled to go into today’s Courier Mail for ANZAC Day, but was spiked at the last minute, apparently for a comment piece on local council elections: must have been at least half a dozen readers interested in that one. Was very pissed about that the fact the editor didn’t tell me it wasn’t going ahead, as I could probably have placed it elsewhere. The pic above is of Len Waters, mentioned in the article…
“There’s an Australian who has an Australia Post stamp; has at least one street and at least two parks named after him. He even has a label of vintage port in his honour. Most people wouldn’t have heard of him. His name is Len Waters. He was a WWII fighter pilot, flying a Kitty-Hawk named “Black Magic”, a great fighter in the air and a defender of the S.W.Pacific from Japanese invasion. He was also an Aboriginal who grew up near St. George in Queensland.
Many of the accolades that came to Flight Sergeant Len Waters in the shape of public memorials like those above, came after he died in 1993. For Len, as for all aboriginal service men and women, the sacrifices made, the skill displayed and the bravery enacted were carried out in something of a vacuum.
Australia as a state has become adept in recent years in nominally mainstreaming its indigenous culture; there’s Sorry Day, NAIDOC Week and acknowledgements of aboriginal custodians at the opening of anything from neighbourhood playgrounds to major corporate headquarters. But, as Anzac Day becomes the nation’s focus once again, the the deep contradictions in our various war efforts in relation to aboriginal service men and women might be better highlighted, especially for those for whom the pain is still felt.
Aboriginals only won access to basic citizenship rights in August 1967, some 22 years after the cessation of hostilities in WWII. The approximately 400 aboriginals who fought in WWI probably never even imagined such a possibility.
Many more wanted to serve than did. Some were denied because they were “too black”; having one European parent was required to sign-up. Those that did get in were paid in hard currency, much appreciated at a time when many Aboriginals were not paid for labour or if they were, were often paid in kind.
They also found a greater sense of equality, and a more merit based society than they experienced in civvy world. They just had to be prepared to give their lives in far off wars for the privilege and had to swallow the irony of fighting for the freedom of others overseas when they themselves didn’t have it at home.
Consider that racially-based massacres of indigenous Australians at the hands of whites were still being recorded until the late 1920′s. Were some of the victims the same men who had fought on the battlefields of WWI, in the name of freedom, democracy and honour?
On repatriation, many could not get property grants given to white ex-servicemen. Most returned to the bigoted, racist environment they thought they’d escaped in khaki and died disappointed.
Len Waters, a veteran of 95 sorties in the Pacific, never flew again. He tried to get a commercial airline going, but was thwarted by a lack of government support and investor backing. There is some evidence he was frustrated by these possibly racially motivated set-backs, claiming that having taken off his uniform off, he “returned to being a blackfellow.”
On Anzac Day, our process of remembrance should be in the service of the future as much as for history. As our aboriginal brothers and sisters might remind us all, one of the victors of any war is duplicity. Lest we forget that too. ”