From Healesville to Shrine of Remembrance

L-R: Healesville RSL president Colette Shaw, Federal Casey MP Aaron Violi, Dr Andrew Peters and Eildon MP Cindy McLeish. Picture: SUPPLIED

By Dongyun Kwon

The Victorian National Aboriginal Service (VNAS), first launched by the Healesville RSL and a local Aboriginal lady, was held successfully once again at the Shrine of Remembrance on Friday 31 May.

This year, the service had about 300 attendees including the federal attorney general Mark Dreyfus KC, the first time a representative from the Federal Government came to the service.

Aboriginal woman the late Aunty Dot Peters and then-president of the Healesville RSL retired flight sergeant Sam Halim held the first remembrance service to honour Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women in Healesville in 2006.

Victorian Aboriginal Remembrance Committee chairman Dr Andrew Peters, who is also the son of the late Aunty Dot Peters, said his mother had been thinking about a service to recognise her dad’s service to war.

“He died as a POW (Prisoner Of War) on the Burma [Myanmar] Railway. Mum was always concerned about the service he and many other Aboriginal people like him weren’t recognised on Anzac Day services and Remembrance Day services,” he said.

“She brought this up to Sam Halim who was the president of the Healesville RSL at the time. Two of them came up with the idea of service at the Healesville RSL.

“It was a relatively small service at the Healesville RSL in 2006, and it’s been taken by Shrine of Remembrance since the following year.”

Mr Halim said it was very difficult to hold the service at the beginning.

“We had to fight to get the service recognised and to get support from the government,” he said.

“The same people who opposed it were trying to stop us from continuing with the service.

“It was like a struggle and we just kept on fighting for the service and fighting for the Indigenous soldiers. And it has spread out throughout Australia.”

Mr Peters said he is happy with the progress of the service for a couple of reasons.

“One, because it’s something that my mum started. I’m very proud of her role in creating it,” he said.

“But more importantly, it’s become such a big event with so many different people involved that recognise the service of Aboriginal people in serving Australia in our war efforts.

Five schools from Yarra Ranges, Healesville Primary School, Badger Creek Primary School, Healesville High School, Mount Lilydale Mercy College and Worawa Aboriginal College were invited to the 19th VNAS.

Five First Nation students, two school captains Maiya and Pearl, Koorie engagement support officer Ms Swindle and Ms H from Badger Creek Primary School attended the service.

“We were grateful that we got the opportunity to go there. We, along with Maison, our First Nations leader, got to go up to the Eternal Flame to lay the wreath, which was really cool to do and see in person. It was amazing to be there, we felt very lucky,” the two school captains said.

The First Nation students in Badger Creek Primary School meet fortnightly to discuss how to make their school culturally safe and how to embed the Indigenous culture throughout their school.

Badger Creek Primary School also celebrates and commemorates significant days as well as continues to acknowledge culture every day.

The school showed its support for reconciliation by creating its own Hands Up artwork and contributing to Healesville Sanctuary Sea of Hands, which Grade 5/6 students personally delivered to the Healesville Sanctuary.

In the classrooms, it was discussed what is meant by reconciliation and the students spoke about the important message of ‘Now more than ever’.

“Now more than ever, we need to show kindness,” prep student Ida said.

“Now more than ever we need to be kind,” prep student Xavier said.

“Now more than ever we need to include each other,” prep student Olly said.

Federal Casey MP Aaron Violi said it was an honour to attend the Shrine of Remembrance during Reconciliation Week for the Victorian Aboriginal Remembrance Service.

“It was a moving ceremony to recognise the significant contribution Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service people have made, and continue to make, in keeping our nation safe,” he said.

Mr Peters said it’s great for him as an Aboriginal man to see the progression of National Reconciliation Week.

“It’s really important to me that we recognise these things but also beyond that, it’s important for all Australians to learn more about our history,” he said.

“It’s a shared history. It’s the history for all of us as Australians and it’s the culture that belongs to all of us as Australians.

“It’s important that we have those events for people to learn new things, hear from people and talk to people, and to celebrate Aboriginal culture and history as being part of all Australians not just for Aboriginal people.”