This year commemorates 100 years since the start of the First World War. It is thought that around 1,000 of the 450,000 Australians who fought in WWI alone were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander – however, it is difficult to know exactly how many served as ethnicity was not documented. What is known, however, is that the role of Aboriginal Diggers in serving the country has not been duly remembered.
Treated as equals in the military, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women were denigrated to second-class citizens when they returned to Australia. They were not allowed to vote, marry, earn money or even independently travel between towns. While white men and women were given land for their service, the land of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women was still being taken away.
A new artwork in Hyde Park, with the working title of Yininmadyemi – Thou dids’t let fall, will honour these heroic diggers, whose service has not been acknowledged.
The sculpture work is by talented contemporary artist Tony Albert, who has a family history of over 80 years of combined military service. Albert’s work will not only pay respect to his ancestors and their peers, but act as a ceremonial site of acknowledgment. He says it is a place where stories can be shared, encouraging further education and acknowledgment.
The powerful work will feature four seven-metre tall marble, steel and bronze bullets and three large shells, representing the diggers who lost their lives. Author and Wiradjuri woman Anita Heiss will work with the artist to capture war stories to inscribe on the bullets. Work on the monumental piece has already begun and is intended to be completed in early 2015.
Albert’s work is part of the Eora Journey: Recognition in the Public Domain project, and is one of seven major public art projects overseen by Curatorial Advisor Hetti Perkins that celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture in the public domain.
Tony Albert was one of 14 artists who submitted proposals for the public artwork during our callout in April 2013. The evaluation panel reviewing the proposals was made up of representatives from our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Design Advisory Panels, the Eora Journey Public Art Working Group, the Art Gallery of NSW and the Australian War Memorial.
Albert’s work questions how we understand and imagine difference. His paintings, drawings, photographs and installations have been recognised across the globe, as well as here at home – with works held in permanent collections at the National Gallery of Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Queensland Art Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art, and the Art Gallery of Western Australia. In 2012, Albert was an artist in residence at Artspace and just a couple of weeks ago, he curated MCA’s Artbar. He was also involved in a workshop as part of November’s Corroboree festival.
Find out more about Tony’s Hyde Park Monument work at City Art.