I remember my dad, Vincent Robert Peters who was born on the Cummeragunja Reserve on the 17th of February 1901.
When he was 39, my dad enlisted in the Army. He fought in the Middle East with the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion. On his way home from the Middle East, he was taken prisoner in Java and he was sent to a Japanese prisoner of war camp where he worked on the Burma Railway. He died a prisoner of war in 1943 and was buried at the Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery.
Over the years, I've so often wondered, what did Dad feel like being a prisoner of war? How did he feel going so far from his family? Far from his land? It really must have been heart wrenching, not only for my father, my dad, but for every prisoner of war.
On the battlefield, everyone was equal. Aboriginal and white Australians fought side by side. But any equality was stripped away upon the return home. Attitudes had not changed. Aboriginal people were still subject
to discrimination. They couldn't go into a bar to have a beer with mates. Their kids and they couldn't go to swimming pools, etc.
Aboriginal people could die for their country, but it would be more than 20 years after the war before they could even vote.
As a woman of 80 now working in reconciliation, I have thought deeply about what all this means. I've looked for answers as to what can be done.
Aboriginal people's involvement in Australia's war efforts must be recognised. It must be acknowledged. Stories like my father's need to be told for the benefit of all Australians.
In 2006, I approached our local RSL to become involved in reconciliation. It was interesting some members were against it, but the president of that time, Sam Halim, who by the way was Egyptian, was very much in favour. As a result, my son and his mates recorded the Ode accompanied by a didgeridoo. Ever since then, this has been played at the local RSL every Reconciliation Week.
As you all know, the Ode is said every day at an RSL. My hope is that soon this will happen to all RSLs across Australia.
I later collaborated with the Victorian Shrine of Remembrance and Aboriginal Affairs Victoria. We developed the first service to raise the Aboriginal flag and acknowledge Aboriginal involvement in Australia's war efforts. This now happens at the War Memorial Shrine in every city around Australia during Reconciliation Week.
My work with reconciliation has ultimately been inspired by my dad, by my desire to bring his spirit back. For many years, I've wanted him to return home in name and in spirit. This finally happened last year. A West Australian man called John Sars contacted me about a headstone for my mother's grave in Healesville. He gave our family the most beautiful gift. My mother and dad's names were on the headstone.This not only brought them back together, but it helped to bring my dad's name and spirit back home.
Reviewed 11 April 2022