AVSA committee members ensure Aboriginal digger sacrifices are honoured

Covid-19 is known to have a prolific infection rate, but it has probably canceled just as many events as it has infected people, if not more, and, as such, ANZAC Day was particularly affected.

If not for the determination of Australian’s and New Zealander’s to keep the tradition of recognising the sacrifices made by the ANZACS alive, it would have been almost completely forgotten in 2020. Many of us lined up in our driveways, some with candles, others with poppy’s and wreaths, to pay tribute to ANZACs past and present. While all of the day’s community events were canceled, there was still some public commemorations going on. The AFL organised for a single bugle player at the MCG, but back in Adelaide, at the Torrens Parade Ground at the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander War Memorial, two Aboriginal Veterans of South Australia (AVSA) committee members were honouring the Aboriginal diggers, who were for a long time, overlooked.

AVSA committee member Simon Kelly and AVSA committee member and Peramangk/Kaurna man Ivan Tiwu-Copley were on site to provide a smoking ceremony. Reconciliation SA caught with both of these men to get their feelings about the day.

A smoking ceremony, as Tiwu-Copley explains, was put in place to

to ensure that this National Memorial in Adelaide was not left out of the 2020 ANZAC Day remembrance ceremony. To ensure that Aboriginal service Men & Women are given the grateful respect for their sacrifices for us all. Lest We Forget.”

To give context to the smoking ceremony, Tiwu-Copley says

“The Gum leaves and Rosemary placed around the Memorial are very significant. In Aboriginal Culture the Gum leaves are important for healing and a sign of respect to Gum tree and their association to human beings, in parallel to the Rosemary was in Remembrance to Gallipoli as it found all over the Gallipoli peninsula.”                                                                

Interestingly, Tiwu-Copley told us that while rosemary was used to remember Gallipoli in particular, due to growth on the Gallipoli peninsula, it also is used to improve brain function and memory.

Kelly, who was on-site to support Tiwu-Copley and place to place memorial crosses for South Australian Aboriginal servicemen and servicewomen who paid the ultimate sacrifice, to help record the event and to place a floral tribute. He said,

“Once we were there, just the two of us, under the scrutiny of the Memorial’s statues, we really sensed the responsibility of what we were about to do.”

The commemoration, which Kelly says

is not a formal ceremony as such but rather an opportunity for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people to gather and reflect on the service and sacrifice of First Nations’ men and women in defence of the land we share.

The centre-point of the gathering is an address from a South Australian Aboriginal serving member, veteran or descendant of a South Australian Aboriginal service man or woman.”

On how it felt to attend the site and perform the ceremony, with only Kelly also in attendance, Tiwu-Copley says

“Growing up as a child and a young man, I experienced the mental and physical scars that were the result of these Wars on my Father, Grandfather, Mother and siblings. Much of life as a teenager was spent going to the Repat with my Father and spent time with the Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Vets receiving treatment and seeing firsthand the effect of the Wars on the Young and Old at that special place. So I can never forget that War didn’t discriminate! And just to be grateful for the massive sacrifice they all made and pay respect when possible”

Along the same note, Kelly felt

Like Ivan, I felt it was important to attend the Memorial, a sacred place, on Anzac Day. We placed crosses for the fourteen South Australian Aboriginal servicemen (known to date) – ten World War 1, three World War 2 and one Vietnam War – who died in service of their country. Ivan then performed the Smoking Ceremony after which I placed the floral tribute. It is always an emotional privilege to be on this site, because the descendants of many of these people list in the pavers I know, and it also includes many relatives including my Father and Grandfather and Great Uncles.

Kelly also placed a floral tribute on behalf of Aboriginal Veterans SA and 9 RAR Battalion Association, which was comprised of rosemary, wattle, and a single poppy. He says

“While I was placing it on behalf of those two groups of which I am a member, I felt it also carried the sentiments of all those who could not be there. I reflected on last year’s gathering of over 160 people, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, who gathered in friendship and were as one in commemoration.”

 While no one was in attendance during the smoking ceremony, Kelly recalls

“When I returned just before dusk to collect the crosses, I noticed another floral tribute placed next to one of the engraved pavers and a crocheted poppy in the lawn under the statues. A family was there, too, paying their respects. It is my belief that many more would have visited during the day.”

Tiwu-Copley gave his overall feeling for the occasion

“Being able to provide a smoking Ceremony for cleansing and healing on this sacred place and to be able to say words in Kaurna is nothing short of being a great honour. To place, the little Crosses just reminded me of the ultimate sacrifice and seeing the names of people that were the great-grandfathers of people I call friends today, is something that hits you in the stomach and brings Goosebumps every time I even think of it. This place touches my spirit in many ways that can’t be placed into words, especially with the loss of my Father in 2019 and the passing of my dear friend /mate Geoffrey Vincent COOPER (Coops) early this year cuts deep. But the rocks that are there come from Peramangk Warta (Country) and placed on Kaurna Yerta (Country) mean so much to me. Being a descendant of the Peramangk and Kaurna Nations through my Father and mother’s side. It feels such an inclusive, familiar, welcoming, and peaceful place to be upon and I feel quite at peace when I leave. 

The beautiful gesture by Simon and Uncle Ivan was sadly only able to be appreciated, and sadly not experienced, by the many that would have attended if COVID-19 had not hit our shores, which makes the gesture all the more important. But, photos of the event have been shared with Reconciliation SA, see below.

The team at Reconciliation SA would also, once again, like to thank the serviceman and women that have made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure our safety.


They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.