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Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Remembering Jack Alick Bond

Remembering Jack Alick Bond

Indigenous Affairs Culture and Capability
Thursday, 03 June 2021

National Indigenous Australians Agency

A man wearing a tie and black coat with military medals, and a woman in a black dress kneel next to a grave site. The grave is adorned with bouquets of flowers and has a plaque identifying it as that of Jack Alick Bond, a veteran of the Boer War.

On the 119th anniversary of the end of the Boer War, the memorial marking the grave of Jack Alick Bond was officially dedicated with a formal service at the Botany Cemetery Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park.

Jack Alick Bond, a Yuin man, was a veteran of the Boer War and the first known Aboriginal serviceman to earn a medal for military service in a foreign country. He had been lying in an unmarked grave before the Jack Alick Bond Memorial Grave Committee arranged for a head stone and plaque to mark his final resting place.

The National Indigenous Australians Agency was proud to contribute to this project that provides a fitting tribute for Jack Alick Bond’s service and his life.

At the Memorial Service, Chief Executive Officer of the NIAA, Ray Griggs AO CSC, delivered the following address:

Your Excellency, Attorney-General, Jack’s extended family, fellow veterans and other distinguished guests, particularly those who have given their time to organise this event, thank you for inviting me to speak on this special occasion on the Bidjigal lands of the Eora Nation, the very nation that first felt the waves of change crash onto its shores in 1788. I too thank you Aunty Barbara for your welcome to your country and pay my respects to your elders past, present and emerging as I do to the Yuin people and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here today.

I am very proud to be here today, and to be associated with and able to support this important event, particularly in the middle of Reconciliation Week. In my role as the CEO of the National Indigenous Australians Agency I am a somewhat reluctant public speaker. I much prefer to hear the voices of Indigenous Australians talking about the issues that we in the Agency deal with every day. But when the two major aspects of my working life, the military and Indigenous Affairs intersect, then I am happy to be a little more vocal.

I have served with many, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women over my four decades in uniform and am blessed to continue to serve in the Agency with hundreds more, some of whom are here today. As a result my life has been enriched by this experience and I am grateful for the privilege it has afforded me.

Our history as it relates to Indigenous military service reflects the many broader challenges in the lives of this land’s first peoples since colonisation. But there is a difference, and it is a telling and powerful one. 

How do you explain why Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, and it was almost exclusively men at the time, would offer up themselves for service, service that may well cost them their lives, to serve a society that had perpetrated so much suffering and pain against them and their people. When you ponder this for more than a few seconds it really does make you stop and think how remarkable that service was.

It is men like Jack who have enlisted and served over the last 120 years, often overcoming the significant discriminatory entry barriers that were put in their way, who have helped carve out the story and shape the character of Australian servicemen and women of today.

It is clear that Jack was like every other serviceman or woman, he got on with the job, did it well, probably had a whinge about his officers, and was content to leave it behind him when he had done his bit.

But why is the story of Jack and the nine other Aboriginal soldiers who served in the Boer War important? For one, the focus of much of our ‘national’ military history really starts on 25th April 1915 and anything that refocuses our attention on events that occurred before that date and on other less well remembered campaigns is important.

It is also an important story as part of our national journey of truth telling, a journey that it is a crucial part of our quest of becoming a country that has reconciled with all aspects of its past. Truth telling can take many forms, it is not about re-writing history, it’s about telling it how it was, it’s about embracing the good and the bad, learning the lessons and supporting each other in moving forward together.

It is important to know that voluntary Indigenous military service was taking place despite the barriers that were being put up to prevent it. Even though the benefits afforded to non-Indigenous veterans didn’t very often flow to Indigenous veterans. Even though the relative equality they briefly enjoyed in uniform would not survive them exchanging that uniform for civilian clothes again.

Today the Australian Defence Force is no longer demographically underrepresented in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people serving. The levels of recognition of Indigenous culture in the ADF has never been higher. In addition to the Indigenous men and women who serve right across the ADF, there are three specialist units in the Army that are predominantly made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander soldiers who still use many of the skills that Jack possessed but in a modern context. They are an important link between the ADF and northern communities and provide a capability that simply couldn’t exist without the unique contribution of Indigenous servicemen and women.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ceremonies are embedded in some of the ADF’s most important ceremonial occasions as it was when I handed over command of the Navy to my successor in 2014 and Navy’s Bungaree Performance Group played a central role in the ceremony.

In a small way these changes reflect the journey we have all been on, they are all actions that have been taken to shape a better outcome, actions that are more than words, actions moving us toward understanding, acceptance and reconciliation. Actions made possible by us being able to understand the stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and women like Jack Alick Bond. 

Jack’s family can now look upon his resting place and reflect with pride on his individual service and his broader contribution to our military and social history. Lest We Forget.

You can watch the full ceremony on the Jack Alick Bond Memorial Grave Committee Facebook Page.