Grandfather's war story inspires Aboriginal artwork

An Aboriginal artist whose family has over 80-years of combined military service will create a new public artwork for Hyde Park to honour the sacrifices and bravery of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women.

It is the first time Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women will be honoured with a public monument in Australia.

Tony Albert's dramatic and "confronting" sculpture work will feature four seven-metre tall, oversized bullets among three large-scale fallen shells to represent the diggers who lost their lives.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the City of Sydney-commissioned artwork will be installed in Hyde Park South by Anzac Day 2015, to mark the centenary of Australia's involvement in World War I.

"Tony has created a powerful and emotionally-moving work that stems from his family's military experiences and represents the many stories of our brave Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women abroad and at home," the Lord Mayor said.

"Made of black marble and steel with a bronze finish, this artwork will be a lasting reminder of their sacrifice and commitment."

Mr Albert said the artwork was composed of four standing bullets to represent those who survived and three fallen shells in remembrance of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Author and Wiradjuri woman Anita Heiss will work with the artist to help capture service people's war stories to inscribe on the bullets.

"I feel that the most powerful artworks relating to war are those that use bold and evocative images to stir strong emotions in visitors," Mr Albert said.

"In a similar vein, I feel that the scale of the bullets, at 100 times their original size, also lends the power of abstraction to this artwork.

"I have chosen the very confronting image of the bullet as it is a universal signifier for conflict, and I have chosen to arrange the bullets with some standing and some fallen over, to tell a story."

Mr Albert's family are Girrimay, Yidinji and Kuku Yalandji, from Far North Queensland. His grandfather Eddie served in the Australian Army during World War II. Eddie and six soldiers escaped from a prisoner of war camp in Germany, only to be caught by Italian soldiers who lined them up side-by-side to be executed.

Three men were shot before the Italian soldiers realised their mistake - the men were POWs and should have been returned to Germany. The story resonated with Mr Albert, who has given the artwork the working title, Yininmadyemi - Thou didst let fall, as a reminder of how his grandfather and fellow service people were treated differently to their white comrades after the war.

The three spent shells also symbolise the three shots fired to signal a ceasefire during conflict, to allow both sides to tend to their wounded and bury their dead.

"This artwork is for our service men and women, to acknowledge their struggle and honour their perseverance," Mr Albert said.

"When service men and women returned to Australia, they were given land for their service. However, not only was Eddie and his fellow Aboriginal soldiers not given any land, their land was still being taken away.

"Eddie and fellow Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander men and women defended our country, they were prepared to fall but upon returning to our country, they were left to fall again - yininmadyemi, thou didst let fall."

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have served Australia in the military from before the Boer War to the present, but it may never be known how many officially served as ethnicity was never required to be documented.

The artwork was selected following a competitive and open process, which invited Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists to submit their proposals for evaluation by a panel.

Fourteen artists submitted proposals following the initial call out in April and four were invited to submit a stage two proposal. The evaluation panel was made up of representatives from the City's 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.

Garry Oakley, national president of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Veterans and Services Association of Australia, said some people would find the artwork "confronting".

"Nevertheless, through the use of Indigenous and non-Indigenous themes the artwork, in my opinion, projects the strong message of service and sacrifice the first people of this nation have made in the defence of Australia," Mr Oakley said.

Don Rowe, State President of the Returned and Services League of Australia (NSW Branch) said the RSL "fully supports" the design of the artwork.

"In keeping with the theme of Hyde Park being an active, vibrant and inclusive urban space, it will be 'hands on'," Mr Rowe said.

"This will allow all people, especially young people, to interact with it and share its powerful story."

Kudjula man, RAAF officer for 23 years and member of the NSW Centenary of Anzacs Advisory Council Harry Allie said: "The artwork by Tony Albert has captured me not only visually but emotionally as it relates to the many stories that have been passed down through time of the sacrifices and the loyal service that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and servicewomen made to defend this country.

"This memorial will also now let us remember and not forget them."

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For interviews with Lord Mayor Clover Moore, contact Shehana Teixeira on
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