From the Principal
Yesterday we observed Remembrance Day at our weekly assembly. Astrid Balle, Will Savage, Abigail Gunn and Will Hay led our school through a moving ceremony. Two Modern History students, Zann Shaikh and Jonjo Kavanagh, delivered a thoughtful address to the school. It is reproduced here.
Remembrance Day allows all Australians to reflect and remember those who died or suffered for Australia’s cause throughout all armed conflicts. In commemoration of this day, I would like to share the, until recently, forgotten story of the Indigenous servicemen and women, disregarded for so long, despite their story encapsulating the tribulations of those who have served our country.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have served in all branches of the Australian Defence Forces since the 1860s - serving in the Boer War, both World War I and World War II, through to more recent campaigns including service in Afghanistan. Though many Indigenous Australians who tried to enlist were rejected on the grounds of race, hundreds of Indigenous Australians have given their lives for Australia throughout all armed conflicts, fighting side by side with non-Indigenous Australians as equals.
Aboriginal soldiers were amongst those who fought at Gallipoli, with over 1000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders serving throughout World War I, and over 3000 in World War II. As Australia emerged as a nation, war brought greater contact than ever before between the Anglo-Australians and the Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders. For the Anglo-Australians, it was a chance to learn about Aboriginal culture and recognise the poor conditions imposed on Indigenous Australians. For the Indigenous Australians the war accelerated the process of cultural change. It also resulted in a position of greater equality for Aboriginal women, who played a crucial role in the enlistment numbers in Australia’s war industries.
However, despite fighting and dying for Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders still weren’t considered citizens upon their return from the World Wars. Many veterans were also denied repatriation benefits, and excluded from returned services clubs.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have long sought to gain recognition for the service and sacrifices of their men and women. Emerging descendants continue to recognise their families and local communities for their military services, such as Gunditjmara man Ricky Morris, a retired Army Sergeant who is the 19th of an astonishing 21 men and women who served as Anzacs in his family. This year, Morris was invited to lay a wreath on behalf of all Indigenous veterans at a service in Beersheba, where his grandfather Frederick Amos Lovett served in a branch of the Light Horse unit. Morris’ aim is to preserve the legend and history of all Australian’s, indigenous or not, and to progress towards reconciliation through following in the footsteps of those who fought and died for Australia, and the diversity of Australians who put their hands up to answer the call.
Today we are congregating on the Country of the Dharug and Guringgai peoples. We recognise the strength and resilience of Aboriginal people and their relationship with the land on which we live and learn. We recognise and commemorate the sacrifice made by all Aboriginal service people throughout Australia’s history and into the future.
Remembrance Day is the day we honour all those noble souls, indigenous or non-indigenous, who have served, and continue to serve this nation, its land, its people and its values. It is a chance for Australians to unite as one as they recognise the sacrifices of all service men and women and to honour their memory.
A local man who made this sacrifice is Blair Anderson Wark. Wark was born on 27 July 1894 in Bathurst. He was educated at Fairleigh Grammar in Bathurst, before moving to Sydney and attending St Leonards Superior Public School, which is a predecessor of Killara High School. He finished his learning at Sydney Technical College. After graduating, Wark worked as a quantity surveyor. As he was doing this, he decided to pursue his military interests.
When the call to arms rang throughout the nation, Wark, along with 41,600 other men, made the aforementioned sacrifice, leaving his job and family to fight off the oppressors of freedom. Wark was a Senior Cadet in 1911 and 1912. He enlisted in the 18th North Sydney Infantry for the Australian Military Forces, and was provisionally commissioned in 1913, at the age of 19. In August 1915 Wark was appointed to the Australian Imperial Force and travelled to Egypt as part of the 30th Battalion. In June 1916, he reached the Western Front. During this time, he was working his way up the military ranks becoming captain and a company commander. Wark was wounded in the Battle of Fromelles. At the young age of 24, Wark was given command of the 32nd Battalion in September 1918. As a courageous commander he would lead ahead of his troops into open fire and he was able to secure 200 leaderless American troops into his battalion. Using these efforts Wark’s unit was able to capture four enemy guns and ten of their crews whilst being fired on at the rear.
On top of this he was able to capture fifty German combatants. These efforts meant that he was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1918 for his constant bravery throughout his service. On the 101st anniversary of the end of WWI, we commemorate the sacrifice of these brave soldiers. They were called upon to fight a war across the world, in lands they thought they would never travel to. We must not only commemorate this sacrifice but be grateful for those who made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that future generations wouldn't have to endure the same as them. A soldier such as Blair Anderson Wark, with links to our school, is a way for us here at Killara High School to be grateful for their life and remember them along with the countless others who fought valiantly for their country.