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Harold West Memorial
Shortly before Anzac Day of 2006 a good friend of mine, Warren MORGAN aka, Pig, received a phone call from his mate Chris CARBEN. Both Chris and his Aboriginal mate Pastor Ray MINNINECON from Redfern had contacted Phillipa SCARLETT at the Australian War Memorial to find out if Ray’s grandfather had fought in WW1. It turned out that Phillipa had researched Aboriginal military involvement since the Bore War and forwarded her findings to Redfern. A poem ‘The Colored Digger’ by Bert BEROS was included in this information.
Chris advised Pig that a large number of Aboriginals had served in various conflicts and in that time and there was virtually nothing known about their time served. Chris proceeded to read the poem to Pig and informed him that there was to be an inaugural Memorial Service at the Cross Road’s Church in Redfern on Anzac Day and invited Pig to attend.
He attended this service and heard the poem read out. The Service was conducted with a full Aboriginal flavor. Pig performed his personal tribute war song titled ‘The Old Man’.
The church was a vacant old shop where about 60 plus attended. At the conclusion of the service Pig noted how warm these people were. He also observed that the women were all crying quote ‘why can’t we be recognised’. Pig concluded, ‘why not indeed’.
Ray announced that we would do it all again next year but he will add a community march in the afternoon. Pig suggested that there will be an unfavorable response from his ‘mob’ but also stressed that they should ‘stick to their guns’.
Following the service Pig returned home with a copy of the poem. He realised then that the lyrics of his ‘war song’ could be replaced by the words of the poem hence the Colored Digger could be sung. He then contacted Pastor Ray and offered to attend the service next Anzac Day and sing the poem. His offer was accepted.
Two things happened at this moment. Ever since Pig was a young bloke he always thought that if circumstances came along whereby he could be of assistance to the Aboriginal people he would be the 1st to step up to do whatever he could to assist. It would appear that the time was now. The next thing Pig proceeded to do was to turn on the TV. He still had an element of doubt. Ironically Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 2nd was talking from the Opera House steps. She made the comment, quote”, “I really think you ought to do more for your Aboriginals”… Pig concluded that will do me. Later that year Pig donated a grand piano to the Cross Roads Church.
In 2007 just prior to Anzac Day Pastor Ray announced that the Redfern community will hold a community march followed be a Memorial Service and added that the inspiration was the poem and that from this point on it will be known as the ‘Colored Digger Project’. There was a negative response from the Sydney RSL which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 17 April 2007. The RSL stated that they were disappointed saying that a separate march was unnecessary and that they should just simply join the Sydney Anzac Parade. Pastor Ray responded by stating:
1. Those who have shown up in the past were ushered to the rear.
2. When they were fighting in WW2 about 5,000 of their children were being forcibly taken to missions.
3. When those Servicemen returned they were not allowed in the RSL and were treated as 2nd class citizens.
4. Also now required is a separate Honor Roll
5. An Indigenous Korean Veteran needing medical treatment back in the late 50’s had the door shut in his face at a particular Hospital in Brisbane.
Shortly after the RSL was informed that one day they would be happy to join the main parade providing that after some 60 years they lead it.
Warren marched with them that Anzac Day and he was impressed with how organized it was. The Police attended to control traffic and the Mounted Police led the parade. The service was held at St Saviors Church.
During the service the Governor of NSW, Professor Marie BASHIR appeared at the entrance with her entourage. Seating was arranged, smiles all round and the service resumed. On that day Warren sang the poem for the 1st time accompanied by a local dancer, Terry OLSEN. At the conclusion of the service Warren was presented with a certificate of appreciation.
When he returned home that day he sat down and penned a letter to the Queen pointing out the Newspaper article of the 17 April and that the occasion was exceptional and in good taste. He suggested that perhaps if one was interested they might confirm this with the Governor of NSW. In August 2007 Warren received a warm reply from Her Majesty.
2008 to 2016 – The Redfern community march and service have been held each year however the numbers in attendance and ideas involved have grown. There have been various locations for the service and different routes for the march. Every year the Governor of NSW has attended until her time of service ended after the 2014 service. In recent years this service has grown and has attracted senior Military and Police members, various Government representatives, Vietnam Vets and people from interstate.
Mid 2010 Pastor Ray passed ‘The Coloured Digger Project’ over to the Babana Men’s Group, Redfern who have been running it ever since.
Shortly after the 2014 service Warren discovered that Harold West came from Weilmoringle in N/W NSW. He contacted Harold’s nephew, Les BECKETT, who told him that Harold had also lived in Goodooga. Both are the home of the Murrawarri People.
Warren contacted Pastor Ray and informed him the he was going to both places to perform their hero’s poem. Mr. Rod PLANT also contacted Warren and advised that he was the Chair Person of the ‘Kokoda Aboriginal Servicemen Campaign Committee’ and advised him that the year before he had gone to New Guinea with a group of Aboriginals in order to carry out a ceremony at Bomana Cemetery, Port Moresby at the grave site of Harold West. They swapped soil from Harold’s homeland with soil from the grave site, which was returned to the exact spot where the Aussie soil had been taken from. Once this ceremony had been completed in Oz it meant that Harold’s spirit had been returned home.
At this point Warren’s friend, Brian Mooney’ decided that he would go with him. Everything and anything about our soldiers is what Brian is all about.
Warren contacted a community spokesman Fred HOOPER at Weilmoringle, who was enthusiastic about our visit. Before we left Rod PLANT sent Warren several photos to be handed out.
Warren also met with a Newcastle Mob, The Awabakal and they prepared a formal greeting from them.
Warren took them a small ornamental sailing boat and a copy of John Paul YOUNG’S CD as a reminder of a visit from a couple of coastal blokes.
In early May Warren and I travelled to Brewarrina where we spoke to a number of the locals and were shown the Memorial Plaque bearing the name ‘Harold West’ The following day we travelled to Weilmoringle community where we were greeted by and enjoyed the hospitality of Fred HOOPER and his family in their home.
That night it became obvious that not many people fully understood why we were there, so before PIG performed the poem he explained the whole story of how we got to be there. The following day we repeated the story and performance at Goodooga where we were greeted by Phyliss CUBBEY.
In 2016 Warren contacted the volunteer Japanese Interpreter, Haruki YOSHIDA, at the Aust War Memorial who researched Japanese records for Kokoda late 1942 in the hope that Harold’s significant exploits behind enemy lines may have been mentioned in their records . Records of that time were few and no reports were found.
Warren and I are prepared to contribute to the development of a Harold West Memorial bearing the name Harold West. Over all, this project can be largely attributed to our effort for reconciliation and a salute to a remarkable Australian Soldier. If you wish to find out more about this unique story visit the following ‘Link’. And go to ‘Chapter 98.
Linda Fennell and Brian Mooney