TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH GEOFF HUTCHISON, ABC 720 PERTH
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 25 APRIL 2012
TOPICS: ANZAC Day.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: Stephen Smith, good morning to you.
STEPHEN SMITH: Good morning Geoff.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: Can you tell me what it looked like and sounded like this morning?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I've been to Bomana cemetery before for a dawn service on Anzac Day and it's just a fantastic event. On the one hand, it's the tragedy of over 3350 Australian graves. It's the largest single number of Australian war dead in an overseas war cemetery, so it's a significant site for Australians. But also this year, the 70th anniversary of the Kokoda track, the campaign in Kokoda, the turning point of the war in the Pacific, a reminder of the great affection that the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels are held in so far as all Australians are concerned.
And then as you've mentioned in your introduction we have for the first time a traditional indigenous cultural ceremony at the grave of one of Australia's indigenous war dead, Private Frank Archibald, and his family conducted the ceremony after the dawn service, and that was a very moving and a deeply significant event and that was also very well attended by the crowd. Estimates of the crowd at Bomana for the dawn service were the largest ever, over 1000, and there was a very strong contingent of Australians who also witnessed the indigenous ceremony for Private Archibald as well.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: It's only been in comparatively recent times that that acknowledgement of indigenous service personnel has been truly recognised. I mention that his family carried out a traditional ceremony to essentially help return the spirit to the homeland. What did that look like? What did that involve?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it involved a couple of things: firstly it involved the sprinkling of soil or sand from Private Archibald's traditional lands in New South Wales over his gravesite; secondly, the removal of some of the sand, some of the PNG sand and returning that to Australia, but also the playing of the didgeridoo over the gravesite and it's that part of the ceremony which essentially is regarded as capturing the spirit and being able to return the spirit of Private Archibald to Australia to his homeland.
That was done in the presence of family members, including his sister, but there would have been half a dozen to ten family members there, and it was very moving. For the family it brings closure to Frank Archibald's death and no member of the family had been to Papua New Guinea or been to Bomana in the 70 years after the campaign and the 70 years after his death. So it was deeply moving.
Frank Archibald was also a deeply religious person, who also was very keen on some traditional songs and at the end of the ceremony we had a family rendition of Way Down by the Swannee River, every last verse, and I think there were only one or two members of the family who knew every verse from start to finish. But it was deeply moving.
And there's been very good cooperation I have to say between the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defence, but also the Australian War Graves Commission plus the PNG authorities and the traditional PNG land owners who were also present at the ceremony, and they've been working very closely with the Archibald family. So it was not something that any of us have experienced before on an Anzac Day but it is, I think, a very appropriate start to the recognition of the fact that during World War I and World War II we have between 3500 and 4000 indigenous Australians serving in World War I and World War II. There's no doubt that that contribution has not been acknowledged in the past as it needs to be into the future and so today was a very good starting point in that respect.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: I very much appreciate your telling us that this morning. Stephen Smith, thanks so much for your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Geoff. Thanks very much. Good to talk to you.