“We went to war to fight for our own country”: Les Kropinyeri
- Category: Opinion
- Published Date
When Australia went to war, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people went to war voluntarily to fight for our own country, Corporal Les Kropinyeri, a returned serviceman and Board Member of the Aboriginal Health Council of SA Inc said.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people used Afghan names or any other name to enlist as service men and women,” Mr Kropinyeri said.
“We didn’t have to go to war. We wanted to go to war to fight for our country and to protect what we have for all Australians.”.
This is the story that is often unheard, the story of our Indigenous Australians who numbered in their thousands to fight for freedom.
More than 3,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women enlisted in World War II and over 800 are known to have served in World War I according to Reconciliation Australia.
The true number is likely to be much higher. There are up to 7,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander veterans and war widows in the Australian community today and more than 800 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians currently serve with distinction in the Australian Defence Forces.
Les Kropinyeri who went into the Defence Force in April 1967, served in Vietnam from 1968-69 in the 9th Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment, five months before the end of his voluntary two year national service.
He recalls the infantry, “Charlie Company”, where he was in charge of a section of men within the 7th Platoon, comprising 10 in all, including a rifle section, a gun section and forward scouts. Les Kropinyeri was a Section Commander and proud of it.
Les Kropinyeri has since served his community and all Australians well including as a Board Member of the Aboriginal Health Council of SA Inc. Chairperson of the Council, Mr John Singer paid particular respect on behalf of the Board to Les Kropinyeri and his fellow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women on Anzac Day last week.
Led by Sir Eric Neale, $1 million has been fundraised to erect a Memorial for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia at the Torrens Parade Ground in South Australia. Les Kropinyeri said this was a first because most other States have only erected memorials for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of their own States.
A Committee was formed comprising retired, non-active service men and service women including Les Kropinyeri, Gill Green, Frank Clarke, Francis Lampard (active serviceman and Deputy Chairperson), Marj Tripp (Chairperson), Bill Hignett, Bill Denny, Mike Mummery, Garth Dodd (representing Janine Haynes), Elaine Lomas, Lowitja O’Donoghue, Rossalyn Cox, Mark Waters, Eunmi Parke, Ian Smith and Barry Forrest. This Committee decided to record all the names of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia who served on any war and the list is growing.
Names have been gathered from everywhere with Elders Groups being the main contributors.
“There will be a roll somewhere in time when we have completed the list,” Les Kropinyeri said.
Considering the funds raised through Sir Eric Neale, it was decided to erect a Memorial and now the Committee is concentrating on completing the bronze statues of male and female Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who served in the wars.
It is expected that the Memorial will be unveiled in November.
The Aboriginal Health Council of SA Inc. honoured Les Kropinyeri and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander veterans at Anzac Day services last week.
“We are suitably proud of Les Kropinyeri and his fellow returned service men and women and the fact they voluntarily fought for our country and freedom,” Chairperson, Mr John Singer said.
The Aboriginal Health Council of SA Inc. (AHCSA) is the peak body representing Aboriginal community controlled health and substance misuse services and Aboriginal health advisory committees across South Australia.
AHCSA is an affiliate of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation.