Aspire4Life’s Reconciliation Action Plan journey glows brightly for proud Aboriginal veteran

For a proud Aboriginal veteran, continuing making strides forward is a key to reconciliation and acceptance.

17.07.2020

Black and white picture of man driving a tractor

No stranger to pushing for the acknowledgement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and culture through various roles and honours, Uncle Harry Allie, who served in the Australian Air Force for 23 years, is at the forefront of acceptance.

“I help where I can, particularly through making sure things are being actioned and we’re moving forward,” Uncle Harry said.

“It’s a different society today and people are slowly becoming more aware of Aboriginal history… that’s positive and I’m proud of that.”

It’s that connection to culture and push for change which has led Uncle Harry, also a Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA) client, to becoming a contributor and advisor for Aspire4Life on its journey to implementing a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).

Calling on a wealth of knowledge and experience, the proud Gudjala man praised Aspire4Life’s RAP vision, a vision in-line with Uncle Harry’s journey through a fulfilling life, which begun in the north Queensland heartland of Charters Towers in 1942.

After leaving school and working in a pastry cook shop, Uncle Harry made his way into a role as a Junior Postal Officer for the Post Master General’s (PMG) Department, before enlisting for the Royal Australian Air Force in 1966.

“I always wanted to join the Air Force; Charters Towers was a big military town and it has a strong history with the Air Force,” Uncle Harry said.

“I was an Equipment Assistant in warehousing and storage and I had postings throughout Australia, the USA and Malaysia.

“I had a great career and I’ve got a lot of fond memories, and it was an honour to have served.”

Downplaying his achievements, Uncle Harry’s service contributions saw him recognised with the British Empire Medal, the Australian Service Medal 1975 – 1989, the Defence Service Medal, the National Medal, the Australian Defence Medal and a Certificate of Outstanding Service.

However, while proud of his achievements, it was a desire to have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Servicemen and Servicewomen not only recognised, but celebrated, which placed Uncle Harry on a path to creating change on the national landscape.

Through Commonwealth Public Service, Uncle Harry was involved in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs and issues, and has had many roles including the Chairperson of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Committee for Bankstown City Council, Member of the Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council and Board Member of Bankstown Community Resource Group.

A committee member of the Nangahmi Ngallia Aboriginal Corporation, Uncle Harry is also a member of Coloured Diggers Projects and the Chair of the NSW Indigenous Veterans Commemoration Service Co-ordinating Committee, which is dedicated to ceremonies honouring the service of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Servicemen and Servicewomen.

“After I discharged, I worked for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), and that’s when I got a lot more closely connected to community and Aboriginal affairs,” Uncle Harry said.

Through the Coloured Diggers, and Reconciliation Week ceremonies, the plight to fully recognise Aboriginal servicemen and servicewomen has been “far reaching”, including through honouring the group every Anzac Day.

While Uncle Harry was proud to serve in a military he said he never experienced any racism first-hand, it is the horrors of history and the unjust treatment of those who had served which needs to be fully recognised and understood if reconciliation is to be fully achieved.

“The Military was one of the (more accepting) areas for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to work in, but I’d heard so many stories from when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had left the military, they came home to find their families had been taken away and put on missions,” Uncle Harry said.

“At one stage in history, particularly in rural or remote areas, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who’d served were turned away from attending Returned Servicemen’s Leagues (RSLs), and were not given recognition because they were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.”

However, Uncle Harry said the likes of the DVA had played a strong part in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander diggers to not only gain acceptance, but feel they are valued and being looked after.

“With the DVA, there’s people who shine without telling their story, but they served their country and we all served alongside each other,” Uncle Harry said. 

“Not only did we serve together, but that mateship and being there for each other remains many years later. That’s the wonderful thing about (DVA), whether it be a reunion or it’s just togetherness, it’s making sure we’re all OK.”

Honoured to be appointed the Air Force’s Indigenous Airforce Elder in 2012, Harry said giant strides had been made in seeking equal recognition, which was crucial for current and potential Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders serving, and those who have come before them.

“I’ve been encouraging the enlistment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and it’s been doing tremendously, and now there’s dedicated people in (Military elder) roles,” Uncle Harry said.

“In the wider society, people are slowly becoming more aware of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, and I’m really positive and proud of that. We’re moving forward, and it’s about acknowledgement and celebration, and showcasing our culture to make our younger generation proud of who they are.”

Happy to “help out where I can”, Uncle Harry was proud to be able to assist Aspire4Life in implementing the RAP.

He said it would be crucial to establish the RAP in a genuine and relatable way, through sharing the journey.

“RAPs are a great thing as it puts the agenda on the table, and it’s something that can’t be put in the drawer and forgotten about,” Uncle Harry said.

“Putting it out it for an organisation to move forward is the most important thing, particularly through a partnership with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and agencies, so it’s a shared journey.

“I oblige in every way possible to make sure the RAP you’re implementing is in the right areas, people can relate to it and make it work as that’s very important.

“A RAP makes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people want to work with a company and it gives them a warm glow knowing it’s a forward-thinking company bringing us all together.”

How Aspire4Life showed its support for National Reconciliation Week.