Our history and heritage

Coloured Diggers March: making Anzac Day a celebration for all

Find out more about this annual event recognising First Nations service personnel.

ColouredDiggers January 31, 2023 WebRes AbrilFelman 09623

The Coloured Digger event and Anzac Day March commemorates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who served our country in overseas conflicts.

This Anzac Day will mark the 17th year of the march down Redfern Street. The event grows each year, with more Australians participating and more First Nations personnel, veterans and families getting involved.

“Anzac Day should be about remembering our fallen service personnel, all of them. The Diggers I talk to make one thing very clear from the outset: their bond for one another is unbreakable, their loyalty to their nation and communities unwavering, and they fight for what is right,” Ken 'Kira-Dhan' Zulumovski said.

Zulumovski is an Aboriginal man who has served in the Royal Australian Artillery Corps part time for 8 years while balancing a career in Aboriginal mental health. He is now on the executive committee that organises the event.

The 4m high bronze First World War Digger at the west end of the Anzac Bridge. (Photo: Abril Felman / City of Sydney)
The 4m high bronze First World War Digger at the west end of the Anzac Bridge. (Photo: Abril Felman / City of Sydney)

Like many aspects of Australian history, the stories of First Nations service personnel have been overlooked, forgotten or covered up. Zulumovski hopes the Coloured Digger Anzac Day March can be a catalyst for truth telling and for recording those important stories, and a celebration of both the Anzac memory and First Nations resilience.

“I find it extremely encouraging that Australia, as a nation, is finally starting to open up and have the uncomfortable conversations about our true history,” Zulumovski said.

“With that comes a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who volunteered to leave their country and kin, to go far away to a distant land and defend a system that did not value or recognise them. One that in fact, brutally oppressed them.”

“They fought for the freedom of all of us while their freedom and rights at home were largely unseen.”

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men were legally exempt from military service. But this didn’t stop many from volunteering. Over 1,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples served in World War 1 and around 70 fought at Gallipoli. An estimated 3,000 Aboriginal and 850 Torres Strait Islander peoples served in World War 2.

Their service was not segregated. They fought side-by-side with one another and with the true Aussie spirit of camaraderie and genuine mateship but returned home to a country that hadn’t changed.

They were denied soldier settlement lands, RSL membership, military funerals, respect and the other benefits given to those they had fought alongside.

“These are the tough facts that we will tell through the project. We will tell them so that this does not happen again, to any marginalised groups, and so that the nation, all of us, can properly heal and make our bonds stronger, giving fuller meaning to the Anzac spirit,” Zulumovski said.

Ken 'Kira-Dhan' Zulumovski in front of the Anzac Bridge Photo: Abril Felman / City of Sydney
Ken 'Kira-Dhan' Zulumovski in front of the Anzac Bridge Photo: Abril Felman / City of Sydney

The Coloured Digger project draws its name and sentiment from the poem The Coloured Digger by Sapper Bert Beros.

Zulumovski said the Coloured Diggers March began in Redfern in the heartland of the City of Sydney area and has influenced several similar projects nationwide. It has potential to make a positive contribution to Australia’s reconciliation process more broadly.

“I am extremely proud to lead this important project and like to view it as a gift to the nation,” Zulumovski said.

More sponsors are getting on board providing everything from Land Rover vehicles for older people and people with disability, stalls and food, and the necessary funding and its management, sustainability and growth.

This year on Anzac Day record numbers of 1,000 to 1,500 attendees are expected. The event will start from midday at Redfern Community Centre with a screening of the Black Anzac film. A Welcome to Country will follow, before the march starts at 1:30pm. It will conclude at the cenotaph in Redfern Park where there'll be food stalls and performances. Find out more about the event program.

Feeling inspired?

The Coloured Digger event and Anzac Day March was partly funded by a City of Sydney grant.

The next round of the City of Sydney’s grants and sponsorships will open in winter. Sign up to the grants newsletter to find out about future grant rounds.