Coloured Diggers March: making Anzac Day a celebration for all

Meet the grant recipient recognising First Nations peoples who served.

The Coloured Digger Anzac Day March was partly funded by a City of Sydney grant. If you have an idea that can benefit our communities, check out what grants we have available.

“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.

Mr 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.

Anzac Day is one of the most important days in our national calendar. It’s a day of reflection. The Coloured Digger Anzac Day March exists to remember that many First Nations peoples made their contributions and sacrificed their lives in wars and conflicts on behalf of our country.

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

Like many aspects of Australian history, the stories of First Nations service personnel have been overlooked, forgotten or covered up. Mr Zulumovski hopes that the Coloured Digger Anzac Day March can be a catalyst for the truth telling and for the recording of 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,” Mr 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 way 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 1000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples served in World War 1 and around 70 fought at Gallipoli. An estimated 3000 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 with.

“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,” Mr Zulumovski said.

Ken 'Kira-Dhan' Zulumovski in front of the Anzac Bridge (Photo by Abril Felman)

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

Mr Zulumovski says the Coloured Diggers March began in Redfern in the heartland of the City of Sydney’s area and has influenced several similar projects nation-wide. 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,” Mr Zulumovski said.

This year will mark the 17th yearly march down Redfern Street. The march grows each year, with more Australians local and national participating and more First Nations servicepeople, veterans and families getting involved. And more sponsors providing everything from Land Rover vehicles for older people and people with disability, stalls and food to the necessary funding to safeguard the project management, sustainability and growth.

Despite recent Covid disruptions, Mr Zulumovski is expecting a record number this year of 1000 to 1500 attendees.

Feeling inspired?

The next round of the City of Sydney’s grants and sponsorships is open until 7 March. Sign up to the grants newsletter to be notified of future grant rounds.

Posted . Last updated .

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