Headstone Project visits region

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Headstone Project visits region

The Headstone Project SA recently visited the South East to dedicate another six unmarked veteran graves, joining Aboriginal Veterans South Australia who honoured two aboriginal servicemen in a separate ceremony.

The Headstone Project SA is a voluntary group dedicated to locating the unmarked graves of World War I servicemen with a view of placing a proper military headstone on their grave site to recognise their service.

Last year, The Headstone Project SA posted an appeal on social media searching for descendants of two WWI veterans buried in unmarked graves at the Mount Gambier Lake Terrace Cemetery.

The appeal led to members of local Facebook group ‘Growing up in the Mount’ alerting the organisation to another six unmarked WWI veteran’s graves.

Aboriginal servicemen and half-brothers John George Brett and John James Westbury were honoured by Aboriginal Veterans South Australia at a ceremony at Lake Terrace Cemetery in Mount Gambier.

Mr Westbury’s great nephew Uncle Ken Jones and his great niece Heather Moon attended the service, as well as Mr Brett’s direct descendant great-great-granddaughter Michele Duscer.

Aboriginal Veterans South Australia co-chair Ian Smith said often aboriginal service men and women join up from a situation unlike that of many other Australians.

“They were often living on missions under the control of the government, they could not decide who they were going to marry, where they could go, where they could work, all that sort of thing,” he said.

“They did not have a lot of freedoms other Australians had and when they were serving they were mostly treated as equals and often thought their situation would be made better by having served, but then came back and found they were treated the same as they had been treated before they served.

“As a result, they missed out on a lot of the recognition and the involvement in commemoration and all those sorts of things which non aboriginal veterans had and that has had a generational effect on many aboriginal families.

“Being able to honour these veterans on the way that we did on Friday is a great way to right a wrong basically, it’s a way of saying they also served and they also deserve to be honoured in the same way as all the others who served.

“It’s also great for the aboriginal community to come together and recognise amongst them there were many people who went to war and served their country when in many cases they did not even have the (right to) vote.”

World War I servicemen Thomas Comini, James Vaughan Glanville, Eric Llewelyn Hutchins, Michael Lyons, John Joseph Venaskie and Reginald Shepherd were all honoured in another service by The Headstone Project SA.

The Headstone Project SA Research and Investigation Team volunteer Ian Hopley said five out of the six families descended from the honoured veterans attended the service.

“What we do is for them anyway, for the families of these veterans but it certainly makes our day when that occurs,” he said.

“That gives us quite a sense of achievement and it also shows the families were very interested as well and they remember their ancestors even for a lot of them, they probably never met these people.

“For these families then to get really interested and what we find is they often then go and do new family research into other family members and become very interested in their forebearers.

“It depends on getting help from people like the Growing up in the Mount (members), that was fantastic that we got all that information and we are very appreciative of what they did for us.

“I think the fact that we had so many people attend on those days, it shows people are interested and they do have so much respect for our veterans.”

Other graves unveiled during the visit was that of Frank Owen at the Robe Historic Cemetery and Alf Walker at the Carinya Gardens Cemetery.

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