Nov 26 2013

New Memorial in Sydney to honor Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Service Men and Women

by Chloe Mandryk

Tony Albert’s winning design for the first Australian memorial honoring the military contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women. Courtesy City of Sydney.

With his winning design submission, Sydney-based artist Tony Albert will install Yininmadyemi – Thou Didst Let Fall, the first memorial sculpture in Australia to honor the military service of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women. According to the artist, this “long overdue and necessary” monument will be revealed on Anzac Day 2015 in Sydney’s Hyde Park, coinciding with the centenary of Australia’s entry into World War I.

The memorial’s working title underscores the struggle of Indigenous peoples who, despite an embattled life on home soil, have demonstrated great perseverance in times of national conflict. “Unfortunately Australia has a long history of silencing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” Albert told ArtAsiaPacific. “There have been great injustices committed against Indigenous people throughout Australia’s history and the denial of the role played by these service people is a part of that story.”

The artist’s own family has a part in this narrative. Hailing from Far North Queensland, its members are of Girrimay, Yidinji and Kuku Yalandji heritage, and share 80 years of military service between them. His grandfather, Edward “Eddie” Albert, served in the Australian Army during World War II before being taken prisoner of war in Germany. He and six others escaped, but were captured by Italian soldiers and lined up to be shot. Three men died before it became clear that they were prisoners of war. 

The memorial will be composed of four over-sized standing bullets representing those who survived and three fallen shells in remembrance of lives sacrificed. Each bullet will stand seven meters high, 100 times its original size, and have a finish of bronze, black marble and Corten steel. Over time the steel’s colors will bleed onto the ground, injecting a metaphorical dimension into the work. Although it is highly confrontational, a bullet is also universally recognized and Albert hopes that this symbolism will allow the work to speak across cultural, experiential and territorial boundaries. Each bullet will be inscribed with texts by author and Indigenous scholar Anita Heiss.

Situated in Hyde Park, a public space much loved by locals and tourists alike, the memorial promises to reveal the significant and fraught contribution of Indigenous soldiers to Australia. Albert hopes that members of the community will come to the site and begin telling stories that “for so many years have been unheard,” while a vessel which can be used for wreath laying and fire lighting ceremonies will “transition the work into a memorial for all of our people.”

Tony Albert in Sydney’s Hyde Park, the future site of the memorial. Courtesy City of Sydney.