Australian entertainer John Schumann performs an emotional rendition of I was only 19' during festivities marking the 41st birthday of the Australian Army 8th/9th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, at Gallipoli Barracks in Brisbane on 31 October, 2014.
Australian entertainer John Schumann performs an emotional rendition of I was only 19' during festivities marking the 41st birthday of the Australian Army 8th/9th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, at Gallipoli Barracks in Brisbane on 31 October, 2014. CPL David Cotton

John Schumann pens new track for Anzac centenary

AMID all the reflections on the soldiers of Gallipoli who started the Anzac legend, one fact often lost is the contribution of hundreds of indigenous soldiers.

They rushed to serve their country even though they were not recognised as citizens.

To ensure indigenous soldiers were properly remembered as Australia prepares to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings, Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison commissioned Australian musician John Schumann to capture their contribution in song.

For Schumann, former frontman of folk band Redgum, it was not his first foray into songs of war - he is perhaps most famous for penning I Was Only 19, which explores the psychological and medical side-effects of Australian soldiers in the Vietnam War.

But he still felt the full weight of responsibility of what he was being asked to do by Lt Gen Morrison when he wrote On Every Anzac Day, which was released on Saturday, April 18.

"There was a real chance (the contribution of indigenous soldiers) could slip by unnoticed," Schumann said.

"David didn't want that to happen."

He began researching articles and photographs from all conflicts, with the help of the Australian War Memorial's indigenous liaison officer Gary Oakley, and the support of memorial director Dr Brendan Nelson.

Schumann's son also helped, compiling a 50-page book of information as background for the lyrics.

For the songwriting process itself he travelled to a friend's place in Bali, Indonesia - a landscape so different to Australia it gave him the distance and clarity he needed.

"My vision of Australia is just really sharpened up and intensified by the contrast to where I am," Schumann said.

A key image he used for inspiration was of two Australian Second World War soldiers wearing slouch hats, embracing and facing each other with broad, genuine smiles.

One had black skin, the other white.

"When all the boys were fighting together, nobody cared what colour you were," Schumann said.

>>LISTEN TO 'ON EVERY ANZAC DAY'

Australian singer/songwriter John Schumann has written a song recognising Indigenous service men and women. Photo Contributed
Australian singer/songwriter John Schumann has written a song recognising Indigenous service men and women. Photo Contributed Photo Contributed

 

But social attitudes at the end of the First World War and other conflicts meant returned indigenous soldiers were still pushed to the fringes of society, despite their service.

The ignorance of these attitudes is clear in On Every Anzac Day, which features special guest musicians Shane Howard, of Goanna, and Rob Hirst, of Midnight Oil.

"We've come an awful long way with regard to reconciling and engaging with indigenous Australia, but there is reconciliation still to come," Schumann said.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner Mick Gooda described the finished product as "pretty deadly".

He said it had the potential to do for the recognition of black diggers what I Was Only 19 did for the recognition of Vietnam veterans.

"I think this (song) is a story of how people are coming together more and more, and I think it is a great point of reconciliation," Mr Gooda said.

He said during the Gallipoli campaign and those that followed on the Western Front, indigenous Australians were treated as equals for the first time.

"These people were contributing to the defence of this country when they weren't even recognised as citizens," he said.

Lt Gen Morrison said indigenous men and women had served with distinction and courage in Australia's military operations.

"We all wear the Rising Sun badge with pride," the Chief of Army said.

"It is a symbol of our history and of our service to the nation.

"Irrespective of individual ethnic or cultural background, we all wear the same uniform and we are all Australian soldiers."

READ MORE

The story of indigenous soldiers in the First World War - and the battles they faced after they came home - is told in our special 32-page souvenir publication ANZAC: We will remember them, free in Tuesday's paper.


Community groups rally for homeless

Community groups rally for homeless

Community groups rally for homeless at the Winsome

Art recognises the memory

Art recognises the memory

Gallery plays host to new Art & Dementia Program

Give me Fisherman's Co-op over swanksville any day

Give me Fisherman's Co-op over swanksville any day

hygge is the Danish word for enjoying life's simple pleasures

Local Partners