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Black ANZAC: decolonising war history through street art

Hego's mural of World War I Indigenous soldier Alfred Cameron Jnr on a wall in the Sydney suburb of Redfern


SYDNEY - In 2014, large-scale poster artist Hego assembled a 6.5m x 3.5m mural of Aboriginal World War I soldier, Alfred Cameron Jnr, on a wall at ‘The Block’ in Sydney’s Redfern.

Growing up, Hego hadn’t heard of the black ANZACs; Indigenous soldiers who fought abroad in the historic world wars.

Like most Australians, he never learned about these servicemen — those who fought on behalf of a country which, at the time, didn't even fully recognise them as citizens — in school, or elsewhere.

It wasn’t until he came across Cecil Fisher’s 1933 poem titled ‘Black ANZAC’, which describes the lack of recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen that Hego was struck by how little Australia’s First Nation ANZACs been acknowledged in war history. From Fisher's words, Hego found inspiration for his mural.

Hego saw promise in documenting his art and its message and pitched the idea to filmmaker Tim Anastasi who was working with him on a separate street art project. This eventuated into a feature-length documentary that shines a light on the undertold story of Indigenous ANZACs.

Anastasi told NITV he didn’t foresee the success of Black ANZAC originally: “I was just documenting the process, not knowing that it would be such an amazing project at the time,” he says.

Being an independent film, funding was a challenging part of the journey. Both, Anastasi and Hego tirelessly and successfully crowdfunded $10,000, rewarding each supporter with social media shout-outs to private film screenings.

Artist Hego installing the Black Anzac mural in Redfern

Anastasi says meeting Alfred Cameron's relatives, Peter and Meryl, in South Australia made it all worthwhile. “Their reaction to the mural was beautiful and that gave us the motivation to keep telling the story,” he says.

Anastasi hopes that audiences will see how people can tell stories through art which can make positive social change.

“I hope that people realise the extraordinary contribution that Indigenous people had in the ANZAC story.

“There is a big part of Australian history that isn't being told and we hope with this documentary we have contributed to telling stories that need to be heard."



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