By Dr. Naidu Bodapati
PRO, AIHWM Committee
‘The Soldiers of Indian Heritage are not forgotten any more in Queensland’, says Surendra Prasad OAM, Chairperson of the Australians of Indian Heritage War Memorial (AIHWM) Committee.
Very little is known in Australia about millions of service men and women of Indian Heritage, of pre-independence and undivided India, who fought on the British side in the World Wars (WW) I and II. In the WWI; 1.3 million Indian soldiers fought and 74,000 lost their lives. At Gallipoli; 15,000 fought and 1,500 lost their lives. At WWII; 2.5 million Indian servicemen and women fought and 87,000 lost their lives. ‘Indian soldiers were the largest single contingent of all Britain’s colonies and dominions, yet their contribution hasn’t been duly recognised’, Mr Prasad said.
Most importantly, several soldiers of Indian Heritage actually represented Australia (in addition to the millions who represented Britain) in the Wars, whose contribution also went unrecognised. The Indian diaspora in Brisbane, and the AIHWM Committee under the chairpersonship of Mr Prasad is poised to change this situation by establishing a monument in the Memorial Garden of Sunnybank RSL Sub-branch.
The following are the activities of the Committee to date.
- Held discussions with Mr Graham Perrett MP, Federal Member for Moreton and formed alliance with Sunnybank RSL Sub-branch.
- Raised $15,000 through the first fundraising dinner on 28th May 2016.
- Financial commitment of $30,000 was obtained from the Federal LNP government for the project.
- Created a bursary for students of Indian diaspora. Symbol Sidhu of St Thomas More College, Sunnybank was the first recipient of $1,000 in October 2016.
- Unveiled the design for the Australians of Indian Heritage War Memorial on 12 November, 2016 and the details are as follows.
The AIHWM Committee requested the first year Architecture students of Griffith University to come up with a design for the monument. A group of 88 students participated in a preliminary design competition, and 11 were selected as the finalists to develop the design further. An panel comprising of Prof Sarva-Daman Singh, Lewis Lee OAM, Captain Chetan Chandegave, Harry Claassen, Prof Gordon Holden, Dr Ruwan Fernando judged the 11 entries on 7 November, 2016.
A gala dinner was arranged at Sunnybank RSL Sub-branch to announce the winners. A total of 130 people attend the event. The attended dignitaries were Graham Perrett MP, Federal member for Morton; Peter Russo, State Member for Sunnybank, representing Queensland Premier; Duncan Pegg MP, State Member for Stretton; Cr Kim Marx Councillor for Runcorn representing Lord Mayor of Brisbane; Cr Steven Huang, Councillor for Macgregor; Archana Singh, Honorary Consul for India in Brisbane; Palani Thevar, President of FICQ; Steven Biddle Regional Director, Immigration and Border Protection; Hugh Polson President of Sunnybank RSL Sub branch, the judges of the competition and the 11 finalist students.
The program started with the Last Post Service conducted by Harry Claassen, Vice President Sunnybank RSL Sub-branch. Mr Paramjit (Peter) Sarai was the Master of Ceremony, who was introduced by Ms Reena Augustine.
Mr Surendra Prasad welcomed the guests, outlined the activities of the project, and introduced the members of AIHWM Committee (Rashpal Singh, Ibrahim Malik,Cr Steven Huang, Shyam Das, Parnam Singh Heir, Harry Claassen, Robin Jaggessar, Dr Naidu Bodapati, Graham Perret MP, and Rakesh Sharma). Mr Prasad said, “This proposed project will be the first step towards creating a collective public memory and also this will be the first in Queensland after 100 years of WWI.”
Mr Graham Perrett in his speech said, “The soldiers of Indian Heritage who represented Australia in the wars were not even Australian citizens. This shows their commitment to Australia, which should be recognised.” Peter Russo, Kim Marx, Hugh Poulson, and Archana Singh spoke of the sacrifices and contributions of the Australians of Indian Heritage to the Wars.
Lewis Lee OAM, the Chair of the judging panel introduced all the 11 finalist students (Bianca Archer, Diana Mandiola, Cian Duggan, Caedric Reader, Jomar Bohme, Brian Mates, Graham Brenton, Andrew Kwok, Alecia Chang, Bradley Shakespeare, and Brigitte Aiello) of the design competition and explained about the criteria of the judgement. All the 11 final designs were displayed at the venue for the attendees to view.
Mr Lee announced the judges came to a unanimous decision in selecting the design proposed by Bianca Archer, which was presented by Mrs Archana Singh. A full version of this winning design will be erected in the memorial garden at Sunnybank RSL Sub-branch on or before 11 November 2017. The second prize was presented to Diana Mandiola by Mr. Perret. The third place was awarded to Cian Duggan, and Caedric Reader, which was presented by Mr. Russo and Mr Anthony Shorten (on behalf of cr Marx), respectively. There was a cash prize of $1200, $500, and $300 for each of the winners in first, second and third places, respectively.
Ms Bianca Archer in her first prize acceptance speech said, ‘During the design of this monument, I became emotional and personally angry that Indian soldiers fought and suffered for Australia, which was not their country at all.’
The function came to a conclusion after a vote of thanks by Mrs Archana Singh who thanked each and every one for their contributions to this historic project, Australians of Indian Heritage War Memorial.