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First Nations tribute wins national architecture award

A national memorial to the wartime service and sacrifice of our First Nations people has received the Nicholas Murcutt Award for Small Project Architecture at the 2020 Australian Institute of Architects’ National Awards.

The award was received via a special live-streamed event last night, Thursday 5 November.

Produced in collaboration with Melbourne-based architecture studio Edition Office, Kudjla/ Gangalu artist Daniel Boyd’s mural For Our Country sits in the Memorial Sculpture Garden at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Described as “equally evocative and powerful as subtly provocative in its commitment to truth-telling” the jury noted the importance of a permanent national memorial recognising the military service of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples “could not be understated”.

Dedicated on 29 March 2019, a plaque reads:

“Only four or five generations after the arrival of the British First Fleet, having endured discrimination, brutal social exclusion, and violence, many Indigenous Australians denied their Aboriginality and kinship to enlist, serve, fight, suffer and die for the young nation that had taken so much from them. Having enlisted from a desperately unequal Australia, many found military service to be their first experience of equality. In Australia’s defence forces they were equals – equal in life and equal in death.”

Words from Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) (Quandamooka) are also on the memorial:

“In the Australian Women’s Army Service, I was accepted as one of them and none of the girls I trained with cared whether I was black, blue or purple. For the first time in my life I felt equal to the other human beings.”

The memorial contains soil deposited from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nations across Australia. 

Kudjla/ Gangalu artist Daniel Boyd said it was intended that each Nation be commemorated at the memorial, where the soil of their Country joins the many lands their ancestors have defended and from which they came to serve Australia.

“The memorial is a manifestation of a deep connection to the land and responsibilities to future generations. The thousands of clear lenses represent our perception, highlighting our incomplete understanding of time, history, and memory.”

The 2020 Australian Institute of Architects’ jury said For Our Country was a simple concept, expertly executed with precision and clarity, while concealing a degree of complexity in thinking not immediately apparent.

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