Symbolic garden the final resting place of Indigenous ex-serviceman

Published on Ms Dallas McMaugh (author)

Location(s): Bomaderry, NSW

Topic(s): HMAS Albatross, Commitment of Ashes Ceremony

(Please note that this image was taken before COVID-19 social distancing restrictions were put in place). Attendees at the Ashes Laying Ceremony for the late Mr Matthew Byers at the Bomaderry Aboriginal Children’s Home: Aunty Christine Blakeney and Uncle Willy Dixon (centre); Pastor Ray Minniecon (second from right); and Navy Diversity and Inclusion Project Officer - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, Chief Petty Officer Tina Elliott (right); with personnel from HMAS Albatross and the Defence Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Network - Shoalhaven Chapter. (photo: )
(Please note that this image was taken before COVID-19 social distancing restrictions were put in place). Attendees at the Ashes Laying Ceremony for the late Mr Matthew Byers at the Bomaderry Aboriginal Children’s Home: Aunty Christine Blakeney and Uncle Willy Dixon (centre); Pastor Ray Minniecon (second from right); and Navy Diversity and Inclusion Project Officer - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, Chief Petty Officer Tina Elliott (right); with personnel from HMAS Albatross and the Defence Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Network - Shoalhaven Chapter.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are warned that a name in this report is that of a deceased person which may cause sadness or distress.

Editor's Note: Please note that this activity took place before COVID-19 social distancing restrictions were put in place. Defence is currently following whole-of-government guidance from the Department of Health in relation to COVID-19. For more information on Defence's response to COVID-19, visit https://news.defence.gov.au/national/defence-response-covid-19.

Members of the Defence Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Network (DATSIN) - Shoalhaven Chapter and the HMAS Albatross Command team were recently invited to attend an Ashes Laying Ceremony for the late Mr Matthew Byers.

Mr Byers was an ex-serviceman who served with the Army, a contractor who worked as a cook at HMAS Albatross and a previous resident of the Bomaderry Aboriginal Children’s Home (BACH).

The home is often referred to as the ‘birthplace’ of the Stolen Generations in New South Wales.

Up to 47 children lived at BACH at any one time, until it ceased operating in 1988.

Today the Bomaderry Aboriginal Children’s Home has enormous significance for the people sent there as children.

It is a place associated with deep emotional ties, there are feelings of both hurt and affection for the place and former residents have strong memories and feelings from their time spent in the home.

(Please note that this image was taken before COVID-19 social distancing restrictions were put in place). Attendees at the Ashes Laying Ceremony for the late Mr Matthew Byers at the Bomaderry Aboriginal Children’s Home: Aunty Christine Blakeney and Uncle Willy Dixon (centre); Pastor Ray Minniecon (second from right); and Navy Diversity & Inclusion Project Officer - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, Chief Petty Officer Tina Elliott (right); with personnel from HMAS Albatross and the Defence Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Network - Shoalhaven Chapter.

(Please note that this image was taken before COVID-19 social distancing restrictions were put in place). Attendees at the Ashes Laying Ceremony for the late Mr Matthew Byers at the Bomaderry Aboriginal Children’s Home: Aunty Christine Blakeney and Uncle Willy Dixon (centre); Pastor Ray Minniecon (second from right); and Navy Diversity & Inclusion Project Officer - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, Chief Petty Officer Tina Elliott (right); with personnel from HMAS Albatross and the Defence Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Network - Shoalhaven Chapter.

Mr Byers’ ashes were scattered in the garden of the home in what Chief Petty Officer Tina Elliott, Navy Diversity & Inclusion Project Officer - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, described it as “an extremely moving ceremony”.

“Pastor Ray Minniecon, who knew Mr Byers, led the ceremony and we all felt very blessed to have been asked to share in this occasion with the family and previous residents of the home.”

A focal point of the garden are the small footprints on the southern side leading into it.

Uncle Willy Dixon and Aunty Christine Blakeney, both previous residents of the home, described their significance.

“These are to commemorate the children and babies that were taken from their families and brought to the Bomaderry Aboriginal Children’s Home, which was the first home established in New South Wales in 1908-1980 under the Aboriginal Act (also known as the Stolen Generation).

“On the northern side of the garden are larger footprints that are leading out of the garden.

“They represent the older children leaving the home for local domestic servant work or to other places such as Kinchela Boys Home and Cootamundra Girls Home.

“When we enter the garden to pay our respects we always come in the south end and exit the northern end, as this was the path our Aboriginal children were forced to walk.

“We pay our respects to the families and children whose lives were changed forever as no baby or child was ever allowed to be returned home,” the Elders said.