Gympie's NAIDOC week celebrations kick off at Nelson Reserve

KEVIN Starkey thanked Gympie's Gubbi Gubbi residents for allowing him, "an off-country man" to perform the purification smoking ceremony at the opening of Gympie NAIDOC Week ceremonies at Nelson Reserve yesterday.

The major contribution of Aboriginal and Islander Australians to the defence of Australia was the focus.

The National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee traces its origins to the emergence of Aboriginal awareness groups in the 1920s.

Cooloola Aboriginal Services Incorporated president, Auntie Lillian Burke read out some of the war service history of aboriginal people since the Boer War.

By the Second World War, the Australian Imperial Force treated aboriginal people as equals, "but when they returned they were treated with the same prejudice as before," she said.

"The Australian Defence Force was Australia's first equal opportunity employer for indigenous Australians."

MP David Gibson said there were still two Australias and "until we can honestly say that all people are treated the same regardless of race, disability or education, we will never truly achieve reconciliation".

Mayor Ron Dyne said indigenous Australians had made an important contribution to the defence forces.