From Stolen Generation to serving his country during World War II, Leading Aircraftman George Tongerie was an advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights and education.
On November 10 in the lead-up to Remembrance Day and during NAIDOC Week, a display honouring the life of the Indigenous airman was unveiled at the RAAF Base Edinburgh airmen’s mess.
Leading Aircraftman Tongerie was a general hand in the Air Force during World War II.
He enlisted in the RAAF on June 29, 1943.
After several postings in Australia, he served with No.12 Squadron at Merauke in then-Dutch New Guinea, where he spent about 16 months on operational service.
He served the remainder of his time in the Air Force in various units in South Australia.
Despite having served his country with pride, after he discharged, he encountered the same racial issues he knew before the war.
That led he and his wife to become active members of the Aborigines Progress Association during the 1960s and he became a role model for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander activism for many years.
He was also vice-president of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander veterans’ association and marched regularly on Anzac Day.
He was a very humble man and was well respected by Aboriginal communities due to his efforts to make them stronger.
In 1985, he was awarded the South Australian Aboriginal of the Year Award and, in 1988, was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia, along with his wife, Maude Tongerie, for services to the Aboriginal community.
Mr Tongerie's grandson Shane Tongerie unveiled the display honouring his grandfather with RAAF Base Edinburgh senior ADF officer Air Commodore Brendan Rogers.
“I’m incredibly proud to see Pop honoured and recognised for his service in the RAAF,” Shane Tongerie said.
“He was a very humble man and was well respected by Aboriginal communities due to his efforts to make them stronger.”
RAAF Base Edinburgh indigenous liaison officer Flight Lieutenant Steve Warrior said it was important to recognise the contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander personnel, particularly Uncle George Tongerie.
Air Commodore Brendan Rogers said Mr Tongerie had an incredible life and career.
“As we come to our Air Force Centenary in 2021, we have so much more to learn about our Indigenous veterans,” he said.
“Defence continues to work closely with the Indigenous community on a number of programs, one of which is to create our own Air Force specific Acknowledgement of Country,” he said.
The display will be a permanent feature at the entrance of the RAAF Base Edinburgh airmen's mess.