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A powerful tribute to Indigenous participation in the Defence of Australia will greet Defence personnel and visitors to the Department of Defence’s  headquarters in Russell, Canberra.

Unveiled to the public for the first time, Kulatangku angakanyini manta munu Tjukurpa (‘Country and culture will be protected by spears’) was painted by artists from the remote Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands and tells the story of Aboriginal Australians defending their land, country and culture.

The Kulatangku angakanyini manta munu Tjukurpa artwork at Russell Offices, Canberra.

“It tells a story of the importance of protecting land and culture.”

The Chief of the Defence Force, General Angus Campbell, the Secretary of the Department of Defence, Greg Moriarty, and the Defence Indigenous Champion, Steve Grzeskowiak, unveiled the artwork.

“It’s a fabulous opportunity for us in Defence and helps with the reconciliation journey that we’re on,” Mr Grzeskowiak said.

“It tells a story of the importance of protecting land and culture.”

With powerful symbolism, it depicts the myriad and complex ways in which rock holes, trees and the landscape are protectors of the APY way of life.

"Almost all of them had never been to Canberra; only half spoke English."

Painted by 19 senior men of the APY Lands, it is on loan from the Australian War Memorial. The painting has a sister piece at the Memorial that has pride of place across from the bullet-ridden Gallipoli landing boat.

The artists visited the Memorial in May 2017, the Memorial’s Director, Dr Brendan Nelson, said at the unveiling.

While there, they identified the Memorial’s place in relation to the songlines from the APY Lands and Canberra as a traditional meeting place for Indigenous people.

“Almost all of them had never been to Canberra; only half spoke English,” Dr Nelson said.

They visited the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier and heard the stories of service and sacrifice in the First World War Galleries.

“When we were up in the Hall of Memory around the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier, they were holding hands and most of them were crying,” Dr Nelson said.

“They were saying a prayer for the Unknown Australian Soldier.”

The text on the painting translates to “The old men strongly protect the country and culture” and “many old men together agree not to write down on paper their strong sacred law and culture”.

The artists, part of the APY Art Centre Collective, are: Alec Baker, Eric Kumanara Mungi Barney, Pepai Jangala Carroll, Taylor Cooper, Witjiti George, Willy Kaika, Kunmanara (Brenton) Ken, Kunmanara (Ray) Ken, Dickie Marshall, Kunmanara (Willy Muntjanti) Martin, Peter Mungkuri, Kunmanara (Jimmy) Pompey, Keith Stevens, Bernard Tjalkuri, Thomas Ilytjari Tjilya, Ginger Wikilyiri, Mick Wikilyiri, Kunmanara (Mumu Mike) Williams and Frank Young.

Department of Defence personnel with the Director of the Australian War Memorial, Dr Brendan Nelson, with Kulatangku angakanyini manta munu Tjukurpa at Russell Offices, Canberra.