First Nations people are advised the following article includes the names and images of Indigenous people who have died (names and photos used with permission).
Eighty-five years after his death, an Australian soldier who served with the Light Horse in World War I has finally been granted a proper grave and military dedication.
Private David Mullett's resting place in the Bega Cemetery was the scene of a moving service on Saturday morning, October 28, attended by four generations of his descendants, local Indigenous elders and members of Far South Coast RSL sub-branches.
They were there to see that an Indigenous soldier who volunteered to serve his country and played an integral part in the Australian Light Horse Brigade, but who ended up in an unmarked grave in Bega, got his deserved honour.
David's family members in attendance included his granddaughter Aunty Margaret Donnelly, great-granddaughters Aunty Charmaine Singleton and Aunty Doris Paton, great-great-grandson Bradley Singleton and his wife Jessica, and their children Abigail, Bailey and Caiden Singleton.
The service was presided over by Pastor Ray Minniecon, who said his grandfather was also an Indigenous Light Horse serviceman currently buried in an unmarked grave in Queensland.
David Dixon performed a smoking ceremony ahead of the dedication and Aunty Ellen Mundy welcomed everyone to Djiringanj country.
Aunty Margaret said her grandfather was a loving man who taught her and her older brother Albert about medicinal plants among other important aspects of their culture.
"He was a darling old man," she said before laying a wreath with her daughter.
"He taught us everything he knew about our history, about our people and what they went through. And he said he hoped that in the future things would be better for us."
Fighting for his country, fighting for recognition
David was a Gundjitmara man from the Lake Condah reserve in south-west Victoria.
He was known as an intelligent and resourceful man, attempting to carve out a career as a school teacher.
As a boy, he excelled at the Lake Condah mission school and even taught there for a time. He later attended Napier Teachers College in Melbourne, passing with flying colours.
However, as an Indigenous man he was denied teaching positions at Melbourne schools.
He found work as a farm manager before enlisting in November 1915 at the age of 43.
While that meant he was among the eldest AIF volunteers, his experience with horses meant he was placed in the Remount Unit of the Light Horse Brigade.
On Saturday, Sergeant Warren Davis of the Bega Valley's own 7th Light Horse troop shared details of the Remount Unit.
"The Light Horse had the only form of transport suitable for the desert - the horse. Without them they couldn't do their job," he said.
"The Remount Unit took in the sick horses, the wounded horses, new and unbroken horses, and made them ready for a trooper to replace his lost horse immediately.
"The Australian Light Horse had some absolutely fantastic victories against the Turks and the Germans who were steering them.
"Some historians have written that the Australian Light Horse efforts at Beersheba and later played a huge part in the Turk withdrawal and later successes.
"They couldn't have done any of that without fresh horses."
David served for four years, stationed in Egypt, but during this time he developed a heart condition and was discharged on July 7, 1919, at the age of 47.
Whether he had been informed while overseas serving is unclear, but upon his return to Australia, he learned his children had been taken from his wife Maud, while her allotment of military pay had been cancelled.
Contesting those decisions did not sway the government at the time and although they were later able to establish a home, their children were never returned.
During the economic depression of the 1930s, David and Maud were also denied a request to move on to the Lake Tyres mission and David became an itinerant worker, eventually settling in Bega picking beans along the river, a common job for the region's Indigenous population at the time.
In March 1938 he wrote to the military asking if he could get a replacement discharge certificate in order to apply for a pension. He also wished to attend an Anzac Day march in Sydney and asked for a replacement uniform.
Both requests were denied.
David died just months later and was buried in an unmarked grave on the edge of the Bega Cemetery.
The ignominy did not end with his burial.
In about 2019, 100 years after David was discharged and returned home, a push began for an official war grave.
However, even this was at first denied by bureaucracy, who required further justification and proof that his death was related to his service.
Following representations to the Department of Veterans Affairs from Bruce Crane of the Bega Valley Legacy Group, it took direct pleas from David's great-granddaughter Doris Paton to then-Minister for Veterans Affairs Dan Tehan, and from Candelo RSL member Terry Hutchinson to then-federal MP Mike Kelly to actually see the request given the green light.
I was watching a documentary on us and our trip to Israel and there was a scene of Doris at her great-grandfather's grave, crying. It was just a plot of lawn.- Terry Hutchinson
David now lies at rest underneath a flowering callistemon, busy with the sounds of bees and lorikeets.
Crimson bottlebrush blooms adorn his war grave. "Every time it blossoms, David will have flowers on his grave," Aunty Doris said.
On his headstone reads the inscription: D Mullett. 1 Remount Unit. Remembered by his family. Old soldiers never die, they just fade into the sunset.
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