After 70 years, monument honours Australian peacekeepers

A new memorial pays tribute to thousands who have dedicated their lives to peacekeeping missions — one of whom has inspired a refugee to follow in their footsteps.

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Since 1947, over 80,000 Australians have served in humanitarian and peacekeeping operations around the world.

Now, that achievement has been marked with a new memorial in Canberra honouring all of those who served.

It has taken 12 years and numerous volunteers, veterans and supporters to create the Australian Peacekeeping Memorial.

It features two large, black, polished-concrete monoliths separated by a passageway, as well as a courtyard of reflection.

Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove says the memorial is a tribute from all Australians.

“Today, we dedicate this memorial to our peacekeepers, to those who have served the nation, who have served mankind, to those who continue to serve, to those who have given their lives to this most noble of causes. This is their memorial and our nation’s tribute to them.”

Private Theogene Ngamije was one of dozens attending the ceremony to mark 70 years since Australian peacekeeping missions began.

Paying his respects, Private Ngamije said his life was changed 23 years ago by an Australian peacekeeper in a Rwandan refugee camp.

“There were bombings going on, and everyone was running everywhere. So … he gave me a biscuit and a patch of AMC, and he just took me to a safe place, myself and other kids. It was amazing. So when I got into Australia, I just wanted to step in his foot(steps) and serve as a soldier as well.”

Private Ngamije says the kindness came when he needed it most.

Former aid worker David Savage was wounded in Afghanistan when a child detonated a suicide bomb near his vehicle.

Mr Savage says the new memorial is about creating awareness within the community of the work actually involved in peacekeeping operations.

“I think it’s important to raise awareness in the community so that children, schoolkids, know the role of the military and the police and civilian contributions to peacekeeping, (so) that they don’t just go to war and fight battles, that they go unarmed to different conflicts and stand between the different warring factions to save people and to help bring peace, or to keep the peace, so that people can have a much better life.”