While Australian War Memorial curator Amanda Jane Reynolds is passionate about all the exhibits she has drawn together for the first exhibition devoted solely to the military experience of Australia's first peoples, Len Waters' flying helmet speaks to her most strongly.
Warrant Officer Waters, who was born at Eurabi Mission near Boomi in northern NSW in 1924, was Australia's first Aboriginal military aviator.
He also had the distinction of being the RAAF's first Indigenous fighter pilot, flying a P-40 Kittyhawk, christened Black Magic, on more than 100 missions against the Japanese in the Pacific.
Mr Waters, an accomplished boxer who had been working as a shearer when he enlisted, said he had always "had my head in the clouds" from growing up with the stories of Charles Kingsford Smith, Amy Johnson, Nancy Bird Walton, Bert Hinkler and others.
Ms Reynolds said his story was special because it proved if someone was willing to follow their dream they could do anything.
"We are very lucky," she said. "His family has given us lots of things from his service career [including the flying helmet and a map printed on cloth that he carried in case he was shot down] and we also recorded an oral history with him [before his death in 1993].
"We have also got many of the love letters he wrote to his wife [the couple married four weeks after he was discharged from the RAAF on January 18, 1946]."
Mr Waters' tale is just one of many stories told in the exhibition, which includes 60 works of art by 32 artists, and opens to the public on Friday, September 23.
"Unlike other exhibitions at the memorial the stories will be told from the perspective of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with many shared through a first-person voice," Ms Reynolds said.
War Memorial director Dr Brendan Nelson said the contributions made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders during many conflicts should not be forgotten.
"Indigenous Australians have served in every conflict this country has engaged in," he said. "This is an opportunity to honour their service."