For the first time, Defence personnel have engaged with the Indigenous community around Gilgandra for National Reconciliation Week 2019.
On 2 June, a C-130J Hercules brought a contingent of 30 Defence personnel from Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Richmond to Gilgandra, which is the sight of regular training by Air Force Hercules crews.
On the ground, they met with more than 300 members of the local Indigenous community, and received a Welcome to Country from local Elder Uncle Ralph Naden – the first time such a ceremony has been conducted for Air Force at Gilgandra.
Flight Lieutenant (FLTLT) Tjapukai Shaw, an Indigenous Liaison Officer with No. 22 Squadron, grew up in Dubbo and coordinated the visit to Gilgandra with local Indigenous agencies.
FLTLT Shaw joined the Air Force in 2018, and was posted to RAAF Base Richmond in January 2019.
“It’s a dream come true to bring a Herc out for our mob. I never thought in a million years that this could happen for us, (and) to do that in Reconciliation Week is unreal,” FLTLT Shaw said.
“In the last few months that I’ve been at Richmond, I found out they come to Gilgandra quite often. As soon as I found out, I said “can we use this for community engagement, what can we do?”
“37 Squadron opened the doors straight away and said “this is what we can do, let’s work at it.”
“This was a great opportunity to follow a cultural protocol which goes back 80,000 years,” Flight Lieutenant Shaw said.
“Getting that official welcome from one of the Elders here is a massive deal, and it shows that Air Force cares about the Indigenous protocols.”
“Today was about allowing the community to understand who comes here and why we come here.”
Presenting an opportunity for Indigenous communities to engage with Defence allows both sides to cut down traditional barriers, better understand Air Force’s role, and humanise those in uniform.
Conversely, the visit supports Air Force’s goal of increasing its Indigenous workforce from 1.8 per cent to 5 per cent by 2025.
“When it comes to capability, diversity is incredibly important – but to have diversity, you’ve got to be inclusive,” FLTLT Shaw said.
“You’ve got to include all cultures and especially Indigenous culture, which is what this country and what this land is based on.”