Warship Strengthens Indigenous Connection
24 September 2012
The tiny Northern Territory town of Tennant Creek swelled in size over the weekend, when the ship’s company of HMAS Warramunga paid a visit to some special friends who reside in the area.
With their ship at anchor in Darwin Harbour, 65 sailors and officers from the Perth-based Anzac Class frigate travelled to the inland town in Central Australia to visit the Warumungu people. The Australian warship is named after the Aboriginal community, whose land surrounds Tennant Creek.
The logistics involved in transporting a large portion of the ship’s company to the outback town, and providing them with accommodation, presented a unique challenge. But HMAS Warramunga’s Commanding Officer Commander Michael Turner said it was very much worth the effort.
“The local council, the Central Land Council, and the Warumungu people have bent over backwards to help us make this happen, and we’ve felt incredibly welcome since we started planning this visit.’
“Seeing just how much our visit has meant to the Warumungu community, and to my crew members, has been the reward. This visit has proven that there’s a very special bond between us, and it has reinforced the pride we feel to be part of the Warumungu story,” Commander Turner said.
Lenny, a Warumungu Elder, said the connection to HMAS Warramunga was very important to his people.
“Well, it makes me feel stronger. It makes the community feel stronger too. See, because you get HMAS Warramunga coming here, it gets the whole community speaking about it. So, it makes people here feel like we’ve got a warship behind us. It feels good,” he said.
Early in the visit the Warumungu people welcomed the ship to their country in a solemn ceremony at a sacred site near The Pebbles. The elders presented a Warumungu warrior shield to Commander Turner, to protect the ship from enemies. The ship’s company bonded with the local community over their shared love of Australian Rules Football, playing the local Clontarf Academy and Stronger Sisters teams. Then the Warumungu Elders took the crew ‘out bush’ where they taught the skills of hunting and gathering, collecting bush tucker, and administering bush medicine.
Kangaroo tails with damper was served for dinner, cooked the traditional Warumungu way, on an open fire. Some of the ship’s galley staff were taught the fundamentals of cooking ‘bush tucker’ with a view to incorporating some elements into Warramunga’s onboard menus and official functions.
A charity fund raised by the ship’s company and supported by Navy Health was used to purchase Aboriginal art, crafted by the Warumungu people. It will be auctioned during official functions onboard the warship, with the proceeds going to education programs which encourage Warumungu youth to attend school and support ongoing contact between the ship and the Warumungu people.
“It’s my hope that this visit has started a new chapter in meaningful engagement between HMAS Warramunga and the Warumungu people,” Commander Turner said.
“It is because of these people that the name Warramunga is more than just the name of the ship. It actually has a deeper meaning, a connection, and that’s pretty special,” he said.
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