Prioritising Indigenous engagement, Air Force visited Horn and Thursday Islands from May 28 to 30 to build stronger working relationships and greater cultural awareness for Air Force members.

While attending a ceremony and the unveiling of a war memorial, Air Force leaders met with Elders, the Horn Island mayor and veterans. 

Commanding Officer of No. 35 Squadron Wing Commander Ben Poxon said the islands were used as a forward operating base providing anti-aircraft coverage and a staging point for No. 32 Squadron until 1942.

The local Torres Strait Islander communities have significant links to World War II.

“Horn Island was the second-most attacked location after Darwin and accommodated about 5000 troops over the course of the war,” Wing Commander Poxon said.

“Air Force’s relationships with the communities on Horn and Thursday Islands are invaluable.

“Still today, crews from No. 35 Squadron regularly land at the airfield. We are championing the ‘Our Place, Our Skies’ initiative and are passionate about encouraging Indigenous participation in the Australian Defence Force.”

For this visit, two C-27J Spartans deployed from RAAF Base Amberley with Air Commander Australia Air Vice-Marshal Steven Roberton, Officer Commanding No. 84 Wing Group Captain Nicholas Hogan and support and maintenance staff. 

Indigenous Liaison Officer Flight Lieutenant Kristal House said the Torres Strait Islanders had a close connection with Army’s 51st Far North Queensland Regiment and Navy’s HMAS Cairns, and it was important for Air Force to build on this.

“Air Force’s relationships with the communities on Horn and Thursday Islands are invaluable and the local traditions are recognised with the highest respect,” Flight Lieutenant House said.

“The Australian Defence Force is proud of its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who have contributed to the defence of Australia in times of peace and war.”

 

Passing responsibility from one warrior to the next

Leading Aircraftman Pryce Mareko partakes in a ceremonial dance with Torres Strait locals Joey, Jarrod and Samaka Laifoo on Thursday Island.

Participating in a traditional dance to thank the four winds (seasons), Leading Aircraftman Pryce Mareko, a Torres Strait local and Airfield Defence Guard at No. 2 Security Forces Squadron, said it was a privilege to have Air Force members, and in particular No. 35 Squadron, visit his birthplace. 

“It has been a fantastic opportunity to pass on my culture to my workmates and teach them about the island lifestyle,” Leading Aircraftman Mareko said.

“I am growing with my new Air Force family and it is so special to understand where I’ve come from, to get to where I am today.”

Before the chanting and singing began at the ceremony, Leading Aircraftman Mareko received a bird’s-eye view of his homeland from the window of a C-27J Spartan.

Patrick Mau, a Torres Strait lyrical storyteller, said his people are connected by the environment, food, dance and song.

“These dances symbolise the passing of responsibility from one warrior to the next,” Mr Mau said.

“We are appreciative of the time spent by Air Force members with us to learn more about our way of life.”

 

Home after 77 years

Gordon Cameron shares his experiences on Horn Island during his service in WWII, at the memorial service marking the return of the 3.7-inch gun to its original emplacement.

Horn Island in the Torres Strait was the furthest advanced operational base in Australian waters, with 156 Defence personnel and 84 civilians losing their lives in enemy raids.

Local historian Vanessa Seeke said the base provided a vital link for allied aircraft flying to and from New Guinea, and a maritime link between southern bases and Darwin.

Gordon Cameron left Horn Island in 1944, after serving with the 34th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery during WWII. 

Mr Cameron is passionate about his time serving as a volunteer with the 11-man gun crew. Working with Mrs Seeke and her husband Liberty Seeke, it took 10 years to realise their dream of seeing a 3.7-inch anti-aircraft gun returned to its original emplacement on the island. 

“The gun is one of only three across Australia that have returned to the site where it was first used during the war,” Mr Cameron said.

“It was an isolated and remote island, but we served together with the Indigenous community.

“After 77 years, the camaraderie has survived to this day.”