Links between ancient traditions and the modern Air Force were highlighted when Indigenous artist Leanne Watson handed over an artwork to the Air Mobility Training and Development Unit (AMTDU) at RAAF Base Richmond on October 15.

Ms Watson was commissioned by the RAAF unit to create the piece.

She is a Darug woman and the Darug people are the traditional owners of the land where RAAF Base Richmond is located.

At the artwork’s unveiling, Ms Watson explained her work and it was here the connections were made between ancient Indigenous culture and the modern RAAF.

“The Darug follow the red kangaroo lore, which is depicted on the work and appears very similar to the kangaroo on the Air Force symbol,” Ms Watson said.

“There also is a fire, which is a traditional meeting place in our culture.”

The artwork depicts smoke rising from the meeting place.

For AMTDU, which provides Defence with new methods of carrying and delivering cargo and equipment, rising smoke is a simple method of signalling wind direction and strength to aircrew at a drop zone. 

The Hawkesbury River, known to the Darug people as Deerubbin, is prominent in the artwork as it runs close to RAAF Base Richmond where the AMTDU has operated since it was established in 1965.

The river was an important source of food for the Darug people.

'It will reflect the culture and history of the original people of the land that we are on.'

The artwork depicts yams as a staple food of the Darug people, which speaks to AMTDU’s work in sustaining personnel who are deployed far from home.

In Darug culture, visitors are invited to bring respect to a meeting place – an idea that AMTDU values by bringing visiting personnel together for their training, as well as in its role as the Defence’s Centre of Excellence for Air Cargo Delivery.

Exploring common values in the artwork was a process that involved Ms Watson and AMTDU’s personnel capability officer Flying Officer Coomara Munro.

A proud Gumbaynggirr man, Flying Officer Munro was earlier this year tasked with engaging local Indigenous networks to find an artist to produce a piece of work.

“I had a couple of chats with Leanne where we sat down together and I provided her with a brief on the history of the Air Force and AMTDU, and the role of the unit,” Flying Officer Munro said.

“As a joint Army, Air Force and Australian Public Service unit, we are all about coming together.

“To see this artwork that Leanne came back with, it’s nice to take a commanding officer’s intent and get the chance to make it a reality.”

For the artist, sharing her work at RAAF Base Richmond was a welcome, but difficult experience. 

RAAF Base Richmond was the site of considerable violence during the colonial period as white settlers took control of fertile land in an effort to supply food to Sydney.

Commanding Officer of AMTDU Wing Commander Cameron Clark said bringing Indigenous perspectives into a Defence environment was an important driver in commissioning the project.

“This artwork isn’t intended to replace our heritage and symbology; this augments it, and makes it richer,” Wing Commander Clark said.

“It will reflect the culture and history of the original people of the land that we are on.”

In commissioning the artwork, AMTDU consulted with Ms Watson on producing licensed copies of the artwork for its squadron members and distinguished visitors.

While the artwork will take pride of place in AMTDU’s headquarters, Wing Commander Clark said he looked forward to licensed copies spreading Darug culture further afield.

“We’re a unit that has a lot of engagement with wider Defence and government, as well as members from overseas, particularly the United States and United Kingdom,” Wing Commander Clark said.

“We will use this artwork in gifts we provide to organisations and individuals that we have a particularly close relationship with.

“I’m extremely proud that copies of this artwork will be provided as a culturally relevant memory of the unit.”