Two familiar faces caught Pilot Officer Gabrielle Read’s eye recently in a room of Bush Uni students.

Ten years ago, and more than 400km away, she was at school with them in Katherine.

Bush Uni, a 10-week course run by Macquarie University based in Wuyagiba near south-east Arnhem Land, offers Indigenous students a pathway to university education. 

Pilot Officer Read and two Katherine-based Norforce members visited Bush Uni during Learning Journeys Week at the start of  November, at which students could meet role models across civilian, Northern Territory Government and Federal Government workforces.

“There was a sense of connection and I felt incredibly happy to know the opportunity [Bush Uni] was available for people I knew and grew up with,” Indigenous liaison officer Pilot Officer Read said.

“We were invited to come have a chat with the students and talk broadly about the ADF, the career opportunities available and share our story as Defence members.

“It was also an opportunity to learn about the students and what Bush Uni is all about.

“The fact we had common ground opened the way for them to ask lots of questions they wouldn’t have asked someone they didn’t know.”

Warrant Officer Class 2 Lucas Boyé, from Norforce, said it was important for female students to see other women in uniform.

“They can see with their own eyes that an ADF career is possible,” he said.

“Every time we do community engagement activities, we make an effort to let them know women have the same opportunities as men in Defence.

“When I start talking about that, or when they see a female, the women are usually more forthcoming than the blokes. They’re very interested in joining.”

Bush Uni is supported by the nearby communities of Ngukurr and Numbulwar. 

“It’s a remote location without any distraction,” WO 2 Boyé said. 

“The students are focused on their studies and they can be positive about what they’re achieving while remembering who they are and where they’ve come from.”

WO 2 Boyé said driving the six hours each way to visit Bush Uni was a valuable investment.

“We get out there and let the students know we’re keen to be involved in what they do and, if they like, they can take an interest in what we’re doing,” he said.

“It’s pretty important to keep in touch with those remote communities as Norforce is  predominantly an Indigenous unit, and the best people to protect the land are the people who live on the land.”