Banter flows effortlessly between Yuin elder Uncle Glenn Campbell and Captain Shane James.
They talk about their mobs, the local youth and South Coast’s performance in last year’s Koori rugby league knock-out.
“Since they’re the reigning champions it made building a connection easier,” Captain James said.
They stand on land of the Merrimans Local Aboriginal Land Council, where Captain James and sappers of the 5th Engineer Regiment helped out on January 22.
Despite Captain James being a Worimi man, from Newcastle, he tapped into a network of Aboriginal land councils on the NSW south coast to see what help his regiment could offer.
“Mob-to-mob connection is how we do things; on their land we’re working for them,” Captain James said.
“We respect our elders, they’re our teachers, we inform them what we can provide and they guide us on what’s required for their community. They are the leaders.”
Despite the Merrimans’ area being unaffected by recent bushfires, the community would have faced problems if the fires reached them.
“There is only one way in and one way out, so they would be cut off. There was only overgrown fire trails,” Captain James said.
“They wouldn’t have been able to evac a lot of community who may be mobility-impaired.”
Sappers set to work with chainsaws and bulldozers, clearing some trees and remediating dirt tracks.
“They gave our fire trails a touch-up because they were a bit overgrown and needed a going over. They’ve done a good job,” Uncle Glenn said.
“That means better access. We only had one way in or out, so with this other track opened up we’ve got another side way out without getting burnt in case of a fire.
“They’re top blokes, I’m proud of them coming down this way, I haven’t seen them for a while.”
5th Engineer Regiment sappers earlier worked for Mogo land council, which lost new equipment in the bushfires.
They cleared routes and prepared a site for new demountable buildings to be used while the land council rebuilds.
During Operation Bushfire Assist, Captain James worked as an operations officer when not conducting Indigenous liaison.
In his civilian life, Captain James works for the University of Newcastle’s Wollotuka Institute as their performance, policy and operations manager.
He also boasts 25 years’ experience working with community.
“The board members were happy when the Army came in. It’s good being on mob land assisting mob,” Captain James said.