As part of National Reconciliation Week, Defence personnel engaged with the Indigenous community at one of its most important training airfields.

A C-130J Hercules from No. 37 Squadron (37SQN) took a contingent of 30 Defence personnel to Gilgandra in central NSW on June 2.

On the ground, they met with more than 300 members of the local community, with a strong emphasis on the Wiradjuri, Gamilaraay and Weilwan nations. 

Located 50km north of Dubbo, Gilgandra airfield is regularly used by 37SQN for its training flights.

Flight Lieutenant Tjapukai Shaw, an Indigenous Liaison Officer (ILO) with No. 22 Squadron, grew up in Dubbo and coordinated the visit to Gilgandra with local Indigenous agencies.

“It’s a dream come true to bring a Herc out for our mob,” Flight Lieutenant Shaw said.

“I never thought in a million years that this could happen for us, [and] to do that in Reconciliation Week is unreal.”

Joining Air Force as an ILO in 2018, Flight Lieutenant Shaw was posted to RAAF Base Richmond in January.

“In the past few months that I’ve been at Richmond, I found out [the Hercules] comes to Gilgandra quite often,” Flight Lieutenant Shaw said.

“As soon as I found out, I said ‘can we use this for community engagement, what can we do?’

“37SQN opened the doors straight away.”

“When it comes to capability, diversity is incredibly important – but to have diversity, you’ve got to be inclusive.”

The visit included a Welcome to Country ceremony by Wiradjuri Elder Uncle Ralph Naden.

“This was a great opportunity to follow a cultural protocol that goes back 60,000 years,” Flight Lieutenant Shaw said.

“Getting that official welcome from one of the Elders here is a massive deal and it shows that Air Force cares about the Indigenous protocols.” 

Presenting an opportunity for Indigenous communities to engage with Defence allowed both sides to cut down traditional barriers, better understand Air Force’s role and humanise those in uniform.

Conversely, the visit supported Air Force’s goal of increasing its Indigenous workforce from 1.8 to 5 per cent by 2025. 

“When it comes to capability, diversity is incredibly important – but to have diversity, you’ve got to be inclusive,” Flight Lieutenant Shaw said.

“You’ve got to include all cultures and especially Indigenous cultures, which are what this country and what this land is based on.”

Executive Officer 37SQN Squadron Leader Conan Brett said the Gilgandra community’s support was important for Defence.

“Gilgandra’s proximity to Richmond is perfect for simulating tactical exercise airspace,” Squadron Leader Brett said.

“It allows us to perform valid and real-time training with our crews at an airfield that exhibits the qualities similar to a real-life tactical airfield in a combat zone.

“Days like this allow us to actually come out and meet face-to-face with the people we fly over on a regular basis and give them an understanding of why our training is important, who we’re training and what that’s used for.

“It’s quite humbling to come out and see how well received you are in this community.”