Newly arrived recruits stand nervously in a group at Blamey Barracks, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, awaiting direction from instructors. 

Their first task: march up to the Kapooka yarning circle for a Welcome to Country by the Kapooka Aunty, a Wiradjuri Elder who supports Indigenous recruits. 

These particular recruits are part of the Indigenous Pre-Recruit Program (IPRP). 

In six weeks, some may transition from development program to recruit course, armed with the skills for Army life. 

The IPRP and other programs, such as the Army Indigenous Development Program (AIDP), aim to give Indigenous Australians the best chance of success in Defence. 

Officer Commanding Recruit Development Wing Major Sarah Bawden said without the programs, these recruits potentially couldn’t enlist.

“There have been 187 Indigenous personnel complete the AIDP and IPRP and march out of Kapooka since 2016,” Major Bawden said.

Both programs’ goals are the same, but cater to different potential soldiers. 

IPRP is a six-week course to build recruits’ mental resilience and physical fitness, while AIDP runs for 17 weeks helping participants meet entry education standards. 

“The main component of AIDP is a Certificate II in workplace skills, the equivalent of Year 10 maths and English,” Major Bawden said. 

“We also develop their physical fitness, confidence and resilience through a range of activities – with cultural components integrated – and give them an introduction to military skills.”

Kapooka Indigenous Liaison Officer and mentor Warrant Officer Class 2 Jack Brunker said AIDP addressed a shortfall in schooling.

“For some, Year 8 is their highest level of education,” Warrant Officer Class 2 Brunker said. 

“To join the Army, the minimum education requirement is Year 10, resulting in many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people not having the opportunity to join.

“The ones that complete AIDP are very proud, both culturally and personally, because they finish with a certificate that provides a future foundation.”

“The best part of my job is seeing the amazing development in the trainees to the soldiers that they become.”

The AIDP gave a new perspective on Army and education to Yarrabah Gunggandji woman Private Shanika Murgha, despite being away from home. 

Now posted to 3rd Combat Engineer Regiment, Private Murgha said coming from a small Indigenous community made the program more rewarding. 

“The biggest challenge was being away from my family for so long, but I got to see what’s out there and Army gave me some structure,” Private Murgha said. 

“I plan on staying in Defence. I want to study more and go on to get a degree.”

Yamaji and Wongi man Private James Dodd, now a 1st Recruit Training Battalion infantryman, said the IPRP was a way to give Indigenous soldiers a head start before they joined recruits at Kapooka. 

“We had lessons on how to march, we went on adventure training and we did shooting practice,” Private Dodd said.

“It gave us a comfortable environment and helped people come out of their shell before they went over and did the real thing.”

After the IPRP, Private Dodd finished the Army Recruit Course, winning the Cameron Baird VC Award for most outstanding soldier.

“I’d like to see the [IPRP] expanded so more Indigenous soldiers have a chance to get involved,” Private Dodd said.

“I’d also like to go back to Kapooka as a section commander and help instruct recruits.”

While the programs can boost the number of new soldiers, those involved believe the real success is less visible. 

“We can see the difference from day one to the day we send them over to 1st Recruit Training Battalion; they’re different people,” Warrant Officer Class 2 Brunker said. 

For Major Bawden, the main benefit is the programs’ life-changing effects. 

“The best part of my job is seeing the amazing development in the trainees to the soldiers that they become,” she said.

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