Many of the participants in the recent meeting of the Shoalhaven chapter of the Defence Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Network (DATSIN) are based at HMAS Albatross, home of the Fleet Air Arm, and are familiar with the hows and whys of helicopter flight. 

What many were less familiar with until this meeting was the connection between helicopters, boomerangs and David Unaipon, the man on the Australian $50 note.

The monthly DATSIN meetings have a strong focus on sharing knowledge and building on connections with traditional custodians and community members of the local area. 

Participants also use the meetings to share and gain a better understanding of the history, heritage and culture of the land on which they work, live and raise their children.

Defence members who gathered on the oval outside the Fleet Air Arm Museum enjoyed old-style learning with Bidjigal/Dharawal man Raymond Timbery.

Mr Timbery works with Djiriba Waagura, an organisation aiming to revitalise and strengthen Aboriginal culture on the NSW South Coast.

Mr Timbery is following in the footsteps of his late grandfather, Uncle Laddie Timbery, a renowned Aboriginal artist and a Dharawal and Yuin Elder of the Bidjigal clan.

For many years Uncle Laddie Timbery visited local schools where he taught children art through boomerang painting and storytelling. His children and grandchildren have all been involved in the resurgence of local cultural immersion activities in recent years.

“One thing my grandfather passed on to me was a love of knowledge and how important it is to keep learning and to keep sharing, as once you begin to understand, it becomes part of your story,” Mr Timbery said. 

One thing my grandfather passed on to me was a love of knowledge and how important it is to keep learning and to keep sharing.

Commanding Officer No. 808 Squadron Commander Paul Hannigan said his main motivation for attending was the opportunity to learn more about Indigenous culture and to support the squadron’s Aboriginal sailors.

“Raymond Timbery was an extremely engaging speaker and I particularly enjoyed his narrative around the law of the land and unity as being an extremely important part of his culture,” Commander Hannigan said. 

The chapter meet included a masterclass in boomerang throwing where Mr Timbery used Uncle Laddie Timbery’s boomerang and spoke with great pride of his grandfather’s impressive skills.

“I never appreciated just how the boomerang was used for hunting flocks of birds and how the returning boomerang was originally designed to emulate a bird of prey to keep a flock of birds low and close to the ground such that they could be trapped in nets by the hunting party,” Commander Hannigan said. 

“I lost all three of mine, they didn’t come back. I probably need a little more practise.”

Able Seaman Boatswain’s Mate Jorde Lenoy is the lead for the DATSIN Shoalhaven chapter. He said he could also use the some practise on his technique. 

“I enjoyed the boomerang workshop but what I particularly enjoyed was the massive engagement from HMAS Albatross and HMAS Creswell Indigenous and Non-Indigenous members, as well as a visit from two RAAF Specialist Recruiting Team – Indigenous, Defence Force Recruiting members [one a traditional custodian of Wreck Bay and a cousin to Raymond Timbery],” Able Seaman Lenoy said. 

“Learning about our cultural history and ways through traditional custodian Raymond Timbery provided an opportunity to learn and grow.”

The group also learned that David Unaipon, an Ngarrindjeri man of the Coorong region in South Australia, was a writer, scientist and inventor. In science he laboured to unlock the secrets of perpetual motion and, drawing on the aerodynamic qualities of the boomerang, he proposed a vertical lift flying machine and made a basic design for a helicopter in 1914, more than two decades before it became a reality. 

Corporal Daniel Kosez Florence, who works as part of the Indigenous recruitment team, said he also enjoyed this connection.

“DATSIN provides us the opportunity to link up with traditional custodians and elders, which is a wonderful way Defence can support community,” Corporal Florence said.