Socially distanced in a large yarning circle, Air Force Gap Year students took a break from their Airbase Protection Course last month to hear stories from local Aboriginal Elders about the history of the RAAF Base Amberley area.
With more than 260 Aboriginal sites of cultural significance across the base, Indigenous Liaison Officer Flight Lieutenant Kristal House is keen to ensure that the next generation of Air Force members have opportunities to connect with Aboriginal culture, including through local Elders.
"As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’s we’re only custodians, we’re only here to look after the land, we don’t own it," Yuggera Elder, Aunty Lilly, said.
“But for everybody that lives in this country - we’re all Australians and I always tell everybody ‘Let’s embrace our history and our culture and be proud of it’,” she said.
Aboriginal students from the RAAF Security and Fire School (RAAF SFS) also shared stories with the Gap Year students, including how the didgeridoo originated, while the students were encouraged to ask questions.
“Ask the aunties and your comrades in uniform any questions you have,” Flight Lieutenant House said as she passed around Aboriginal artefacts collected from the RAAF Base Amberley site.
“Don’t be shy about coming forward - this is a two-way learning street,” she said.
Aunty Lilly’s sister, Aunty Maria Davidson, also stressed the importance of asking questions.
“If you don’t ask, you don’t know,” she said.
“Asking questions is the key to educating ourselves and educating each other.
“We have new Australian’s in this country and I make sure myself and my children, and my grandchildren, understand the backgrounds of our new Australians – that’s what reconciliation is to me.”
A ‘didge-off’ between RAAF SFS students Aircraftman Steve Ahoy and Aircraftman Burren Shaw kept the audience guessing as to which native animal sounds they could hear – kookaburra, kangaroo, dingo or goanna.
It was the personal stories of the Elders, however, that had the students captivated.
“I have connection to this country,” Aunty Maria said.
“I still walk on my ancestors footprints and that’s very important to me, however, we grew up not having National Reconciliation Week, not having National Sorry Day,” she said.
“When I was born, I was not an Australian Citizen, nor was my sister, nor was my cousin.
“We were under the Flora and Fauna Act, so we were considered the same as a feral animal and a noxious weed that could be exterminated at any time.
“The year I was born was the year that the last permit was purchased by a land owner to legally shoot Aboriginals on site, and back then he would have been paid $20 per Aboriginal person.
“I’ve been a grandmother for seven years, so I’m not that old.
“This was the start of my life.”
Now, Aunty Maria says that reconciliation is more important than ever.
“As I’m getting older, as our Elders are getting older, they can see that their suffering from the start has not gone unnoticed.”