Indigenous soldiers at the Royal Military College, Duntroon (RMC-D) are encouraging fellow Indigenous Australians to consider joining the Army as the nation celebrates National Reconciliation Week (NRW).

Built on the lands of the Ngunnawal people in Canberra more than a century ago, RMC-D trains officers for their initial command appointments.

Corporal Mick Andrews, of the Nywaigi people in north Queensland, is a physical training instructor.

“The best thing about being a soldier at RMC is seeing cadets progress through their physical training that we put them through and seeing them adapt physically and mentally, which is pretty rewarding in itself,” Corporal Andrews said.

He counted career highlights as two deployments to the Middle East and a short deployment with the Royal Australian Navy.

In my previous job as a cargo specialist, I got the chance to be part of the first Australian crew to sail the ship known as HMAS Choules back from the United Kingdom to Australia and was also part of the commissioning crew.

“That was a unique opportunity for a soldier.”

Private Shannon Digance, a Wiradjuri man, has been in the Army for just over two years after completing one of the first iterations of an Australian Defence Force pathway programs, the Indigenous Pre-Recruit Course at HMAS Cerberus. 

He is posted to RMC-D as a medic.

“As a medic, I can give them medical help when they need it or just tell them how to keep themselves 100 per cent,” Private Digance said.

“You can be a bit of a role model for the cadets and even teach them some basic soldier skills throughout their intense training.”

Both said they’d encourage Indigenous Australians to consider joining Army during National Reconciliation Week.

“You get to travel around a lot and get a trade,” Private Digance said.

“I didn’t do very well at school but now I’m studying to be a paramedic through university because of the Army; I would not have gotten this far if it wasn’t for Army.”

Corporal Andrews said he’d learned valuable skills to use within the Army and in his life more broadly.

If I had not of joined, I think I would be a totally different person than I am today. I’ve also made a bunch of life-long mates along the way.

“If you’re thinking of joining, you’ve got nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain.”

The Commandant of the Royal Military College, Brigadier Ana Duncan, said RMC would celebrate NRW virtually this year.

“The theme for National Reconciliation Week rings particularly true during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Brigadier Duncan said. 

“Unfortunately, we could not celebrate this year as we’d hoped. But, as Australians, we are all in this together as we respond to COVID-19.

“More broadly, it’s important we celebrate the service and sacrifice of Indigenous Australians during times of peace and war.

“Every Indigenous soldier brings unique skills, perspectives and experiences to their units, which is helpful for me as we undertake training transformation at RMC.”

The commanding officer of RMC-D, Lieutenant Colonel Rob Ryan said RMC-D was committed to practical steps to reconciliation.

“Just last year, we engaged DDR Indigenous Contractors to help refurbish the Corps of Staff Cadets mess at Duntroon,” he said.

“DDR engaged with the traditional owners throughout the process and hosted a welcome to country ceremony to celebrate completion of the project. 

“It was a small gesture that reinforced Army’s commitment to closing the gap.”

There are Indigenous Australian soldiers throughout the Royal Military College of Australia’s training establishments, including RMC-D, the Army Recruit Training Centre and the Warrant Officer and Non-Commissioned Officer Academy (WONCO-A).

Newly announced Army Indigenous Elder, Aunty Lorraine Hatton, retired at the rank of Warrant Officer Class Two after 20 years of distinguished service in the Royal Australian Corps of Signals.

Aunty Lorraine completed recruit training at the Army Recruit Training Centre Kapooka and conducted her promotion courses warrant officer training at WONCO-A Canungra.