Soils a feature of symbolic ceremony

Known as the Guardian of the North, RAAF Base Townsville in North Queensland is strategically located as a forward operating base for the ADF.

CAPTION: Les Tanna, left, Ashley Saltner, Glen Thomas, Flight Lieutenant David Williams holding soil from Wulgurukaba land, Virginia Wyles and Wing Commander Mathew Green at RAAF Base Townsville. Photo by Corporal Luke Garner.

Its mission since its establishment in 1940 is to project power into the Pacific region.

In partnership with the United States Air Force, the base was crucial in turning the tide against the Japanese in World War II.

Today, the base is home to more than 1600 personnel, eight enabling squadrons and regiments and is the stepping-off point to some of the largest military training grounds in Australia.

For the local Gurrumbilbarra Wulgurukaba traditional custodians, the connection to country is far more spiritual.

The base is built upon ancient soils.

For thousands of years, the wetlands and estuaries that surround the tarmac, hangars and storage depots were an abundant source of fish, birds and fresh water and an important gathering place.

Virginia Wyles, a Gurrumbilbarra Wulgurukaba woman, recently returned to her ancestor’s country to collect a sample of soil for a special reason.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities from around Australia, in partnership with Air Force personnel, have collected pieces of country, with the soil, sand and shells deposited in the Australian War Memorial’s For Our Country sculptural pavilion on March 29 during the Centenary Welcome Ceremony to mark the start of Air Force’s centenary celebrations.

This acknowledges the strong relationship between Elders and Air Force and the common commitment to protect and care for country.

Ms Wyles said she was honoured to participate in the Townsville ceremony.

“It’s recognition from Defence of First Nations people and the importance of country and spirit of country,” Ms Wyles said.

“This is a large area adjoining creeks and salt pans and was a rich source of birds and tucker – our supermarket effectively, I guess.

“It still has some beautiful country and we quite often spend time around the edges.

“It means a lot to our community.”

Air Force Indigenous liaison officer Flight Lieutenant David Williams said the respect for culture and country was strong.

“The recognition of the First Nations people and to the spirit of country means a lot to traditional custodians because of the strong connection to the land,” Flight Lieutenant Williams said.

“The smoking ceremony and the gift of soil from country is a very meaningful way forward to embrace Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and traditions.”

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