RAAF Base Williams at Laverton is the first Air Force base in Victoria to feature an Indigenous yarning circle.
CAPTION: The circular space at the heart of the yarning circle at RAAF Base Williams in Laverton, Victoria, was designed to break down hierarchies and encourage respectful interactions. Story by Flight Lieutenant Julia Ravell.
The opening of the yarning circle in April by the Senior Air Defence Officer at Williams Air Commodore Gregory Frisina was the culmination of two years of work by Indigenous Liaison Officer Flight Lieutenant Aimee McCartney and a collaboration between Ventia, Air Force and YMCA ReBuild.
The yarning circle was designed by Gubbi Gubbi Monaro man and landscaper Charles Solomon of the Garawana Creative as a harmonious, creative, collaborative and safe space where small groups of people can gather and build enduring relationships.
Unlike traditional English gardens in which flowers are arrayed in neat rows, Mr Solomon planted native Australian and endemic plant species in an ad hoc way to suggest a natural bush ecosystem.
The circle’s kangaroo grass has special significance for many Victorian mobs who grind its seeds to make the flour used in damper while Lomandra longifolia, or spikey-headed mat rush, has been used for millennia to create baskets.
The circular space at the centre of the garden was designed to break down hierarchical barriers by placing everyone using the space on an equal standing, which is different to classrooms and boardrooms where spatial positioning at ‘the head of the room’ is a sign of seniority.
Air Commodore Frisina said the yarning circle would contribute to building strong relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities by ‘encouraging visitors to understand and share spiritual connections to place and the responsibility to care for and serve country’.
“Reconciliation is a fundamental aspect of Defence’s Pathway to Change cultural reform agenda and the Defence Reconciliation Action Plan’s ‘respect, relationships and opportunities,” Air Commodore Frisina said.
“Air Force’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander strategy, Our Place, Our Skies, recognises Australian First Peoples’ unique position and was developed to ensure that Air Force’s approach is respectful of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders’ world views.
“RAAF Williams’ new yarning circle will help broaden visitors’ understanding of connections between people and place, history and culture, spirit and belonging.
“It will encourage them to gain a richer appreciation of the importance of reconciliation in working towards a culturally inclusive workforce and community.”
The yarning circle’s inauguration coincided with the completion of a refurbishment of RAAF Base Williams’ other ranks’ mess hall that features a painting by Wagiman artist Nathan Patterson paying homage to RAAF’s centenary in a mixture of contemporary designs and traditional techniques incorporating the dreamtime stories of the artist’s people and birth land.