It was a new experience for many international military personnel who gathered in anticipation for the traditional Welcome to Country as part of Exercise Talisman Sabre.
CAPTION: Bindal Elder Uncle Alfred Smallwood welcomes Exercise Talisman Sabre participants to country with a traditional smoking ceremony at Lavarack Barracks, Townsville. Story by Lieutenant Jonathan Carkhuff. Photo by Lauren Larking.
The Bindal nation, the Aboriginal tribe and traditional owners of the land, greeted the multi-national participants in a moving smoking ceremony. For many, it was a moment that will long be remembered.
The ceremony reflected the traditional act of requesting permission to enter another group’s country, and once granted, being welcomed and given safe passage with the protection of their ancestors during the journey.
Deputy Exercise Director US Army Colonel Jerry Hall said he was thankful for being welcomed to country.
“On behalf of all those participating nations on Talisman Sabre, it was a fitting way to acknowledge the place we will exercise on in the coming weeks,” he said.
Participating in a Welcome to Country smoking ceremony is an opportunity to show respect to Australia’s traditional owners and the continuing connection that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have to the land, sea, sky and waterways.
As part of the ceremony, the Bindal Elders burnt sandalwood leaves, creating a smoke containing healing and cleansing properties. The smoke was walked around the crowd as a blessing to the visitors, while the ceremonial song was sung alongside the sounds of the didgeridoo and the clap of boomerangs.
Australian Army cultural adviser and Bindal woman, Aunty Lee Smallwood, said the Bindal people were happy to welcome the participants.
“Cultural welcomes have been done for 50,000 years – it’s more than a welcome, we’re here to make sure you’re protected and safe on our country, that our ancestors protect you,” Aunty Lee said.
“A smoking ceremony smokes away anything negative and gives everyone a positive protection so that while you’re a guest on our country, no harm comes to you.”