Army’s first Indigenous spiritual totem

An Army unit’s shared connection to the land and water with the local Indigenous people has been recognised with Army’s first spiritual totem.

CAPTION: Private Raymond Gunning from 10th Force Support Battalion and Mr Les Tanna from the Wulgurukaba Walkabouts during the totem ceremony in Townsville. Story by Captain Annie Richardson. Photo by Corporal Brodie Cross.

The 10th Force Support Battalion has a close and enduring relationship with the Wulgurukaba people, whose Elders recently presented the unit with a totem, or spiritual emblem.

Wulgurukaba traditional owner Mr Brendan Creed explained its significance.

“A totem is a natural object, plant or animal that is inherited by a clan or family as their spiritual emblem,” Mr Creed said.

“Totems define peoples’ roles and responsibilities, and their relationships with each other and creation.

“We wanted to really understand the 10th Force Support Battalion, to ensure we could best encapsulate the core spirit and essence of the battalion ahead of determining the totem.”

CAPTION: Warrant Officer Class Two David Boye, left, 3rd Brigade Uncle and local observer Elder, takes part in the totem ceremony performed by the Wulgurukaba Walkabouts for 10th Force Support Battalion at Ross Island Barracks, Townsville. Photo by Corporal Brodie Cross.

After visiting the battalion over several years for reconciliation activities, cultural events and yarning, the Wulgurukaba Elders gifted the use of Maybiya (may-bee-yah), or crocodile, to the unit.

“The crocodile is of both land and water, and they are always watching, ensuring their territory is well protected and defended against threats. Like Maybiya, 10th Force Support Battalion operates on both land and water,” Mr Creed said.

“Being gifted a totem is both an honour and an obligation; you are obliged to protect and conserve Maybiya – while Maybiya protects you.”

The Wulgurukaba – meaning ‘Canoe People’ – Elders are located in Townsville and have a deep connection with the land and water.

The Wulgurukaba people’s creation story tells the tale of the creation snake, which left the Herbert River toward the ocean, creating the Hinchinbrook Channel, and travelled down to Palm and Magnetic Islands, where his body broke and left parts along the coast.

Commanding Officer 10th Force Support Battalion Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Hawley said he was proud to lead the first Army unit to receive an Indigenous totem.

“This is historical and the first time in Aboriginal lore that Elders have gifted a totem in this way. This speaks volumes to the strong bond and relationship that 10th Force Support Battalion has with the Wulgurukaba community,” Lieutenant Colonel Hawley said.

“Connecting with the culture, spirituality, language, lore, kin relationships and identity of the Wulgurukaba people is of utmost importance to our unit.”

“We are honoured to have been gifted Maybiya, and we acknowledge the connection to the local land and water that she brings.”

As part of the totem ceremony, 10th Force Support Battalion hosted a Welcome to Country, smoking ceremony and a dance with the Wulgurukaba Elders.

CAPTION: Australian Army soldiers from 10th Force Support Battalion watch on as the Wulgurukaba Walkabouts perform a totem ceremony at Ross Island Barracks, Townsville on 28 January 2022. Photo by Corporal Brodie Cross.





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2 thoughts on “Army’s first Indigenous spiritual totem

  • 13/02/2022 at 9:25 am

    “The Wulgurukaba people’s creation story tells the tale of the creation snake….”
    I recall learning about the gorgons, Medusa and the Minotaur in first year high school English, al a apart of classical Greek myths. Such a version of creation may be part of their culture but bears no relation to fact. Why must it be endorsed by the army in the name of cultural recognition?
    The daubed man shown wears tattoos including Gothic script which have no relation to his traditions and culture.
    Smoking ceremonies ‘cleanse’ a site of evil spirits. Does army doctrine teach and acknowledge the existence of such things?
    What next? Will we have a platoon of soldiers lining up for baptism in the name of celebrating diversity with the local Christians who might significantly outnumber the Indigenous locals?

    • 13/02/2022 at 10:44 am

      Agreed whole heartly with you on this one.
      We must be the laughing stock of the world when it comes to this sort of thing, especially having two flags. What other nation has two flags, one for the country and one for the indigenous? I can’t think of any. ?


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