What started out as a commitment to provide basic trade skills for three days a week, soon expanded to a near full-time learning opportunity for the community of Gapuwiyak in East Arnhem Land.
CAPTION: Sapper Malcolm Stewart, from 6th Engineer Support Regiment, delivers trade training to trainees Jonathon Guyula and Alistair Mununggurr during the Army Aboriginal Community Assistance Program in Gapuwiyak. Story by Captain Evita Ryan. Photo by Corporal Lucas Petersen.
Commencing in June, the 10-week trade training program was part of a broader vocational training package delivered to members of the Yolngu community under the Army Aboriginal Community Assistance Program (AACAP), which is in its 25th year.
With the support of the Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation’s (ALPA) ‘Buffalo Boys’ men’s shed, Corporal Caine Oakham and the AACAP trade training team worked through a phased training program.
“During phase one we assessed the trainees’ individual skill levels in terms of basic carpentry, welding and plumbing, and introduced Army’s safety procedures,” Corporal Oakham said.
“While they already had PPE and some safety procedures, we wanted to help them improve their safety systems so we introduced them to the pre-start and showed them how we gather around, identify who’s in charge, go through the tasks for the day and ensure everyone is aware of potential safety issues.”
Over the following weeks, the pre-start became routine for the trainees as they developed their basic trade skills and turned their hands to improving their own workspace at the men’s shed.
Once the instructors showed how much safer and easier it was to work in a safe and organised workspace, the trainees took matters into their own hands.
“One of the trainees came and found me one day to take me to their paint storage shipping container, which he had completely reorganised,” Corporal Oakham said.
“It was so good to see.”
It wasn’t long before the trainees had made a new table and chairs for their brew room, all from reclaimed materials such as wooden pallets and old steel frames.
They also built their own outdoor lunch area complete with a shade cover.
During the final phase of the training, the trainees embraced the opportunity to demonstrate their improved carpentry and welding skills to enclose a veranda at the local school, building a partition wall and turning the space into a lockable compound.
For trainee Sean Mununggurr, Sapper Malcolm Stewart’s welding classes were his favourite.
“I’ve been really enjoying learning how to weld with Stewie,” he said.
“It took me two or three days to pick up how to weld, but I’ve kept watching Stewie, watching how he does things so I can keep learning.”
It hasn’t been all work and no play, however.
In July, the trainees took the Army instructors out on country for some reciprocal learning, where they taught the instructors about bush tucker, bush medicine and showed them how to make traditional spears.
“We took them to the wetlands on the other side of the lake and showed them how to make spears the traditional way, and how to throw a spear to catch fish,” Sean said.
“The way I learnt from my father and my brothers.
“I enjoyed telling them what each tree is called and giving them fresh bush berries to taste.”
Corporal Oakham said the two-way learning opportunities had enhanced his experience.
“I had preconceived ideas about what AACAP would be like before I arrived in Gapuwiyak, but those ideas have been blown out of the water,” Corporal Oakham said.
“I thought it might be hard to engage the trainees in the learning, but they were all naturals and approached everything with a really positive attitude.
“Once we showed them how to do something, they would just get on with it and give it a red hot crack.
“I hope they continue developing their trade skills long after we leave.”