In October 2013, as international audiences gathered to celebrate the Royal Australian Navy International Fleet Review (IFR), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander officers and sailors from across the fleet gathered in Sydney.
CAPTION: The Navy Indigenous Performance Group performs at the Chief of Navy reception for the 2013 International Fleet Review held at Sydney Opera House. Story by Lieutenant Commander Michael Henry. Photo by Able Seaman Dove Smithett.
For this group, it was the culmination of a demanding two-week cultural performance and training camp at HMAS Creswell.
Their mission was to highlight a combination of their military and First Nations cultural heritages at the IFR opening ceremony on the steps of the iconic Sydney Opera House.
A decade on, the success of today’s Bungaree Performance Group is based on the stalwart determination of those original Indigenous performers who elevated their culture into the public arena.
Navy Indigenous Adviser Lieutenant Commander Sam Sheppard was a member of the inaugural performance group.
“I was extremely proud to showcase my culture, but also a little nervous as this was the first time Navy had done something like this and it was in a very public forum,” Lieutenant Commander Sheppard said.
“The two things that I am most proud of is that the desire for a Navy First Nations performance group to open the IFR came from Chief of Navy, and, years later, I met a young Aboriginal sailor who told me he was in the crowd that day and seeing us perform as serving members convinced him to join the Navy.”
Formally named ‘Bungaree’ in June 2014, the Indigenous performance group was named after King Bungaree (1775-1830) of the Garigal clan from Broken Bay, NSW.
He was the first known Indigenous Australian to circumnavigate Australia during his voyage in HMS Investigator between 1801 and 1803 with Matthew Flinders.
Bungaree performers are volunteers and are drawn together to demonstrate the diverse and inclusive culture of Navy, with the aim of showcasing Australia’s unique First Nations cultures at significant Defence or Indigenous community events.
Bungaree camps also provide a platform for all members to grow personally and professionally and the opportunity to build their Indigenous support networks inside Navy.
After a brief hiatus due to the restrictions of COVID-19, Bungaree returned in 2022, performing at the Sea Power Conference, opening ceremony of Exercise Kakadu, the official reception for Indo-Pacific Endeavour in Jakarta and the opening ceremony of the Serving Country Exhibition in Cairns.
CAPTION: Bungaree dancers pose with Chief of Joint Operations Lieutenant General Greg Bilton on board HMAS Adelaide after performing at an official reception in Jakarta during Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2022. Photo: Leading Seaman Nadav Harel.
They also conducted a cultural immersion and dance training with the Elders at Baniyala East Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.
Bungaree is looking to continue the success of 2022 into 2023, with a calendar of significant national and international engagements.