Yarning and learning

Helping celebrate NAIDOC Week in early July, senior leaders of Air Force gathered with local Indigenous Elders and serving members of the Defence Force for morning tea and a chat at Duntroon’s Yarning Circle in Canberra.

CAPTION: Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Robert Chipman meets with Indigenous Elders and current serving members at the Royal Military College – Duntroon Yarning Circle, Canberra. Story by John Noble. Photo by Corporal Sam Price.

In the spirit of a traditional First Nations get-together, participants including Chief of Air Force (CAF) Air Marshal Robert Chipman swapped stories and connected through their common experience of serving in the ADF.

Air Marshal Chipman shared some powerful advice he received from a local Elder not long before he began his leadership role a little over 12 months ago.

“What I was told has really stayed with me and shaped my approach to the job,” Air Marshal Chipman said.

“They said, ‘Don’t run the country but instead look after it’.

“That’s exactly the way I feel about the Air Force. Don’t just run the Air Force but look after the Air Force. It’s a message that resonated so strongly with me and beautifully embodies the special relationship our First Nations people have with Country.”

Air Force Indigenous Liaison Officer Flight Lieutenant Kristal House said that to join and openly chat or ‘yarn’ is a cornerstone of First Nations culture.

“It was important for CAF to sit down and talk with Indigenous aunties, as well as serving members, to share their stories and hear about other Elders’ experiences of their time serving in the ADF,” Flight Lieutenant House said.

“Getting together during NAIDOC Week to sit down and have an informal get-together at the Duntroon Yarning Circle I believe was of great benefit in helping enrich Air Force’s and the ADF’s understanding of First Nations traditions and spiritual connection to country.”

For Auntie Paula McGrady, improving the connection between the ADF and young First Nations people can come from simply sharing stories and talking with each other.

“I think recruiting more young Indigenous Australians is one of the great challenges facing the ADF at the moment,” Auntie McGrady said.

“Get-togethers like the one we had at the Duntroon Yarning Circle really help open up communication between the leadership of the ADF and Indigenous representatives – to talk about things like making a life in the services really attractive to young Indigenous people.”

This was a view shared by Warrant Officer of the Air Force (WOFF-AF) Ralph Clifton.

“We really value the Yarning Circle as a place of inclusivity and allowing for free speech and a great two-way conversation between the Aunties and the Elders and also with the serving Indigenous personnel,” WOFF-AF Clifton said.

“Stories are an intrinsic part of Indigenous culture and if we can weave our story into their story I think they then become part of us and they can see a real future in us as an organisation and possible career.

“It’s so important that young Indigenous Australians can look beyond the stereotypes of the high-end perceptions of what it takes to be a pilot.

“We offer so much more that will definitely open up a lot of opportunities to our Indigenous kids.”


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