The wedge-tailed eagle flies into position

Pilot Officer Shane Collins, a Wiradjuri man and descendent of the Tubba-Gah Clan, has a remarkable journey that intertwines his indigenous heritage, military service and artistic expression.

CAPTIONPilot Officer Shane Collins stands with Commanding Officer, Officer Training School (OTS) Wing Commander Garth Herriot and OTS Squadron Warrant Officer, Warrant Officer Scott Robbins alongside the artwork Pilot Officer Shane Collins painted during his course. Story by Flight Lieutenant Steffi Blavius. Photos by Sergeant Damien Draeger.

Growing up in Lake Munmorah, on the NSW Central Coast, Pilot Officer Collins began an automotive painting apprenticeship in 2004 but his heart was set on something more.

In 2010, after completing his apprenticeship, Pilot Officer Collins decided to follow his dream to serve in the ADF, as his father, grandfather and cousin all did before him.

On February 28 2012, he enlisted as an aircraft surface finisher, enjoying postings to 75 Squadron, 92 Wing, 11 Squadron and 35 Squadron working on F/A-18 Hornets, AP-3C Orions, Pilatus PC-9A, P-8A Poseidons, and C-27J Spartans.

His journey took a profound turn about 16 years ago when he learned about his Aboriginal heritage and what would become his ‘totem’, the wedge-tailed eagle.

“I have always had an interest of the wedge-tailed eagle and would often have dreams, visions and sightings of it,” Pilot Officer Collins said.

In pursuit of his heritage, Pilot Officer Collins was led to believe his ancestors were from Kamilaroi Country, given his and his great grandmother’s and grandfather’s origin.

However, it was while he was completing a Certificate IV in Indigenous Leadership that the significance of the wedge-tailed eagle became clearer.

“It will always be there to protect me from danger, overcome challenges and guide me through my journey and future career aspirations,” Pilot Officer Collins said.

In 2019, Pilot Officer Collins was asked to create an artwork on an AP-3C Orion propeller blade.

“Of course, I accepted this opportunity and planned to paint a wedge-tailed eagle.”

With the guidance from Ngarrindjeri/Kaurna artist Sam Gollan, Pilot Officer Collins embarked on the artistic endeavour, creating the artwork that would bridge his aboriginal heritage and military service.

In 2023, during discussions with his mentor Warrant Officer Trish Mackintosh, he uncovered potential relatives and ancestors linking his heritage from Kamilaroi to Wiradjuri, confirming the significance of the wedge-tailed eagle – the totem of the Wiradjuri people.

In April this year, Pilot Officer Collins started a new chapter in his career, commissioning to officer rank, with the goal of becoming a personnel capability officer.

An opportunity arose in the first few weeks at Officer Training School for his course to present a gift to the school’s mess and commanding officer.

An idea struck Pilot Officer Collins when he saw three propeller blades illuminated outside the East Sale officers mess.

“From this moment I knew where my artwork belonged,” he said.

The propeller blade adorned with Pilot Officer Collins’ totem, the wedge-tailed eagle, was gifted to the school’s mess and Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Garth Herriot, at the end of his course in July.

This meaningful tribute stands as a testament to Pilot Officer Collins journey, heritage, and dedication to his Indigenous roots and his service in the Air Force.

CAPTIONPilot Officer Shane Collins stands with Aunty Lisa Giblan alongside the indigenous artwork Pilot Officer painted during his Officer’s Training School (OTS) course and presented to the OTS School Trainee Mess.


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