The ADF are now taking recruitment campaigns on country in the hope of tripling the number of permanent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander recruits.
On the bridge of the HMAS Brisbane, Djabugay man Estin Hunter is training to lead the team driving the navy’s multimillion-dollar destroyers.
He grew up in the small, majority Indigenous town of Kuranda in northern Queensland, and admits that before joining the navy he spent little time on the ocean.
“It’s funny, I didn’t actually think about the seasickness side of things before, I’d never been out in the middle of the ocean before joining the navy so I didn’t know if I’d get seasick or not.”
Luckily, he didn’t.
In January 2018, Sub Lieutenant Hunter became one of nearly 1,600 Indigenous ADF members, a cohort that has almost doubled since 2015.
Defence Force Recruiting Specialist Recruiter Shane Cox, says the boost in Indigenous personnel has significantly contributed to the ADF’s capabilities.
“Indigenous people bring a lot to the forces ... different language, different capabilities, knowledge of the land.”
Indigenous people bring a lot to the forces ... different language, different capabilities, knowledge of the land.
- Shane Cox
He is one of 20 Specialist Recruiters engaging with Indigenous communities across the country.
Last month, the ADF staged a demonstration of tank capabilities for elders in Wide Bay Queensland, in the hope of igniting interest with potential recruits. Those like Larrakia woman Dani-Lee O’Neil.
Currently a third-year trainee officer at the attended the Australian Defence Force Academy, she has the heavy machinery in her sights.
“In about 10 years I hope to be about a captain rank, and looking at intelligence or armoured corps. Being a tank commander would be awesome, that’s what I’m looking at the moment.”
She is one of 32 Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people to have attended the academy in the past decade.
On graduating she hopes to remain on track to become an officer, and bolster the number of high ranking Indigenous personnel who currently account for less than one per cent of all officers.
But it’s not a decision, she says, that came easily.
“It’s one of those things, as an officer you’re going to be leading people's lives, that’s something you have to be 100 per cent sure about.”
Pilot Officer Coomara Munro, from the Gumabaynggirr people of New South Wales, always knew he was destined for a life in uniform
“My nan, when I was six years old, bought me a set of fatigues, essentially a camo uniform, and then I wanted the whole kit.”
He didn’t stop until he got it.
Since 2003, he’s served in the Middle East, Pakistan and East Timor, staking a claim in an Indigenous military heritage that dates back to the Boer War.
“I wanted to be part of that legacy and create a legacy for myself and the future generations of Indigenous Australians.”
I wanted to be part of that legacy and create a legacy for myself and the future generations of Indigenous Australians.
- Coomara Munro
And it’s the future generation in focus at Worawa Aboriginal College near Melbourne.
This week, a contingent of specialist recruiters and representatives of the army, navy and air force gave a presentation to students at the college, as it works towards a new recruitment goal.
The Defence Force is aiming to recruit 750 new Indigenous personnel by July, with a focus on officer training pathways
Year 12 student Justine Ronberg says she’s already decided to pursue mechanics in the army.
“To me it would be just like a normal job and at the end of the day you’re with all these people, it would be just like family.”
It is a sentiment echoed across the branches of Defence.
“It wasn’t soon after I joined that I realised I was part of another family, an extended family that was even bigger than my own,” said Pilot Officer Coomara Munro.
“It’s just one big massive family and you would do anything for them,” said Officer Cadet Dani-Lee O’Neil
“Every time you go through something new, the good or the bad, they’re always there,” said Sub Lieutenant Estin Hunter.