Smoke, sticks and dance steps mark NAIDOC

This article has photo gallery Published on Ms Dallas McMaugh (author), LSIS Kayla Jackson (photographer), POIS Lee-Anne Cooper (photographer)

Location(s): HMAS Albatross, NSW

Topic(s): HMAS Albatross, NAIDOC Week

Royal Australian Navy's Bungaree Dance Troupe take part in a smoking ceremony conducted by Uncle Paul McLeod as a part of NAIDOC week activities held at the base precinct, HMAS Albatross. (photo: LSIS Kayla Jackson)
Royal Australian Navy's Bungaree Dance Troupe take part in a smoking ceremony conducted by Uncle Paul McLeod as a part of NAIDOC week activities held at the base precinct, HMAS Albatross.

A smoking ceremony, message sticks, energetic dancing and a positive spirit of reconciliation were the hallmarks of NAIDOC Week celebrations at HMAS Albatross, near Nowra, NSW.

The Naval Air Station’s NAIDOC celebrations began with a traditional smoking and ochre blessing, followed by presentation of four message sticks to the Chief Executive Officers of local land councils.

Message sticks traditionally grant the carrier safe entry and passage through lands of other tribes. The sticks were decorated by local Wreck Bay community elder, Uncle Paul McLeod. 

“The colours I used were based around the time of the blossoming of the flowers, when the whales move and the dolphins move, when fresh comes down from the mountain and meets the salt water.

“They symbolise right of passage through this country.

“By Navy presenting these sticks to the traditional custodians they are saying thank you and safe travels,” Uncle Paul said.

An impressive performance by Navy’s Bungaree Indigenous dancers, accompanied on didgeridoo by local high school student Jiah King, concluded with Albatross personnel enthusiastically joining the dancers for a freestyle ‘shake a leg dance’.

Guest speakers, Able Seaman Maritime Logistics - Supply Chain Henry Burns, representing Torres Strait Islanders, and Mr Clive Freeman of the Wreck Bay Community, spoke powerfully on the 2019 NAIDOC theme: ‘Voice. Treaty. Truth: Let’s work together for a shared future’.

Mr Steven Grzeskowiak, Deputy Secretary for Estate and Infrastructure and Defence Indigenous Champion said this year’s NAIDOC theme allowed Defence to “continue on the journey of reconciliation we’ve been on some time.”

“For Navy, and Defence we want to be deeply engaged with the Indigenous communities around Australia.

“We employ a lot of Indigenous people, we do a lot of work to try and buy goods and services from companies owned by Indigenous people, we see ourselves as part of the communities our Defence bases are in, and so as an extension of that we try to engage with the community as much as possible.

“Navy is a big part of this community. It’s been fabulous today, we’ve seen some great demonstrations of Indigenous culture, we’ve heard great stories and this really helps us understand why reconciliation is so important,” he said.

The annual event was hosted by Navy Aviation Systems Program Office (NASPO). Director, Captain Steve Arney, said NAIDOC was an important opportunity to strengthen connections with the four ancient Indigenous communities that share the land on which Albatross operates: the Jerrinja, Nowra, Ulladulla and Wreck Bay communities.

“Our NAIDOC event aims to bring these communities together to celebrate Indigenous history, culture and achievements and move forward toward a shared and better future. 

“NAIDOC is an important time for us to recognise the unique place indigenous Australians have in this nation’s history, and to acknowledge—and take pride in—the ancient and rich Indigenous culture and customs.

“We in Defence look to play our part in protecting the national treasure of the first Australians.” Captain Arney said.

Event Coordinator Mrs Del Byron said it was “a labour of love.”

“I came into Defence through the Indigenous Graduate Program.

“NAIDOC is a bit of extra work but as a proud Wiradjuri woman, I want to share and keep our culture going.

“It’s a beautiful area with beautiful people and for me today is about people coming together and sharing culture and experiences,” Mrs Byron said.

Imagery is available on the Royal Australian Navy Image Gallery: