Rain did not dampen the desire for the Canberra community and Navy representatives to come together during NAIDOC Week at a public smoking ceremony at National Circuit in Barton.
The smoking ceremony, conducted in Indigenous cultures to assist in cleansing an area and the people present of bad spirits, promoted the protection and well-being of visitors.
Navy representatives in attendance included Navy Indigenous Champion Commodore Mal Wise; Deputy Director Navy Diversity and Inclusion Commander Heidi Rossendell; and Staff Officer Navy Indigenous Affairs Lieutenant Damian Briggs, who saw the opportunity as important to connecting with community and culture.
“The events commenced with a Welcome to Country by a Ngunnawal elder, followed by a smoking ceremony and some traditional dances,” Commodore Wise said.
“Gawura Cultural Immersions performed the smoking ceremony and cultural dances from various Nations around Australia, which deepened attendees’ knowledge of Indigenous Australian culture and history.”
Lieutenant Briggs said being supported by Navy through the journey of discovering his culture has made all the difference to how he contributes to Navy’s missions.
“Navy has really encouraged me to embrace my culture and being able to attend events like this while in uniform is a really empowering experience for me,” Lieutenant Briggs said.
“We also connected with one of the performers, Mr Stuart McMinn, who told us about his father’s naval service and that really brought home how important cultural connection is and sharing that with our Navy and the wider Australian communities.”
Mr McMinn told the group that his father is a retired submariner and that he was christened in the chapel at HMAS Harman and is named after HMAS Stuart.
Commodore Wise said there is no replacement for on-the-ground engagement such as this.
“Interactions like the one we had with Mr. McMinn are what makes attendance at these events important,” Commodore Wise said.
“The celebrations of culture strengthened not only our connection to country but also Navy’s connection to the Australian people.”
When asked if they enjoyed the ceremony, the team all responded positively.
“This was a moving experience that I highly recommend to all Australians, whether Indigenous or not. Get out into the community when events like this are taking place to learn more about a culture that always was, always will be,” Commodore Wise said.
“I enjoyed the union performance that centered on the eagle and the fish. The eagle hunted and ate the fish but then the fish became the eagle. It was very symbolic of how some Indigenous cultures believe that everything is interconnected,” Commander Rossendell said.
Navy Indigenous is a team of Indigenous Australians working in Navy to increase all Navy people’s knowledge of Indigenous culture and history. The team provides numerous opportunities for Navy members including cultural immersion activities, mentoring programs and cultural support to all Navy members.