Gary Oakley - The ADF and tribal links

Running time
2 min 28 sec
Date made
Place made
Department of Veterans' Affairs


The Australian Defence Force was the first equal opportunity employer of Indigenous Australians, even when we were not supposed to be allowed to join the Defence force, we got into the Defence Force. The race bar was lifted 1949, yet we served in two world wars when we're not supposed to because the Defence Force saw us as something different.

But what I tell people and I found this when I'm talking to young kids, young First Nation kids, and I go, "Why did you want to join the Defence Force? " And they go, "Oh, you know, I want a job. I want to make money. I want to travel. But I want to protect country ". And then they go, "And because my dad served in Vietnam, and my granddad served in Second World War, my great granddad served in the First World War. And you go, "Woah ".

There's this long connection of service for First Nation people. And it's about being treated as an equal, being able to protect country. But the other thing is, Defence is kind of like a comfort zone because it's like traditional life. It's tribal. You have Army, Navy, and Air Force. You have tribal groups. Within those tribal groups you've got clan groups, so you got air crew and submariners, and whatever, there’s clan groups.

You wear totemic symbols, you wear badges, you know, Army even has animals, so totem animals, you know, they've got goats and a bloody tiger and whatever. And it's got an ethic, an ethic that's very much like traditional life. No one's better than anybody else, you all look after each other. You never leave anybody behind.

You share everything. It's very, it's very first nation. It's very Aboriginal, a Torres Strait Islander Aboriginal thing. It's what you do in your life. So, it's like a family. It's like moving from another family group to another family group. So, I think that what makes it comfortable.

What we're finding in air force is First Nation, people who join tend to stay in longer than most people, they tend to take it on as a … "I'm only going to be here for six years and do a trade

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