Ian Langford - Indigenous connections

Running time
4 min 23 sec
Date made
Department of Veterans' Affairs


The army has a relationship, I think, with, you know, the earth, the sky and the sea, not in an emotional way as our indigenous people do but nonetheless, the connection is still there. And so I think where there is a real confluence of understanding, certainly as it relates to, you know, how we interrelate with Australia as a nation, both our indigenous people and the army - I see connection, you know, we spend a lot of time out across Australia, understanding our environment, and respecting it, and nurturing it and stewarding it in terms of our training areas.

And I think that's where we have an opportunity to better see a perspective that our indigenous people have always seen which can help inform, you know, how we, as part of the country, move forward collectively to recognise the mistakes of the past and also what our responsibilities are of the future.

So my own sort of family lineage I've got by descent, Kamilaroi, and then by marriage Bundjalung, that's from north and northwest in New South Wales, and certainly understanding my own family history as it relates to that part of the country but also some of the political action that they were part of in terms of Aboriginal rights, the block in Sydney, and generating that profile to a national consciousness has been, you know, in terms of being able to draw upon that and link it to military service something that's only become a recent phenomenon.

When I joined, we had really no consciousness at unit level. We certainly had indigenous people as part of our organisation and, you know, we saw them as equals. And that was absolutely true. And the Army's got a rich tradition of perhaps being ahead of the societal curve when it comes to recognising our indigenous people and their service. And we've got examples from the First and Second World War that are testament and evidence of that.

But, you know, we are on a journey now where I think it's the right thing and we're obligated to be able to celebrate and be more conscious of indigenous perspectives, particularly in the context of defending our land, our sea, and our air, but also how we relate to both their history, their experience, and their perspectives.

And again, whether it be the regional force surveillance group across our north and drawing upon their experience as it relates to understanding that part of the world, or whether it be through the continued advocacy around encouraging indigenous people to come into the army to help perhaps contribute to our institution so we can also leverage and celebrate their cultural experiences is really important because we need to represent our society.

And, you know, I just find that, you know, whereas 30 years ago, I mean, I would not have even talked about my own family and ancestral links, A: because I've got this paranoia about not being black enough, but B: it just wasn't relevant, it was almost a joke. And there was, there was a degree of shame in the context of, you know, loose language and the sort of Nicky Winmar effect of making people feel less than they were worth because of, you know, a really poor attempt at humour or, or, you know, abject name calling.

I mean, that's all unacceptable, it always has been and now it's recognised. And I think that's really positive but the army has a greater opportunity to benefit from understanding indigenous history, celebrating with indigenous people, you know, their traditions, their culture, their beliefs, because at the end of the day, it's going to inform who we are, make sure we better represent our nation and make us better in an operational sense in terms of understanding cultural nuance and being able to read environments and be more discreet, perhaps in terms of how we make decisions that are sensitive to everyone including non-combatants and others.

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