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Training for change

Young Indigenous men and women are undertaking a challenging six-week program with the Australian Defence Force that aims to change lives and open doors.

The 35 Indigenous Pre Recruit Training Course (IPRC) participants, aged 18 to 39, hail from diverse communities all over Australia and the Torres Strait but have moved into Hampstead Barracks, South Australia for the course.

Warrant Officer Class One, Colin Watego, a Bundjalung and Torres Strait Islander, is the Senior Indigenous Mentor, overseeing pre recruits from their applications to graduation.

“There are no easy challenges on the IPRC, the minute you start you’re going to be challenged and removed outside your comfort zone,” Officer Watego says.

“If you stick with it, apply yourself, you will change and you will change for the better.”

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Training at Hampstead Barracks. Photo: Jack Brookes

From learning in the classroom to wearing camouflage in the bush, participants will experience a taste of real Defence Force training.

It’s only fitting that the program begins with the heavily regimented drill commands, full of tradition, which they will perform on their graduation day.

“Drill is the foundation for discipline, and with that comes pride, standing together in uniform on sacred ground doing something for the common cause,” Officer Watego says.

Along with physical training, there is a strong focus on maths, English and science education, which opens employment pathways for those who finish the program – whether they pursue careers with ADF or beyond.

The early rises, team work, leadership, respect, and physical and mental obstacles are all designed to test, and create, strength of character.

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Warrant Officer Class One, Colin Watego, with new recruits. Image: Jack Brookes

Warrant Officer Class One Watego says the program comes down to one primary goal, “it’s about changing lives”.

“In the process of changing lives we equip them with tools so they can do life better,” he says.

Caleb Hayward, 19, says it was “a privilege and an honour” to be accepted into the program and he intends to make the most of the opportunity.

“It’s a change to my life and something that I’m looking forward to completing,” he says.

“I just want to go through and be the best I can for the others here and myself.”

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Raw recruits Caleb, Catlyn and Tyson. Image: Jack Brookes

At the end of the course, Caleb aspires to join the ADF and work his way up to eventually lead as an Infantry Officer.

“I’ve always thought about a career in the Army since I was a little kid and this is a stepping-stone to get into the Army and this can give me all the skills I need,” he says.

“I’ve been a prefect at school and youth leader at churches, so Infantry Officer is another leadership role and I think I’ll be able to do it.”

Caleb was born and raised in Adelaide but his people are the Noongar people from Perth.

Officer Watego says culture, and the participants knowing their story and telling it to others, is an important part of the program.

“As a proud Bundjalung man and a proud Torres Strait Islander myself there is a major component of culture,” he says.

“Is not just about them understanding and learning their own culture… it’s sharing culture, and when we share culture with each other everyone becomes richer.”

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The pre recruits are also taught about the rich history of the Australian Defence Force, which is especially significant over the Anzac Centenary.

“We have a long history, particularly this year of the 100th Anniversary of the sacrifice at Gallipoli, that’s our culture,” Officer Watego says.

“We had Aboriginal men side by side with Australians and New Zealanders and Allies paying the price.

“A lot of [participants] have got relatives, families who they can link to.

“The culture is not just about them having an opportunity to share their culture with us, but for us to share this culture with them.”

Tied deeply to both Indigenous and Defence Force culture are the bonds that are created through sharing the experiences and challenges of the program.

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The program begins with the heavily regimented drill commands. Image: Jack Brookes

“The other aspect… is family, that’s in our culture and what happens with these young people is they understand that we in Defence belong to a big family that you can rely and depend on,” Officer Watego says.

Tyson Williams, 19, from Jervis Bay and part of the Yuin Nation, considers his fellow participants family.

“I’ve got a new family behind me that I’m going to get closer and closer with and I’ll walk away with new brothers and sisters,” he says.

Like Caleb, Tyson has is set on going into leadership and wants to study at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, to eventually become an Officer

“I wanted some leadership skills that I can take further in life, I was actually very interested in joining the Australian Defence Force so this is a gateway to that,” he says.

“I feel like I was a born leader in ways, I have had many leadership roles, I was a school captain in primary school, I’ve done a lot of leadership camps.”

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Image: Jack Brookes

While the participants live on the Army base and receive training from the 9th Brigade, it’s hoped when they return home their families will also benefit from the program.

“For our mobs and communities back home, it makes us proud to think that we’re representing them,” Tyson says.

“I wanted to be part of this program to better myself, I wanted to show my mob back home what I’m capable of, be an example for when I go back home.”

Katlyn Morris, 22, who grew up in Saibai Island in the Torres Strait and is from Laura, outside of Cairns, also wants to inspire her community.

“When we go back home it’s going to help our communities and our families get to where they want to be in life,” she says.

She heard about IPRC through her cousin years ago but wanted to wait until her two children were old enough before joining the course.

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Image: Jack Brookes

“I can show my children that being independent and being a single mum, women can get wherever they want in life if they put their heads down and get through everything,” she says.

Katlyn’s dream is to become a Navy Officer and, determined to set a positive example, plans to “work for as long as I can”.

“I want to be in Cerberus [Naval Base] by the end of this year,” she says.

“I want to be a Boatswain’s Mate and later on I want to transition over to a Coxswain which is a naval police officer.”

Since the programs inception in 2008, the most rewarding aspect for Officer Watego is seeing the participant’s continued progress after completing the program.

“Our young men and women who’ve come from communities, with many, many different journeys, go through the process, get into uniform, go through their training,” he says.

“Now they’re coming back on IPRC as military staff, contributing the to the journey of these (current) young men and women.”

Images: Jack Brookes

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