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Building on the September 2015 Darwin Community Yarn Up, the project returned to Darwin for a series of further interviews in August 2016, where we heard from many people including Don Christophersen who spoke to us about hearing stories about World War 2 as a child growing up in Darwin, and that finding bullets, dog tags, and other war debris sparked his interest to find out more. We also spoke to Don’s mother Jane Christophersen who recalled living through the bombing of Darwin before being evacuated to Victoria and then Adelaide for the duration of the war. Sisters Irma Blitner and Annie Lange talked to us about their father Gerry Blitner who worked with the Air Force on Groote Eylandt during World War 2, where he and other indigenous men built airstrips, disposed of ordinance and undertook coastal air and sea surveillance.
We also spoke to a number of men and women currently serving in the defence forces including Samantha Nicholson and Alice Nona from Cairns who spoke to us about their experiences after five months of Army training in Darwin, and their aspirations for their futures in the armed services. Shane Anderson and Bradley Whip were also just about to complete the five month Army Indigenous Development Program with NORFORCE and also spoke to us about their experiences over that time and their aspirations for enlisting in the Army. Patricia Gibson joined NORFORCE just a few months before her interview and she spoke to us about growing up in and around Maningrida and about her work experience with rangers and Working Country programs and how she decided to join NORFORCE.
Along with these newer recruits, we also heard from more experienced NORFORCE personnel including Tommy Munyarryun who spoke about his service since 1991. He recalled hearing stories about Yolgnu who served in World War 2 in coastal surveillance and how this inspired him to join up and he discussed his desire to be promoted and the difficult process he went through to become a Sargent. There is a strong focus in his interview on the difficulties of transitioning from the world of Yolgnu Matha and community to the world of English and the Army. Tommy is very proud to be a member of NORFORCE and in particular enjoys mentoring and supporting young indigenous recruits. Patrick Puruntatameri and Richard Narwirr have both been in NORFORCE for approximately 20 years. They spoke about the wide range of skills they have learned, the training they’ve undertaken, and the influence of extended family on their decisions to first join up. They both emphasise the positive experience of their NORFORCE work teaching traditional hunting and survival skills to other people, as well as the travel they undertake, and the great camaraderie, which they highlighted as one of the most positive aspects of being in NORFORCE.
Jonah Thingle spoke about his nine years in NORFORCE and emphasised the positives of his experience as being out on country and getting to share his knowledge of the land with soldiers from other places. He also spoke about the difficulties of being a Countryman away from home, particularly for new recruits, and how important is to have other people around to help Countrymen adjust and deal with these difficulties. So too, Warrk’Mattjun Gaykamangu (Warren), a Gupapuynu man from Milingimbi community, spoke to us about his experience joining NORFORCE and the difficulties he encountered as a Yolgnu man being away from country and family. He talks about the positive aspects of his experience as being the formation of friendships and networks with people from a range of places, and the self-confidence NORFORCE has given him. Benjamin Gurruwiwi from Elcho Island also talks about his experience in NORFORCE, he says that there is a great deal of pride that comes with being in NORFORCE and where he comes from people look up to you as a role model as a member of NORFORCE. Benjamin himself was encouraged to join by his father and older members of his community who served and he says that the best thing about NORFORCE is meeting new people and sharing knowledge and learning about new places.