Private Jermaine Stuart will be a long way from home during NAIDOC Week.
The 21-year-old Adnyamathanha Yamitji man from the Flinders Ranges area of South Australia is currently deployed on active service near Baghdad in Iraq.
“I’m here as part of the force protection team for Task Group Taji,” Pte Stuart said.
“Our job is to provide security for the Commanding Officer and the RSM of the Training Task Unit when they go out to the Baghdad Fighting School to organise to train Iraqi soldiers to defeat Daesh.”
Officially, NAIDOC Week is a time to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, culture and achievements and to recognise the contribution that Indigenous Australians make to our country and our society.
“A lot of people, especially the oldies, go on about how NAIDOC Week is for remembering white oppression,” Pte Stuart said.
“But most of the young people celebrate that we’re still here and we’re still going strong.
“I like to remember my old Nana who passed away four years ago.
“She was part of the Stolen Generation and used to tell us stories about what life was like when she was a kid.
“I think about those days, too.”
Pte Stuart received a week of cultural awareness training before deploying to Iraq in June.
“We were up at Murray Bridge and the Army brought in some people who were born and raised in Iraq,” he said.
“They told us about the country’s history and religion, and taught us things to say and how to behave.
“When you meet an Iraqi soldier, you greet them by saying, “Marhba”, which is like G’day, and shake hands.
“If they offer you something, you should accept it.
“I thought the Iraqis were going to be pretty strange and different from us, but they turned out to be normal people – just like me, pretty much.
“All they want to do is have a laugh, meet some new people, have a chat and go home at the end of the day.
“They love taking selfies with us – they want to show their brother or dad a photo of themselves with an Australian soldier.”
Pte Stuart was born in Port Augusta, and moved to Toodyay, a small town outside Perth, when he was eight. His mother is a Yamitji woman from the Cue/Mount Magnet area 600km north-east of Perth.
He was awarded a scholarship to Guildford Grammar School in Perth, and upon completion returned to Port Augusta aged 18.
He struggled to find work, and applied to join Defence’s Indigenous Development Program run by NORFORCE in the Northern Territory on behalf of Defence Indigenous Affairs.
“I went up to Darwin for the 10-day recruiting course and did all the physical testing and aptitude assessments,” Pte Stuart said.
“The NORFORCE warrant officer told me I could go full-time straight away if I wanted to, so I went down to Adelaide and enlisted.
“A couple of weeks later I was off to Kapooka, then I went through Singleton, and on to Charlie Company at 7RAR.
“My family and mates keep telling me they’re proud of me, and to keep doing what I’m doing.
“But it’s not like I’m anything special – I’m just a digger like everyone else.”
Captain James Hook