Even after joining the Air Force through the inaugural Indigenous Liaison Officer course, Tjapukai "Tjap" Shaw never thought he would be at the controls of a military aircraft.
However, the proud Wiradjuri and Muruwari man from Dubbo has now earned his wings, graduating from 272 Phase 2 ADF Intermediate Pilots' Course this month.
Flight Lieutenant Shaw's previous role as an Indigenous Liaison Officer (ILO) at Richmond's RAAF Base saw him connect Air Force members with Indigenous culture and communities.
That was until a conversation with Wing Commander Adrian Willey, then a flying instructor at 37 Squadron on the C-130J Hercules, sparked Shaw's flying aspirations.
Beginning flying training in July 2022, Flight Lieutenant Shaw said his support network helped him attain his ultimate goal.
"When I've been at that low point, these guys have been able to talk me out of that trough and get me back motivated to keep kicking on," he said.
He said it was an "absolute pleasure" to have their support.
"There's not a lot of representation and examples of Indigenous people that have been through these same hurdles and mental barriers, which can create a feeling of imposter syndrome," Flight Lieutenant said.
"But ultimately my support network came back and said, 'you've gone through this testing, you've gotten this far, you are the right person for this job.'"
Wing Commander Willey said he noticed an almost immediate interest in a career as a pilot from Shaw.
"Within five minutes of speaking to Tjap, I knew that he was really enthusiastic and interested in giving pilot training a shot," Wing Commander Willey said.
"We ran through some sequences in the C-130J simulator and he took to flying really quickly.
"He listened, he was focused, and was really precise.
"It was after that simulator session I figured he had the potential to become a pilot."
Flight Lieutenant Shaw's said his advice to Indigenous peoples considering a career in the Australian Defence Force is to consider what it is they want to do and just do their best.
"The system and the testing told me I could do these jobs. So don't let your own mind limit yourself on what you think you can do," he said.
After receiving his wings, Flight Lieutenant Shaw has posted to 37 Squadron, RAAF Base Richmond, to fly the C-130J Hercules.