Eighteen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sailors graduated from the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) Navy Indigenous Development Program (NIDP) at HMAS Cairns in December.

Among those eighteen graduates, stood Tania Tom. Tom enlisted in the program in 2018 after watching her own family pursue careers with the ADF.

“I do have family members in the Navy, they told me I should join. It would be good for me to get out if I wanted to see the world,” Tom said.

“What I learnt most was the respect and the discipline, that was a big thing for most of us that joined. We have rules and regulations to stick to, for us to sign our lives away and change our whole lifestyle.”

Having completed the course, Tom graduated in the presence of her loved ones.

“I hadn’t seen my family for six months and I have kids of my own, so being away from my babies was really hard. But seeing them at my graduation … that was one of proudest moments of my entire career,” she said.

“I’m a sailor now, everything has been amazing. This is my first posting to Cairns so I’m lucky that I got here and doors have opened. They have been so helpful to me, I have my supervisors who really look out for me and show me what I can learn. I learn new things every day.”

Current program coordinator at HMAS Cairns, Lieutenant Commander James Carroll, said there are many avenues for people to access the ADF.

“The Navy Indigenous Development Program is part of a suite of pre-recruitment programs offered to young Indigenous Australians to help them enter employment in the defence force, the public service and the workforce more broadly,” LCdr Carroll said.

Beginning in March 2014, the NIDP is an outcome of the Defence Reconciliation Action Plan and ‘Closing the Gap’. It’s designed to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in qualifying for enlistment within the ADF.

The program focuses on six key aspects including:

  • Language, literacy and numeracy
  • Military skills
  • Physical fitness
  • Vocational education and training
  • Cultural appreciation and skills
  • Leadership and character development.

Since its launch, the program has seen 188 recruits graduate with over half of these graduates obtaining employment with the ADF.

“It’s a two-way street, we require First Nations people for their skillset and their ability to do the job in a way that no one else can. Someone who is from the Torres Strait and understands the waters can conduct boat operations there in a way no one else can,” LCdr Carroll said.

“It helps us meet our commitment to Australia and the government for the Defence Force to meet our target of 3.5 percent Indigenous employment; we are looking to raise that to a higher level by 2022.”

LCdr Carroll noted the significant change of students throughout the program.

“The best part is the change and development we see in recruits … we get to see the entire transition of their career. I’ve been working with Ms Tom for 18 months. I saw her enter as someone who was shy and reserved, compared to someone who is now a very qualified young sailor.”

LCdr Carroll urges anyone interested in joining the Navy or the ADF to pursue pathways such as the NIDP.

“The Defence Force is looking to expand our numbers significantly, and young First Nations Peoples have the opportunity to join,” he said.

“There is no one we aren’t interested in or don’t have a way to consider their employment; we will help them meet standards as we need people who are dedicated and motivated. They must take the first step but we will help them through the process.”

For more information on entry into the ADF, visit: https://www.defence.gov.au/APSCareers/Indigenous/adf.asp.

By Rachael Knowles