Click on the play button above to listen to the full interview with Flight Lieutenant Aimee McCartney
Connection Matters Radio (CMR): In the face of nothing less than outright racism, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have always answered the call to arms from a country that all too often subsequently ignored their significant contributions.
Fortunately, moves within the Australian Defence Force have been, and continue to be taken towards ensuring such attitudes and actions are never to be repeated. Joining us today on Connection Matters Radio to talk about this is a serving officer in the Royal Australian Air Force – someone who is on the frontline of such moves. Taungurung woman, Flight Lieutenant Aimee McCartney. Aimee, welcome to the program.
Aimee McCartney: Thank you very much, Charles.
CMR: Aimee, what is it that led you to join the Air Force in the first place?
Aimee: Well, actually ,Charles, when I was a young girl, I was a part of the Army Cadets, at 39 ACU at Simpson Barracks; and my interest actually sparked because of my family history, and the members in my family that had served both in the army and other services. My great great great grandfather, Private Alfred Jackson Coombs served in World War I, in the 60th battalion of the Australian Imperial Force.
As well as my mother, and uncle, and a few other family members who have served in the Australian Army. So I feel like it’s always been a part of my blood, and exploring that as a young teenager through Army Cadets, I decided that I would love the opportunity to enlist in the Royal Australian Air Force, and see what exactly this particular position and service could do for me and my career.
CMR: So where has it led you to right now? What’s your key role?
Aimee: So currently I’m the indigenous Liaison Officer for RAAF Base Point Cook, and RAAF Williams, Laverton. So I basically support base commanders through the delivery of cultural expertise; and I liaise between the Air Force and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. I maintain a personal rapport with elders in the local area as well as leaders and members of local communities. And most importantly, I advocate for the implementation of Defence’s Reconciliation Action Plan, and the Air Force Indigenous Strategy.
CMR: Without getting into anything too deep, because we obviously need to keep things above the line; what are some of the challenges that you find in implementing the strategies of the Reconciliation Action Plan and keeping cultural correctness within the Royal Australian Air Force, or at least those two areas where you have responsibility?
Aimee: Well, definitely the major challenge at the moment, Charles are the COVID restrictions here in Victoria.
Due to the lack of movement, and the inability to meet with people physically has certainly been a challenge. However, the Royal Australian Air Force, and the broader community as well, have been really adaptive in how we can continue our relationship management with people in indigenous communities. So we’ve been really adaptable and agile in how we approach this. And I know for me, not only within my professional life, but also in my personal life, a lot of social media, as well as various different apps have become quite a lifeline in communicating, especially with our elders. And communicating what we are doing as an Air Force towards the Reconciliation Action Plan has been pivotal, because it really has allowed for us to take a different approach to some of our major objectives outlined in that document.
CMR: So where are some of the successes, the major successes that you’ve seen over the past year or two?
Aimee: Well, definitely over the last year or two, I’ve seen from a base perspective, more and more of our personnel who only a couple of years ago, didn’t have much understanding of First Nations cultures; have had the opportunity to attend some cultural awareness training that I’ve conducted, and people feeling more comfortable in having conversations, and wanting to learn more about, especially our First Nations cultures here in Victoria.
And that extends to various other initiatives within the organisation where we’ve taken a very different approach. For example, for National Reconciliation Week, myself and a few other personnel were able to … we spoke with various different units within the Air Force, and we looked at alternative ways in which we could celebrate National Reconciliation Week; and we conducted quite a large online presence, which inevitably resulted in more First Nations communities across the country following our social media platforms.
And so now, the word is getting out there about what we are doing. Because we want to be seen as an employer of choice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, because it’s a great organisation. The ADF is a major organisation and an employer of choice, and from my personal experience, I’ve had great opportunities to be exposed to various different elements. So I definitely encourage any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people within Victoria, and across the country to consider a career within the ADF.
CMR: That was a nice bit of a marketing plug put in there, and we’ll let that one stay in (laughing). What benefits do you believe that a greater cultural awareness and education within the Air Force will bring to that organisation as a whole?
Aimee: Well, definitely having an understanding of the local area in which you are, and I suppose the protocols within First Nations communities can definitely help to build and maintain relationships – ongoing relationships – with our local community members; elders, respected persons. So definitely more cultural awareness within the organisation has proven to really help. And I’m only one of 15 indigenous liaison officers located across the country, and we’ve all had some pretty extravagant results with our cultural awareness; and have seen some really positive outcomes. Not only on the base, but then out in grassroots communities.
CMR: And there is an organisation within the forces, or within the ADF, the broader organization that is the ADF, which includes non-military as well. And that is DATSIN; the Defense Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Network, I believe.
Aimee: Yes, that’s correct.
CMR: So tell us a bit about that.
Aimee: So the DATSIN network is an opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members to come together. To, I suppose, meet and greet each other. To discuss some issues and concerns that might be appearing in the workplace, but then also to celebrate the successes. So we talk about what we’re doing, what opportunities we’ve had. And so it’s a great way to get together, but then also to explore our cultural heritage. It’s a great opportunity to come together, be proud, and continue to be strong Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the ADF.
CMR: Before we let you go. One final question, and that is; what’s one of your greatest aspirations that you would like to see within the ADF, or just the RAAF in general, resulting from your work and the work of all the other indigenous liaison officers?
Aimee: Really good question there, Charles. I would say I’d love to see more of our communities in uniform. And this is a direct result as including myself, I worked for various different organisations prior to enlisting, and ever since enlisting, I thought to myself, “I wish I joined earlier.”
There’s great opportunities within this organisation. So I would love to see more from communities from across the country, male and female, young and old, who have always wanted to join the ADF. Give it a go, and just see what exactly can come out of it, because I’ve had an absolutely fantastic ride, and I’m only junior in my career. So I’m really excited to see where it takes me.
CMR: Flight Lieutenant Aimee McCartney, thank you so much, indeed for coming onto Connection Matters Radio. We might catch up with you in the future and just see how those aspirations are playing out. Thank you.
Aimee: Thank you very much, Charles. Have a good day.
Click on the play button below to listen to the full interview with Flight Lieutenant Aimee McCartney