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Army initiative ignites Indigenous interest -

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Army initiative ignites Indigenous interest

The World Today - Friday, 15 May , 2009 12:34:00

PETER CAVE: For young Indigenous adults in the Northern Territory, signing up to seven months'
training in the Defence Forces could in the future prove to be a way out of a lifetime of

This month 20 young men from remote communities will embark on a pilot program which gives them
military training and helps develop basic skills like writing.

At the end of the experience the Defence Forces hope the young men will be ready for full-time work
- either with defence or at home in their communities.

Margie Smithurst reports.

ARMY EDUCATION OFFICER: The ration pack was first, and then the rifle. And then the first aid kit?
So that's your one, two...

MARGIE SMITHURST: At Larrakeyah Barracks in Darwin, 20 young Indigenous men from five remote
communities are sitting in groups with army education officers who are helping them decide what
equipment to take on a hypothetical mission.

ARMY EDUCATION OFFICER: Yeah but remember you're stuck on the island, so you're probably not going
to be travelling in a car, so the water is probably a good idea. So you want to write that water
down for your group? Yeah.

MARGIE SMITHURST: The men are the first to be chosen for a pilot program aimed at getting young
Indigenous people who live out bush into employment.

The young men will be trained in a similar way to new recruits for NORFORCE (North West Mobile
Force) which does reconnaissance and surveillance patrols in Northern Australia and draws its
mainly Indigenous members from the most remote parts of the region.

They'll spend seven months together learning the necessary military skills, but they'll also get
training in basic life skills like literacy and numeracy, managing finance, and in land care.

When 17-year-old Anthony Baker from Borroloola heard that NORFORCE was involved, he immediately
signed up.

ANTHONY BAKER: Love NORFORCE and always wanted to get into it. There's about 20 older men that live
in Borroloola that have joined up over the years, and they always come back and are always telling
me about the courses and everything, and what they become after it. And I wanted to be like them
and become a leader one day.

MARGIE SMITHURST: Major John Lotu recruited the men and was himself born in Arnhem Land and speaks
a number of Aboriginal languages.

For this new program Major Lotu faced the same difficulties he's encountered when recruiting for

The participants here only need a year six level of school education, but even that can sadly be a
tough ask out in remote communities. And they also need to pass the Defence Force's requirements.

JOHN LOTU: The three, three issues that primarily Indigenous applicants within the region fall down
a lot on is in their education, their medical, and I would say their criminal record. And these are
three areas that the army or Defence in Australia are quite particular on.

When we go into a normal, into a standard remote community, we're still going through the process
now of trying to identify 20 people that are able to actually meet those standards.

MARGIE SMITHURST: It's hoped most will stay on with Defence after the course, but it's expected
some will want to go back to jobs in their communities as rangers or police.

The Federal and Northern Territory education departments are involved in the program but it's
chiefly a Defence initiative, built on the work NORFORCE has done over the past 30 years in
recruiting Indigenous people.

Defence Personnel Minister Warren Snowdon says the plan is to expand the program next year to 40
men and women.

WARREN SNOWDON: I think we'll be in a very good place to be able to say that all of those people
who successfully complete the course should be able to get a job.

And we understand that if you don't join us - that is, if you don't become a member of the
Australian Defence Force, either as a full-time member through general entry or as a member of
NORFORCE, then you may seek employment in another area. And we want you to seek employment, we'll
help you with that, get that employment outcome.

You will need those literacy skills. I mean one of the very sad facts of life and something which
I've been talking about for at least 10 or 15 years is the failure of former NT governments to
provide investment in education in the Northern Territory, so that now we've got significant
numbers of people - many thousands in fact - who left school without an appropriate education, who
find it very difficult in terms of literacy and numeracy.

It's the sort of remediation we shouldn't have to do, but it's in fact remediation which is
necessary if we provide obvious opportunities for people to engage in the workforce.

MARGIE SMITHURST: Major John Lotu says he's pleased with what he's seen of the men so far.

JOHN LOTU: Very keen, very enthusiastic. I think to a large extent, wanting to do something with
their lives.

PETER CAVE: Major John Lotu from NORFORCE ending Margie Smithurst's report.