It is a spectacular view most people would be content just to look at.
- A cultural exchange camp for Aboriginal youths and ADF personnel is in its third year
- Campers undertake activities designed to help them understand courage, anxiety and fear
- Defence says the program has been an eye opener for military personnel
But teenager Zeke Edwards just abseiled 80 metres solo off the edge of this windswept sea cliff, with the help of soldiers.
“I was leaning back and then I slipped and then I was hanging upside down for a bit,” he said.
“But then I got the hang of it.”
The activity at the Exercise Thura Yura camp is meant to do just that — help soldiers and Indigenous youths from South Australia’s Spencer Gulf work through anxiety and fear.
“It harnesses it, it harnesses your fear or something,” Zeke said.
But the camp does more than that.
Now expanded and in its third year, the three-day program at Whaler’s Way on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula aims to flip the script and get local Aboriginal communities teaching Australian Defence Force personnel about their country and culture.
Adnyamathanha Kokatha woman Darralee Gibson, who came with Zeke and others from Whyalla, said the young people loved being listened to.
“Knowing that [soldiers] are learning from them as well, you know, they’re pretty overwhelmed about it,” she said.
“They’re excited. You can see they are.
“Some of our kids suffer anxiety wicked and this is just a first step for them, to meet these guys and actually to do the activities.”
Ms Gibson said the camp allowed kids to experience something they never had living in Whyalla, a regional city that has undergone years of industrial decline and high unemployment.
“There was a lot of young criminal offences happening, so we’re just trying to keep the kids off the street and keep them safe,” she said.
Barngarla woman Vera Richards said the program was a win-win for the community and the army.
“It’s helping me because we’ve been disconnected from our country because of all the oppression that’s been placed upon our people,” she said.
She said it was not just post-colonial Aboriginal history discussed at the camp, but Dreamtime stories connected to land used by Defence, including twin rock islands beneath the Whaler’s Way cliffs.
“It’s to do with our Dreamtime story of Boolyalana — he’s the lightning man — and his two wives. They’re set in stone at the base of the cliffs,” she said.
Major Dominic Lopez, who helped organise the camp, said it was opening defence personnel’s eyes to things they did not know.
“It’s obviously a spiritual experience for these [Indigenous] people,” he said.
“They have a real connection to the stories that are behind what I’m looking at. I don’t possess that knowledge.
“I see a beautiful geological feature that inspires me, but not to the same extent.
“We do a lot of our activities on the Eyre Peninsula and in Port Augusta, so getting to know Indigenous communities in the area, we can form positive, mutually beneficial relationships with those communities.”
He said the white-knuckle activities also helped to equalise the group.
“Everyone is scared doing what they’re doing, both my soldiers and the kids,” he said.
“But learning to overcome those initial reactions and knowing that you can overcome them and achieve success, I think that’s one of the benefits we can provide the kids.”
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