Soldiers take historic steps
Originally published in Army News on November 24, 2011.
The inaugural Commemorative Walk to Cherbourg retraced the steps of Aboriginal people who were forcibly removed from their settlement at Durundur, near Woodford, to Cherbourg in 1905.
The walk was organised by Yalari, a not-for-profit organisation offering high school scholarships to indigenous children from remote, rural and regional communities across Australia.
The Commanding Officer, 9 RQR, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Bond welcomed the opportunity for his soldiers to be exposed to Aboriginal culture and history.
“One of the magic aspects of this experience is that both students and soldiers were able to walk in the paths of their forbears, as the 2nd/9th Battalion camped and trained near Kilcoy before they went to fight the Japanese in New Guinea in World War Two.”
In preparation for the walk, the soldiers met with Aunty Lesley Williams, an Aboriginal elder who grew up in Cherbourg, to hear her personal story and learn about the mission and its history.
Aunty Lesley asked them to reflect on the history and journey of the original inhabitants of Cherbourg.
Along the way, the soldiers set up a series of confidence and trust exercises for the students. Lieutenant Colonel Bond was impressed with the results.
“I really got to see our lads step up even further into the instructor/coach/mentor role. They did so well and the students loved it,” he said.
Towards the end of the walk, the soldiers presented awards to four students who had best demonstrated the Army values of courage, initiative and teamwork. As each name was read a soldier stepped forward, ripped the 9 RQR patch from his arm and presented it to the student.
Today Cherbourg is a vibrant community of about 2000 Aboriginal people with its own culture and identity. Many turned out to celebrate the safe arrival of the Yalari participants.
“I was not at all surprised by how our lads stood up to the different challenges, how hard they worked, how they extended themselves out of their comfort zones, how they respectfully treated everyone on the walk or the great effect that they had on the kids,” Lieutenant Colonel Bond said.
“What did catch me a bit by surprise was the profound and ongoing effect that the experience has had on them.”
Yalari founding director Waverley Stanley said organisers were equally impressed.
“There was a wonderful sense of comradeship and friendship within your crew which allowed for an easy mergence of the two groups,” he said.
“I think that the walk surpassed all of our expectations and the memories of some of the students struggling to finish, determined not to give up despite aching limbs and blisters being constantly encouraged by your men will stay with me for a long time.”