QUEENSLAND, Australia - It was a new experience for many international military personnel who gathered in anticipation for the traditional Welcome to Country as part of Exercise Talisman Sabre.
The Bindal Clan, the local aboriginal tribe and traditional owners of the land, greeted the multi-national participants July 19 in a moving smoking ceremony. For many, it was a moment that will long be remembered.
The ceremony reflected the traditional act of requesting permission to enter another group’s country, and once granted, being welcomed and granted safe passage with the protection of their ancestors during the journey.
U.S. Army Col. Jerry Hall, Talisman Sabre 21 deputy exercise director, said he was thankful for being welcomed to country.
“On behalf of all those participating nations on Talisman Sabre, it was a fitting way to acknowledge the place we will exercise on in the coming weeks,” he said.
Participating in a Welcome to Country smoking ceremony is an opportunity to show respect to Australia’s traditional owners and the continuing connection that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have to the land, sea, sky and waterways.
As part of the ceremony, the Bindal Elders burned sandalwood leaves creating a smoke containing healing and cleansing properties. The smoke was walked around the crowd as a blessing to the visitors while the ceremonial song was sung alongside the didgeridoo and clap of boomerangs.
Australian Army Warrant Officer Class Two Kevin Batiste, 10th Force Support Battalion indigenous liaison officer, arranged the Welcome to Country. He thoroughly and regularly conducts community engagement activities with the local Indigenous clans to strengthen the connection between them and the battalion.
Australian Army cultural adviser and proud Bindal woman, Aunty Lee Smallwood said the Bindal people were happy to welcome the participants.
“Cultural welcomes have been done for 50,000 years – it’s more than a welcome, we’re here to make sure you’re protected and safe on our country, that our ancestors protect you,” Smallwood said.
“A smoking ceremony smokes away anything negative and gives everyone a positive protection so that while you’re a guest on our country, no harm comes to you.”