"People who have higher levels of CQ [cultural intelligence] are better able to make quality decisions, build effective teams, inspire trust, negotiate effectively and maintain resilience in cross-cultural environments. Their curiosity, adaptability and drive to understand others serves them well within culturally unfamiliar environments."
– Australian Army Land Warfare Doctrine 3-0-5 Security Force Capacity Building 2018
Cultural intelligence or CQ is the ability to successfully navigate different cultures – a highly desirable quality in the networked, interoperable, and global context of 21st century warfare. As noted by the Chief of Army, Australia’s living First Nations heritage provides rich CQ training opportunities:
“Building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities supports the development of a culturally competent Army workforce, and is necessary to realise the organisational culture described by Good Soldiering.”
– CA Directive 13/19 Enhancing Army Capability through Indigenous Service and Connection
Each year, the Army leverages authentic CQ training experiences through the Army Aboriginal Community Assistance Program (AACAP). A contingent of 100+ Army personnel deploys to remote Indigenous communities to deliver health, training, and construction effects as part of the Federal Government’s ‘Closing the Gap’ initiative. In 2022, AACAP celebrated its 25-year anniversary with a multi-unit contingent, led by the 6th Engineer Support Regiment, by deploying for six months to Gapuwiyak in the Northern Territory.
Gapuwiyak is home to the Yolngu people – an influential language and cultural group in NE Arnhem Land. The Yolngu have made a strong contribution to Australian creative arts such as inventing the yidaki (or didgeridu), and generating film stars such as David Gulpilil, and internationally-renowned musicians such as Yothu Yindi and Baker Boy. Films about the Yolngu people include Yolngu Boy, Ten Canoes, and High Ground. The Yolngu people were at the heart of the land rights struggle such as sending the famous Yirrkala bark petitions to the Australian Parliament in 1963 (Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation, n.d.).
Army CQ Training
To develop a better understanding of Yolngu culture, the AACAP contingent engaged in both formal and informal CQ training activities. Formal training began with a cultural awareness brief during pre-deployment training delivered by both Yolngu and ‘Balanda’ (non-Indigenous) NORFORCE soldiers from Arnhem Squadron.
A studious group of contingent members extended their knowledge by participating in a six-week online Yolngu language and culture course delivered by Charles Darwin University, leading to micro-credential certification in Yolngu language and culture.
Informal CQ training was particularly meaningful and highly enjoyable. Contingent members participated in regular ‘On Country’ experiences such as hunting, fishing, collecting pandanus leaves and dyes for weaving, cooling off in local water holes, gathering bush medicine, and preparing bush tucker.
Occasionally, community members visited the Army camp to share traditional dances, stories, and fresh bush tucker. Army personnel further developed their music, dance, and storytelling skills at ceremonial gatherings or ‘bunggul’, such as the AACAP opening and closing ceremonies and the NORFORCE Warrior Walk, commemorating 80-years of the Northern Territory Special Reconnaissance Unit.
Through such authentic community engagement activities, many contingent members developed deep personal connections with the Yolngu people and were adopted into local families who gave them Yolngu malk or ‘skin’ names and their own totem animal guardian spirits.
AACAP contingent members join Gapuwiyak community members in ceremonial dance. Image credit: Corporal Lucas Petersen
AACAP 22 Training Program
Such CQ experiences were embedded into the Army community training program via the Both-Ways Learning strategy in which Army instructors shared Western or ‘Balanda’ skills and knowledge with community members. The Yolngu people then reciprocated by taking their Army brothers and sisters On Country to teach them Yolngu science, art, literature, law, medicine, nutrition, and environmental management.
The Buffalo Boys trade training learners take their instructors for an On Country spear-making session. Image credit: Corporal Lucas Petersen
Army instructors applied the 8-Ways of Aboriginal Learning instructional strategies such as Story Sharing by telling personal anecdotes, narrative and ‘warries’ to explain teaching points, Non-verbal by presenting practical workshops, using observational learning strategies, and applying ‘I do, you do, we do’ teaching strategies, and Community Links, such as the culminating trade training activity in which learners upgraded the Gapuwiyak School workshop and garden.
Image credit: 8ways.online
The Army community training delivered a four-module learning program, comprising hospitality skills, basic construction pathways, photography/videography skills, and life, health and wellbeing skills. The modules were linked to elements and performance criteria in associated Certificate III units of competency. While formal qualifications were not issued, the program delivered industry-standard instruction, including formative assessments and recognised learner achievement via statements of attendance.
The hospitality module was conducted three days per week training at the Gapuwiyak Aged Care and Disability Centre to staff, residents, and adult community members. Learning outcomes included ‘Work safely in a commercial kitchen’, ‘Prepare simple and nutritious meals’, and ‘Prepare simple bakery products’. Employability outcomes included industry-standard catering training for aged care kitchen staff and potential employment opportunities at the aged care centre, early childhood centre, Gapuwiyak School, and the soon-to-be-built café at the Arts and Cultural Centre.
Community wellbeing and cohesion outcomes included nutritious meal preparation instruction using readily available ingredients to address food security concerns and support Miwatj Health Centre nutrition and health community messaging.
Sergeant Nathan Judd conducts a nutritious cooking class with staff and residents at the Gapuwiyak Aged Care and Disability Centre. Image credit: Corporal Lucas Petersen
Basic Construction Pathways
The trade training was delivered through three different packages: mens-only trade training for the Arnhem Land Progress Association (ALPA) ‘Buffalo Boys’ Community Development Program, mixed-gender training for the Goŋ-Däl Community Development Program, and women’s-only (‘Miyalk’) training for community members. Trade training learning outcomes included ‘Work safely in the construction industry’, ‘Demonstrate carpentry skills’, ‘Demonstrate welding skills’, ‘Demonstrate plumbing skills’, ‘Demonstrate painting and decorating skills’, and ‘Demonstrate tiling skills’.
The men’s-only trade training was conducted three days per week at the Buffalo Boys workshop, the mixed training two mornings per week at the Goŋ-Däl workshop, and the women’s only training was Fridays at the Buffalo Boy’s compound.
Sapper Alex Chedzey and Sapper Sandra Macura train Glenda Ganambarr and Cassandra Ganambarr in carpentry skills, observed by Sergeant Lisa Stone. Image credit: Corporal Shannon Gordon
The multimedia training package incorporated photography, videography, drone training, and graphic design workshops for community members and workplace teams, such as the Yirralka Rangers, ALPA staff, and the Gapuwiyak School Remote Schools Attendance Strategy program. Learning outcomes included, ‘Create photographic images’, ‘Create video imagery’, ‘Create drone imagery’ and ‘Apply graphic design skills’.
Corporal Shannon Gordon runs a graphic design workshop for ALPA staff at Gapuwiyak School. Image credit: Warrant Officer Class Two Kim Allen
Life, Health and Wellbeing Skills
To enhance community wellbeing and cohesion, a life skills package delivered the following learning outcomes: ‘Apply workplace literacy skills’, ‘Communicate effectively with healthcare professionals’, ‘Plan a household budget’, and ‘Participate in basic fitness training’. Workshops included social media safety training to parents of teenage children, financial literacy skills, health literacy skills, and yoga for women workshops. The yoga workshops at the ALPA Bush Miyalk House were particularly well-received and created a safe, enjoyable female-only space on Tuesday mornings for yoga, singing, craft, and candle-making.
The Both-ways Learning strategy resulted in strong learner engagement: 135 learners participated in the training program, including 77 men and 58 women. On conclusion of the program, Army held a graduation ceremony at the Sports and Recreation Centre attended by 115 people to celebrate the awarding of 80 Statements of Attendance and Army commemorative coins. The community benefited from industry-level training and enhanced learner self-efficacy and self-worth.
Just as impactful were the gains for the Army training staff. Instructors practised authentic learner-centred instructional skills, developed a deep understanding and respect for Yolngu language and culture, and carried out their mission with ingenuity, pride and heart. We all came back from Yolngu country smarter, stronger, and more resilient.