Canadian Rangers receive patrolling tips in Australia’s ‘Top End’

Article / November 26, 2015 / Project number: 15-0159B

The intent of Exercise SOUTHERN CROSS is to strengthen ties with Australia, an allied nation, and to allow the exchange of tactics, techniques and procedures between two units faced with similar challenges, roles, missions and tasks.  While not an Indigenous program per se, the majority of Canadian Rangers are members of Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples, and therefore the exercise also provided an opportunity for cultural awareness as similarly, members of the Australian Defence Force’s North-West Mobile Force are mainly drawn from Indigenous Australian Peoples.  The exercise was successful in providing a challenging developmental opportunity for each country’s respective units and served to strengthen the bonds between the Canadian and Australian Armies.

Northern Territory, Australia — Members of the 4th Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (4 CRPG) recently participated in an exchange with some of their Australian counterparts in the North West Mobile Force (NORFORCE), an Army Reserve infantry regiment of the Australian Army, visiting the remote Northern Territory. Here, Captain Wade Jones describes the experience: the heat, the beauty and the hospitality.

“I'm not kidding,” said Canadian Ranger Glenn Osmond of Lynn Lake, Manitoba. “I swear something ran across my leg last night in my swag.”

 The term “swag” is Australian slang for bedroll or sleeping bag. A swag is a clever Australian creation: a tent, mattress and sleeping bag combination that rolls out and is ready to use in three minutes. The other Canadian Rangers nodded in sympathy. The same thought had run through all their heads on more than one occasion during Exercise SOUTHERN CROSS II, a 25-day Small Unit Exchange (SUE).

NORFORCE, a primarily Aboriginal force, is situated in the Northern Territory (NT), commonly referred to as the “Top End” of Australia. Their role is very similar to that of the Canadian Rangerss. They too are the “Eyes and Ears” of the north. They are situated in the most sparsely populated, remote and isolated areas of the Top End of Australia. On more than one occasion someone said our countries are like cousins, not close but always there when needed.

The Canadian Rangers experienced a week in and around the NT capital, Darwin. There were social events, cultural activities, orientation to NORFORCE capabilities, an “it will kill you” briefing describing dangerous critters, and a very important medical briefings. Then it was off to Arnhem Squadron and the Top End.

Upon arrival in Nhulunbuy we were met by Major Tom Green, our host for the next 14 days. Our real introductions took place the first evening while visiting the local Returned Services Club– what we in Canada would call a Royal Canadian Legion. We enjoyed a social evening with bare-foot lawn bowling, cold beverages, local cuisine and great conversation. It was a tremendously positive icebreaker in the 37°C heat. 

Our exposure to both NORFORCE and the local area continued over the next few days but not before we were “Welcomed to Country” in song by the Yolngu People of Nhulunbuy using their traditional instruments: didgeridoo (an Aboriginal wind instrument) and claves (wood percussion instruments). 

The primary training event of the SUE was a 1,900-kilometre vehicle patrol. The Canadian Rangers experienced the uniqueness, incredible contrasts and isolation of the countryside while traveling through the most amazing part of the world any of them has encountered. The vehicle patrol was awe-inspiring and captivating. The patrol was made up of three Land Cruisers, a Surveillance/Reconnaissance Vehicle (SRV) and a “Baby” G Wagon, an off-road military SUV. They were loaded with everything the group needed, including fresh food, cooking equipment, swags, packs, 600 litres of water and all other necessities of life. 

We patrolled many unique locations: the Koolatong, where eyes were opened to the crystal clear water of the Latram River; Gapuwiyak, Giddy Falls; and the Sinkhole, a remarkable circular hole in the flat plain landscape of the Arafura Escarpment. We were in awe of the vastness of the Arafuru Swamp. In most communities, we met up with NORFORCE patrollers who would spend the day showing us their skills and the surroundings.

We met up with the crew of an amphibious Landing Craft Mechanized (LCM) 8, and sailed to Rapuma Island with the Crocodile Rangers from Milingimbi. Rapuma Island is a paradise unto itself: spectacular, white powder sand, miles of pristine beach, lush vegetation with mangroves, tidal pools and postcard sunsets and sunrises. The cultural experiences the Canadian Rangers had in collecting “bush tucker” (country food) such as Long Bums (snails in a shell) Ragudo (mud mussels), wallaby and turtle eggs (and of course the taste tests for these foods) will forever be etched in our minds. 

Back to the land, we were off again to the Arafura Swamp with NORFORCE Patrolman James Gengi and the Gurrruwiling and Wanga Djakamirr Rangers. Spending the night did have its downfalls: the mosquitos were relentless. Adding to the atmosphere of the swamp were pythons, crocs and buffalo. Wild horses tramping through our camp during the night set our hearts thumping. We were rewarded at dawn with the most spectacular, misty sunrise. Thousands of spider webs glistened with morning dew in the rays of orange and we had breakfast silhouetted against the orange fireball of the rising sun.

The unique landscape of Kakadu National Park, including Cahills Crossing and the East Alligator River, provided us with more new skills and experiences. We had forded some 41 rivers in just six days and the landscape had now turned into looming pinnacles of rock that dwarfed us.

One of the most humbling and inspiring places we visited was the Anabangbang billabong, a towering vertical rock escarpment with many ancient rock paintings. Later, the group was led to Jim Jim Falls, which are held in high regard by the local Clan.

We next camped near Ngurrungurrudjba (Yellow Water). It was our last night on the land and we were all hesitant to crawl into our swags, ending the day.

The SUE culminated with Canadian Rangers participating in the Canada Down Under celebration in Darwin.  Accompanied by Michael Small, the High Commissioner of Canada to Australia, and the Canadian Defence Attaché to Australia and New Zealand, they spent two days visiting local schools, interacting with teachers, Indigenous elders and some 300 youth.

Then it was time to say “G’day Mates” to all our Australian hosts and colleagues. Exercise SOUTHERN CROSS II was a success. The patrol was an experience of a lifetime for the Canadian Rangers. They had close-up contact with the unique Indigenous lifestyle, saw incredible geography and saw by way of an exchange of skills and knowledge how similar our units and nations are. Those skills and that knowledge will add to the capability of the Canadian Rangers both at home and abroad.

By Captain Wade Jones, 4th Canadian Ranger Patrol Group

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