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20 years of serving the community

2016 marked the 20th anniversary of the Army Aboriginal Community Assistance Program (AACAP), a Commonwealth Government initiative designed to improve infrastructure, health and living conditions in remote Indigenous communities. AACAP is delivered in collaboration with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Australian Army soldier Sapper Andrew McSpadden, lays concrete for the new veterans memorial at Pandanus Park War Veterans Retreat near Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park, Cape York, on 21 August 2016.
Australian Army soldier Sapper Andrew McSpadden, lays concrete for the new veterans memorial at Pandanus Park War Veterans Retreat near Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park, Cape York, on 21 August 2016.

The first project was completed in 1996 in Bulla, Northern Territory, and each year since has proved to be a great success. The program supports the Government’s commitment to ‘closing the gap’ in disadvantage between Indigenous and non- Indigenous Australians. In 2016, AACAP was based in Laura, North Queensland. This saw approximately 150 Australian Army personnel living and working in Laura for five months building infrastructure and providing training to the local community. The completed infrastructure was handed over to the Ang-Gnarra Aboriginal Corporation and Cook Shire Council.

Colonel Rob Sanders, Force Engineer, explained how the Australian Army is uniquely qualified to support the delivery of the program.

‘AACAP projects leverage the ability of the Army to deliver a range of services in remote areas, such as infrastructure works, employability skills training, and health promotion and support in a holistic and highly effective manner.

The program seeks to improve environmental health and living standards, and enhances employment opportunities through the provision of infrastructure, training and services. Each AACAP project aims to maximise benefit to the Indigenous community by tailoring the approach to that community,’ he said.

Through the opportunity afforded by each AACAP project, the Australian Army aims to train and test selected capabilities against the themes of ‘population support’ and ‘Indigenous capacity building’. The delivery of an AACAP project requires the generation, preparation, deployment and sustainment of a military contingent to remote locations in Australia for extended durations, exercising a wide range of Defence supporting capabilities.

The range of skills exercised during an AACAP project are the same as those required for deployment for disaster relief operations and population support operations. The skills and experience gained through AACAP have greatly assisted the Army in preparing for activities such as deployments to Timor-Leste in 1999 and 2006, and in support to humanitarian assistance disaster relief operations both in Australia and the region.

A key moment from the 20th anniversary year of AACAP included the completion ceremony for AACAP 2016, signifying the completion of the Army’s deployment to the community and the handover of the completed infrastructure to the Ang-Gnarra Aboriginal Corporation and Cook Shire Council.

The program is a large and wide-reaching activity that engages many elements of the Australian Army, Defence community, as well as all three levels of government. It incorporates regional stakeholders and community service providers, and in recent times has also harnessed the support of soldiers from our nearer region, including from Tonga, Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea. It brings together stakeholders both internal and external to Defence, demonstrating the value of collaboration and what can be achieved when a group works together towards a common goal.

‘The program would not succeed without the teamwork that is fostered in each project,’ Colonel Sanders said.

In addition to the commendable teamwork demonstrated, Colonel Sanders noted the value of the Army’s engagement with the community.

‘These men and women are fantastic representatives of the Army and the lasting legacy they leave in the communities is extraordinary to see. Just recently a team undertaking a review of an AACAP project from over a decade ago interviewed community members. They remain impacted by the positive influence the Army had on their community.’

The 2017 AACAP project is based in Toomelah, New South Wales. This year’s group is working hard to deliver a community hall.

‘The hall will be a significant achievement, and a large improvement to the facilities and services available to the Toomelah community,’ said Colonel Sanders.

AACAP continues each year to support remote Indigenous communities across the country. In 2018, the program will deliver a range of infrastructure, education and training services in Yalata in South Australia, and for 2019 scoping is underway for engagement in a remote community in Western Australia.