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Army August 29, 2013
Capt James Hook
TWO centuries after English explor-
er Matthew Flinders encountered a
Macassan fishing fleet off the coast
of Arnhem Land, the Army is patrol-
ling the same corner of the world
looking for evidence of more recent
One of the patrols in Norforce’s
Arnhem Sqn is commanded by Capt
Dusty Miller, a former Navy clearance
At sunset on D-Day, at the bow of
an Army landing craft, Capt Miller
gives his five patrolmen their final
briefing as they sail along the Malay
This sheltered stretch of water off
the north-eastern coast of Arnhem
Land was named by Flinders during
his circumnavigation of Australia in
It commemorates his meeting with
the “Malay” fishermen.
Capt Miller tells his men they are
to look for signs of illegal or unusual
activity on the English Company’s
Islands – also named by Flinders. The
Royal Navy captain was honouring the
East India Company, the trading pow-
erhouse that helped Britain rule the
waves in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Capt Miller’s patrol is part of
The patrol will be searching for
likely landing sites throughout the
islands, and keeping an eye open for
anything out of the ordinary, including
fishing nets, marine debris and
introduced species of flora and fauna.
Northern Territory Police has
also asked Norforce to look out for a
The men try to get some sleep
before 9pm, when the LCM8’s bow
ramp is lowered and the patrol’s two
Zodiacs are launched.
The six men – five reservists and
a regular Army signaller – clamber
aboard. They have more than 30km to
travel to their first destination; a beach
on Astell Island.
The Zodiacs approach the beach
shortly before midnight.
Actions on landing are to sweep
the sea and shoreline with torchlight,
looking for the telltale red reflection
from the eyes of saltwater crocodiles.
The men are completely comfort-
able in northern Australia’s littoral
zone – the shallow coastal waters and
mangrove forests that line the conti-
nent and its offshore islands.
Capt Miller gives the all clear,
and Boat 2 bowman Jonah Thingle, a
27-year-old private from Ngukurr in
south-east Arnhem Land, is first into
the knee-deep water.
There is a sudden swirl in the sea
a few metres away. Someone calls out
“Croc!” and Pte Thingle leaps back
into the boat.
A stingray, more than a metre
across, surfaces briefly, then slips
away into the darkness.
Pte Thingle, a teacher’s assistant in
civilian life, gets back in the water and
carries the anchor ashore.
Norforce’s 600 soldiers include
540 Reservists, of whom about half
are Indigenous men and women from
These soldiers are the key to
Norforce’s success, bringing to the
Army their traditional skills, knowl-
edge and networks.
Capt Miller’s coxswain is Pte
Drew Perry, from Rockhampton,
Queensland, now living in Katherine.
Like the other patrolmen, Pte Perry
has attended the Defence Indigenous
Development Program – an eight-
month residential course aimed at
boosting Norforce soldiers’ language,
literacy and numeracy skills.
Pte Perry is a Ganglu man who
finished high school in Rockhampton
at the same time his son Keydain was
“When I split up from my partner,
I kind of lost my way,” Pte Perry says.
“My mother was living in
Katherine and heard about the DIDP.
“She rang up Norforce, and
one day Maj Kopada [the officer
commanding the DIDP] came to my
Pte Perry was accepted into the
2011 program. He did well and hoped
the DIDP would be a stepping stone to
joining the regular Army.
“I applied, but I got knocked back.
Now I’m waiting to be reassessed,”
In the interim, he has been
working for a tree-lopping company
and keeping busy with Norforce,
completing the patrolman’s course, an
Op Resolute patrol and the powered
tactical craft operator course.
He plans to do the combat first
aid and 2IC courses later in the
year (Pte Perry was promoted to
lance corporal after the patrol).
The six men establish an observa-
tion post behind the sand dunes and
get some sleep at 1am on D+1.
High tide is at 2.18am. An hour
later, Pte Thingle goes down to the
beach to shift the anchors.
With him is patrol 2IC LCpl Vinnie
Rami, a 24-year-old from Numbulwar,
who has applied to join the NT Police.
Norforce soldiers call themselves
“greenskins” – all the same in their
This has a deeper meaning than
simple skin colour.
Australian Aboriginal “skin”
names refer to the subsections which
form the social structure of many
Aboriginal groups in the country.
Pte Thingle and LCpl Rami are
brothers-in-law. According to their
kinship structure, they have a “poison”
relationship and are not allowed to
speak to one another.
Adding local know-how and
Traditional skills are keeping Norforce one step ahead in patrolling the Top End as part of Op Resolute
Lookout: Indigenous soldiers from Norforce unit, walk through thick
bushland during a patrol around Astell Island, part of the English
Company’s Islands, located inside Arnhem Land. Photo by David Grey, Reuters
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