» Download Audio
Norforce in Australia
Australia's armed forces are scattered far and wide across the world -- from Iraq to the South Pacific. But one regiment is much closer to home -- Norforce, a reservist unit, protects the vast wilderness regions of northern Australia. Many of its recruits are Aborigines -- the indigenous people who are in many respects disadvantaged in Australia. But in Norforce a number of Aborigine men have found a new sense of direction and self respect, as Nick Squires has been finding out:
It's another sweltering day in the savannah woodland of northern Australia and I'm sitting in the back of a dusty Landrover waiting to meet members of one of the country's most unusual military units. I hear them before I see them -- their presence betrayed by the faint crackle of dry leaves, which carpet the forest floor. A six man patrol emerges quietly from the bush. They're carrying rifles and enormous packs. Their faces are smeared in camouflage cream and they're drenched in sweat. But, they're surprisingly cheerful.
"I joined up because I wanted to learn navigation and leadership skills," says Lance Corporal Shaun Evans, smiling through the fatigue. "Plus, I like being in the bush." Evans is a soldier in Norforce, a reservist unit whose job it is to patrol northern Australia looking out for poachers, gun runners, illegal fishermen and, potentially, terrorists. What makes the regiment unusual is that around two-thirds of its 600 soldiers are Aborigines. That stands in stark contrast to the regular Australian army, which has very few indigenous troops.
Unlike the weekend warriors of other reservist units, Norforce soldiers can serve for up to 150 days a year, and many do. They use Landrovers, planes and inflatable boats to patrol a massive area of desert, scrub and coastline. It stretches more than 2,000 kilometres from Western Australia to Queensland, and reaches deep into the red desert around Alice Springs.
Aboriginal troops are held in high esteem for their tracking abilities, their stealth and their instinctive knowledge of the land. "You won't get a better set of eyes than an Aboriginal soldier in the north," says Captain Jack Olchowik, a white Norforce officer in charge of training the unit. "Their bushcraft and their foraging skills are second to none."
Those foraging skills include looking for bush tucker whenever there's an opportunity. Corporal Tommy Munyarryun is a Norforce veteran of 15 years and a respected elder in the Wanguri tribe. He grins as he lists the food which can supplement his normal army-issue rations: wallabies, turtles, witchetty grubs, wild oysters. "The white fellas teach us army stuff and we teach them what bush tucker they can eat when we're out on patrol," Tommy told me.
The origins of Norforce go back to the Second World War, when a rag-tag group of jackeroos, gold prospectors and adventurers teamed up with Aboriginal trackers in what was known as the North Australia Observer Unit. The 'Nackeroos' as they called themselves, took to the bush on horses and camels and in dugout canoes, keeping watch for the anticipated invasion of Australia by Japanese troops. The unit was disbanded after the war but its legacy of small, self-sufficient patrols carrying out covert surveillance was revived with the formation of Norforce in 1981.
The regiment's most recent success was in February, when they came across nine Indonesian fishermen and their grounded boat on an isolated beach in the Northern Territory. The vessel was one of dozens intercepted in recent months suspected of fishing illegally for shark fins, which command high prices in Asian restaurants.
The soldiers' most challenging adversaries, however, are northern Australia's stifling heat and its dangerous wildlife: from giant crocodiles and fearsome feral pigs to dingoes and poisonous snakes. "The crocs can grow up to six metres long, which is bigger than our Zodiac inflatable boats," one soldier told me.
Despite such hardships, there's no lack of recruits -- Aboriginal elders recognise the benefit of military service for young men who might otherwise find themselves struggling with unemployment, alcoholism and welfare dependency.
Norforce's area of operations encompasses more than 100 Aboriginal languages, and many of its soldiers speak English as their third or even fourth tongue. The regiment's white officers have to be sensitive to a whole range of cultural differences among their soldiers. Lieutenant Colonel Parker recalls the example of one Aboriginal soldier who simply disappeared one day, without explanation. A year and a half later, just as officers were despairing of every hearing of him again, he reappeared on parade. "He'd just gone off into the bush," said the colonel. "We call it going walkabout." Not exactly the sort of conduct you'd expect in a regular army, perhaps, but then Norforce is no ordinary regiment.
“我参加这个组织的目的是为了学习航空知识和领导才能”，一等兵肖恩·依凡斯说话时脸上显露出疲倦的微笑，“而且，我喜欢生活在丛林里。” 依凡斯是“非武力组织” 的一个成员。该组织的主要任务是在澳大利亚的北部丛林中巡逻，寻找偷猎者，持枪者，非法渔民以及潜在恐怖分子。“非武力组织”的与众不同之处就在于它的600多个成员中有三分之二都是土著人。这种情况和澳大利亚的普通部队形成强烈的对比，因为普通部队中很少有土著人。