Mt Richon sailor helping keep indigenous traditions alive on the seas

Petty Officer Samuel Sheppard (centre)  performs with the navy’s indigenous performance group.
Petty Officer Samuel Sheppard (centre) performs with the navy’s indigenous performance group.

A SAILOR who lives in Mt Richon is helping to keep indigenous traditions alive by taking part in some ceremonies with the Royal Australian Navy’s indigenous performance team.

Petty Officer Samuel Sheppard learnt some dances from the Bungaree performance troupe made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members of the navy to help indigenous sailors maintain traditional practices when they are far away from home.

The troupe was named Bungaree after a 19th century Aboriginal performer who circumnavigated Australia with explorer Matthew Flinders.

Originally from Mareeba, Queensland, PO Sheppard belongs to the Muluridji Tribe and is enormously proud of his Aboriginal background.

Bungaree members wear a mix of traditional dress and naval uniform representing their traditional and military heritages.

PO Sheppard is a communications sailor and is currently serving on the navy’s support ship HMAS Sirius, based at Fleet Base West near Rockingham. One of his career highlights was taking part with the troupe in the 2013 International Fleet Review in Sydney.

“That was probably my most memorable day in the Australian Defence Force,” PO Sheppard said.

“To prepare for the opening ceremony, about 20 of us navy members went on a two-week camp.

“Half of us met a local Aboriginal tribe called the Doonooch from Nowra, NSW and they taught us a number of their traditional dances.

“The other half of the group were from the Torres Strait Islands who had their own traditional dances to perform.”

The IFR was a huge success with more than 20 warships from 17 nations being |reviewed in Sydney Harbour, and taking pride of place was Petty Officer Sheppard and the Navy Indigenous Performance Team.

He said as an Aboriginal member of the navy, he |believed it was important to break down the stereotypes that still exist in some sections of the community.

“Just being able to sit down and talk to people and let them know that there’s no difference between us is very important. It’s about breaking down barriers,” he said.