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Ashleigh Shannon - Northern Rivers

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women play significant roles within all levels of the Australian community, including with the Australian Defence Force (ADF) on operations overseas.

People across Australia and overseas will celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples during NAIDOC Week from 8-18 July.

Lance Corporal Ashleigh Shannon, of the Force Support Element, is deployed as a postal clerk and cash operator on Operation Accordion at Australia's Air Task Group operations base in the Middle East region.

Lance Corporal Shannon is an Aboriginal woman of Yaegl Country and joined the Army in 2013.

The Element provides logistics support to Operations Accordion, Okra, Highroad and Manitou as well other Australian and United Nations operations in the region.

The Yaegl People are the traditional custodians of the northern New South Wales coastal areas around Yamba, Iluka and Maclean and have lived there for 60,000 years.

Lance Corporal Shannon said NAIDOC Week was an opportunity to share her story and this year's NAIDOC theme Because of her, we can! with Australian and coalition partners at the base.

"It gives light to the Aboriginal women who bring education and Indigenous culture to the forefront of people's minds," she said.

"It reminds me of the female Aboriginal teachers who are in our schools and the women like our mothers and grandmothers who are often the unrecognised elders and leaders of our community.

"I remember the stirring speeches at Maclean High School by our Yaegl Elder, Aunty Judy Breckenridge, who often reminded us of our local history and culture."

Lance Corporal Shannon said being an Aboriginal woman in Defence gave her a sense of pride.

"I enjoy teaching people about where I'm from and love to share stories about Indigenous soldiers," she said.

"There was a time when Indigenous Australians people were rejected from joining the military because of their race, but they've been involved in every conflict since the Boer War.

"Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders always answered the call, and many have been recognised for their bravery, loyalty and patriotism."

During the First World War it is estimated that 500 Aboriginals and a few Torres Strait Islanders managed to enlist.

About 3,000 Indigenous Australians served in the Second World War, many in specially raised Indigenous units.

Indigenous women also enlisted during Second World War, such as Kathleen Ruska, of the Noonuccal People from Stradbroke Island, who was in the Australian Women's Army Service.

She later gained fame as the celebrated poet, Kath Walker, ultimately reverting to her Indigenous name, Oodgeroo Noonuccal.

Lance Corporal Shannon said although they were prepared to fight and die for their country, war service did not previously mean full citizenship and recognition for Indigenous Australians.

"It wasn't until 1949 when all the restrictions were lifted, allowing them to enlist," she said.

"Today, Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders are actively encouraged to join the Australian Defence Force and are welcomed as part of the Defence community."

Although normally an air dispatcher with 176 Air Dispatch Squadron of the 9th Force Support Battalion based at RAAF Base Richmond, Lance Corporal Shannon took an out-of-trade posting to the Townsville Military Post Office at Lavarack Barracks.

Before her deployment in March 2018, which is her second to the Middle East, she said there was a month of training to learn the skills for cash office and a post office services overseas.

"There are regulations set by Australia Post and legislation Defence needs to follow as well as the standards required by the Australian Defence Force," she said.

"I'm enjoying my deployed roles and I love delivering mail to the troops and chatting as it's great for morale.

In her role, Lance Corporal Shannon supports members of the Air Task Group deployed on Operation Okra, which is the Australian Defence Force contribution to the US-led Global Coalition of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve as it combats the threat of Daesh.

Lance Corporal Shannon said she enjoyed lifting weights and was taking her training to new levels during her spare time.

"One of my goals is to achieve a 170kg deadlift before I go home in October," she said.

"At the moment I can lift 155kg.

"I like the Olympic weightlifting style and think I'll try weightlifting or powerlifting competitions in the near future."