Michael Cumbers
Pilot Officer PLTOFF
Royal Australian Air Force

Australian Operational Service Medal – Greater Middle East Operation
Australian Defence Medal


I was just a simple boy growing up in Penrith, a suburb in western Sydney, but my Mob is from Coonabarabran. My family wasn’t rich; they were just hard workers.

I had wanted to join the Air Force ever since I was a young boy. At my first air show, I saw the jet fighters and thought it would be cool to work on them. However, I hated school, and when I left after Year 12, I became an Automotive Refinisher (Car Painter), which was just a job to keep the money coming in. I didn’t like being an apprentice, and as an apprentice, I was treated well. So, I left as soon as I finished my trade and became a sales representative selling painting products for the next five years. After this, I decided I needed to satisfy the dream I had harboured since I was a child and join the Air Force.  So, at age 27, I enlisted and travelled away from home. Even at 27, it is just as hard to leave your Mob and not see them again for a while, but the friends I made in the Air Force got me through the times I was missing family.

At first, when I went to Recruiting, I was told that I was not smart enough to join the Air Force and that I should look at the Reserves instead. That was extremely upsetting and completely not true. So, after 6 months, I came back and enlisted to become an Aircraft Surface Finisher (Aircraft Spray Painter), which I did for the next 12 years. I have deployed to the Middle East on Operation Okra, Far North Australia on Operation Resolute, and Defence has taken me to every state in Australia and overseas to the Middle East, Turkey and Malaysia.

After starting at the lowest rank, I have now been commissioned as an Officer through the Indigenous Access to the Academy Scheme. I am now studying at University to become an Aeronautical Engineer. I am the first Indigenous person to go down this path for Engineering and possibly the first Indigenous Engineer in the RAAF. Defence is a great career path. They look after you well, and you never know where it will take you. At one point in my life, I couldn’t say ‘no’ to the opportunities I have had in Defence. These were realised through just hard work. There are many other Indigenous people in Defence and we all support each other, as well as giving and receiving the support of our workmates.