Shane Phillips
Bundjalung, Wonnarua, and Gringai Peoples
Flight Lieutenant
Royal Australian Air Force
Indigenous Liaison Officer for the Royal Australian Air Force

Medals & Awards
2013 Australian of the Year – Local Hero Award

My family and my mob are Bundjalung,  Wonnarua  and Gringai people. I was born in Redfern and so was my mother, father and both my grandmothers.  Growing up in the 1970s on what we call ‘the block’ was an amazing time of self-determination in the block. But then, during the 1990s, I saw us fall as a community. We are all a part of the journey of taking back responsibility as an Aboriginal community to rebuild ourselves. To do this we need to value ourselves,  build self-esteem and find purpose. Making mistakes along the way is a part of life. Our mistakes are our best lessons – they don’t stop us and we are not defined by them.

I’m currently the CEO of Tribal Warrior which is a registered charity and social enterprise located in Redfern that runs programs that help families rebuild themselves. We have an Indigenous Maritime Training Program, but its not just about doing harbour cruises and maritime training, its about rebuilding ourselves. We also have our Healing Our Mob for Empowerment Program, that works with families who are suffering through trauma, but are trying to rebuild themselves and heal so they can keep their children in their care. There’s lots of service information, self-healing, working with community together. We also have the Clean Slate without Prejudice Program to help young offenders learn routine, discipline, having higher expectation of themselves. It also helps them understand that taking responsibility and being independent helps you rebuild and heal yourself. It’s not an intervention, it’s an investment in our community. We’re trying to do this through routine discipline, high expectations, cultural strength. All these programs are about learning that everyone has trauma and everyone has to try and find a way to rebuild yourself and heal over time. And it has been an organic process that’s helped us grow together as a community.

I chose to join Royal Australian Air Force to show young ones that you can be agile and you can keep moving, you can reinvent yourself. No one would’ve expected me to, so I proved my a point that if I can go and change direction at my age, you can challenge yourself and do this too. There is an alignment of thinking about the importance of respect, discipline, high expectation and excellence. I believe in it. I think that’s what we’re going to help our own people. That’s where we come from, thousands and thousands of years of strength. And that’s the reason I thought I want to join the RAAF.

In 2013, I received an award that that actually should have been given to the whole community. It was the Australian Local Hero Award. But, I was just one of the many who were involved and it was our responsibility as a community to just do it. We all earnt it. We all drove it together and everyone played their role in it. As a community and it helped us understand that we do have a place, and we have to make sure that we keep showing people that we have a place. So, we keep going, knowing all this is underpinned by our cultural responsibility which has helps us to continue to rebuild ourselves and our community.