Leading Seaman Breanna Jacobs-Rochford was a long way from home when she recently attended the 150th Coming of the Light festival on Erub Island.
She joined the Navy in 2016 from Giabal and Jarowair Country in the Toowoomba region to follow in the footsteps of family members and to travel the world and experience different countries and their cultures.
Currently posted to the Navy Indigenous Development Program, Leading Seaman Jacobs-Rochford provides cultural support and guidance to other staff members and recruits.
She said attending the festival had enhanced her ability to provide this cultural support and guidance.
“I wanted to attend the Coming of the Light festival and take the opportunity to further my knowledge of the Torres Strait Islander culture, beliefs and traditions,” she said.
“We have a lot of Torres Strait Islander recruits undertaking the NIDP and, as much as I learn from them about their culture, to spend time on Thursday and Erub Islands attending the Coming of the Light was an eye-opener.”
As part of the Navy detachment joining the festival, Leading Seaman Jacobs-Rochford said engaging with the community was the most meaningful part of the experience.
“The best experience for me was hanging out and yarning with the kids and youth. The kids were so excited to see us dressed in uniform and had many questions about our service,” she said.
“Another experience that I will always remember was how welcomed I felt from the locals on Erub Island.”
Having previously deployed through South-East Asia, Leading Seaman Jacobs-Rochford has transited through the Torres Strait many times but had never spent time ashore.
“I think there is great potential for Navy to attend future festivals in the Torres Strait Islands for many reasons,” Leading Seaman Jacobs-Rochford said.
“Our attendance allows our Navy people with Torres Strait Islander heritage to return home, representing both their service and their culture, and provides an opportunity to educate other personnel about Indigenous cultures.
“Attending these sorts of events also continues to strengthen our relationships within the Torres Strait Islands, maintaining familiar faces when we are operating in the area.”
Cairns-based Able Seaman Terry Waia also attended the festival.
He has family roots in the Aith Koedal Clan on Saibai Island, just west of Erub Island in the Torres Strait.
Able Seaman Waia said he enjoyed experiencing the festival from a different perspective.
“I wanted to see how Erub Island celebrated the Coming of the Light ceremony because that’s where Christianity first settled in the Torres Strait,” he said.
“To experience how another island in the Torres Strait celebrates the Coming of the Light was an amazing experience.”
Inspired by his grandfather’s own military service, Able Seaman Waia joined the Navy in 2016 through the NIDP.
“I recommend joining the Defence Force whether it be Navy, Army or Air Force. You get to see the world, get out of your comfort zone, make new friends and you’ll make good memories,” he said.
This article appeared in Cape York Weekly, 20 July 2021.