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Meet the Aborigine Military Unit That Patrols the Most Dangerous Areas of Australia

With elections approaching in Australia, border security has become a big issue.

Asylum-seekers who enter the country by boat typically take a route through Indonesia. In the last year and a half, about 30,000 people have done so, almost as many as the previous 35 years combined. That surge has lead politicians to demand an increased military presence along the country's northwest coast, land that is sparsely populated and filled with dangerous wildlife.

That's where NORFORCE comes in. The 600-person Australian military surveillance unit, most of them Aboriginal reservists, oversee 700,000 square miles of Australian territory, .

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The Aborigines bring their expert knowledge of the land (how to navigate it, what's deadly, what's edible). They hunt for illegal fishing vessels, drug smugglers and people smugglers.
 
With a history of racial tensions between white Australia and indigenous Australia, NORFORCE is also an admirable example of cultural unity. "We can go to very remote locations where resupply is very hard so we have to live off the land," NORFORCE captain Dusty Miller recently told Reuters. "With all our combined skills and our young indigenous soldiers, we manage to survive." Lance Corporal Vinnie Rami, who is an Aborigine, tells the same reporter, "people from different communities come together in NORFORCE. We share our knowledge, things we learnt from our elders."
 

Reuters photographer David Gray recently spent time with NORFORCE along the northern coast. Below, a day in the life of one of Australia's most unique military units: 


A river and its estuaries are seen surrounded by mangroves in Arnhem Land in Australia's Northern Territory July 15, 2013. (REUTERS/David Gray)


Lance-corporal Vinnie Rami (L) and Private Jonah Thingle, soldiers from Australia's North West Mobile Force (NORFORCE) unit, sit around a fire next to their F88 Austeyr rifles on Wigram Island, part of the English Company Islands, located inside Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, Australia July 18, 2013. (REUTERS/David Gray)


Patrol Commander Andrew 'Dusty' Miller of NORFORCE inspects garbage that has washed up onto rocks on Wigram Island, part of the English Company Islands, located inside Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, Australia July 18, 2013. (REUTERS/David Gray)


Soldiers from NORFORCE walk in formation during a surveillance and reconnaissance patrol around Astell Island, part of the English Company Islands, located inside Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory July 17, 2013. (REUTERS/David Gray)


Lance-corporal Vinnie Rami, an indigenous soldier from NORFORCE, removes turtle eggs from a nest on Wigram Island, part of the English Company Islands, located inside Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory July 18, 2013. (REUTERS/David Gray)


Lance-corporal Danny Daniels, an indigenous soldier from NORFORCE, uses fire to remove bark from a 'spear tree' during a surveillance and reconnaissance patrol around Astell Island, part of the English Company Islands, located inside Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory July 17, 2013. (REUTERS/David Gray)


Indigenous soldiers from NORFORCE unit walk through thick bushland during a surveillance and reconnaissance patrol around Astell Island, part of the English Company Islands, located inside Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory July 17, 2013. (REUTERS/David Gray) 


Lance-corporal Vinnie Rami, an indigenous soldier from NORFORCE, holds his F88 Austeyr rifle as he walks through thick bushland during a surveillance and reconnaissance patrol around Astell Island, part of the English Company Islands, located inside Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory July 17, 2013. (REUTERS/David Gray)


Soldiers of Australia's NORFORCE unit board a transport vessel in Gove, also known as Nhulunbuy, 650 km (404 miles) east of Darwin in the Northern Territory July 16, 2013. (REUTERS/David Gray)

Keywords: Australia

Mark Byrnes is an associate editor at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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