How a German backpacker and an Australian personnel officer create a sense of home among the German contingent.
You do not have to look long to find the German contingent at PITCH BLACK 2022. It has something the other nations at the Darwin Air Force Base do not have — a tree or, more precisely, a eucalypt. Thus, it was obvious for two soldiers of the Royal Australian Air Force, Martina Brüssow and Ben Gray, to think of something special for this tree.
“We must give our German friends a sense of home in Australia,” says Ben Gray, who supports his German comrades as a liaison officer during the PITCH BLACK 2022 exercise. The 36-year-old squadron leader normally serves as a personnel officer in a transport aircraft command in Sydney. For the largest exercise of the Royal Australian Air Force, he has been sent to Darwin and detached as a liaison element. He is supported by 35-year-old Martina Brüssow, who was born in Germany. She is normally employed as a medical technician at the medical treatment facility in Darwin.
Liaison element opportunity advertised across Australia
The two members of the Royal Australian Air Force seized the opportunity to apply for the role of liaison element for the German contingent, which their force had advertised nationwide. “I love the German language, so it did not matter that I would be away from my hometown of Sydney for several weeks to provide support here,” says Ben. Martina Brüssow, who was born in Germany, knew from the start: “I have to be there!” Both have very varied working days. Sometimes they need to take care of the access permits for the German soldiers; at other times, they call for help when a snake appears in the container village. Then they dial the number of the “snake catcher”, who removes the (mostly) highly venomous reptile.
She discovered her love for Australia while backpacking
Martina Brüssow was born and raised in Luckenwalde near Berlin. This is where she attended, and graduated from, secondary school. “After school, I wanted to discover the world”. The then 19-year-old left to travel Australia as a backpacker. “I quickly realized that Australia is the country I want to live in permanently,” says Martina, adding: “From the very first moment, I was fascinated by its vastness and the relaxed and free way of life.” Moreover, there is a breathtaking landscape that is second to none. She came back to Germany, but really only to pack her belongings and leave Germany for good. After one year of sponsoring by her employer at the time, she was able to obtain a permanent residence permit. She has been working for the Royal Australian Air Force for six years now. “I am really enjoying it, as I am meeting a lot of people here,” explains Martina Brüssow.
A student exchange “to blame” for his passion for the German language
For Australian Squadron Leader Ben Gray, the enthusiasm started on a three-month student exchange in the Cologne-Bonn area. “I loved Germany, also because of the language, which is why I did everything at school to continuously improve my German. After the exchange, I continued to learn German, among others at the Goethe-Institut, improving my language skills. The last time I was in Germany was in 2007”, recalls Ben, looking towards the future: “However, I plan to travel to Germany again with my family. Our great wish is to visit the ‘Miniatur Wunderland’ in Hamburg, as one of my hobbies is model building.”
A eucalypt for koalas and to create a sense of home
“In Germany, everyone knows the famous street ‘Unter den Linden’ in Berlin. So we thought that we would create a place for our German friends here in the German container village which would bring them closer to home. Thus, the idea was born to hang a road sign on the eucalypt in the German village. There is now a sign under the tree which reads ‘Unter dem Eukalyptus’ (under the eucalypt) in big letters. In addition, we were able to establish a link to Berlin and the official seat of the Air Force,” says Ben Gray, recalling the preparations for the German visit.
A eucalypt normally serves as a source of food for koalas. Here in Darwin, it has been converted into a meeting point for the German soldiers. As not all German soldiers serve in the container village, the tree is also frequently used as a place to meet others or simply as a pleasant shady spot.
“Unter dem Eukalyptus” will remain a central place for the German contingent, conveying a sense of home in Australia until the end of the Pitch Black exercise and for the duration of the KAKADU command’s work that will follow afterwards.
Author: Florian Herrmann