Wing Commander (AAFC) Robert Somerville AM is the first-ever Aboriginal person to be appointed Officer Commanding of a Wing in the RAAF’s cadet program, the Australian Air Force Cadets.
A multi-engine, instrument-rated pilot and a qualified parachutist, he heads up No 7 Wing (Western Australia), which comprises about 750 Cadets and staff.
Wing Commander (AAFC) Somerville is an Aboriginal Martu man whose people live in Jigalong in Western Australia.
The movie ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’, based on the novel by Doris Pilkington Garimara, is the story of his family, with grandmother Yibbie George also walking along the fence to get home, some 10 years before the girls who were portrayed in the movie, all of whom were her nieces.
In 1969, aged 14, Wing Commander (AAFC) Somerville joined the Air Force Cadets (then called the Air Training Corps) in the Perth suburb of Belmont.
“As a young Aboriginal teen from a single parent family living in State-owned housing, joining what was then the Air Training Corps was my first experience of being treated equally,” said Wing Commander (AAFC) Somerville.
“In Cadets, I learned the real meaning of equity was that no matter how rich you were, and regardless of the colour of your skin or the language you spoke, you were judged solely on your achievements and character.
“This is one of the great values of the Australian Air Force Cadets, where everyone is treated equally and you advance on the basis of merit.
“Being treated as an equal, largely unique for Aboriginal people in those days, inspired and empowered me to pursue a professional career as a primary school teacher, school principal and then school superintendent, mainly in the north west of WA,” said Wing Commander (AAFC) Somerville.
He has just concluded 10 years as the WA Government’s Director of Aboriginal Education; and is now Adjunct Associate Professor at Edith Cowan University and Principal Advisor to the National Principals Association’s Institute.
“I owe this organisation a great deal, and am delighted to now be able to further encourage young Australians from all backgrounds to join an organisation that will firmly encourage them to achieve their dreams – while also having a really good time.”
Since being appointed an officer of cadets in 1978, Wing Commander (AAFC) Somerville has served in all officer ranks, including squadron commanding officer; and with staff appointments including executive officer and in charge of adult leadership training.
Wing Commander (AAFC) Somerville was awarded Membership of the Order of Australia in 2003 for services to WA youth through the Australian Air Force Cadets and to indigenous young people as an educator.