Lake Cargelligo kids wave to the big, loud aircraft in the sky but they’ve never really known who was inside the planes frequently flying above their small NSW town.
Inside, the C-130J Hercules carries members of the Royal Australian Air Force who have conducted training at the Central West town’s airstrip for decades.
The next generation of the town’s 1400 residents were jumping with excitement when the pilots along with 30 other defence personnel came to greet them on Wednesday.
This community engagement day was held with the intention to engage the town’s large Indigenous community – with a Welcome to Country conducted to the crew for the first time.
Murrin Bridge Aboriginal Local Land Council deputy chair Betty Biggs said the visit was bound to have a lasting impact on the kids of the town who got to tour the plane.
“They are going to find out what’s inside. They think there’s one person inside and they’ll be shocked to see a few walking out,” she told AAP.
“It’s a big eye opener for them. Coming from a small community the kids love to see these sorts of things. Even the big ones too. Some of them might grow up and want to join them.”
RAAF Indigenous liaison officer Flight Lieutenant Tjapukai Shaw, who co-ordinated a similar trip to Gilgandra last month, hopes the Indigenous kids can see themselves in his uniform.
“I got involved through an entry level Indigenous program and that was my first real exposure to the air force. Before that I’d never seen an air force uniform,” he said.
Tegan Quinn, an Indigenous student at Lake Cargelligo Central School, said she was proud to hear the Welcome to Country spoken from her people to the crew.
She hopes to be a police officer or join the army one day, though she may be tempted by the air force after seeing the Hercules, she said.
After constantly seeing the planes her science teacher Levi Monshing emailed RAAF to ask if they could visit his students, which spiralled into a day for the community.
“Some of the students here today have never been inside a plane and today they get to experience a military plane,” he said.
Lake Cargelligo offers the pilots the opportunity to test out their landing skills on an unsealed gravel airstrip with conditions similar to what they would experience in the Middle East, South East Asia and the West Pacific.
Additionally, they simulate how to load people on and off as quickly as possible and can also learn to land using night goggles, with there being no lights on the rural runway.
Flight Lieutenant Robert, who has flown to the airstrip countless times, said it’s a picturesque spot to land with the giant sprawling lake next to the airstrip.
“A lot of people were saying we see you from our house – we always wave when you fly past,” he told AAP.
“It’s been great to actually interact with them and hear their stories from watching us on the ground.”