The Salute


Background of ‘The Salute’

‘The Salute’, created by Warrant Officer Class Two Darren James Moffitt © 2011.
‘The Salute’, created by Warrant Officer Class Two Darren James Moffitt © 2011.

‘The Salute’ was commissioned on 14 March 2011 by the Royal Australian Navy Band, to recognise and honour Indigenous service in the Royal Australian Navy over the last one hundred years.

It was unveiled on 10 July 2011 at the Royal Australian Navy Centenary Concert, in the City Recital Hall, Sydney in the presence of the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC; the Governor of New South Wales, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir AC, CVO; and the Chief of the Defence Force, General David Hurley AC, CSC.

‘The Salute’ was conceived initially as an Indigenous art work that could be reproduced to feature on the drum slings worn by the RAN Band Drum Corps.

Consultations were initially undertaken with a range of Indigenous individuals and community organisations in the search for the most appropriate artist to undertake the project.

However, it was through the Australian Defence Force’s own Directorate of Indigenous Affairs that the message reached Warrant Officer Class Two Darren Moffitt who immediately expressed an interest in being considered for the commission.

Supported by his previous works prepared for Australian Army programs supporting Indigenous people, Warrant Officer Class Two Darren Moffitt convincingly demonstrated an ability to engage with the intent of the commission, and a passion for telling the story of his peoples’ involvement in the Royal Australian Navy through his contemporary dot painting medium.

Warrant Officer Moffitt was guided in the completion of his work by a Reference Group consisting of the following people:

  • ‘Uncle’ Harry Allie (ex-RAAF)
  • Warrant Officer Class One Colin Watego (Defence Indigenous Affairs Recruitment and Retention Program)
  • Colonel Lesley Woodroffe (Director Operations, Directorate of Indigenous Affairs)
  • Professor Lisa Jackson-Pulver AM, Chair Indigenous Health and Professor Public Health, University of New South Wales

Reimbursement commensurate with commercial rates was agreed to and Warrant Officer Moffitt undertook the project outside of work hours. A Copyright Licence Agreement was entered into by both parties allowing the Royal Australian Navy Band to reproduce the artwork and accompanying story for agreed purposes.

Ms Maria Sammut of Flash Photobition in Sydney took the concept from a 60 x 120cm canvas to an easily detachable polypropylene ‘sleeve’ that is fitted over the drummer’s sling, including an abbreviated version of the artwork’s accompanying story on the back.

Subsequently the artwork has also been reproduced in full size versions to be displayed in each of the Navy Band’s studios in Sydney, Brisbane, Hobart, Adelaide and Perth. The original art work is hung on permanent display in the RAN Band Melbourne studio.

The Salute continues to represent the Royal Australian Navy’s commitment to reconciliation, to representing serving Indigenous members and the wider Australian Indigenous community. Members of our drum corps proudly wear The Salute on every ceremonial engagement, at the front of all RAN marching bands.

Prepared by Leading Seaman Cathy Wainwright, 2011; revised by Leading Seaman Jonathan Rendell, February 2022.


The Story of ‘The Salute’

Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a very long and proud tradition of service to the Royal Australian Navy as uniformed members of Australia’s Defence Force and also as civilians who also proudly served with Australian sailors in times of peace and war. This artwork, titled ‘The Salute’ is to honour Indigenous involvement and service in the Royal Australian Navy.

On the surface this painting depicts a dugong surrounded by other sea creatures in blue coastal waters. A coastline of earthy tones frames the sea creatures and is strewn with an array of traditional Aboriginal stencil paintings of hands and weapons, silhouette paintings of a kangaroo and hunter, rock wall paintings of tall ships and a set of footprints that follow the coastline. The painting has a story and without this the true meaning of the artwork is not easy to understand or fully appreciate. The story describing this painting is about traditions, history and warriors.

The central feature in this painting is a dugong. The dugong has very strong cultural links to both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and like the Navy, it is inherently connected with the sea. The dugong appears to be caressing a starfish in this painting; the true meaning of this gesture is embedded within this story. Surrounding the dugong in the blue coastal waters are other sea creatures that also have special meaning. Five dark blue starfish form the Southern Cross constellation around the dugong and this is significant because the Southern Cross represents Australia and the stars on the Australian White Ensign. In this artwork it also symbolises ‘country’. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples ‘country’ is extremely important and ‘protecting country’ has always been a fundamental part of Indigenous culture - ‘Protecting Country’ is why the Royal Australian Navy exists.

The dugong is surrounded by five smaller sea animals, each representing Navy’s values with two of each type to symbolise both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples: the Stingray for Honour, Fish for Honesty, Shark for Courage, Crab for Integrity and Turtle for Loyalty. Although these animals are from the same sea, they are very diverse in nature, reflecting and acknowledging the rich diversity of Australia’s Indigenous culture. The coastline frames the sea animals in earthy tones and is covered with stencil paintings and rock wall paintings that represent the past: tall ships for the Royal Navy, and Bungaree whose footprints tell of his circumnavigation of Australia.

Bungaree was a well known character in the Sydney area and in 1802/1803 he accompanied Captain Mathew Flinders on the HMS Investigator during a Royal Navy survey mission around the Australian coastline. This significant event is arguably one of the earliest examples of Indigenous service to the Navy - even though the vessel was Royal Navy and Bungaree was not a serving member, this event represents a distant link to Indigenous involvement and service to the Royal Australian Navy. The hand stencil paintings in this artwork represent and acknowledge ‘ancestors’ and the weapons are symbolic of past warriors. The boomerang, nulla nulla and stone axe are also used in Royal Australian Navy ship crests to represent Australia - this honours Australia’s Indigenous heritage and distinguishes Australian warships from the British.

The stark kangaroo and Aboriginal hunter represent HMAS Parramatta, the first commissioned ship of the Royal Australian Navy and first of many to bear Indigenous names. HMAS Parramatta (I) was a River Class Torpedo Boat Destroyer and from 1916 to 1928, the ship’s badge featured a stark kangaroo, which was then changed to an Aboriginal with spear in hand, standing in shallow water, with an impaled and entwined eel on the end of the spear. This was to link the ship’s badge design with its name; the translation of ‘Parramatta’ is “where eels lay down”. In 1961, a motto for the ship’s badge “Strike Deep” was adopted; this linked the badge design with the ship’s naval role.

This artwork highlights a long tradition of Indigenous involvement and service in the Royal Australian Navy by uniformed members and civilians. It explores the origins of this tradition with a link to Bungaree’s experience and the notion of warrior instincts and ‘protecting country’ that is embedded deep within Australia’s Indigenous culture. The artwork also demonstrates how the Royal Australian Navy continues to honour Australia’s Indigenous heritage through the use of Indigenous names for its warships and cultural materials that feature on official Navy badges. This artwork also draws a correlation between the Navy’s values and Indigenous service. The Royal Australian Navy is justifiably proud of its links with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and this artwork is a Salute, dedicated to Indigenous men and women who have served this Nation in the past and to those who continue to serve today in the Royal Australian Navy.

© 2011 Darren James Moffitt, Artist