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, .
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: