RESIDENTS of a tiny cane farming community along North Queensland’s coast are the latest recruits to join Exercise Talisman Sabre, providing the backdrop for realistic scenario training complete with civilian actors.

The town of Ingham, 111km north of Townsville, has been reimagined as a small Pacific island nation overrun by an enemy force with insurgents littered throughout the region.

While the town is no stranger to hosting troops in training, this scenario has increased the involvement of locals with everyone from the Mayor to business owners and even school students given a character to act.

Ingham residents acting as part of Talisman Sabre training. IMAGE: Supplied

Hinchenbrook Shire Mayor Raymon Jayo said the town was a buzz with residents in full support of their unique cameo roles.

“Locals actually play-act and they feel that it’s a part of their way to give back to the army by helping train,” he said.

“Because we do appreciate it’s not an easy life and they’re training for a purpose.”

Walking down the street feels more like a movie set than a town centre as heavy armoured vehicles and troops patrol. Actors hide in plain sight carrying out their scripted roles, including snipers on rooftops. 

Mr Jayo said the training was also helping the council think about its own disaster response planning in a more strategic way.

“It’s making us think because our training and procedures are designed for cyclones so its thought-provoking,” he said.

Scenario training at Ingham. IMAGES: Supplied

Tasked by reservist soldiers of the 2nd Division, the training is part of a range of certification processes playing out during the large-scale international war games which has brought more than 30,000 military personnel to Australia. 

Battlegroup Commander Lieutenant Colonel Peter Hukins (pictured below) said realistic training was critical for soldiers, particularly on the back of the recent Defence Strategic Review which refined the role of Australia’s Reserve Force as being the leading agency to provide domestic security including natural disaster response.

It’s a clear shift away from using permanent forces as was done during covid with personnel tasked to hotel quarantine and managing state and territory borders. 

“This is a small scale rehearsal for a wider civilian task,” he said.

“It’s about ensuring security while engaging with civilian agencies, key leaders, key stakeholders in the particular area and adjusting force posture to deal with varying levels of low threat right up to higher end.

“All those skills and those rehearsals and operations that we’ve undertaken in the past all come to the conglomerate of skills and capabilities that 2 Div has on its hands.

LTCOL Peter Hukins gives mission orders to his troops as part of Exercise Talisman Sabre operating in the town of Ingham, North Queensland. IMAGE: Supplied

“Should 2 Div need to enact some sort of defence task in support of the homeland they would project elements to different parts of Australia, particularly northern approaches of Australia.”

With a heavy focus on interpersonal skills and interacting with civilians, the Ingham-based training comes amid a Defence decision to fast-track reservist training from five weeks to three in an effort to bolster numbers. 

LTCOL Hukins said while specifics of what initial training looked like was still being worked through at higher levels, he supported the idea of getting new recruits into units quicker.

“It means that they are quicker to form the things that can’t easily be defined in a training course which is those relationships,” he said.

“And those working capabilities that are so crucially important to that teamwork ethos that we need in defence.”

Private Thomas Adamson said he was inspired to join the Reserves after seeing how involved the ADF was during recent bushfires and floods, hoping he could tap into his own skillset as a Psychology Undergraduate.

“It’s just to look out for our fellow Australians,” PTE Adamson said.

“It’s what I signed up for anyway, to do that domestic sort of stuff and help out where I can in the community.”

Exercise Talisman Sabre is expected to run throughout the week with a closing ceremony in Brisbane planned to mark its end. 

The international war games were paused for 24 hours on Saturday following a catastrophic crash involving four aviators into waters off Hamilton Island during a night flying mission on Friday night. 

Captain Danniel Lyon, Lieutenant Maxwell Nugent, Warrant Officer Class Two Joseph Phillip Laycock and Corporal Alex Naggs were flying as part of a special operations mission.

Defence Minister Richard Marles said the initial search and rescue mission had moved into a recovery phase.

“The families of these four men have every right to feel an intense sense of pride,” Marles said during a press conference in Canberra. 

“And in the midst of the inadequacy of these words, I want them to know that they stand in the warm embrace of the entire nation.”

Australian Defence Force support services

1.       Defence All-hours support line – The All-hours Support Line (ASL) is a confidential telephone service for ADF members and their families that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling 1800 628 036.

2.       Defence Member and Family Helpline – Operates 24-7, if you need support, help, or advice at any time, call 1800 624 608. The Defence Member and Family Helpline is staffed by qualified human services professionals including social workers and psychologists.

3.       A network of dedicated mental health professionals at health centres located at major Defence bases is available to provide or facilitate support for ADF members both on-base and off-base. For out-of-hours or away-from-base assistance, members can call 1800 IMSICK (1800 467 425) to locate the nearest support. More information is available via the Mental Health Portal at:

4.       Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling (formerly VVCS) provides free and confidential counselling and support for current and former serving ADF members and their families. They can be reached 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 1800 011 046 or visit the Open Arms website for more information.

5.       Open Arms also has Safe Zone Support which can be accessed at:

6.       The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) provides immediate help and treatment for any mental health condition, whether it relates to service or not. If you or someone you know is finding it hard to cope with life, call Open Arms on 1800 011 046 or DVA on 1800 838 372. Further information can be accessed on the DVA website.A full list of welfare support services is available at:

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