Part 1. Learning to Drive a Guided Missile Destroyer 1976-81.
My first five years in the Navy led to obtaining a ticket to drive this ship. That qualification was called a Full Bridge Watchkeeping Certificate. I obtained this by the age of 23, in 1981. My training include two tours of duty in the north west Indian Ocean. It was an interesting time as the Russians were invading Afghanistan. It was the zenith of the Cold War.
The training included three years at the University of New South Wales. My chosen streams were Physics, Psychology and Philosophy. I enjoyed learning new ideas and discussing these broadly. I also became aware that not all ideas are a success. I really enjoyed reading the history of science. Is light a wave or is it a particle?
The first year was actually spent studying at the Naval College at Jervis Bay. Second and third year was when we attend the NSW University campus in Sydney. We did Navigation training, on the new training ship HMAS Jervis Bay, in our university breaks. It was just the best way to go to University – on full pay with our typing expenses paid. I was able to buy a brand new Fiat Sports X19 in 1978 when in third year at Uni. I rented a garage over the road from the university grounds to keep the car safe while I was living in a College nearby. Such a blessing!
I was surprised to learn at our 40 Year Reunion in 2016 that selection board ranked us in order of merit. I did not know until then that I was “number 2” on that list. Here I have included some photos from that time in my life. It was an absolute privilege to receive that training and it benefited us all. My years at university were the best years of my life in many respects. Being surrounded by bright aspirational people, open to new ideas, was always fun.
Many of my peers have had stellar careers becoming Vice Admirals, Rear Admirals, Commanding Officers of many ranks and leaders in industry. My life took a turn in this period. I found the senseless bullying and rage on the Bridge of this ship beyond the pale. It remains one of my pet dislikes that narcissist get promoted in the services. Being positive, and coming alongside the people you lead, is so much healthier. It expands consciousness and greatly improves problem solving. Fortunately the great majority of Officers were then and still are excellent leaders.
I later turned down the command of a interim survey ship, HMAS Betano. I returned from leave in October 1985 to this turning point. I was offered a command and a teaching job back at my old school simultaneously. I chose the later, suddenly leaving the RAN at the ten year mark. I chose to teach HSC Physics instead at a regional school in the country New South Wales. The Headmaster, John Hunter Esq. appreciated my skill set. He was a former Royal Navy officer. He had two sons in the RAN at the time. He gave me an offer, I could not refuse. I kept my Navy pay level, had 12 weeks holiday per year and was able to go home each night! That was rather great as my first son, David, was almost 2 years old at the time.
Indeed our training and history shows that to fight and win at sea, sailors need to be free thinking. Rule books – written in a comfortable offices – only take you so far. Beyond that, faith and charisma win. Competent leadership demand these qualities. Most naval battles in the last 500 years are a testament to that fact. Free sailors improvised without fearing a backlash from their bosses. They won against formidable, larger fleets. They had hope in their bellies, not overriding fear in the gut. Studies have proved that sailors who are ruled with fear, hesitate and die. We are seeing the same leadership and spirit in Ukraine now as I write.
This is one of the reasons why we must always promote intelligent free thinking over narcissism in our Services. Studies of groups in life boats show that those who keep their energies high and positive – by prayer, meditation and singing – are so often rescued. Both new knowledge in neuroscience and quantum physics, plus ancient wisdom, explain how this happens.
As Henry Ford is quoted as saying: “If you think you can or you think you cannot, you are right”. Our thoughts are inextricably linked to our futures. High energy positive thoughts and emotions have enabled me to get selected into the Navy, change careers and inspire people. It is not rocket science but there are many who do not understand, in all walks in life. They are the people, with no empathy and big egos. I think the term “Power-paths” is a great name for them. Narcissists is another.
Fortunately there are many men and women with a deep inner faith too. Those qualities are essential to fight and win at sea, to defend our freedom. Some of the best people I know have risen to the top to lead our forces and inspire its future. They have seeded new ideas.
AUKUS is a truly brilliant idea and will benefit Australia beyond belief. People opposed the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the 1920s as they had no vision for the future! People will be the same with this massive national and international engineering and social change. Hopefully commonsense will prevail. If you stand still you get over taken. Ancient wisdom also tells us that without a vision people perish.
Visions unite us and take us forward. I have used this leadership strategy frequently. The latest is the Land Rover 75 Year Trans-Australia Expedition.
Part 2. Specializing in the RAN Hydrographic Service
The RAN Hydrographic Service was a really positive place to work. After completing Hydrographic Surveyor training, I spent 1982-83 as the Navigator of the “White Ghost of the West Coast”. That was the unofficial name of the happy and comfortable ship, HMAS Moresby. It was spacious, painted white and had teak decks. Built in Newcastle in 1964, it set a record travelling more miles than any ship in the RAN. Australia’s area of responsibility for charting covers one-eighth of the globe. We surveyed the approaches to Cocos- Keeling Islands, Christmas Island, Geraldton, Jurien Bay, Albany and Esperance while I was setting its route. We also visited Darwin and Surabaya.
My job was to plan the ships track and ensure the ship stayed on it to reach our destination. Satnav came into service while I was onboard. I was able to put my sextant back into its box. So ended 400 years of mariner tradition observing the morning and evening stars in all weathers every day at sea. This ritual was followed by hours of looking up almanacs and long handed additions and subtractions. At best you could establish where you were to the nearest few miles! At worst you only had a clue.
On our 5-day ocean passage of 1500 nautical miles from Fremantle to the Cocus Islands we passed through the edge of a cyclone. It was total cloud cover all the way! The night before expected landfall, we saw the reassuring sign of seabirds returning to roost at sunset. We altered course a degree or two and followed those birds! As part of that survey we located North Keeling Island. Its position was 16nm in error. We also located a sea mount and mapped it. At its peak the water was only 16m deep!
This occurred in an area where the ocean was thought to be 5000m deep. So the mountain was almost twice the height of Mt Kosciusko. The fishing was pretty good as no one knew that place, in the middle of the ocean, was out there! There had just been some vague reports from two merchant ships in the 1970s. There is still a lot we do not know about our oceans and remote islands.