A Royal Australian Navy seaman from Mareeba tells how her brother’s Navy stories motivated her to encourage the next generation.
CAPTION: Able Seaman Maritime Elly-May Mitchell represents her Indigenous heritage for Reconciliation week at HMAS Waterhen, NSW. Story by Corporal Michael Rogers. Photo by Able Seaman Benjamin Ricketts.
Growing up on a farm in Mareeba, a small country town an hour outside of Cairns, Seaman Elly-May Mitchell said there wasn’t much opportunity to see the world.
But she saw her chance after school visits from Navy personnel and heard stories of their overseas adventures.
When she heard her brother’s praise for the Navy Indigenous Development Program (NIDP), Seaman Mitchell knew the Navy would be the right fit for her.
“My brother would come home and tell us all about it, and I thought, that seems pretty cool.
“So, my mum’s like ‘why don’t you try it out?’,” she said.
Seaman Mitchell took the plunge and joined the NIDP in January 2022, and during the six-month program she worked on fitness, leadership and communication skills.
Despite not being used to working with other people, the program helped improve her teamwork while learning naval skills, including ship damage control and firefighting, at the maritime college in Cairns.
“It gave me a lot of insight into the Navy.
“They prepare you for when you go down to recruit school,” Seaman Mitchell said.
“That was really handy when I went down to recruit school.
“I knew what I was doing, and I could help all the other recruits around me.”
It was also a chance to connect with her Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander heritage during the NIDP, with elders conducting cultural immersion days, including song, dance and storytelling.
Seaman Mitchell joined the Navy in July in a marine logistics – supply chain role and, on completing her initial employment training was posted to HMAS Waterhen and is allocated to minehunter HMAS Huon.
She finds the work busy but enjoyable, and the opportunity to meet new people and play sports is something she loves.
“I’ve played soccer since I was five years old to when I was 15, and after that I started playing rugby,” Seaman Mitchell said.
“I played one game of rugby at the end of last year against the Victorian police team.
“I ended up scoring all the tries and we won 25-5.”
Growing up in a foster family, Seaman Mitchell had limited exposure to Indigenous culture, but found a deeper understanding since joining Navy, first with the NIDP then through the regional Indigenous development coordinator at Waterhen.
She hopes to be posted to Cairns in the future to be closer to family, but also to inspire the next generation of north Queensland sailors.
“When I become a killick [leading seaman] and go back home to Cairns, I want to go to the schools I grew up in and tell the kids what Navy is about, especially Indigenous kids.
“I want to try and lead them onto the right path and tell them they can have a great future with the Navy,” Seaman Mitchell said.