Commander Rose Apikotoa recently became the first Australian of Tongan heritage to take a Navy command role, as the Commanding Officer of HMAS Moreton.
CAPTION: Commander Rose Apikotoa addresses family, Defence members and guests at the handover takeover ceremony conducted at HMAS Moreton, Queensland. Story by Lieutenant Rebecca Williamson. Photo by Corporal Brett Sherriff.
A ceremony and cultural performance in Moreton’s heritage warehouse marked the event, attended by members of the Pacific Islander community from south-east Queensland and the ship’s crew of Moreton.
Executive Officer Moreton Lieutenant Commander Amy Brauns delivered the first welcome speech.
“This significant occasion resonates with the Navy’s values of diversity, unity and strength,” she said.
“Commander Apikotoa brings with her a wealth of experience, dedication and a unique cultural perspective that will undoubtedly resonate throughout her command and beyond.”
The cultural ceremony involved a Samoan Taualuga dance, performed by Petty Officer Saluluelana Gray, who was dressed in a traditional Tongan Ofu Siapo and used a Gifo Oki; the national weapon of Samoa.
“It was an absolute honour to perform this for Commander Apikotoa today,” she said.
“Firstly, to recognise her achievement in a command role as the first Australian of Tongan heritage, but it is also a very emotionally rewarding opportunity for me because Commander Apikotoa is not only a mentor and friend to me, but a significant role model for all women.” Petty Officer Gray said.
Outgoing Commanding Officer, Commander Fiona Southwood, handed the weight of command to Commander Apikotoa, and described her role over the past two years as unique, with many challenges and opportunities.
“We supported the death of a monarch and the Coronation of a monarch. We did an outstanding job celebrating Navy week in October 2022, where we also celebrated the 80th anniversary of the commissioning of Moreton, to name a few things,” Commander Southwood said.
“But it was my team that was my absolute highlight.
“A team that goes to PT together, eats lunch together, supports each other, and celebrates the achievements of our team mates in an inclusive workplace where people are happy to be at work and work towards common goals. There is nothing better than that.”
In her welcome speech, Commander Apikotoa recognised the Indigenous owners of the land.
“It is in part thanks to their resilient voices that have assisted in paving the way for a woman of colour, like me, to get to this position,” she said.
She also gave thanks to the notable members of Pacific Islander community she will work with during her tenure.
“I am looking forward to continuing to work with Pacific Islander youth and first-generation Australians because, like them, my parents migrated to make a better life my siblings and I,” she said.
“When I was in high school I never would have thought that I could be a commander in the Royal Australian Navy and now in command of a Navy establishment, but thanks to them, I am proof that it is possible.
“Our community runs on the motto that ‘when one achieves, we all achieve’.
“So I am very proud to be the first person of Tongan heritage to be given the opportunity of a command role and even prouder to be role model and representative to the Pacific Islander community.”