Submarine Force celebrates 20 years of women in submarines

This article has photo gallery Published on Mr Andrew Bujdegan (author), LSIS Kylie Jagiello (photographer)

Location(s): HMAS Stirling, WA

Topic(s): HMAS Stirling, Submarine Force

Former and current female submariners pose together in the junior sailor's cafe on board HMAS Sheean to celebrate the 20th anniversary of women in Australian submarines, at HMAS Stirling, Western Australia. (photo: LSIS Kylie Jagiello)
Former and current female submariners pose together in the junior sailor's cafe on board HMAS Sheean to celebrate the 20th anniversary of women in Australian submarines, at HMAS Stirling, Western Australia.

This year, the Submarine Force has celebrated the 20th anniversary of women in submarines.

Twenty years ago, former Able Seaman Communication and Information Systems Submariner Rachel Irving became Australia's first female submariner when she was awarded her ‘Dolphins’ on 30 June 1999.

The anniversary was marked at a morning tea at HMAS Stirling - the home of the Submarine Force - last Friday.

Most people serving in the Submarine Force of today wouldn't remember submarines without female submariners. Over the past 20 years, women have served below the surface as officers and sailors across the spectrum of submarine employment categories. 

Commander Submarine Force, Captain Doug Theobald said the 20-year anniversary was an important milestone for a number of reasons.

“It’s important to acknowledge that the Royal Australian Navy in 1998 was the first non-Scandinavian country to allow women to serve aboard their submarines,” he said.

“To pursue our mission, we must reflect the diversity of the people we serve.

“We started off by focusing on gender diversity and doing things that now seem dated, but were actually quite challenging for the organisation of the day.

“So we can acknowledge that this is a significant milestone.

“We not only had women pioneers forging a path for others twenty years ago, but we also had many others that persisted in making it a reality.

“These people had the determination to develop a growing and learning organisation and make diversity and inclusion a significant part of the permanent culture of our Submarine Force,” Captain Theobald said.

Front, L-R: Able Seaman Electronic Warfare Submarines (ABEWSM) Joanne Hayes; former Petty Officer Acoustic Warfare Analyst Submarines Deanne Cochrane; Commander Submarine Force, Captain Doug Theobald; former Leading Seaman Maritime Logistics - Chef Submarines Racheal Bingham; and ABEWSM Jessica Wright with former and current female submariners during celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of women in Australian submarines, in the Sir James Stirling Mess, HMAS Stirling, WA.

Front, L-R: Able Seaman Electronic Warfare Submarines (ABEWSM) Joanne Hayes; former Petty Officer Acoustic Warfare Analyst Submarines Deanne Cochrane; Commander Submarine Force, Captain Doug Theobald; former Leading Seaman Maritime Logistics - Chef Submarines Racheal Bingham; and ABEWSM Jessica Wright with former and current female submariners during celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of women in Australian submarines, in the Sir James Stirling Mess, HMAS Stirling, WA.

Attending the event to mark the significant milestone were several of the pioneer female submariners referred to by Captain Theobald.

Two of the original female submariners to gain their Dolphins in 1999, Ms Deanne Cochrane (12 August 1999) and Ms Racheal Bingham (27 September 1999) were hosted by the Submarine Force’s two most recently qualified women, Able Seamen Joanne Hayes and Jessica Wright - both Electronic Warfare Submariners.

Also in attendance was the Submarine Force’s current longest serving female submariner, Chief Petty Officer Lisa Turner, who earned her Dolphins qualification 18 years ago.

Chief Petty Officer Turner is currently posted to Sea Training Unit - Submarines and continues to impact capability through sharing her wealth of knowledge and experience across the Submarine Force.

Chief Petty Officer Narelle Neave and Commander Susan Harris visited Western Australia from the east coast for the event, reinforcing the significance of the milestone.

Commander Harris is the first female Executive Officer of a Royal Australian Navy submarine and was awarded the Conspicuous Service Medal as part of the Australia Day 2018 Honours List.

Today, Navy has 87 female submariners across the organisation, comprising 13 officers, 10 senior sailors and 64 junior sailors.

Imagery is available on the Navy Image Gallery: https://images.navy.gov.au/S20192046.