Serving the nation for more than half a century

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Tony White (author), Mrs Lauren Larking (photographer)

Location(s): Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

Topic(s): Federation Star

Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Tim Barrett AO, CSC, presents Commander Mick Brice with his 3rd Federation Star and certificate at Russell Offices, Canberra.  (photo: Lauren Larking)
Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Tim Barrett AO, CSC, presents Commander Mick Brice with his 3rd Federation Star and certificate at Russell Offices, Canberra.

After 52 years in the Royal Australian Navy, Commander Mick Brice has received a third Federation Star, and seventh clasp to the Defence Long Service Medal, to recognise his continuing long service to the Navy and Australia.

The engineer began his Naval career as a 15-year-old apprentice in 1964 when most Navy ships were driven by steam. 

"After six months of attacking various forms of metal and attempting to make specific shapes from them we were given the opportunity to select the trade we would like to follow. I chose to become a boiler maker welder as it seemed to be a very useful skill to have in a ship,” Commander Brice said.

Looking back to his early years in the Navy, he recalled a time at sea when, as a lookout in cold weather, he tried to keep warm by wrapping himself in spare flags from the ship’s flag locker. Understandingly, he now reflects very positively on the modern wet and cold weather uniforms issued to sailors.

He advanced steadily through the ranks within the Marine Engineering community before being promoted to Sub Lieutenant in 1977 and being posted to the United Kingdom for a year’s service with the Royal Navy.  

He went on to serve in a number of ships including as the Arrestor Officer on board Navy’s last aircraft carrier, HMAS Melbourne.

As a Lieutenant Commander in 1986, he took part in what was then a rare visit to Shanghai, China, as the Marine Engineering Officer aboard HMAS Parramatta. True to his marine engineer background, Commander Brice still recalls the high quality of the diesel fuel available in Shanghai and the poor quality of the fittings used to deliver it. Even though diplomatic relations between China and Australia had been established several years earlier, there would have still been very few Australian sailors in those days who had witnessed the hundreds of Tai Chi practitioners on the banks of the Yangtze River at sunrise.

After Shanghai, he returned to Australia taking up a series of Naval Engineering and Joint Service roles and was promoted to Commander. 

Commander Brice said his greatest achievement over 52 years was not service related.

“I was sensible enough to marry a girl who has accompanied me for over forty years from my time as a Chief Petty Officer, who without a Navy background, has accepted the difficulties of service life and who has provided the Navy with a great amount of unrecognised support; though not always without a few words.”

Commander Brice left the permanent Navy in 2004 and as a Reservist continues his contribution, currently working on a handbook to be used by United Nations peacekeepers dealing with Improvised Explosive Devices.