Palm Sunday had an extra special meaning for those attending the weekly church service aboard HMAS Tobruk on 29 March during the ship’s deployment to Vanuatu on Operation PACIFIC ASSIST 2015.
In order to embrace the symbology of the day, Navy Chaplain Russell Smith asked embarked Civil-Military Co-operation officer, Lieutenant Colonel Mark Smith, to try and obtain some palm fronds while he was ashore at Erromango Island.
“I realised this had to be done sensitively as the people had lost so much and palm fronds are a valuable roofing material,” Chaplain Smith said.
“Lieutenant Colonel Smith met one of the local chiefs, Philmond Athelo, and a Presbyterian minister, Reverend Mike Wahilo, who were willing to help.
“They held a small ceremony to bless the leaves before giving them to Lieutenant Colonel Smith to bring to the ship.”
The four leaves held centre-stage during the Palm Sunday service, which Chaplain Russell conducted jointly with embarked Army Chaplain Gary Pope.
Chaplain Russell said having his Army colleague onboard had been a blessing.
“Chaplain Pope is well-known and highly regarded by Tobruk’s ship’s company as well as his own unit,” he said.
“Teaming up together for services, resilience and cultural briefs for everyone aboard is another way we can show what can be achieved when people from all services join together for a common goal.”
Meteorologist Lieutenant Ami Hansen, of the Operational Navy Meteorology and Oceanography Centre at Sydney’s Garden Island, said it was “very cool” having the palm fronds from the island for the church service.
“It is amazing that the villagers want to give something back to help us start celebrating our Easter,” she said.