Able Seamen Jandre Van Der Walt and Katie Nattrass Russo are proudly serving in HMAS Ballarat as a way to give back and thank the country that welcomed them in their youth.
Able Seaman Van Der Walt is a Marine Technician who was born in Pretoria, South Africa. Before coming to Australia in his teens, he lived in Uganda and Dubai and grew up speaking Afrikaans at home.
“Australia is very different from all of the other places I’ve lived in the sense that it felt more normal and more at home than anywhere else,” Able Seaman Van Der Walt said.
“Straight off the bat we joined a surf club and a swimming club and got really involved in the community who welcomed us with open arms.”
According to Able Seaman Van Der Walt, his proudest personal achievement so far has been joining the Navy.
“When I became a proud Australian citizen I thought ‘what better way to say thank you to this country than to serve in the Australian Defence Force?’,” Able Seaman Van Der Walt said.
“Being able to work in a position where I am able to give back to this amazing country that I now call home drives me every day.”
Able Seaman Nattrass Russo is a Supply Chain sailor who was born in Hong Kong and adopted into a Melbourne family when she was seven years old.
“From what I know, my biological dad passed away and my mum was an illegal immigrant from Thailand who had to give me up,” Able Seaman Nattrass Russo said.
“I lived with different foster families in Hong Kong until I was seven and got adopted by my mum and dad. They brought me to Australia which was really confusing at first because I didn’t speak any English so I couldn’t communicate with anyone, but I’ve always felt lucky to be able to come to this country because of how beautiful it is and how much space we have - I had my own room and my own bed for the first time here!”
Mirroring Able Seaman Van Der Walt’s motivation for joining the Navy, Able Seaman Russo said she was spurred by the desire to give back to her country.
“I’ve had a good life since coming to Australia and therefore I wanted to give back to this country and community,” Able Seaman Nattrass Russo said.
“I chose Navy because I love the water, I want to travel, I want to experience living in different states and meet new people from all aspects of life.”
During her current posting to Ballarat, Able Seaman Nattrass Russo has had the opportunity to tick off some major personal achievements.
“I’ve always wanted to be part of the Boarding Party Team, the Flight Deck Team and the Ships Medical Emergency Team, so I was very excited and appreciative when my department put me through all the courses and now I’m part of those teams,” Able Seaman Nattrass Russo said.
Both Able Seamen have been serving since 2018 and say they would recommend a naval career to anyone, no matter what their background.
“I encourage people from any background to join the Navy. The Navy doesn’t discriminate and it feels like a family which is one of the reasons it attracted me,” Able Seaman Nattrass Russo said.
“I absolutely encourage people from migrant backgrounds to join the Navy. I think being a migrant gives you a lot of the skills you need to work with people from different departments and backgrounds. I personally could see myself doing this for the rest of my life,” Able Seaman Van Der Walt said.
HMAS Ballarat is currently undertaking Unit Readiness Evaluations to certify the ship as ‘Unit Ready’ for any upcoming activities.