Navy offers Samuel plenty of options

Published on LEUT Gary McHugh (author), ABIS Jake Badior (photographer)

Location(s): Cairns, Queensland

Petty Officer Communications Information Systems Sam Sheppard performing with the Royal Australian Navy Indigenous Performance Group during the 2014 Indian Ocean Naval Symposium Gala Dinner being held at the Crown Convention Centre, Perth. (photo: ABIS Jake Badior)
Petty Officer Communications Information Systems Sam Sheppard performing with the Royal Australian Navy Indigenous Performance Group during the 2014 Indian Ocean Naval Symposium Gala Dinner being held at the Crown Convention Centre, Perth.

During his 17 years in the Navy, Petty Officer Communications Information Systems Samuel Sheppard has undertaken a number of deployments in various roles.

However, the day that stands out for this 36-year-old from Cairns, Queensland came in October 2013 when he performed as a member of the inaugural Navy Indigenous Performance Team at the International Fleet Review (IFR) at the Sydney Opera House.

“That was probably my most memorable day in the Australian Defence Force,” Petty Officer Sheppard said.

“To prepare for the opening ceremony, about 20 of us Navy members went on a two-week camp. 

“Half of us met with a local Aboriginal tribe called the Doonooch from Nowra, NSW and they taught us a number of their traditional dances.

“The other half of the group were from the Torres Strait Islands who had their own traditional dances to perform.”

The IFR was a huge success with more than 20 warships from 17 nations being reviewed in Sydney Harbour, and taking pride of place was Petty Officer Sheppard and the Navy Indigenous Performance Team.

Petty Officer Sheppard said he is enormously proud of his Aboriginal background.

“My heritage is from the Muluridji Tribe which is from the Mareeba area,” he said.

“That comes from my grandfather, and as well as that my family also has a lot of South Sea Islander connections from the Mackay area, which is why we call in there on the way to Cairns when we are going home to visit family.”

“These are the main two Indigenous influences on my family, which come from my father.”

He said as an Indigenous member of the Navy, he believes it is important to break down the stereotypes that still can in some sections of the community.

“Just being able to sit down and talk to people and let them know that there’s no difference between us is very important ... it’s about breaking down barriers,” he said.

Before joining HMAS Sirius to resume his role as a communications specialist, Petty Officer Sheppard spent a few years at Defence Force Recruiting which he said he enjoyed immensely.

During his time in recruiting, Petty Officer Sheppard worked in the community engagement area where he came into contact with many young people interested in joining the Navy but not sure how to go about it.

“The thing that I always said to people was that if you want to join the Australian Defence Force then go for it,” Petty Officer Sheppard said.

“Don’t ever think Defence doesn’t want you to join or let that be a reason for not joining – if you’re the right sort of person for the Australian Defence Force then apply.”

As far as what the future holds for him, Petty Officer Sheppard said that was an issue he had given some thought to.

“I’m contracted for another three years, so in 2019 I’ll finish this current posting and then I guess my options are open,” he said.

“I might apply to go back to recruiting and community engagement or I may continue to focus on my communications role, but I’ll definitely be hanging around in the Navy for another few years yet.”

Petty Officer Sheppard, who is also the captain of the Australian Defence Force Indigenous AFL team, lives with his wife Hayley and their three daughters Kamryn (9), Kyra (7) and Ada (3) in Mount Richon, Armadale, not far from Fleet Base West in Western Australia.