That's the shot: Navy photographer retires after 48 years

This article has photo gallery Published on Natalie Staples (author), ABIS Bonny Gassner (photographer)

Location(s): Sydney

Warrant Officer Image Specialist John O’Brien as a young sailor developing his own photographs. (photo: )
Warrant Officer Image Specialist John O’Brien as a young sailor developing his own photographs.

When 17-year-old John O'Brien decided to see the world he did not expect a 48-year career in the Royal Australian Navy.

Growing up in regional Western Australia, John decided to escape Northam by following in his cousin's footsteps and join the service.
Signing up in 1968, Warrant Officer O'Brien started the basic communicators' course before he transferred to the Navy photographic course at HMAS Albatross in 1969.

"We were taught on black and white film and paper, and used 35mm, 120mm, 5 x 4 inch film and 16mm movie cameras. Over the years the technology and function has evolved, so it has been an interesting career," he said.

While Warrant Officer O'Brien never deployed operationally - being too junior of rank for the Vietnam War and too senior for the Gulf War - he enjoyed plenty of opportunities that kept him committed to Navy.

He said being a Navy photographer had given him access to people that most could only dream of meeting.

"I have photographed the Queen and Prince Philip, Prime Ministers and shaken hands with Prince Charles," he said.

Reflecting on almost half a century of service, Warrant Office O'Brien said he was proud of what he had achieved.

"I joined the Navy to do something different and that's exactly what I have done. I have put a frame around the world."

He said while technology and the organisation had changed since he joined, Navy still remained a place full of opportunities, and had this advice for junior sailors.

"Do your promotion courses as soon as you can if you are going to make Navy your career. Buy some bricks and mortar and take up the opportunities as they come. Treat your career as one adventure after another," he said.

Warrant Officer O'Brien retired from the Navy last month.

He served in the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne and HMA Ships StalwartQueenboroughVampire and Stuart.