Coonawarra Chaplain helps evacuees during Top End floods

Published on LEUT Todd Fitzgerald (author), LSIS James Whittle (photographer)

Location(s): HMAS Coonawarra

Topic(s): HMAS Coonawarra

Chaplain Barry Porter, RANR, at HMAS Coonawarra, Darwin. (photo: LSIS James Whittle)
Chaplain Barry Porter, RANR, at HMAS Coonawarra, Darwin.

A Navy Chaplain was quick to offer help when flood waters forced the evacuation of almost 350 people from remote communities in the Northern Territory recently.

Chaplain Barry Porter from HMAS Coonawarra looked after the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the evacuees at the Darwin Showgrounds Evacuation Centre.

"The people arrived in the rain and it seemed to rain continually while they were here," Chaplain Porter said of the wettest January on record in the Top End.

"The people arrived tired and shell-shocked, just wanting to find a quiet corner to have a rest.

"It was very satisfying to help."

Chaplain Porter said many Officers and Sailors don't understand or appreciate the role of Navy Chaplains until, like the evacuees, they need help.

He said Chaplains still play an important role in Navy despite the growing trend in Australia toward secularism.

On one level, Chaplains - along with the Medical and Dental Officers, Psychologists and Physical Training Instructors - enhance Navy capability by ensuring personnel are 'fit' to fight.

At a more fundamental level, they form part of a holistic team entrusted to care for the spiritual wellbeing and welfare of the individual members, regardless of their faith.

"People are less religious these days but often more spiritual," Chaplain Porter said.

"Chaplains understand there are the physical and spiritual sides of life and both need to be understood and nourished to have a complete person."

Chaplains enter the Navy as ordained ministers and religious leaders of their faith group. Once they join Navy, they seek to minister to all naval members both at sea and ashore.

In addition to providing worship opportunities and pastoral care, Chaplains have character development responsibilities in the training of all personnel.

Chaplains are subject to the same entry requirements as other officer applicants. They also require the faith group endorsement of the appropriate member of the Religious Advisory Committee to the Services.

"Navy Chaplaincy is about meeting a person in their hour of need," Chaplain Porter said.

"Sometimes it does not require much to be done, just understating the predicament, traveling beside someone and listening to their story is enough. It is often very important to the individuals and a way of building deep relationships."