Navy Mum reflects on life as a serving parent

Published on LEUT Andrew Ragless (author), LSIS Jo Dilorenzo (photographer)

Lieutenant Commander Di Lawrie and daughter, Hannah Walker, together in Darwin on Anzac Day 2013. (photo: LSIS Jo Dilorenzo)
Lieutenant Commander Di Lawrie and daughter, Hannah Walker, together in Darwin on Anzac Day 2013.

Thirty-two years of loyal service in the Royal Australian Navy has demanded that Lieutenant Commander Dianne Lawrie, a mother of one, would miss a few family occasions.

Reflecting on her 23 years of motherhood, Di describes some of these moments as “gut-wrenching”.

This Mother’s Day, she’s finally home.

17-year-old Dianne Lawrie joined the Women’s Royal Australian Navy (WRAN) in 1981. Back then, women were not allowed to train with weapons or serve at sea, instead they we issued with dresses, white gloves and were taught to march with a handbag. Di manned the radios and performed a number of administrative tasks, until the late 1980s, when equality surfaced and it was declared that women should go to sea.

In 1991, Di became mum to a tiny – and gorgeous – baby girl, Hannah Louise Walker. Di described that moment as “life-changing”.

“It was no longer just about me,” she said.

“I didn’t have the freedom to choose anymore, to volunteer for things in quite the same way.

“But on the other hand, it made me more aware of the world, more aware of the role we play in it and how we as individuals can make it a better place,” she said.

“I wanted it to be a better place for Hannah.”

It was a moment that strengthened Di’s passion for the Navy and an enduring commitment to service.

Despite accumulating years at sea in routine training and maritime exercises, Di participated in her first operational deployment in 2008, deploying to Baghdad, Iraq as part of Operation CATALYST, the ADF’s commitment to the rehabilitation of Iraq. This was the year that Hannah was completing her Year 12, a very stressful final year of school.

In 2012, Di conducted community engagement as part of Australia’s peacekeeping commitment in East Timor - it was the year she nearly missed Hannah’s 21st birthday.

“She didn’t let me get away with it either,” Di said.

“I returned from an unaccompanied posting to Canberra, we squeezed in Mother’s Day, Hannah’s birthday and then two day’s later I was gone for another six months.”

“I guess all mothers feel a sense of guilt, but for me I can only describe those times as gut-wrenching. I’m a big believer in families,” Di said.

“I believe that there is no greater honour than the honour that comes with serving your country,” she said.

“Our families are a big part of this too. They don’t choose the hardships that come with a life of service, like we as Australian Defence Force members do. But, they accept it, they honour it and they become the real heroes,” she added.

The irony is that this year, on Mother’s Day, Di will celebrate her daughter’s 23rd birthday and her own 23rd year as mother, but Hannah will be the one missing. Yielding to the charms of a handsome young Naval Engineer, Hannah promptly moved to Sydney at the end of 2013, and the two are separated once more.

Reflecting on the time that her mum spent away from home, Hannah said there were many occasions that it felt unfair.

“During the bake sales and school concerts, I remember thinking that it just wasn’t fair when other kids were with their parents but my mum was away,” she said.

“And even when she was home, I always had this idea to serve her breakfast in bed, but she was the kind of mum to jump out of bed at 5:00am and do some sort of physical training!”

“Now, the older I am the more I appreciate the sacrifices that we both made.

“I was always inspired by mum as a strong and independent woman, and now that I am older - I understand why.”

Di Lawrie is now the ‘Perso’ (Personnel Officer) at the Headquarters Northern Command in Darwin. She plays a vital role in securing Australia’s sovereignty as part of the Australian Defence Force commitment to civil maritime security operations.