Navy appoints full time Indigenous Advisor

Published on LEUT Gary McHugh (author), ABIS Thomas Sawtell (photographer)

Topic(s): Leadership, Diversity and Inclusivity

Navy’s new Indigenous Advisor Lieutenant Commander Samuel Sheppard, then a Petty Officer, during a workshop taught by the Koomurri Aboriginal Dance Troupe at Middle Head, Sydney, in 2019. (photo: ABIS Thomas Sawtell)
Navy’s new Indigenous Advisor Lieutenant Commander Samuel Sheppard, then a Petty Officer, during a workshop taught by the Koomurri Aboriginal Dance Troupe at Middle Head, Sydney, in 2019.

Navy has appointed a fulltime Navy Indigenous Advisor as part of its commitment to the Government’s Defence Reconciliation Action Plan.

In appointing Lieutenant Commander Samuel Sheppard to the role of fulltime Indigenous Advisor in a virtual promotion ceremony on 21 May, Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Michael Noonan said Lieutenant Commander Sheppard will play a leading role in the continuing development and implementation of the Defence Reconciliation Action Plan.

“The appointment of a fulltime Advisor recognises the importance of this role as Navy continues to work towards the long term desired outcomes of this ‘stretch’ Reconciliation Action Plan,” Vice Admiral Noonan said.

“The Navy Indigenous Advisor, in leading the development and implementation of the Plan, will provide the cultural advice required to Navy’s Senior Leadership Team, Diversity and Inclusion Council and all commands at sea and ashore.

“This will ensure Navy achieves our Defence Reconciliation Action Plan commitment and contributes positively to the shared future of our nation.

“It will also enhance Navy’s engagement with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities wherever we interact with those communities.”

Lieutenant Commander Sheppard, who is currently based at HMAS Stirling, Western Australia, said being named the Navy Indigenous Advisor was a great honour for him and a highlight of his 21-year career so far.

“This appointment provides me with the opportunity to guide Navy in the formulation and implementation of policy, and to complete our Defence Reconciliation Action Plan aims,” he said.

“It also allows me to provide cultural advice and to be a point-of-contact for Indigenous members and divisional staff for feedback and suggestions on Indigenous programs and reference material.

“My priority is to establish a ‘roadmap’ that will plan Navy’s approach to meeting the deliverables of the Action Plan - through these there are great opportunities for Navy to contribute to Closing the Gap initiatives.”

At the same ceremony, the Chief of Navy also appointed Commodore Mal Wise as Navy Indigenous Champion, a role which will see him act as an advocate for Indigenous participation within Defence.

Through his role as Navy Indigenous Champion, Commodore Wise will also drive cultural awareness through Navy-specific and whole-of-Defence initiatives.

One such initiative is to work with Navy’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members to capture our Australian Navy heritage and reinforce links to our First Nations People.

Lieutenant Commander Sheppard said his appointment to the role of Navy Indigenous Advisor would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of his predecessor Commander Bert Slape OAM who held the position as an ancillary role.

“I would like to thank Commander Slape for his dedicated commitment to raising awareness and supporting Navy’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members, and for enhancing cultural inclusion,” he said.

“I have worked closely with Commander Slape over the past few months and look forward to continuing that relationship as I take up my new role.”

Originally from Far North Queensland, Lieutenant Commander Sheppard is a member of the Muluridji People and is immensely proud of his cultural heritage.