I write a weekly column for my local paper; The Torres News. The column is called Ailan Yarns (translates to Island Chats) and it focuses on sharing positive stories from within the community. It also shines a light on local issues to give the community a chance to voice their opinions. Enjoy.
Published in The Torres News
Printed: 29th June 2018
Author: Kantesha Takai
Joining the Defence Force was a goal for Chanaya Takai. She knew that she wanted to leave home when she finished school and her decision to apply for the Royal Australian Navy was heavily guided by her love for the sea and traveling.
“I applied through the mainstream naval recruitment process. But, I was asked to complete the Defence Indigenous Development Program (DIDP). I only spent two weeks in the program before I was moved to the mainstream recruit school in Melbourne.”
Chanaya was 17 at the time and leaving home was hard. Feeling guilty, she avoided telling her parents about her Navy acceptance until two weeks before she left.
“I was scared to tell my parents about joining the Defence Force. I felt like I was letting them down by leaving, and I knew that they would worry too much.”
As prepared as she was to leave home, Chanaya wasn’t ready for the reality of recruit school.
“It was hard. Basically, it was 11 weeks of them rebuilding you into a Sailor. I learnt how to speak Navy and live Navy. There was no in-between and it was strict.”
But, Chanaya powered through it, learnt the ropes and graduated. Her first posting was to Canberra where she was reunited with fellow Torres Strait Islanders. A key highlight for Chanaya was visiting Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea as a member of the Australian Federation Guard.
“I’ve actually been to a lot of places since then as well. In fact, I’ve seen most of Asia.”
Travelling across the world is a bonus for Chanaya, who has met and worked alongside people from the US Defence Force, PNG Defence Force and even the Indonesian Defence Force.
However, back home in Australia, she was always one of very few girls in all her fleets.
“In the Navy, you learn how to become one of the guys because my department is mostly guys anyway.”
Chanaya explained that as one of the only females, you either get treated like a little sister or you just toughen up because you get treated like one of the guys.
“Everything is equal, so the women do the same jobs as the men. And, you must work just as hard as the men because after all, we all get paid the same.”
The reality of working in a male-dominated industry is quite daunting, but Chanaya has managed to excel and be promoted along the way. Her most recent promotion offer was to a Leading Seaman, a role which she at first felt unentitled to.
“I didn’t want to accept it because I didn’t feel like I deserved it. Usually this role is appointed to people that have been in the Navy for over six years. I’ve only been in the Navy for five years at the time.”
But, she accepted the promotion and it came with yet another relocation.
This time Chanaya’s posting was to Darwin to be on patrol boats, where she is happily based now.
“I absolutely love it. When I was on the other boats in Sydney, we were always training. Now I’m on board the boats that do these things for real.”
Being on a smaller boat means that you get to know your crew really well and Chanaya is one of 24.
“My crew in Darwin is more like a family and everyone is very supportive.”
Again, being one of 3 women on board comes with its own challenges and there’s no space for girl talk. But after a year of being the only woman in her department, Chanaya now finally works with another female Petty Officer.
“In my current department, I’m one of only two women. But, I’m lucky that my Buffer (superior officer) is a woman and it’s the first time I’ve ever worked under a woman. We get along really well.”
The Navy has taken Chanaya across the world, but it’s hard on her emotionally too.
“I miss out on a lot of things happening back home. I don’t get to see my family often and I can’t plan for holidays in advance because there is always that chance we can force assign the very next day.”
Chanaya has recently completed her Small Ships Navigation course, which allows her to be an Officer of the Watch (OOW).
“I got passed out in 3weeks and was holding my own watches at sea, at first it was really scary because I am usually the person taking the Helm orders from the OOW but now I am the OOW giving the orders.”
Chanaya does love the Navy and everything she has accomplished so far is doing Torres Strait women, and women in general, proud.
Thanks for sharing your story sis.