Gary Oakley - A Gundungurra man joins the Navy

Running time
2 min 41 sec
Date made
Place made
Department of Veterans' Affairs


My people are Gundungurra so we're from the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, and I was born in Katoomba, that’s like traditional land. Where my people come from is down in the Jamison Valley, in …. I had an apprenticeship, I was offered an apprenticeship to be a pastry chef at the Hydro Majestic because I used to pick a little girl up and take her to school and bring her home for her dad and he was the head pastry chef at the Hydro Majestic.

And he said, "Do you want to, you know, you want apprenticeship? " Because I like to cook and I said, "Yeah, no worries ". So I was gonna, when I turned seventeen, I was going to do this apprenticeship. But dad got a job, because my dad worked for the council, and he ran a treatment works in North Katoomba and he got a job in … central New South Wales … so we moved there and I lost the apprenticeship.

And for an indigenous kid, in the middle of Central New South Wales, there was the mission at Cowra, which is not too far away, no jobs, not a great place. "How do I get out of here? What's the quickest way out? " and I went, "I can join the navy when I'm 15. ". So, I joined the Navy and at that time, they had bakers, and I thought, "I can be a baker ".

So I went to HMAS Leeuwin, and you did 12 months as a junior recruit and at the end of your service at Leeuwin, they basically asked you to give three choices and I had underwater control, my first choice was cook, underwater control and clearance diver. And basically they said to me, "No, you're too smart to be a cook ". But I said, "I want to be a baker " and they went, "Oh, we've just got rid of bakers ". So they said, "You're going to be an electrician, and if you fail electrical course you're going to be a clearance diver ". And I went, "Oh, clearance diver. "

Vietnam’s on and I wasn't particularly interested in crawling through a swamp while the locals were shooting at me. So I thought, "Okay, I'll become an electrician ". So I became an electrician and my first ship was HMAS Duchess, they sent me the Duchess. Duchess was in refit. So, basically, we're the refit party in Sydney and I was a Ord D EM, ordinary seaman electrical mechanic. And then they took me off Duchess sent me out to Narimba for a while to paint rocks.

A good thing the Navy used to do, if they’ve got nothing for you to do, you go and paint rocks. So, you just, you know, painted rocks around the Depot I planted something like 300 rose bushes in front of the wardroom. And, also, and these are the days when the navy used to have pig farms on the base and I also worked in the pig farm.

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