Gary Oakley's story
Gary Oakley is a Gundungurra man from the Blue Mountains region of New South Wales. He enlisted for service in the Royal Australian Navy at 15. Gary then travelled to Western Australia for 12 months training at HMAS Leeuwin.
Joining the RAN provided an exciting opportunity for Gary to escape small-town life, travel overseas and learn a trade. He was also inspired by his great-grandfather, who served as a steward in World War II and was killed in mid-1942, when Japanese bombers attacked Port Moresby's harbour.
After basic training, Gary was assigned to HMAS Duchess and later to HMAS Sydney, a converted aircraft carrier that had served in the Korea War.
Gary sailed to South Vietnam twice during the Vietnam War to transport military equipment to Vung Tau, for Australian personnel operating in other areas. It was a dangerous sea voyage. While the ship was docked in Vung Tau harbour, armed sentries patrolled the decks for enemy saboteurs and floating mines. Navy clearance divers checked below the waterline.
Gary later volunteered for the submarine branch, where he said friendships were especially close: ‘if you did your job well, it didn't matter who or what you were, only that you were a submariner'.
After some 20 years of service, Gary discharged from the Navy. He worked for many years as the Indigenous Liaison Officer at the Australian War Memorial, but recently transferred to the Royal Australian Air Force where he holds the rank of squadron leader.