Helen’s mother arrived in Australia from the Netherlands at age eleven. She is named Carolina Frederica, after her uncles, Carel and Frederick, who died as prisoners-of-war in German camps.
Helen grew up near the Murray River and water is her passion.
The recruiting people came up and I had known other people that had already joined the Navy, so it was going to be Navy or nothing. I’ve always been really community minded and I wanted to give something to the country. I just wanted to be part of something like that. And obviously [she laughs] the travel and all those kind of things sounded really good.
To satisfy her parents Helen first went to university, graduating in biochemistry. She then joined the Navy, as one of only 20 female recruits in an intake of 130. Initially teaching electronics, before moving to her preferred subject, mathematics for technical trainees.
She reflects on the Navy when she enlisted, where there were no provisions for women sailors. There were no women at sea. You were issued with the same KingGee shorts, as men, down to your knees, and long blue socks. They were given a belt and told to pull it tighter.
… it’s a completely different Navy now than what it was 33 years ago…Everything’s seamless and integrated. You go to sea... and everyone’s got exactly the same [conditions] and everyone’s just treated like a ship mate... Once you’ve got the tally band or the patch on your arm that you’re part of that ship’s company, they all look out for each other.
Reviewed 10 March 2021