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Sheree Symonds

Sheree joined the Royal Australian Navy in 2002. She found the training tough: 

They design it that way, so you have to just survive, and you know that if you can get through that then you can get through most things.  

The resilience she developed has stood her in good stead throughout her life. She describes her 2006 active service during the Iraq War as being in:

…a very heightened alert state. You’re always aware of, not just the threats at sea, but the threats on board. So, you think about sickness on board a ship - that goes like wildfire. You think about having a fire, a flood or a toxic hazard, which are quite deadly at sea. 

Amidst the dangers she also found camaraderie, although, with shift work, sometimes catch-ups were months apart, even for people serving on the same ship. She learned to navigate by the stars and had some unique experiences:  

…when you’re at sea and its sunset, when the sun hits the line equal with the ocean there’s a green flash that comes out. But it’s really, really, hard to see. It took me months to see it.

 Sheree has found some aspects of civilian life quite awkward: 

…I was…attending things like Tupperware parties, make-up parties, and underwear parties…[only] 10% of the Defence population is female and I’m surrounded by females and going to all these different parties…I didn’t know what to say. 

This led her to connect with fellow veterans with whom she can share understanding. She now runs RSL Active out of Altona RSL and was for many years Melbourne co-ordinator of the Women’s Veteran Network. She feels honoured to be following a path created by previous servicemen and women and strives to maintain their legacy of service. 

Sheree Symonds
HMAS Ballarat
photographer Andrew Toal

REPRODUCED COURTESY OF SHEREE SYMONDS AND ANDREW TOAL

Reviewed 25 May 2021

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