Kerrin Humphrey – Boatswain’s mate, Royal Australian Navy


I was born in Launceston in Tasmania, and I grew up just outside of Launceston in Kayena. There was no– I had a cousin who was a warrant officer in the Army and a cousin who was in the Air Force. But other than that, no one that I was aware of at the time had served. I went to Brookes High School in Launceston and decided at the age of 16 that I wanted to travel the world and get out of Tasmania. I originally joined up as a aircraft technician, got accepted – by that time I was 17 – was going to go off to recruit school but I changed my mind and decided to move to Victoria and do Year 12– repeat Year 12 because I was
going to join as a seaman officer. I think they’re called maritime officers now. They are in charge of the ship
under the commanding officer so they make all the decisions, went on the bridge, all the movements that the ship makes but I’d heard bad things about being a seaman officer so I chose boatswain’s mate. A boatswain’s mate is a seamanship expert. Anything to do with ropes is what a boatswain’s mate does. They are the small arms experts on board the ship, so anything ranging from a pistol to 50 Cal machine gun, their job is to know how they work, inside and out and I waited 18 months to get in because they weren’t recruiting females at the time and there was no positions available. I went to recruit school at Cerberus HMAS Cerberus, in Hastings in Victoria so that’s the initial training for the Navy for all non commissioned ranks. There was bets on in my family that I would not make it through recruit school ’cause I didn’t like discipline and I certainly didn’t like to be told what to do. I think my grandfather had a bet on that I would last two weeks in recruit school. But I thought it was quite easy, recruit school, you just did what you were told and got up early and went for a run. I enjoyed it. And then after recruit school
I went on to my category training. Category training is where you
learn to do every part of your job. So for us we spent four weeks in seamanship school learning how to tie knots and do jackstays, anything to do with rope work, throw heaving lines, and then we went on to weapons training. So we learn– we had to know every weapon
– I think there’s about seven weapons – every weapon and how to use them,
pull them apart and put them back together and fire them within a certain amount of time so that’s the fun part for most people. So we were down at the range doing that and then we went onto parade training because as you move up in
the ranks of a boatswain’s mate you’re the parade commander, when you get to chief you’re parade commander and in charge of everybody marching. Our class was about, I think about 12 people when we went to category training and you just– we all helped each other because you didn’t want one of
your mates not to pass the course and the others to get through. So if someone was lacking on
something that you were good at, you help them out and that’s just what you did. I left Cerberus in August, 2006 and my first posting– I briefly went to FSU in Sydney which is Fleet Support Unit, used to be called FEMA back then. And then it was there for a week
and then headed on to Kanimbla. There was two of us from our class that went so we had backup I guess and we joined just after they had been to Timor and then home for a bit and we joined in the August. It’s a humanitarian vessel and it was one of the biggest
at the time in the Australian fleet so I was just excited to get aboard a ship and you know, some of our classmates
had to wait before they could go to sea so I was ready to go and start doing what I was trained to do and when we went on board it was just… I guess, it was a bit overwhelming, it was massive. I think it was about 230, but could
carry up to a thousand troops so it had its own troops messes
and accommodation spaces. Late September, we were deployed to Op Resolute– Op Quickstep sorry, which was when the coup was happening in Fiji so we had 8 hours’ notice to go back to Townsville load the ship up and head off to Fiji. I guess, at the time that was a little bit scary for me. I didn’t expect to be deployed so quickly and none of us really knew what was going on. We couldn’t tell people where we were going but I happened to call my mum and
she told me it was all over the news so she told me where I was going. We had the Army, SAS and commandos were on board. We had a complement of Black
Hawks and lots of Army vessels in case we had to get Australians out of Fiji. When we were there, we were there just
purely in case something happened to go in. So once we got to see Fiji, the land, that was it. The rest of the time
was just floating back and forth in international waters and then the Army were doing
exercises with the Black Hawks and one of them crashed on the deck. So our job was then… ’cause it hit the deck and then went over our job was then to, obviously,
get in the wounded people and recover those who didn’t make it. When they made the initial pipe we didn’t realise that it had happened, because
obviously you practise those events and then suddenly you realise that a Blackhawk has gone into the water, so you just– you go to your emergency stations you do what you’re trained to do it sort of just, kicks in I guess. At that time, it kicked in and
we did what we needed to do. Later on, very quiet. To have, you know, six, seven
hundred people on board a ship not many people spoke to each other. It was just… I think we’re just all numb. I was in the sickbay when it happened, suffered from dehydration. I was meant to be in the boat because they had RHIBs out as part of the exercise and I was meant to be in the boat and I’m in one way very glad I wasn’t. After that initial time, obviously getting
in the debris and the survivors and then we had to stay in search for the bodies in case they came up. But they were still in the helicopter. So, and the waters being so deep over there, they weren’t recovered until months later. Leaving Kanimbla was my choice,
I wanted to go to a warship where ah, things happen. A little bit more exciting and you– and you get to leave Australian waters. So it was my choice to go to Darwin. My buffer on board Kanimbla helped me get the posting. And yeah, I joined in I think it was about March ’08 but I was only there for three months. I had injured myself onboard Kanimbla playing volleyball of all things. I had an Army guy land on my foot and the pain had been there but obviously I didn’t want to leave the ship, wanted to stay at sea, and once I hit Darwin I couldn’t cope with the pain anymore so I had to go to the doctor. Once it was deemed that I needed surgery I had to be posted ashore so that I could get the time to rehabilitate. When you’re MEC’d – medically taken or removed from a ship – Penguin is generally the base you go to because it’s the hospital base and they have TPMC or now called PSU where all the injured people go and then you’re sent out to do other jobs where they just need temp. The chief boatswain there was my buffer on Kanimbla so he got me over there. So I was working command ceremonial so I got to do a lot of events and parades so I really enjoyed that but then after, it’s very… Once I had the surgery it was very frustrating because there wasn’t a great deal that I could do and I wasn’t sure whether I was going to stay in the Navy because of my injury. I had three surgeries and each time I had a surgery
you go to the MEC review board so I had to prove why I should stay in the Navy so I kept fighting that and then after my third surgery they wanted to kick me out
and I fought to go back to sea because that’s where I wanted to be and I had a plan when I joined the Navy to stay in until I was a petty officer, or for the rest of my life, so… I was going to do it no matter what happened. My next posting was to HMAS Melbourne. So before that I headed down to Cerberus to do the safety equipment and maintainer course, so the SE on board the ship, and that was that went for about nine weeks so learning everything to do with lifejackets, life rafts, thermal protective suits, industrial sewing course so that I could fix the lifejackets and make awnings and all sorts of things and then I headed on to– got on to Melbourne and and that was my job. Whilst I was still a boatswain, my other job was the safety equipment maintainer so there was myself and a leading seaman to look after all the lifejackets on board the ship. HMAS Melbourne, like Darwin, is an FFG so a frigate and a warship, as we like to call them and it’s a lot– it’s a much smaller ship with about a crew of 220 people and I guess a very different mentality from Kanimbla. Kanimbla was very relaxed, whereas a warship, everything is done for a reason and there’s much more emphasis around weapons and going to war and training to be at war. Whilst you know you’re going to a war or a warzone it wasn’t in my head until we did the briefs beforehand where you get the, you know, “If you have
to shoot someone could you do it?” talks and that’s when it sort of started to sink in. I guess mentally you can’t
really prepare until you’re there and, you know what it’s like, people
can tell you what it’s going to be like but you could have a different
deployment to the last ship that went and to the one that’s going to follow you. So it’s not until you’re there or on the way there that you start to think about those sort of things. We were there for about five months all up in the waters. For our deployment it was relatively quiet, whereas for other ships, like Warramunga is there now and
they’ve had a very busy deployment. So it’s very mind-numbing because you’re doing the same thing all the time so we would still do… we’d have like DC Tuesday so practicing fire, flood, torpedo attack, but most of your days were just spent on watch doing the same thing that you did yesterday. My Commanding Officer’s Commendation was for my job as the survival equipment maintainer so when I first joined the ship the lifejackets had not been maintained great, very well so I had to service every single lifejacket on board and my leading seaman was on course and then once we sailed for the
deployment his daughter was born so he stayed back in Australia and
joined us a month and a half later so I was the only person looking
after the survival equipment whilst still doing my watches on the GDP. So I would in my off hours… some days you do– well most of the time you do
like seven hours on, five hours off. So in my time off, I was working whilst everyone else was sleeping and going to the gym. We we’re all pretty keen to come home after the trip, six and a half months in a small space, people tend to get on your nerves which is normal so coming home was very exciting. You know, to have your families on
the wharf when you get into Sydney. Seeing Sydney Harbour first thing in the morning is amazing when you’ve been
away after a long deployment, one of the best views ever. But then when you come back… I don’t– you get that initial– for me personally anyway, you get that initial feeling of “Yay we’re home!” but then I went up to Cairns– moved up to Cairns, it’s a very quite base, I was ashore and you went from, you know, being vigilant and on the go all the time, to nothing. So I didn’t– personally didn’t cope very well with that, because there was– I was posted to port services so we were just berthing and slipping the ships that were coming in up in Cairns
and Cairns is not a very busy base so most of the time sitting around in a workshop. It was just… you just went from doing everything to nothing which is not very good for the mind. I was ashore for a year and a half at port services and then I decided to have a family. So once I got pregnant with my son I’m then shifted from place to place whilst I’m pregnant so I worked in the medical centre there and then once I gave– once I had my son I was on maternity leave and then my partner was posted from
Cairns to Sydney with four weeks’ notice. We couldn’t get daycare in Sydney
so I chose to leave the Navy at a very short notice but I had injured my back whilst we
were on the way to the Middle East in 2012 and I wasn’t able to do a great deal anyway, all the requirements, I can’t lift more than ten kilos, so I couldn’t lift a knocker bar set to fight fires so had I not chosen to get out
I would have been medically discharged. It’s a very lonely world I guess on the outside. So you have… obviously, you have lots of friends, workmates in the Navy and on the base but once you leave it’s like
you’re just cut off from the world. We came and we moved to Sydney which… We had known a lot of people in Sydney but they have their own lives on the
ship and with their own families now so I can’t say we’ve caught up with
any of the friends that we have here. I don’t march on Anzac Day. I have a… not really a hatred for Anzac day, but this year I was asked three times
if they were my husband’s medals. And I have been every year, I’ve been refused
to an RSL when I was wearing my medals yet my partner and friends got in
because they were wearing uniform so I have a– I still go to Anzac Day marches and services but but I don’t… I guess I don’t like them. I don’t like being asked if I’m– you know, whose medals am I wearing? But my time in the Navy – I loved it I got to see all of Australia,
travelled to every state in Australia. I got to see places in the Middle
East that you would not pay to go but the people were amazing, the scenery amazing and it’s a time that I’ll never forget. If I had my time again I’d do it again probably do some things differently but it’s a– it’s a great career, even, it’s a great start in life. You know, I came from Tassie where, had I stayed there, I would have worked with my parents
at the vineyard that I grew up on but instead I got to experience so many different people, so many different places.

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