ANU academics have enjoyed a rare all-hands-on-deck encounter with the HMAS Canberra, Dr Aurore Chow, PhD ’12, writes.
Five ANU staff were among the first civilian academics to ride along on the HMAS Canberra as it took part in an international exercise in May.
Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2019 (IPE) is an annual deployment of Royal Australian Navy vessels and personnel with the aim of “deepening Australia’s engagement and partnerships with regional partner nations”.
Four ships and more than 1000 ADF personnel sailed through India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
In 2019, for the first time, the Royal Australian Navy’s Sea Power Centre invited academics from a number of institutions who work in fields relating to military and security studies to join IPE as 'sea riders' or 'academic embeds'.
The centre’s goal was to encourage relationships between Defence and academic institutions.
ANU participants included Professor Rory Medcalf, Professor John Blaxland, Dr Garth Pratten, Imogen Mathew and me, Dr Aurore Chow.
We each flew to join the HMAS Canberra as it docked and we lived aboard while the ship sailed to the next port.
I was invited to join the ship in Singapore and sail to Jakarta. This was a unique opportunity for a civilian academic, to say the least, and I bragged about my good fortune to family and friends for months in the lead up to the trip. My brother was incredulous. My dad was jealous. I was psyched.
The experience did not disappoint.
I am a researcher in social psychology and military education. I was impressed at the joint operations on the HMAS Canberra, embodied in the Joint Task Force 661.
I saw diverse groups with different cultures and norms all playing nicely together: from the three Australian services; international services, civilian Defence personnel, to even our group of visiting academics. I saw people explaining their jobs and their perspectives. I saw active listening and I heard what a positive experience it was for all parties to work together and learn from each other.
Then, there was the ship.
HMAS Canberra is a floating city and I felt like I was given an all-access pass.
The 27,000-tonne amphibious deployment system is one of two of Australia’s Landing Helicopter Docks which launch helicopters and amphibious craft to carry people and equipment to shore.
From the flight control room, I watched the choreographed dance of flight crew and helicopters across the deck.
I felt the heat of the engine rooms that are the heart of the ship.
I was welcomed on the bridge and met the officers of the watch (a name that conjured images of Jon Snow) who deftly used the ship to project both diplomacy and strength as they navigated the waters between Singapore and Jakarta.
As we pulled into the port of Jakarta, we stood on the deck and listened to the Indonesian Armed Forces band band’s rendition of Waltzing Matilda. The pride of the crew was palpable. I felt pride as well – to be represented abroad by this group of capable, dedicated professionals.
I want to extend my heartfelt thanks for this opportunity to the RAN, the Sea Power Centre and to all those I met on board. I learned more in three days than I could in a year back at my desk in Canberra. I hope that the Sea Power Centre considered the collaboration to be a success and that more academics can learn through embarking with IPE in 2020.
Dr Aurore Chow is a lecturer in Professional Military Education at the ANU Strategic and Defence Studies Centre.