Cheryl Smith reflects on her 18 months in the navy. Cheryl believes women should be allowed in all areas of the armed forces as long as they’re up to the job.
Cheryl Smith reflects on her 18 months in the navy. Cheryl believes women should be allowed in all areas of the armed forces as long as they’re up to the job. Allan Reinikka

Cheryl keen on women's AF access

SHE may not look it these days, but more than 40 years ago Cheryl Smith was one of Central Queensland's pioneering military women.

As an 18-year-old, Cheryl left her Yeppoon family and friends, most of whom were entering careers in teaching, nursing or other like fields, and headed for Melbourne and what she saw as the exciting world of a life in the navy.

It shouldn't be surprising then that such a strong-minded person as Cheryl, now 65, supports the concept of the government's move for women to be allowed in all areas of the armed forces (AF).

However, she raised concerns that any woman who moved into the front line or an elite combat unit would need to be both mentally focused and physically up to the job of protecting their country.

It was 1963 when Cheryl left Central Queensland for the big city to train to become a radio operator for the Australian Navy.

She looks back with fond memories on 18 happy months as a WRAN before she was forced to leave when she fell in love and married.

Back then married women weren't allowed to serve.

While marriage stopped her naval career in its tracks it didn't end her military connection, which continues to the present day.

Cheryl will be “the Queen of the kitchen on Anzac Day” when she oversees preparation of the breakfast at Gracemere's morning service which, it is hoped, more than 250 people will attend.

And since her husband's death, she spends a lot of her time volunteering with the Rockhampton-based RSL Home Care service and at Gracemere's RSL. She said the world was a different place now from when she enlisted.

“It's a sign of the times,” Cheryl said of the Australian Defence Force's move to speed the opening up of its roles to women.

Despite the passing of time, she said the front line was “still a bloke's environment”.

“It was 50 years ago and would be today,” Cheryl said.

“Dirty jokes and swear words are part of the culture ... a lot of women would accept that as part of the job.

“My only concern would be male soldiers watching out for the women to the detriment of their own safety.”

 

The Morning Bulletin is looking for former soldiers to talk to as part of its Anzac Day coverage.

If you served in the military and would like to have a chat give reporter Adam Wratten a call on 4930 4281 or email adam.wratten@capnews.com.au



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