Home' Aurora : Aurora December 2013 Contents BY TRACEY EDSTEIN
This is your
In the centenary year of the Royal
Australian Navy's Fleet arrival into Sydney
harbour, Tracey Edstein introduces
Captain Allison Norris, originally of
Maitland, now Captain of her own ship
and firmly in command of her own destiny.
Considering that she applied to join the
Royal Australian Navy (RAN) "on the
spur of the moment", these days Captain
Allison Norris (formerly Allison Horder)
is anything but 'all at sea'. In 2008, she
became Commanding Officer (CO) of
HMAS MELBOURNE, and in 2012, she
took command of HMAS SUCCESS --
literally and figuratively.
A supportive family and a Josephite
education loom large in Allison's success
story. There was no family history of
military service and Allison's choice was
influenced by a presentation by Recruiting
Officers to Year 12 students at St
Joseph's College Lochinvar. "I had always
been attracted to the water and decided
to apply. My family was very surprised by
my chosen career path."
However, Allison clearly has no regrets,
"Twenty-seven years later I would not
change a thing."
A significant mentor in Allison's high
school years was (then) principal, Sr
Lauretta Baker RSJ, whom Allison
remembers as "a very outspoken nun....
She continually reinforced to me that there
were no boundaries to what a woman
could achieve in her chosen career. I
was fortunate to grow up in a positive
environment where I felt supported and
mentored. I have always felt that my school
years at Lochinvar, combined with my very
positive family environment, provided the
foundations for the confident, determined
and successful woman I am today."
Perhaps the strongest stereotypes
of Navy life are uniformity -- in dress
and attitude, regimentation and clear
expectations. All of these apply, but when
Allison speaks warmly of her career,
she conveys a world of opportunity
and immense breadth of experience.
To achieve the mission, Navy ships
and personnel are constantly involved
in domestic, regional and international
exercises and operations. Closer to
home, personnel have provided disaster
relief assistance to local communities,
specifically during the recent bushfires.
"The Navy is a unique lifestyle with its own
challenges and rewards. I have loved the
opportunities the Navy has provided for
me that a more conventional career would
not have. I've travelled the world, visited
dozens of countries and worked with men
and women from differing backgrounds
in Navies across the globe. I've had the
opportunity to serve in Operations in the
Middle East and East Timor," said Allison.
"The most fascinating part of Navy life is
the people I've met, the different cultures
I've experienced and the firm friendships
While Navy personnel are not always at
sea, they are almost always on duty and
maintaining family and other 'non-Navy'
relationships is difficult. For Allison, "The
main challenge has been the separation
from family and friends for long periods
of time. I firmly believe it's much harder
on the partner left behind than those of
us deployed at sea. Long separations
can take their toll but I am fortunate to
be supported by my family and very
understanding husband, Adrian. Together,
we have maintained a strong marriage
and a unique relationship."
Progressing through the ranks and
acquiring a Bachelor of Science, Masters
of Management (Defence Studies) and a
Masters of Maritime Studies, Allison reached
the pinnacle of her career to date when she
was appointed CO of HMAS MELBOURNE.
Allison recalls, "The motto of MELBOURNE
is 'She gathers strength as she goes'. I often
reflect on this and I really believe it aptly
describes my career progression over the
past 27 years. My professional experience
has included watchkeeping on the Bridge
of the ship to maintain navigational safety,
warfare training in weapon capabilities
and tactics, leadership and management
training and experience."
For the layman (and woman), Allison
explains, "Command at sea is chosen
based on merit and experience and
Commanding Officers are appointed by
the Chief of Navy." While the satisfaction
of leadership is obvious, there is also what
Navy folk call 'the loneliness of Command'.
"It's often difficult to manage the needs
of the individual and balance this with the
operational mission. Whilst our focus on
achieving the mission is always clear, there
is significant emphasis on pastoral care for
our sailors and as CO, this is a key element
in my decision making."
In terms of particular challenges for
women in leadership, Allison says, "I have
been asked this many times over the
years. My answer is invariably the same.
My sailors don't care if they have a man
or woman as the CO. They care about
having a CO who is decisive, consistent,
exhibits strong leadership, cares about
their welfare and whom they would follow
Despite its hierarchical nature, "The Navy
is definitely a family, we enjoy common
goals, a sense of purpose and a desire to
serve. Navy instils in its people the values
of honour, honesty, courage, integrity and
loyalty," said Allison.
A highlight of Captain Norris' career so far
has been participating in RAN Centenary
celebrations in Sydney in October. "HMAS
SUCCESS was privileged to be the
venue for the Welcome Reception hosted
by the Commander Australian Fleet; a
glamorous evening attended by NSW
Government and City of Sydney Council
representatives as well as visiting Navy
officers and sailors.
"We were also involved in the International
Fleet Review by the Hon Quentin Bryce.
Being part of the 'Cheer Ship' as the
Governor General sailed by was a proud
moment and a particular highlight."
I don't really need to ask Allison if she
would recommend a Navy career to other
women. It's obvious in her commitment,
passion and enthusiasm that the answer
is, "Absolutely!" She says, "The Navy has
afforded me the opportunity to develop
both personally and professionally and
I look forward to the challenges that lie
No doubt SUCCESS will loom large.
Captain Allison Norris, RAN.
there were no boundaries
to what a woman
could achieve in her
Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle www.mn.catholic.org.au
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