Women of the services

A Riverina woman has shared her experience in the defence force ahead of this year’s Anzac Day commemorations.

TRAINED: ACW Julianne Collingridge on her graduation from basic training at Edinburgh RAAF Base in South Australia in 1983.

TRAINED: ACW Julianne Collingridge on her graduation from basic training at Edinburgh RAAF Base in South Australia in 1983.

It comes as minister for veterans’ affairs Dan Tehan called for greater understanding of the service and sacrifice of Australia’s female veterans.

Julianne Collingridge said she faced joined the Royal Australian Air Force on March 8, 1983 in the mustering intake of Avionics (Radio) Technicians.

She enjoyed her time serving with the RAAF, but said she had to overcome many preconceived ideas about females working as ‘tradies’ in the Australian Defence Force.

“When I graduated as an Avionics Technician at Laverton RAAF Base, I was one of three females out of a class of 18 students,” Ms Collingridge said. 

“When we were posted and working in the hangars, there was a general misconception that we could not handle the work – because we were women. We really had to prove ourselves to be given the same respect as the boys.

“In those days, the forces were very gender biased, it was assumed that as  women, we had joined the ADF to find husbands, not to serve our country. There were no women serving on ships, or in combat areas, unless they were nurses.

“In fact, there were no female pilots in the RAAF until Flight Lieutenant Robyn Williams and Flying Cadet Deborah Hicks graduated on June 30, 1988, and Chief of the Airforce has to be a pilot, so no woman could ever get the top job. But they can now, or at least they will be able to in the future.”

Australian servicewomen now comprise 16.1 per cent of the permanent full-time ADF and there are currently 266 women serving overseas on ADF operations, representing about 14 per cent of the total deployed force. 

Mr Tehan implored residents to thank our service men and women for their service this Anzac Day.

“As a nation we respect and honour the service and sacrifice of every man and woman who serves in defence of our nation, our freedoms and our values,” he said.

“Last year the government held a forum with current and former female Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel and their families where our female veterans said that many did not feel they received recognition for their service.

“Many of our female veterans observed that when they wore their medals in public many people assumed they were wearing the medals of their father or grandfather.”