Honouring our heroes: Captain Jenny Daetz


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At the time Jenny Daetz joined the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), service women were not able to go to sea. Just over a decade later Daetz was appointed as Captain of HMAS Shepparton, becoming the first woman to command a ship of the RAN.

When Jenny Daetz wanted to run away and join the navy as soon as she turned fifteen, the recruiting officers convinced her to complete her schooling. She went on to join the RAN in 1986 when she was seventeen. Within months, a new navy policy gave women the opportunity to go to sea. Daetz was quick to take advantage of the change, and became one of the first six women chosen to train as seaman officers.A woman pictured in formal attire wearing her service medals

Having women on board ships provided huge challenges for the navy. Not only did basic facilities like bathrooms need to be changed, but also the attitudes held by some of the sailors. Many believed there was no place for a woman at sea.

There were personal challenges for Daetz and her female colleagues too. Imagine being the first, and only, woman on board a navy ship. Finding herself in this situation, Daetz listened uncomfortably as sailors shared jokes, many of which were disrespectful to women.

In an effort to fit in, she laughed along with the men. Fortunately, Daetz had mentoring and support during this early stage of her career. With the help of her commanding officer in HMAS Shepparton, Daetz reflected on the situations she was placed in. She realised:

" I did not have to compromise my personal values in order to fit in. I did not have to be one of the boys."

As well as mentoring Daetz, the captain ensured Shepparton became a place where inappropriate behaviour was not tolerated.

Freed from the need to ‘fit in or fail’ Daetz was able to focus on developing her skills and knowledge so she could ‘show them that a woman can do it’.

Although she initially wanted to be a navigator, Daetz changed her plans and became a hydrographic surveyor, responsible for producing navigation charts.

From this point, she took charge of her own career path by mapping out a ten year plan to achieve her ambitions. In 1997, after completing the training courses and postings set out in the plan, Daetz became the first woman to command a Royal Australian Navy ship. On her initial voyage as captain, Daetz and the crew of HMAS Shepparton made charts of safe sea channels in the treacherous waters around Papua New Guinea. Since then, Daetz has commanded other ships and a naval base and is now a leader at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA).

Daetz is recognised as a pioneer for women’s equality in the RAN. During her three decades of service, she has taken opportunities as they became available and challenged existing practices towards women. Many other women have since explored career paths within the service. By 2013, the Chief of Navy reflected that:

"Today … women play vital roles in all parts of the Navy — they are an irreplaceable part of the team."

Having been supported at key points in her own career, Daetz values the opportunity to encourage others to set and achieve personal goals. At ADFA she is a role model and mentor to many young women, and she encourages them not to take the opportunities they have for granted.

In the final year of Anzac Centenary (2014–2018) we are sharing stories of men and women from all wars, peacekeeping operations and conflicts through the Honouring our Heroes series.