Recognising International Women’s Day


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International Women’s Day is an opportunity to highlight, celebrate and reflect on the achievements of women, including those who have contributed greatly to the armed services throughout a Century of Service.

On the 8 March, Australians are encouraged to recognise and reflect with gratitude on the role women have played serving our nation in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations, and those who supported our soldiers from the home front.

This contribution began in the Boer War when women served as military nurses. During the First World War, women volunteered in a range of patriotic funds and raised thousands of pounds in donations for the war effort. They also produced comfort packs and gifts for soldiers, including knitted garments and food items.

In the Second World War the role of women in the workplace and the services expanded. No longer confined to nursing, medical and voluntary roles, they were able to join a women’s arm of each of the services.

In the years since, roles available to servicewomen have broadened further to reflect full integration in the armed services and increased participation in deployments around the world. Today women represent about 17 per cent of the permanent, full-time Australian Defence Force (ADF) and are undertaking roles that were unheard of even 20 years ago.

A group of young female pilots in front of a warplane

An important milestone for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) was achieved on December 8, 2008 when its first all-female crew took the controls of a C-17A Globemaster III aircraft. The crew is pictured above including Wing Commander Linda Corbould (interviewed below).

There are currently more than 300 women serving overseas on ADF operations, representing about 16 per cent of the total deployed force.

Interview with Wing Commander Linda Mary Corbould OAM

Wing Commander Linda Mary Corbould OAM is a retired officer of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), and was the first woman to command a RAAF flying squadron.

Here is her story.

Q. What changes have you seen in the military since you joined the RAAF?

There have been many changes but two in particular stand out. Firstly, the Australian Defence Force has evolved into a technologically advanced operational Force with highly trained and competent military personnel. The Air Force has upgraded or replaced every flying platform with state-of-the-art and highly capable aircraft. These aircraft have operated nationally and internationally often alongside coalition partners in support of both operational and humanitarian roles.

A female pilot standing in front of a B2 warplane.

Linda pictured in the Middle East in 2004.

Secondly, the employment roles for women are now unlimited. Girls joining the Air Force today have the opportunity to do any job and the ability to progress into senior command and leadership positions. For example, when I joined in 1981 the opportunity to be a pilot was unheard of. When I graduated from pilot’s course in 1990 girls were quite limited to which aircraft type they could fly. However, now girls can and are flying all aircraft types with the first two women qualifying on F18 fighter jets in 2017.

Q. Tell us about the challenges you had to overcome to succeed as a pilot in the Defence Force.

Firstly, just being accepted into pilot training was a challenge. When I joined the Air Force in 1981 there was no consideration given for women to undertake flying roles. This policy was not changed until the mid-1980s. I worked as an Air Traffic Control Officer for nearly eight years before being accepted into the pilots’ course in 1989. There were no other girls in my course, however, my fellow course mates were very accepting and, like me, just wanted to learn to fly.

While there was the occasional ‘dinosaur’ out there who thought women did not belong in flying squadrons, this was few and far between. From my experience it was all about mutual respect and just ‘getting the job done’. Like all new pilots in a squadron, once other members realised that you just wanted to fly, work hard and be the best you can be, then you gained their respect. It didn’t matter if you were male or female, as we all had the same ambition and that was to be military aircrew.

Q. Is there anything you would have done differently?

There really isn’t a lot I would have done differently. I think the important thing is to never give up on your dream or to accept ‘no’ as an answer. I look back on the opportunities the Air Force made available to me and I realise that if you want something bad enough and are prepared to work for it then it is there for the taking – it is up to you to make it happen.

I never thought of myself as any different from the men in the squadron. I didn’t see myself as a woman in a man’s world but rather as a pilot in an operational military squadron who had a job to do like everyone else. I think that by being the best you can be and committing to your profession it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female. This, together with being passionate about your job, really is the recipe for success.

Portrait of a female pilot in a combat uniform

Linda pictured 'combat ready' in Iraq in 2003.

Q. What advice would you give to young women thinking about a career in the armed services?

Go for it! There is no doubt that the military offers opportunities that are unique, challenging and extremely satisfying. The training is first class and the equipment is state-of-the-art.

I decided at 12 years of age that I wanted to fly in the Air Force. I never gave up on that dream and with a lot of hard work, many highs and lows, I became a military pilot. The Air Force enabled me to not only fulfil that dream but to have experiences and opportunities that I could never have imagined.

As I tell my eight year old daughter and son even now, don’t quit what you want to do just because it gets hard or someone tells you that you can’t do it. Perhaps one of them will also share my passion for flying and seek a military career as well.

I tell them even at this young age ‘Don’t be ordinary – be extraordinary!’

A female pilot holds a large size key above her head next to  group of air force male officers.

Linda receiving the key to the first C-17 Globemaster III. Linda became the first to skipper the C-17 - the largest aircraft ever to be operated by the Royal Australian Air Force.

Q. Why do you think is it important for Australians to observe International Women’s Day?

There are so many women who are doing amazing things in all walks of life. For example, mums who are raising terrific children, women in business, teachers, medical professionals, military women, are all extraordinary people doing extraordinary things with their lives. When you think of how the role of women has changed in our society over the last 50 to 60 years going from women having to give up their careers when they got married and decided to have families, to now having the opportunity to be leaders in their chosen field, it is quite remarkable and should be celebrated.