The Royal Australian Navy has a long connection with Australia’s proud Indigenous heritage.

Indigenous sailors have served in the Navy since its formation and in the navies of pre-federation Australia. In 1909, the Indigenous names Parramatta, Yarra and Warrego were selected for the first three River-class torpedo boat destroyers built for the fledgling Australian Navy.

Navy’s journey of learning and understanding about our First Nations People has greatly benefited from people who have advised senior leadership on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, including the establishment of a Navy Strategic Indigenous Adviser in 2013.

Since the inception of the role, the advisers have provided cultural advice to the Chief of Navy and more recently the Navy Diversity and Inclusion Council, on how Navy can achieve the outcomes of the Defence Reconciliation Action Plan and contribute positively to Australia's Closing the Gap strategy.

Chief Petty Officer Naval Police Coxswain Ray Rosendale was the first person appointed as the Chief of Navy’s Strategic Adviser on Indigenous Cultural Affairs.

Chief Petty Officer Rosendale was awarded the Conspicuous Service Medal for his significant contributions in this role.

His initiatives included improved educational packages, greater community engagement and Indigenous recruitment programs. Importantly, he provided advice on the requirement for cultural awareness in Navy and designed, promoted and implemented opportunities to enhance these strategies.

The Navy Indigenous Adviser strengthens and enhances the unique skill sets, knowledge, history and perspective that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people bring to Navy.

Director of Navy Culture, Captain Paul Moggach, said the Indigenous Adviser role was instrumental to Navy’s broader culture change program.

“The Navy Indigenous Adviser strengthens and enhances the unique skill sets, knowledge, history and perspective that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people bring to Navy,” Captain Moggach said.

When Chief Petty Officer Rosendale transitioned out of full-time Navy service in 2017, Petty Officer Bosun Mathew Goward, Warrant Officer Electronic Warfare Submariner Kylie Broughton and more recently Commander Bertram ‘Bert’ Slape continued this important role of raising awareness and educating Navy people.

Commander Slape advocated that all divisional officers, supervisors and commanding officers should become more educated and aware of the needs of Indigenous people, especially when granting leave to attend significant ceremonial and cultural activities.

“Understanding the cultural importance of an event is just as important as granting permission for an individual to attend,” Commander Slape said.

Commander Slape passed the responsibilities of Navy Indigenous Adviser to Lieutenant Commander Sam Sheppard, who was appointed as Navy's latest Indigenous Adviser on May 22.

“My appointment to this role would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of my predecessors and those who supported them,” Lieutenant Commander Sheppard said.

“They have established the importance of this position and the foundation on which I can now continue the work.

“I would like to thank them for their dedicated commitment to raising awareness and supporting Navy’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members, and for enhancing cultural inclusion.”

Lieutenant Commander Sheppard's appointment will build on the strong foundation established by his predecessors and ensure Navy’s continued commitment and positive contribution to the shared future of our nation.