By Chenelle Fernando
Photos Ishara S. Kodikara
Australia’s largest-ever defence engagement with Sri Lanka – Indo- Pacific Endeavor 2019 (IPE 2019) – unfolded this month when a joint task group comprising Australian naval, Army, and air force assets and personnel visited Sri Lanka from 23-29 March on a multinational visit. With more than 1,000 Australian personnel involved in IPE19, this attempt to deepen cooperation of Indian Maritime Security between the two countries saw a range of activities being undertaken with the Sri Lankan armed services, in Sri Lanka and the surrounding waters.
Upon its instigation, HMAS Canberra and HMAS Newcastle are docked at the Port of Colombo whilst HMAS Parramatta and HMAS Success are located at the Trincomalee Harbour. Whilst this remained a valuable opportunity for both countries to improve cooperation and familiarity with one another’s defence forces and to explore opportunities to further promote regional stability, something else caught our attention this particular instance – Commander Anita Sellick, Commanding Officer of HMAS Newcastle.
What’s intriguing is that she happens to be the only female officer manoeuvring one of the warships that arrived in Sri Lanka on 23 March, and the last to manoeuvre HMAS Newcastle which is to be decommissioned on 30 June, this year. Given her role, captaining a warship with a history of 25 years while being in charge of a company of 201 military personnel onboard the ship, we thought her to be truly inspiring to all women who hope to steer away from the mundane. Below are excerpts of her conversation with The Sunday Morning Brunch.
IPE19 is said to be the biggest programme of defence cooperation currently being implemented in Sri Lanka. Tell us a little bit about it.
It’s all about deepening and strengthening relationships with the engagement of regional maritime security which will ensure many interests are protected. We will continue to exercise with other nations and develop those relationships and bonds for security and stability.
Sharing knowledge of operations and tours of the aviation facility, because I understand that it’s a growth area for the Sri Lankan Navy, we wish to share as much knowledge as we can, everyone in our delegation is on board.
We will be conducting some maritime operations and forums where we will be discussing some of our operations planning to the Sri Lankan Navy as well.
What are some of the important activities you’ve had to undertake since being commander of the ship?
The Indo-Pacific Endeavor is a very important one. We spent a lot of time training last year at our Australian station in domestic waters, conducting preparations, and supporting other units to go overseas. One of the two biggest ones, the Indo-Pacific Endeavor we started from Colombo is our first port activity and then we will be decommissioning in June.
How would you describe your bond with the HMAS Newcastle?
My first sea posting was in HMAS Newcastle as a young midshipman and that was only three years after the ship was commissioned. It’s nice to come back both, from being from the city of Newcastle which was where I grew up, it’s a very personal thing for me and also because it’s the first ship I served in and the first in which I finished the job as a commanding officer of the ship as well.
Challenges are faced by everyone, despite their gender or profession. What are some of the obstacles you’ve had to face during your time at sea?
Being away from family, I think that’s the same for everybody else as well. So this particular deployment is around four months away from home and that is something that can be challenging for everybody. Our problems don’t stop when we go away to sea, they wait for us to come home, and they still happen while we’re away, so we try and solve those problems in the best way we can.
We’ve got great support systems in our navy because where we can have families while we are away and of course, this doesn’t make things any easier.
I have a daughter and she’s four years old. It gets quite difficult, but I’m lucky I’ve got a husband at home who is doing everything for me; he’s doing a wonderful job.
In 2016, we opened up combat roles to women. We don’t have targets and quotas for women to actually go into those positions, but if they choose to do so, they can. I think it’s more about making more opportunities available for women and not so much targeting them and pushing them through.