Darug and Yuin People
Royal Australian Air Force
Medals and Awards
Australian Active Service Medal with clasps ICAT and Iraq 2003
Defence Long Service Medal with 4 clasps
Australian Defence Medal
Chief of Joint Operations Gold Commendation
My name is Cheryl Neal, and I am a proud descendent of the Darug and Yuin people.
Maria Lock, daughter of Yarramundi, is my ancestor. Maria married twice, and is remembered for her great intelligence. Maria’s granddaughter was my Great Great Grandmother – Jenny Swift. Jenny also married twice. Her first husband was an African American man with whom she had two children and then left due to his ill treatment of her. Like her grandmother, Jenny was known as – and I quote – “a woman of superior intelligence and at times overly independent nature whose rebellious spirit, if harnessed, would be an asset to missionary endeavours.” Jenny had a short but notable life until at the age of 36 when she died at Warangesda Mission.
My great grandmother, Priscilla Amatto lived at Roseby Park Mission (Jerrinja) on the South Coast of NSW. My grandmother, Gladys Amatto married Stanley Cruickshanks, and my father, Geoffrey Cruickshanks lived in Housing Commission across the road from my mother’s place in Nowra.
I was born In Nowra Hospital on Valentines Day 1967 to Geoffrey Cruickshanks and Elaine Neal
I attended Huskisson Primary School and Bomaderry High School. I left school (and home) at 16 and was employed as a Vet Nurse in Bomaderry. At 18 I walked into Defence Force Recruiting, and after being told I was too small to be a military dog handler, I accepted an offer of a position as a Medical Assistant in the RAAF.
There was a mixture of both pride and concern from my community about my decision to join Defence. Regardless, off I went to RAAF Edinburgh for Recruit Training. I was initially terribly homesick, and struggled with new things like ironing creases in my uniform, doing hospital corners when I made my bed – and spitting on my boots to polish them. But things eventually got easier. I made friends, with people that I am still close to today.
Before long I was posted to RAAF Base Laverton for training, then RAAF Richmond followed by Tindal, in Katherine NT as a qualified Medical Assistant. Whilst in Katherine I applied to become an Air Traffic Controller and by default an Officer. I passed the aptitude test but needed to complete Year 12 to meet education requirements. I attended Katherine High School (whilst still in the RAAF), graduated, and went on to complete Officer training and basic Air Traffic Control Course in Victoria.
I was posted to RAAF Richmond and RAAF Pearce as an Air Traffic Controller before becoming the mother of identical twins in 1997. Following the birth of my daughters I transferred category to become an Administration Officer. Multiple postings followed. I have been an instructor at the Australian Defence Force Academy, and made recruiting advertisements for Defence. I undertook an overseas posting to the UK and have deployed twice to Iraq and Afghanistan. I have visited Gallipoli, been a Commanding Officer and flown a fighter jet. I have worked hard and experienced both good and difficult times but have also been provided with benefits (such as good income, health care and housing) as well as many other opportunities.
One of those opportunities was time, funding and support to continue my academic studies. I have now completed two Masters degrees. This helped me to be promoted a number of times to reach WGCDR rank. The benefit of becoming an officer has meant that I have been able to pursue positions of some influence whereby I am able to give back to community more (or at least try to). I was the Deputy Director Diversity and Inclusion Air Force, and filled the Senior Indigenous Liaison Officer position. I have contributed to Defence Reconciliation Action Plans and mentored young mob when I could. I have been blessed with not just a fulfilling career, but also many wonderful friendships, throughout my time in Defence.