Barry Watego
Bundjalung and Nywaigi
Chief Petty Officer
Royal Australian Navy

Australian Active Service Medal with clasp
Australian Service Medal with 2 clasps
Australian Operational Service Medal – Border Protection
Humanitarian Overseas Service Medal with clasp
Defence Long Service Medal
Australian Defence Medal

I grew up in Juru/Bindal Country in the Burdekin region of North Queensland, 90km south of Townsville. Mum (Nywaigi Country) and dad (Bundjalung Country) had met there when Dad was up in Ayr cane cutting, and I was the ninth of 15 children. Both my great grandfathers had come to Australia in the 1800s to cut cane after being recruited in the Pacific Islands of Lifou and Tanna.

After leaving school, I did an apprenticeship as a boilermaker and worked in the local sugar mill. Two of my sisters, who were in the RAN, used to work for Navy stores and they suggested I should join up. So, in 2001, when I was 33, I enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy as direct-entry tradesman in the Marine Technician Category.

Since, then I have risen in the ranks to Chief Petty Officer and my current role is as Hull Technical Manager leading a team of 18 to maintain not only the ship’s structure but also plumbing, sewage, air-conditioning, refrigeration and the ship’s damage control systems. I have a keen interest in fostering a culture among my team of achieving their best performance. After one of the Torres Strait Islander crew called me Uncle, it kind of caught on and even the white lads now call me Uncle as I walk past. I think a lot of the young ones know they can come to me with their problems and I’ll listen, but also I’m able to talk to them.

When I joined the Navy, over twenty years ago now, I was the only Aboriginal/Islander sailor on my ship. Since then the Navy has become so much more diverse with ships’ crews now including many women, and coming from many backgrounds – First Nations, Asian, Middle Eastern and Indian.

The Navy’s Indigenous pre-recruitment and development programs have been really important in creating opportunities for many more young First Nations men and women to enlist in the service. Seeing this has inspired me to seek the next stage in my service as an Indigenous Liaison Officer promoting the Navy as a pathway for our young men and women to follow a rewarding career in service to Country, community and nation.