Michael John Henry
Wodi Wodi / Walbunja from Yuin Country
Lieutenant Commander (LCDR)
Maritime Warfare Officer (MWO)
Royal Australian Navy
Operations TANAGER, SLIPPER and CRANBERRY

Medals  and Awards
Commander Australian Navy Systems Command Commendation
Defence Long Service Medal
Afghanistan Medal
Australian Active Service Medal with Clasp ICAT
Returned From Active Service Badge
Australian Active Service Medal with Clasp EAST TIMOR
Australian Defence Medal
Returned From Active Service Badge
AUSTRALIAN DEFENCE FORCE COMMENDATION – SILVER

Growing up, we hardly discussed our ancestry from my father’s side of the family. My grandmother and father were not fully accepted by society and were impacted by forced assimilation as they were considered half castes, neither black nor white. My grandmother, a staunch Aboriginal woman, raised her children during the Stolen Generation, she lived in constant fear that her children could and would be taken from her and relocated to unknown locations along the coast of New South Wales. To combat this fear and to reduce the chances of her children being stolen, my grandmother had her children, including my father, live with other family members during their early years of childhood. This meant that my father lived with my great-grandmother on and off until he was 8 years of age. Once my father had started school, he wanted to become an altar boy and was told by members of the clergy that he was not ‘pure’ enough to perform the duties of altar boy. My grandmother was heartbroken for my father, a young boy who was denied opportunities due to the discrimination that lived in this Nation. However, comments like this were to follow my father around through his adolescence and young adulthood reminding him that regardless of how hard he tried, he would not be fully accepted and be treated differently. My grandmother never spoke of her experiences, my father telling me that this constant fear and racism motivated her to fight for equity for her children; even if it required her to work three jobs so she could afford the same opportunities that were readily available to non-Indigenous children at the time. She was a woman of purpose, stout and stalwart, the matriarch of our family. She paved the way so that our family could know their culture, connect with community and be proud of the blood that runs through our veins. She passed away at the age of 84 in 2006.

My father was born in 1940s and during the 1980’s he commenced his journey of discovering his cultural identity and uncovering his ancestry. He was raised to deny his culture for his own protection. Our family is now proudly connected to the Wodi Wodi people of the Yuin Nation on the South Coast of New South Wales and to Walbunja Country, near Batemans Bay. These are my people, my father’s people, my Grandmother’s people and my great-grandmother’s people.

I joined the Royal Australian Navy on a Supplementary List Commission in 1990 as a Maritime Warfare Officer (MWO) and after qualifying in Major and Minor Fleet Units was posted as Executive Officer to a Minor War Vessel in 1995. During this period I was awarded an Australia Day Award for my outstanding professionalism and dedication to duty.  From 1997 onwards my postings included the Defence Intelligence Organisation, Maritime Headquarters as a Watch Team Leader, Operations Officer at the Royal Australian Navy Tactical Electronic Warfare Support Squadron and several deployments as a deployed Intelligence Officer.  In 2002, I was posted as the Port Services Manager and Officer-In-Charge of sea familiarisation and mariner training of initial entry Officers at HMAS CRESWELL.  During this posting I received a Naval Systems Command Commendation for professionalism, production and implementation of several environmental emergency management plans. In 2005, I was posted as the Chief Instructor for all Naval Officer Initial training, HMAS CRESWELL. In 2008, I discharged from the Navy but remained an active reservist at Headquarters Fleet Air Arm, HMAS ALBATROSS, until re-enlistment back to the Permanent Navy in January 2017. I then spent the next six years as the Staff Officer Preparedness and Mobilisation in Headquarters Joint Operations Command and was awarded a second Commendation for my support to Operations, Exercise Evaluations and Assessment and Operational planning expertise. From mid-2022 I have been operating in the First Nations space in Navy, first as a Staff Officer Navy Indigenous before being promoted to Commander in April 2024 as Navy’s Indigenous Advisor.  I am currently the most senior self-identified First Nations member in Navy.

My Elders are of utmost importance to me as I continue my journey in understanding my ancestry, connection to people and Country, and how this has shaped my core. This journey has been over thirty years in the making and I feel I have barely scratched the surface.  Without these Elders, the custodians of Indigenous lore, the culture of First Nations people will be forgotten and fractious elements will only be found as an extract in some history book. Our Elders are the lynchpin for keeping Indigenous culture alive, healing and for helping people like myself on their journey through life. My priority is to assist and be a role model to other First Nation members pursuing a career in the Navy.