Samuel Sheppard
Djabugay, Koko Mini, Yirrganydji
Australian South Sea Islander

Lieutenant Commander
Royal Australian Navy
Navy Indigenous Advisor at Royal Australian Navy
Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran

Australian Active Service Medal with clasps Iraq 2003 & ICAT
Afghanistan Medal
Iraq Medal
Australian Service Medal with clasp
Australian Operational Service Medal – Border Protection
Defence Long Service Medal with clasp
Australian Defence Medal
Unit Citation: HMAS ANZAC III


I am descended from the Muluridji people of Mareeba, Far North Queensland. Our people have always protected Country. We are Warriors, Leaders, and highly adaptable survivors. I am the eldest of four, and my mother and father instilled in all of us, the value of education, accountability and common sense. That foundation has stood me in great stead throughout my life and my career.

My 24 years of service can best be summed up by saying yes to opportunity. When I first went to the recruiting centre as an 18-year-old, the recruiter informed me that the RAAF wasn’t recruiting at that time, but the Navy was. Taking the opportunity, I pivoted to a career in the Navy. Three months before my planned enlistment date, I received a call asking if I could join early because someone had broken their leg skiing. I accepted the opportunity and within 48 hours, I transitioned from working at a nursery in Mareeba to joining GE161 in HMAS Cerberus. I joined a day later than the others, and it’s still a running joke within our intake.

Near the end of my Initial CIS training, I was offered a posting to HMAS ANZAC instead of my planned shore position in Canberra. I took that opportunity and spent three and a half years on ANZAC, completing two operational deployments and being part of some exceptional crews.

After posting to HMAS Cairns for a couple of years, I returned to FFHs in WA and completed another significant stint of seatime. One of my favourite places was on the bridge wings in the open ocean, with nothing on the horizon in any direction. The sunrises and sunsets were unlike any other, and the stars were brighter out there than anywhere else I have ever experienced.

From there, I was fortunate enough to go to AUSCDT Four as the Communications SME, which opened my eyes to an entirely different part of the Navy. The team had a tight bond, respect was earned through demonstrated skill and character, and you were trusted and expected to run your part of the ship. The prioritisation of physical fitness and functional leadership reshaped my views on team operation.

Initially, my Navy journey was about adventure and seeing the world. However, when we had our first child in 2007, I started thinking about the kind of society I was leaving for her. I have always been connected to my culture through my family and time in FNQ, but I wanted to ensure I was giving back. In 2012, I became the Indigenous Recruitment Officer for WA, working for the Directorate of Indigenous Affairs in DFR Perth. Working with Ray Rosendale, the Don’s (Bowie and Taylor), Colin Watego, and Glen ‘Cuss’ Hall, I learned how I could contribute to the ADF culturally at a strategic level. They were great mentors, and I learned a lot about what could be achieved in the ADF for our people.

My final opportunity came in 2020. I was asked to nominate for the inaugural Commissioned Officer position as the Navy Indigenous Advisor. I was unsure about transitioning from Senior Sailor to Officer and the responsibility of representing mob at the Senior Leadership level. My father always said, “We are Sheppards, we are leaders, not followers.” Encouragement from other First Nations members also motivated me to nominate. I was appointed in May 2020 and filled the role until February 2024. The ADF still has a long way to go culturally, to fully support and understand its First Nations people. But thanks to the efforts of those who came before and our current serving members, the organisation is always learning and evolving. Despite not achieving all I aimed for in the position, my hope is that I left the organisation in a better place than when I started.

Two of my favourite memories are: the first time I went home on leave in uniform, seeing the pride in my family and community; and being front and centre at the 2014 International Fleet Review opening ceremony on the steps of the Opera House, representing my Culture as a member of the Navy Indigenous Performance Group.