Sheryl Cimera (nee Challinger)
Yamatji Nation
Retired Private
Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps

Australian Defence Medal

I was born in Seymour, Victoria, the eldest of 6 children. Both my parents were in the army when they met – my dad was an Engineer and mum was a Cook. Our family returned to my father’s Yamatji Country in Geraldton WA when I was 3 years old, when dad was discharged from the army. We moved to Sydney in 1964, the year I turned eight. I had wanted to be a nurse ever since I was 15 but mum wouldn’t agree, she said it was a hard, thankless job so she signed the papers for me to join the Army when I was 17.

I enlisted in the Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps (WRAAC) and served from January 1975 to July 1979. I was initially posted to 10 WRAAC Enoggera in Queensland on General Duty as I did not get any of my trade choices and was advised I needed 12 months to mature. I was devastated as I had done very well in all my written assessments and got 100% in Military law and leave.  I personally believe they needed someone in the role and I drew the short straw with Val who was also on my recruit course.   I did make the most of my time in the posting though, finishing tasks quickly and annoying the CO for other tasks. I ended up being seconded to the area clothing store and got to wear overalls which I really liked.

In 1975 I bought my first motorbike from one of the other soldiers and rode it for about 6 months.  When I turned 18, I had a pay rise and traded up to my 2nd bike using all of my savings. This was just before the Supply Bill was blocked around the time of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s Dismissal, and I remember being advised that we would not get paid again until the Supply Bill was passed. All I was worried about was if I would have money for cigarettes and going out for a few drinks.

I returned to Sydney in May 1976 to give birth to my first child and was placed on the unallotted list for 6 months. The Army had only granted female soldiers the right for maternity leave on 7th January 1975, prior to this you were discharged if you were pregnant. I was posted back to WRAAC School in Mosman in January 1977 when my son was 5 months old. I drew a lot of attention and criticism at the infamy of being the first female soldier with a baby to be posted to WRAAC School.

After completing my clerk’s course in 1977 I was posted as Pay Clerk to School of Military Engineering (SME) in Moorebank. On my first day there, the RSM called me into his office; I felt as if I’d been called into the principal’s office. But my Dad had been a sapper with the RSM at SME in the 1950s and the RSM just wanted Dad’s phone number.

Servicewomen were finally granted equal pay in 1978, which disgruntled a few male colleagues. I was very happy though as my pay jumped substantially. In the same year, female soldiers began to be transferred to different Corps throughout the Army and I was transferred into Ordnance Corps as a Pay Clerk. I left the service in July 1979 and in 1984 the Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps were disbanded. I had loved being in the army – the camaraderie was great. I joined the NSW WRAAC Association in 1989 and was an active member for a number of years.

In 1988, I finally began my nursing career, completing a Diploma of Applied Science (Nursing) at the Macarthur Institute of Higher Education at Milperra NSW (now University of Western Sydney, Bankstown Campus). Our student nursing cohort was the second to complete their nursing degree after hospital training ended. I commenced work as a registered Nurse in January 1989 and completed my postgraduate year placement at Liverpool Hospital. In 1994 I completed my Graduate Diploma in Midwifery with UWS, part of the first cohort to complete their midwifery education at the University. During 2011-2013, I participated in the Aboriginal Population Health Training Initiative, a partnership between NSW Ministry of Health and Local Health Districts. In 2013 I completed a Master’s in Public Health at the University of Wollongong.

My husband,  James Cimera and I married in 1977 while we were both in the army and we are coming up to our 47th anniversary.  James stayed on in the army until 2000 and we moved our 3 children to many different places with the army. I was always happy that I was able to work as a nurse or midwife in health services nearby.

I am very proud now that my family’s tradition of military service is being continued by my grandson Jacob who is serving in the Royal Australian Air Force. It was a very proud granny moment to attend Jacob’s March Out Parade in Wagga Wagga.

I believe that education can change the future for our community, families and ourselves. We serve in many ways. After leaving the Army I continued to serve my community, contributing to improved health outcomes and helping to close the Gap.

Thank you to retired Private Sheryl Cimera for sharing these personal photos of her family’s military service.

Gail Corcoran (WRAAC 1953-1957) – Sheryl’s mother

Di Ryder and fellow WRAAC’s at Sheryl and James’ wedding 1977

Proud grandparents, James and Sheryl at their grandson Jacob’s RAAF March Out Parade, Wagga Wagga

Ron Challinger (Wallace) RAE and Gail Corcoran WRAAC – Sheryl’s parents on their wedding day