In recognition of NAIDOC week, we’re pleased to bring you this interview with Able Seaman Aston Wilson – our DEFGLIS member in focus this month.
Q: Its NAIDOC week this week, can you explain to us what that means to you?
NAIDOC to me is a time for traditional food, dancing, songs, celebration and a chance to truly appreciate and reflect on my heritage and culture as an Torres Strait Islander with great pride and love.
Being so far away from home doesn’t give me a chance to always indulge in it all the time so it’s always amazing to get back in touch with that side of me and take a moment to remember where I come from. It also gives me a chance to reach out to others who don’t have a full understanding of the Indigenous culture because somebody will always have a question about something. It a good opportunity to teach them about it, a little more NAIDOC, which I absolutely love doing!
NAIDOC stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee. Its origins can be traced to the emergence of Aboriginal groups in the 1920s which sought to increase awareness in the wider community of the status and treatment of Indigenous Australians.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your heritage?
My mother is from Biogu Island which is in the top western island group. It’s only 6km from mainland Papua New Guinea. My father is from a small fishing village in England called Port Isaac. He moved to Australia when he was young.
Q: Are you doing anything at work to observe NAIDOC week?
The raising of the Indigenous flags abord my ship always gets me a little teary, as well as seeing them flying high on all Royal Australian Navy ships.
Q: What has your experience been being both an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and gay in Defence?
In my earlier years of my career, I would feel at times that I get treated differently because of being those things… but then just get on with the task at hand. While I don’t like to use the term ‘minority’, I usually am one onboard most ships. My experience with being both Indigenous and gay have been both good and bad because of the stereotypes that I would get from both sides, most of which I don’t live up to and continue to defy, but I definitely can say, it has been amazingly good.
Q: When and why did you join the Australian Defence Force?
I joined the Royal Australian Navy on 17 January 2011, so I’m still relatively new. The primary reasons on joining for me was the promise of travel, my natural love for the sea and to get out and see the world. I have had my fair share of all those things in my short time in the ADF.
Q: What is it that you do?
I am Boatswains Mate. In lay terms, we are the seamanship and small arms specialists onboard. We are one of the security elements onboard Navy ships.
Q: What attracted you to the job?
Working with weapons mainly. It’s something I never thought I’d be able to do and now I’m proficient in using six different weapons ranging from rifles to heavy machine guns.
Q: What has your experience been as an open LGBTI member of Defence?
Like I said before it’s been a bit of both good and bad but again, mostly good! There will always be a few people who will disagree and be negative towards LGBTI people in the ADF but I believe if you are able and willing to serve your country, why not right? After all, we are all here because we share the love of our country and want to serve her proudly!
Q: Has being ‘out’ as an LGBTI person changed your experience within Defence?
No, not really. It’s just great being able to be yourself in a place where we once were not allowed to. If anything it has made my time in the ADF far more enjoyable.
Q: How did you feel when you were not ‘out’? What were the types of things you did to try and hide your sexual orientation, sex or gender identity?
I have never really been ashamed, angry or did anything to hide my sexuality because I knew of it from a very young age. I was brought up in a culture where being an LBGTI member isn’t taboo or shunned upon but is more of an unspoken thing. I would avoid bringing it up at all with family and I preferred it that way. When I came out in 2013, my family was surprisingly very supportive and loving about it.
Q: Have you had any disappointing experiences relating to your sexual orientation, sex or gender identity? How did you get through those experiences?
I can only recall one event that happened in 2012 when an individual reacted in a negative manner and tried to encourage others to join in. It was brought to my attention through the Defence Equity system. I talked to the person responsible, we spoke about the situation and resolved it with the support of my shipmates. Thanks to the professional help and support, I got through it reasonably fast. That was the only time I’ve ever had anything like that happen to me.
Q: What has been the most memorable experience you have had within Defence?
I would have to say being onboard HMAS Sydney during the International Fleet Review. We were the lead ship that everybody else followed through Sydney Heads. It was just an amazing atmosphere and a once in a lifetime thing that I’m so happy to have been apart of.
Q: Can you tell us about some of your operational experiences?
I’ve been on a few deployments. I’ve done a rotation of Op SLIPPER in 2011, both North and South East Asian deployments in 2012/13, Op RESOLUTE in 2013/14 and have been all around Australia in the process.
Q: What advice would you provide members who don’t feel they can be open or have questions about their sexual orientation, sex or gender identity?
Be strong. Do not be afraid. You are not alone. We are here to help you through it.
Q: What advice would you provide to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders?
“Upla nor need for fright from ol Smol something now, libeh thempla where kothai. Mepla yah for upla.” Which basically means: you don’t need to be scared of all the little things now, leave those things in the back of your mind. We are here for you.
Q: What are some of your interests outside of work?
Rugby league, rugby, union, volleyball, keeping fit, video games, all things nerdy and food!
Image: Chief Petty Officer Boatswain Rod Waits, Lieutenant Scott McKeen, Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander, David Murphy, Able Seaman Boatswains Mate Aston Wilson, Seaman Boatswains Mate Kazu Savage and Seaman Marine Technician Francine Ketchell of HMAS Sydney celebrate National Sorry Day, Fleet Base East Sydney
Image by ABIS Chantell Brown for Department of Defence